Viewing garden railroads as a hobby at The National Garden Railway Convention in Kansas City, KS.
Each summer, the National Garden Railroad Society has a convention in a
major city throughout the United States. This year it was held in Overland
Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas. As railroad buffs, my husband Randy and I signed up, and on June 17 we took to our 2006 Prius, which gets 50 miles to the gallon, and drove to Kansas City. It took two and one/half days from San Diego to Wichita and another half day to view garden railroads there and drive on to the convention hotel in Kansas City.
Briefly, the history of garden railroading as a hobby originated in Germany
and Great Britain around 1860, and then in between two wars and other major calamities, the hobby spread throughout Europe, the United States,
Canada and Australia.
A standard garden railroad has a scale that varies
from 1/32 to 1/20 but the track gauge is generally 45 mm (2 3/4 in.) The
requisite to having a garden railroad is a yard large enough to handle the
many feet of installed track desired, and the ambition to build the various
buildings either by kit or scratch-built with all the paraphernalia that
accompanies it, to have a truly authentic railroad scene. To me, the
frosting in the garden is the miniature-sized people and flowers,
waterfalls, lakes, tunnels, trestles and other natural scenes integrated
throughout the yard. Some railroad aficionados have live steam engines
running on a single track the length of their yards, deprived of plants and
scenery. Most of them are men without wives to do the heavy work such as the gardening and weeding. In most cases, the men build the railroad and thewomen plant the garden.
Depending on the membership size of the clubs, there can be as many as 50 or more gardens for viewing at these conventions. In Kansas City, twenty homes participated in the tour, a total of five homes each day, starting on Tuesday through Friday. We commenced in Kansas, crossed the state line to Independence, Missouri and finished the tour back in Kansas: a total of 20
homes in four days. This was a small tour. There were also bus tours for
those who did not drive to Kansas. Directions to each house were listed in
hand-out sheets, but our GPS guided us throughout. We managed to keep one step ahead of the two buses as often as we could to avoid the crowds. With 55 seats on each bus it could get hectic. Twice we pulled up to a house at the same time with a bus. We soon learned to leave an hour after the buses had left the hotel. That evening a barbeque was held in Bonner Springs, KS, which we attended.
On Friday we began our tour in Pleasant Hill, MO. This place was unique in
that it had 25,000 feet of 7.5 inch gauge main line running on the ground.
These trains are a much larger scale than the typical garden railroad layout
and are hefty enough to be ridden on. Each car carried three persons, including the driver. The owner graciously gave us a ride on
his railroad car, pulled by a live-steam engine. I think he had as much fun
as we did as he went around the track twice, blowing his whistle. These
tours are typical of all the conventions, and it’s fun and interesting to
see the variety of layouts. The homeowners are always friendly and eager to
answer your questions regarding the layouts. All conventions end with a
banquet, and this one was no exception.
Since all the tours closed by 2 p.m., upon returning to our hotel there was
plenty of time to visit the Vendor Exhibition Hall a block away. Everything
and anything you require for your railroad layout, including tracks,
railroad cars, engines, plants, kits, and so on are on sale, often at a
discount. I might add, even with discounts, garden railroading is not an
inexpensive hobby, but it certainly is fun and it gives one an excuse to
travel all over the country to attend these conventions. San Diego has a
local San Diego Garden Railroad Society with over 250 members. Next summer, San Diego is hosting a regional meet of Western States and the Hagers are offering their layout for display.
When the convention was over, we returned to Independence, MO to visit The Harry S. Truman Library, which we found to be very interesting and informative: given the opportunity, I strongly recommend visiting it. From there we veered north and drove to Omaha, NE to visit Randy’s home town. The family is now scattered throughout Southern California, but it was a nostalgic time for Randy to see his old homestead, his elementary and high schools, and visit Hanscom Park where he rode the
bike paths and skated in the winter. After an overnight stay, the following day we headed home.
Next year the convention is in Chicago, Illinois. After driving over 4,100
miles round trip, we decided we’ll take the train and ride on the Southwest
Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Next summer, the train!!!