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Miniature village gets big response during holidays

November 21, 2005|by DON AINES

Directions to Tinyworld: On U.S. 11 go north of the Pa. 997 intersection, take a right on Pine Stump Road and left on Rice Road.

SHIPPENSBURG, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Wendell Myers sent fallen leaves dancing in front of a leaf blower Saturday as Christmas music from a car stereo competed with the machine's staccato din, while his wife, Donna, was stringing some of the 25,000 or more lights that will illuminate Tinyworld.

They and daughters Shannon and Megan were working against the calendar to get the miniature village ready for visitors by Thanksgiving night. Each holiday season, thousands of people come by to visit the village that Donna's father, Ernest Helm, started building almost two decades ago.

"I started out doing a Christmas display, just for people to drive by," said Helm, 82, of 6720 Rice Road. "I just kept building," said Helm, who spent 21 years in the Army and 25 more working for a mobile-home builder.

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"They weren't made for looking inside and my daughter said, 'We should have furnished them,'" Helm said.

As more and more people stopped to look each year, Helm got more suggestions about what to add to the display.

Helm built a mill for the town and then, "Naturally, we needed a firehouse," he said. After building a farmhouse, "People said, 'You need a barn.'"

Some of the buildings are modeled after houses Helm saw and wanted to re-create, such as a stone house from this area, a white frame house he saw in Virginia and a down-sized Tara, the home of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind," which he based on a three-dimensional puzzle he bought on vacation.

As the lower part of the yard began to fill up with diminutive dwellings and businesses, he moved up the hill and built a train station. He worked in his garage over the summer building additions to his whimsical world.

As the town grew, he and his family saw the need for more amenities.

"Of course, you know, you need a gas station," he said.

"My son-in-law and daughter stepped in and built a log house and a log barn," Helm said.

Wendell Myers also built the courthouse and assisted on many of the other buildings, including a church with oak doors and stained-glass windows, which now number more than 20.

"I'm more or less into woodworking," said Myers, who works for a custom countertop maker.

"I use a better grade of stuff than when I started out," Helm said of his construction materials and methods. The first houses were just shells, but newer buildings have double walls with studs and intricate furnished interiors, as well as vinyl siding and shingles meticulously cut from full-size building materials.

"My father and all my brothers were more or less in some kind of woodworking business," Helm said. He said his father used a knife to fashion gun stocks from the roots of walnut trees.

He estimated thousands of people stop by each season and not all the visitors are local.

"We had some French girls out here and they asked to see our chateaus," Helm said. People from Germany and Japan have also seen the tiny town, he said.

It was Helm's grandson, Wendell Myers Jr., who came up with the Tinyworld name years ago and Donna Myers said it will be open through the first week of January, barring any major snowstorms. There is no charge to wander its narrow streets, but there is a box for donations at the entrance.

Slowed a bit by age, Helm said much of the work has been taken over by his daughter and her family.

"I wanted Donna to give it up this year with the gas prices and all, but we've been getting a lot of calls," he said.

Donna and Wendell Myers said they are not ready to give up this family tradition, but Wendell confessed that getting started is the hard part.

"It takes a little nudge to get me out here," Wendell said. He said his attitude quickly changes "when I get out here with the Christmas music."

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