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The ‘Train Man’ triumphantly returns to Bend

A person stands in the middle of a model railroad layout.
Emily Cureton Cook
Michael Lavrich prepares for the holiday train show at the Deschutes Public Library in Bend on Dec. 14, 2023.

A toy train buzzes to life in the workshop of a jolly man with a bushy white beard. He’s not Santa, but he is working with his helpers under a tight deadline to delight hoards of children.

“The library has branded me the train man,” Michael Lavrich said.

That’s because almost every December for the last quarter century, he’s set up shop in the Deschutes Public Library, and drawn thousands of people to visit his collection of toy trains. This beloved and elaborate holiday tradition returned to Bend this week after a three-year hiatus.

Lavirch’s sprawling setup requires two dozen tables pushed together, and days to construct the tightly nested loops of bridges and stations on them. Thankfully, he has helpers.

“I’m home for the holidays, but also mainly to do this,” said 29-year-old Kieran Lavrich, as he helped his dad unpack about 80 boxes of parts.

“I do not have any trains in my house, I’ll admit,” Keiran said.

He still signs up for the long hours of planning and tinkering with his dad. Over two days of work, they form a fantastical universe, one that only exists briefly once a year.

Parker Gerard became obsessed when, at age 5, he first visited the train show. His mom asked Michael if her son could help set up the intricate network of electrical switches and controls. Now 25 years old, Gerard has been doing it most years ever since.

“It kind of pushed me into my career path. I’m currently at OSU-Cascades in the energy systems engineering program,” Gerard said.

A hand reaches into the middle of a model railroad layout, placing an object.
Emily Cureton Cook
Michael Lavrich sets up two dozen tables to hold all his toy trains, tracks and details in the Deschutes Public Library on Dec. 14, 2023.

Long before kids started learning about toy trains from Michael Lavrich, he learned about real steam engines from his grandfather in the 1950s.

“My grandfather would take me up on the locomotives and we’d shovel in some more coal and check the water. It was just fascinating,” Michael said.

“He told me railroads are a thing of the past. Go get an education and all that.”

Michael became a teacher and eventually stayed home with his own kids. He started buying collectible train sets in midlife. Some are worth thousands of dollars — but he doesn’t want them to be rarefied models.

“Most collectors would have them behind glass on a shelf … and I just decided to share mine. To me, at this point, the joy is in sharing,” he said.

Among the antique collectibles at this year’s train show, there are characters 7-year-old Cici recognizes.

Marge Simpson hangs on to a caboose, a Pokémon lurks under a bridge and Woody from Toy Story rolls by in a passenger car

“It’s Woody! Woody’s in there,” Cici pointed during a recent visit.

Her favorite thing: “The train is trying its best,” she said.

The trains keep going on public view at the downtown Bend library branch through Saturday. View a full schedule on the Deschutes Public Library’s website.

A child leans in toward a model railroad layout. A train is passing in front of the child.
Emily Cureton Cook
Cici, 7, watches a Maggie Simpson figurine ride in a vintage toy train. Dec. 16, 2023.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Emily Cureton Cook