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The Holiday Express blows through a miniature carnival and zoo scene. The redone table is one of the biggest changes to the exhibit from last year. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

For the Gandy Dancers, Red Wing’s model train club, the main event of the year is their monthlong holiday display

“It’s the biggie,” club member Len Guggenberger said. “And it’s getting bigger.”

With the display now in its eighth year, the club updated the exhibit with a LEGO train and redesigned Holiday Express table featuring a carnival and zoo theme.

The display was revealed to the public Friday during the Holiday Stroll. The doors will open again noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 22 in the St. James Hotel.

After following railroad signs to the hotel’s lower-level Hiawatha Room, spectators will find four handmade display tables featuring several model trains of different scales and styles.

“We wanted to demonstrate the various gauges of the model train hobby,” founding member Jerry Dooley said. The tracks range from the miniature N gauge to the larger HO and O gauges.

The trains and display boards were either brought in by club members or provided by private donations, he added.

The LEGO train in particular was supplied by William Amberg, one of the club’s newest members. Amberg said he started collecting trains when he was 12, but he recently got back into the hobby last year after seeing the holiday display.

Dooley said he likes the LEGO kits because they are approachable for a wide range of people. “It goes all the way from age 4 to 104.”

Along with the display, the club is handing out coloring pages and informational material to attendees.

Kids under 9 also can enter a free raffle for a train quilt made by Pier 55’s Granny Blanket Ladies. The drawing will be held the Sunday before Christmas.

The club started setting up the holiday display Nov. 18, Dooley said. It took members just over a week to transport the trains and scenery to the hotel and get everything on track.

Guggenberger said tearing down and setting the tables back up each year is a lot of work.

“But it’s fun,” he said. “The kids and the public enjoy it.”

Reaction from onlookers has been strong in past years, Dooley added. "Some of them aren’t even walking yet, and they’re fascinated by the lights and sounds.”

But more than just a visual experience, Dooley said club members will be available during display hours to chat about the hobby and answer questions.

Club membership fluctuates from around a dozen to as many as 20 at weekly gatherings, Dooley said, adding that the hobby attracts people with passions ranging from railroad history to scenery building.

“This is a fantastic community for interest in model railroading,” Dooley said. “But not everyone has come out of the basement yet.”

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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