WEST SPRINGFIELD If you remember your Lionel train with fondness or if your ears perk up when you hear the whistle of a passing train, you might have "it," according to John Sacerdote, show director of The Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show.
"It" is a fascination with toys and real trains, and Sacerdote admits it's hard to explain.
"It's almost genetic," he said.
If you think model trains are a nostalgic hobby of the past, think again. The Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show, one of the largest train hobbyist shows in the nation, will return to the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition on Jan. 26 and 27.
Just how popular are model trains? About 25,000 people attend the two-day show, which has grown out of the Better Living Center to include the Young, Stroh and Mallary buildings. Sacerdote told Reminder Publications the show currently occupies 250,000 square feet and could use another 50,000.
"We have 300 vendors on a wait list," he said.
The show grew out of an evening event in the late 1960s at the University of Massachusetts sponsored by the Amherst Railway Society to spotlight its members' collections and train layouts. By the 1980s the evening had evolved into a one-day show and in 1983, it moved to the New England Building at the Big E grounds.
The shows features miles and miles of train layouts by members and exhibitors as well as 1,400 tables of merchandise for sale on both model trains and actual railroads.
Sacerdote is a train fan himself who admits stealing as much space as possible in his basement to "build a little empire." He said with a laugh he has wondered if he had to sell his home if it would be worth more with or without his train set-up.
He believes that one reason for the show's success is there seems to be a concentration of rail hobbyists here in the New England area.
Besides the train layouts and vendors, the show will feature a number of clinics in which people can learn to improve their modeling skills and there will be train set-ups that children attending the event will be able to operate.
Sacerdote said one of the goals of the show is to encourage interest in the hobby among young people, which is why children age 15 and younger are admitted free.
Another goal is to raise money for the railroad preservations. Sacerdote said that since 1991 there has been nearly one-third of one million dollars contributed to such projects as the restoration of trains and trollies in New England.
The show will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 26 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan 27. Parking at the fair grounds is $5 and admission to the show is $10 a day with children age 15 and younger admitted free. Tickets will be sold at the show beginning one hour before opening.
For more information
log onto www.railwayhobbyshow.com.