Monday, December 26, 2011

Totally Texas -- Can you hear the train coming?

Joel’s Christmas Train

156 Hidden Circle



Plenty of yards in Richardson’s Duck Creek neighborhood boast eye-popping displays of holiday lights. But I don’t think anybody’s feelings will be hurt if I say none of them come close to the show in Joel Occhiuzzo’s back yard. Because no one else has his very own train!

When I visited Mr. Occhiuzzo’s holiday train recently I remarked that the show seemed even more impressive than last year’s.

“Ten thousand more lights,” he said, as thrilled as a kid. “And the train is new!”

The electric train that circles his yard from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly (weather permitting) from Thanksgiving through the evening of New Year’s Day is a grownup little boy’s dream. Small enough to fit in a suburban back yard but big enough to ride in, Joel’s Christmas Train is now in its eleventh year of delighting neighborhood children.

Mr. Occhiuzzo himself is the engineer, circling a miniature theme park of cartoon character figures and lights. Lots and lots of lights. The show faces the creek and the glow of lights across the water is charming enough to set Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart beating faster.

Train rides are free, but with an anticipated 600-800 passengers a night this year, Mr. Occhiuzzo welcomes (nondeductible) donations. And he depends on the help of a crew of dedicated volunteers who start setting up the train and its tracks soon after Labor Day for the annual Thanksgiving night opening run.

As the retired Mr. Occhiuzzo explains on his blog,, “The idea of having a train came in a dream. I thought I could build one easily, I soon found out it wasn’t going to be easy!. . .
(Eventually) I rented a 16-foot truck and loaded 130 feet of tracks, 44 foot of train batteries and drove 1,250 miles to get my current system.”

My daughter in Richardson first alerted me to the train. With two little boys who were crazy about trains, she was eager to locate Mr. Occhiuzzo’s. This year, her husband scheduled his vacation for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. And I won’t say it was just to take advantage of the holiday train, but that’s definitely on their to-do list.


Also for kids, or kids at heart -- Trains at NorthPark, the entrancing toy-sized trains crossing a diorama of the United States, continue their run through January 1. They are located this year near Barney’s New York on the second level of NorthPark Center, Northwest Highway and Central Expressway in Dallas. Tickets are $3 for children and seniors, $6 for adults, with discount tickets available at Tom Thumb stores. See for times, including special hours for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

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