Festival of Trees features 'Polar Express'

Festival of Trees features 'Polar Express'

MEDFORD — While hundreds of volunteers are focusing on wowing visitors with dozens of custom-designed evergreens at next week's Providence Festival of Trees, a local band of home builders are more excited than a child on Christmas about unveiling their own contribution.

In a tribute to "The Polar Express," a popular children's book and subsequent movie, this year's Jackson County Homebuilders Association playhouse will be a train station replica with enough special details to dazzle the toughest — and tiniest — critics.

In addition to a Lionel Trains Polar Express special edition chugging around on the inside, the playhouse will feature high-quality cedar lap siding, special roof gables and festive landscaping.

A festival staple, the playhouse is created with labor and materials donated from dozens of association members, all geared toward serving the festival's purpose of raising funds for a specific area of Providence Medford Medical Center. Proceeds this year will go toward a $1.6 million fundraiser for a state-of-the-art da Vinci Robotic Surgical System.

In years past, the playhouse has garnered as much as $15,000, but contributors hope this year's structure will be its best fundraiser ever.

In addition to a miniature train and a gaggle of toys, this year's creation includes train-related movies, tickets for a dinner train ride on Yreka's Blue Goose and a day of train-riding at Medford's train park.

Jackson County Homebuilders Association spokesman Mark Knouff said this year's home builder creation was as much fun to design and build as it will be for children to play in it.

As a bonus, this year's structure, built with help from construction students at Rogue Community College and Crater High School, is larger than previous ones, built with an 8-foot removable roof to make it easier to move to its final destination with the highest bidder.

The structure, Knouff noted, could easily serve as a railroad hobby shop for an older train buff or as a storage shed after its years as a play space.

All told, Knouff said materials, labor and other donated costs for the play structure amount to about $8,000, including the $2,500 in toys and other goodies.

"It's all for the hospital and what they do for the community. We really hope it will bring at least $10,000 or so," Knouff said, noting that playhouses in the past had brought in $15,000, and "this year's is the nicest so far."

Tamara Reichenshammer, of Reichenshammer Building & Design, the home builders association's designated playhouse designer, said this year's house follows suit with each year being more spectacular than the last.

Reichenshammer has designed the annual playhouses for more than a half-dozen years. The association has a backlog of ideas, all waiting to be built in years to come.

"We usually try to do a playhouse that has appeal to both boys and girls. We have lots of ideas we haven't even gone through yet," she noted.

As for the train station, both Reichenshammer and Knouff said they're eager to see the public's reaction to their creation.

"The theme with 'Polar Express' is just perfect. There's beautiful etching of a train on the front door; every last detail is just wonderful," Reichenshammer said.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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