Gardnerville couple sharing 'labor of love' with children

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When the Santa Fe steam engine pulls up to the station at the Children's Museum of Northern Nevada, an 8-year-old just might be at the controls.

The museum recently acquired an elaborate model train and village set donated by Gerry Phillips and his wife, Pauline, of Gardnerville.

"We built it with the idea that we'd be able to share it with kids," said Phillips who has been building model trains for about 20 years. The model donated to the museum took about four years. "It was fun. We've done all the work we needed to do with it.

"The models are a labor of love."

And the children who come to watch and play with the trains have, in turn, fallen in love with the product of their labor.

"A lot of kids are here for like 30 minutes just staring at it," said 17-year-old Weston Overland a volunteer at the museum who helps with the exhibits, birthdays and the evening skylab.

Overland has his own favorite piece of the model train and village, the fire station.

"It reminds me of when my grandpa was a firefighter," he said.

Although existing in a miniature world, the many of the pieces of the model are based on the real world. Most train pieces model actual railroad cars.

"There's Burlington North and Santa Fe, (companies) which merged a few years ago," Phillips said. "The Pumpkin diesel engine makes sounds. You can hear the choo-choo of steam."

The model villages circled by the trains represent places the Phillips have visited.

There's a house with a thatch roof from Scotland. Polar bears and a tundra buggy representing a trip to Alaska. Phillips modeled a church after the Chapel of Chimayo north of Santa Fe where many have gone for healing. Donkeys seen in Arizona are remembered by donkey models tromping down a model trail.

Many pieces he assembled himself, such as the tundra buggy and Chapel of Chimayo. Pauline crafted most of the trees in the scenes.

Freida Ford, a museum board member and volunteer, worked with Phillips to get the model ready for the children. It's protected by a plexiglass box with a control and switch box installed by DEK Electric, who donated their services. The museum's young visitors maneuver the trains with the switch box.

Ford understands the draw a model train set has for children. As a child, a friend had a model train.

"When I was little I wished I was small enough to go into all the buildings," she said.

Having his model in the hands of the museum is a pleasure and a relief for Phillips who is retired. After 20 years of train modeling he's ready to slow down. The model donated to the museum will be his last, he said.

"My granddaughter just got married," he said. "I think her husband, maybe, will carry on."

Whether new models are created or not, the children of the community will have many years to enjoy the Phillips' labors at the Children's Museum.


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