Friday, December 7, 2007

Train festival opens 17th year at Goleta library


With a thin line of smoke spurting through the roof of a red, Chicago Great Western locomotive, a half-dozen silver cars clanked behind, the shadows of passengers visible through dimly lit windows.
Some of them may have been reading, others could have been smoking cigarettes, while many were likely looking out the window watching the scenery pass by.

That’s just one of the myriad possibilities that might come to mind while watching one of Dave Halbeisen’s model trains chug around a track at the Goleta Branch Library.
At least Halbeisen hopes so.
“It’s a good wholesome hobby,” Halbeisen said of collecting model trains, which he’s been doing for more than 30 years. “There’s a creativity issue [with trains]. If you don’t have a tunnel, you take a pile of books and build a tunnel, that’s where the imagination comes in.”
Halbeisen has been spreading the word about the world of toy trains for decades, this being his 17th consecutive year showing off a snippet of his collection at the Goleta library, which he calls the Festival of Toy Trains.
Halbeisen said the annual festival, which will run through Sunday, is part fun, part educational and historical exhibit and part recruiting tool.
He said each year when he attends a train meeting in Pennsylvania, the 30,000 or so attendees steadily grow grayer.
“The problem that we’re seeing now is the membership is getting older,” he said. “The idea here is to get people interested.”
But beyond that, whether an onlooker is two-years-old, or 50, their eyes light up while gazing at the trains and the accessories that are surrounded by the tracks, which include a fire station, snow village, water tower and naturally, a train station.
“It’s hard to imagine just sitting here, watching the joy the kids express,” said Dick Lacy, who also collects trains and has a couple of his own on display at the at the library. “Their imaginations are probably just running wild.”
While children’s imaginations do just that, Halbeisen said the older spectators reminisce, especially older women.
“I hear a lot from the older women that they always wanted trains but it was traditionally a boy’s toy, so they got dolls and they resented it,” he said.
Shauna Huffaker, who brought her daughters, Summer and Miriam Elsawi to see the trains for the third year last night, said she never had a toy train, but her brothers did.
“It’s injustice,” Huffaker said, adding that neither one of her daughters yet wants a toy train, but when they do she just might spring for one.
The festival isn’t just about trains. The detail that goes into the buildings and the figures are nearly as important as the trains and some are just as collectible.
Many of the figures on display at the library are pre World War II, hand painted and made from cast metal.
Halbeisen said it was common to find the figures, like the fireman, which he said was made in Pennsylvania and the hobo, which was made in England, in large boxes at dime stores across the country decades ago. He said the figures now cost $15 to $20.
Halbeisen said about 150 children attended the festival yesterday, and he and Lacy let them honk the horns of the trains by using a remote control.
For Lacy, who is 72 and Halbeisen, 60, toy trains are far more than toys – they offer a creative outlet that over the years, has never gotten old.
“It’s nostalgia,” Halbeisen said. “You go back to a simpler time.”
He said setting the festival up took about six hours with several people working on it. It’s these details that Lacy enjoys.
“It’s just the idea of building small pieces of the real world,” he said. “Plus, it’s good escapism watching the train go round and round.”
The trains will be on display from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow.

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