When your annual Christmas display already contains more than 50,000 lights and hundreds of moving, lighted reindeer, polar bears, a couple of Santas, angels and snowmen, what do you add to make the whole glitzy package even more appealing?
You add model trains, and lots of 'em.
Chuck Greason spent the past several months buying five sets of trains, laying more than 600 feet of track in front of his Parkton house and working with a train enthusiast in California to program a computer that controls the trains' routes, whistles and horns.
He also bought or built miniature stores, homes, a water tower and some train stations for the trains to pass by. Greason added people to the scenes and put lights into each building so the whole village is as bright as the rest of his spectacular showcase at night. A small waterfall and pond at one edge of the train garden are testimonies to Greason's attention to detail.
"I was obsessed with trains all last summer," he said. "The tracks go over my pond, so I had to build a railing that will stop them from accidentally falling in with the fish."
He said model railroad fences are expensive, so he made his own out of plywood. He stained the wood and then cut hundreds of fence rails — 3/8-inch thick and 5 inches long — that he stapled and glued together. And, of course, he added lights to the entire miniature fence.
He calls on his wife, Carol, to help out every now and then, but the Christmas extravaganza is really his baby.
Greason, 53, operations manager at Donahoo Collision on Belair Road, starts assembling his holiday wonderland each year in September and finishes in time for a Thanksgiving night opening.
"I just love doing this," he said as he tested the trains and cleared leaves from the track. "It's now part of people's Christmas tradition and they come here a few times each season."
Some neighbors, like Joyce and Dennis Branger, start going to Greason's well before the Christmas season.
"Chuck starts putting things up so early that we always go there on Halloween with our grandchildren," said Joyce Branger. "Of course, it's part of our Christmas Eve tradition, too, when our whole family — about 18 of us — see the lights after dinner."
Branger said she and her husband walk their dogs in the evening and stop by the lights almost nightly from Thanksgiving through early January.
Greason doesn't charge admission, although he asks visitors to bring canned goods or nonperishable food that he gives to the North Cluster Food Bank at Pine Grove United Methodist Church. He has several bins at the beginning of his driveway for the food.
Once his trains were up and running earlier this month, Greason turned his attention to his workshop where displays in need of repair await his attention.
He just finished gluing 300 lights inside a white polar bear whose head will bob up and down. Next, he'll clean up a foam snowman that stands on foam blocks of ice that twirl. After that, he is going to paint over rust spots on a herd of reindeer made of white wire mesh.
The displays on his 3-acre property include many that move — a Santa floats in the air on a hot air balloon and another Santa pops up out of a chimney. Stationary figures include the Peanuts cartoon gang, a dinosaur, angels, Christmas trees, penguins, elves, stars and candy canes.
Greason has a roaring fire going each night in a fire pit behind the house where visitors can enjoy hot chocolate or soda while watching the Polar Express train go round and round. Another big attraction is a rope swing to which Greason added white lights this year.
The lights and music are on a timer and run each night from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Greason said he'll turn the trains on at 6 p.m., since he wants to be home from work in case of any derailments.
The display runs from Thanksgiving night through Jan. 5.
The Greason's house is at 22 Kitzbuhel Road, Parkton. For directions, call 410-357-8412.