December 5, 2003
Trains, skiers signal arrival of holiday season at Methodist Rehabilitation Center
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—It’s likely the only working ski slope in Mississippi this Christmas.
Skiers ride up the mountain in brightly colored lifts and then glide their way down the slope, weaving through the snow banks, the tall pines and past the occasional wrecked skier. A paraplegic makes his way down in a specially designed sled.
Ready to hit the slopes with them? No problem, if you are about a half an inch tall.
The slope is the newest addition to the detailed train display at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. The train and the skiers run continually from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until New Year’s Day.
“We wanted to add something really unique this year,” said Tim Love of Edwards, biomedical engineer for the hospital. “We put a lot of thought into how we could make it as realistic as possible.”
The train display is a seven-year tradition at the hospital and the creation of the biomedical engineering department. Biomedical engineers take care of the hospital’s medical and clinical equipment, but the train set gives them a chance to show off their creativity. They have built many of the parts of the mini city from scratch, including the replica of the seven-story rehab hospital, a hot air balloon that floats along and a Santa and his reindeer circling over the hospital.
The ski slope is constructed of Styrofoam and plaster. Two small buildings that house each end of the lift, and the lift with its brightly colored baskets, were made from a kit. The tiny skiers are powered by an intricate configuration of magnets, chains and sprockets that keep them on the slope. “It was one of the most complicated parts of the train set, because we had to come up with a way to make the skiers move realistically down the slope,” Love said.
The train is powered by two locomotives, completed by a tape of train sounds on a continuous loop. “None of us can leave our jobs to be the conductor,” said biomedical engineer Charles Moy of Jackson. “So the train has to run autonomously. We do daily maintenance, like cleaning and lubricating the tracks, to make sure it can go nine hours without supervision.”
Just because the biomedical staff is hard at work in other parts of the hospital as the train chugs along doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of others keeping a close eye on it.
“Nothing gives us more pleasure than to see the faces of the young kids and the ‘adult’ kids as they stare through the window,” said biomedical engineer Greg Lauten of Madison.
Three-year-old Hayden Nelson couldn’t resist taking a peek as Love put the finishing touches on the ski slope last week. “He loves trains,” his mother, Brandi Nelson, said as he peered through the glass. The Nelsons of Charleston spotted the train set as they were making their way through the two-story atrium mall that connects Methodist Rehab to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. It’s a path hundreds take each day as they commute between the hospitals and visit the Methodist Rehab gift shop, cafeteria or McDonald’s restaurant.
“We like the fact that it’s in a part of the hospital that is so accessible,” said Bob Hirko of Brandon, director of the biomedical engineering department. “It can be enjoyed by the employees and patients of our hospital, as well as the University hospitals and the public. We enjoy putting it together for the community each year.”
Three-year-old Hayden Nelson of Charleston is fascinated by the holiday train display at Methodist Rehabilitation Center. Biomedical engineers at Methodist design and create the display which is located in the hospital's two-story atrium mall.
The view from high atop Mt. Wilson, the newest addition to the annual holiday train display at Methodist Rehabilitation Center. The display now includes a ski resort with working lifts and moving skiers.