Kimbrough model train world on-track for another holiday season

Published 4:47 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

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There was a time when Christmas wasn’t complete until you made a pilgrimage to Bevell’s Hardware in Blackstone to see what felt like miles and miles of model railroad tracks and scenery. Something similar is happening now in Farmville, when it comes to the Kimbrough model train world.

For more than four decades, the store would welcome thousands of visitors throughout the holiday season — some traveling a good distance — just to get a look at as many as 12 trains running at once through intricately detailed model towns and forests.

It was a sight to behold, Jim Kimbrough says. So, when Bevell’s sadly brought its annual tradition to an end just ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, Jim knew he had to step in.

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While not quite as elaborate as its predecessor — yet — Jim has spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours constructing his own three-train world in a renovated building just behind his 900 Fourth Ave., home. And come Nov. 26, the whole community will have a chance to see what the Kimbrough family has enjoyed over the last few years.

“We were always going to set something up just for the family and the grandkids and stuff,” Jim said. “But when that happened at Blackstone, they asked if I would be interested, and if I could be inspired enough to take it on and do something for the public. So, I said, ‘Sure, you know what? We’ll do something on that. We’ll open it up.”

And with that, Farmville earned a new holiday attraction. While the opportunity to see Jim’s work is not as robust as Bevell’s, it’s still worth the trip, expected to attract significant crowds not just the Sunday after Thanksgiving from 2 to 4 p.m., but again on Sunday, Dec. 17.

“It’s kind of grown every year,” Jim said. “I just enjoy doing it. I get a lot of joy out of doing it — especially with the kids and stuff. They get a big kick out of it.”

Kimbrough Model Train

Jim is, of course, married to Prince Edward County School Board Member Susan Kimbrough, and the two have made a significant mark on the community. It’s hard to fathom that they’re still quite new to the area, retiring from Greensboro, North Carolina, where Jim spent 30 years running manufacturing plants before spending the last decade of his working career teaching computer software applications to high school students. 

Their daughter and son-in-law were already up here with two granddaughters. Then the family welcomed their first grandson less than a couple years ago. 

“We didn’t have anything holding us to Greensboro, and the family was all up here, so we decided to pick up and move here,” Jim said. 

They started renovating their Fourth Avenue house in 2017 before finally making the move to Farmville a year later. And it didn’t take either of them long to find their niches in a new community. 

“My wife is really a big advocate of education, so a lot of people asked her to run for school board,” Jim said. “She said, ‘You know, I guess I will,’ because she has two granddaughters coming up through the school system. So, she has a vested interest in it.” 

And Jim, well, his interest is primarily in his three grandchildren, but also the model trains. And he’s quite dedicated to it, spending as much as eight to nine hours every day at work on it. 

Anyone who visited the setup last year already knows about the Christmas- and Disney-themed engines. For 2023, Jim has added a third engine — another train with a Christmas theme — that will take its place on the tracks. 

Model Train

A look at more of Kimbrough’s hand-crafted figures.

Kimbrook — the Kimbrough model train town filled with homes and businesses that bear the names of different family members — is still there. But Jim has added a second town for this go-around — a community he’s calling Cripple Creek. 

“It basically runs along a river in the middle of the layout,” Jim said. “I’m just finishing up the Christmas decorations there, and it should be all ready in time for Thanksgiving.” 

And it’s not just the businesses that have familiar connections. Look closely enough at some of the bridges, and you’ll find initials with special meaning to the Kimbroughs, like those belonging to their grandchildren.

One of the most important ingredients to any model train display is time — and a lot of it. While Jim has spent countless hours on the project already, he expects it will take years to get something even close to what was set up at Bevell’s. And that display was decades in the making.

Still, the Kimbrough model train display is still nothing to sneeze at.

“It’s a rather large layout,” Jim said. “It’s pretty much almost 1,000 square feet. I basically filled up the whole building with the layout. So, when people first walk in and see the size, that’s the first thing that takes them aback. And then, all the little details like the rivers, boats and cars.”

Christmas may come just once a year, but the world that includes Kimbrook and Cripple Creek are a permanent fixture in the Kimbrough household. And Jim is just happy that he has a chance to share it with as many people as possible — all completely free of charge.

“Most people start falling in love with that kind of stuff when they’re children,” Jim said. “Then, as I grew older and got into middle school and things like that, I started doing sports and got interested in other things. Then you go to college, you graduate and then life gets in the way.

“It’s always something in the back of your mind, and you’re always so busy, and never really have time to do it. Or the space. And so, it always stayed with me.”

The Kimbrough model train display is open to the public Sunday, Nov. 26 and Sunday, Dec. 17 from 2 to 4 p.m. You can find it at their home, 900 Fourth Ave. in Farmville.