Steve Lukefahr received his first train set for Christmas when he was six years old, but it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that his love for trains peaked into a full-fledged hobby. In fact, after Steve retired from his career as a pilot for TWA, he purchased a retail train store called Trains LTD in St. Louis, Missouri, where he sold and bought “toy” trains to and from collectors all over the world.
It’s no surprise to those who know Steve that when the movie The Polar Express came out in 2004, it would become his favorite film. Starring Tom Hanks as an eccentric train conductor, the movie tells the tale of a young boy embarking on a magical adventure to the North Pole on a train called The Polar Express, where he learns about friendship, bravery, and the spirit of Christmas.
“I love the magic of Christmas,” says Steve. “The movie was about believing, about a time when the holiday really meant something. It resonated with me.” Steve purchased the first Polar Express train from Lionel, upgrading every year with trains that now provide full sounds, synchronized smoke output, and full remote control, including announcements.
But Steve went way beyond most train aficionados’ rumpus room collections. He and his wife Jerie, built their Amelia Island home entirely around their “bonus room,” where Steve’s Polar Express display is the heart of his train collection which includes Southern and Union Pacific trains, landscapes, figurines, and a plethora of historic scenes.
Steve had his Polar Express display fabricated at TW TrainWorx, a company that specializes in designing, producing, shipping, installing, and maintaining all things model train-related. Located in Dallas, Texas, the company provides custom heirloom train furniture and full layouts to train enthusiasts and beginners alike.
“It took them about 9 months to complete The Polar Express,” says Steve. “Their attention to detail is remarkable. For anyone who has seen the movie, the various scenes are represented throughout the display.” From the houses where the train picks up the doubting children, to the snowy, winding mountain paths, to the colossal clock tower at Santa’s village in the North Pole, the layout is truly
a work of art that draws the observer into the story, just as the movie takes the viewer into a magical world of a child’s imagination.
When Steve uses the special remote control to turn on the trains and displays, newbies to the world of trains drop their jaws in awe. Not only do the trains run around the tracks, but they make real train sounds, including the voices of the conductors and the sound of whistles, and spew real “smoke” from their engines.
The passenger cars are lighted and filled with tiny passengers. The “towns” that the trains run through are replete with homes, billboards, trees, bridges, and shops, including Jerie’s father’s welding shop, called Modern Supply, and the East River’s Hell Gate Bridge in New York City. There’s even a panorama of Fernandina Beach’s harbor, with shrimp boats, the Salty Pelican Restaurant, the Fernandina Beach train station and passenger platform. The “town” of St. Louis, Missouri, includes its famous Route 66 Ted Drewes Custard Stand and a scale replica of the St. Louis Union Station.
For the young and the young at heart, Steve’s train collection brings a sense of wonder to all the guests who visit the Lukefahr home, especially at Christmas. “Everyone loves trains, and people love to come by and see them in action,” says Steve, smiling. “I don’t collect as many as I used to, but I’m always working on a new vignette for the display, especially Lionel and Ives pre-war trains, along with the 1950s trains I remember from my childhood.”