Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Christmas train off the tracks this year

Hiatus honours late founder of annual event

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For many Winnipeggers, Christmas arrived when they took a mini-train ride through the winter wonderland on Bill and Mary-Lou Taylor's Charleswood property.

But this year, the breathtaking light display and whimsical train rides of the annual event at the Taylor's display are going on a hiatus.

Bill Taylor, the founding father, died on Aug. 26 at age 68.

Turns out there just aren't enough Assiniboine Valley Railway club members and volunteers to fulfil the work, time and dedication delivered by one man.

"The time he would put in daily, especially in the later years, would be eight to 10 hours a day. To try to string something together in the last couple of months, I just don't think it would be right," said Paul Taylor, Bill's son.

Taylor said his dad would be "covering every little inch of the tracks, every inch of every display" each day to keep everything operational along with keeping the tracks clear of debris and snow.

"We definitely want everyone to know that we're not pulling the plug indefinitely. We want to pay proper tribute to him and to do anything less than what the standard is, what he used to do, would be almost disrespectful," Taylor said. "It's a big undertaking, and we definitely have all the intentions of following through next year."

The display, which operated for 17 seasons, included more than 102,000 lights and usually two trains on the one-eighth scale railroad with about two kilometres of track on the Taylors' 2.6-hectare property at 3001 Roblin Blvd.

"He'd been doing the light display since maybe before I was born," Taylor, 30, said. "I remember being a little boy and running around and being surrounded by Christmas lights. It just grew every year. As long as I've been alive, he's always had a display that people would take note of and visit."

Len LaRue, Bill's friend of 30 years who took over as AVR president, said Bill honoured the Christian aspect of Christmas in his display and the countless hours he spent on it.

"It was a magical wonderland. He had a passion that drove him to do that; he just loved the whole concept of Christmas light display," said LaRue, who helped Bill get the railroad started in 1995. "There's no Santa Claus there. There's some snowmen and moving deer. He liked Santa Claus, but Christmas to him was the Jesus part of Christmas."

Vic St-Germain, AVR's vice-president, said the club is looking for more volunteers to help with preparation in the summer, set-up in the fall and the Christmas run.

Manpower will be needed to not only put the lights up but do daily repairs from "critter damage" by squirrels and deer who chew wires and plugs.

"The Christmas run, Bill used to like to start in November and go through the first week in January. You have to have a minimum of five members here every day in order to run trains," St-Germain said. "We miss it and it's hard on Bill's family. They want it to continue and we're going to try. A doubling of the membership would go a long way to making it easier."

LaRue said the trains will run again starting in June 2014 for open houses on the second weekend of each month in the spring and summer.

"The biggest thing people could do to help us is come out and ride in the summer," La Rue said. "Pay your $2 to ride and that will help us cover the (liability) insurance and keep us running."

If you want to volunteer or donate, please email LaRue at hellarue@mymts.net.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 A11

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