- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

Union Station has expanded its Christmas season exhibit that features miniature trains chugging through Norwegian and Arctic island landscapes.

“It’s a dream job,” said designer and builder Styrkar Braathen, 50, who has lived near the Norwegian capital, Oslo. “I really love it. I have been building since I was a small boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old.”

There are picturesque, cozy homes along the tracks. And polar bears, reindeer, wolverines and sea mammals near the Arctic shore and amid the high, crevassed gray mountains.

However, don’t expect to see the dark and hairy dwarf trolls this year.

“We’ve had calls,” said Lisa Kunkler McClure, the station’s marketing manager. “Some children are scared of the trolls. Those big dolls are ugly.”

This will be the 10th year for the seasonal exhibit, which begins Tuesday.

The expanded exhibit features two new train replicas and some waterfronts of the Svalbard Islands in the Arctic.

One building is a small towered church. Mr. Braathen said the real church seats only 22 parishioners. Some residents are there only during summer months, when the sun can be seen for 24 hours. In the winter, when light emanates only from the sun reflecting off clouds, many residents go to southern Norway, where it’s warmer.

Temperatures have dropped to as low as 52 degrees below zero, Mr. Braathen said.

“If you take a container of boiling water outside and throw it in the air, it will freeze before it hits the ground,” he said.

The exhibit also includes railroad stations from the 1940s. One of the small buildings consists of 1,200 pieces, which Mr. Braathen cut and pasted in his office below an Oslo station.

“This train has never run before,” he said, pointing to a tiny engine to be powered by electricity over tracks being installed by Debra and Bob Long.

Mrs. Long said she and her husband have helped install the Christmas season exhibits at the station for 18 years.

Mr. Braathen used photographs to design and build the exhibit. He draws blueprints for the buildings, which are painted gray blue, yellow and red, like buildings in Norway.

This year, they include tepees, called lavos in Norway, for migrant natives.

The exhibit opening will coincide with the start of the Marine Corps Reserve’s annual Toys for Tots campaign.

On Nov. 28, officials from the Norwegian Embassy will turn on 8,000 lights on a nearby 30-foot Christmas tree.


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