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Landscaping Collective Builds Backyard Railway Gardens

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the Minnesota summertime, it’s all about gardening, but if you’re in a rut when it comes to landscaping, there’s a new trend families can get on board with.

The Minnesota Garden Railway Society builds backyard railways, and its members are growing; there are now 130 people across the metro area tinkering with trains — small trains.

What Garden Railway Society president Mark Schreier doesn’t like, is if someone calls the tiny trains by the C-word.

“There’s nothing cute about railroading,” he said. “I would like my horn to be as loud as a real train, but I don’t think the city or my neighbors would like that.”

He started The Minnesota Garden Railway Society with just a plot of dirt in his backyard.

“My first bridge I built looked beautiful, and I went to run a train through and it was about 2 inches too narrow and I had to rip it apart and redo the bridge,” he said.

It took him three times to get it right. Now, with his club numbering well over 100 people, backyard railway enthusiasts are all learning from each other.

Jim Shaver of Minnetrista says his specialty is bridges and trusses. His yard layout started as a love of woodworking, and has turned into an entire town.

“My railroad is called the Gopher, Pug and Badger,” he said.

With membership fees of $15, joining the club isn’t pricey, but collecting the materials can be.

“An engine goes for about $200,” Schreier said. “But if you want to add sound so you can honk the horn, that’s another $150. If you want a remote control so you can honk the horn, that’s another $150.”

If you don’t have the space money or time to make one of your own, a number of the members come to the Wayzata depot and open up the landscape to everybody. Schreier says it’s open for view 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Kids light up when they see the only public layout garden railroad between Chicago and Denver, because these small scenes are still big to little ones.

“The younger they are the more they want to go up and grab it and knock it off the track,” Shaver said.

But don’t worry about the damage. Those who tinker with the trains know that sometimes the best laid plans get derailed.

For the $15 membership, you get access to open houses featuring Garden Railroads throughout the Twin Cities. As for what happens in the winter, only the electronics get pulled inside. All the other materials are able to withstand the elements.

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