By ALISHA GEORGE
Carroll County Times
WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) — When Irvin “Bunky” Lowrey starts running the train garden in his basement, noise fills the room and the display comes to life. Trains zip by, amusement park rides whirl around and a ski lift zooms up and down a snow-covered mountain. It’s difficult to take in everything after only one viewing.
Lowrey, of Keymar, and Bob Harris, of Westminster, both have a passion for model trains and building elaborate train gardens for friends, family and even sometimes for the public to enjoy.
The two Carroll County residents have large rooms in their homes that are dedicated to the hobby that involves loud noises, scented smoke and lots of imagination and technical work.
For Harris, who is blind, the amount of wiring required for the train garden display can be a bit challenging. But that doesn’t stop him from completing all of the train wiring, belting and platform building. There are also some displays, such as a wooden tractor, that he made in his workshop.
The 61-year-old went blind more than 20 years ago while stripping the paint off the community bathroom of his apartment along Main Street in Westminster. Two chemicals he was using sent him into respiratory distress and cardiac arrest three times, and within 36 hours, he was blind.
His wife, Barbara Harris, said she may sometimes paint his displays, but that’s the extent of her involvement.
“He does all the designing and decorating and everything,” she said.
His train display stays up year-round and he changes the decorations based on the season. Right now, it’s Christmas themed, with buildings surrounding it. The designs change each year depending on the plan Harris imagines in his head.
“It’s a hobby I started a long time ago,” he said. “It was a train set on the floor to start with, and it progressed from there.”
This year, his train garden got a little bigger after he knocked out a wall in his house, giving him the space to expand. Now it sits at about 12-by-18 feet.
“I’ve got two levels running this year and five different trains,” he said.
He often opens the train garden to children and neighbors. If they want, children can climb under the train garden and stand in the center of the display with trains circling around them.
Stripping it down and decorating it new each season isn’t even a difficult task for Harris.
“I’ve got it down to a system at this point,” he said. “My favorite part is changing it all the time.”
Lowrey decided to use his detailed train garden, which takes up half of his basement in Keymar, to collect donations for needy people in Carroll County.
Lowrey holds two weekend open houses in December, where he collects canned goods to donate to Carroll County Food Sunday and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Taneytown. Last year, he collected more than 600 cans.
“We just like to help the needy this time of year,” he said.
The train garden is shown in both day and night scenes. Planes on strings whir above the display. Movement is everywhere, and lights fill the amusement park, construction zone, town scenes, a winter wonderland and a farmland depiction. Twelve buttons outside the layout allow children to control some aspects, making it an interactive display.
The public viewings require help from his family members, who volunteer to help people park and direct visitors into his home, which is heavily decorated in lights for the holiday season. Santa will be visiting during the first hour each night of the Dec. 13-14 open house, Lowrey said.
The two-year Carroll resident opened the same display to the public in his former Littlestown, Pa., home. He was 7 years old when he became interested in the trains, and now his grandchildren help him out with his train garden display, including one grandson who constructed the display’s roller-coaster.
Lowery said he never had such a display to look at as a child, so he wanted to be able to provide the experience.
“I like to see the reaction of the kids,” he said. “Just knowing they participate — they just love that.”
Information from: Carroll County Times of Westminster, Md., http://www.carrollcounty.com/
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)