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Thu., Oct. 8
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Tiny trains light up kids’ holiday spirit


LOWVILLE — Samantha K. Reese, 3, was so mesmerized by the two tables full of circling trains and ornately decorated miniature buildings that she barely registered her mother’s voice.

At the other side of the table, Lionel train set owner James Randall was just jolly.

“I love to see the kids’ faces. And the adults, too, but the kids just come over and their eyes just grow and they stand there. They just watch it forever,” said Mr. Randall.

He and partner Carmen A. Sweet have set up the trains and miniature village in conjunction with Lewis County Historical Society’s annual “Home for the Holidays” event for the past five years.

Mr. Randall began collecting trains at the age of 5, when his parents bought him a train for Christmas. The gift became a holiday tradition, and later an adamant hobby for the 50-year-old.

“I just, it’s a hobby, you know, and of course it’s so nice here because I can share it with the community,” said Mr. Randall.

Even though the trains hold a special place in his heart, the Lewis County Fair director says most people will connect the trains and village with the holiday season.

“I think trains have always been associated with Christmas, you know? The old pictures of the train around the tree and everything, it’s always been just part of the holiday,” said Mr. Randall.

“I think they’re really awesome,” Samantha’s mother, Kim A. Reese, said of the display. “She does love trains and we had come last year when she was 2 and she had a great time. I thought she’d really like it a lot more now that she’s older and she’d really appreciate all the houses and everything that Jim has to go along with the trains.”

Mr. Sweet said he and Mr. Randall began collecting the houses and figurines roughly 20 years ago.

“We try to incorporate the whole set. This is Lewis County in the winter time. Halloween Towne just got over, we have that, and then the fair in the summer,” said Mr. Sweet.

The first table of the display is dedicated to a wintery village. A hill rises into the backdrop where several buildings and looming white windmills are stationed.

“Everybody asks me ‘where did you get those windmills?’ Lionel (Corp.) actually came out with them a few years ago, but everybody thinks I came up with them,” Mr. Randall said, laughing. “No, I just bought them.”

“It’s amazing because over by the fair scene there’s one that says Countryside Veterinary Clinic and Jim manages Countryside,” said Mr. Sweet. The two came across that figure by coincidence.

The second table is dedicated to Lowville’s popular Halloween Towne, which wrapped up recently, as well as the Lewis County Fair. It was the Halloween theme that captured Samantha’s attention.

“I like the big balloon,” she said, gesturing to a train car with a large Jack-O-lantern face.

“You like trains in general, don’t you, kiddo?” asked Ms. Reese.

“I do,” her daughter whispered, still reveling in the scene.

It’s children like Samantha who convince Mr. Randall and Mr. Sweet to put the extra time and energy into the display each year. Before the festival Mr. Sweet said this could be their last year. But after Sunday he wavered.

“Friday night we had almost 300 people come through and probably 150 of them were children. And that’s what really makes my heart sing because a lot of kids don’t have access to something like this so when they come in and see how beautiful it is they’re just blown away. And that’s what makes it worthwhile,” said Mr. Sweet.

“Home for the Holidays” will continue this weekend, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at 7552 S. State St.

In addition to the display, the community may vote on decorated gingerbread houses as well as bid on pre-decorated trees.

All proceeds from the festival will go back to the Lewis County Historical Society.

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