A unique club display

Northern Ohio Garden Railway Society sets up a display at the Miller Nature Preserve conservatory
1. This is one end of the back-and-forth automated trolley line. Sound effects from the station created a realistic background for the trolley’s arrival. The setting among tropical plants is reminiscent of an interurban line in the far south.
Don Parker
2. This mine scene was created with an automated mining train and light and sound effects. The three trees on the near side of the tracks are Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria sp., Zones 4-8), growing 1-4"/year.  The yellow-green groundcover is golden spikemoss (Selaginella brownii ‘Aurea’, Zones 6-10), which will eventually form mounds 2-4" high and 4-6" wide.
Don Parker
3. The trestle through this fantasy area was custom fitted to the space by one club member, while another provided the whimsical figures. The miniature plants in front of the trestle are: cascading over the front edge, variegated pearly wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Variegata’, Zones 6-10); in the middle, Tokyo Sun Japanese stonecrop (Sedum japonicum ‘Tokyo Sun’, Zones 7-11); climbing onto the trestle, a tiny ivy (Hedera helix ‘Peter Pan’, Zones 5-11).
Don Parker
4. A close-up of the plants along the front of the mine scene: Japanese dwarf juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’, Zones 4-9) on the left and beyond the sign, growing up to 12" tall and rambling several feet horizontally; above the rock is golden spikemoss, a primitive relative of some of the earliest ferns.
Don Parker
5. Further along, the tourist train passes some interesting small succulents: in the foreground under the little sign, a tiger jade plant (Crassula picturata, Zones 9-11), growing about 2" tall; behind that, under the train, is a succulent with many strange-sounding common names: Rattail Crassula, Watch Chain, Lizard’s Tail, Zipper Plant, and Princess Pine (Crassula muscosa, Zones 9-11). It grows 10-18" tall, with tiny succulent leaves that would fit in with the scale of garden-railway trains.
Don Parker
6. In this Jurassic Park-like setting an active volcano spews fresh lava down its sides while a Tyrannosaurus rex threatens a passing locomotive. The red-leaved tropical plants (Croton sp.) match the red-hot lava.
Don Parker
7. An informative sign tells the history of couplers used in trains in this country while a tandem trolley rolls across a bridge among banana trees.
Don Parker
8. This little dry-land scene was a popular one, located at ground level for the little ones to watch up close. The larger tree in the center is a Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa, cultivar).
Don Parker
9. This classic southwestern scene fits right in with the surrounding dry-land succulents.
Don Parker
"Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” echoed from the mine portal, followed by a flash of light and an explosive rumble deep in the mine. A line of ore cars headed by a mining locomotive clattered into the portal and soon returned, presumably with a load of ore. It was shunted onto a different track and trundled away from the mine before the next blast.

This automated scene was one of five railroad-layout scenes built by the Northern Ohio Garden Railway Society (NOGRS) in the Miller Nature Preserve conservatory (Avon, Ohio) last spring. Each detailed layout with its own theme was custom made to fit its space. The entire display wound through tropical plants and succulents over most of the planted area of the glass house.

Twelve members put in 200 hours over three weekends to install the display, working with the conservatory crew, who trimmed plants and helped make room for the trains. Miniature, scale-appropriate plants were provided and installed by Mulberry Creek Miniatures. There were interactive features and historical and informative signs to involve visitors. Presentations on aspects of the display, garden railroading, and special plants in the conservatory were given on 14 occasions by NOGRS members and Miller Nature Preserve staff. Those that were most popular with the public were “Meet the Engineers,” “Lorain and West Virginia Railroad History,” and a bonsai demonstration.

The club members had to deal with unusual circumstances in this setting, the most troublesome being the constant and excessive moisture. Plants in the conservatory—orchids, bromeliads, banana trees, and other exotic tropicals—require a warm, humid environment, provided by misters and hand-watering by staff. Obviously, this is not what is best suited to a garden railroad. Special care had to be taken to ensure electrical integrity and protection of equipment, including custom-built tunnels to house the trains, and switching areas and containers in buildings to house sound features and electronics. Maintenance of all of this took 50 hours during the two months that the display was up, handling “emergency” calls, frequently checking on the function of trains and special features, and watching for interference by rapidly growing tropical plants.

Layouts included a back-and-forth trolley line with station sounds (photo 1), the aforementioned mine scene (photos 2 and 4), a whimsical area with a tourist train (photos 3 and 5), log cabin and backwoods area, and a honey-bee train (kitbashed from an Aristo-Craft Eggliner) pulling a honey tank car. Part of the fantasy line featured a volcano in a Jurassic Park-like area with a Tyrannosaurus rex threatening passing trains (photo 6). Hot-air balloons and an airplane floated overhead, for those who looked up. A scavenger hunt for clues in the display engaged kids and adults alike. Little signs along the line acquainted visitors with terms such as “cowcatcher,” “piggyback,” “couplers,” and so on (photo 7).

Poster-size signs told the story of trains from the earliest days. There was something for everyone, from kids and families to train aficionados to old folks from a nursing home. And this was in addition to the six scenic displays and train runs that the NOGRS built for public viewing in the preceding year. You have to believe that they were having a lot of fun doing it.


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