Most people's first exposure to model trains came when they first peered into a retail store's window and marveled at the winter scene brought to life by the bells, whistles, and smoke of a holiday layout. One such layout has been a staple in downtown St. Louis for years, but won't be introducing any children to the wonderful world of trains this year.
In story that hits very close to home for me, the legendary downtown St. Louis Macy's train layout is seeking a new destination, because the storefront it calls home is closing its doors. For decades the layout has been enjoyed by holiday shoppers who would press their noses up to the glass as tiny trains whirred over bridges and disappeared into tunnels, only to spring back to life on the other side.
The layout itself was brought back to life in 1988 thanks to a partnership between the then-Famous-Barr store and the American Flyer “S” Gaugers of the St. Louis Area. The Railway Exchange Building was a fitting location both in name, and because it was nestled beneath the former headquarters of the Wabash Railrway. For 25 years the layout has witnessed the general decline of downtown St. Louis and shopping in the district. It looks like December 2012 really might have been the end of the world for at least one layout.
The video below captures what may be the layout's final run this past Christmas.
If you haven't seen this beauty in person, it's quite a sight to behold. The layout features more than 300 feet of track designed with individual loops that allows seven trains to run simultaneously. There are rolling mountains, local landmarks, and tons of highlights along the track for wandering eyes. The entire experience is enthralling, and you can be left in awe of the layout for hours while your loved ones shop their hearts out in the store or around town. But that's an experience which might soon be lost to time.
In past generations, beautiful and engaging layouts like this one were practically a requirement for high-end stores, and certainly one of he most enjoyable elements of the entire holiday season. With the decline of retail shopping around the world, the loss of another downtown trademark is a fitting symbol of sorts for the change in the "destination shopping" mentality that downtown used to have. Much like folks do their destination shopping elsewhere, the legendary S Scale layout on the corner of Seventh and Locust streets will be looking for a new home.
Moving the 400-square foot layout won't be an easy task, as it wasn't designed for transport. The herculean challenge will require a concerted effort, multiple trucks, and a sizable storage area that's currently not available. But every penny and every ounce of energy will be well worth it if it means saving a true landmark in St. Louis history.
As someone who lives in downtown St. Louis, I've seen a revival of sorts in the city recently. There are new families and new business making a return pilgrimage to these one-empty streets. There are still trains entering the city like clockwork, too. St. Louis is poised for an incredible comeback, and I hope the mythic Macy's layout is ready to join right alongside. This city deserves a layout like this one, and its people deserve that brief respite from reality that only a sharp whistle, billowing smoke, and the light at the end of a tiny train tunnel can provide.