Whether it's a doubting child's magical ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve or an engine hauling cars around a circle of carefully-laid track on a "putz" under the tree, trains have become a magical part of the Christmas season for "children of all ages."

Good news for train enthusiasts … Merchants Square Model Train Exhibit has opened its doors to the public – not only at Christmas time, but year 'round. It is located at 1901 South 12th Street in Allentown.

The massive model train display features more than 40 trains; 18,000 feet of track; and 30,000 lights illuminating buildings, street lights, stars, and the moon. It includes a railroad yard – complete with roundhouse and turntable; a 60-piece operating amusement park with a roller coaster; a drive-in theater which shows an actual movie; skiers racing down a snow-covered mountain; and replicas which include historic Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and the PP&L Building in Allentown.

There are four underground subways, five elevated trains, and four pantograph electric trains. Lines represented include Lehigh Valley; Jersey Central; Reading; Lehigh and New England; Pennsylvania Railroad; New York Central; New Haven Railroad; Amtrack; and SEPTA.

According to Mike Roche, owner of Merchants Square Mall, "The exhibit is incredibly detailed. Every time I look at it, I see something new."

From the vast collection of former Diocese of Allentown priest Joseph Kean and his family, the display also features a huge 24-foot by 16-foot lake with real water over which darkening clouds gather with thunder, lightning, and rain.

Kean previously designed and displayed his model trains at Old Mauch Chunk Model Train Display in Jim Thorpe and Pocono Museums Unlimited in Lehighton.

He and his small crew of dedicated volunteers have spent more than two years building Merchants Square Model Train Exhibit.

Designated "a work in progress" by mall manager Bernie Myers, he said that the exhibit is about 98 percent finished and features HO, two-rail O, and three-rail O trains, buildings, and accessories.

Myers, of Emmaus, volunteers his time to operate the exhibit on weekends. His wife, Cindy, is a volunteer ticket agent.

"The trains have been good for Merchants Square Mall," said Myers. "A lot of people didn't realize that we were even here before the trains opened. Business for the mall has picked up a lot."

Brian Holgate of Schnecksville had a great time visiting the display with his grandchildren. According to six-year-old Xander Giandomenico, "It's great! I love the storm clouds and rain."

His 10-year-old sister, Cielo, added "My favorite things on the display are McDonald's and all those lights!"

The train exhibit is located on the second floor of Merchants Square Mall. The mall features over 100,000 square feet of specialty shops; antiques and collectibles; an in-house auction room; special events showroom; and a full-service restaurant – as well as plenty of free parking.

Merchants Square Model Train Exhibit is open Fridays noon to 9 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information and coupons, visit www.ModelTrainExhibit.com [1] http://www.modeltrainexhibit.com/ [2] or call (610) 797-7743.