When I was a kid, I spent hundreds of hours playing with my Lionel train set. I know exactly how big it was because it fit on a standard size Ping Pong table. In Hamburg, Germany, the world famous Miniature Museum has an electric train set that it slightly larger. It boasts 7 miles of track covering 14,000 square feet. Every day, 1,200 engines and cars make 900 trips, covering almost 500 miles in total.
Each year, more than a million visitors come to see this small wonder for themselves. There are 200,000 people, cows, horses, cats, and dogs included in the enormous display, which is managed by some 40 computers. In all, building the display has consumed more than a half-million hours of patient and painstaking labor at a cost of almost $4,000,000. Museum staff are busy adding new displays that will depict France, England, and parts of Africa. That work is not scheduled for completion until 2020.
The trains travel through dioramas that represent Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the United States. The incredibly intricate displays include every aspect of modern life. Firemen race to put out fires while traffic officers enforce speed laws. Funerals and weddings are going on constantly. One city even has its own “red light” district.
A full day lasts 50 minutes before dusk overtakes the display. At night, people come out to visit restaurants and night clubs, just like in real cities. Around the perimeter of the display area, visitors can activate more than 200 individual scenes, including a ski slope, ice skating, and a tractor pull.
Now that the nations of the world have agreed to stop using fossil fuels, what could more appropriate than an self-contained small world where not a drop of petroleum is consumed to operate the trains and displays? This make-believe community may well be a preview of our fossil fuel–free future.