Virginia Kettering’s model train display, her gift for the community, has been a holiday tradition for more than two decades.
The train and village setup was commissioned by the Dayton philanthropist in 1996. Kettering founded “One World One Christmas,” the annual celebration now called the Dayton Holiday Festival, in 1972.
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Kettering and her husband, Eugene Kettering, the son of inventor Charles Kettering, were model train enthusiasts who kept their basement filled with the scaled down replicas.
“We used to have one on our dining room table,” she told the Dayton Daily News in 1996, referring to a tiny model train that circled the couple’s holiday table delivering relishes to dinner guests.
Three model trains chug through the scaled-down Christmas village: a trolley on the inner loop, a Christmas train carrying evergreen trees on the middle track and a larger diesel engine runs around the outer track.
Miniature street lights illuminate buildings with glowing windows. The structures commemorate Dayton landmarks such as Requarth Lumber, the Dayton Daily News and Kettering Medical Center.
There are countless engaging scenes within the arrangement. A diminutive bride and groom exit a church, a tiny man waits on a bench outside Elder-Beerman and a pocket-size Santa Claus leaves presents under a community Christmas tree.
The model was refurbished in 2009, and the majority is still original. The only piece missing, a trolley climbing a hill, has been replaced by a train depot.
Today, Chris Schultz, the owner of Schultz’s Hobbies in Kettering, and a team of volunteers from the Miami Valley Garden Railway Society maintain the display and assemble it in the Kettering Tower lobby each year.
Schultz, who powered up the train display this year a few days before Thanksgiving, said many people have made an annual pilgrimage to see the model train display a family tradition.
“It’s really awesome to watch kids and adults stand there for hours watching the trains go around,” he said. “It brings joy to me.”
WANT TO GO?
Virginia Kettering’s holiday train display, on view Nov. 29 through Jan. 2, 2020, is located in the lobby of the Kettering Tower, 40 N. Main St. in Dayton.
Lobby hours are Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. The train can be viewed through the building windows at Main and Second streets any time.