The Trains at NorthPark May Be ‘Cool’

But painting 500-plus railcar models begins when it’s still ridiculously hot

In preparation for this year’s Trains at NorthPark, artistic elves have been hard at work hand-painting custom O-gauge railcars for purchasers since August.

“Last year, I painted about 133 cars,” veteran painter and graphic designer Natalie Wills said.

The Preston Hollow resident is part of that core of five or six model train painters “that have been around a really long time.”

“I love just the generic Christmas — candy land, presents, Santa, penguins wearing scarves,” she said.

Graphic designer Chelsea Carpenter joined the effort this year.

“It’s been a while since I’ve used paint pens and glitter, but I thought it would be fun,” the newcomer said. “I really did this to impress my 6-year-old — because he thought it was cool. He keeps asking me, ‘Is one of them mine?’”

The intricate exhibit, sprawling over 3,133 square feet and averaging 50,000-plus visitors a year, gets a prime level one location adjacent to Macy’s and Santa Claus this year and runs Nov. 11 through Jan. 5.

Ronald McDonald House’s enchanting holiday tradition has been delighting visitors since 1987.

“From the very beginning we’ve had these beautiful, hand-painted rail cars, which people buy year after year,” CEO Jill Cumnock said. “People have gotten really creative and elaborate — family members, Disney characters, alma maters, a marriage proposal, a gender reveal for a baby.”

Wills has her favorites.

“I love it when I get families I know, which happens in almost every batch,” she said. “One woman gets one line of The Night Before Christmas every year. I think she’s three-fourths of the way through it.”

Cumnock added, “We have businesses who put their logo on there, and it’s a great way to show they’re supporting us and getting their name to tens of thousands of visitors. 

“It’s our largest fundraiser, and it makes a huge impact on our budget,” she continued. “Our goal this year is a million dollars.” 

During Trains at NorthPark, railcar purchasers get to see theirs on the tracks and then take them home when the exhibition’s run concludes.

“It’s been great to see how it’s become a family tradition for a lot of folks,” chief development officer (CDO) Anyika McMillan-Herod said. “People come and pick up their railcars at the exhibit, or we deliver them. Most are local, but we get people from all over the country.” 

Ronald McDonald House provides a place to stay for families with children needing essential medical care. During the holiday season, guests receive Trains at NorthPark tickets, too.

“Our first conductor was a pediatric cancer patient, and now she brings her kids,” Cumnock said.

With at least 500 trains to complete, the nine or 10 painters will stay busy all fall.

“My goal is to do 20 to 30 a month on evenings and weekends,” Carpenter said. “There’s a deadline, so I have to get it done. It’s like mandatory creative therapy – for a good cause.”

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