By Pat van den Beemt, email@example.com
6:00 AM EST, November 23, 2012
The problem with doing a Christmas train garden two years in a row is that people expect bigger and better. And that's just what return visitors to Jacksonville Senior Center's train garden will get.
This year's layout is 12-feet by 13-feet and has two trains going past Jacksonville as well as traveling by farms, a railroad station and even a high school football game.
Last year's train garden, the first one ever done by center members, was displayed on a 12-foot by 5-foot platform. It featured one train circling a miniature downtown Jacksonville.
The 2011 display was open to the public for four days and attracted some 1,200 people before volunteers stopped counting. This year's train garden will be open 11 days in December. It also has moved to a bigger room, allowing visitors to walk entirely around its perimeter.
"We knew after last year that our challenge was to get something new," said Rick Frattali, a senior center member who has an expansive train garden in his basement of is house in Baldwin and formed a 12-person committee last year to start one at the center. "We have a lot of people working on things at home and the real magic takes place when they start bringing it all in."
He said the other senior center members will begin setting up the train garden during the first week in December. The display opens with a visit from Santa Claus on Dec. 15.
In addition to exact replicas of Jacksonville's volunteer fire company, elementary school, veterinary hospital and senior center, new models include McDonald's, Roma's, My Children's Playground and a Loch Raven High School football field.
Angie Creswell and Donna Minkiewicz decided to depict a game between Dulaney and Loch Raven high schools. They hand-painted football figures to match each school's colors after going to games and taking pictures of each team. Loch Raven players are in purple and gold; Dulaney in red and black.
They also created the field, bleachers and a scoreboard that shows Loch Raven winning 12-7 in the first period.
Several on the committee have had experience in making models. Mike Pfeifer, of Phoenix, who also has a train garden at his house and created Chestnut Grove Church last year, made Trinity Episcopal and Roma's for this year's display.
His wife, Paula, had never made models, but decided to recreate the colorful My Children's Playground in Sweet Air Park. The playground model includes a spider web climbing apparatus that she created out of embroidery thread and glue.
"I don't do the models, but I've become the forestry department," said Betsy Lehmann, who made hundreds of trees for the display.
Joe Pistritto had to double the number of feet of miniature country fencing he made that goes along the edge of the expanded train garden to keep little hands from reaching in.
Adults and kids alike are encouraged to participate in a scavenger hunt in which they are asked to locate certain items in the train garden.
Admission to the train garden is free.
The Jacksonville Senior Center is located in Sweet Air Park, 3605 Sweet Air Road, Jacksonville. The train garden opens with a visit from Santa Claus, on Dec. 15 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.vIt is then open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 17, 18, 20, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28 and 31. It is open from noon to 8 p.m. on Dec. 19. The train garden is closed Christmas Day. For details or directions, call the center at 410-887-8208 during the week from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.