Hartley, left, and Molnar at the Putz

Resident-volunteers help to rebuild Putz in midst of Old Main renovations

Topton, Pa.    Tuesday, December 12, 2017

With construction come dust and debris, enemies of historical artifacts.

So when the $8.2-million renovation project in Old Main on The Lutheran Home at Topton campus threatened the delicate condition of the Putz, a miniature train layout and scenery housed on the first floor of the iconic building, Topton staff sprang into action.

They also enlisted the help of two residents of the independent-living cottage-homes on campus: Lou Molnar and Richard Hartley. 

Because of renovations taking place on the second floor of Old Main, the two long-time friends immediately began disassembling the 560-square-foot display, carefully wrapping all the individual pieces of the Putz—named from the German verb “putzen,” meaning to brighten or display—and packing everything in boxes.

Following completion of the work above the Putz, located within the Brandywine Community Library on the first floor of Old Main, the pair began the daunting task of unpacking everything and trying to recreate the display based on photographs taken before it was disassembled.

‘We’re doing this in honor of Ida Henry’s dedication to children.’

They put hundreds of hours into the project, working about 20 hours a week for several months, so that the Putz would be ready for the public to enjoy this holiday season.

Molnar was an electrician for 50 years, so he was an obvious choice for the project and he asked Hartley, a former production manager, to help him. According to Molnar, they’ve worked on several projects together and Hartley has a good eye for the details.

Before replacing everything, the two cleaned all the train tracks to improve electrical connections, repaired some electrical elements and added support beneath the train platform. Then the two began meticulously recreating the display to look as close as possible to the original Putz, which includes thousands of tiny pieces; lots of toys including a miniature roller coaster, merry-go-round and carousel; several model trains; and a full-size Christmas tree.

Recreating all of the details within the Putz took a lot of time and patience. “There are little people everywhere,” says Hartley. Pointing to the large church on the display board, he notes that the building “is filled with pews and about 200 ‘people.’” The church also includes tiny hymnals, baptismal fonts and a pipe organ.

Angels overhead .... 

The two agree that one of the most challenging parts of the reassembly were the angels and clouds hovering above the nativity.

“The power toys and lighting were also a little tricky because of their age,” says Molnar. “It took us about two hours just to put the Ferris wheel back together.” 

Creation of the Putz was started in 1909 by Mrs. Ida Henry, a matron of the Lutheran Orphans Home (now The Lutheran Home at Topton) and the wife of the Rev. Dr. J. O. Henry, superintendent at the time. Instead of giving the children individual gifts, she would add something new to the Christmas Putz each year and invite them to help her. She continued working on the Putz until Dr. Henry retired in 1946. Generations have enjoyed it ever since.

Today, the Putz has 17 scenes. Some relate the Christmas story, while others such as the replica of Radio City Music Hall, are secular. Visitors enjoy a narrative as volunteers, including both Molnar and Hartley, operate a series of 46 switches that control lights highlighting different scenes. 

“Ida Henry spent 40 years putting this together. She did it with the children who were here at the time. We’re doing this in honor of her dedication to the children,” says Molnar.

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