2020 | Entertainment & Events

Model trains now on display at shopping area at Rio in Gaithersburg

Will stay into next year, but scenery will change

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Rio Junction, a display of model trains and other toys, has been at Gaithersburg's Rio shopping area since earlier this month. It will stay there through at least part of 2021.

Photo by Adam Brockett

Visitors at Gaithersburg’s Rio shopping area have been treated to a collection of toy trains rumbling along through a miniature town behind a window.

The train display, called Rio Junction, is in the window at 201 Boardwalk Place, near Chipotle. It features passenger and freight trains powered by steam locomotives, stations with passengers made out of metal, suspension bridges, buildings, airplanes and ships.

The toys are made of cast and stamped metal, as well as plated tin, according to a description of Rio Junction on Rio’s website. The display was created by John Larson and Jila Shams, of Alexandria, Va.-based Two Hands Concepts/Design.

Larson said in an interview that he and Shams have been doing exhibition and graphic design work since the early 1990s. He designed the “on” switch at the merry-go-round in Rio. He also has done design work for downtown Silver Spring and National Harbor – all properties managed by the Peterson Companies.

Larson said that several years ago, he thought it would be fun to take his vintage toy train collection and share it with the public.

Photo by Dan Schere.

This year, to help liven things up during the COVID-19 pandemic, he put his idea into action, and approached the Peterson Companies about the idea.

“With everything going on this year, it worked out very well,” he said.

Larson said toy trains in the display are Lionel, American Flyer and Marx. The trains span the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, he said.

“It more or less evokes an era. Most trains are divided into two types of category, both pre-war and post war, using World War II as a base,” he said.

Larson said he and Shams built the model in a little more than three weeks. That was after he had the trains, the train stations and some of the power stations restored.

“It is expensive to acquire these things when they’re in perfect condition, but you can find kind of rusty, beat-up pieces. They’re fairly easy to repair,” he said.

Larson said he lubricates the trains every few days to keep them running along smoothly.

Unlike some holiday train displays, this one will continue for six months, Larson said. But the scenery will change.

“Come March, we’re gonna change out the structures and replace all the snow with greenery,” he said. “In the spring, the circus may come to town. We’re planning on possibly doing a farm and dairy scene. The joy of this exhibit is to share love and appreciation with others, especially the kids.”

Photo by Dan Schere.

The trains operate every day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m.

Laurie Yankowski, the regional marketing director for the Peterson Companies, said the timing is right for the display.

“And we were looking for something that was age appropriate and would put a smile on people’s faces … and this does all of that and more,” she said.

The train display is one of a series of new additions to Rio, Yankowski said.

The shopping area recently added a “fire lounge” near Uncle Julio’s where people can sit in soft chairs around fire pits. Multiple new merchants are also expected soon, including the eyelash studio Amazing Lash and the gelato eatery Fantasticks.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com