DANVILLE — Five-year-old Peter Alifieris moved the Santa Fe train at his own pace around the track and especially enjoyed pushing it through a tunnel.
That's allowed. Kids run the model trains at Christ Memorial Episcopal Church, at Pine and East Market streets, and have been operating them for 14 years, according to founder Bob Bomboy.
Peter's mother Christine said she and her son come nearly every Saturday. "It helps socialize him and he can interact with all ages. The guys here have been fantastic, very welcoming and very kind — it's a wonderful atmosphere," the Danville resident said of the train setup open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Just in time for their Christmas party, Bomboy and his partners built a wooden housing and track for a garden-size train that runs around the ceiling of the room with the entrance posted "It's Always Christmas Here" and a Christmas tree in the center of the floor layout.
The garden train, with a locomotive and two passenger cars, travels along 100 feet of track. Earl (Wagner) donated the lumber we planned and sanded, cut and painted," Bomboy said of the red frame. "I used 200 screws to hold it to the ceiling," he said.
He said some track came with the donated train and others donated enough money to buy the remaining track.
The new train runs rather slowly, continuously and similar to the train at the Janet Weis Children's Hospital at Geisinger, Bomboy said.
The free Christmas party, complete with homemade cookies from women of the church, coffee, tea and juice will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 22.
Besides kids operating trains on the layout, they can add cars from a closet. "The trains are constantly changing," Bomboy said.
Lily Shiffer, 10, of the Northumberland area, comes there quite a bit. "It's a lot of fun," said Lily who was with her great-grandmother, her brother Grayson, 3, and neighbor Brayden Bingaman, 9.
Lily showed a favorite of ice skaters — one of many scenes in the elaborate display.
Logan Natale, 8, and his brother Hunter, 10, of Bloomsburg, were there Saturday for the first time this year. They were with their grandfather Donald Tappe, of Bloomsburg, who works with the train group. "Bob and I were working on the rails all week," Tappe said.
Scott Heim has been helping out the past four years. His 11-year-old son Elliot serves a chief engineer. Scott, of the Danville area, said he played with trains as a kid, stepped away from them and took Elliot to see the layout. "I came for many days in a row and have been coming ever since," said Scott who gets to crawl under the display when a wire is loose.
"It's so hands-on and with kids playing with them, there are malfunctions. My job is to make it right," he said. "The best part is the kids are able to touch and play and learn," he said.
The display also includes a separate table with an old American Flyer train a teacher of Scott's willed to the group. Bomboy said brass plates around the room commemorate who has donated trains. The American Flyer is an S gauge while the other layout trains are O gauge.
The model, 22 feet by 10 feet, also has a fireworks show, a merry-go-round model to play with, a working sawmill model, 30 push buttons controlling moveable attractions and much more. More than 1,000 icicle lights hang throughout the room.
Bomboy said Wagner, of the Danville area, has one of the largest train layouts in the United States which has been featured in newspapers and on the cover of American Flyer magazine.