Winter 2011

The whiz of toy trains and the whistle of vintage trains with Santa on board are among the traditional joyful sounds of the holiday season in Connecticut's Litchfield and Fairfield Counties.

All Aboard

The scenery is great along the Naugatuck River on the Santa Express, a 1920s vintage train. The passengers on the 80-minute round-trip ride include none other than Santa Claus himself along with Mrs. Claus and Santa's friendly helper elves. Santa and Mrs. Claus visit with each child on board. Trains depart from the historic 1881 station in Thomaston Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. on December 3-4, 10-11, and 17-18.

The ride is even more exciting at night aboard the Northern Lights Limited, with a festival of light displays inside the train and outside the windows. The train takes passengers to Santa's Train Workshop, where the great man will board and greet everyone. Trains depart at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on November 26 and December 2-4, 9-11, 16-18, 22-23.

Back at the station, a model Christmas train layout is in action, and there is a large selection of railroad theme gifts, books and memorabilia, including plenty of child-pleasing choices gifts. Tickets and information are available from the Railroad Museum of New England, online at rmne.org, or by phoning (860) 283-7245. http://rmne.org.

Santa's Rail Yard

At the Danbury Railway Museum, a classic 1903 station with a railroad yard filled with vintage train cars, visitors can ride a working vintage train through the yard to Santa's workshop. They find the man in red busy supervising his elves as they make toys. Of course, Santa has time to talk with visitors and he has a small gift for every child.

Railroad exhibits and displays are found in the yard and the restored station, where a miniature train layout is in action, along with a coloring station. Once again, there are gifts to please railroad buffs or all ages. Trains leave every half hour from noon to 3 p.m. on weekends, December. 4, 10,11,17 and18. For tickets and information, see Danbury.org/drm or phone: (203) 778-8337. www.danburymuseum.org.

Lavish Layouts—including Lego

Toy train displays are always a favorite at holiday time and some of the most lavish layouts are found in Fairfield and Litchfield Counties.

The Fairfield Historical Museum's annual Holiday Express Train Show rolls into action

the evening of December 2, following the town's tree lighting ceremony on the town green, and remains to delight holiday visitors until January 2, 2012. The lavish wonderland of model trains winds around a spectacularly decorated tree and through a setting of holiday scenery. Holiday gifts for train lovers will be on sale in the museum's large gift shop, and a host of railroad-related programs are planned. The display is open weekends from noon to 4 p.m. until Christmas Eve, and also has special weekday hours between Christmas and New Years. Learn more at www.fairfieldhistory.org or phone (203) 259-1598.

The elaborate Wilton Historical Society's annual Great Trains exhibit features 12 different layouts with a wide range of makes, models and gauges of model trains rolling around curves, rushing through mountain passes and whizzing past intricate scenic local landscapes. The holiday exhibit includes a collection of toys, dolls and miniatures. Dates are December 4 through January 17, Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. Find out details at www.wiltonhistorical.org or (203) 762-7257.

You can be the engineer at the 24nd Annual Hands On Train Display, where, visitors are invited to have a turn at the controls, starting and stopping the action and operating signals and lights. The layout transforms the waiting room of New Milford's restored vintage train station into a Lilliputian landscape of hills, valleys and villages, with four big layouts of scale model Lionel trains crisscrossing miniature towns populated by tiny figures dressed in winter finery. The setup includes almost 100 feet of track. The trains operate daily from noon to 4 p.m. December19 to 31. This yearly free event is sponsored by the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce, www.newmilford-chamber.org

The most unusual train display this year is Trainscape at the Stamford Museum, a world of moving trains in an imaginative town setting, all made entirely of Lego blocks 2012. The 365-square-foot exhibit completely filling the Leonhardt Gallery from November 12 to January 2, s the work of Bill Probert and some of his fellow adult Lego lovers. Probert's Trainscape display in 2008 was the best attended exhibit in the museum's history. For more information, www.stamfordmuseum.org.

For more information about trains, directions to events and listings of all the holiday doings in the region, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, www.visitwesternct.com. They offer a free copy of UNWIND, a 112-page color guide to the Litchfield Hills and a free Fairfield County Getaway Guide.