An orange Union Pacific car. A maroon car from the New York Central Lines. A star-spangled Lionel bicentennial train.
They once were prized possessions of one of Maryland’s most beloved politicians, the late William Donald Schaefer, and now they’re on display at the B&O Railroad Museum.
The cantankerous former governor, comptroller and Baltimore mayor had a soft spot for model trains, starting as a child. He collected them through his prolific political career. Firefighters put them on display in Government House in Annapolis when Schaefer was governor.
But the trains got lost over the years during Schaefer’s moves between political offices and homes.
“Every Christmas, he’d get wistful and say, ‘I wonder where the trains are?’ ” recalled Patti Marchitto, Schaefer’s nurse and friend.
Marchitto eventually discovered the trains in the attic of one of Schaefer’s townhomes in Pasadena.
The trains were collecting dust in boxes labeled “Mayor’s Train Garden.” Marchitto took them to Schaefer’s apartment at the Charlestown retirement community.
“I put the cars on the table and he was speechless,” Marchitto recalled.
For a man who rarely found himself without a witty remark, that was a rare occurrence.
Schaefer wanted to make sure the trains were in good hands, and set the wheels in motion to donate them to the B&O museum for the annual Christmas train displays.
A pair of elves helped make sure the trains arrived safely at the museum. Ronald and Anna May Rogers, who befriended Schaefer at Charlestown, kept the trains and ornaments safe at their apartment as Schaefer’s belongings were removed following his death.
Schaefer’s friends hoped he would live long enough to see the model trains at the museum. He died in April at the age of 89. He had been in declining health for years and had been hospitalized with pneumonia.
“It’s beautiful,” Marchitto said upon seeing the display for the first time last week. “My gosh, it’s lovely.”
Marchitto was so inspired by her boss’s love for trains that she penned a short children’s book, “A Story of Mayor Schaefer and his Train Garden.” It’s on sale at the B&O museum’s gift shop.
The trains circle underneath a small tree, which is decorated with ornaments from Schaefer’s personal collection: a skipjack with sails painted like the Maryland flag, a crab shell painted with a lighthouse, ornaments with Schaefer’s picture plastered on them.
In another display case are more trains, as well as a few toys and trinkets from Schaefer’s childhood.
The museum plans to display parts of Schaefer’s train collection each winter as part of the Holiday Festival of Trains and Toys.
Museum director Courtney B. Wilson said he’s thrilled to share Schaefer’s trains with Marylanders.
Schaefer helped secure funding to revive the museum in the 1970s when he was Baltimore’s mayor. And he was a regular visitor to the museum, Wilson said.
“To have a piece of William Donald Schaefer as part of the permanent collection means the world to us,” he said.