One way to take a garden from ordinary to extraordinary is by adding a model railroad. A personal railway system may be integrated with plants, rocks and boulders, bridges, tunnels and buildings (churches, stores and shops, and a rail station). The possibilities are endless.
Garden railroads are popular worldwide and several have found their way to Idyllwild.
Warren Monroe, Idyllwild Water District board president, has been working with G-scale railroads for 15 to 20 years. His Idyll-Mountain Railroad has more than 300 feet of track, 29 locomotives, 70 cars, trolleys, a snow plow and a caboose that actually cleans the track as it runs. Monroe’s display includes several buildings, houses, a bridge and a tower. As a volunteer, he helped in constructing the Living Desert’s garden railroad, as well as giving educational talks and operating the trains. “It all started when the Living Desert received a donation of a Christmas train,” Monroe said. “It started on a 4-by-8 sheet. As they received more train donations, they kept expanding it. It got so popular that it just kept on growing.” Monroe also maintains the G-scale train that runs at Jo’Ann’s downtown and provides some of the locomotives and cars. Asked when his interest in trains began, Monroe said, “I got a Lionel train set for Christmas one year; I think that was the beginning.”
Tom Lovejoy, an Idyllwild resident for more than 23 years, retired after 10 years managing IWD. “My wife said I needed a hobby, something to keep me active. I said, ‘How about I build a railroad?’ and that’s how all of this started.” Tom and Patti have been married for 55 years.
Lovejoy’s G-scale railroad was built over three summers. The first phase was built in an elevated, planter-like area, complete with a small community, including a church, gas station, general store, horse arena and other buildings you’d expect to see in a small Western town, complete with a gunfight in the middle of the town’s street. The second phase was the elevated figure eight he constructed. “I estimate that I have 400 to 500 feet of track,” he said, “including the third phase that loops around the depot.” The depot is a large red barn where he stores the train engines, cars, track and other railroad supplies. Lovejoy has more than 100 cars in his collection of which 12 are a variety of engine styles.
Bob Blankman built his home in Idyllwild in 1978 and created a railroad display that covers a large part of his property. “I was always interested in trains. I would stop at railroad museums whenever I traveled.” About 14 years ago, Blankman decided to build his garden railroad. “I had a train set in my basement on a piece of plywood covering my pool table,” said Blankman. “I decided it would be a fun project.” Blankman’s display includes more than 280 feet of track, numerous classic locomotives, an inn, cattle cars, a Shell tanker and a functioning water wheel. “I leave the display up all year long, but the squirrels are making it look like a ghost town,” he laughed. The cars, however, are carefully stored out of the elements.
Monroe, Lovejoy and Blankman belong to the Temecula Valley Garden Railway Society, an organization for garden railroad enthusiasts. The group is comprised of about 50 members, 30 of whom are active. They meet monthly and spend about three hours socializing and enjoying all things railroad at the home of the hosting member.
For anyone interested in creating their own railroad garden, Idyllwild Garden Club will host Rick Bremer of the Pomona Fairplex Garden Railroad Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Idyllwild Community Church, 54400 N. Circle Dr. A potluck buffet lunch will be served at noon and Bremer will begin speaking around 12:30 p.m. Membership is not required, but donations are appreciated.