CORONA DEL MAR — The quiet, tree-lined streets here may conjure images of a modern Mayberry by the sea for some. But when Ron Whiteman looks out the window of his home on Heliotrope Avenue, he has a clear view of an Eastern Sierra mountain town.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version incorrectly said Ron Whiteman puts up his 1800s-style town for the holidays. The model is up year round.
Whiteman, 59, converted his 20-by-25-foot lawn into an 1800s-style town, complete with running G-scale trains, a waterfall and small city center.
He handcrafted the wooden structures — including the local sheriff's station, saloon and bridges — while other items are store-bought. Together the pieces create a life-like miniature city, complete with tiny snapshots of a hobo camp, teeny Indian lodges and horses tied at the post.
Whiteman's creation started 15 years ago when he put a train track around a 20- to 30-foot pine tree as part of a larger Christmas tree display. Over the years, the scene grew into a small town complete with buildings and a small infrastructure for the trains.
About five years ago, the town experienced a boom when the pine died and more scenery took its place. In the model town, a half inch is equal to 1 foot, and Whiteman strives for accuracy — except for the mini dinosaurs under the bridge and Spider-Man and Buzz Lightyear figurines. Those were contributions for neighbor children.
"When you see them out here, their eyes are just giant," Whiteman said, mimicking large circles with his hands at his face. "They're just absorbing. … They'll say 'What's new? What's new?' I'll say, 'You find it!' And they will."
His lawn is part of his eagerness to share his passion for locomotives with neighborhood kids, and there is a no hands-off policy when it comes to the set.
Whiteman often sees children who are passing by run up and down his walkway, as mothers with strollers or churchgoers from nearby Community Church watch, enraptured.
To encourage his visitors to take a minute and enjoy the scenery, he put a bench in front of his display where visitors can take in the mountain view. In his years of crafting this small nameless town, Whiteman said he's never experienced a problem with vandalism and not a single piece has gone missing.
Across the yard from the tiny town, five pink flamingos watch over a small garden of tomatoes, green beans, eggplants, lettuce, carrots, beets, squash and other plants.
Whiteman's passion for trains and the outdoors extends from his lawn to his appearance. He sports a thick, graying handlebar mustache, suspenders and a wide grin.
His love of trains began when he was growing up outside of Rock Springs, Wyo., in a town where residents had to drive to the next town over to visit the post office.
He and other boys would follow a train towing coal, picking up the pieces that fell off as it rumbled by.
His first locomotive trip was from Salt Lake City to California when he was 9. Whiteman said he ran up and down the aisles the whole time because he was so excited. Since then, he's taken trips up the coast and to the Grand Canyon.
Whiteman works in the credit department at Yokohama Tire Corp. in Fullerton, but enjoys seeing his small town each evening.
"I look forward to coming home," he said.