Brice, 5, and his sister, Stella, 3, perched on Blaine Ryan's knees and eagerly helped “conduct” two trains moving in opposite directions through the hallways and rooms of the History Center on Sunday.
The children's parents, Aaron and Andrea Rollins, along with Breana, 11, were also enjoying the model railroad exhibit, but the family trip was made primarily for Brice.
“He just loves trains,” his mother said. “When he was younger, it was Thomas the Train toys, but we recently bought him his own model train set.”
The locomotives, railroad cars and landscapes were miniature, but just as thrilling as the real ones for train enthusiasts of all ages.
Ryan, who was manning one set of switches for the display, is a member of TRAIN – the Three Rivers and Indiana Northern railroad association, which sponsors the event.
“My wife, Diane, gave me a train set 30 years ago and suggested model trains as a hobby about 15 years ago,” he said.
The couple live in Monroeville and Ryan's portion of the display shows the town in 1948, when the train depot dominated the downtown scene. Ryan re-created the model buildings using old photos of the town and depot, which was demolished years ago.
Around one of the curves, the trains pass the flashing lights of Building No. 4 of the General Electric plant in Fort Wayne. That model is also the handiwork of Ryan, and represents the workplace of Diane, who still works for GE, but in a different Fort Wayne location.
Ryan's train tracks and roots run deep.
His grandfather, Albert “AJ” Ryan was an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad and also served in World War I as a train engineer in France. His father, Paul Ryan, was a railroad policeman before becoming a Fort Wayne police officer.
The fourth generation, grandson Anthony, 2, is also a train lover, Ryan said.
Helping Ryan with the exhibit – which will feature different train sets throughout the week – are fellow club members Jerry Kesson and Ron Ross.
Ross has been fascinated with trains since he was a small child, he said. After retiring from Shambaugh & Son as a project engineer and mechanical estimator, he was able to devote more time to his hobby.
His portion of the exhibit included livestock cars, train stockyards, Hart's Coop (named after his brother-in-law), John Deere tractors and brilliant hues of fall foliage brightening the autumn landscape.
“It took me two years to put that module together,” Ross said.
The exhibit will be open during regular History Center hours through Saturday and during the Three Rivers Festival.