Getting Christmas on Track

Local man's display has brought joy to young and old for generations

Don Erlenbush shows children how to runs the trains on his circus display at the Saratoga Festival of Trees.

Don Erlenbush shows children how to runs the trains on his circus display at the Saratoga Festival of Trees. Photo by Marcy Velte.

— The circus is special for Don Erlenbush.

When he was younger, the bright lights and funny music coming from the big top fascinated him, like they would any child. But as he grew older, it all held another meaning. The show reminded him of his family and the innocence of being a kid again.

For the past 55 years, Erlenbush has been a model circus and train builder. Since 2005, he has brought his display to the Saratoga County Fair, often allowing children to have a turn operating his tiny trains. This year he is one of the main attractions at the Saratoga Festival of Trees.

“My great uncle and father were both circus fans,” he said. “They started building when they were kids and so I just sort of grew up doing it, too.”

For a time, Erlenbush helped his uncle and father build the models while growing up in Illinois. When he turned 18 he started making them himself.

Erlenbush can’t remember which piece of the display is the oldest. He knows his family began building the models around 1935, concentrating on the train that transported the animals and the circus itself. His uncle built the meal circus wagon placed toward the end of the display.

Over the years, the Ballston Spa resident has added the tents, individual acts and even carnival rides.

“My dad went into the carnival business for a few years, so that’s how that all got added,” said Erlenbush, acknowledging the difference between the carnival and the circus.

His father joined a traveling carnival in the late 1940s, when Erlenbush was around 10 years old. He traveled with his father, and when he became of age, got a job at an amusement park. Soon rides were added to the display, like a Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round, and swinging Pirate Ship, all of which move.

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