The sound of an overnight train going by might disturb some people’s rest, but its chugging along the tracks lulls me to sleep. “Imagine how restful it would be to listen to that clickety-clacking on demand in my own backyard,” I thought as I toured five of the 18 stops on the Columbus Garden Railway Society’s tour last Sunday afternoon.
Garden railroads work just like indoor model trains, but instead of using artificial materials to create mountains and rivers, a garden railway incorporates real dirt, water, stones and pruned or dwarf varieties of plants into its outdoor layout. Many garden installations feature G-scale trains that pass by model villages, run through tunnels and cross bridges that blend in well with a natural backyard setting.
Garden railway layouts are often so unique that they’ll be named just like a real railroad, like the Puddlefort & Patio Railroad that I visited on Blind Brook Drive in Worthington Hills. Modeled after the Chicago & North Western Railroad that served a rural Wisconsin village, this garden railway layout contains numerous dwarf, miniature and small-scale plants, including dwarf conifers, ferns, rock-garden plants and some Norway spruce being trained to be bonsai trees. Visitors were invited to see if they could spot flamingos, a snow blower, a hobo camp, a Coke machine, and other unusual items amid the scenery that the train passed.
The railroad running through an extensive side yard on Macbeth Drive in Dublin was a grand affair run by a well-hidden control box.
The Shelby & Sparta Railroad running through there includes approximately 1,000 feet of track, comprised of a main line, a branch line, an amusement park line, a resort line with a circus theme, a shuttle line, and a large-radius “Farm to City Line.” Trains travel through mountains, valleys and tunnels, and make their way across trestles and bridges, occasionally whistling when an onlooker crosses in front of it.
The Sutter Park Lumber Railroad in Dublin runs four trains at a time, on 250 feet of two point-to-point lines and a “double dog bone” track. It’s based on a logging railroad, has a pond with a waterfall, runs by several built-from-scratch buildings and even has an animated carnival line.
The Grand Rapids & Reed Lake Railroad serves passengers on Middlebury Drive off Olentangy River Road. Ease of maintenance is the theme of this garden railway. A raised bed of crushed limestone keeps landscape maintenance to a minimum, and a blue-marble lake doesn’t freeze in winter. Three of the railroad’s four track loops support live-steam locomotives, while one loop has an operating overhead system that supports a streetcar.
Best of all was the Recycled Odds Ends & Leftovers Railroad on Abbeyhill Drive in Worthington, where a young train engineer outfitted in a red bandana, striped hat and bib overalls couldn’t get enough of what he saw…and neither could I! The line originates at the rail head at Xenia in Greene County and heads south to the rich farmlands of Brown and Adams Counties, servicing a sawmill, a coal company and a feed store in Russelville. It brings farming equipment and supplies and terminates at Cherry Fork in Adams County.
Along the way, it crosses a couple of covered bridges in its journey through the rolling hills of southern Ohio, fords a creek and a falls, passes a fly fisherman, and serves a village with a hair salon and a guitar shop reflecting the interests of two of the owners’ children. Jim Shell, the railroad’s CEO, engineer, bridge and trestle crew, and track crew, maintains a website with lots of helpful information for building a backyard railroad, as well as photos of what the railroad looks like in the snow. Jim’s friendly wife, Lorinda, tends many varieties of thyme that provide the perfect ground cover.Interested in planning your own garden railway? Check out step-by-step modeling projects, photo tours of garden railroads, product reviews and tips from experts in Garden Railways magazine. Also see Garden Railway Manual: A Step-By-Step Guide to Narr
ow-Gauge Garden Railway Projects, by Richard Blizzard, and Garden Railroading: Getting Started in the Hobby, by Kent Johnson. Leafing through these books will also help you appreciate how much work these people have in their hobby.