AUGUSTA — Stephen Burns got his first model train as a Christmas present in 1947, when he was 8 years old.

“My mother said when I got that set, I wore out a whole pair of overalls chasing the train around the rug,” Burns said with a smile. “It was a very nice Christmas.”

Burns, of Friendship, continues to keep a boxcar from that first set in use. It will be hauling tiny loads of freight around the miniature lumber yard Burns and other model railroad enthusiasts have set up inside the atrium at the Maine State Museum. The museum is hosting the Great Falls Model Railroad and the Maine 3-Railers model railroad clubs for the two-day show, which ends Saturday.

“Model trains have been an important part of American culture for a long time, especially around the holidays,” deputy museum director Sheila McDonald said.

Christmas and trains have gone together for the better part of 200 years, McDonald said. The first regularly scheduled passenger train in the U.S. went into service on Christmas Day in 1830. Toy trains, not to mention the children of all ages who love them, followed soon after. That history, both nationally and in Maine, make the model train exhibit not only a lot of fun, but a natural for the museum.

“Long before electricity was a mainstay in homes, children and adults constructed model motorized trains that ran on steam power,” McDonald said.

The museum has hosted the model train clubs for at least 10 years. Fred Guth of Topsham, a member of the 3-Railers club, has been to every one of them. This year’s display, Guth said, is bigger than it’s ever been.

There was plenty to hold the attention of the children on Friday, including Luke Camber, 7, of Union, and his 6-year-old friend, Gunnar Everett of Morrill. The boys are veterans of the museum’s yearly Bug Mania display. It’s hard for anything to beat a swarm of bugs when it comes to holding the interest of a young boy, but the trains gave the insects a run for their money.

“We’ve never been here when there were trains,” Luke said. “I’ve been here like 100 times when there were bugs.”

Gunnar said he preferred the steam engines to the diesels.

“It makes smoke and it goes really fast,” he said.

Gunnar dejectedly acknowledged that he’s never gotten to drive a train, but Luke is the proud owner of his very own model railroad.

“I have this really old-fashioned train,” Luke said. “It’s really old. It’s like 25 years old and it still goes.”

But you don’t have to be a child to get hooked on trains. Ed Webb, a retiree from Lewiston, got into the hobby quite by accident about six years ago when he a visited a display set up by the Auburn-based Great Falls Model Railroad club.

“I was driving by the armory one day and saw the sign,” Webb said. “I thought, ‘What the hell.’ I was bitten. I bought a bunch of stuff and I’ve been addicted to it ever since.”

Webb, a Great Falls club member, said it is more than a collection of people who like trains. He has made real friends, one of whom bought an engine Webb wanted but was unable to afford.

“The club members are the best group of friends I’ve ever had,” Webb said.

Guth said his 3-Railers club, which meets in Richmond, has more than 100 members, some of whom live in other states and even other countries.

Webb said the public displays, such as the yearly event at the museum, are crucial to the future of the hobby.

“Anytime we get to set up anywhere, it’s good publicity,” he said.

Gerry Boulanger of Gorham, a member of the 3-Railers, said the highlight of every show is seeing the fascination in the young people’s eyes.

“I enjoy watching the kids and I enjoy letting them run the controls,” he said.

The events are particularly important to Boulanger, who has no grandchildren of his own with whom he can share his passion.

“I wish I did,” Boulanger said. “They’d all have a railroad layout.”