Model trains in a tire shop? Palatine auto service center display delights fans of all ages
John Busch III, manager of Busch Auto Service Center in Palatine, admits it: You don't expect to see a Christmas train display in the showroom of a Goodyear tire dealer.
But that's the beauty of it. It catches customers by surprise, and what a delightful surprise it is.
A total of eight train lines -- including six Christmas trains -- circle around track laid out across six levels of platforms. Busch figures there is more than 600 feet of track featured in the display.
They crisscross through different holiday scenes, from houses around a lake, through a city, out to a farm, around a cobblestone village, through an amusement park and different shops and up to a ski mountain.
All of the trains are Lionel O-scale locomotives, with different lights, sounds and smoke. But what makes the layout so irresistible are the houses and buildings featured throughout.
Each one is wired electrically and lights up -- this year with new LED bulbs -- making the display especially fascinating at night. By Busch's own estimate, there are more than 120 houses in the display. Consequently, the wiring alone takes nearly 12 hours to complete.
As it is, the entire layout takes more than two months to assemble. Busch begins laying out the track in mid-September and aims to finish it each year by Thanksgiving. It remains up until New Year's Eve, when he begins the task of breaking it down.
"I just love Christmas," Busch says of his passion. "I could do it at home, but I want people to see it."
Busch, who lives in Hoffman Estates, is the third generation of his family to run the service center. His grandfather, John Busch, opened the shop in 1946 and it has served area residents ever since.
It was Busch's father, John Busch II, that got him started in model railroading. They used to lay track around the family room of their home every holiday season.
As an adult, Busch returned to his hobby in 2006, when he adopted his son, John Busch IV. He started with a simple loop around a Christmas tree in the showroom, and it has grown every year since then.
Last year, he added the sixth platform, making the entire display stand more than five feet tall -- Busch puts out chairs so people can take in the different levels -- and taking up half the showroom.
The elaborate layout draws people of all ages. During a recent visit, Antonio Navarro of Palatine dropped in. A longtime customer, he says he has watched it grow. This year, he noticed the addition of the wind turbines.
"It reminds of me when I was a child growing up in Mexico," Navarro said. "We had a small train, but nothing like this."
Another longtime customer, Kathy Millin of Palatine, visits the store several times during the season just to take it all in.
"One of my favorite, most uplifting joys during the holidays is going into Busch Auto and seeing the trains and the holiday decorations," Millin says. "I look forward to it every year."
Busch welcomes people to see the holiday display, whether they are customers or not. While he works in the service center every morning, he says he will drop his tools if children come in to see it.
While the layout is up through New Year's Eve, only Busch runs the trains. Consequently, the best time to come is in the late afternoon, especially on Mondays or Wednesdays through 6 p.m., or Saturdays until noon.
"I don't do it to increase business," Busch says. "I just love doing it and having people see it. It's different every year."
Busch Auto Service Center is at 137 S. Northwest Hwy. in Palatine. Call ahead to see when the trains are running, (847) 358-1234.