(This article is part of TIMES EXPRESS. It is a condensed version of a story that will appear in tomorrow’s New York Times.)

c.2008 New York Times News Service

LAS VEGAS — Sandy Hammargren is the definition of a patient, long-suffering wife, except when it comes to Big Bertha.


Her husband, Dr. Lonnie Hammargren, built Big Bertha, a black 10-foot-tall model locomotive, in their backyard from a disparate collection of parts: a rail car believed to have brought Howard Hughes to Las Vegas, part of a road girder, a piece of an 1890 steam tractor, a boiler "from something entirely different, I can’t remember what," Hammargren said. The wheels were from castoff parts of old CAT scan machines.

"Oh, I just hate it," she said. "It’s awful to look at."

That she wants Big Bertha gone is not surprising. What is astonishing is that Big Bertha is all that earns her wrath when nearly every inch of her vast home is overwhelmed by thousands of other bits of memorabilia, collections, bizarre shop projects and unadulterated junk.

The contents range wildly and appear to have little organization: a life-size doll of the late entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. sits as the conductor of a train that came from the Nevada Test Site nuclear proving ground. Hammargren is predominantly occupied by items from old Vegas casinos, scale models of famous sites from around the globe and various NASA space missions. Hammargren, 70, was a NASA flight surgeon who flew in jets with the likes of the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a friend and occasional visitor.

The endless displays, which leave nary an inch of floor space inside or outside their home, in southeast Las Vegas, add up to a lifetime of acquisitions for Hammargren, a former two-term Nevada lieutenant governor and retired neurosurgeon.

The Hammargrens have skirmished with neighbors who have complained to local authorities, but the doctor has never been forced to limit or alter his home. Yet Dotty Reeve, who weeded her yard across the street on Saturday, said she enjoyed her proximity.

"It’s kind of fun, to tell you the truth," Reeve said. "Not many people like it, but it’s not hurting anybody. It’s kind of interesting, really. I think people gripe about it, but the same people drive by just to see what’s going on there."

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