Holidays

Newton family builds Christmas village for 30 years

"I'm surprised she got us to do it," her daughter, Teresa Lee of Wichita, all grown up now, says of the original project. "I was in junior high, and my brother was in high school."

Pat Conduff doesn't remember the particulars. "I probably just left it out and told you to paint when you could," she tells her daughter.

Even though she's crafty, Pat and her husband, Arch, have gone on to collect already-painted structures of both city and country for their village, which includes stores, community buildings, parks, a model railroad, farms and neighborhoods, virtually all of it dusted with snow and adorned for Christmas.

"I love to get on the train and ride," Arch Conduff says, laughing.

Pat has kept to the scale of her original buildings and buys new pieces not according to manufacturers' collections but following her own likes. She keeps her eyes open for pieces when the family travels or goes on shopping trips. She has tried to keep the village old-fashioned.

"I try to stay with the horse-and-buggy days. I don't use any cars."

The village is alive with light and motion. Santa flies in his sleigh over part of the scene, and the train winds through a cotton-batting-snow-covered landscape, at one point disappearing into a tunnel. When the train passes through the city, crossing gates even go down to keep the citizenry at bay. Christmas trees blink on and off at the playground, skaters take to the ice, and little boys make ice angels in the snow. A fountain in the village square spouts fiber-optic "water."

The village started in the early 1980s on a table or the mantel — Pat Conduff can't remember which — when the Conduffs lived in Wichita. She eventually moved it to the top of a hot tub in the sun room. When Pat and Arch, who owns Superior Plumbing in Wichita, moved to Newton eight years ago, Arch built a platform for the village out of white pine and particleboard, with holes for all of the electrical cords. The village now sits in a corner of the walk-out basement.

Pat Conduff has an unstructured method for putting up and taking down the village: She opens a box — it's a lot easier when you have the originals — and places it in its particular area. For example, "I've got all the country stuff together," she says, indicating farms that feature dairy cows, chickens, pigs and horses.

The town center has a hospital, hotel, courthouse, police station, clock and water towers, and a post office. Festive additions include horse-drawn sleighs and a barn dance. Doors are ajar and welcome, warm lights emanate from all of the windows. Wreaths deck the front doors, even of a doghouse.

About the only thing that is not strictly Christmas-themed in the village is a treehouse, but it fits naturally into the yuletide landscape.

"We got the bed-and-breakfast this year," Conduff tells her daughter, who inspects it for the first time. Conduff thinks she and her husband got it at a Christmas shop in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., over the summer.

Brick sidewalks and streams also run through the village. When she was just starting out, Pat Conduff used to use blue ribbons and mirrors for the water. She's also experimented with flaked snow, but it gets in the train wheels. So she sticks with cotton batting now.

Her grandchildren have been mesmerized by the village over the years. They now range in age from 10 to 17, but when they were littler, it was total magic.

"They just sat there and looked at it," Lee said. "Oh, they wanted to touch it so bad. And the train. I think the older ones still like to run the train."

Because of them, the village had to make an appearance this year. The two oldest of the Conduffs' four grandchildren are graduating from high school in May, and one of them may join the Air Force.

"There is the possibility of this being the last Christmas the whole family will be together at Christmastime for a while," Lee says.

And while there are signs that the village may have reached its zenith — Pat didn't have room for one of the original buildings this year, and her usual shopping haunts have been carrying fewer pieces — the Conduffs still keep expanding their sights.

"We talked about extending it out another 4 feet this year," Arch Conduff says, "but we just thought we'd wait."

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