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WEST BRADFORD — There’s something about the Christmas season which brings about a fascination with model trains – on display, under the trees or in holiday scenery.
For Hatboro residents Robin and Susan Tafel, they’ve kept a model train in the family for years and have decided to display it and let others have a chance becoming an “engineer” at the Temenos Retreat Center.
“We always liked trains and we didn’t have the room at home,” Robin Tafel said. “We said, ‘Hey, why not do it here and have an open house?’ Our particular thing is you get to run the train and not just stand there looking at them. Kids have fun doing that.”
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Spread across the entire length of the Great Room in the retreat, people young and old can try their hand at running the train and figuring out where to go on the tracks, since there are multiple switches to different tracks.
To get a start and a hang of which switch goes where, people have two trolleys running at the same time and attempt to go three minutes without them bumping into each other.
It’s a tricky test for sure since it’s even tough for the most experienced, such as Ashton Kuzman, 12, who has been helping the Tafels with the display since he was 3 years old.
“He helps with the electrification,” Susan Tafel said. “The kid is wonderful. He started out at 3 and his job was to run the vacuum cleaner and he did a great job.”
Once a person gets the hang of the trolleys, they move up to the classic Lionel trains, which the Tafels have had for a long time, though some of the cars are more new.
“It’s not that difficult to learn,” Susan Tafel said. “We have people stay, get the hang of it, then come back the next day.”
The tracks sit atop wooden boards, which are laid across regular sawhorses.
To make it more festive, scenery is added around the tracks with houses, a pond, trees and even a tunnel.
Some of those houses and trees date back to the 1940s and even earlier, as Susan Tafel’s grandfather handmade some of the pieces. Every year, the display continues to grow, adding a little piece here and there.
“(Robin) wants to, at some point, point accessories on, like a mill,” Susan Tafel said.
The collection has grown so much that the Tafels can’t even store it in their home any longer.
“It’s not in the attic anymore,” Robin Tafel said. “Now it’s in a U-Haul storage unit.”
The whole display takes several days to set up and, all told, is about 10 hours.
“It takes a while,” Robin Tafel said. “There’s always something that doesn’t work when you turn the power on, like loose connections. It’s fun.”
The display will be open Dec. 26, 29, and 30, and Jan. 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There is no admission to see the display, but the Tafels welcome any donations to help keep the display operating and to keep adding to it every year.
If anyone has their own 3-rail O’gauge train, they can bring it to run on the tracks.
“That’s the whole thing – you get to be the engineer,” Susan Tafel said. “Once they start, they’re hooked and it’s a whole new generation of engineers.”
The Temenos Retreat Center is located at 1564 Telegraph Road in West Chester.