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This is final year for "Train Man"

by Mellisa Murphy, staff writer

Ranchos “Train Man” Chuck Harris will be retiring after this year, having provided Carson Valley with almost a decade of holiday wonder.

Harris has been a staple of the Christmas season for residents for eight years, putting together a miniature world that fills his front yard and garage with moving trains, music and twinkling lights.

Residents are invited to stop at his Ranchos home for the next three weekends for an early Christmas in September.

“I love the people who come out and I love to talk about it and brag a bit,” Harris said.

A model train collector for 55 years, Harris has 140 engines, 20 of which he runs in his display. The landscape, made of plywood, paint and 1,338 feet of track, contains more than 1,300 figurines and vehicles, and small-scale replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, hot air balloons and a running waterfall.

Harris originally ran the display in the winter, complete with snow and chilly weather.

“My fingers were starting to go numb,” Harris said.

This is the second year Harris has set up the display in late summer. This year, however, he and his wife, Marie, decided it was time to make the final run and retire from their labor of love.

Harris rigged all the power to the display himself, and an additional electrical line was installed to support the small world.

Special buttons designed for visitors supply power to various pieces when pressed.

“Children love them, and I think a lot of moms like them, too,” Harris said.

The Harrises keep track of guests with a hand-held counter. Last year, visitors totalled 4,000.

“The most we’ve ever had was 7,300,” Harris said.

Over the years, Harris has been offered thousands of dollars for antique pieces he uses in his display. He always turns inquiries down.

Some of his favorite pieces are, incidentally, the oldest and most valuable. He still has toys he received for birthdays and holidays as a child, including cast-iron cars and a barnyard set.

Harris says he’s sad to be quitting the display, but looks forward to traveling in his recreational vehicle.

The Harrises purchased a winter home in Palm Desert, Calif., where Harris is slated to continue work with model trains.

What does he plan to replace the trains with? A fountain.

“I just want to thank everyone for coming,” Harris said. “It’s all over.”

Although the display will be held in September, Santa Claus will be available to pass out candy. Admission is free. Elks will take donations of canned goods for charity. A raffle, tickets $1 each, will also be held on the last show night, with two model trains as prizes.

Display times are Sept. 1-4, 8-10, 15-17, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at 1279 Bodie Court. From Tillman Lane, take Manhattan, right at Bolivia Way and right at Bodie Court. The Harrises can be reached at 265-5863.