Small wonder: Many hands make the trains run at Ellicott City fire station

Holiday decorations can be a lot of work. Putting up Christmas trees, hanging lights and stuffing stockings can take hours. Imagine decorating both your home and a firehouse in the same season.

Nico Drummond, 14, has been doing it for nine years.

Nico, a ninth-grader at Howard High School, helps set up and run the train garden at the Ellicott City Fire Station No. 2, an annual display put on by the Howard County fire department and the Rotary Club of Columbia.

His near decade of service with the display started almost by mistake. When he was 5, Nico visited the station with his mother to see the trains and the Christmas village. To their surprise, the garden was still being set up. Organizers asked if he wanted to help.

“We’ve been working there ever since,” Nico said. “Seeing people’s faces when they see the decorations, and the kids pushing buttons, that’s really awesome.”

The display, in its 21st year, showcases trains, trees and a holiday village. It takes about seven weeks to assemble, and about 30 pairs of hands — including Nico’s — are needed to set it up.

Dave Balthis, a retired battalion chief with the department, has helped put on the train display since 1998 — the year it first opened.

“We’ve watched a lot of kids come through,” Balthis said..

In fact, the display is seen by 15,000 people each season — at least according to the number of candy canes handed out to guests.

Nico’s contribution has evolved from placing small trees to assembling the whole “wilderness section,” he said. This year he, his father and his 6-year-old brother put together a snowman display.

There are about seven children who help set up the train garden, Balthis said, but help with the display is multi-generational.

For instance, it’s the job of Joan Baugher, 82, to climb on the table to put the main Christmas tree in place.

“There's not too many men that can stand up on top of that table,” said Baugher who drove a school bus for 29 years and has been with the volunteer fire department for 35. She said she began working on the train garden three years ago.

“I can do just about anything they ask me,” she said.

While the train garden remains extremely popular, it has evolved over the years, said Balthis.

He said it used to have a strong educational component — scavenger hunts and displays warning of the danger of dry Christmas trees were part of a message informing visitors about fire safety.

These days, the department provides public education literature, fire safety activity books for children and schedules for risk reduction classes, according to Brad Tanner, a spokesman for Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

The train garden at Ellicott City Fire Station No. 2, 4150 Montgomery Road, is open through Jan. 1, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. It will be closed Christmas Day. The station is also a collection point for an annual toy drive. Donations of new unwrapped toys are being accepted through Friday, and will be donated to children in Howard County.

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