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Their example is timeless
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A Glimpse At Some 
Holiday Garden Railroads
By Peter Wine

Reprints of this article come printed on quality paper with high resolution pictures

Now that the holidays are here, the average person is likely to think about trains more and more. (Us train nuts of course think about trains all the time, right?) Itís hard to picture the holidays without at least one train under a tree. They even use model trains in advertisements for various things. (I wish it were more than a second or two though.)

Iíve had the good fortune to see several holiday garden railroads over the past few years, and thought this to be a good time to share some of what Iíve seen with you.

Some of you are no doubt familiar with the work of Paul Busse and Applied Imagination. He is one of the masters of the craft of commercial garden railroads. (He got an award for one of his railroads at the Philadelphia Flower Show a few years back, if memory serves me.)

He has designed and built garden railroads at the Morris Arboreatum in Philadelphia, the New York Botanical Garden (his model of the NYBG conservatory was on display in the Saks Fifth Avenue window in Manhattan,) and more.

I was with Paul Busse and the Applied Imagination crew again this year as the transformation of Huntington National Bankís lobby in downtown Columbus began.

This is a magical time of year, where people leave work on Friday, and come back to a holiday wonderland, with a giant Bavarian village in the middle of the lobby for all to enjoy. And enjoy it they do!

Because of the wishes of Huntington, we arenít allowed to show any customers, but believe me, Iíve been there during business hours, and they have BIG smiles on their faces as they watch the trains, and marvel at the details.

The details. Things like an animal face on the front of a building. Or leaves used to make shingles on a house. Or twigs and vines used to make a clock on the front of a tower. The members of Paulís crew are really artists as much as builders. Most buildings start from a picture, and the crew try to find items that look like (or can be made to look like) the items in the picture.

Itís almost impossible to describe, except that itís a postcard come to life. As in all barvarian villages, the buildings are very close together; using Paulís (I hope) trademarked technique of natural materials as building components. And lots and lots of trees! (Trying to count trees here is like trying to count the jelly beans in a large pickle jar.) Ok, theyíre pretend trees, but what a treat to the eyes!

Sometimes the hardest part of this job is declaring the work done, and leaving for home. Itís especially true when the railroad is in another city, since you canít easily go back and take another look.

Thatís not true for two railroads in Dayton. One is the Kettering Tower Lobby Railroad. It was started several years ago by a railroad designer who remains unknown to me to this day. The Miami Valley Garden Railway Society (MVGRS) has been involved with the railroad for the last several years, adding a roundhouse here, and a 5 track mountain area with a castle. This is in addition to the original long loop, the smaller second loop, and the trolley track. It has been funded by a grant from the Virginia Kettering Foundation, and is a big hit with everyone who comes to see it.

A great part of the Kettering Tower Lobby Railroad is that it is visible from both inside the lobby and from the street, so passersby can see it. (The Huntington Bank lobby is well inside the building, and you have to know itís there. They do put up a real railroad crossbuck Ė with flashing lights and all - and some signs, so itís not really hidden.)

There is no charge to visit this railroad, from inside the lobby (8am Ė 4pm, Monday through Friday) or to those who see it from outside.

The other Dayton railroad is a creation of mine: the Webster Street Market Garden Railroad. Itís located in a restored railroad building, built for Requarth Lumber in 1911. It is adjacent to the CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines that go through Dayton.

Though it is a permanent railroad, it gets decorated for each holiday during the year. It was created in two weeks just prior to the holiday season last year. It is currently being expanded for this holiday season. Itís advertiser sponsored, and we sell space on the g-scale billboards to help offset expenses (like two new power supplies this year, and a replacement LGB engine block.) Sponsors also get a mention in our brochure, and the overhead sign at the railroad.

Though it is pretty small (by g-scale standards) at 15 feet square, Iíve packed in 2 loops of track, and a point to point trolley line. Many of the buildings are ceramic (which were donated by Marti and Rick Foster Ė members of the MVGRS who live in Columbus,) but a few have come from Big Lots.

There is also a billboard for LSOL, and a PT Cruiser from LSOL.

Because of the advertiser support, there is no charge, but we have been accepting donations.

Bigger still is the railroad at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Itís a railroad that is open from October to February, so I consider it a holiday garden railroad. Each year it has a different theme. The year I was there, it was the coalfields in Pennsylvania, and this year itís the Wild West.

There are four trains on three tracks, and includes an interactive ore car at the mine.

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The advantage of a railroad in a conservatory setting is that others who donít enjoy railroads can still enjoy the plants on display. (But they miss over half the fun as far as Iím concerned.)

People have been enjoying the railroads in the conservatory of the New York Botanical Garden for over 10 years, and for good reason.

With 5 trains in the conservatory itself, and 5 more in the walkway between the conservatory and the rain forest, itís a magnificent train display.

Highlights are the landmark buildings that most of us are familiar with: the Empire State Building, the Chrysler building, the Flat Iron building, and the UN building. There are many, many more too. There are more than 80 buildings that Paul Busseís crew created using natural outer material (on a hardened foam core,) and they are a New York City history lesson as well as fun to look at.

There is also the Hell Gate Bridge that crosses the walkway in a most impressive way. The Paul Busse version is more than 10 feet tall, and more than 15 long, but is just part of a double trolley line that crosses back and forth over the heads of visitors.

And the Statue of Liberty in the giant pond is a sight to behold. No picture can portray the majesty of this sight. It was ironic that the Statue of Liberty was added in 2001, just after the attacks of 9-11.

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One of Paulís more whimsical railroads can be found at the Franklin Institute & Science Museum in Philadelphia. Created for the 2001 season, it has been a hit ever since.

It is located in the lobby area, so those who are getting tickets can enjoy the trains. Those who ride the balancing bicycle can see the view from overhead, and as you walk into and out of the IMAX theatre you can get different views of this special treat.

Paul Busse says that the railroadís unique buildings (painted foam panels of local buildings) were done that way because Franklin Institute called him in September (of 2001) for a display during the 2001 holiday season. This railroad was created in 4 sections to facilitate easier setup, tear down, and storage.

Itís a lot of fun to watch the trolley traverse the large blue suspension bridge between ĎCamdení and ĎPhiladelphia.í The water is made from a bolt of beautiful blue fabric, and you can almost see the waves in the river.

Info on pricing and hours is at

The Morris Arboretum railroad (in Philadelphia) has been around for more than six years, but was first decorated for the holidays in 2001.

Created by Paul Busse, and well maintained by the staff of the Morris Arboretum, there are plenty of trains to watch, including a holiday train that goes right over your head!

The detailed holiday decorations (added with lots of care by the staff at Morris) add a lot to the charm of this attraction. Unsure at first whether it would be worth all the work, they found that more than 8,000 people came to see it the first year!

Info on pricing and hours is at

Open for its second year is the Franklin Park Holiday Garden Railway Exhibition in Columbus Ohio.

Created in 2002 by the members of the Columbus Garden Railway Society, this railroad has gotten better and better each year.

Originally conceived as a way to boost sagging attendance, the railway (with 5 loops of tracks outside and a trolley track on the windowsill inside the hallway,) was so successful that it has expanded the number and quality of buildings each year.

For the 2003 summer season, to celebrate Ohioís Bicentennial, many new buildings were built, including a barn with the Ohio Bicentennial logo on it, a large pond complete with a big fishing pier, a frontier village and more.

Because the railway is located in the courtyard, it is wise to dress appropriately for this holiday version, since you will be going outside to see it. This means that the railroad could be snow covered, too!

The Franklin Park railway was also the big test for Bill Loganís new track laying method, and has been a great proving ground. If you havenít heard about it, he came up with the idea of using 2í x 4í x 8í sections of plastic wood, with 2 ĺ" strips cut from each side, and the middle being used for posts and holders. The result is a very flexible roadbed, which can be used standalone (as on portions of the upper track at Franklin Park,) or hidden under mulch or ballast they way they are on the rest of the tracks at Franklin Park.

So far, the results are very promising for Bill, and thatís great for all of us who lay track!

Info on pricing and hours is at

Also in Ohio is the Trains, Trees and Holiday Traditions display at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland.

Borrowing a sentence or two from the Western Reserve Historical Societyís web site (,) here are a few highlights:

"Climb aboard a child-size train display plus view many more model trains dressed up for the holidays. This year the Crawford Holiday Train display will feature five different G-scale trains running through a snow-covered wonderland, including outdoor skiers, a village scene, and an amusement park!"

"The display is once again the work of the Northern Ohio Garden Railway Society ( of Cleveland. Added to the 2003 display will be a whole new section of O-gauge (Lionel) sized trains called the Trains of Cleveland. These model trains represent all the railroads that ran through Cleveland in the years just after WWII. These Trains of Cleveland will be running around and through a historic, 6-foot wooden model of the Terminal Tower, Cleveland's most famous railroad station."

I have this one on my agenda for 2003! Look for it in Holiday Garden Railroads Vol 2.

Info on pricing and hours is at

I hope this gives you ideas for your railroad this holiday season. Perhaps you might get together with your local garden railway society (or other bunch of friends,) and create your own holiday garden railroad.

If you do, or if you know of one near you, let me know about it. Drop me a note.

Happy Holidays, and keep on traininí!

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