All aboard for the train ride of your life-if you're two inches tall,
that is! Miniature trains are wending their way past tiny trees in gardens
from California to the Carolinas. It's a trend that's definitely gathering
steam. "There's something in it for everybody-gardening, trains.
There's model-building, electronics. All these could be a hobby in themselves.
But this hobby combines all of them," said Jack Verducci. He is the
engineer of his own garden railroad-one that takes up not only the backyard,
but the front and side yards of his San Mateo home.
Garden railroading is an old as the transportation mode, itself. In the
1830s full-scale builders used steam-powered models to test theories and
show off their latest designs to the public. Created in 1935, the Fairplex
layout at the Los Angeles County fairgrounds in considered the oldest
and largest in the U.S. Garden railroading didn't catch on as a hobby
here until 1968 with the creation of large-scale plastic trains, sturdy
enough for the outdoors. Now there are two hundred thousand hobbyists.
When it comes to these railroad gardens, the first rule of the thumb
is to just have fun. The second is to make your spread as authentic as
possible, right down to the miniature trees. Tiny forests are created
with dwarf conifers like Alberta and Norway spruces as well as pint-sized
pomegranates. Lots of careful trimming and some bonsai techniques keep
trees and shrubs small.
Every railroad garden is as different as the person who designed it.
But Dart and Dottye Rinefort of Marin County really let their imaginations
run wild. They made up a whole story involving themselves and their grandchildren.
Experts say garden railroading is a "hot" trend, with the highest
growth on the West Coast. Some 40 thousand people participate, including
celebrities like Arsenio Hall, David Hasselhoff and Neil young.
For more information on this fast-growing hobby visit www.gardentrains.org.