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Clear the Tracks!

Model trains bring out the little boy in many big boys. If you never had your own choo-choos when you were a kid, or if you had them but had to fight dad off so you could play engineer and speed those little locomotives and their retinue of passenger trains and boxcars around the Christmas tree, you'll want to check out the 14th annual National Model Railroad Association National Train Show at the Broward County Convention Center.

Between 300 and 400 national and international exhibitors set up shop at the National Train Show. Jim Lupfer, general chairman of the train-lovers' convention, says Broward County had to beat out Jacksonville to host this year's gathering.

The show includes the largest display of operating model-train layouts, accessories, and collectibles for model railroaders in the world. For a few days, the convention center is transformed into a bizarre Twilight Zone world where giants rule a land occupied by tiny people whose only means of transportation is the train. Among the more noteworthy items in this sea of model activity are a kids' 1000-square-foot play area and an operating model railroad made exclusively from LEGO pieces. One especially popular feature is the presence of a collectibles appraiser, who will put a value on those old trains and memorabilia hidden in the closet -- at no charge.

Many families are finding that "training" makes for excellent bonding time. Age is no barrier to how anyone in the family can participate as a functioning member of the train crew, since activities range from simple to complex. It's a great way to get off one's butt and (gasp!) communicate with other family members.

Many books and magazines are dedicated to model railroading to get you started, and with the information gleaned from such publications, this show is the perfect way to turn a plain plywood board into train stations, rolling hills, miniature stores, and citified surroundings.

Tip number one: Start small. Begin with a small layout or module that can be completed in the amount of time it takes to watch a few boring reruns of Gilligan's Island. Tip number two: The show -- or any hobby shop worthy of the name -- is a great place to buy some simple tools. A kit consists of screwdrivers, tweezers, a scale rule, and a few other necessary items. Tip number three: Cities and towns across the nation play host to model-railroading clubs that will be more than happy to help you along with your frightening new obsession. Visit the National Model Railroad Association Website,, to get news and information on a regional as well as national basis.

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Sue Lynn

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