It's a tradition that's been going on for more than 30 years. This year the Brandywine River Museum Railroad, part of the annual A Brandywine Christmas exhibit at the museum, is dedicated to remembering those who were involved in developing and contributing to that tradition.Adorning the halls of the second-floor gallery where the O-gauge trains are set up are photos, stories and obituaries. Noted are Dr. Harvey Barttle who donated a large red engine to the museum's display, Alfred McNerney who donated the California Zephyr and Blair Lavelle a long-time volunteer.
But the "oohs and ahs" are reserved for the train display itself. And while there are those who have been coming almost as long as there's been a display-since 1971 - there are also the newbies who show up for the first time and start their own tradition.
Ted Kittila and his 3-year-old son Alex, from Greenville were at the museum on Black Friday for their second Brandywine Christmas
Ted Kittila said they moved into the area last year just before the holidays. They went to the museum for the exhibit and Alex, he said, has been talking about it all year long.
"And my 1-year-olddaughter is equally entranced," he said.
Then there are the "old-timers," some of whom become volunteers, such as Joe Bauer.
Bauer, a former Genesis employee said he's been involved since 1990 after he saw an ad in the newspaper. The display tied in to his childhood love of trains that never ended.
Steve Clarke, the curator of trains, said there approximately 2,000 feet of track on a display area that's 61 feet by 35 feet. The longest train has 50 cars.
The display probably won't get any larger.
"We can't get much more in here," Clarke said.
It's not only the trains that bring people to the museum for the annual exhibit. And some travel a good distance.
David Booth, 74, and his wife Fran have been making the trip from Cincinnati, Ohio for 26 years.
"I love this place," he said. "I'd be a volunteer if I lived in the area."
It's not just one thing that has them returning year after year.
"It's the critters, the tree, the trimming, the art. No where else compares to this place," he said.
A Brandywine Christmas runs through Jan.11. Along with the train display are "Scenes of the Season" - a collection of winter and holiday oriented paintings from the museum and private collections, and Donald Pywell's "Golden Impressions," jewelry inspired by the work of Andrew Wyeth.