A collection that started eight years ago has grown into an incredibly large and time consuming Christmas tradition for Jersey Shore resident, Willard Ramph Sr. Every year, he brings out holiday houses, trains and figures and sets up his own miniature winter wonderland in the computer room of his home. His collection started with one Lionel Christmas train and has grown to include more than 100 buildings, figures, trains and other holiday pieces.
Ramph recalls what his Christmases were like as a child. "When I was a kid, I set up for Christmas, under the tree and all," he said. He had a Lionel train set that he would put up for the holiday season each year.
Later in life, Ramph joined the military and was deployed over seas. While he was away, his mother got rid of his train set. The train may have been gone, but the memories were not. They inspired Ramph to buy a new train - and so began his collection.
Above are some of the Barclay figures from the 1940s that accompany his collection and above is the full display.
Over the past eight years, the collection has grown to such an immense size Ramph does not have enough room in his home to display every piece.
"I have to sort of pick out what I want to put out," he said.
The pieces he chooses to display are then taken out of the original boxes they have been stored in and set up on an L-shaped display made of two rectangular pieces of plywood measuring 4-by- 8- feet.
This year, he has a mountain set up with a tram that runs up and down the mountain by means of an electric motor. Bought online from Switzerland, the tram initially was operated by a hand crank until Ramph converted it to run electrically. He even cleverly designed his own holiday piece to hide the tram's motor. He made a cardboard cutout of a building, duct taped it together and covered it with plaster of Paris gauze, which he then painted to look like a German house.
Ramph said that is not the only piece he has made by hand, but there are other original works of his in the collection as well.
In addition to the mountain and tram, the display includes three trains and numerous houses and buildings, all of which light up. Some of these buildings are animated as well. The animated buildings are made by Lemax and the others are manufactured by Department 56. Many of the figures positioned around these houses are Barclay. The lead figures, such as skaters, are now collector's items. Ramph bought most of them on eBay and was able to get many of the same figures his mom had bought in the '40s. As a first this year, Ramph has purchased a snow machine and attempted to set it up to really drive home the holiday atmosphere.
Although Ramph does not have a favorite piece in his collection, he is fond of the entire Harley Davidson collection he purchased which was produced by Department 56. It includes a factory, store, dealership, motorcycles and signs. The snow on top of the collection also lends to the Christmas theme.
Ramph's most recent addition was yet another train. This particular train has a Bethlehem Steel engine, which is what provoked him to buy the train in the first place. Having retired from Bethlehem Steel, it reminds Ramph of his previous place of employment and it contributes to his ever-expanding collection.
Each year, Ramph extends invitations to friends, family and many others to come look at his display. Despite receiving many compliments, he spends large amounts of time setting it up and putting it away each year, because he loves to do it. He has turned it into a hobby and also has a Halloween collection he displays every year. "People that have seen the displays tell me it would be so neat to make yourself miniature," Ramph said, just to be able to experience the beauty of his holiday collections.