CLEVELAND — Every winter for the past 18 years, the greenhouse at Puritas Nursery has transformed into a Christmas wonderland, thanks to the work of a group of volunteers.
“One of my suppliers of flowers and vegetables suggested that since I have so many open benches here, we don't grow any flowers in the winter time, that maybe we would set up a train display that would help attract people to the garden center,” said owner Dale Heyink.
He said it started as just one table and has grown bigger with each passing year.
“We've got a lot of folks that have a set, kids don't want them anymore, and they've donated them here,” Heyink said.
This year, it took a team of eight men two months to get the tables up and all 27 different trains running.
Head engineer Dan Gryczan said he happened to stop in the nursery while they were setting the trains up in 2006.
“They were looking for volunteer help," Gryczan said. "So, I came in the following day, and I've been here ever since."
For much of the year, he said his trains stay tucked away in storage.
“This is the only time I run them and get to use them and play with them,” Gryczan said. “And I get to share them with everybody.”
Gryzcan and the others volunteer their time and money to make the display as festive as possible.
“I'm retired now, but before I was retired I was actually taking a week's vacation to come up here and get it started,” Gryczan said.
It’s a labor of love, but there are some advantages to building tables in the greenhouse.
“This is the only table you'll ever find anywhere that has real dirt, real plants and water,” Gryzcan said. “We're actually growing grass right now.”
This actually helps business for Heyink.
“I've sold two off the table already, and we've had to replace them,” he said. “I always ask them to try to pick one that I can reach because sometimes they’re right in the middle.”
More than anything, Heyink said it’s about spreading joy for the holiday season.
“It makes me feel real good,” he said. “I mean, it’s been 18 years. We've had a lot of parents tell me that they start bringing their kids here when they were 2 or 3, and now they're about 16.”
The holiday trains display is free to the public and open through 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.