The room goes dark. The lights of the mini-village glow as the whistle blows and the trains roll along the track, their audio footprints trailing off as they enter a cave into a mountain. Children and adults alike point with wide-eyed wonder.
Trains of Christmas co-chairmen Bill Knode and Blaine Snyder sit at the helm controlling the O-scale world, their faces beaming with boyish delight at the chugging wonderland.
"It's special because it's a fantasy land. Trains are part of the fantasy, but also, you know the scene. Everyone doesn't like trains, but almost everyone that comes in likes the scene,'' Knode said.
The "everyone'' he speaks of are the roughly 6,000 people who visited the Trains of Christmas display last November through February at the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum (300 S. Burhans Blvd., Hagerstown, Md.). He anticipates at least as many will visit this year.
Trains of Christmas is a 23-year tradition, Knode said, with a little bit of the four-level scene changed up every year.
"We come in in August and start making changes to the layout. Usually it takes us about 1,000 hours to get it ready,'' he said.
New trains this year include a turn-of-the-century freight train, a lengthy Union Pacific Big Boy, a Western Maryland Camelback and a New York Central passenger train. Among scenic additions are a streetscape, an ice rink and recreational area near an Empire State Building replica, and a Fairchild A-10 suspended above the display.
"That's the plane they are using in Afghanistan right now, built right here in Hagerstown,'' Knode said.
George Wunderlich of Hagerstown visited the exhibit with his wife and his 1 1/2-year-old grandson, Calvin.
"I can't tell you how impressed I am,'' Wunderlich told Knode. "This will now become a Christmas tradition for us.''
Irene Wunderlich was struck by the variety of sights. Her young grandson sitting still on her lap watching with rapt attention spoke for itself, she said.
"There were a number of different things to look at from the little town to the ski slopes. There is always something new to capture your attention and imagination,'' Irene Wunderlich said.
At one point, Knode amused the crowd by simulating a fire in a scenic building. Smoke rose from the blackened structure as a fire engine whirred to the rescue.
"What's one thing we never do to a burning building? Run back in. What number do we call for help?'' he asked the young children.
Steven and Amanda Smith of Shippensburg, Pa., drove nearly an hour to visit the display because their 2-year-old son, Owen, loves trains. Steven said the fire scene was ``great.''
Chris and Josie Linetty of Smithsburg stopped at the museum on a whim as they drove by with children, Ryan, 11, and Alexis, 7. Linetty said his grandmother, who recently died, is believed to have a train collection "buried away'' somewhere in her house.
"Nothing of this scope, of course. But we hope to find it and get it going,'' he said.
Alexis said she admired the gondola in one section of the landscape. Ryan said he'd been to the museum some years ago with his grandmother.
"I forgot how awesome it was,'' he said.
Nov. 16-Feb. 24
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 1-5 p.m.
Also open Dec. 26 & 27, 2012
Admission: $5 adults; 50 cents for kids 4-12; free admission for kids under 3