PALMETTO -- For those in Manatee and Sarasota who love trains, the Bradenton Area Convention Center was the place to be Sunday.
A Saturday and Sunday crowd estimated at 1,700 attended the 35th annual Model Railroad Train Exposition hosted by RealRail, a model-railroading club and train education provider serving Manatee, Sarasota and surrounding areas.
Visitors to the Expo got
n The city of Tampa skyline and a model train running around it all made entirely out of roughly 600,000 Lego pieces by Greater Florida Lego Users Group.
n About 70 Boy Scouts getting their railroad merit badges.
n Vintage and educational materials presented by the Lionel Collectors Club of America.
n Seven train layouts featuring everything from the tiny Z-scale, which has a ratio of 1:220, to a real train to the G-scale, about 1:24th of the real thing.
n Two hundred fifty vendors selling everything from vintage railroad advertising to train track.
"The crowd was 20 percent more than last year," said Steven Haber, the club's director of shows.
As club members and fans shared their stories Sunday, one thing everyone seemed to have in common was a happy early memory of trains.
"I grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my dad had trains and brought them out at Christmas," said Bradenton's Don Irvin. "I can remember spending hours helping my dad set up the village around the track. I would watch them for hours, too."
Now an adult with a 5-year-old son of his own, Irvin has N-scale, with 1:160 ratio, at home.
"He loves Thomas the Train, anything to do with trains," said Irvin as he watched Cameron kneel down to watch the trains from eye level.
Pierre Vautravers, from Switzerland, is a RealRail member most enthusiastic about Z-scale.
"I think a person my age, which is 69, remembers trains being part of life," Vautravers said, remarking that trains are everywhere in Switzerland.
"The Z scale is more expensive because everything is miniaturized," Vautravers said.
The Z scale is perfect for someone who doesn't have much space, such as a New Yorker in an apartment, which Vautravers was at one time.
RealRail is dedicated to preserving railroad history in the area by using everything from this annual expo to a railroad museum open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday except holiday weekends at 6804 14th St. W. (U.S. 41), Bradenton, Haber added. For information about the club, call 941-321-5847.