What Is Trains At Christmas???

“Trains at Christmas” is an annual model railroad swap meet and train show sponsored by the Sioux Valley Model Engineers Society.  The show is held in the north section of the EXPO building located on the W. H. Lyon fairgrounds in Sioux Falls, SD.  The dates for the 2024 show are November 23rd and 24th and the hours are from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday and from 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday. Admission is $7.00 for adults and children 12 and under are free when accompanied by an adult.

The event includes many functioning portable model train layouts from around the area and surrounding states.   Other displays include small ‘Z’ scale through large ‘O’ scale trains.  Included will be Lionel, American Flyer and LEGO layouts.

There are also several vendors offering train related items.  Presentations on railroading are offered by Rick Mills, who is the Director of the South Dakota State Railroad museum.  An additional attraction is a display of doll houses presented by the Minnehaha County Mini Makers club. During the two day meet the Sioux Valley Model Engineers also have their club’s permanent layout open at no charge.

NOTE: If you are a model railroader who would like to display your work or if you are a vendor who would like to participate please contact us by email at [email protected] , by mail at SVMES, P.O. Box 1963, Sioux Falls, SD 57108, or by phone at 605-373-0222. 

How It All Started......

The very first Trains at Christmas Show and Swap Meet was held in the downtown Sioux Falls in November 2002.  The idea for the event was to have a swap meet that promoted the hobby of model railroading and a show that attracted the train loving general public.  This first show was held in the old gymnasium associated with the Multi Cultural center.  The gym was schedule for demolition so the rental price was affordable and the area was spacious.  The show attracted a number of train layouts and vendors and the attendance was larger than expected.  One of the things lacking was a concession area.  This was partially solved when club members obtained sandwiches and sodas along with coffee and made them available to the participants.  This show had been a trial run that was fairly successful so a follow on show was scheduled for 2003 at the same location.

The second show was similar to the first year with some unexpected changes.    Since the gym was set to be demolished, the lighting was poor as a number of overhead lights were burned out and demolition was already started on the main entrance.  Entrance to the event was through an electrical utility room where the electrical equipment was covered with sheets to make it look a little more “normal”.  Also, this year a local business donated a large number of wooden trains with wooden track for the show.  The tracks were place on a large round wooden table that was placed low so that the children could play with the items.   This was a big success with the parents because the kids were kept busy while the adults took in the rest of the event.

By the third year, the gymnasium was gone so the show had to find a new home.   That home was the armory located on the W H Lyon fairgrounds. This location was convenient since it was located next to the SVMES club layout building so that visitors could take in that layout along with the rest of the show.   The space was much smaller than the previous years but it turn out to be adequate.  Food was supplied by the wives of some of the member.

The show continued on in the armory up through 2007 but by this time it had grown to the point that we needed to find a more spacious location.   The location that was chosen was the north section of the Expo building also located on the W H Lyon fairgrounds.  This is the space that is used for other events and was about four time larger that the armory space.  With this added space we could add more exhibitors and vendors and spread out to provide more walking space.  A change from past years was that the space now included a concession area so that the wives didn’t have to provide food.  Another change was with the additional space we could now include a children’s area with the wooden toy trains.  We obtained some carpeting and surrounded the area with folding chairs so that the adults could watch the kids play, converse with friends and eat items from the concession.

By 2014 it looked like we would again be out of space for the show so in 2015 we moved to the center section of the same Expo building.   We stayed in this area again in 2016 but this area had an excess of open space.  It was designed for other events and didn’t have the friendly atmosphere we were accustomed to.   In addition, in 2015 the weather almost ended our show when a huge blizzard struck on Friday before the show which made it very difficult for our visiting exhibitors and vendors to make it to the show.  But persistence prevailed and with the heroic effort of the fair grounds staff clearing the parking lot of the snow, the show went on.

In 2017 we decided to return to the friendly confines of the north section of the Expo building.   Even though the space is smaller, the show seems to go better there and we have continued there every year since with the exception of 2020 when it was cancelled because of the Covid pandemic.   Over the years we have hosted over 30 different layouts and a larger number of both large and small vendors.  In addition, the attendance has generally increased with about 700 adult in the early years, 800-900 during the armory years and 900 to over 1300 in the later years.  This doesn’t real show the total number of people through the doors because of the uncounted children under 12 that could approach half the number of adults.  We hope to continue this event into the future to promote the hobby of model railroading and entertain the train loving general public with an enjoyable experience.

Trains At Christmas Photo Gallery