RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

If you love model trains and walking in the woods and you dream of workdays filled with fantasy, you would be Paul Busse. His shop is northern Kentucky. And that's where Noah Adams went to meet him.

NOAH ADAMS: Paul Busse knows there is magic under his footsteps, a sycamore leaf, one of thousands just outside his front door.

(Soundbite of leaves crunching)

Mr. PAUL BUSSE (Founder, Applied Imagination): This sycamore leaf, the one I just picked up here, is over a foot across. So we're going to press a bunch of these for next year.

ADAMS: Paul Busse's company puts together elaborate model train layouts. They use the large G-scale train sets. That's �G� for garden size. And the holiday season for them is big, including shows at the New York Botanical Garden and in Washington at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

All this is done with about 20 year-round employees in a workshop building and some sheds located in Kentucky a few ridges south of the Ohio River.

Ms. CINDY JOHNSON (Employee, Applied Imagination): I'm working on Santa's toy factory.

ADAMS: On Cindy Johnson's bench, a model, which is more like a contraption.

Ms. JOHNSON: It's got moving parts in it, which is new for me. Paul has had to wait for me to learn mechanical engineering to get this building done.

ADAMS: Inside the model, there are tiny motors and LED lights � but it's mostly organic. The sycamore leaves make splendid sails for Santa's windmill outside. Cindy's also making a pirate vessel � and the prow of the ship is a large gourd. The gourd was grown by Paul's friend across the road. People help out. They leave truckloads of stuff out in the front yard.

Mr. BUSSE: The hollow logs that are outside there right now came from a neighbor. It's awesome for us to make a tunnel out of it.

Ms. JOHNSON: The train comes through it.

ADAMS: Bark is valuable, grapevine, pine cones, lotus pods, thorns, lichen. Cindy doesn't walk in the woods these days. She searches.

Ms. JOHNSON: My husband doesn't like going with me anymore, because I'm always on the ground going, oh, acorn caps, look.

ADAMS: For this year's show in New York City, Paul Busse has designed a model of the splendid old Penn Station. The real train station was torn down in the early �60s. He's using honeysuckle for the columns; the skylights are crafted from basket reed. And the marble, it's made from the leaves of the sea grape plant.

Mr. BUSSE: That's what I love about the textures of the plants. You know, you put them in this architectural format, and it really - your eye is telling you one thing, and you know it's something else.

ADAMS: How did you know that would look like marble though?

Mr. BUSSE: Oh, about 20 years worth of trying stuff.

ADAMS: And new for Washington, D.C., the model of the White House now has a swing set and a victory garden. For a show in Chicago, there's a replica of the Obama family's home in Hyde Park.

After Paul Busse gets his displays set up and the trains running, he likes to walk around when people come quietly and watch. He is hoping to learn.

Mr. BUSSE: I'll never forget, this lady had had a baby carriage and pushed the kid up close to the display. And he just leaned forward, eyes in amazement. And I said, whatever drew his attention, because he doesn't know what he's looking at. And I said that's the magic that makes this work is whatever enthralled him.

ADAMS: For NPR News, this is Noah Adams.

MONTAGNE: And you can take a look at the small-scale version of the Obama family's Chicago home and other displays at NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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