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Garden Railroading: Hobby or Home Improvement?

As your model train gets going, so do your creative juices.

As your model train gets going, so do your creative juices.

Introduction

Revise: too many questions

We've built our garden railroad. Now what?

While wondering about ways to enhance this pastime, I was mulling about outdoors in the garden. Are garden railways a hobby or a home improvement?

Webster's defines a hobby as whereas a home improvement is

Shall the facts speak for themselves? Let's touch upon some ideas, shall we?



1. Name It!

Decide on what you'll call your completed project. Why not title it what means something to you?

My dad christened our garden train the "Bangderlund Express" for its Bavarian roots. Many of our large scale models originated from German toy companies.

Model railroading is truly a 'jack-of-all-trades' hobby (p. 3).

— Westcott & Wagner, Editors, Practical Guide to Model Railroading, 5th Edition

2. Provide an "At A Glance" Summary

Introduce your garden railway with a concise overview. Model railroaders include this type of extract to inform others about key points. You can start with a short list (see ours next) and add more details later.

Bring features to life with a video. Watch examples by scrolling down now or later.

Quick Facts about our Garden Railroad.

Quick Facts about our Garden Railroad.

Magnetic pocket compass.

Magnetic pocket compass.

3. Identify Directions

Give your layout a sense of navigation by showing where North, East, South, and West originate.

Determine these cardinal points (that's also what N, E, S, & W are called) by using a pocket compass or a compass app on your smartphone. Either gadget will point you north via the earth's magnetic field. These bearings denote descriptions such as "looking at the west corner of this" or "from the south elevation of that" (shown in 3.2 below).

Where will you designate markers? Not sure? See a few examples next (in 3.1).

4. Add More Action With People, Places & Things

Humanize different spots to frame a sense of familiarity & fantasy.

Humanize different spots to frame a sense of familiarity & fantasy.

Create mystery with rail transitions such as traveling through the tunnel.

Create mystery with rail transitions such as traveling through the tunnel.

Suggest winds-a-howling with a Dutch windmill (lower left) and convey construction-in-progress with a house being built (upper right).

Suggest winds-a-howling with a Dutch windmill (lower left) and convey construction-in-progress with a house being built (upper right).

Imagine hearing the water wheel of the old grist mill turning as water ripples along the banks of the pond.

Imagine hearing the water wheel of the old grist mill turning as water ripples along the banks of the pond.

This garden railroad is enjoyed by one and all as it welcomes local residents dropping in.

This garden railroad is enjoyed by one and all as it welcomes local residents dropping in.

Tired bricklayer leaning against Tudor-style station, waiting for the Express home.

Tired bricklayer leaning against Tudor-style station, waiting for the Express home.

Stark engine shed beautified by pink Japanese Anemone flowers ("September Charm" variety).

Stark engine shed beautified by pink Japanese Anemone flowers ("September Charm" variety).

Swiss lodge reigns supreme on top of the mountain.

Swiss lodge reigns supreme on top of the mountain.

Half-timber house shaded by leaves of Anemone aka Japanese Windflower.

Half-timber house shaded by leaves of Anemone aka Japanese Windflower.

5. Depict Old Time Charm

If you like building from scratch, books from the 19th century have pictures that inspire. One such volume is English architect John Buonarotti Papworth's 1823 "Hints on Ornamental Gardening." The colored illustrations are beautiful and depict a bygone era. Replicating one of these designs (see next) might be both challenging and tantalizing.

5.1 Adapt Landscape Architecture Designs

Aviary (Plate 21): Where birds visit & "chief feature of a flower garden" (Papworth, p. 101).

Aviary (Plate 21): Where birds visit & "chief feature of a flower garden" (Papworth, p. 101).

Bridge and Boat House (Plate 7) combination. Very serene looking.

Bridge and Boat House (Plate 7) combination. Very serene looking.

Ice House (Plate 13) covering the well where ice was kept. Cool thatched roof, huh?

Ice House (Plate 13) covering the well where ice was kept. Cool thatched roof, huh?

Venetian Tent (Plate 18). A unique structure to set up for the summer season.

Venetian Tent (Plate 18). A unique structure to set up for the summer season.

6. Keep Records of Your Train Sets

How will you tell your story?

Catalog facets of your garden railroad. Smartphones enable us to easily snap pictures and keep an ongoing gallery to show friends and family wherever we are. A hard copy might appeal to others.

My dad prefers a notebook he titled "Bangderlund Express" (the name of our train garden). It includes details about model trains, structures, accessories, plants, and so forth (see examples next).

7. Create Digital Stories

This form of storytelling is an entertaining technique for sharing garden railroad spaces with your family-at-a-distance and the public-at-large. "The Chronicles of the DVLR" (DebenValleyLightRail) is a brilliant example, as seen in the first episode (next).

8. Preserve Cultural Heritage

I watched the Centralia Garden Railroad Movie about a now defunct town in Florida called Centralia. This model train hobbyist's blog revealed digitized photographs of the original town.

Our appreciation of what others are doing further proves how this hobby bridges generations in more than garden and railroad ways. They influence cultural heritage, too. (The guy above sort of saved a town from extinction, didn't he?).

What's more, my mother thinks every township and borough should digitize and curate these sites via their local public libraries. In her words "They contribute to our local lore!" That said, I wonder about privacy, security, and copyright issues. Nevertheless, should the DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) create a garden railroads category for those wanting to partake?

8.1 Rockville Bridge, Harrisburg, PA

My dad based his miniature on a landmark from his childhood: the "longest stone masonry arch railroad bridge in the world" (p. 3, National Register of Historic Places).

My dad based his miniature on a landmark from his childhood: the "longest stone masonry arch railroad bridge in the world" (p. 3, National Register of Historic Places).

9. Establish Your Brand

Branding is fun.

We have a horse that my dad painted verdigris (green color of aged copper). It serves as a mascot to greet people when they enter our garden railway zone. My mother decorates it during the holidays. Shall we call him Harry the horse (after my great grandfather)? My mother thinks so. She wants to design a custom logo for our toy train and plans to take photographs and make note cards to give as gifts.

"Whoa!" Whoever thought our garden railroad project might morph into a line of stationery?

10. Host & Attend Events

Once you complete your garden railroad "masterpiece"… celebrate! Drive a golden spike like they did when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. Congratulate the builders, too. Host seasonal flings and add effects to commemorate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other festivities.



If you don't have your own layout, many regions conduct events centered around public gardens railway activities. In my area the University of Pennsylvania in conjunction with Morris Arboretum picks a particular theme that resonates with visitors. Miniatures of life-size objects and buildings are highlighted, such as Philadelphia sculptures or Victorian houses. Of course, Thomas the tank engine appears wherever you go.

All Aboard Again

Seasons Greetings large G scale trolley.

Seasons Greetings large G scale trolley.

To conclude, the garden railroading hobby is vastly faceted as we're sure you'll find out. You might excel at a certain aspect: historical bent, building aptitude, green thumb gift, and so on. Further pursuing one of these interests might reach more than hobby status by catapulting you into your purposeful vocation.

Start with some of our suggestions and add your own. Best of all enjoy yourself!

Model Railroad Videos Communicate In Any Language

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