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Trains At NorthPark Take You From The Golden Gate To The Cadillac Ranch

It’s hard to picture classic holiday toys without imagining a shiny, electric train.  Multiply that vision by 100, and you’ll get an idea of the annual tradition known as the Trains at NorthPark.

It’s one of the few places you can take a train ride from San Francisco to New York in just a couple minutes.

 It isn’t Grand Central Station, but a mini-version of that very spot is a part of this display.

After you leave the Big Apple behind, the Trains at NorthPark chug across the Golden Gate Bridge and blur by the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Not to be outdone, Texas has quite a presence too. The Cadillac Ranch, oil derricks and the Cotton Bowl are all part of the scenery. And that’s just for starts.

“This year we’ve added quite a few new things. We have the Perot Museum, we’ve got the Trinity River underneath now the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge which we added a couple of years ago, and there’s just a lot of fun details,” says Jill Cumnock, CEO of the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas.

Most know the Ronald McDonald House as a home away from home for families traveling here for medical care. It’s also the beneficiary of the Trains at NorthPark.

“And it raises almost a third of our overall budget, so without this exhibit, I don’t know what we would do,” says Cumnock.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA News
Train displays are posted at all different heights, something 8-month-old Peter is pretty happy about.

The trains have been around for 27 years, 16 of them at NorthPark Center. It takes weeks to put the display together, there’s 1,600 feet of track and 26 train sets.

The real work is in the details. Tiny trees, miniature storefronts, even an itty-bitty flying saucer to represent Roswell, New Mexico.

Organizers make a bit of a game out of spotting the minutiae. This year, there’s a tiny dinosaur hidden somewhere in the display and several fossils too.

Jill Cumnock says kids get a kick out of the lights, colors and sounds, and some adults remember riding the rails themselves. The nostalgia is part of the fun.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 4.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.