The Return of Mega Model Trains

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This July, the Morris Museum is reopening its Mega Model Trains Exhibit, an intricate model train set that meanders across a 288-square-foot landscape replicating a bustling city and pastoral scene, equipped with a waterfall, planetarium, and even a sasquatch. What you wouldn’t know from just seeing the exhibit, however, is the almost three-decade history behind this fascinating display.

Long-time residents of Morris County might recognize the exhibit as the train set that was viewable from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day at the Nabisco Factory in East Hanover. First opened in 1985, the display was constructed, maintained, and expanded by Nabisco employees until 2000, when the company was purchased by Kraft Foods.

Kraft continued to operate the trains, but after the September 11th attacks, concerns about safety led them to curtail visitation rights only to employees, their families, business partners, and local preschool students, which heavily limited access to the growing display. In 2012, Kraft split up and the East Hanover office became Mondelez International. Rather than continue maintaining the trains, Mondelez donated the display to the Morris Museum, where it was opened to the public in December 2012.

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Today, the train set is maintained thanks to the efforts of museum volunteers Ira Ginsburg, Bob DeGuarde, and Ken Zippler. In fact, Ginsburg was one of the original creators of the display and has overseen its development since the Nabsico days. If it weren’t for Ginsburg, who worked as a security guard at Nabisco by night and on the trains by day, the exhibit probably wouldn’t exist today. The original display barely resembled what’s on view now, but, over the years, he added more figures, more cars, and more track, sometimes at his own expense. Looking back on the display since its inception, Ginsburg views it as an ever-changing work of art. Rightfully so. With all the materials, time, and energy devoted to the display, preserving the trains and scenery has really been a labor of love.

The exhibit features 500 feet of O-gauge track surrounded by an eclectic array of buildings, figurines, cars, trees, and all sorts of other interesting minutia. Along the sides of the display are 48 buttons, each activating a unique light or a moving device, allowing guests to interact with the exhibit. Almost like a real-life Where’s Waldo book, half the fun of Mega Model Trains is admiring the incredibly detailed scenes dispersed throughout.

Mega Model Trains has changed substantially since it was fist created, and it continues to evolve today. In an age saturated with digital entertainment, there’s something about tinkering with electronics that feels authentic and innocent. If you feel the same way, whether you’re a child or an adult who grew up with a Lionel set, then Mega Model Trains is sure to excite your imagination.

The Mega Model Trains Exhibit is open from July 2 to August 16 at the Morris Museum. And while you’re here, don’t forget to stop upstairs to see our Model Railway Room, which features another kid-friendly train exhibit.

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