Joel’s Christmas Train
156 Hidden Circle, Richardson
Joel Occhuizzo’s holiday train is one of the great undiscovered treasures of the season. Not exactly undiscovered--the Richardson retiree’s brainchild is now in its thirteenth year, attracting hundreds of riders nightly. But it’s all done without fanfare. There’s no formal organization. Just a group of volunteers who spend weeks setting up the train each year for its Thanksgiving night opening run, operating with minimal outside funds.
The magical result is a miniature theme park blazing with tens of thousands of lights, circled by an electric train small enough to fit in the backyard of Occhuizzo’s home in the Duck Creek neighborhood, but big enough even for adults to ride in. Cars line the neighborhood streets for a show that lasts from 6-10 p.m. every night (weather permitting) through the evening of New Year’s Day.
The idea of the train came to Occhuizzo, now in his eighties, after taking his grandchildren to see a display of holiday lights. When he retired, he explains in his blog, he learned fulfilling his dream of a children’s train ride wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought. He eventually rented a sixteen-foot truck to haul in the train and tracks, and after plenty of experimenting, was off and running.
Year by year he’s added more lights, more sound effects, and upgraded the train’s engine and cars. (For those interested in buying old cars, see his blog at http://holidayexpressridingtrain.wordpress.com/.)
Train rides are free, although Occhuizzo is thankful for donations to help defray costs. If you can, drop them in the donation box or mail checks to him at the Hidden Circle address. But whatever you do, have a good time!
A few hours after posting this, I talked to Occhiuzzo and he informed me that this will be the train's last year to run. He will post more particulars on his blog later.
(Next week--another free holiday treasure, Richardson’s Santa’s Village.)