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Church garden railroad display

By Mike Martin | July 27, 2022

This popular Christmastime indoor set up is exposed to the weather

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Enclosed secti Enclosed section of a church lobbyon of a church lobby

Church garden railroad display: During the Kansas City Garden Railway Society tour, I met the pastor of the Heartland Community Church in Olathe, Kansas, Dan, and his father, Mike who was from California and had his own railroad garden.

Enclosed secti Enclosed section of a church lobbyon of a church lobby
The display featured two loops of track, structures, details, and even plants. Photo by Mike Martin

Dan told me his church had an enclosed area in the lobby called a “light box” that might be a good spot for a railway garden. The enclosed area is open to the outdoor sky, weather, and sunlight.

Enclosed section of a church lobby
The “light box” area in Heartland Community Church was a perfect spot for a garden railway display during the holidays. Photo by Mike Martin

I agreed to help them build it. Since the layout would be exposed to outdoor winter weather and was a temporary display for the Christmas season, we chose battery remote control trains instead of track power.

In September, Mike, his wife, a church staff member, and I began work on the project. We drew an two-dimensional diagram of the space and taped off the dimensions of the proposed layout on a storage room floor.

The light box already had a pond and water feature. The panes of glass and steel in the light box enclose a garden area with pine trees, shrubs, a memorial stone bench, mulch, and an 8-by-6-foot pond with three large water pillars and three lower spouts.

overhead view of small garden railway
This overhead view shows the entire display. It was built in sections, so it could be easily set up and moved. Photo by Mike Martin

We stacked large stones from a local nursery to elevate one loop of track. We decided to have a second unelevated track section.

We cut roadbed for both the ground level and elevated track plans. We used flextrack and a rail bender to form the curves. We place the track on the prepared roadbed sections, screwed down all 135 feet of track, and added rail clamps for good measure. We screwed wood bents underneath roadbed for the elevated portion.

enclosed garden railway covered in snow
The “light box” allows the weather inside—and the snow makes for a beautiful scene. Photo by Mike Martin

Our group built everything in sections, exactly as it was to be set up. The church theme for the project was “Light Will Shine.”

In December, we moved the sections into the light box, and it fit like a glove. The trains ran without a hitch.

The church continues to display this railway every year around Christmastime, and it’s a popular feature. Learn more about the church at their website.

Learn more

Anatomy of a water feature

Ideas for elevating your railway

Laying flex track

One thought on “Church garden railroad display

  1. University Presbyterian Church in Seattle has had an annual “Christmas Trains” event for the last decade or so. About a dozen church members bring in their trains to set up operating holiday displays in the church fellowship hall over a December weekend. Christmas trees, Christmas music and yummy treats also help to attract visitors on both Saturday and Sunday. We run the gamut from N scale Ttrak to large scale LGB, LEGO trains to European prototypes. One regular has a plywood Christmas tree that features several circles of track at different levels, allowing him to run half a dozen trains at once. Alas, the pandemic forced us to go virtual the last two years, but that gave me a chance to give Zoom tours of my home layout instead. Looking forward to doing a live event this year.

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