MAHWAH, N.J. -- The Mahwah Museum has one permanent collection that all parents and train aficionados of all ages should be aware of: a four-level train display called the Donald Cooper Model Railroad Exhibit.
The 13-by-28 display "contains street fairs, a skateboard park, a subway system, construction sites and a replica of the Great Falls of Patterson," the museum website notes. "A special holiday treat for children, this railroad operates more than 11 trains and children delight in the realistic subway that runs at their eye level."
The exhibit got its foundation when Donald Cooper's family donated a large display and his collection, in 2006. Cooper, a longtime resident of the town, had been a foreman for the Erie Railroad. After a career move, he retired in 1988, Bob Adler told Daily Voice, "and then he felt he had time to pursue his love of model trains."
Adler is the coordinator of the museum's railroad exhibits.
Donald and his wife Renee had worked together on that model for five years, Adler explained, before Donald got sick. Several years after his death, Renee donated the 9-by-13 model and over 700 cars and locomotives.
Donald had gotten his first model trains as a boy, and Bob added that one component of the family's donation was a set of Lionel trains from Donald's boyhood, that date back to the 1920s.
Since that initial donation, "Volunteers have worked on, developed and expanded it spectacularly," Charlie Carreras said. He's in charge of the museum's Les Paul exhibit, which is also on permanent display.
The museum used the original layout for three years, but they began expanding it in 2009, to run more trains and use more of the cars.
Others in the community have contributed to expand the detailed display, as well. Abby and George Margolis donated a large collection of Lionel O-gauge trains which had belonged to George's father, Jerome.
"We get to play with those once a year at the Mahwah library," Bob said.
In mid-November, Bob and his wife, Diane, set up that train display in the Mahwah Public Library, which was a big draw for area kids. Diane is a retired Wyckoff teacher and the director of education at the museum.
The museum has special holiday hours for the Donald Cooper Model Railroad Exhibit. Two have already passed, but the remaining ones are Friday Dec. 9 and 16, when the exhibit will be open from 6-9 p.m.
Additionally, Santa will be making a special visit to the model railroad on the 16th, which Carreras describes as "a big deal around here" and much more laid-back than a department-store Santa experience.
The Donald Cooper Railroad is also open on weekends, October through June, from 1-4 p.m. Admission is free for members and kids, and $5 for non-members.