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St. James Model Railroad Club on track with 32nd annual open house

A Mikado steam model train locomotive is one

A Mikado steam model train locomotive is one of many engines that can be seen at the St. James Model Railroad Club's open house. Credit: Heather Walsh

The train is a-coming — 16 of them, to be exact.

The St. James Model Railroad Club hosts its 32nd holiday open house Dec. 2-4 in conjunction with the Smithtown Township Arts Council, inviting the public to see trains and various small-motored units from the Age of Steam to present day, presented in a scenic, detailed and realistic setting.

“Model railroading as a hobby is a great way of learning the train industry and the significant contribution railroading made to the development of this country,” said Patrick Knetter, the club’s president. “Besides running trains, there is a rich history that a lot of railroad modelers like to immerse themselves in.”

Since its inception, the club has maintained as one of its priorities a yearly open house. The first was held in December 1984 and attracted more than 900 people.


Over the three days, the club covers its tracks with seven steam engines, five diesel engines, two electric engines and a gasoline doodlebug. There’ll also be seven each of passenger and freight trains, two subways and a handful of small motor units that will be switched in and out. Many brightly illuminated, built-from-scratch structures, animated accessories, bustling towns, a colorful circus and an amusement park also will be featured. The layout has been updated to where nine trains can run simultaneously, ensuring there is plenty of action happening in all directions. Modern technology has allowed the club to provide more animated accessories, lights and digitally recorded sound.

“Steam engines puff smoke and chuff with the recorded sound of a real steam engine in synchronism with the wheels,” said Knetter, a Smithtown resident. “Diesel engines also sound like the real thing, and passenger trains make station announcements.”

As for famously known locomotives, guests can expect glimpses of Thomas the Tank Engine, the Polar Express, a Disney train and a model of the Art Deco Aerotrain. Trains will represent the Long Island Rail Road, CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific, Pennsylvania Railroad, Chicago and Northwestern Railroad among others.

“We try to run a large variety of trains at the open house,” Knetter said. “In this way we hope that every visitor gets to see his or her favorite type of train.”


Mapping the layout has been quite an undertaking for the group. The original design was built in 1984, when the club moved into the Mills Pond House and was based on a re-creation of the LIRR’s Smithtown to Port Jefferson run. It has been in a constant state of change ever since. The Long Island Rail Road no longer provides the basis of the layout. However, some areas on the course are still named after areas on Long Island. The club makes updates or improvements to the layout/scenery annually.

“When someone asks us how long it took to build the layout, we like to say 32 years,” Knetter said.

To some extent, that’s also how long it has maintained the interest of many Long Islanders.

“Many people return year after year to see the display,” said Knetter, who anticipates more than 1,600 visitors this weekend. “We have seen young children come back every year and watched them become adults who still love the trains.”


32 — Years the club has been active

1,600 — Number of visitors expected

9 — Number of trains that can run simultaneously.

St. James Model Railroad Club open house

WHEN | WHERE 6-9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3 and 4 at Mills Pond House, 60 Route 25A, St. James

INFO 516-263-9607,

ADMISSION $2 (50 cents ages 2-16)

The weekend will also feature a fine-art showcase and a holiday market.

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