When Bill Castaldo says he has a train set and village set up in his home for the holidays, he’s not talking about a little village: The spread of miniature holiday houses, trains and little people take up about a quarter of his lower-level family room.
There’s a diner, a town green, a roller skating rink, a bank, a school and so much more. There are mountains in the distance that he constructed of Plaster of Paris, cars, an American Bandstand building complete with dancers inside, a church and a synagogue.
Besides the three trains that traverse the expansive village, there’s a trolley that runs from the airport, which he built this year, to town.
There’s a residential section and, because his wife, Susan, is a big Elvis fan, Graceland is incorporated into the village.
“The lights on the building blink sometimes,” Bill said. “We don’t know why. But my wife decided that when the lights are blinking, that means Elvis is in the building.”
It takes about a month to set up the elaborate scene, which includes at least 56 buildings, many of them Department 56 collectibles. Castaldo, with help from his grandson, carries all the boxed pieces downstairs and starts unpacking them. Castaldo lays a surface structure over his pool table, and then combines that with another table, and starts the meticulous task of not just putting all the pieces in place, but drilling holes in the wooden base so the wires and plugs can pass through to power the buildings and trains.
“I started when my wife got a house as a gift,” Castaldo said. “It was a barn, and she put it under the Christmas tree.”
The next year she got another building, and Bill added the Lionel trains he’d had since childhood to the under-the-tree scene.
Sometime after that, his hobby took off, and he started collecting more buildings, trains, bridges and accents, adding to the collection each year for about the past 12 years.
“I guess it turned into an obsession, maybe,” he said with a laugh.
The Milford man actually started scouring Ebay and other Internet sites for village components before he retired as director of information technology with Pitney Bowes.
Now that he’s retired, he has plenty of time to hone his craft. During the assembly phase, which is different every year because he moves parts of the scene around, he typically spends the majority of the day setting up the village.
He gets everything in place before the holidays and typically leaves the display up until the end of January. “And it takes just as long to take it down as it does to put it up,” he said.
When he started the annual village construction project, it took on more of a Victorian theme, but over the years it has evolved to include pieces representative of many time periods. “There’s a lot of fifties stuff,” he said.
There’s even a White Castle building, because Castaldo has long been a fan of White Castle burgers.
“I get a lot of enjoyment out of people coming in and doing the ‘ooohs and ahhhs’,” he said, explaining that he and his wife invite family and friends over to see the display. At night when he turns off the lights in the room, the entire village takes on a life of its own, glowing and busy.
Castaldo remembers when his nephew brought his son to see the village, and the young boy stood mesmerized near a ticket booth — an older piece — from which a ticket collector pops as the train gets near.
Castaldo said it was his father, John, who really started him collecting trains and the peripheries when he was a small boy. Back then, John would set up the Lionel trains in the living room under the Christmas tree each holiday season. Those same trains sit off to the side of this year’s display, a reminder of those boyhood times.
Expansive yes, but Castaldo has plans for additions in years to come.
He hasn’t told his wife yet because she would like some of the room left for actually living in, he said with a laugh.
“But I’d really like to add an amusement park,” he said. “There’s still some room over there.”