Trained on the past

Museum of American History hosts 21st holiday train show

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Checking out a 1959 Lionel Diesel train engine at the Museum of American History are Barbara Norcross (left), Jeffrey Norcross and intern Tatiana EloJeffrey.

One of the greatest surprises of any Christmas morning is to see toy trains propelled by a transformer racing around the tracks under the tree. The curator of Deptford’s Museum of American History understands that.

With help from his wife Barbara and Rowan University intern Tatiana EloJeffrey, Jeffrey Norcross recently finished setting up three sets of tracks and two villages for the museum’s 21st annual antique toy train show.

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“I have enjoyed my trains since I was a child living in Merchantville and Pennsauken,” said Norcross, whose show opened on Nov 24 and runs through Jan. 28.

“A lot of grandparents bring their grandchildren to see the trains and share a moment from their childhood, especially between Christmas and New Year’s Day,” added the archeologist, who opened the museum with artifacts he had collected during his 37-year career.

“It is fun having the children visit. We have three generations of families come in for the trains, and most of them stay and tour the museum,” Barbara Norcross noted.

“It’s pretty neat seeing the trains run. I enjoyed helping to set up the villages,” said EloJeffrey, who majors in communications and anthropology at Rowan and will graduate in May.

“I like the smell of the metal and the oil,” she added. “The trains are loud and they light up while going around the tracks.”

EloJeffrey was busy at the museum during the one-day Deptford fall festival, welcoming the 470 people who came from the event at the former Andaloro family farm across the street.

The train show features O and O-27-gauge toy trains from the 1930s, ’40s and 1950. Lionel, Marx and American Flyer engines, with adjoining cars, race against each other on two diverse platforms.

“Vintage Plasticville buildings from the 1950s will further augment the display,” Norcross explained. “Vegetation and auxiliary structures will give the platforms a traditional holiday appearance.”

The first platform features a 1959 Lionel Diesel engine pulling a train with passenger and cargo cars, complete with the caboose in the rear. The second, much larger platform features a 1959 Marx Diesel on the inside track and a 1946 Lionel Steamer racing around the outside track, complete with pellets that create the steam.

When all the town buildings at the museum are lit and both trains are moving, visitors’ eyes sparkle, according to Norcross, as they witness the full splendor of the holiday village. It’s a reminder of waking up on Christmas morning to moving trains.

The museum, located at 138 Andaloro Way, is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, call (856) 812-1121 or go to

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