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Date: 11/27/08 18:22
Dallas Christmas Train Exhibit
Author: BobE

Holiday train exhibit at NorthPark still dazzling visitors

08:42 AM CST on Thursday, November 27, 2008
By DAVID FLICK / The Dallas Morning News

The local holiday tradition that is now The Trains at NorthPark began more than six decades ago under Ban Bywaters' family Christmas tree. "Today," said Mr. Bywaters, 60, a vice president at Merrill Lynch, "it's become bigger that I could have imagined." And a lot different. For one thing, the Age of Steam is long past – so some explaining has become necessary.

"For most of the kids, trains are a foreign experience," Mr. Bywaters said. "We decided to place tiny little figures in the passenger cars so it would become apparent just what the cars were used for."

The elaborate toy train exhibit opened last weekend and will run through Jan. 4. Proceeds benefit the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas, which last year received $550,000 from the exhibit.

The trains, which many people wrongly assume are owned by the mall, are actually Mr. Bywaters' personal collection. He has 100 locomotives, about a third of which run around the track at any one time. They carry 600 cars, with another 100 kept in reserve.

The collection predates Mr. Bywaters, he said. It began when his father, an independent oil producer, bought two toy locomotives secondhand in 1945.

"My father was away a lot and the main benefit was that this was an excuse for him to get down on the floor with us to put the set together," he said. "It was a way to have time with our father."

In 1974, the younger Mr. Bywaters, who was then a manager at a savings and loan, hauled out his collection to set up an exhibit promoting the company's building in Preston Center. It consisted of four trains.

Mr. Bywaters built the exhibit himself with 4-by-8-foot plywood sheets he assembled in a vacant sixth-floor office. He then hauled the display down to the lobby.

That first Christmas season, the exhibit attracted 25,000 people – 1,000 of whom opened accounts at the bank.

"So we decided it was a pretty good marketing tool," he recalled.

The exhibit later moved to the Crescent building, then to the Galleria, then 10 years ago to NorthPark Center.

"At first, it was purely a Christmas exhibit – snow scenes from beginning to end, so we decided to make it more of a trip across America," said Stuart Hollis, who designed the current set for DS arts, a Dallas display company.

Visitors begin at a foam-and-wood San Francisco, with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and tiny running trolley cars, past a foam Mount Rushmore, then a recognizable Dallas, the Mississippi River and finally Washington, D.C., and New York.

The exhibit has continued to evolve.

A miniature Cape Canaveral has given way to a more holiday-specific White House, with a national tree decorated with 450 tiny lights. After 9/11, the twin towers of the World Trade Center were modified to become less identifiable skyscrapers, although – if you look close – some of the cars in the model subway system still carry the designation "WTC."

Daily maintenance is headed up by Ricky Arista, the chief engineer, who oversees a crew of seven.

Each morning, every inch of track is wiped down. Every four days, each locomotive has to be re-greased, re-oiled and the rubber tires changed.

A month's worth of spare parts are kept in store, though he said that by the end of the holiday season, "It's all a wing and a prayer – at that point you hold it together with bubble gum and superglue."

For years, there had been complaints that the trains were kept too far away from spectators. The exhibits were built closer, close enough for younger visitors to see and – what is more problematic – to touch.

The temptation is often irresistible to children, who could knock the trains off track or hit themselves with 24 volts of electricity, Mr. Arista said.

Unseen by most in the crowd, an engineer sits on a catwalk above the exhibit, watching the trains for signs of danger – and also watching the visitors.

"You see a kid down there touching the trains, and you don't want to yell at them – no, I take that back, you do want to yell at them – but what you do is you radio down and tell one of the people, there's a kid over in the Dallas section messing with the train near Reunion Tower," said Danny Miller, who was overseeing the exhibit earlier this week.

But sometimes you can only watch in horror. A favorite activity for children is to witness the train disappear into a tunnel, then race to the other side of the exhibit to see it re-emerge.

"One time I saw a kid run from one part to another. He didn't look, he just pushed on through. He wiped out seven people in the process, just mowed them down," Mr. Miller said.

But mostly, the employees say, there is satisfaction in watching visitors' fascination with the miniature trains. These include older people who come for nostalgia, and kids who come to see one of the most elaborate toy sets imaginable.

There are also train enthusiasts, some of whom travel to cities across the country just to see holiday train exhibits.

"We get people from New York," Mr. Arista said. "They tell us the subway trains look just like they do in the city – except they don't have graffiti."

Date: 11/28/08 06:02
Re: Dallas Christmas Train Exhibit
Author: lotharb

I have viewed this set-up almost every Christmas season for the past 6 years since moving to Dallas, and it does look great, very packed. They moved the location this year from the center walk of North Park to an area just off Neiman-Marcus, to the north of the store, off on the side.
I hope to take my grandchildren there when they come down from Canada at Christmas this year.
Lothar Behnke
Corinth, TX

Date: 11/28/08 07:57
Re: Dallas Christmas Train Exhibit
Author: WrongWayMurphy

When my kids were smaller we went each year when it was at the Galleria.
A very impressive set-up, and the proceeds go to the Ronald McDonald House.

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