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Updated Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 08:47 AM

Seattle Center's Centerville and its model railway open for season

By Jack Broom
Seattle Times staff reporter

It's a simple red dial, less than 2 inches across.

But when turned by the hand of a child, it activates not just an electric locomotive, but the imagination of a would-be engineer.

Kids and parents Saturday flocked to Centerville, the imaginary town set up every holiday season at the Seattle Center Armory — formerly called the Center House — as part of the Winterfest celebration.

Centerville is a compact burg, perhaps 40 by 50 feet across, but has most of the small-town basics: a two-story hotel, general store, church, theater, jail, a spinning carousel and a little red schoolhouse with a teeter-totter out back.

There's even an ice-skating pond where a solo skater, about 5 inches tall, carves perfect circles on a royal-blue surface. A biplane and hot-air balloon hover overhead.

But Centerville's star attractions, by far, are the two G scale electric trains that circle its perimeter on brass-railed tracks.

"They come out in November, and in January they go back in a box and sit for 10 months," said Larry Hawk, running the railroad Saturday.

Hawk, an electric-train buff, has been doing this for eight years but says the tradition goes back decades.

The staffer running the display controls one of the two trains, while visitors line up to run the other.

Keith Sjoquist, 37, of Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood, stood by Saturday while his son Sawyer, 5, and daughter Violet, 2, took turns at the controls.

"We've been coming every year, and I have vivid memories of coming down here when I was young," Sjoquist said. "Seeing the whole world in miniature is fun for the imagination."

Hawk, in a stiff blue cap bearing the word "conductor," and a blue jacket he bought on eBay from a retired Amtrak conductor, looks the part of a railway official.

A retired KeyArena usher, Hawk said he learned of this seasonal job in the newsletter of the club he belongs to, the Puget Sound Garden Railway Society.

G scale trains, with cars 6 to 8 inches tall, are made to operate outside, he said. "And they're sometimes called the old man's train, because you don't need a magnifying glass to work on them," said Hawk, 79.

Early G scale train cars came from Germany, but now most are made in China, he said.

Centerville is a mix of structures, including some that were part of a long-ago Northgate holiday display and others made by city staffers.

The railway will operate daily through Jan. 6, but will be closed on Christmas and New Year's Day.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

Winter Train & Village

Operates daily through Jan. 6 — except Christmas and New Year's Day — in the Seattle Center Armory, formerly called Center House. Visitors can take turns at the controls from 10:30 to noon, 1 to 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. each day. Suggested donation: $2.

For more information on this and other Winterfest events, see seattlecenter.com/winterfest


ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
When he's on duty, Larry Hawk, an electric-train buff, controls one of Centerville's two trains, while visitors line up to run the other. In this photo he's taking care of a derailment temporarily stopping rail traffic.




ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
a two-story hotel, general store, church, theater, jail and a spinning carousel.




ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The toy trains at Seattle Center's Centerville are controlled from within a model King Street Station where a youngster checks to see what yard boss Larry Hawk is doing.




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