Memories have a way of flooding into a person’s consciousness at the mere waft of a certain aroma, sound of an object passing by or sight of a scene long forgotten.
The latter occurred this past summer, when Sue Vincent, a resident at Gunnison’s assisted living facility, was brought to tears by the picture of a model train — reminding her of the towns encircled by trains that she built as a child with her four brothers.
Paul Blattner, whose wife Mary is administrator at the Senior Care Center, adjacent to the assisted living facility, was the guilty party for having shown Vincent the picture of a model train layout he created.
But Blattner didn’t forget that day. In fact, Vincent’s emotional response set in motion a project that culminated earlier this month with Blattner and a host of helpers delivering a winter-themed model train display to the Senior Care Center.
Of course, given the historically close connection between model trains and Christmas, it’s proven quite the hit.
“I had all these silly ideas,” Vincent said of the day earlier this year that Blattner showed her the picture. “I was so excited, and Paul made it happen.”
Blattner’s own fascination with model trains began when his grandfather gave him a set of trains that dated prior to World War II.
“I went from two trains then to five trains now,” he explained. “I do an elaborate layout just for Christmas time.”
Yet, the conversation with Vincent this past summer sparked talks with Wayne Castka, owner of Gunnison’s Spin a Christmas Tale, who mentioned that he had a layout leftover from his former store in Crested Butte.
“We worked out a deal, and I was able to purchase it for a very reasonable cost,” Blattner said. “He basically donated it.”
Blattner, Jason Young, owner of Black Canyon R/C, and Young’s mother got to work painting and rebuilding the layout. After about six weeks of work, the scene was complete with model cars, snow-frosted trees, bridges, roads, villagers and their homes.
Businesses — including Ol’ Miner Steakhouse, Western Lumber, Re/Max Community Brokers, Six Points, Spin a Christmas Tale and Black Canyon R/C — even helped sponsor the effort through time, money or materials.
“I just kept it quiet,” Blattner said of the surprise for Senior Care Center residents. “I didn’t say anything for months.”
The Blattners have decided to donate the layout to the nursing home, with hopes that residents might even form a Christmas model railroad club.
Last week, Vincent and Senior Care Center resident Pat Tyner Wolford gathered beside the layout in awe as trains whizzed past.
“I love trains, and I love toys,” said Tyner Wolford. “I’m old, but I never intend to grow up.”
In fact, since she was 7 years old, Tyner Wolford has maintained a hobby of collecting one-twelfth scale miniatures. Upon the delivery of the model train layout, she even beckoned Blattner to her room to show him her collection.
“We had a great time,” she said.
Between shouts of excitement last week, Vincent recalled the train layouts she built as a child with her brothers.
“We would make these towns, and it was so much fun,” she explained, grinning from ear to ear while watching Blattner’s creation. “They’ve put so much into this it’s unreal. I love it so much.”
That’s just what Blattner was aiming for.
“Happiness, smiles and remembering their childhood,” he said of what he hopes the layout brings residents of the Senior Care Center. “The train was part of the Christmas tree. That was a big thing many years ago, and it has kind of dissolved over the years.”
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)