Santa's got his sleigh and his ho-ho-ho, but the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center has got the trains and the choo-choo-choo.

"Railroads are a key feature of Wyoming dating way back to 1869 when they, of course, passed through southern Wyoming," said Shawn Wade, an interpreter at the center on the hill overseeing Casper.

"Now, they're a key feature to our economy, transporting people, goods and now coal throughout the state," Wade said.

Visitors to the center this month can see, hear and touch the small versions of the iron horses that tamed the plains with the help of the Central Wyoming -- "The Antelope Line" -- Model Railroad Association.

This marks the fourth year for the exhibit, which coincides with the center's annual Holiday on the Homestead event Saturday.

The 12-year-old trails center tells the history of the major emigrant trails -- Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express -- that converged in Casper before separating to guide nearly a half million emigrants westward in the mid-19th century.

The role of the trials came to a close in the late 1860s as the railroads rose to prominence.

"It relates to the progression of history in Wyoming," Wade said.

The railroads dramatically shortened the time to travel from the east and midwest to the west coast, he said. "Instead of four-and-a-half to six months, that trip to Oregon or California could be made within a matter of a week or so."

The Central Wyoming Model Railroad Association highlights the role of passenger trains in the Western expansion.

It displays several track layouts, some with model trains dating to the 1930s, locomotives and railroad cars, the depot sign from the old Glenrock station, advertisements and other memorabilia.

The club will raffle two layouts and other prizes. It also will be selling patches, T-shirts and other items.

Club member Homer Whitlock has been throttling and restoring model trains since his childhood seven decades ago.

Whitlock and other club members will share their passion for their hobby while teaching visitors about the importance of trains to the state's development, he said.

"It's a long ways from anyplace when you're in Wyoming," Whitlock said.

"If we could not get people and goods transported, we would have been in dire straits. The railroads made all that possible."


The train exhibit is open at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the following days during December: 3-6; 11-13; 18-20; 23-24; 26-27; and 30-31.

Regular admission fees are in effect to view the trains and other exhibits at the center, 1501 N. Poplar St.

Saturday, the center showcases its annual Holiday on the Homesteadfrom 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Visitors are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies and families of Natrona County.

Besides the model trains, the center will offer hands-on exhibits of ornament decorating, the Prairie Sweet Shop, family photos in pioneer clothes, making paper snowflakes, live pioneer music, and hanging out with Seymour the Antelope.

The center is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

For more information about Holiday on the Homestead, call 261-7780.


Tom Morton, Townsquare Media