What my garden railroad taught me: Our first garden line, The Johnsville & Cripple Creek, was complete – as these things go. We moved. I looked forward to starting over. Construction on the Hitchcock Railway began a few months after moving in – and continued for more than 10 years. When NMRA National Convention visitors arrived in 1999 the railroad was barely half finished.
In 2009 I received my Golden Spike Award – the Hitchcock Railway was complete. Over the next several years I built additional rolling stock, added structures, and expanded the forests. There was always work to be done – including a total replacement of wood ties with plastic ones. By the summer of 2017 maintenance was becoming burdensome.
We made the decision to host our last open house before removing tons of concrete, wire mesh, and wood. There were lots of pictures taken, goodbyes said, and a few tears shed. Just days later a Bobcat arrived, and in three hours 20 years of effort was removed. The garden railway was gone – but a lot remained.
What did I gain from garden railroading?
Enjoy the journey. For me, garden railroading was always about the journey. I drove thousands of tiny spikes into redwood ties. I mixed, applied, and sculpted concrete mountains until it was too dark to work. I planted and pruned. People would tell me they didn’t have the patience to do what I was doing. Completion was never the goal. I loved the doing. I was creating a miniature world.
Share the hobby with others. Early in the construction process, people walking the path behind our house asked when trains would run. As soon as we could, Pat and I started a tradition of operating for the public every Sunday afternoon in June, July, and August. Over the next 12 years more than 15,000 people visited the Hitchcock Railway. Seeing the delight in children’s faces as my engines huffed around the layout, whistles and bells signaling their presence as they emerged from tunnels or rounded a curve, never grew old. I answered the same questions every Sunday. I was never impatient. I rerailed cars pushed over by inquisitive fingers. I never admonished. I was pleased when someone discovered the eagle in a tree, giggled at the goat eating dynamite, or marveled at the erupting geyser. It never became tiresome to hear someone say the railway was amazing.
Encourage kids to participate. Every Sunday we’d set out a pile of Model Railroader We encouraged children to take one – we’d tell parents kids would enjoy looking at the pictures even if they couldn’t read the articles. We hoped we might kindle the spark of model railroading. And I think, for some, we were successful.
Find joy in what others experience. I built my railroad for my own gratification, but I learned that operating it for others provided the greatest rewards. Without intending to, I had made a railroad that was perfect for others to enjoy. Two trains could run for a couple hours with little monitoring or attention. I was able to interact with our visitors – with only modest interruptions to attend to railroad business. The layout wasn’t especially large, but the track looped around, passing over itself in a convoluted fashion. It was difficult to take it all in at once – trains disappeared and reappeared in a seemingly random pattern. People could move all around the railroad and watch trains from many vantage points. They delighted in discovering scenes and details on their own. Building and operating the Hitchcock Railway gave me great satisfaction. I’m very proud of what I accomplished – and the joy it gave to others.
It was difficult to watch the Bobcat rip out huge bites of mountains, trees, track, and bridges. But I have hundreds of photographs – some collected into a book – to aid in remembering the Hitchcock’s glory days. People still tell me how much they enjoyed seeing the trains run, and how their children remember visiting “The Train Man.”
What my garden railroad taught me: After 20 years, the author dismantled his garden railroad. Photo by Rod Eaton
The author found joy in seeing others experience his garden railway. Photo by Rod Eaton
The author is proud of the joy he brought to others for so many years. Photo by Rod Eaton
Nothing warmed the author’s heart more than seeing the railway through children’s eyes. Photo by Rod Eaton