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Thread: Winterview, where it's always December 24th

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2012
    western iowa

    Winterview, where it's always December 24th

    Greetings every one, and Happy Holidays.

    Never occurred to me till recently there would be a forum for all things Christmas, so I am happy to find this site.

    Many years ago a family member started painting the Wee Crafts and California Creations plastercraft Christmas village pieces. Over time, we collected quite a few pieces. In the late 80s (don't recall exact year) we started a small display at a local nursing home during the holiday season. The residents and their visitors really enjoyed it. For several years, it was displayed and grew larger every time.

    Several residents suggested the village needed model trains, so one Christmas I placed a short piece of HO scale model train track across the village, and placed a small train set on the track. If I recall correctly, this was the first time the Christmas village was displayed on white styrofoam instead of the regular snow blanket. This was done so the train track would lay securely.

    LOL, that was a PROBLEM! the train just sat their blocking a crossing, something you can see whenever you want in town (the town here is notorious for trains blocking an important street). The residents wanted the train to move!

    The following Christmas, I brought some more track and made a loop for the train to run on. This went over quite a bit better with the visitors. We also added some store bought ceramic Christmas village pieces, and some plastic HO scale buildings. I had bought a rather large amount of styrofoam, and we needed more buildings to fill up the display.

    Sometime in the early 90s, we came up with a name for our village, Winterview. Every year it was bigger, with more accessories and more buildings.

    When I was out looking at model train items at a small hobby store in South Omaha, (Trainman's) the proprietor, Ron Beranek suggested we make a small portable version of Winterview for an up coming train show he was sponsoring at the Southroads Shopping Mall in Bellevue, Nebraska.

    We talked it over, and thought a 4X8 foot version would be doable (and fun).

    It was. The public really liked Winterview. We had an HO scale train run around the edge of the village, and it portrayed a town square and some residences and businesses.

    We had so much fun doing the train show, I then contacted the Great American Train Show organizers and arranged for Winterview to be displayed at an upcoming event in Lincoln Nebraska. For that display, Winterview doubled in size to 4X16 feet.

    Again, it was very well received, and we really enjoyed the people we met at the model train show.

    For the show, we would 'pre-fab' Winterview. I would lay the train track and streets onto the sytrofoam and pin them down. We would mark where buildings would go, and when we got to the show, we would lay out the styrofoam pieces, and then just put out the buildings, trains, cars, accessories and trees. The Great American folks allowed several hours Friday afternoon and Saturday morning to get the displays and the sellers set up for the train show. It was all very exciting and very much fun.

    We noticed immediately Winterview was very different from other model train displays
    and layouts in the model train world. Winter portrayals and Christmas themes just weren't modeled then, and generally still aren't modeled even now. It is unusual to see even an autumn themed layout.

    (an interesting exception is the enormous model train layout at the Clay County fairgrounds in Spencer Iowa. That layout portrays all 4 seasons, although without the total emphasis on the Christmas theme in the winter portion)

    Our plaster buildings were also unusual, and as noted by several viewers, we do have some scale problems. (we acknowledge that, and as everything 'looks' good, we really don't worry about scale)

    We use the 'brush' type evergreen trees (thank you Department 56 and Lemax) and in that time frame, we also used bare branch trees I fashioned from some wild shrubs that grow in this area.

    (to be continued)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2012
    western iowa
    Other accessories we used then were Ertl farm toys and Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. Department 56 has many items we like, and we frequently searched many stores for after Christmas sales, since we knew we would be displaying Winterview again.

    Our next train show was in Wichita Kansas. Quite a drive from here, but an interesting drive, the desert like terrain along the hiway NE of Emporia was fascinating, and such a contrast to the Christmasy look of Winterview.

    For this show we had Winterview configured at 4X24 feet, and we were able to have it finished when the show opened. We were getting more practice at putting it together rapidly. For this show, I tried a feature where I had a switch in front of the display that would reverse the direction of a trolley car I had running back and forth on Main Street. I had tried the swiltch at home many times, and the trolley would go either way just fine. In the 'real world' it turned out that the first kid to play with the trolley made it derail. LOL, I grabbed the switch and put it behind the skirting we had below the display.

    We had a large river at one end of the display and a long bridge for the HO train to cross. As I recall, Hallmark had some silver gift wrapping paper back then with a nice frost pattern that we really liked for the frozen river surface. It turned out, that pattern was not available for our next show, so in the future I was experimenting with different materials for our rivers.

    We would have Winterview placed on 3 layers of styrofoam. For each showing, I would buy a new top layer, and the bottom layer (it gets banged up after all) would be used to insulate a farm building. I liked styrofoam for it's rigidity, white snowlike appearance, and ease of putting in holes for the wiring. It was light weight, and stacked up in the pickup topper we used to haul around the display.

    The Wichita Great American Train Show was also the first time we won a blue ribbon! (Great American would evaluate all the model train layouts displayed at their shows and award ribbons and prize money) Our prize was $400. Very nice, it helped pay for supplies, like more accessories from Department 56, more HO trains, and mileage expenses.

    The next Great American Train Show we attended was in Omaha Nebraska. Again, we added another sheet of styrofoam, and now, at 32 feet long, it was the longest Winterview we ever did (subsequent shows would have larger areas, but a more compact arrangement). The 32 feet turned out to be somewhat of a challenge, running back and forth that far while putting it all together was tiring. While we didn't win 1st this time (as I recall, it was 2nd place this time) the local paper, the Omaha World Herald, ran a b/w picture of Winterview in an issue.

    Viewers at the shows loved the Christmas theme, and even though the shows we did were never in the winter, people didn't have a problem with our being out of season.

    We also noticed the more accessories, little animals, people, decorations, etc. the more fun it was for people to look at Winterview, the longer they looked, the more they saw.

    At the train shows, adjacent to Winterview, we would always set up one additional table where we sat and answered questions about Winterview. Also, the train shows were interesting to tour around, we would see accessories and ideas on other layouts that were interesting. We also noted that we did things on Winterview very differently than the more traditional model train organizations did with their layouts. Configuring Winterview (streets and track and size) differently for every train show was unique. Many model train clubs can configure their layouts at different sizes, but their individual modules remain the same, Winterview could have the river at either end, creeks and parks could be moved around, and the layout of the streets was different at every show.

    (to be continued)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2012
    western iowa
    Our next train show was another Great American Train Show, this time in the Quad Cities. We really changed Winterview this time. We took 5 sheets of styrofoam this time, and made a large rectangle, 16X12, with a 4X8 gap in the center. (we used vertical sheets of sytrofoam for a backdrop. We covered them with the roll style plastic table cloth, light blue color, for a sky)

    For the first time, we had a Christmas Village layout that visitors could walk all the way around. I also could have the HO scale trains go all the way around without any doubling back gymnastics.

    We had an airport feature, a large grain elevator complex, and we divided up the buildings into 2 towns at opposite sides of the layout, with rural areas between.

    The Christmas theme and the large size really wowed the crowd. We answered many questions and again, really enjoyed the train show. The people who show layouts, and the vendors are all fun to be around and talk to. We also won 1st place again, which really is nice. People really love the theme, and showing something so different at the train shows was very popular, too.

    We showed Winterview at one last Great American Train Show, this time in Omaha again. This time, Winterview was again 12X16 feet. We could no longer make a larger version, our pickup truck with it's topper was completely filled with Winterview!

    We also did 2 final shows locally, one in 1998, and another in 2000. Both of these displays were in the Community Center in Missouri Valley Iowa. For these shows, we displayed from around Thanksgiving till after New Years. Since these displays were longer, we went a little further in outfitting the village.

    Although it was difficult, we decided to individually light almost every building (some of the very earliest pieces came without window holes, such as the little red school, the hardware store, the little stone church, and a few other pieces) I used the little socket that came with many of the buildings and 4 watt incandescent white Christmas bulbs. With well over 100 buildings at the time, the power draw was considerable, and almost a problem with how I wanted to wire the dimmer controls. We also had 3 overhead 300 watt halogen lights. We used the overheads for a daytime effect, and then we would dim them, and bring up the building lights for night time. This was an extremely popular feature. We also had many lighted accessories, such as miniature strings of lights on some trees, the Department 56 blinking Merry Christmas sign, and many others. We had oohs, and aahs every time we changed from day to night. We also had a timer sending the trolley car back and forth through downtown on main street, and we had the HO scale model trains pause at the train station. The bare branch trees were nice too, (and easy to install just by poking into the styrofoam) By the time of the 2000 showing, we had nearly 2000 trees like that. The shrubs I used were not perfect in form for this, but we noticed the more of them we used, the better they all looked.

    For these shows, we also (don't laugh) painted the white styrofoam with white latex paint. It evened out the surface of the styrofoam, and also made for a better surface for all the buildings and accessories. These 2 shows also had a hill in each back corner with a tunnel to allow the trains to scoot around the back side of the sky back drop.

    The 1998 show was 24 feet long, and if I recall correctly 4 feet deep. For the 2000 version I ran the styrofoam pieces front to back (instead of side to side) and had it over 5 feet deep to allow more room for more Christmas! The seams between sheets of styrofoam I concealed with streets, or a river feature.

    (to be continued)

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2012
    western iowa
    Some of the features we've displayed on Winterview over the years;

    smoke, we have used a cool mist humidifier underneath Winterview along with some plastic tubing to make a smoke effect for our smokestack. The California Creations line does not have a smokestack, but if recall correctly, Plastercraft makes a solid one that is scaled appropriately and can be painted to match any building you want to use it with. Drilling out the solid chimney is a challenge. Start with a small masonry drill bit and be very careful. I drill from the top and bottom. Even if the alignment of the holes is off, the jog from where the holes meet is deep inside the smokestack where no one can see it. After the first small hole, enlarge it very carefully, never use a bit more than 1/8 of an inch larger than the one before. Keep at it, and don't let the smoke stack shake or vibrate too much. The stack I used I drilled out to 3/4 of an inch, you can stop at 5/8, the last pass for 3/4 of an inch is really dangerous, you can chip or break the smokestack!. After it is drilled out, the interior needs a thick coat of water proof paint, the smoke is water after all, and the plaster can soften up. I used RTV to seal up the plastic tubing to the plaster smoke stack. People love to see the smoke effect, and the water vapor is harmless. I like to turn the humidifier on and off frequently, I have a concealed remote, so when people walk up to the village, the smoke 'magically' starts up.

    campfire, if you look around at a lighting store, you might find a neon flame bulb. These work on 110 volts, and if you put a few small sticks around them, they look just like a burning campfire. There is always a bit of flicker to these bulbs, and with their orange color, they look like a real fire.

    (more later)

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2012
    western iowa
    bare trees:

    we noticed the Department 56 bare trees were quite attractive, but for the quantity we needed, they were quite expensive. There is a small shrub that grows in our area, it's called buckbrush, and I noticed in the winter time when it is bare, the tips of the branches have a tree like appearance. So, we started collecting them (the hills around here are covered with them) and trimming them up. The little branches insert easily into the styrofoam, and we also noticed, the more of them we used, the better they look. Eventually, I had prepared upwards of 2000 of them.

    They are not perfect, individually, they aren't quite 'branchy' enough, and they do deteriorate slowly and shed particles of their bark. I was going to try dipping them in polyurethane, but then we noticed the Woodland Scenics bare tree armatures. I think for our current display, we are going to switch to the plastic trees. In the package, they sure don't look 'right' but the plastic they use is bendable, and you can make the little flat trees look just right by bending and twisting the material.

    We won't go for 2000 of them (LOL) but a couple hundred seems doable. Also, once you stick the the little buckbrush trees into the syrofoam, you are pretty much done with your Christmas Village, they make working on it quite difficult. The Woodland Scenic trees come with a little flat base and can be easily repositioned or moved if we need to work on an area. I will probably have to paint the bases white, however.

    roads driveways sidewalks:

    over the years we have used construction paper, and sandpaper for our hiways. The material is easy to use, and can be cut to any shape we need. Pieces can be pinned to the styrofoam to hold them in place. We have noticed some problems, however. For longer duration displays, the paper products are not dimensionally stable. As the humidity varies, the size of our streets changes. For the pieces that are pinned down, this cause wrinkles and bulges. For displays in the winter season, this effect isn't too serious, although the smokestack emissions caused some problems. For a display that is up for months, or year round, this problem is very serious, the streets can arch up and displace the cars, and the bulges are very unsightly.

    For our current display, i have tried laminating. I went to an office supply store and bought a laminator that can handle pieces up to 9 inches wide. This seems to have completely fixed the problem. Also, and surprisingly, the shiny appearance of the streets looks good to me, I had expected that effect to be unpleasing. I am also experimenting with adding street markings with some narrow white detailing tape I found at a hobby store.

    I did try laminating some sandpaper. That did not work out so well, the laminating plastic does not stay adhered to the rough surface for very long. No problem, I just use the construction paper for everything.

    I like the light grey color for pavement, and black for asphalt. I also printed a pattern;


    on some maroon construction paper, and then laminated it to make brick streets. That went very well. Just lay a brick street in a few places, and it really adds to the Christmas Village.
    Last edited by winterview; 06-03-2012 at 10:19 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2012
    western iowa

    seems like we've had a music feature for many showings of Winterview. Older displays I just put a boombox beneath and put in a CD of piano solos type Christmas music.

    Our current display I have gone a bit further. I currently have a small speaker directed out each of the 2 train tunnel portals, and I also have 2 subwoofers underneath. The subs are more for a sound effects disk I am playing, although the Christmas music is subtly enhanced too. I am using a 5 disk CD changer and have selected instrumental Christmas music, and I have a copy of the Hallmark Village Sounds too. I set the CD changer to randomly mix the tracks together. Not so much for the visitors, but for the staff hearing the same music over and over in the same order (especially this far out of the traditional Christmas season) seemed a bit much.

    I anticipate adding and moving the speakers. The 2 tunnel portals are at extreme left and right which leaves a 'hole' in the sound in the center of the display. If I can get the geometry right, I would like 4 speakers on the ceiling, angled downward, to reflect sound off the backdrop to make the sounds seem to emanate from the entire village. I will keep the subs underneath, they are omnidirectional in how they work so that is not critical. I am also going to try adding a few speakers behind the viewing line to add ambiance, like wind and bird noises.

    We get favorable feedback about the music, it enhances the Christmas Village.

    If the laptop is willing, attached is a photo of our display from over a year ago. Since then, the village has been extensively revamped, and the display room has been redecorated. I will work on getting some current pictures.
    Attached Images Attached Images

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