He tried vegetable gardening, but constructing elaborate tunnels
for train tracks to run through and setting up an actual erupting
volcano (using rock concert technology) in his backyard proved to
be much more exciting.
He tried vegetable gardening, but constructing elaborate tunnels for train tracks to run through and setting up an actual erupting volcano (using rock concert technology) in his backyard proved to be much more exciting.
“We like being outside,” garden railroader Dale McAnally explained when I visited his garden layout, complete with 950 feet of miniature train tracks and a train that winds its way over rivers and through multiple tunnels.
Garden railroading is a hobby practiced worldwide that combines building actual working model trains with outdoor settings that are created by using slow-growing and dwarf trees, plants, ponds, rocks and waterfalls. The other thing train gardeners have in common is the creativity they show when building on the different common themes – Western, circus, European and Swiss.
When McAnally attended one of the National Garden Railway Conventions held in Phoenix, Ariz., he learned that garden railways in Arizona are completely different from California ones. It is necessary for them to incorporate desert plants into their garden themes.
Each year the convention is held in a different city. When it was held in San Jose, visitors attended all the way from Germany, Holland, Canada and Australia.
“Families plan their whole summer vacation around garden railroading,” he said.
“What is it that really ties all of you train gardeners together?” I asked.
“We’re nice people,” he shot back. “What I mean is that this hobby naturally attracts a certain kind of person. We exchange ideas and help new people get started. We’re diverse and from all walks of life, from medical doctors to teachers to retired public works administrators – and even one city councilman has had his garden on exhibit. But we’re alike in that we all like to help others.”
It is a team effort. Every garden railroader needs help. For instance, to put on the upcoming June 26 railroad tour through some of the most unusual backyard gardens from Morgan Hill to Hollister, at least 40 people will be needed for 13 open houses. Not all of those 40 will be folks with their own garden railroads – some of them are people who are interested in trains but who don’t have their own gardens, and some are retired garden railroaders living in senior housing that doesn’t allow for them to have their own gardens anymore. This allows them to still keep actively involved even though unable to maintain their own gardens.
Local author Horace Fabing and his wife, Nan, have two 7.5-gauge live steam locomotives in their backyard, which is a favorite with kids. They also have a small museum of historic train memorabilia you can visit in their backyard that features an operating station board from the Winston-Salem Southbound Railroad.
The entrance fee to the tour of 13 backyard gardens is a can of food or whatever you can afford to give. Although the tour encompasses a 60-mile area round trip, some visitors stick to touring gardens in one area only. The donations go to St. Joseph’s Family Center and the Community Pantry of Hollister, which helps feed more than 4,000 hungry people per week.
“For three gallons of gas and a canned food donation, you can entertain your family and have a great day together,” McAnally said.
“We enjoy giving back to the community,” train enthusiast Pat DeLeon said. “We open up our backyards for free, we discount lunch, and everybody has a good time.”
Born and raised in Gilroy, Pat DeLeon served as a police officer until retiring from the force 12 years ago, when he became owner of the All Aboard Junction train store at 8355 Monterey St. Railroading enthusiasts, including garden railroaders, come from throughout California to shop at his store.
Combining one passion with another just made sense, DeLeon said.
“I used to volunteer for Second Harvest Food Bank,” he said, “And in these hard economic times, people need help more than ever. Summertime is when kids are out of school – with no school lunch program – and really need our help.”
More than 1,800 people took the tour last year, donating $2,605 and eight huge barrels of food.
“As many families look for entertainment close to home this summer, this tour is an economical outing – and a lot of fun,” DeLeon said.