Five-year-old David Jovic could hardly contain his excitement Sunday while watching model trains zoom through a setup at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles. Eyes wide, the Lake Zurich boy alternately sat at the edge of the tracks with hands clasped or ran around the scene looking for a new vantage point.
His father, Ray Jovic, said David normally doesn't run off by himself, but with the chugging locomotives grabbing his attention, his shyness evaporated.
The Jovics spent a couple hours watching trains when the National Garden Railway Convention opened its exhibit hall to the public in its 28th annual convention.
"He loves it," Jovic said of his son. "He can't get enough."
The convention is held in a different city each year, with this event the culmination of five years of planning. Gail Althardt, of Vernon Hills, led the planning committee and said about 1,500 people attended the 5-day convention, which included tours of area garden railroads, shopping and evening banquets.
More than 40 people opened their homes to hundreds of interested "model railroaders" over the course of the long weekend, showing off their backyards and the train sets that fill them.
"As small or as large, they're so unique to their creators," Althardt said.
Besides just train tracks and locomotives, model railroad creators add life to the scenes they set up by choosing time periods, regional details, people, plants and animals. The tours gave those new to the hobby ideas for their own models and offered more experienced enthusiasts a sounding board to solve problems in their designs.
John Lawson, of McHenry, has been collecting parts for his garden setup for more than a decade, though he only plans to start the outdoor construction next year and thinks it could take up to five years to build.
Lawson will retire in December and then get more serious about his design. Right now he has trains running through his family room and on a raised track the length of his home. At the convention Sunday he bought a miniature jukebox to add to his collection.
"A model railroader is never done with his train set," Lawson said. "It's a permanent hobby."