LIVING HISTORY CHRISTMAS

Steve Holcombe, left, lets Raylan Snell, 1, blow the horn on a passing model train during the Living History Christmas event December 3, 2016, at the Gregg Count Historical museum.

Each Christmas season, mini trains chug merrily along tracks at the Gregg County Historical Museum, offering the occasional high-pitched whistle or puff of smoke, as children’s eyes go wide with wonder.

What better way to combat the winter chill than a warm family event filled with Christmas spirit? The museum will be offering just that with its annual Living History Christmas event featuring volunteer community actors and actresses and the Loblolly Train Exhibit.

“It’s a fun-filled, interactive living history experience that brings our history museum to life,” museum director Lindsay Loy said. “It’s really fun for the kids.”

Taking place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 1, the Living History Christmas event is free for all who attend, with the museum decorated to the nines with Christmas trees and antique decorations. Kids of all ages, from 1 to 92, can watch a blacksmith, cowboy, train conductor, engineer and more play out their roles to entertain their audience and teach a thing or two as well.

“It’s one of the things we do to kick off the Christmas season,” Loy said. “We spend four weeks decorating. It’s a really magical place to go.”

The 40-foot model train layout by the train enthusiast Loblolly Railway group is sure to catch attention, with its horse that neighs, a light up dining cart, an airplane and a pop-up Santa to name a few.

“There’s bridges, towns, cities, a trolley, all sorts of stuff,” train conductor and Loblolly member Fred Bauer said. “We have old trains, new trains, and try to mix it up.”

Many years ago, Ann Smead and her husband donated their train set to the Gregg County Historical Museum, inspiring the train exhibit. The interactive volunteer contribution came to be shortly after.

“(The museum) incorporated the Living History Christmas into (the layout) as a way to be interactive and hands on for the kids and give them a different kind of museum tour,” Loy said.

Not only will kids be able to see the train exhibit and volunteers, they also will be able to take part in activities such as Caddo Indian face painting and ornament making, with a train ticket given and punched at the entrance to take home with them. Bauer also plans to add a special train set featuring “Cars 3” movie characters Lightning McQueen and the Radiator Springs gang.

“That’s the surprise that I’m going to put on the layout this year for the children,” Bauer said. “I think they’re going to go nuts when they see it.”

But the train sets aren’t just for the kids. Some of the sets are more than 60 years old — sets that older patrons will remember from their childhood.

“The whole event brings back memories, makes new memories for the younger kids, and people come back every single year to see it,” Loy said. “It’s become a Gregg County tradition.”

After the Living History Christmas event, the Loblolly Model Train and Holiday Village Exhibit will continue Dec. 4 through Dec. 22 at the museum. Regular museum hours and admission charges apply after Dec. 1.