As four visitors board two train passenger cars, conductor Chris Wallich emerges from the bright yellow railroad station — formerly a B & O Railroad section car house — and asks if they’re ready for a ride on a train.
After getting several “yes” responses, Wallich starts up the locomotive. April 7 was opening day for the Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum and Joy Line Railroad.
Wallich said his father named the railroad “Joy Line” because people always felt joy when they were aboard for a ride.
“We enjoy the people,” Wallich said. “The children have a lot of fun with the trains.”
The railroad and collection began with Wallich’s father, the late Robert Wallich Sr. who began collecting toy trains as a child and continued until his death more than 70 years later.
In 1970, the Wallichs decided to share the collection with the public, opening the museum in a vintage Western Maryland Railroad baggage car in downtown Harpers Ferry.
The museum was moved to its current location off Bakerton Road beside the School House Ridge Battlefield in the mid-1980s. About four acres of the Wallich family’s 1- acre property are dedicated to the museum and the Joy Line Railroad.
With the help of friends and relatives, the Wallichs spent a year constructing a half-mile outdoor track for the railroad.
The railroad ride offers passengers three loops around the track for $2, including going through a large red barn tunnel and over a small creek. Two George Washingtons will also get you into the museum or three laps around a track in a Hodges handcar, but that ride is just for young children.
The museum is located on top of a hill behind the railroad line. Wallich’s wife, Donna, runs the museum and greets visitors.
She said about 99 percent of the collection, which is around 1,000 pieces predates 1939. The oldest toy train is a No. 6 Lionel, which dates back to 1910. There are a couple modern trains such as Thomas the Tank engine and The Polar Express for the younger set to see.
The collection also includes railroad tools, lanterns, calendars, signs and other assorted railroad memorabilia. Donna Wallich learned about trains from her mother-in-law Kitty, who ran the museum until she passed away in 2005.
“I think it’s amazing for one man’s collection,” Donna Wallich said. “You don’t see the old trains anymore.”
Sam and Donna Myers drove up from Berryville, Va. on Saturday to attend opening day of the museum.
Daughter Elizabeth, 8, and son, Henry, 6, took several rides aboard the hand cars nicknamed Kitty and Bob for Wallich’s parents.
Henry, dressed in a Thomas the Tank Engine T-shirt and conductor hat, loves trains, his parents said. He has his own collection of Thomas engines.
“I think we will be back,” Donna Myers said.
The museum and railroad are open, weather permitting, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from April until October.
There is no web site for the museum but people from all over have made the trek to the site. Wallich said many visitors are from the Washington/Baltimore area but has had tourists from England and Japan come as well.
“It’s like a big kid’s train set,” Sam Myers said.
Wallich doesn’t keep a count on how many visitors come a year but attendance usually depends on the weather.
Donna Wallich said she enjoys meeting new people, especially children. She can always tell if a child likes trains or is really interested in them by their reactions to the displays.
“It’s good to see how it was in times gone by,” Donna Wallich said.