Annual Appleby Manor Presbyterian Church train show attracts crowds, donations
MANOR TOWNSHIP — One of Steve Werth's strongest memories as a child was lying in bed, listening to far-off trains.
He loved to imagine where they were coming from and where they were bound.
Now, as pastor of Appleby Manor Presbyterian Church, Manor Township, those images are rolling down the tracks of his mind again, fueled by the popular model-train display his church annually hosts for the public as a way to raise food and funds for community needs.
The 21st annual display, the Alle-Kiski Valley's longest-running and largest offering of model trains, is under way daily, including Thanksgiving evening, through Saturday in the church gymnasium.
“It's fun. Trains have a really amazing ability of capturing people's imaginations,” Werth says. “That's clear in the amount of work and imagination that goes into each one of the displays that people put together, but also in the faces of both the kids and adults who come see them. Trains seem to give us the opportunity to be transported into another world, another time and another place, and into the simple joy of life.”
Staging the display has become an important part of church life, he adds.
“It brings us together with each other and with the community to mark the season in love and in joy,” Werth says. “But maybe even more importantly, the intention of the train show is, and always has been, to feed our neighbors in need.”
This year, in addition to nonperishable items for the Ford City Food Bank, monetary donations are being accepted for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The church usually collects about 1,500 pounds of food each year just from the train display, says Deb Prager of East Franklin, who organizes the display with her husband, Tom. The number of families in need of food assistance is growing, Werth adds.
“The passion for creating these miniature worlds, and for the trains themselves, is a gift that we are lucky to share in at Appleby Manor,” he says. “The detailed work that goes into creating some of these displays is amazing. If we can take our God-given passions and talents and use them to love God by feeding God's people, that's exciting.”
“There are many stories that go along with our display,” Deb Prager says.
“We have seen young children grow into teenagers, young adults, and now, they bring their children to see the trains. We also have many people who consider visiting the trains part of their Thanksgiving tradition. People travel home for the holiday and always make the train display a place to visit.”
They won't be disappointed, Tom Prager says. “You'll always see something different,” he says. “It is an inexpensive evening, and you should allow two hours to view our displays, because there is a lot to see. Often, on a return visit, you might see something you missed.”
All four seasons are represented in displays, along with a variety of scales and models.
Tom Prager has made significant changes to his design this year. Many displays have action along with sound.
“Some displays will have buttons to push, and you will hear the sound of a train. Others involve doors opening and closing. Some have a lot of animation,” Deb Prager say. “We never know what we will see until the show opens.”
The always-popular Thomas the Train and Friends display will return. Kids get to make their favorite Thomas the Train engine move. “It's sure to please all those children again this year,” she says.
Doug Pfeil of Ford City, who is about to unveil his 18th display, says one of the most enjoyable aspects of taking part is the opportunity to spend quality time with his son and other volunteers during the two weeks of setup.
People will see his hand-built-to-HO-scale trestles, towns, logging area and farms. He added buildings and scenery. His bridges are popular.
“I became interested in trains when my parents bought me my first train set when I was about 5 years old,” he says. “I think we are fascinated with trains, because it makes us feel like we are riding in them.”
Pfeil hopes this year's event has one of the largest turnouts. “The local food bank is in dire need this time of year,” he says.
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.