·Friday Dec~mber 10, 1993 Call it the boy. in me. But when I read that there was going to be a holiday train exhibit up the road. I suddenly felt compelled to relive some boyhOOd conviction that Lionel and HO trains were the epito- me of Christmas magic. Never mind that the concept was probably con- cocted by Madison Avenue in the early days of tele- . vision. Never mind that the smell of train tracks and e1eotrictty always made me feel slightly nauseous. · · · Never mind that my dad never sat on the living room floor with me nor did he encourage me to mar- ·: .- vel over the presumed wonder of miniature trains. · :-. · ·Nevetmind that all the .infernal machine ever did . was to go around in predictable little circles Without :variation until I tired of watching it. · . · ·· We':re talking toy trains here. A sentimental jour- ney back to my childhood! American boyhood! The Christmas gift that bonds father to son! Corne to think of it, it is true that among our holi- day icons, toy trains are a legitimate item. Not as hyped as Santa Claus andNatKing Cole, mind you, buta·tegitirnate item nanetheless. look around your average town on the North Shore of Long Island, and there is bound to be one or more enterprising retailers Who have dressed up the window display with a toy train act ta attract the boy in each of us. It should be no surprise then that when the ·st. James Model Railroad Club ahnounced. its 10th an-· nual holiday Lionel train exhibit held at the Mills Pond House this past weekend, crowds would show · up .......:. even in a drenching rain on Sunday. Or that ' those crowds would squeeze uncomplainingly into the cramped bas_ement of the historic old house in t1 V E Tho.mas the Tank .Engine and other trains make the rounds In Iota of retail windows this time of year, llko this one at Wiggs Opticl~r.us In Stony Brook. (Above: Parents and kids crowded Into a.wet, dank basement In St. James Sunday to view a Uonel train exhibit put on by the st. James Model Railroad Club.) Celebrate St. James to view the crub's setup. That's right - a musty old basement, full of wet kids and their parents, jostling for a view of toy trains careening over the track of a 38J< 48 foot op- erating layout built high enough off the ground so that only a fully grown adult could observe the ac- tion. Sound like it's worth it? Know what? It was worth it. The club has transform- ed that big cellar in St. James into a veritable shrine to toy trains. Vintage Lionel trains, both diesel and steam, included circus trains, camouflage Army trains and what appeared to be a '60s era Cold War getup with missiles and satellite gear riding on flatbeds. Then. too. there was a more recent Thomas the Tank Engine train set. And all sorts of animated ac- cessori.es: newsstand operators hurling bundles of .papers at the train; a watchman popping in and out . of his shed; skaters doing figure 8's on ice, oblivious to the passing cars. I did note that not everyone was as bemused as people like me with the train club's offerings. \It's just a strange, tight Old basement. and .it was proba- bly dug out by mules a hundred years ago,\ I over- heard one woman complain to her husband. Anoth- er \NOOlan. holding a 2-year.oQid squirming in her arms. pointed when a train momentarily derailed: \Oh look, son •. something finally happened!\ But. hey, it's a free country. Speaking of free, there was a little com petition go- ing on in the toy train world over in St James this weekend. Seems that once again the St. James Li'\ onel train gang had competition up the road a piece for the toy train visitor trade. Seems that the Smithtown Society of Model Rail- roaders has been putting on a holiday open house in a little trailer tucked away in the Flowerfield complex across the street for a couple of years, too. They, it should be noted. are HO scale railroaders and have put together a layout in a narrow but well-heated space that emphasizes local relevance, visitor par- ticipation and the issue of realism - which to HOers apparently means paying attention to such items as the surroundings through which the train passes. One stop; it was noted, emphasizes a town with a \large engine facility and freight yard. The yard area has recently been ballasted, and the control wiring is nearly completed. At the east end ... will be a small city/industrial scene.\ After this town, they note, the line climbs two feet \on a 2-1/4 percent grade to reach the ... upper leveL\ Another issue is speed. The HO fellows have set up their layout so that the trains move at a realistic scale speed through the narrow trailer in Flower- field. \It takes a train eight minutes to run from one end of the layout to the other,\ they note. They do not mention whether this time is affected by the front door to the trailer- which. if slammed too hard when someone enters or exits, causes the little HO trains to shake nearly off their tracks. Want to see either of these model train layouts in operation? Sorry, you can't until ne.xt year - unless you join the club. However, there's an outfit in Lake Ronkonkoma called Wrong Island Railroad, which is open through January 30 and which boasts five main lines plus an overhead fine capturing \the feeling of upstate New York and eastern Pennsylvania in the early fall during the late 1940s and early 1950s ... Who knows? Even if it never did when you were a kid. maybe the toy train spirit will move you this time around the track.