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Christmas town life attracts village builder

Running water rushes down a mountainside teeming with skiersinto a hand-painted lake and stream that meanders through huntinglodges and farms in G. Dale Smith’s country setting of hisChristmas village.

“I really don’t have a predetermined layout,” he said. “I putpieces down and it all seems to come together.”

Unlike previous years, Smith said his village this year is inthree sections: a mountain scene, a downtown scene and tworesidential neighborhoods. The village also has relocated a shortdistance to the living room of Smith’s home on Highway 550.

“We’re running out of space, and I didn’t have the opportunityto use the office this year because the conference room has been inuse,” said the owner of Greenbriar Digging Service. “I almostdidn’t put one up.”

Under pressure from family members and other relatives, however,he relented, Smith said.

“The kids really like the moving parts. They’ll watch the trainfor hours. But I think that’s the kid in all of us because I’llwatch it, too,” he said.

It takes an average of 30 hours to build the platforms andlandscape and place all the pieces, Smith said. Many of theaccessory pieces are handcrafted or used creatively – such ashuckleberry limbs to represent dead hardwoods in the countrysetting.

“They make great hardwoods because they have all those branchesand knobs,” he said.

Cut dead grass mixed with cotton and imitation snow flakes makewonderful hay fields, Smith said, who also ties dead grass intosmall, tight blocks to make hay bales. Decorative green toothpickscan also be used as cornstalks.

“There’s a lot you can do with your imagination,” he said. “Ialso try every year when I build it to put little stories intoit.”

His family enjoys asking him to take them on a tour of the town,Smith said, and he can share his stories with them.

“They’ve heard some of them for years. I think they just enjoyhearing me tell them,” he said with a grin. “My sister likes tocome look for things, so I try to hide pieces to make itinteresting for her.”

Smith said he became interested in Christmas villages in 1987when a family member gave him his first piece – a country church.It looked lonely so he began adding houses and it grew rapidly fromthere. The church is still the centerpiece of one of theresidential neighborhoods.

Many of his buildings are either part of the Colonial Villagecollection by Linton or the Department 56 Snow Village collection,but the accessories, which give villages their personalities, comefrom a variety of sources, Smith said.

“Most of the accessories, which is the fun part, I pick upanywhere,” he said.

He and his wife, Verna, often travel, Smith said, and itprovides him a good diversion.

“When we travel the ladies like to shop. My hobby is to look forpieces as a way to waste my time while she shops,” he said.

An attention to detail keeps the village authentic, Smith said.Time era and size scale are the key elements to watch in keeping avillage believable. It’s often tempting to include attractiveitems, but they can really lower the attraction of the village as awhole.

“I’ve found some really good-looking items, but they wouldn’tfit for that reason,” Smith said.

The village typically goes up around the end of November and istorn down New Year’s Day.

“I’ll watch the parade and a football game and then I’ll take itdown,” Smith said. “It’s a tradition.”