INTERVALE, N.H. -- On a trip to North America in 1991, Swiss natives and model train enthusiasts Roger and Nelly Hartmann fell in love with New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley. They bought a house in Jackson and the next year purchased the Brass Caboose in downtown Intervale, where they opened a small museum and hobby shop.
Three years later, they moved their extensive train collection and hobby shop into two new 8,000-square-foot buildings just off Route 16. Today, the Hartmann Model Railroad and Toy Museum boasts one of the largest displays of operating train layouts in the country. In the adjoining hobby shop, enthusiasts can find model trains, tracks, and landscapes, as well as cars large enough to be used as garden ornaments.
Even those who are not aficionados will be impressed by the detail in the 12 operating layouts, in various scales from Z to G gauge. An N-gauge layout replicates train travel through New Hampshire's Crawford Notch in the mid-1950s, over the Frankenstein Trestle, by the Willey Brook Bridge, the Bartlett Roundhouse, and the North Conway station. Also in N gauge is a replica of train travel through Switzerland's St. Gotthard Pass, with the tiny trains disappearing into the mountain.
Gauge, Nelly Hartmann explained, refers to the size of the track, which dictates the scale of the models. Z, N, and HO gauges are popular in Europe because they are small and many Europeans live in apartments, she said. In the United States, O gauge, still manufactured by Lionel, is probably the best known.
The museum's largest layout, in G gauge, has a Swiss Alpine scene on one side and the United States' Wild West on the other. In another layout, trains zip by a Native American village of tepees, then a cemetery, junkyard, carnival, church, rail yard, and oil refinery. As the trains approach, tiny lanterns held by signalmen light up, and red lights flash at miniature railroad crossings.
Kayleigh Kearns of Jackson has been bringing her children, Garrett, 5, and Ellory, 3, to the museum regularly since Ellory was a baby. Watching the Crawford Notch train run, Kearns said she remembered hiking there once. Garrett headed straight for the Thomas the Tank Engine layout, where cars with Thomas's cheery little face on the front tool around a village with a carousel and hardware store while a helicopter hovers overhead.
The museum has model train cars from most European countries and Japan, South Africa, and Australia. There are also displays of model automobiles, dating to an 1896 Studebaker, and airplanes back to 1908, along with boats, armored vehicles, and firefighting equipment.
From spring through fall, visitors can take a 6- to 8-minute outdoor train ride that goes by miniature houses, a church, a schoolhouse, through a covered bridge, and over trestles.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.