Make Your Own Static Grass Applicator for Realistic Scenes

This definitely has to go in the category, “If I can do this, absolutely anyone can.” I made my own static grass applicator that really works!

I’ve been working steadily on the scenery of The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad. I’m creating scenes with more detail than I have on any other layout. On my previous model railroads I was happy with paint and some turf sprinkled here and there. The Maple Valley Short Line will probably be my last layout, so I’m doing it right.

I visited many sites showing modelers using static grass applicators, but when I looked at the cost I decided standing weeds weren’t necessary. I changed my mind. I started looking for videos showing how to make a static grass applicator and found several.

Blah Flag electric bag zapper and small strainer.

The self-built models are all pretty similar. It wasn’t difficult to find the parts. It was harder trying to tell myself I could actually do this and have it work.

The Black Flag Hand Held bug zapper I purchased for $10.95 at Home Depot promised to deliver 2750 volts of shocking power to any little critters that happened to get too close. It also delivered a powerful shock to my finger!

I found a small Farberware plastic strainer with a metal screen mesh to use as the grass spreader.

Separate pieces of bug zapper and small strainer.

I first removed all the screws from the back of the handle. Three screws held the zapper screen in place, three more screws were in the battery compartment. Once the screws were removed the pieces came apart easily.

Electric bug zapper wand wires exposed.

There were no screws in the wand, so I forced a screw driver blade into the seam to break the pieces apart. A red wire was soldered to the inner screen, a blue wire was soldered to each of the outer screens. I snipped the wires off at the screen. The two blue wires came from the same point on the control board, so I removed one.

Bug zapper handle opened to show control board.

After the extra blue wire was removed from the control board, I soldered a long green wire to the blue wire. I soldered a short red wire to the red wire from the board. The red wire carries power to the wire mesh basket. The green wire is attached to the area where the static grass will be applied. Static electricity is created by the field between the wire mesh and the surface of the layout.

Hand strainer with handle cut off, holes drilled to match screw posts. Red wire soldered to screen.

I held the strainer next to the zapper handle to see how much of the strainer handle would fit and cut off the remainder. The handle of the Farberware strainer is about the same width as the zapper handle. I held the cover of the zapper on the strainer handle and used a small drill bit to make pilot holes for the screws. I then used a larger bit, the size of the screw posts in the zapper handle, to carefully drill out the pilot holes. The handle of the strainer fits perfectly over the screw posts.

Hand strainer with holes drilled placed on screw posts in zapper handle. Red wire soldered to red wire from control board in the handle.

After tinning the wire, I poked it through the screen, made a loop and poked it back through the mesh. I twisted the wire with itself and soldered it, creating a solid connection.

Simple contact button on the side of the bug zapper handle.

The simple contact button on the side of the handle has to be held to create the static field between the two leads. The applicator is powered by two AA batteries.

Finished static grass applicator showing long green wire soldered to green wire on control board.

This is the finished product. The strainer handle fits tightly inside the zapper handle, thanks to the three screw posts. The cost of this static grass applicator was about $15.00.

I have already discovered using a static grass applicator takes some practice. I purchased some short static grass at Rider’s Hobby Shop, and I can see it’s too short. Taller grass will look more realistic in scenes where there is not much activity.

It’s best to use the static grass applicator on one small area at a time. A thinner white glue solution works better than glue right out of the bottle.

Good luck with your own static grass applicator construction. If I can do it, you can do it!

By the way, I wasn’t kidding about getting a shock. Make sure to keep your fingers away from the screen while you’re working on your scenes. You’ll find out quick, like I did, why bugs don’t like zappers!

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 28: Hank Rider and the Saddlehorns

Another Founders’ Day celebration has come and gone. Except for a few minor problems including a bunch of chickens escaping from a farm float during the parade and running through the streets of Maple Valley, it was a great success.

The special guest band for the main event was Hank Rider and the Saddlehorns. It’s incredible that two years in a row, Maple Valley has been able to bring in a famous country show. And just like last year, when Hank Rider sang the smash country chart topper “The Old Man”, everyone in the crowd knew the words. Tears were even seen on a few faces.

The Old Man

“I quit my job and hit the road, I married my guitar
Tired of my dead end life, it was time to be a star.
I couldn’t wait to hear the crowds all screamin’ out my name.
What happened next was all my fault, there was no one else to blame.

The first time I was on the stage there was no one in the room
‘Cept one old man way in the back, standin’ with a broom.
Well I sang my heart out anyway without a single cheer,
And when I was done the old man came and handed me a beer.

He said, ‘Son, don’t let it bother you that no one heard your songs,
I can see this kind of life just ain’t where you belong.
Pack your stuff, forget all this, today it’s not too late
To go back home where you belong before you share my fate.

I was a singer just like you, playin’ every night,
Twenty years of drivin’ hard and livin’ in the lights.
Then an old man came and talked to me just like I am to you
And tears rolled from these tired eyes ’cause every word was true.

He said he had a little boy he left for wealth and fame,
I didn’t care about what he said until he spoke his name.
Memories came flooding back, the name he breathed was mine,
I knew I was that little boy the old man left behind.

He said, ‘Son, I’m sorry for leaving you alone
If I could go and change it now you know I’d stay at home.
I never even thought how much my choice would cost,
But nothing I have ever done was worth the life I lost.’

I left the road and headed home to bury my guitar,
Dreams of fame and fortune didn’t get me very far.
When I arrived my little boy was standing at the door,
I knew then, and I know now, he’s what life is for.”

In other news, disturbing signs have been showing up around town. They read, “Recall Sheriff Pete Terkinberry.” Other signs are also appearing that read, “Elect Quintin O’Dillmotte, Sheriff of Kertok County”.

Sheriff Pete stepped into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe, as he does every morning, and Shorty called out from the kitchen, “Hey, Sheriff! What’s going on?! You don’t want to be sheriff anymore, or what?”

“Shorty, what are you talking about?!” Pete yelled back.

“Haven’t you seen the signs around town? Quintin wants to replace you. He says you should be recalled!” came the voice from the kitchen.

“Quintin O’Dillmotte couldn’t be sheriff of a playground!” the sheriff yelled, wishing he hadn’t. He looked around the cafe and several customers were staring at him.

Pete left the Ya’ll Sit without his coffee.


Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 26: Events Turn

There’s good and weird news coming out of Maple Valley. Folks have been waiting for months to hear about the suit that was brought against Shorty Cloverton and several members of the town council including Sheriff Pete Terkinberry and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn.

For those who may not know, which, not ever wandering very far from Maple Valley, I honestly don’t know how that’s possible. But, last fall, a woman named Madeline Overweist stepped out of the Ya’ll Sit Cafe, walked a few steps, and a bat landed on her face. Mrs. Overweist, a visitor to Maple Valley who had come to town on The General, did not survive the shock.

Several weeks passed after the incident. Shorty Cloverton, owner of the cafe, was surprised by a stranger who gave him a large envelope from attorneys Skellson & Skellson. The family of Mrs. Overweist brought a suit against the town council and everyone on the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team. The papers said all of them were at fault because they knew there were bats in Maple Valley.

The defendants almost didn’t make it beyond the depositions. Quintin O’Dillmotte could have been a witness for Skellson. He kept saying too much when he was answering questions.

“Mr. O’Dillmotte, tell us, what is your responsibility as a member of the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team?” Mr. Skellson asked.

“Please, sir, call me Quintin.”

“Ok, Quintin, thank you. Would you like me to repeat the question?”

“No, I can tell you. I’ll be honest, I told everyone we have a serious bat problem and it’s going to be a sad day in Maple Valley when someone is attacked by one of these vicious creatures.”

“Quintin!!” hollered defense attorney, Kelso Mackverd. “Just answer the question, and nothing more!”

Quintin continued, “I have been on the BAT team for seven years. During that time we have literally done nothing to alleviate the bat problem in Maple Valley.”

“Quintin!! Stop!” demanded Mackverd. “Can we take a quick break?” he asked.

“Yes,” answered Skellson.

When the process resumed, Quintin looked like a scolded school boy. From then on he said little more than “Affirmative”, or “Negative”.

To everyone’s surprise, the judge in the case dismissed the suit. He said, in spite of the tragic events, no one could have known, under any circumstances, what an individual bat would do at any time. Complete control is impossible. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

The other news involves Sylvia Meisner, who has been missing for more than a year. Sheriff Pete received a phone call in the middle of the night. The female voice said, “What is wrong with you people? You can’t see the forest for the trees. Your answer is right under your nose.”

“Who is this?” Pete asked. The caller hung up. He spent the next two hours sitting on the side of his bed, going through scenarios in his mind of what the call might mean. Was it Sylvia? How could it be? If it was Sylvia, where has she been, and why? If it wasn’t Sylvia, who was it and what did she mean the answer is right under our nose?

At daylight, Pete called Alvin and told him about the call.

“The answer is right under our nose?” Alvin asked.

“That’s what she said.”

“Did you recognize the voice? Did it sound like Sylvia?” Alvin asked.

“She did, a little bit. Or maybe I just wanted her to sound like Sylvia,” Pete answered.

“This is so crazy. First don’t stop looking, now this,” Alvin said.

“Listen,” Pete said, “don’t tell anyone about this, especially Quintin. Don’t tell anyone. I want to wait and see if anything else happens in the next few days.”

“Right, right. No, I won’t tell Quintin, or anyone else,” Alvin said, thinking about who he could tell first.

“Alvin, please, I’m telling you as the sheriff. Don’t tell anyone. I mean it. I could actually charge you if it gets back to me that you talked about this.”

“What do you mean, charge me?” Alvin asked loudly.

“I could charge you with hindering an investigation,” Pete answered.

“You would do that?!” Alvin asked.

“I’m going to tell you again. Do not tell anyone about the call,” the sheriff said.

“Pete, you worry to much.”

“Alvin!! Are you listening to me?!”

“I hear you, Pete. Come on, we’re friends.”

“Yes, we’re friends, and I’m the sheriff, and I’m still investigating the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. Don’t mess this up!!”

“Thanks a lot,” Alvin said.

“I’m just trying my best to find Sylvia or find out what happened to her. This is driving me crazy. I think I might be getting somewhere and then I end up no where. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. If it was Sylvia who called me, why wouldn’t she tell me? She has to know we’re looking for her. Why wouldn’t she just say, ‘This is Sylvia, Pete, how are you?’ Sometimes I feel like giving up. But, somehow, some way, I have to find her,” Pete said. “Do you know what I mean, Alvin?”

“Alvin? Alvin, are you still there?”

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 23

Sheriff Pete walked into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe on Monday morning, just like he does every week. Something felt different. He didn’t know what it was, but he had the eerie sense he should sit by the door instead of taking his usual seat at the counter.

“Good morning, Hannah!” he said.

Hannah Cloverton looked up but said nothing.

Pete noticed a few people turned to look at him. He knew them and nodded. Nothing.

He picked up a copy of the Maple Valleyan and was surprised to see his name on the front page. “Questions Swirl Around Sheriff Terkinberry” the headline read in bold letters. “What is this?!” he almost said outloud.

Hannah startled him and Pete dropped the paper face down. “Do you want to order, Sheriff Terkinberry?” Hannah asked.

Pete saw a stranger in his friend’s eyes. “Hannah, you haven’t ever called me ‘Sheriff Terkinberry’. What’s going on?”

“Would you like to order now?” she asked.

“Yes, Hannah, I’ll have the same thing I’ve had every Monday morning since the first time I came in for breakfast twelve years ago.”

“What would that be, Sheriff?” Hannah Cloverton asked.

“Hannah, what is going on? Are you okay? Is something wrong?” Pete asked.

“No, sir, why do you ask?”

“Why do I ask? Are you kidding me? You just called me ‘Sir’!”

“Sheriff Terkinberry, would you like something to eat, or not?”

“Yes. I’ll have two scrambled eggs with onion, bacon, hashbrowns, toast, and coffee. Please,” Pete said, perturbed.

Hannah wrote the order down as if she hadn’t heard it a hundred times before and might forget. She left without saying anything more and returned to the kitchen.

Pete picked up the paper once again and started reading.

“Questions regarding the behavior of Sheriff Pete Terkinberry have residents of Maple Valley concerned. A confidential source told this reporter, ‘Sheriff Pete Terkinberry allows people to see him in his boxer shorts.’ This reporter asked, point blank, ‘How confident are you that Terkinberry wears boxers? Could you be mistaken?’ My source responded, ‘I don’t make mistakes like this.’

“Outrage has swept across this town. With tourist season just a few weeks away, shock, dismay, and horror are words that have been spoken in the wake of this devastating news.

“Questions roar in everyone’s mind. Will Sheriff Pete Terkinberry resign? Will he be removed from office? Will the town council act quickly enough to repair the tattered remains of this battered community.

“This reporter has been on the front lines of news for several months. I can tell you, without equivocation, this has shaken Maple Valley to its core.

“I’m on the scene for you. Derk Quimberz, reporter, The Maple Valleyan.”

Someone grabbed Pete Terkinberry’s shoulder and shook him. “Pete!! Pete!!”

Pete opened his eyes and was surprised to see his own bedroom, with Alvin Thrashborn standing over him.

“Are you alright?! You were yelling about someone named Derk Quimberz! Who is that?!” Alvin asked.

“What are you doing here?!” Pete yelled.

“Don’t you remember? We were supposed to go fishing this morning. I banged on the door but you didn’t answer, then I heard you yelling, so I came in. Your door was unlocked.” Alvin said.

“It’s always unlocked.” Pete said, sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to find his way through the fog.

“Get up, we have an appointment with several big bass,” Alvin said, walking out of the room.

“Who is Derk Quimberz?!” Alvin yelled from the kitchen.

“I don’t know! Some reporter who doesn’t like boxer shorts!”

Treasures from a Model Railroad Swap-Meet

Packages of styrene, balsa strips, plastic windows, and metal junk.

Everyone in model railroading, from those just getting started with the first circle of track to those seasoned folks with several layouts under their belts know how easy it is to quickly spend a lot of money.

Swap meets can be a model railroader’s best friend.

I love going to model railroad swap meets. It can be overwhelming with so much to see and choices to make. The good meets have rows and rows of tables with a wide variety of gauges from N scale to G and everything in between.

Just because it’s a swap meet does not mean prices are going to be rock bottom. You have to patiently search to find those great deals. There are many displays with folks who regularly do train shows. Some prices are no different than can be found in local hobby shops.

Yesterday, I attended the Railroad Days Train Show in Durand, Michigan. This is an annual event, but this was the first time for me, so I didn’t know what to expect. The show was held at the Durand Middle School. I couldn’t believe the number of cars in the parking lot!

We paid the five dollar entrance fee and started hunting. I already have plenty of locomotives and rolling stock. (I know that sounds like blasphemy, but my shelf-style 21 x 4 feet layout just won’t realistically hold any more.) I have more buildings than I can use. What I need most is junk. It’s the stuff lying around that makes scenes look realistic. Old tires, rusted bicycles, piles of broken pallets, window frames, and paint cans. Junk.

Box containing many random items from model railroad swap meet.

As I was about to enter the second large room of vendors, I spotted the treasure I was looking for. A box of junk for $5.00. I couldn’t believe it! I could see right away this was the find of the day. I thought it would be rude to dig through it, so I handed the owner a five dollar bill and thanked him before he could change his mind.

The first chance I had, I carefully searched through the items and everything convinced me I had struck gold!

I don’t run long passenger cars on my layout, so the four packages of car diaphragms will probably not be used, at least not for their intended purpose. Piled against the side of a building they will look terrific. I’ll improvise a spot for the elevated conveyor system. The little caboose-shed will look great with a little bit of weathering.

The small stationary crane is fantastic! Hidden down in the box were eleven small sheds including two outhouses! Scenery treasures!

A sandwich bag was packed with wheels, trucks, couplers and other junk. Some of the trucks are spring loaded. This load of stuff will be perfect for the engine house yard.

I have been making my own windows for the cabins I’m scratch-building. I found several packages of HO scale windows!

The barrels, tanks, and other items are metal. Just the stack of barrels is $12 at the hobby shop! The box of stuff got better with each item I pulled out.

One of the things I was looking for at the model railroad swap meet was vintage automobiles and trucks. I’m modeling the 50’s era, so finding the right vehicles at a good price requires some diligent searching. Once again, I uncovered a treasure!

Six metal and plastic HO scale cars and trucks.

I was a little kid on Christmas morning! A ’56 Ford T-Bird, a ’59 Chevy El Camino, a 40’s delivery truck, a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air, a 40’s Buick police car, and a ’55 Chevy Bel-Air Sport Coupe. The T-Bird, El Camino, and the ’55 Bel-Air are metal. Beautiful! (These were not in the junk box. The vehicles were purchased from a retired middle school teacher/assistant principal. It was great fun talking with him and he gave me a fantastic deal!)

The police car is especially important. Pete Terkinberry, the Sheriff of Kertok County, who lives in Maple Valley, has been using his own car for county duties. The police car was purchased from the Chicago Police Department when they ordered all new vehicles. Sheriff Terkinberry is looking forward to using a real police car to patrol Maple Valley and the surrounding area. The Maple Valley town council voted unanimously to purchase the used patrol car. They also approved the purchase of plane tickets for Sheriff Terkinberry and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn to fly to Chicago to retrieve the car and drive it back to Maple Valley.

Maple Valley Railroad box car and HO scale automobile

Probably the discovery that was the most fun was this Maple Valley box car. My layout is the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad.

I plan to make Durand Railroad Days and the Model Railroad Swap Meet an annual event on my calendar!

Adding Trees to the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad

When you’re making plans to build a model railroad, scenery is going to be a big part of it. If you want your layout to be at all convincing, and I can’t imagine starting a project like this without deciding to make it as realistic as possible, trees are going to play a huge role.

If your benchwork is already complete and your track is in place, now is the time to start planting trees. That is, if you already know where your buildings are going to be. You have spent plenty of time in the hobby shop, and you know tree kits are quite expensive. If you don’t plan to use a lot of trees, maybe a tree kit from the hobby shop will work fine. Otherwise, you’ll want to find trees at swap meets – the model railroader’s best friend.

I was lucky enough to find two complete pine tree kits, about thirty trees all together. The first job is to twist the tree armatures as they are flat in the kit. I hold the top with a pair of pliers, and twist the trunk until I’m happy with the look.

As you can see, the trees have a small tip on the trunk. They come with a plastic base, allowing you to stand the trees without making them permanent. Don’t bother with the stands. You want your trees to be permanent.

The kits come with a bag of dark green foliage. Many of my conifers are covered with a home-made light colored foam. I prefer the lighter color to the dark foliage in the kits. I have many trees of both.

When I finish twisting the trees, it’s time to spray them with adhesive. I only spray as many as I can complete in a few minutes, while the spray is still wet. Yes, the adhesive is still sticky when it dries, but it works a lot better if the adhesive is wet.

After I spray the branches, being careful not to spray the lower part of the trunk, I dip the tree into the foliage bag and squeeze the foam onto the tree. I shake off the excess and the tree is finished.

I completed all of the trees in the photo in about an hour.

My layout has semi-mountainous, rocky scenes with both conifer and deciduous trees. I planted most of the deciduous trees in areas where my houses and buildings are. The mid-section of the Maple Valley Short Line is an industrial area with a few trees along the painted backdrop of hills and trees.

I made many of my deciduous trees with floral wire. They are easy to make, and anyone can do it. I start with fifteen pieces of 26 gauge floral wire, about 12″ long. Wire length determines the height of the trees. Holding all the wires together, I fold them in half. Then I twist the folded end, making a tight loop. I separate the wire ends into branches of about five or six wires each, leaving about 1 1/2″ of twisted wires as the tree trunk. I twist the branches tightly, leaving about two inches at the ends. I then fold the branch ends in half and twist them, making a loop. I cut the wire loops, making the ends of the branchs.

I twist the heavy loop at the bottom of the tree as tightly as I can with a pair of pliers. I then use pliers to crush the loop, leaving a straight trunk. Some modelers divide the wire pieces at the end of the trunk to make roots that will sit above ground and be secured in place with plaster. I choose not to do that. Instead, because I use 1 1/2″ extruded foam as a base for my layout, I simply poke a small hole in the foam where I want the tree to be planted.

When I’m happy with the shape of the tree, I paint the entire tree with latex. More than one coat is needed on the trunk and large branches to cover the twisted wire. After the latex dries, I paint the tree with burnt umber acrylic paint. Then I follow the same procedure I use with the tree kits.

I poked holes in the foam base, then marked the holes with a piece of balsa. Rather than planting one tree at a time, I found it easier to mark several holes and place four or five trees.

To permanently plant the trees, I first tried white glue. I immediately found the time it takes for the glue to even begin to dry is far too long. I decided to use a glue gun instead, and it works great. I simply apply hot glue to the base of the tree and plant it in a hole. About thirty seconds later I have a permanent tree, firmly planted.

So far, I have planted at least fifty or sixty trees on the Maple Valley Short Line. I can see it’s time to make more.

Building a Control Panel for the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad

The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad is operational. I have been running trains on the main lines without any major interruptions or catastrophes. From the moment I first drilled holes in the cement blocks, to securing the last piece of HO scale flex-track, this has been an enjoyable journey. But the journey is far from over.

The simple control center in the photo supplied power to run tests on the layout. Although I have always used Atlas Selectors (four blocks of four switches) in the past, I am building a control panel with DPDT (double-pole, double-throw) three-position toggle switches to direct power to the layout.

I will use indicator LEDs on the control panel. I plan to have a signal LED on each spur as well as a direction indicator on each turnout. Atlas Snap Relays will be used for each turnout to control track signals at the turnout and an indicator LED on the control panel.

My layout control panel base is a thin (3/16″) piece of plywood. I first drew the track plan on the wood with a pencil. (I actually did it twice as the first one wasn’t large enough.) I covered the pencil lines with 1/8″ artist tape which bends easily and sticks securely to the board. The short cross pieces of tape indicate where the rail gaps create blocks. I chose to make the mainline a single block. With the same layout design, you might choose to do otherwise. But with only one way to and from the outside main line, I didn’t think a shorter block was necessary.

I will place an LED on either side of each toggle to indicate if the spur is powered, and which cab is operating it, A or B. Two LEDs at each turnout will indicate direction.

I first had to decide how best to attach support for my control panel to the benchwork. I could have attached support to the layout joists, but chose to use the bracket legs instead.

I cut two pieces of 3/4″ plywood, 5 1/2″ x 49″. The plywood supports extend sixteen inches beyond the outside edge of the layout, allowing plenty of room for the control panel. I secured the supports with three 2 1/4″ screws through each 2 x 2 leg brace. A block of 2 x 4 behind the leg brace supplies plenty of strength to hold the panel support in place.

I made the same mistake on my previous layout. I didn’t think about the control panel as I was building the benchwork. I had a general idea where I wanted it but didn’t plan ahead by adding supports. I am confident the plywood will hold the control panel safely, but it would have been better to design the structure before, not after.

I finally received the three-position, double-pole-double-throw switches I want to use for the control panel. Before I decided how to proceed, I watched a lot of videos by the best modelrailroaders to see what kind of control panels they designed. Some modelers use plexiglass, others prefer aluminum, there are some who use computer aided design, all of which are impressive. I chose to go simple and basic.

I am actually going to use the DPDT switches as two single-pole-double-throw switches. One side will be DC, the other side AC. DC will obviously power the railroad spurs by supplying current from either cab A or B, determined by which way the toggle is thrown. The other side will supply AC power to LEDs to indicate the spur is live, and which cab is supplying power.

For the time being, the space is perfect for the new round of soldering that will soon begin. Even though the Atlas Selectors provide a workable solution for dual-cab operation, for this, my third layout, a better plan is underway. My new panel will have lots of LEDs to light up the controls.

Future posts will include details on wiring and soldering progress on the Maple Valley Short Line.

News to come:

  • Running wires for turnouts
  • Building more signals
  • Placing signals along the layout
  • Attaching Atlas Snap Relays under the layout
  • Scenery progress
  • Ballasting

If you have comments or suggestions, please let me know. Tell me about your experiences with model railroading.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 19: Preparations for Christmas

The Christmas Season is a very special time in Maple Valley, as it is in most places, I suppose. Folks are busily decorating their homes and work places, if they have one. The Ya’ll Sit Cafe is usually a centerpiece of Christmas joy, and this year will be no exception. Shorty and Hannah have been working together, so far without too much arguing as in recent years, to be sure the cafe is the place where everyone wants to be, all through the weeks before Christmas.

The Ya’ll Sit Christmas menu features holiday offerings like, Mistletoe Pancakes, Tinsel Tacos, Egg Nog Soup, Bethlehem Burgers, Christmas Star Waffles, and Pinecone Coffee. Hannah makes delicious Christmas cookies she gives to anyone who visits the cafe, whether they order from the menu or not.

The Reverend Shermer of Maple Valley Church has been working on his annual Christmas sermon. He decided to release the title of his homily to the puplic so the excitement will be palpable as the day approaches. He has chosen the title, “Fire the Innkeeper!” which, I assume, has to do with Mary and Joseph not having reservations when they arrived at the hotel where the baby Jesus was to be born.

The Maple Valley Church choir will perform a Christmas musical written entirely by Maple Valley’s own Martha Hilmandy, who has been the church choir director for fifty-two years. The musical is called, “Hey Now, Hit That Gong!” which promises to be delightful. This is Martha’s first composition. All fourteen of the choir members are thrilled to be singing the new music.

The piece begins with the lively theme song. The second song is, “The Sheep Are Out of the Pen,” then, “An Angel is Here,” and next, “Angels Can’t Lie.” The characters Elizabeth and Mary join together and sing, “You’re What?” Then the man playing Joseph sings, “What Do I Do Now?” The entire choir sings, “Things Are Gonna Change,” then, “Hey, Shepherds, Listen!” and the audience will join the choir to sing, “Blessing in a Manger” with all the children standing nearby. The final song is, “There’s Nothing Like Holy Presence.” The musical ends with the reprise of the theme song, “Hey Now, Hit That Gong!” Mayor Alvin Thrashborn was asked to act as the narrator, a task he gladly accepted. At the close of the concert, small candles will be given to everyone, the lights will be turned off, and everyone will again sing “Blessing in a Manger,” to end the evening.

Maple Valley School will present the annual children’s Christmas program. This year, a tuba solo will be played by Gwenneth Wilster, her first public performance. Harry Pristin, the school music teacher, says Gwenneth is doing quite well on the tuba in spite of only playing the instrument for a few months. The students have written their own play called, “I Didn’t Want That For Christmas.” It’s a cute story about three children in a family who all received clothes for Christmas instead of toys.

As with so many things in Maple Valley, Christmas decorations are a source of competition and the contest is well underway. Mayor Thrashborn believes his lofty position in the community requires him to have the most outstanding Christmas light display. He and his wife begin hanging lights around their house in September for Halloween. Instead of re-decorating for Christmas, they add holiday lights to the Halloween lights so there are many more than there would be if the orange lights were removed. Some folks say that’s cheating but Alvin doesn’t care.

Dray and Morella Grimhok are the Christmas display champs of Maple Valley, in spite of everything the mayor believes. People come from miles around to see their house. The small lot is covered with lights and moving characters. On the roof is Santa in his sleigh following leaping reindeer. Hidden loudspeakers let everyone within three miles hear, “HO-HO-HO!!! Merrrrry Chriiistmaaas!!!” non-stop, again and again, from 6 pm until 3 am. Sheriff Terkinberry’s office takes a dozen calls every night from sleepless neighbors. The Grimhoks don’t invite everyone into the house, but friends say every square inch is a Christmas delight.

Christmas shopping is a big deal in Maple Valley. Since everyone already knows everything available in all the shops in town, most folks take the Christmas train to Whistleton to do their shopping. Visitors to Maple Valley trade places with residents to do their shopping. Since they are so excited to be in Maple Valley at Christmas, it’s easy for them to find gifts they believe friends and family will cherish forever. Most of the shops carry souvenir items with pictures of The Old General or drawings of Three Tower Bridge, and mugs with Maple Valley Railroad printed on them. Kwindel’s Antiques started selling Maple Valley Christmas sweaters and sold out the first week.

A Christmas season favorite for everyone in Maple Valley is the Christmas Eve candle walk and carol singing. Everyone gathers around the Christmas tree in the center of town at 8:00 on Christmas Eve. We all carry lighted candles and walk through the streets of Maple Valley singing Christmas carols. Of all the events surrounding Christmas, this one is the most loved. When the singing has ended, everyone goes to the Ya’ll Sit Cafe for Hannah’s hot chocolate.

Christmas is a lovely time in Maple Valley, but this year we are all wondering what happened to Sylvia Meisner. It’s hard to believe we are just days away from Christmas and Sylvia is still not home. Something strange was discovered when volunteers were putting lights on Three Tower Bridge. On the middle tower, about half way up, the letters DSL were found scratched, or gouged, into a wood plank. It’s evident the letters were placed there recently. The sheriff was asked to take a look because it’s near the spot where Sylvia’s car was discovered several months ago. He wrote the letters down. DSL.

Scandal At Maple Valley – Episode 17: Death in Maple Valley

I really hate to say this, but life has moved on in Maple Valley. Sylvia Meisner has been missing for five months. All the arguing has stopped, thankfully. The summer tourist season everyone looked forward to has ended. The Founders Day Celebration now seems forgotten. The Old General is being prepared to take visitors to Maple Valley Christmas Town.

Even though folks are no longer consumed by news about Sylvia, or the lack of it, the investigation has continued. Sheriff Pete Terkinberry has not slowed his efforts to either find Sylvia, or uncover what happened to her. He still pays very close attention to his neighbors, which is everyone in Maple Valley. Have any changed their behaviors? Yes, some have. Are any relationships strained? Yes, some are. Are any hiding? Yes, there are some who have been nearly invisible since Sylvia disappeared. Is it coincidence? Sheriff Pete doesn’t know, but he’s determined to find out.

Maple Valley folks have acquired a characteristic that is annoying. I don’t know if other people have traits like this, but it is unmistakable in this small town. Maybe it’s a result of being part of a well-known tourist stop. In order to be successful, everything in Maple Valley has to be boxed up and pretty. No loose ends. All the windows are clean, the eaves are painted, the sidewalks swept.

As I think about it, this might explain why so many people who come here want to stay. They all say the same things, “I would just love to live here.” “Don’t you just love it here?” “This place is magical!” “You are so lucky to live here!” What they see is not real. Painted boards rot. Roofs leak. Grass dies. Maple Valley isn’t just a showplace. The people who live here live every day. They struggle, are disappointed, and get angry with each other.

There’s another Maple Valley reality tourists don’t usually discover, unless they have the unhappy experience of a surprise visit. Maple Valley has bats. Say what you want about how much good they do, bats and people don’t mix, at least not on purpose. Just last week, a sixty-four-year-old woman from Conklin, Iowa, Madeline Overweist, stepped out of Y’all Sit Cafe, in a hurry to get to the last train leaving Maple Valley. Five steps outside the cafe, a bat landed squarely on her face. Mrs. Overweist will be sorely missed.

Last spring, Mayor Alvin Thrashborn commissioned a special task force to deal with the bat problem. He called it the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team. The group members are Shorty Cloverton, owner of the Y’all Sit Cafe, Quintin O’Dillmotte, owner of O’Dillmotte Funeral Home, Able Kafflen, leader of the Young Hopefuls Club, Henry Brimmerton, owner of Brimmerton’s Auto Sales, Stew Hanmin, town council chair, Hardin Sievers, village attorney, Mayor Thrashborn, and Sheriff Terkinberry. Anabel Wizzleby, Wanita Havertons, Velma Kreitzhammer, and Veronia Burthrap were all invited to join the task force, but all declined, presumably because of the force’s task.

The task force had their first meeting last March. Bats have been a problem in Maple Valley for as long as anyone can remember. This is the first time a task force has been organized to deal with it. So far, not much dealing has happened. The group meets together on the first Tuesday of each month at the cafe. The first order of business was to choose a chairperson and by common consent, Quintin O’Dillmotte was selected as the group leader. Henry Brimmerton is vice-chair, Stew Hanmin is secretary, Shorty Cloverton is the treasurer. The second order of business was to discuss why a treasurer was needed since the group would not have any funds to treasure. It was moved and seconded the title of treasurer would remain with Shorty, but it would be in name only. The vote was unanimous, the motion carried.

The monthly BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team meeting includes the reading of minutes from the previous meeting. The secretary, Stew Hanmin, takes very detailed notes, so the reading of minutes with discussion, motion to accept as read or amended, second, and the vote usually takes half the meeting. There is discussion of where the group will meet the following month, which is always the cafe, new business to discuss, nothing, comments from the public, nothing. Just about then, Quintin declares the meeting adjourned, and everyone goes home. This is the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team in Maple Valley.

That brings us back to the original point. Folks in Maple Valley like things to be tidy. Neat and clean. That seems to be the explanation for the unbelievable suggestion made to Mayor Thrashborn. The person who asked to meet with the mayor will remain nameless, at least at this point. He or she gave a piece of paper to the mayor.

On the paper was typed a short note. “Mayor Thrashborn, in the interest of the health of our community, and in order that Maple Valley may forward in a positive way, we (several names included) recommend the following:

“As of this date, Sylvia Meisner is declared deceased.”

The mayor was speechless, which doesn’t happen, ever. His face turned red. He stood up from his chair, walked around the front of his desk to where (nameless) was standing. Silently, the mayor ripped the paper into tiny bits and threw it into the air. He looked squarely into the person’s eyes and said, “Merry Christmas, now get out of my office!!”

Scandal at Maple Valley Episode 7

The folks in Maple Valley are working in preparation for the start of tourist season one week from Friday. The last few repairs on the railroad line are finished and inspections led to full certification for passengers on the General. Officials from the National Railroad Safety Association left town this morning and everyone is breathing a little easier.

The petition to postpone the start of tourist season circulated by Beulah Filden fell flat. Beulah bit off more than she could chew. She was only able to secure twenty-one signatures, not a majority of the fine citizens of Maple Valley. She was headed off at the pass by Stew Hanmin, the chair of the town council. When he heard about the petition, he called the other members of the council who each called the remaining citizens who hadn’t already signed the petition. No more problem.

Beulah has a reputation as a trouble-maker who opposes just about everything. Two years ago she decided the annual town picnic had served its purpose and it was time to stop it. She started a rumor the state health department was coming in on the day of the picnic to shut it down. A few people helped stir things up and the picnic was almost cancelled. When Mayor Thrashborn called the state and discovered there were no concerns, he was furious. He called Mrs. Filden into his office for a meeting with the sheriff and a couple town council members. He also had the town’s attorney, Hardin Sievers, there just for effect. It worked. Beulah left the meeting looking as if she had been taken to the woodshed, which she was.

The woodshed experience didn’t last long with Beulah. She left the meeting and found her friend, Lulane Hilvertosh, and told her everything. Lulane and Beulah love being in the middle of things. Since Lulane’s meeting with the state police about Sylvia Meisner’s burned car didn’t go anywhere, she is now looking for something new to fill her time.

Plans for the Maple Valley Founders’ Day Celebration are well under way. One minor, or maybe major hiccup concerns the main entertainment group, “Buck Wills & The Wagoneers,” the famous country stars. Randy Herbdahl, the chairman of the entertainment committee had the responsibility of contacting and scheduling the band, which he thought he did. Last week, his wife, Nora, found the letter he thought he mailed six months ago inviting Buck Wills & The Wagoneers to Maple Valley for the Founders’ Day Celebration. Tickets have already been sold for $20.00 each, and the concert was sold out within three weeks. If it turns out the Buck Wills group can’t come, the Happy Harmonettes will have to fill in. Randy Herbdahl is scrambling to make sure Buck Wills & The Wagoneers come to Maple Valley. He’ll have a hard time explaining what happened if they don’t. He sure doesn’t want the problem to be discovered by the town gossips.

As if an additional problem was needed by the folks of Maple Valley, a box car in the morning freight train from Hogantown headed to Watkinsburg derailed in the tunnel near three tower bridge. Officials from Santa Fe Railroad arrived within two hours and a crane was brought in to put the car back on the tracks. It is unknown at this time whether the track was damaged.

The investigation into the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner continues. Sheriff Terkinberry demanded the burned car remain where it is. There were several people who complained about it, supposedly for concerns of visitors to Maple Valley seeing the car. The sheriff continues to insist the car stays put.

News of Sylvia Meisner’s disappearance has finally gone beyond Maple Valley. Even though the story promotion by Lulane Hilvertosh with WREK-TV didn’t go anywhere, strangers showing up in Maple Valley are asking questions. Two men in suits were walking through town and talked to a couple of people. Someone called Sheriff Terkinberry and he caught up with them. It turns out the two men were agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Wow. FBI agents in Maple Valley! The sheriff asked them why they hadn’t contacted him before talking to citizens of Maple Valley. They explained that because Maple Valley is a nationally recognized tourist destination the jurisdiction over the town reaches the federal level. The sheriff told them it was baloney and warned the two agents not to return to Maple Valley without contacting him first. Pete Terkinberry didn’t actually know whether what the agents told him was true or not. He just didn’t like the idea of anyone digging into his missing persons case without him knowing about it.

It’s quite odd that the celebration planners of Maple Valley did not separate the beginning of tourist season from the Maple Valley Independence Day Celebration by more than two days. Seven to ten days would have been much better. Quintin O’Dillmotte continues dropping hints to remind everyone just how great a job he is doing in preparation for the celebration. Virginia Nodderway asked Quintin if the celebration was going to include crape paper. She asked loud enough for plenty of others to hear and they laughed, giving Virginia exactly what she wanted.

Some work is being done on Sylvia Meisner’s house. The roof needs repair and the deck boards are being fastened securely again. With Sylvia missing and having no solid clues of her whereabouts, neighbors are working together with hopes that doing some helpful work for Sylvia will also help bring her home.

Maple Valley is a fascinating place. Perhaps every good and bad thing one might find in any other small town can be found here. Hopefully, more good than bad.