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On track for the holidays

Bill Schrad crafts train decoration for Depot Plaza

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This summer, the Carroll Depot Plaza hosted a couple of stops by Union Pacific’s massive 1940s Big Boy steam locomotive. Friday night, the plaza, home of the Chamber of Commerce office, will be the site of another special train event.

It’s all-aboard for the lighting Christmas-train decoration created by Bill Schrad.

The premiere of that new display will be one of the features of the Chamber’s celebration kicking off the holiday season. The main attraction will be the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus on a Carroll Fire Department truck at 6:30 p.m. Santa and Mrs. Claus will join the crowd in singing Christmas carols and countdown to the Depot Plaza light. They then will set up station in the Harold Bierl Community Room to visit with children about their Christmas wishes.

Santa and Mrs. Claus won’t be the only special guests. Appearing at 6 p.m. will be Poppy and Branch from the movie “Trolls,” Olaf from “Frozen” and The Grinch.

With the forecast calling for some wintry conditions, free hot chocolate, provided by Computer Concepts of Iowa, will be served.

The celebration is sponsored by the Chamber’s Carroll Young Professionals organization.

For Schrad, famous for the dazzling Christmas-decorations layout stretching for about a quarter mile at his farm home west of Carroll, he welcomed the challenge of creating the train for the Chamber’s display.

The three-car train — engine, gondola and caboose — is lit with red, green, white and blue LED lights and has motion features: Santa waving from the engine window, puffs streaming from the engine’s smokestack and the wheels on the cars turning. The gondola is topped with a red-and-white candy cane, blue-and-white ball, and red-and-green-wrapped present. Befitting the train’s Chamber location and CYP support of the project, Schrad said, he added the #ChooseCarroll promotion message in red lights across the gondola.

Schrad this week installed the train at the plaza entrance on the south corner of Fifth and West streets.

Beginning the project in August, Schrad said, he put approximately 70 to 80 hours’ work into the construction, working from an image of a train he found online and blowing it up in order to outline it on paper.

The train is about 7 feet tall at its highest points, and each car is about 6.5 feet long. Schrad had the metal framework powder-coated so that it will stand up to all kinds of weather. He will maintain the display throughout the season as well and store it at his home.

Chamber Business Development Director Rosanne Nees said of the train, “I know it will be awesome because everything Bill does is fantastic, which you can see from his own Christmas display.”

Bill and his wife, Sue, who was longtime program director for the Chamber, live 3 miles west of Carroll and 1 mile north of Highway 30, and their home for at least the last 30 years has been a popular destination for viewing Christmas decorations.

Covering about a quarter mile west from the corner of 180th Street and Hawthorne Avenue, the display includes snowflakes, bells, angels, spiral trees, a train, a carousel and a Nativity scene with messages switching between “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill to All,” spelled out in lights. Schrad said there may be as many as 20,000 lights in the display.

Virtually every piece in the display was handmade by Schrad, and this year he’s added a tank car and caboose to the multi-color wooden train in his front yard.

Putting his expertise in technology to good use, Schrad has included a lot of animation in the display, synchronizing it to music by Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra that visitors can tune in on their radios as they drive by.

“(The animation) is what everybody likes to watch,” Schrad said, “and it’s not hard on the light bill. I’m switching more and more lights to LEDs as I upgrade the display.”

Schrad, 66, worked 13 years at Pella Corp. in IT and maintenance, where he learned a lot of his wiring skill, and 17 years at Kuemper Catholic School System as IT specialist before he retired in 2016.

The Schrads’ Christmas display will be on nightly from 5:30 to 10:30 from Thanksgiving night through New Year’s Eve.

Bill said of his work on both the Christmas display at home and now the Chamber train, “I enjoy going out and doing it. I mean, it’s my hobby. Everybody has some kind of hobby, and that’s what I enjoy doing. I’ve always enjoyed Christmas. I’ve enjoyed Christmas lights.

I thought this was a new challenge for me, doing something different.”

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