By MADDY VITALE
There’s just something about a train set that seems to bring out the kid in adults and pique the interest of children.
Walking into the Ocean City Historical Museum, there is a Christmas display that is hard to miss. It has evoked nostalgia and has been a major attraction at the museum, which is tucked in the Community Center.
For some, it harkens back to a time when Ocean City was served by a rail service.
This is the first train display at the museum that John Loeper, co-president of the museum with Babs Stefano, could recall in recent years.
The display was put up in the beginning of the month and will remain for patrons to enjoy throughout January, Loeper said in an interview Wednesday.
It is part of the museum’s “Olde Tyme Christmas” theme this season. It is free to the public.
Loeper said the response from the public has been phenomenal.
“It has been fabulous. Kids come in there and they are awestruck,” he said. “They spend time just watching it going around. For the adults, their memories just flash and they remember the train service.”
There are three different trains on display from different time frames, Loeper said. And it wasn’t hard for museum volunteers to agree that a train display would be a popular one among patrons.
“Everybody loves trains,” he said. “I said, ‘People would come to see them.’ The display shows the evolution of Lionel Trains with three generations of trains on the tracks running around.”
The very early train on the platform is from prior to World War I. Then there is a train from the 1940s and a more modern train.
“These are historic trains,” Loeper said.
The other pieces that make up the display are also vintage, ranging from the very old cardboard pieces to porcelain in the 1940s to the more modern pieces made of plastic.
Loeper, one of the city’s top historians, explained the historic component of the display, as it relates to Ocean City.
“Trains came in here early. That is what helped develop Ocean City,” he said, noting that it was somewhere in the late 1800s. “The trains would bring in 5,000 to 10,000 people a day during the summer.”
The visitors would often stay for more than the day, spending a night in one of the hotels on the island or one of the many rooming houses, he pointed out.
“That is where the tourism came from,” he said.
As cars replaced trains, the service waned in the 1960s. But there was still service into the early 1980s.
“My dad used to ride the commuter train from Ocean City back to work in Philadelphia,” Loeper said. “It was an easy ride down. It was convenient from the 30th Street Station. It’s a shame it disappeared. The automobiles were the end of the trains.”
In addition to the trains, there was trolley service for visitors to the resort to take a ride down on the Shoreline Trolley.
The popular mode of transportation for tourists back in the old days made it a perfect addition to the “Olde Tyme Christmas” theme, Loeper said.
“They came down from Atlantic City through Somers Point into Ocean City and it ended in front of the Village Theatre, and that trolley was the way you could get from here to Atlantic City,” Loeper said. “It was iconic and went parallel to the Ninth Street bridge. When you think about transportation and where we are today, those trolley systems really made sense.”
Loeper said it took five days for his friend, Jack Brooks, president of the Ocean City Beach Patrol Alumni Association, to put together the train set.
“He was instrumental,” Loeper said of putting the display together. He also was credited with providing the Shore Line Trolley to complete the exhibit.
“Jack and a couple people from the train organization put it together,” he said.
To view the display, visit the Ocean City Historical Museum located within the Ocean City Community Center at 1735 Simpson Avenue.