Justin Thillman started setting up the platform before Halloween. Georgette Robertson painstakingly created display scenes for two weeks. Bill Gough bought electrical wire and bulbs, and helped assemble the display.
Now, the trains at the Shops at Kenilworth are ready to roll for another holiday season. The train garden opens today.
"It's a lot of fun building, and it's a lot of fun seeing it run," said Gough, coordinator of the Train Group, a volunteer team that assembles and maintains the holiday train garden at the Towson mall. "It makes us all feel good when we see adults and children enjoy it."
In the Baltimore area, holiday train gardens are traditionally assembled at firehouses and some museums and shopping malls. At the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, a holiday celebration that includes model railroad layouts begins today with the arrival of Santa by locomotive.
The Train Group has been assembling the display at the Shops at Kenilworth since 1989.
The group started with four members and has nine now. Robertson, a former Timonium resident, had been part of the group for years but now lives in California. She has been flown in for the past few years to work on the train garden because of her artistic ability.
This year, her creations include a festive, snow-covered mountain, hand-painted hot-air balloons and miniature floats in an area of the display with a parade theme.
In all, the display, which runs through Jan. 4, requires about 2,000 feet of wire and more than 100 light bulbs. The 90-foot-long train garden includes seven O-gauge trains, six bridges and hundreds of figurines. It encircles a large, three-tiered fountain in the middle of the mall.
Several of the scenes include animations that continuously move and others that can be moved by pressing a button. Pressing one button causes Dumbo to fly in a circle over a tower. Pushing another makes Snoopy and Charlie Brown glide on sleds.
The garden has several themed areas, including a replica of the Ravens' stadium, a mountain topped with Lord of the Rings figurines, a miniature big-top circus scene and -- in a nod to the 1950s -- a movie theater and classic cars.
Some shoppers got a look at this year's model this week as it was being assembled and tested.
"It's old-world charm, but it meshes old and new beautifully," said Mala Bagchi. Her son, Kabir, 7, said: "I like watching the steam engine go into the tunnel."
A former Marylander, Colin Brune, brought his son Tate, 2, to see the train garden for the first time.
"I've been coming to see this pretty much my whole life," said Brune, who lives in Alabama and is visiting the area for the first time in three years. "It's really cool. Obviously, a lot of time and energy went into it."
Gough, a retired civil engineer, said working on the display is rewarding.
"It's something we all enjoy doing because we get a lot of positive feedback from it," he said.
Thillman, an electrician apprentice and volunteer at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, has been a Train Group member for more than a decade, since he was 15. He takes care of the wiring.
"The hard part is over," he said this week. "I'm excited to see it run."