Holiday trains have been a local Christmas tradition for 75 years
The sign hung overhead like a cartoon word balloon. âAll aboard for an electric Christmas. “
The year was 1946, the start of a beloved Cincinnati tradition when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad model trains were displayed in the lobby of the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. building on Fourth and Main streets.
This year, Holiday Trains are celebrating 75 years of Christmas cheer in Cincinnati.
For seven decades, generations of families have come downtown to see electric trains pass through an elaborate miniature town straight out of a Frank Capra movie.
Some 10 million children, young and old, watched with a mixture of wonder and envy, wishing to be the engineer of one of the miniature locomotives.
The tradition began with two children, according to a 1968 article in The Pictorial Enquirer.
In the fall of 1946, Craig Hodgetts learned from his classmate Kenny Hall of the existence of a model train system owned by the B&O Railroad, where Hall’s father, Frank L. Hall, was a division chief engineer. Hodgetts’ father, Edward W. Hodgetts, was Director of Sales Promotion and Merchandising at CG&E.
The layout was a replica of B&O’s Cumberland and Maryland division built in 1936 at a cost of $ 50,000 and used as a traveling promotional display.
Young Hodgetts reportedly told his classmate, “I’m going to talk to my dad about it and you will ask your dad to help you.”
Under the influence of the boys, CG&E and B&O have teamed up to make the CG&E lobby the permanent location of the train exhibit during the holidays. It immediately became a Cincinnati Christmas staple.
While parents were doing their holiday shopping downtown, the kids rushed to see “the trains.” Bottles of soda and bags of popcorn were distributed to 150,000 visitors in 1950. In 2010, these are sugar cookies to 300,000.
Over the years, the exhibit has grown to 1,000 feet of track, with 300 rail cars, many of which are handcrafted, and 60 engines.
âIn 1946 they had a lot of trains – 95% of our engines come from the original configuration,â conductor Jack Thompson told The Enquirer in 2010. âBut for buildings, all they had was a rotunda, a train station, a reservoir water point, a coal tower and an office building.
The display has grown into an entire city and mountain landscape with an impressive amount of detail in snow-covered shops, skating couples, a welder emitting real sparks, and old-fashioned display slogans.
Trains and O-gauge models are 1:48 scale, which means a quarter of an inch equals one foot of their full-size counterparts. Thus, the 1,000 feet of runway on the screen is equivalent to nine miles.
In 2011, Duke Energy, successor to CG&E, donated the trains to the Cincinnati Museum Center in Union Terminal to ensure they would be preserved for years to come. This meant significant changes. Trains were no longer free, but they are in the spotlight in the historic station. A treasure housed in another.
Holiday Junction with Duke Energy Holiday Trains is open for its 75th anniversary until January 2. Lego displays have added a new twist to tradition in recent years. This year, Brickopolis returns with Lego scenes featuring characters from Disney, Marvel and Star Wars.
Note: An earlier version of this story appeared previously in the 2017 Enquirer Vacation Guide.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Holiday trains have been a Christmas tradition in Cincinnati for 75 years