Caleb Buchanek carefully studied the 400 feet of model train track that make up the annual Loblolly Model Train Exhibit at the Gregg County Historical Museum.

Repeatedly, he circled the 8-foot-by 42-foot platform supporting seven individual tracks that wind in and out of small towns and countryside that portray various holiday and winter scenes.

Diagnosed as autistic, Buchanek, 18, loves model trains and visits the exhibit every year, said his mother, Kelly Buchanek. Because of this, she made sure they attended opening day of the exhibit on Tuesday.

“He has loved trains since he was 2, and his love for them has only grown since then,” his mother said. “The gentlemen here are so informative and have taught him how to set up his own track at home.”

Dozens upon dozens of families attend the model train exhibit each year, said Steve Gatlon, a model train conductor with the Loblolly Model Train.

Gatlon said a particularly common sight at the exhibit is grandparents with their grandchildren because they remember model trains from their own childhood and want to share that with their loved ones.

“Trains are one of the few toys that have transcended the decades,” he said. “If you look back to the 1950s, kids were getting trains, and if you go out to Hobby Lobby today, there are still trains for sale, just like the Barbie dolls.”

Gatlon believes there are many things children can learn from model trains. Caleb, for example, has used them in collaboration with his learning, his mother said.

“They are a great motivator for his reading,” she said. “It’s amazing the things that you can teach with trains in math. … It has not only been a great hobby for him, but it has helped propel him in his learning and his foundation to be a more engaged and productive person in our community and in life in general.”

The Loblolly Model Train Exhibit featuring the Polar Express is on display at the Gregg County Historical Museum through Dec. 23. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

The historical museum is offering free admission each Saturday in December. Admission Tuesday through Friday is $5 for adults, $2 for seniors and $1 for children. The museum is at 214 N. Fredonia St. in downtown Longview.

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Michael Cavazos is a multimedia journalist specializing in photography. A Kilgore native, he studied photography at Kilgore College and Stephen F. Austin State University. Michael enjoys visually documenting life in East Texas.