Arizona Big Trail Operators

All aboard this holiday train tour.


Arizona Big Train Operators has once again opened its homes for a self-guided Christmas Open Houses event featuring garden-scale train layouts.

The event will be held over two weekends — Saturday, Dec. 11, to Sunday, Dec. 12, and Saturday, Dec. 18, to Sunday, Dec. 19 — from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. and includes homes in Mesa, Sun Lakes, San Tan Valley, Goodyear, Avondale and Phoenix, as well as the Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction (only open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

“Numerous members of our club opened up their own personal layouts at their houses to the public,” club President Darrell Woolfolk said. “We decorate and put the layouts in full glory. Most of them have some form of Christmas lights, and some of the buildings are lit up. Normally we do an event during the daytime, but people really like to see nighttime viewing of the layouts. It’s just a completely different perspective than you’d normally see.”

A full list of the schedule with addresses can be found on Arizona Big Train Operators’ website. Some displays may not be available one weekend, so Woolfolk said to be sure to check the schedule, as he will update it with any changes. Participants can create their own route and peruse at their own pace. 

Woolfolk said most of the displays are taken down during the summer and are put up around October in private residences. This annual tour is one of the only ways the public can see the trains up close. While most are more traditional train sets, there are some that stand out.

“There’s one in Mesa with a lot of lights, and that’s decorated with robots and an inflatable Santa Claus that goes with his layout,” Woolfolk said. “It’s just a collection of different things that appeal to all ages. There’s anything from an airport with a running train or running airplanes to dinosaurs and dragons.”

Woolfolk said the organization’s goal is to educate kids. He said he wants to teach them that trains are more than just a toy to play with. They were a major turning point for the development of the United States.

The open house is free, but participants can make tax-deductible donations. Funds will go toward club functions and the maintenance of public train sets at Ryan House and Cardon Children’s Hospital.

“The Ryan House is a location for kids with long-term illnesses,” Woolfolk said.

“We have a train there that we maintain and operate for the kids. They can go look at it any time. They have complete control, and they run it. They just admire it. It’s something for the kids to keep their illness off their minds. We also do Cardon Children’s Hospital in Mesa. That is our biggest indoor layout that we have. It is truly spectacular. That’s been there for roughly 14 years. If the public is able to see it, once the hospitals open back up for visitors, it is truly something to see.” 


Arizona Big Train Operators’ Christmas Open Houses

WHEN: 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, to Sunday,

Dec. 12, and Saturday, Dec. 18, and Sunday, Dec. 19

WHERE: Homes in Mesa, Sun Lakes, San Tan Valley, Goodyear, Avondale and Phoenix and the Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction

COST: Free admission