Model train makes return visit to Columbus Main Library

Central Ohioans need not travel far this holiday season to see a magical train exhibit built by a landscape magician who turns natural objects, such as nuts and shells, into fanciful displays.

The Huntington Holiday Train chugged into the lobby of the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 96 S. Grant Ave., on Nov. 25 and will remain there until early January. The exhibit features a half dozen model trains and trolleys meandering around a snowy mountain scene with 45 handmade buildings that resemble a German village.

Trains, including Thomas the Tank, dart in and out of tunnels and cross over bridges. A pristine castle is perched atop the mountain, and a waterfall cascades down its center.

The display was created by Paul Busse, founder of Applied Imagination in Alexandria, Ky. Busse, who studied architecture at Miami University and landscape architecture at Ohio State University, builds small-scale replicas of world-famous landmarks out of a palette of whimsical, natural elements. His work is heralded at annual displays in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“Each building is one of a kind and handmade with natural materials,” said Ron Mayer, a garden-railway enthusiast from Columbus, who helped to install the exhibit. “If you look at the roofs you can see they’re made with tree bark.”

The exhibit was the inspiration of the late Frank Wobst, former chief executive of Huntington Bancshares. Wobst kept close ties with his hometown of Dresden, Germany, and even promoted a sister-city relationship between Columbus and Dresden. He raised money to help rebuild a church that was destroyed in Dresden during World War II.

A small version of the church, the Frauenkirche, is represented in Busse’s display, which was a feature attraction at the Huntington National Bank for two decades before it moved to the Main Library three years ago.

“We’re all train nuts,” he said.

I learned that it took a crew of 20 people more than 300 hours to assemble the magnificent display. Max joined other excited children in viewing the splendor.

“It’s magic,” said Mayer, who works for Busse. “Just look at the buildings. They all glow with lights.

“We’re kids trapped in adult bodies.”

Main Library

The Main Library is a great place for families to visit year round, not only for a wide selection of books, but also for interactive spaces in the children’s section. Look for a castle-shaped reading area, a large play space with a puppet theater and train table, and a story cove with sea-life mural.

For more information, and to learn about upcoming events, visit

I recently visited the library with my 3-year-old son, Max, arriving in time to see the assembly crew admiring their work. Included among the workers was Mr. Busse himself, now 63 and affected by Parkinson’s disease. He spoke to me in a whisper.

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