Monday, April 25, 2011

Don Clark's family carries on the 35-year tradition of huge train display at Mall at Steamtown

The Don Clark's family carries on the 35-year tradition of huge train display at Mall at Steamtown
For 35 years, Don Clark made his tiny masterpieces available to the community, with little motive other than seeing the joy and wonder they brought to people young and old.

Mr. Clark is no longer here. But his family is doing its best to ensure his life's work lives on.

Generations of locals came to know Mr. Clark through Miniature Memories, his pain-stakingly crafted display of model trains and hand-built replicas of local landmarks, which he made available to the public at several Scranton-area locations starting in 1977.

While he didn't charge admission to the display, Mr. Clark accepted donations, which he in turn gave to his favorite charities, St. Joseph's Center and the Voluntary Action Center's Christmas Holiday Bureau.

Last year, Mr. Clark and a group of volunteers moved Miniature Memories to the second floor of the Mall at Steamtown. A couple days after the display's opening in late November, just in time for the Christmas season, he was found dead at his apartment of an apparent heart attack.

He was 77 years old, and had been suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for some time.

Months after Mr. Clark's death, though, Miniature Memories remains on display at the mall six days a week from noon to 5 p.m. His daughter, Kathy Clark-Shock, and her husband, Joe, wouldn't have it any other way.

"I just want the public to know we're still here. His legacy is going to live on," said Mrs. Clark-Shock, who takes turns manning the display with her husband and relatives Bill and Debbie Miller.

"This is all he wanted. He's smiling any time he sees those trains go around," Mr. Shock added.

Several locations

Miniature Memories was first displayed in a space at the Keyser Oak Shopping Center. From there, Mr. Clark moved to the Oppenheim Building, then to the Scranton Marketplace on Capouse Avenue, then to a space attached to the Gertrude Hawk building on East Drinker Street in Dunmore.

He remained at the latter spot for 15 years, until Gertrude Hawk left. That's when the Mall at Steamtown approached him with an offer to use one of its spaces rent-free.

"They made it sound so wonderful," Mrs. Clark-Shock said. "My father was so excited. I saw how happy it made him. ... You would never think he didn't feel good, he was so happy."

The day Mr. Clark passed away, people tossed roses into the store. One man drove all the way down from Connecticut to pay his respects. Another man told Mrs. Clark-Shock at the viewing that her father had helped him find a place to live.

Even now, complete strangers occasionally show up at Mrs. Clark-Shock's pet grooming business to offer their condolences.

"There's never, ever been a bad word said about my father," she said. "He helped people when he needed help himself."

For those who have never seen it, Miniature Memories is an abundance of charms.

Four trains, among them a replica of the Lackawanna Railroad's famed Phoebe Snow, run through a vast landscape - it covers over 1,000 square feet - of scarily spot-on mini versions of such iconic sites as The Scranton Times Building, Everhart Museum, Scranton City Hall, Nay Aug Park, Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, Glider Diner and Scranton Electric Building, complete with lit-up sign.

The Nicholson Bridge is represented in all its splendor, as are long-closed establishments like Samter's and Burschel Dairy, and retro versions of McDonald's and Burger King.

And, fittingly, there's a miniature St. Joseph's Center, which held a huge place in Mr. Clark's heart. His son, David, had resided there before passing away at the age of 2.

"He actually would go to these places and they would give him the blueprints," Mrs. Clark-Shock said. "Then he would scale it down to exactly how it looks. He was a genius at that."

The Dunder Mifflin Paper Co., of TV's "The Office," is housed in a skyscraper that's being attacked by King Kong, and not far from that is the sinister Bates Motel from "Psycho." There are various other fictional businesses, too, most of which Mr. Clark named after his relatives, including the fire-engulfed Hotel Krystyn, named for one of Mr. Clark's granddaughters. (All told, he had three children, 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.)

Interior details

Lift the roofs of the buildings, and inside you'll find well-decorated interiors populated with Lilliputian people.

In addition to the trains and buildings, the walls of the space are filled with Mr. Clark's cherished collection of model cars, including Presidential limousines like Franklin Roosevelt's "Sunshine Special," which was also Mr. Clark's nickname for his late wife, Shirley.

Shortly after noon on a recent day, a steady stream of mall patrons passed through Miniature Memories. Among them were Dunmore resident Tom Bolus, who was making the latest of his many visits to the display.

"He (Mr. Clark) was quite a guy," Mr. Bolus said. "It's a nice tribute to the area. It brings back a lot of memories."

Mrs. Clark-Shock and her husband are trying to keep Miniature Memories exactly as Mr. Clark wanted it. Still, they have added a few new wrinkles, like their recent decision to begin hosting children's birthday parties, something Mr. Clark had always wanted to do.

"My father's biggest joy was seeing a little kid absolutely mesmerized by the display," Mrs. Clark-Shock said.

Meanwhile, on the weekend of June 4 and 5, the display will celebrate what would have been Mr. Clark's 78th birthday. While his death may have been unexpected, Mr. Clark made it clear to Mrs. Clark-Shock upon the display's move to the mall that he was a very content man.

"He said, 'My dreams have come true. I'm happy now. I can rest,'" she said. "He left with no unfinished business."

Visit the display
When and where: Don Clark's Miniature Memories model train display is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays at its location on the second floor of the Mall at Steamtown (near the food court).

Details: Admission to the display is free, but donations are accepted on behalf of St. Joseph's Center and the Voluntary Action Center's Christmas Holiday Bureau.

More: For information on the display, visit

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