When Santa comes to town this holiday season, it may very well be via train.
From now through mid-January, Batesville Area Historical Society members are excited to host the All Aboard model train display families will not want to miss at the Batesville Historical Center.
“I just think everyone loves or has (fond) memories of a train,” believes Carolyn Dieckmann, now in her sixth year as museum curator.
“Whether they had a train when they were little or remember riding on a train with Grandma. And we used to have a train go right through downtown Batesville, which was very instrumental to the city and its industry.”
Although there’s no exact recreation of Batesville’s lore, any display on both levels of the museum is sure to fire up the imagination to Christmas days gone by.
“We have collections from 30 years ago and four hands-on trains for kids to play with,” Dieckmann reveals. “There are basically six (HO model) scales of trains, and we have four of those six in our cabinet displays.”
Ron Lahmann Sr., whose O scale Southern Pacific, Baltimore & Ohio, and Santa Fe sets figure prominently in the exhibit, belongs to the Conductors of Southeastern Indiana Model Train Association. His involvement was paramount in the display coming together.
“You talk about timing,” relates Dieckmann. “I’ve been wanting to do this for six years, but kept putting it off. God put me where I was supposed to be with this year’s exhibit, because Ron was a godsend.”
For a total of three weeks, Lahmann transported much of his collection and materials from Rising Sun, where an even bigger display is set up through the end of the year at Heritage Hall.
“He gave freely of his time and we were down for two days to help them get theirs up and going,” Dieckmann adds.
The duo, along with Lloyd Fledderman and Janet Maple, spent the better part of a fortnight creating such a magical holiday atmosphere.
It took some collective brainpower to make it work.
“Since it’s an older museum and we wanted to include the upstairs, we had to close off some doorways and really had to figure out a flow,” explains Dieckmann. “Especially with the (Batesville Holiday Parade), when we may have 300 people come in.”
Regular museum hours are 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 9 a.m.-noon Saturday. Group tours – like the 174 children who stopped by last week – are available by appointment any day of the week.
In addition, Dieckmann hopes area families and out-of-town visitors keep her exhibit in mind during special extended hours.
“Every Friday through December, we’ll be open from 5-8 p.m., including Nov. 15 (Batesville’s holiday shopping open house) when we’ll sell candy, handcraft and quilling items,” she states. “After 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, we’ll be open as long as we need to be. And we may look at additional hours as we get closer to Christmas.”
The holiday themes are unmistakable from the time one approaches the museum at 15 W. George St.
Fledderman produced the wooden train cut-out in the front yard. On the porch are the likenesses of a mother and children sneaking a peek through the window. Just inside is a 3-foot train conductor straight out of “The Polar Express”; beside him is a Lionel O scale scene – one of many sets donated by Mike, Sean and Tom Townsley – from the popular animated film.
Then there’s the “All Aboard” train itself, part of Lahmann’s collection and complete with Santa Claus and his elves. Dieckmann thinks it could quickly become a fan favorite.
Other attractions include four train-themed Christmas trees, vintage railroad lanterns, and additional sets on loan from Fledderman and Jack Bruns.
The exhibit was essentially cost-free, thanks to monetary support from a BAHS member (distributed through Ripley County Community Foundation), the generous sharing of personal collections, and the gracious volunteer hours. The cash donations, Dieckmann points out, even allowed the museum a small advertising campaign.
With three displays per year, the curator rarely repeats a theme. However, this could be an exception.
“We’ll see what kind of response we get ... and see if my people want to help put this up again.”
The volunteer knows it was all worthwhile when she witnesses a child’s reaction.
“When kids come, I tell them this is their museum, not mine,” she says. “I’m family-oriented and love to see the excitement on the faces of kids.”
And also the kids at heart.
“This has been my dream, and after six years, we finally got the trains to come alive in Batesville.”
For more information or to schedule a tour, visit www.batesvilleareahistoricalsociety.org or call 812-934-3266.