Eagle resident Sig Bjornson is still a kid at heart. That's why he's trying to make Christmas a little brighter for other local kids this year with a special display at Eagle Ranch Village.Bjornson is an architect, a model train enthusiast and the creator of “Dickensville,” an elaborate miniature world of perpetual Christmas, where six model trains run through four levels of a town that has grown bigger every year for nearly two decades.Dickensville is now on public display for the first time as a benefit for the Mason/Eagle Fire Department Toy Drive.The display opens three nights a week for two more weeks, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 1143 Capitol St., next door to the Slifer Smith & Frampton office. Admission for adults is $5 or an unwrapped toy. Kids are free.“So far we've raised eight gifts and $250,” Bjornson said after Dickensville's first weekend.For each opening, Bjornson plans to have a specially selected child flip the switch that brings the village to life.“The room will be dark at first and then all the lights come on at once,” he said.The guest engineers were nominated by local residents.“(Bjornson) called me with the idea and found a way to help the community, from here to Dotsero,” said Eagle River Fire District Chief Jon Asper. “This is great of him. He is a talented man with a great hobby and he is sharing it with the kids.”
Bjornson has helpers, too.Kim Bradley of Slifer Smith & Frampton and Carol Glasson of Eagle Ranch Village helped him organize the event and find vacant commercial space for the display.“I've been working with the merchants to generate more activity in the area, and hopefully that will translate into more donations for the toy drive as well,” Bradley said. Other community members also donated time to help Bjornson transport and set up the display, which took quite a few hours over several days.“It's a good way to get away from the honey-dos,” joked Walt Marquez, who is Bjornson's neighbor and has witnessed the evolution of Dickensville.“When the room is dark you can just sit back and stare at it,” he said.Bjornson said the effect is something like staring at a campfire.“Adults look at the whole thing and the kids like to get really close to see the details up front,” he said.
Bjornson said he has always loved trains. That's why Dickensville has never stopped growing and changing.“I've had model trains since I was a kid,” he said. “Even when we could drive across the tracks in time, I would make my parents stop at a train crossing so that we could watch the train pass by.”The fascination hasn't stopped and Bjornson has been tinkering with Dickensville in his Eagle Ranch home since 2002, when he had the benefit of expanded floor space.“I always change things every year,” he said. “Things break or there's a house that looks better.”Bjornson places the more interesting structures up front, such as fiber-optic buildings that look like they have people moving inside. Other “moving” parts to the mini town include a river that has lights that make it look like it's really flowing, an ice rink with hockey players, a sledding hill, skiers and a gondola that's new this year.Bjornson gets the items from all over and gives some of the old ones away as he gets new ones. Hobby stores are becoming harder to find, however, and more shopping has to be done online these days. The model trains are also getting old and becoming harder to find.“They wear out,” Bjornson said. “They will be the death of this. I had eight engines at the start of the year and I'll probably have six at the end of the year.”Even now, after the display's first weekend, Bjornson is putting in even more time to fix the trains and keep Dickensville bustling.“I'm not uptight about it,” he said. “Resetting the trains is actually kind of fun. If it can't be fun, why do it?”
As a man of many hobbies, Bjornson isn't sure how much longer he will be the conductor of Dickensville.“Last year I didn't work on this much because I was spending most of my time rebuilding a Ford Ranchero,” he said.He hopes Dickensville will eventually be passed on to something like a children's hospital.“I've got the diagram how to set it up and would be happy to teach someone how to do it — or I'll even do it myself,” he said.He just wants the trains to reach a destination where they can continue to make Christmas sparkle for others.