It took Mel Husmann, above, three days to unpack boxes and set up his elaborate train set in the corner window of what will soon become Twisted Ranch at York and Maryland Avenue. Husmann transported about 90% of his collection to the CWE at the request of his daughter Kate Haher, executive director of CWENCID (CWE North Community Improvement District), and the organizer of the yearly Window Walk event in the neighborhood, one of her many responsibilities.
I visited Husmann, who at age 76 balks at the suggestion of retirement, and who still finds time to volunteer for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, while he was fiddling with the alignment of train tracks as his winter wonderland took shape.
“My wife Nancy and I really enjoy the area down here,” he explained, “and it’s been fun to participate in the Window Walk.” Husmann remembers the days when downtown department store windows were filled with mechanical tin soldiers, sugar plum fairies and meandering train sets. “I wanted to recreate that experience in the CWE.”“While I’ve been working here it’s meant so much to see big smiles on the kids’ faces as they walk by and peer in the windows. They’re dreaming right along with me.”
Husmann was a late–blooming train hobbyist. His wife Nancy’s 40th birthday gift of an indoor/outdoor LGB train engine (the one you see in the photographs), four train cars, and a simple 5′ circular track got him hooked. The collection has grown so large that it now fills boxes stacked floor-to-ceiling in one closet, and stashed in the attic too.
Until this year, the Christmas tradition at the Husmann home in Pasadena Hills featured train tracks winding throughout the first floor—”through the French doors. around the front of the fireplace,” etc. Kate and her 3 siblings were not interested in the train by the time their father started this hobby, but his granddaughters love to play with the Frozen castle and characters their grandfather added to bring his collection up-to-date.
In the window at the corner of York and Maryland, the train makes a loop through mountains, past a lake, a vintage set of Dickensian houses, a mechanical merry-go-round, and an Alpine village. Most of the scenery is made by Dept. 56, a series that is sold locally by a specialty train shop in St. Charles.
Husmann’s train will be pulling out of the CWE station after the first of the year when all the Window Walk decorations will be removed. In the meantime, other shop windows decorated by area designers are a “must see” over the next couple of weeks. The last of the CWE Window Walk programmed events takes place tomorrow, Saturday, from 1 to 5.