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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.

— Erlenbush is unsure how much the now 8-by-10 foot display is worth or how much money has been put into the project over the years. At first most of the pieces were hand crafted. Now, model kits are used or bits of material are formed to make the smaller details, like people.

“There are some items you can’t find anymore,” he said. “But I look at it this way: almost anything can be fixed.”

For three years now, Erlenbush has allowed children to drive the trains on his display when he shows it in public. There have been some accidents, but he explained it’s all worth it just to see the enjoyment on a child’s face.

“I was skeptical at first, but I have gotten nothing but great compliments for the past six years, even from teens,” he said, explaining how each year he likes to add a new element to the display. “Last year, more people came to talk to me about it than ever before. People of all ages seem to enjoy it.”

The display takes about two and a half days to set up every time it’s shown.

At the City Center on Dec.1, the night of the city’s Victorian Street Walk, children and their parents crowded around the display outside of the Festival of Trees. For nearly eight hours, the 73-year-old helped smiling kids run the small trains. Erlenbush said he hopes it might get kids into the hobby of making models.

“I don’t expect them to start tomorrow, but I hope I put the spark there for later,” he said.

One day he hopes to pass the display on to one of his granddaughters to continue building. He has four of them, but they are currently too young to care about the models.

People of all ages seemed mesmerized by the display.

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