Moving train set in Columbia business window drawing in crowds for 12 years


Karamie Sullivan photos.

Many Columbia residents who frequent Gervais Street stores around the holidays may have noticed a very small, moving “town” that appears in the Carlisle Associates window every December. Company partner Ted Zanders spends about 10 hours each year setting up Lionelville: a four-module American Flyer train set. The lifelike details Zanders incorporates into his town almost make it look as though it is a miniature living community.

Zanders said he got his first American Flyer train when he was seven years old. His interest grew as he collected more trains and radio-controlled airplanes. “Then around 15 I discovered girls,” he laughed. “I gave up trains for the next 30 years, then my mom and dad brought them back to me around ’96.” Zanders also saw a train show at the State Fair grounds in 2000 that peaked his interest once again.

Growing up near Washington D.C., Zanders said he remembers seeing train layouts in department store windows when his family would go Christmas shopping downtown. “I’d get to look at the layouts in the windows so that got me all excited about trains,” he said. It also sparked his idea of setting up his own set in his office building’s window in 2006. Lionelville has been making an appearance every year since then.

When asked about his favorite scenes in the town, he pointed out a few. One scene Zanders said he enjoys is the “pig escape,” where a car and a large truck have collided, causing the pigs to escape out of the back doors of the truck. Other scenes involve a seemingly-intoxicated man with a police officer tapping his shoulder, and kids playing tug of war by a playground. “And there’s the snack shop with all the hot cars in front,” he said. “There’s a his-and-hers Corvette, and he’s leaning on the hood of his car talking to her.” Some of the pieces displayed are from his first American Flyer train set in 1952.

Zanders uses a layout to remember how to set everything up, but he rearranges some scenes in different locations every year. The trains aren’t the only part of the layout that moves, many other small scenes like the children swinging on the playground, and a painter fixing the Lionelville sign, also move on a timer.

One of the biggest enjoyments Zanders said he gets from his hobby is seeing peoples’ reactions every year. “It’s fun to see them enjoy it, and especially the kids,” he said. “You can kind of tell the success of the season by the number of nose prints on the window.” 

Lionelville will remain set up through Friday before Zanders spends about four hours to break it down and pack it up until next year. The train will be in motion between 5:30 p.m. through 9:30 p.m. every day. Carlisle Associates is located at 1015 Gervais Street.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Columbia, Richland County