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Meet Shawn Viggiano

By Shawn Viggiano | November 19, 2023

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Meet Shawn Viggiano

How did I get started in the hobby?

I got started into trains at an early age. My dad would set up an old Lionel train set around the Christmas tree every year. When I got older, my dad would set up a layout with buildings and switch tracks in our basement. That’s when I really caught the train bug. I was fascinated with a train winding through a landscape of buildings and trees.

Eventually I got my first set of HO trains. I spent hours setting up the track on a board and creating scenes for the train to run through. My grandparents lived next to a hobby store and would often buy me something to add to my collection. In those days I never really had the skills to create anything realistic. Everything I learned was from a hobby shop. At the same time, I was also into LEGO and I would build houses out of LEGO and set them up outside, in the woods, creating a miniature world. Then I would add my HO tracks to the scenes and pushed the train cars back and forth. That was probably my first endeavor into the outdoor world of garden trains. At the time I didn’t even know that was a thing.

Meet Shawn Viggiano: model caboose with figure and dog heading away from you on a garden railway
The train heads toward the covered bridge on a calm fall day. Shawn Viggiano photo

Then high school and college arrived. My focus was on other things, like sports and friends, but I still followed my dad’s footsteps and set up a train around a Christmas tree I had in my room. It wouldn’t be until I had my first child that my interest in trains started and with the internet I learned about large scale trains and garden railroading.

What was your first large scale locomotive?

My first large scale locomotive was a Buddy L train set that lasted for a few runs. I ended up returning it and buying a Bachmann Big Hauler Tweetsie Railroad set instead.

What’s your favorite part of the hobby?

model train with load of logs on track with snow surrounding it
Trains run all year on the Kittatinny Mountain Railroad. Shawn Viggiano photo

I always had an interest in local history, trains, especially logging and steam trains from the late 1800s. I was also an outdoor person, spending hours in the woods looking for old farmsteads and railbeds. I was never one for being indoors. Garden railroading was a way for me to incorporate my pastime activities. It also has allowed me to create my childhood dreams of a train layout outside using live steam engines to pull the cars around the track. Over time I found that running live steam trains in the snow became my favorite part of the hobby and sharing my photos and videos via my Facebook page worldwide. There’s something magical about a live steam running through a landscape of freshly fallen snow.

What’s your least favorite part?

My least favorite part of the hobby is the expense. I was always on a limited budget and had no modeling skills. To be able to afford a railway, I was forced to build all my stuff using whatever I had around the house or from local stores.

What has been your biggest modeling success?

model steam engine with train crosses wood trestle
The Forney takes a mixed train across the wood trestle. Shawn Viggiano photo

My biggest success in garden railroading was being able to create my own models, whether it be structures, a locomotive, or rolling stock. So is being able to build most of my stuff with whatever I could find that would work. One model that comes into mind is a Class A Climax built from scratch. It really taught me how to wire a locomotive and convert it into battery. It also taught me how to build using plans and pictures and then creating a plausible model based off the photos.

What was your biggest modeling mistake?

I’ve made many mistakes over the years. There isn’t really one that stands out. I just learned how to cover up those mistakes. In the end I can’t really say they were mistakes; I like to say that my mistakes add character and make my railroad original.

What advice would you give to a new hobbyist?

Model steam engine with load of logs on garden railway
It’s a fall day on the Kittatinny Mountain Railroad. Shawn Viggiano photo

Start out small. Too many people think they need to start out big, only to end up having a large collection of trains and buildings but not having a layout to run them on. Start with a small railway so you can get something running and your hands dirty. Once you have that you can expand.

You also don’t need that Dash 9 or Big Boy to start out with, especially if you don’t have the money. Start with smaller type locomotives and rolling stock. The larger layout can be overwhelming to someone starting out and can take years to build before getting a train running. I found this can get people to lose interest. Get something running. That way, you can enjoy the trains while you expand.

More from Shawn Viggiano

Bellflower Cricket on a cold day

Christmas in the backwoods

Garden railroading in the winter

Steaming in the spring snow

Weathering winter in the woods


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