Saturday, November 24, 2012

All Aboard: A Nondenominational Light Show and Train Display in Montgomery County

I grew up with model trains.   I associate them with the holidays, with tiny ceramic Christmas villages, and sweeping away avalanches of pine needles from train tracks.  The migraine that results from the scent of artificial smoke takes me back to the days of candles, nativity scenes, garlands, and egg nog.

My father was raised on Lionel trains, and therefore so were my siblings and I.  I love that we were, I love that we don't put presents under the tree because then we'd be placing barriers to the train's route.  We are no longer allowed to gift my father ceramic houses for the village, because at some point the village began to morph into a metropolis much larger than our living room could handle.

As a family, we've partaken in an array of train-themed activities.  Train shows, train rides in the midwest with questionable food carts that made me ill as a child, train rides in the Adirondack Mountains where we had to carry canoes and there was many a raised voice.  I most vividly recall various adventures to a train store somewhere in Maryland (I have no idea where) that sold collectible trains alongside shotguns.  Because, why not?  It's the epitome of one-stop-shopping.

A day or two before I left to see my family for Thanksgiving, I was at home, delirious with a cold, hopped up on DayQuil and dousing my tea in a solid amount of Jameson after 6pm.  I received an email from my father that succinctly read:

"Suggest we have family time this Friday here: "

I was assured a light show of sorts, along with a large-scale (G-scale) train display.  I have done light shows in my past; the one in Manassas is practically tradition at this point.  You pay money, you sit in your car like good Americans, and enjoy drive-thru holiday festivities like you're ordering a Big Mac.  Santa, elves, reindeer, snowmen and toy soldiers are lit up with thousands of tiny light bulbs and move around, ensuring that everyone at the local gas and electric company has a very merry Christmas, indeed.
G-Scale Train Display
About 30 miles from my folks' place in Virginia, and a solid 30 or so from Baltimore, are Montgomery County's Brookside Gardens. Imagine my surprise when, as soon as one pays, you have to park. 
"Why are we parking?" asked all the ladies in the car, "Don't we just drive through the light show?"
"No," my patient father asked, "I think we have to walk through this one."
A collective groan emitted from the car.  

Gay pride?  Rainbow connection?
Wizard of Oz?  You decide!
The entrance to the walk-through holiday light show was ... a caterpillar.  We're talking Absolem from Alice in Wonderland here, except possibly more trippy, if that's at all possible.  He is also the caterpillar you have to walk through in reverse to exit, which made me feel like I was a human colonoscopy for the guy.  Why it was a caterpillar and not, say, a train or a reindeer or what have you, I couldn't say.  I mistakenly assumed that, "Holiday Light Show" implied all of those various holiday cliches we've come to love and/or abhor over the years.

No holiday is complete without the Festive Sea Creature.
As the walk continued, I became more perplexed, as did my family.  There were orange lights around, a lit up figurine that could have been a gardner but resembled a grave-digger, and the whole thing just reeked of "Haunted House" more than "Holiday Extravaganza."  There was a rainbow, along with a raincloud and what was trying to be a recording of thunder but bore more resemblance to a low growl.  Later, we saw a kangaroo, giraffe, lochness monster, two dolphins, swans that I thought were wonton soup spoons, a beehive (that totally looked like a basketball hoop) and a frog.  I found the entire experience oddly disorienting and perplexing.  How was this holiday themed?  Why were there so many orange lights?  Why did part of it, as my sister noted,  look like a cheap beachfront resort?  In the attempt to be nondenominational, it was just weird.

The train display in the greenhouse was lovely, albeit also a little weird.  Less weird in comparison to the confusing light show outside, but I didn't get why Woody and Buzz Lightyear were in a town with Disney princesses and some random sunbathing girls.  I maybe was looking for a congruent theme where none was to be found.  The trains themselves were wonderful, and it was adorable to see the faces of the small children, in complete awe of the entire thing.  I bet they didn't think twice about the odd characters in the train's town.  

If you're new to Bmore and want to see a train/light show combination, but are just completely sick of the holidays, this is the one for you.  Only $25/car.  Make the hike out to Montgomery county, and you won't have to suffer the sight of a single snowflake.  If you want something slightly more holiday-themed and much more convenient, sit tight for an update on Christmas Street in Hampden.


  1. How have your padre and I never talked about model trains? Not to drop any hints, but I've read about houses with entire rooms dedicated to Lionel trains (Tu madre me va a matar ahora). And the non-denominational light show reminds me a bit of Main Street USA at Disneyworld...

    1. How have you never seen el tren and el nacimiento that take up the entirety of the house around Christmas? This is shocking.