There's something about an electric train at Christmas that brings out the kid in all of us. And as KERA's Courtney Collins explains, a couple in Rockwall decided it's never too late to play conductor.
Donald McClean says it doesn't matter how old you are, a steam engine pulling cars around the track is something to behold.
Don: "I like putting it up, I like looking at it and I like operating the train."
Don didn't get his Christmas train until the year 2000 when he was 72 years old. His wife Sandra decided Don had waited long enough. Sandra: "Don wanted a train as a little boy, but he grew up in The Depression and there were eight children in the family and he didn't get that. So I thought, well, I'll try this as a present. Because sometimes I would buy him a present and it was like that wasn't the right thing. But from the minute he opened this it was perfect."
The train started simply with just a few cars and the track, and laying down the rails was a labor of love.
Don: "The tracks screw down with 336 little screws and that was a tiresome job."
But over the last 11 years, the train has grown. Don and Sandra have added more cars and a village in the middle of the long, oval track. They've dubbed it "McLean 's Crossing" and it gets more elaborate each year.
Don and Sandra: "So we kept adding to the things that go into the board each year. The Lake came after a while then the ski lift and the tree. There's all kind of little animals, there's the fox trying to get the rabbits and we have little igloos with Huskie dogs, we have all kinds of stuff." Grandson Sam, now 12, helps put the train together every year. Don and Sandra were worried he would lose interest in the simple task as he got older, but that hasn't happened yet.
Don: "He was asked, you're getting pretty old, maybe you won't want to do this and he said, Mimi, I'd love to do this forever!"
And Don and Sandra hope he will, and that their Christmas train will have a home with one of their grandchildren someday down the road. But for now, they're content to add a few details to the village each year a new lamppost, a tiny shop for the town or a small animal poised near lake and watch the train work its way tirelessly around the track. And if it were up to Don, they'd hear the engine chug and the whistle blow well into the New Year.
Sandra: "And then it will get to be January and I'll say it's time to put up the train and he'll say, awww, can't we keep it just a little longer?!