WATERMAN – Pete Robinson didn’t realize how much people treasured his Holiday Lights Train until vandals damaged the display. Now that he understands the train is valued, he’s determined to take donations he’s received and to repair and improve the estimated $20,000 in damage.
“We are going to come back bigger, stronger and better than ever,” Robinson said. “We are not going to let the Grinch steal Christmas.”
Since word spread of vandals wrecking lights, displays and various set pieces last week, Robinson said he’s received about $1,400 in donations from train visitors and strangers, not to mention about $1,900 that’s come in through an online fundraising campaign on gofundme.com.
Darryl Beach and his wife, Debra – co-owners of Waterman’s 1803 Candles – donated $500 and pledged 5 percent of all their in-store and online sales through Jan. 20 to the holiday train. Darryl Beach said he was heartbroken to hear that someone would damage the train, something he used to visit with his daughter, Zoey, every weekend.
“The train is something that brings people to Waterman,” Beach said. “We don’t have a lot of that.”
Pete Robinson, his wife, Charleen, and several volunteers have run the one-quarter scale Waterman & Western Railroad in Waterman Lions Park for 21 years. They offer free train rides, hot chocolate and popcorn. He didn’t let the damage keep him from running the train. Instead, he made some temporary repairs to last through this weekend.
Next, Robinson will begin work on larger displays to debut next year. He said he plans to replace the three 20-foot tall arches that make up the snowfall display with four arches that will be 2 feet taller and have more snowflake lights.
He plans to create a new display at the beginning of the tracks featuring elves bringing presents to a lighted Santa.Robinson said the railroad is offering a $500 reward for any information that leads to an arrest and conviction against the vandals. DeKalb County Crime Stoppers is also seeking tips from the public. Crime Stoppers also pays cash rewards, and people can provide anonymous tips by calling 815-895-3272 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robinson said attendance in the past week has been better than at any point in the past two decades, with more than 3,000 people visiting Saturday.
“This terribly tragedy is going to end up being a light at the end of the tunnel,” Robinson said.