Several weeks ago, hubby announced, apropos of nothing, that he had decided to build a model train set in our (dank, unfinished) basement. This would not just be any ol’ stretch of track. No, it would be a replica of the famous (well, famous to Rhode Island natives like ourselves anyway) Providence and Worcester railroad line. Wanting to be supportive of his new hobby because heaven knows he’s seen me through many a crafting phase–let’s see, there was the woodworking frenzy of 2008, the sewing craze of 2009, the scrapbooking obsession of 2010, the wreath-making extravaganza of 2011–I didn’t point out the obvious (our basement isn’t exactly a pleasant place to spend time in) or the not-so-obvious (this was not going to be a cheap hobby, to say the least) flaws, er, challenges with this idea. Plus, what was I worried about? We have a toddler. Most days we can barely finish a sentence let alone a large-scale, multi-media craft project. This too would pass. Right?
Then, the weekend before last, hubby had a suggestion for a place to visit for the blog. We should go to Time Machine in Manchester, he said. It was the third Sunday of the month, and they would have the train layout open for public viewing. Despite the fact that I had no idea what he meant by train layout, and that “Time Machine” sounded more like a name for an arcade than a hobby shop, I figured this was at least a way for me to show my support of his newfound passion without too much effort on my part, and at best an opportunity to get some good material for the site. So we bundled up Boo and headed over to the neighboring town of Manchester in search of this hobbyists’ Shangri-La.
If it wasn’t for that big, bright sign out front, you would swear you were in the wrong place. For starters, the store is not exactly in a prime retail area. And then there’s the fact that it looks like this:
Not exactly your Toys R Us look-alike, huh? Turns out Time Machine is housed in an old factory building whose previous tenants included Mather Electric and Bon Ami (as in the scrubbing powder I actually have under my sink right now). According to historicbuilsingsct.com, it is now home to the largest hobby retail location in New England. I had no idea this place had such a pedigree. Impressive.
Of course, setting up shop in a neat historical building like this can have its challenges. Parking for one. Given the enormous size of the store, the parking area is disproportionately small. Especially on a day like this when the model trains are running. As you can see, it’s tight. And people tend to make their own spaces, although I don’t recommend that.
The good news is, however, that if you exercise just a wee bit of patience, chances are someone will be coming out of the store shortly and vacating a parking space for you. It will be worth the wait. I promise!
Another challenge with this old building is the stairs. There are lots of them. Stairs to get to the entrance:
And more stairs…
Unfortunately, there is no elevator access, so there’s no good way to get a stroller up to this level of the building. If you have a non-walking baby, I would strongly recommend a wearable baby carrier (preferably one where the baby can face forward), even if you think you will be just fine carrying him or her in your arms. You will see why in just a minute.
When you get to the top of the stairs, and after you catch your breath, you will notice the entrance to the train and miniatures hobby shop.
So we enter the store and I’m walking around snapping pictures and garnering lots of blank stares from people who are probably wondering why on earth I want a photo of a wall covered in Melissa & Doug dollhouse furniture, when I think I’ve spotted the train layouts hubby had mentioned. In various corners of the store there are these amazingly detailed little train sets with the trains whizzing around and everything.
I look around for hubby and Boo and start getting annoyed that hubby has clearly gone off in search of spare parts for his would-be train set and Boo is missing all the good stuff. Then I notice an eensy weensy sign with an arrow pointing toward a doorway at the back of the store with the words “To Train Layouts” written on it. Hmmm.
Oh my word. So this is the train layout we have come to see.
This room is as big as a basketball court (maybe bigger, I’m no sports expert) and it is positively filled with this giant train display. I caught up with hubby and Boo who were already enjoying the spectacle. Notice that the height of the train layout ranges from about waist-level to chest-level for your average-sized adult. Remember when I told you to bring that front-facing wearable baby carrier if you have a non-walking baby? That’s so you don’t have to hold your child up and facing front above waist-level and sometimes at chest level the whole time you are there. Because you are going to want to take your time and look at this thing. It is incredible.
If your child is walking or at least able to stand with a little support, there is this great elevated platform on the other side of the layout that has a plexiglass window so little ones can look out over the whole display and watch the trains go by right in front of them.
Hey, does this model (on the left) look familiar? So neat.
For example, in a corner at the front of the store there is this fun area for little kids to play with trains that are a bit more their speed. There are two big train sets and a dollhouse, each set up on their own table. There are even a few folding chairs for parents.
There is also an individual restroom in this play corner, although it was, um, pretty busy while we were there so I didn’t get a chance to check if there is any kind of diaper changing apparatus inside.
While Boo played and hubby supervised, I couldn’t resist checking out the dollhouse miniatures. I was absolutely obsessed with my dollhouse when I was in middle school. I built it, sided it, painted it, wired it, wallpapered it, and painstakingly picked out tiny Queen Anne dining chairs, Victorian settees, “crystal” chandeliers, and four-poster beds for the seven plus rooms. I even got tiny jelly jars to put in the kitchen pantry and miniature blue splatterware for the china cabinet. Wow, does this bring back memories. Maybe hubby can make some room next to his train set for my dollhouse 🙂
And of course, there are lots of model trains and accessories.
As we prepared to leave, hubby suggested that we take a quick tour of the toy store on the first floor. What?! This wasn’t the toy store? There was more? Yup. There was more…
As we headed out the door, I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty that we hadn’t bought anything. All that fun for free? It didn’t seem right. Of course, hubby spent the entire 20-minute drive home positively gushing about O scale and N scale and paper mache, so something tells me we will probably be compensating Time Machine Hobby quite well in the near future.
Time Machine Hobby
71 Hilliard Street, Manchester, CT
Get directions here:
Hours & Admission
Regular Store Hours:
Monday-Wednesday,10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, 10:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m.
Check website for the most up-to-date schedule.
Train Layout Hours:
Every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month; 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
There is NO CHARGE to view the train layouts.
Hints & Tips
- Remember that the giant train layout is ONLY open for public viewing on the first and third Sundays of each month, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- The toy store is on the first floor to your left once you enter the building; head right and up the stairs to the second floor to see the train layouts in the hobby shop.
- Avoid bringing a stroller; steep stairs and no elevator make it impossible to access the second floor while using a stroller.
- A wearable, front-facing baby carrier will allow you to keep baby level with the train layout for easy viewing for both of you.
- There is a restroom located on the second floor by the children’s play area.
- Major credit cards accepted.
- Returns are for merchandise credit only (according to a sign by the register).
Can you believe it’s almost February?! Join us next week for the January round up. Plus, we’ve got more (indoor) places for your little bundle of energy to blow off some steam. And looking ahead, we’re checking out a popular toddler class at another local library.