Holiday Tradition: Jingle Rails chugs back into town for a ninth year

Holiday Tradition: Jingle Rails chugs back into town for a ninth year

By Haley Stevenson, Eiteljorg marketing and communications intern

Indianapolis’ most beloved holiday family attraction, Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure, returns to the Eiteljorg Museum on Nov. 17. In its ninth holiday season, Jingle Rails features new miniature scenes the electric trains will ramble through.

Eiteljorg.Jingle Rails.1
New at Jingle Rails this year: A sprawling roadmap of the historic U.S. Highway Route 66 has been scaled down to fit in the display. Created through a generous donation from the Kortepeter family, the Route 66 scene continues the tradition of adding a new landmark to the model train backdrops each year.

Jingle Rails features model trains that chug through miniature replicas of the Indianapolis skyline and scenes of the West, decorated with holiday lights and trimming. Made of all-natural materials, such as tree bark, pine cones and acorns, the backdrops are created by the botanical architecture company Applied Imagination. Whimsical reproductions of Monument Circle, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon and other landmarks bring families back to the Eiteljorg each year to experience the display.

Route 66 sign
The miniature Route 66 begins at the Chicago skyline with an iconic highway sign, and the road intersects at various points with the new rail line that travels through the scenery. The roadway weaves through the route’s familiar sights such as the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Blue Swallow Motel, Sinclair Dinosaur filling station, Route 66 Diner and other roadside landmarks. The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest complete the look and feel of traveling on the famous highway — culminating in a colorful celebration at the Santa Monica Pier highway sign and a fully operating, illuminated Ferris wheel at the end of the journey.

The Eiteljorg’s director of exhibition and graphic design, Steve Sipe, is very excited for what is in store at this year’s holiday display. “Each year the Eiteljorg tries to have a new backdrop scene or ‘pod’ in Jingle Rails,” Sipe noted. Similar to the Las Vegas diorama added a few years ago, “this grouping will be a vibrant representation of Route 66 in its prime with kitsch, fun, and family adventure.”

Jingle Rails is expanding; thanks to an anonymous donor, the longtime favorite Indiana State Fair scene is moving out into the museum’s main hallway, Eagle Commons. Jingle Rails’ downtown Indianapolis skyline already features Monument Circle, Lucas Oil Stadium and the Eiteljorg building itself. This year, a new building model of Hilbert Circle Theatre, the home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, joins the scene thanks to a donation from H. Jean Cline Jones Kyle in honor of her daughter, Deborah Cline Kish, volunteer services manager at the Eiteljorg.

Applied Imagination installs the display, including backdrops, train tracks and trestles, in early November. While Jingle Rails is open, hard-working volunteers staff the display, answer visitors’ questions and maintain the G-gauge electric trains.

Tens of thousands of guests experience Jingle Rails every year. National media have noticed its popularity as an annual holiday tradition: USA Today has named it a “10 Best” Indianapolis attraction and Fox News Travel has recognized it as one of the 12 “most incredible model railways.” And no wonder; the display can be a romantic wintertime date or fun for the whole family. Parents and grandparents bring children to see the model trains, sparking memories of past family trips to the West. The nearby museum café makes it easy to spend the day at the Eiteljorg and enjoy other exhibits the museum has to offer.

Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure will be open Nov. 17 to Jan. 21 and is included in the price of museum admission. Children ages 4 and under are free.


NOV 17–JAN 21

The Indiana Rail Road

Indianapolis Colts
Katz, Sapper & Miller
Butler Family Foundation
L.G. and Alyce Edwards
Faegre Baker Daniels LLP
H. Jean Cline Jones Kyle
The Kortepeter Family
Stuart’s Moving and Storage, Inc.

Schedule:  Jingle Rails programming and activities

November 17 – Opening day for Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure
Artist in residence Dana Warrington, open studio 1 – 4 p.m.

November 22 — Museum is closed

November 23 and 24 (Thanksgiving weekend) Museum is open
Learn about the Three Sisters and create art (Eagle Commons, 1 – 4 p.m.)

December 1
Holiday greeting card workshop 10 a.m. – Noon (adults) with artist Katy Strass
Open studio printmaking 2 – 4 p.m. (family-oriented)

December 8
Holiday ornament making in Eagle Commons (1 – 4 p.m.)

December 15 
Holiday ornament making in Eagle Commons (1 – 4 p.m.)
Polar Express movie screening Lilly Theater at 2 p.m.

December 21 
Holiday ornament making in Eagle Commons (1 – 4 p.m.)
Polar Express movie screening Lilly Theater 2 p.m.

December 22
Holiday ornament making in Eagle Commons (1 – 4 p.m.)

December 25
Museum closed in observance of Christmas Day

January 1
Museum closed in observance of New Year’s Day

January 12
Dovie Thomason Performance at 10:30 a.m. in Lilly Theater: Lessons from the Animal People
In partnership with Storytelling Arts of Indiana, cultural educator Dovie Thomason (Lakota/Plains Apache) presents a family program at the Eiteljorg offering an intertribal sampling of traditional animal stories — why the bear hibernates, why the rabbit has no tail, and more — appropriate for children.

January 21 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Admission to the museum and Jingle Rails is free on this day.

Art-making activities in the Eiteljorg Studios.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Storyteller magazine.