BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The holiday spirit is alive and well for a Fort Madison man who’s been building a collecting miniatures for a Christmas village that runs about 60 square feet right throughout most of his family room.
Gary and Karen Turnbull, who live on Avenue J in Fort Madison, turn their living room into a makeshift Christmas countryside every year right after Thanksgiving.
With more than 400 models and pieces in the collection, Gary said he’s just about out of room, but he’ll find it when he needs it.
As it stands, the model countryside has two theaters, more than five churches, a carousel, a ski resort, a snow sledding hill and an LED train community, a military post, lighthouses, tree houses, and even ole St. Nick and his reindeer humming quietly over houses along the countryside.
“I’ve been collecting these since about 1986,” Gary said Wednesday afternoon.
He couldn’t say how much he’s spent or what the value of the collection is because he doesn’t typically pay full value for them.
“I have no idea what the value is,” he said. “I guess the real value is the joy the family gets from it. But I can’t put a dollar value on it.”
He said he’s purchased the miniature collectibles from almost every big box store, usually when they go on clearance. But he said a lot of the pieces have come from family members, friends, and community members who know about the size of his collection and his passion for setting them up each year.
Turnbull said it takes about 18 hours to set all the models up and get them plugged in. He said the electrical can be the most difficult part, but improvements in offerings on the lights has made things a bit easier.
“I can get strings of 5 or 7 C7 lights now and there is just enough room between the lights to use them to string together 5 to 7 houses so that has reduced the number of plugs that are needed.
The collectibles sit on some four-foot vinyl tables, some stepped wooden shelving, and even some newly added benches this year to accommodate the growing collection. He even incorporated a bit of gutter vinyl to create a slope for miniature sledders. Then he uses basic white sheets as the table covers and uses a little bit of white stuffing material to create the slopes for the ski resort and the sledding hills.
The new models have LED lights and one of his favorite pieces is a replica church of an older model that he already had in the collection. The church has LED detail lights around the steeple and windows.
“I really liked this LED church when I first saw it. And after I looked at it closely I realized it’s the same church as the one I already have, but it’s a smaller version with LEDs,” Turnbull said.
The couple have three grandchildren and nine grandchildren and Turnbull said he hopes that one of the children will pick up the mantel and run with it at some point. But he said he and his wife have changed some things to make the assembly and tear down simpler logistically.
“I can only go about five hours a day when I’m setting it up, so it usually takes about three or four days. My knees just can’t take it anymore. But sometimes the grandkids will come over and want to help. They usually end up playing with them more than helping. But I don’t mind. The only rule is whatever they take down to play with, they have to put it back.”
Another piece Turnbull is sentimental about is a bullet casing from his father’s 21-gun salute. His father, who was in the military, died after battling Alzheimer’s disease. At the military salute, Turnbull asked if he could have some of the shells for himself, his kids, and his grandchildren. Now one of the shells sits on the military miniature scene and is engraved as part of his display.
“I asked them if I could have some of the casings for my family and they gave them to me,” Turnbull said. “Then I wanted to get them engraved and looked around and people were asking as much as $40 per casing. I took it here locally and the dealer said, ‘Your family served our country and mine didn’t so I’ll engrave all of them for free.’ I told him I would be happy to pay for them and he said, ‘No, you won’t’.”