TAMPA Corey Hood couldn't put his finger on it, but he tried anyhow.
"I think it's a fascination with the power behind it, a locomotive pulling 100 or so coal cars," he said. "I've taken cab rides. I just can't describe it. The whistle, going 110 mph past a station."
He was talking, of course, about America's longstanding love affair with the railroad, a notion that was evident over the weekend at the Florida State Fairgrounds with the eighth-annual Model Train Show & Sale.
"To me, the fascination is in the design," he said. "Some like the colors."
Hood and his 8-year-old son, Alexander, meandered through the 400 tables of vendors and gawked at the 10 model train sets set up throughout the Special Events Center. Just about every bit of space in the 60,000-square-foot building was taken up by something related to trains.
There were antique train sets and brand new ones for sale, including Lionel, American Flyer, H&O; T-shirts and all sorts of accessories in just about every conceivable size. One corner featured a memorabilia table, with old lanterns and tea sets from diner cars. A set of expensive china was for sale – silverware, too.
Hood hails from a railroad family in Connecticut. His father used to take him on train rides, and he often sat in the locomotive with the engineer.
Now, he's passing on his love of trains to his son, who runs a model train upstairs in their Sarasota area home that goes from his bedroom to a family room.
"The cat doesn't care for it," Hood said.
Alan Altman of Land O' Lakes watched as people streamed in this morning. Over the course of two days, as many as 3,500 rail enthusiasts will have come through the building, he said. Attendance led Golden Spike Enterprises, which sponsored the event, to book a second show at the fairgrounds in June.
"It's popular all over," Altman said. "Every little kid has had a model train at some point. The whistle is in their heads.
"It's the power of the train, too. "Wherever there are tracks, you see people standing there, watching trains go by."