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On the move

Observer-Reporter - 3/13/2018

Just in time for Kids Fest, the Train Gang of Washington County has moved to a new location within Washington Crown Center and will hold a grand reopening Saturday to coincide with the event.

The intricate model train exhibit, with favorites like the "Dingaling Brothers" circus, will be on display in the former Ritz Camera store, close to the former Macy's entrance.

Secretary Jean R. Bear said people have been wondering where the group went.

"We're a little farther down than we used to be ? close to the food court ? but we're still there," she said.

The origins of the Train Gang go back more than 25 years in Beaver County. Joe Jack, a model train enthusiast, wanted to create a train layout display that would be free for the public to view. If guests chose to give donations, the money would be passed onto local charities.

For years, the display was assembled wherever he could find free space during the Christmas season.

When Joe and his wife Sara moved to Washington County about 13 years ago, they brought the train display to Canonsburg, where it was displayed in borough council chambers, then the vacant Bahr Hardware Store. Since that time, the display has been housed in the Freedom Center, George Washington Hotel, and the Fraternal Order of Eagles 4546, Washington.

In 2014 Jack decided to establish a formal club of interested members, with dues, membership cards, elected officers and voting rights. The group chose the name "The Train Gang of Washington County, PA" and elected Jack president. The organizations supports itself by raffling train sets at Christmas and repairing trains for donations.

In October 2015, the group couldn't find a place to set up for Christmas. After a story appeared in the Observer-Reporter, management at Washington Crown Center offered a vacant storefront, rent-free for the season.

The group prepared the space in about half the time it would usually take, and were ready for a pre-Thanksgiving opening. That season, about 13,000 visitors donated enough that the group was able to give about $5,000 to local charitable organizations.

In 2016, more than 15,000 visitors stopped by and the Train Gang was able to give more than $8,000. The display was open during special mall events, some weekends and most of the holiday.

This past Christmas, the group was notified that a new tenant was moving in and they'd have to vacate. Though the new room is smaller, and the Train Gang is now responsible for utilities, the group once again came together to paint, repair plumbing and electric and prepare the new space.

They spend about 1,000 hours working, and even though the track was not complete, were able to open temporarily on Feb. 17 for Pinewood Derby Day participants.

A new feature in their new locations will allow children to operate trains on an eye-level layout.

Comprised of about 20 members, the Train Gang contributes to several organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, City Mission, Washington County Humane Society, Greater Washington County Food Bank, Washington-Greene County Blind Association, senior citizens centers and Faith Christian School.

Their goal, said Bear, is to continue to provide entertainment and accept donations that will be distributed to local charities.

For more information, call 724-345-3503.


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