BALTIMORE — During the Christmas season, fire stations in the port city of Baltimore, Maryland, draw a number of excited visitors.
The fire stations have a long-standing tradition of hosting holiday train gardens, elaborate exhibits featuring animated figurines and long strings of model trains.
“When I was a little kid, we’d come in with my parents instead," said Terry Scoggins who came with his wife and three children. "I love trains, I love the model trains, I love the scenery and how realistic it looks. It makes you feel like a kid.”
The meeting room of the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company in the Baltimore suburbs is transformed into the train garden from early December through early January.
"The train garden is comprised of hundreds of different animated features, whether it is a car that is going back and forth, or a construction crane, it is digging in a hole, children swing on swings," said firefighter Bob Francis, the company's spokesperson. "We have a carnival scene that a gentleman constructed in his home and he has donated it to us to use this year."
Holiday train gardens have been a tradition in Baltimore, especially in firehouses, since the late 1800s. Since Baltimore was home to America's first scheduled rail service, Francis says the fascination with train gardens makes sense.
“Certainly the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was a very big influence in the area," he said. "Because of the Baltimore history with trains, I am sure that that is why the mystique and the love affair with trains is so strong in this area.”
While the display changes from year to year, the train garden always includes symbols that represent Baltimore.
“This year for example we’ve got the steel mill around the corner where you’ve got the train, the back river railroad system, which is an actual railroad that was operated by Sparrows Point Steel Mill,” Francis said.
Abigail Scoggins, 9, has been coming to see the garden since she was two. This year, the circus scene is her favorite.
"Because of how it looks so realistic and looks, makes you look like you are actually at the circus and all the people in the crowd,” Abigail said.
Francis says realism and authenticity is what the volunteers who build the garden, which is funded only by donations, go for.
“Obviously the Rudolf train, the Christmas train are more fantasy," he said. "[But] the scale of the buildings and the animations and the trains all model real life but on a smaller size.”
Francis estimates 30- to 50,000 visitors enjoy the 100-square-meter display each year.
“Most times when you are involved with firemen, it is usually not the best day of your life. This is an opportunity for us to be involved in the community in a good time and a happy time,” he said.
Visitors hope the train garden will continue to be a part of Baltimore's holiday season for generations to come.