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Building the New York Botanical Gardenís 
Holiday Train

by Peter Wine

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

2004 was my third trip to New York to assist Paul Busse and Applied Imagination in building the railroads at the New York Botanical Garden.

There are things you discover about yourself when you work with Paul. The first thing is how well you work with a group.

The first few days Paul acts as the conductor in an orchestra, directing activity in a general way, and you work in groups to get things done. Unloading the plants that are brought in, getting rocks and mulch, and moving the track, houses, bridges and other structures (around 115 these days) up from the semi-trailers where they spend the off season are all critical. How well these groups work together determines how quickly things get done.

Then, as the railroad begins to look finished to the average person, Paul starts working in more detail.

The "Holiday Garden and Train Show" appears to be an outdoor railroad, because of the plants we're able to use; but it's inside the conservatory, with glass from about 4 feet off the ground, so you get the best of both worlds. The railroads are really just part of whatís in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and there is a lot to see before you get to the trains.

When you come into the Conservatory, you start in the rain forest, go through the desert (donít miss the living rocks!) and then into the "Train Show," The "Train Show," is in two rooms. One is large square, and has a railroad in each corner, and one in the center of the room. The other room is a wide isle-way, about 85 feet long, with railroads on each side, and more overhead, running from bridge to bridge, back and forth about 2/3 of the way down the room. The isle-way is lined with bushes. Getting the raised track to run through these bushes is very delicate work, since the goal is not to harm the bushes, and still have the trains run.This year everything went well. All of the structures were put in the back of the conservatory hallway (where they can have bumps and bruises encountered on their travels repaired,) the track sections were brought up and put into place and the trains were brought up from the train room (in the basement.) Some new trains were brought along from the shop also, and we were on pins and needles awaiting the two "stars of the show;" two LGB streetcars.



Track placement is probably the time when the Garden staff gets the most nervous, since that's when we spend the most time close to the plants. No matter where we go, the track gets close to one plant or another. Most of the time, it's just a matter of moving a branch or stalk out of the way, placing the track and letting go of the plant. Sometimes, though, the plant is growing in the exact spot the track needs to be. That's when we call for Gary. He's able to clip a leaf or move a plant, and everyone is happy. 





Hereís how that area evolved:


Once the track is in place, the terra forming begins. In the center island, a large pond and stream is created each year, lined with small rocks and large boulders, that represents the rivers of New York and the New York Harbor.

There are two major new attractions this year. One is the Applied Imagination version of the Jewish Museum, which is able to achieve a high level of detail, and still be made of all natural materials (a Paul Busse and Applied Imagination tradition.)

The other is a new overhead model of the Brooklyn Bridge. It measures 28 feet long, and is wide enough for two G-scale tracks (complete with two G-scale New York style streetcars, hot off the manufacturing lines at LGB, thanks to Davis Trains.)

The new Brooklyn Bridge replaces a smaller Brooklyn Bridge used in another area in the past. It goes from the middle of a "Podocarpus Macrophyllus," across the walkway and into the center island to the middle of three holiday trees, with their colorful lights. It joins the Manhattan Bridge, and the Hell Gate Bridge at the "Train Show."

One of the things that makes this one of the biggest events at the New York Botanical Garden each year is Paul's use of LOTS of plants. Small flowers and plants are placed up close to the buildings (and other structures,) and add a dimension to the "Train Show," thatís not possible any other way.

Another is that most of the buildings are versions of actual New York Buildings of the past and present. Some building highlights are the Statue of Liberty in the New York Harbor, the United Nations building, and the Chrysler building (which looks like another famous New York landmark - the Empire State Building.) There's something for everyone to enjoy. And the Guggenheim museum made out of mushrooms is a real treat. (NO, not that kind of treat, itís eye candy!)

There's a G-scale version of the Grand Central Terminal (which some people call a station.) The 1:1 Grand Central is under a veil of netting, which we guessed to be for sandblasting the exterior of the terminal.

Paul estimates there are more than 100 buildings now part of the display. They've been adding a few each year for 13 years. After a recent trip through Manhattan led by Paul, I've discovered that several of the G-scale versions appear to be more interesting than their real-world counterparts. As Paul noted, his version of the St. Patrickís Cathedral is more colorful than the original, which is pretty monochromatic.

After you count them all, you'll discover there are 14 tracks hidden amongst the flora and buildings at the "Train Show." (Nine loops and five point-to-point tracks.) There are trains almost everywhere, and something new to see around every turn.

Building the NYBG Holiday Train takes about 10 days, but creating it has taken 13 years, since each display is a cumulative result of the creative efforts of all the previous displays. But donít take this to mean it is a static display that simply re-appears each year. It is definitely not static.


Though many of the buildings are the same, they tend to move around in the display, from area to area, so it's never really the same two years in a row. And with so much to see, it's really hard to take it all in with one viewing.

It's not all work and no play for us, though. Because things were running a bit ahead of schedule, Sunday was a work optional day, and several crew members went out exploring New York. For those of us who stayed and worked, Paul called it a day an hour early, and took 3 of us to see Grand Central Terminal. Iíve enjoyed the Cincinnati Union Terminal on many occasions, and been inside the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, but Grand Central was HUGE!

It was breathtaking to see it for the first time (inside, that is...) and we decided to eat there before heading back to the motel, and I discovered that New York is not the Ďcity that never sleepsí, since many of the shops and restaurants in and around the Terminal were closed (or closing) for the day.

I was lucky, and found a great sandwich (and got the last bottle of root beer.) I then sat on one of the original benches from the Grand Central waiting area to eat. The benches are being moved out of the upper area, and down to the food court. The area the benches came from is interesting, because you can certainly tell where the benches were. There are troughs formed from all the feet shuffling while waiting for the trains.

People sometimes wonder why itís called the Grand Central Terminal, and another picture I took explains it pretty well. If you notice the bumper, it indicates the end of the track. This is also called the terminus. Hence, the name. (I know, many of you already knew that...)

Monday was a great day as all the details started to fall in place. After another trip to the plant store to fill in here and there, (the third or fourth in New York alone,) Paul decided that the only thing left for Tuesday was the sod.

Thatís right, folks, SOD! It is one of the details that really make peopleís eyes bug out when they come to the New York Botanical Garden to see the trains. And the details are one of the reasons the Today Show has been here on a regular basis. (They went to Paulís workshop in Alexandria, Kentucky this summer to get video of the crew building the Brooklyn Bridge, so it appears they will be back in the Garden again, also.)

Here is the evolution of the center of the square room, from my arrival, to the final version. All of these are taken from the same viewpoint. (By the way, the larger trees with multi-colored lights were done by the crew from Frost, who also did much of the outside lighting and decoration.)


The "Holiday Garden and Train Show" at the New York Botanical Garden deserves a spot near the top of your must-see-during-the-holidays list.

Thanks to Paul Busse, 
 and the crew that 
 put it all together.