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Richard Pearce has collected an assortment of toys and trains to create a Christmas wonderland. He uses models to create a miniature slice of life.
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Photo courtesy Rebecca Lowe

Richard Pearce has collected an assortment of toys and trains to create a Christmas wonderland. He uses models to create a miniature slice of life.

Old toy trains and little toy tracks

By Ritchie E. Starnes

Chowan Herald

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EURE — A railroad crossing sign stands conspicuously out of place. No iron rails are in sight. The track that once dissected the sleepy community of Eure has long been gone. Instead, the caution sign stands in front of tall trees and fallen leaves on a lawn of dirt – foreground for an otherwise plain two-story dwelling.

What lies inside this simple dwelling is anything but plain and beyond any wordsmith’s just description. It’s where imagination and nostalgia collide every December, when faces of young and old distort, but never tire, from wide-eyed amazement and ear-to-ear grins. Between toys of yesteryear and the timelessness of imagination, visitors of all ages partake in the annual pilgrimage.

“Kids don’t want to leave,” said owner Richard Pearce, 70. “They (parents) have to drag them out. They’ll (children) do some hollerin’ sometimes.”

Over the last 24 years Richard and wife Peggy have assembled and amassed an array of electric trains, models, toys, figurines, and mechanized scenery that collectively create The Train House. Some are handmade, others store-bought.

Despite the cumbersome collection, trains remain the dominate theme.

“People associate Christmas with trains,” Peggy said.

Seventeen locomotives bend along assorted tracks through a series of make-believe communities and miniature settings, depicting a wonderland of life at play and work. But, that hardly tells it.

Between walls of encased vintage toys and old-timey paraphernalia sit multiple displays of trains incessantly motoring among handcrafted slices of life that depict every fine detail imaginable, and then some. Each scene tells a different story while stirring forgotten emotions.

Frolicking children skate on an ice rink. A fisherman pulls a catch from the banks of a pond. A Hula Hoop spins on a girl’s waist. A blacksmith hammers iron amid the red glow of molten steel. A car lifts for repair at a service station as another backs from the garage bay. A bulldozer razes a tree. Farmers tend to crops. A bull bucks a rodeo cowboy. One boy dribbles a basketball while another guards on defense. A blue glow casts a shadow of a welder at work.

A photographer snaps a shot of a newlyweds. Two men pitch horseshoes. A child bounces on a Pogo Stick. A policeman activates his blue light for a traffic stop. Trucks and cars of all models and years fill the streets. A boat sails on a lake. A man shakes violently from a jackhammer. Workers pull up stumps.

A camper uses a bush axe to kill a snake.

“He’s a little slow. I need to give ‘em a stronger current,” jokes Richard.

Rescuers aid a wreck victim by helicopter. A wrecker pulls the vehicle up the slope while a bear lifts his head to watch.

“He must have heard ‘em,” Richard plays along.

The origin of The Train House is as fascinating as its contents’ stories. While walking along train tracks on the outskirts of Eure in nearby Gates County, Richard came upon a discarded paper bag. He went to kick the litter, but there was something inside.

“There was a train in it,” Richard said. “It wouldn’t run, so I decided to fix it. After that, I started collecting trains.”

Among his storied collection are Marx trains.

“Marx was the toy king in the ’40s. That’s what I had when I was small,” Richard recalls.

What began as a train set at the base of a Christmas tree expanded to a hobby, turned responsibility. The collection grew, which prompted Richard to build a dwelling to house them all. Thus, The Train House was born.

“I started to buy more and more,” he added.

Soon birthed the idea to share a peek of his collection of moving and still parts.

“When I built it, I didn’t know anyone would come,” Richard said. “I did it for myself. But, people keep coming back. Kids love to come.”

There’s as much stored as on display because of a lack of room, Richard admits. Advertised solely by word of mouth, folks from the Albemarle and neighboring Virginia annually file into the house during the holidays to stoke their Christmas spirit.

“A lot of people can’t believe there’s something like this in our small community,” Peggy said.

While Richard plays engineer, making sure all the parts keep moving, Peggy oversees the House’s second level where locomotives trek through snow-blanketed mountains made of plaster. The upper level clearly marks the higher elevations where winters are often white. Spruce trees dot the slopes as cable cars carry skiers above.

Besides a seemingly endless number of toys and the constant hum of trains, the House supplies an amble dose of yuletide images. There is Santa and a barn full of reindeer. One special scene captures Santa’s airborne sleigh pulled by reindeer above a village in anticipation of Christmas. A blacklight bulb casts a silhouette of Santa’s rig akin to a shadow of the night’s blue moon.

If you’d like to go to The Train House, take NC 32 north of Edenton, veer left onto NC 37, then left on NC 137 in Gatesville, and into Eure. It’s located at 29 Little Island Road. Open 6 – 9.p.m.; closed Dec. 24 & 25. There’s no admission, but donations are welcome. For information, call (252) 357-0174.