A Union Pacific train sounded a loud warning as it chugged toward an Arizona town where grandparents sit in rocking chairs and reminisce about the way life used to be — a town aptly named “Dunrovin.”
The train was a model five-gauge, an expensive toy set up at waist level on a table at Mountain View Retirement Village. The town’s infrastructure was in miniature.
“Since this is a Christmas scene, why don’t you leave the trees with snow, and I’ll take the others back,” one resident said to Bill Schreiber, who was busy playing train conductor.
“Well, in some places, it snows heavily, and in some places it doesn’t,” Schreiber said. “We won’t be that particular.”
The retirement center’s Dunrovin project started in July, when Schreiber mentioned to a staff person that he wanted to put his two train sets under the community tree but, since they were worth thousands of dollars, he feared someone would steal them.
Schreiber’s trains reminded him of days gone by. They reminded him of grade school when his family couldn’t afford such toys but he managed to play with them anyway because, he said, “I had a buddy who was rich.”
They reminded him of early fatherhood when he started a family tradition of erecting a train set under the Christmas tree each year, and of grandfather-hood, when he kept that tradition alive.
In fact, the trains he wanted to put under Mountain View’s Christmas tree were big ones he bought after tremors made it difficult for him to set small trains back on their tracks after derailments.
“I couldn’t stand to have the trains on a shelf,” he said.
The retirement center gave Schreiber an empty lockable room for his trains, plus the use of a storage closet nearby.
The room opened up all kinds of possibilities, and soon residents were handing over money to buy the makings of a town — shops, houses and a small eating establishment with a police car outside, admiringly pegged as Ma’s Place.
A contest to name the town resulted in 16 entries, and Schreiber declared that a communitywide vote would determine the winner.
Forty people turned out to vote.
“Everybody’s excited about Dunrovin,” Schreiber said.
The title of honorary mayor went to the man who coined the winning name, and a city treasurer was appointed to receive contributions for new construction. Buildings began popping up.
A former school teacher living at the retirement center bought a schoolhouse. A former farmer bought a barn. A resident of the assisted living facility next door — a man whose father once worked as an attorney — bought a courthouse. Age had diminished his ability to read, but that didn’t stop him from scrutinizing a heavy catalogue, looking for his perfect contribution.
“He went page to page until he found his courthouse,” Schreiber said.
One donor bought a house that resembled a place where she once lived — one with snow, holiday lights and deep porches. One donor created Dunrovin’s own “A Mountain,” because after all, doesn’t every town need one?
Schreiber bought a candy store and named it after his mother, Katie, who never in her life sold candy, but that didn’t matter to him.
“She’s just my mother, and that’s Katie’s Candy Store,” he said.
On the day after Thanksgiving, Mountain View Retirement Village held a ribbon cutting for the town of Dunrovin. Schreiber wore overalls, a denim shirt, a red scarf and an engineer cap. A retired attorney read a proclamation.
For Schreiber, the project brought back many memories — childhood make-believe, Christmas mornings, the time he took his sweetheart on a train to meet his parents for the first time.
They’re still together today, and it’s no coincidence that one of Schreiber’s train cars bears the name of his wife’s home town: “North Haven, State of Maine.”
Schreiber said it would be fun if Dunrovin became a tradition in his retirement community — one that emerges in various forms each holiday season.
But in truth, he said, he’s beyond the point of starting traditions. These days, he just enjoys the moment. He is, you could say, Dunrovin.