How we promote the hobby through teamwork

Ideas to promote large scale railroading
Nine-year-old David told the Make-A-Wish Foundation he wanted an electric train. Fifteen members from four organizations worked together to make the wish come true. A team member hauls in mulch, the last step, to finish this low-maintenance railway.
Nancy Norris
Clubs can make their own local version of this brochure to be distributed to model-train clubs, railroad museums, public train rides, and other railroad venues.
Rod Eaton
Clubs are a good way to get together with others to share and learn about the hobby of model railroading outdoors. We tend to gravitate toward those hobbyists who can show us something. Our enthusiastic regional gardening reporters have submitted so many stories about their clubs, I’ll keep mine brief, but here are two I’m excited to share.

David’s wish for a train

The Make-A-Wish Foundation ( contacted the Sacramento Valley Garden Railway Society ( to help make a boy’s dream of owning an electric train come true. Scotts Miracle-Gro has a philanthropic club ( that provided fertilizer, soil amendment, and volunteers. The Home Depot Foundation ( delivered construction materials, plants, and workers. Make-A-Wish did the organizing and bought the train set, tracks, and pizza. All of us learned new things. Some of those involved in the construction had never seen a garden railway until it was finished on day two, but will be telling friends about it from now on.

While we were busy in David’s backyard, he and his family were at the Sacramento Valley Railroad (a fifth team), where David was made an honorary engineer and given a cab ride on a locomotive. On returning home to his brand new garden railroad, David first “Woo-hooed,” then figured out how to control the trains. Within minutes he was planning how to augment the train by cutting logs for the flatcar. Watch him as volunteers from four teams try to contain their excitement at

BONUS: View a slideshow of the building of this special railroad.

TRAKS advertising brochure

Not everyone uses Google to figure out where to take the family to see model railroads and ride trains. In the “Letters” section of the October 2012, issue of GR, Rod Eaton explained how his “TRAKS” brochure promotes railroad venues in Minnesota.

Rod ( e-mailed me a file of the non-copyrighted header/title so that I could adopt the concept in Northern California. To make it attractive to adults as well as kids, I changed his subtitle so that it reads, “TRAKS, Train Related Activities for Kids to Seniors.” Now our area train venues are on one brochure. Every organization on the brochure shares the cost and distribution among dozens of clubs and non-profits. If every club on the brochure makes it available to guests, local tourist bureaus, museums, and train stations, then the folks already visiting those venues can see where to go next. We may get as many as 30 societies with train-related activities to distribute 500+ copies per club. 

Several times a year, war veterans (and other groups) visit the railway of Carl and Pat Churchill, here modeling one of Maine’s historic sawmills. Visitors enjoy lunch under the canopy.
Nancy Norris
Regional gardening reports

Zones listed are USDA Hardiness Zones

Question: Other than monthly open houses, what projects has your garden railway society undertaken to promote the hobby to new people or draw in “lone wolves” as prospective new members?

Art Handman
Maine Garden Railway Society
Gorham, Maine, Zone 5

The Maine Garden Railway Society ( has an extremely active group of members from all walks of life—lawyers, engineers, scientists, construction contractors, and many retirees. That diversity is one of our strengths, along with something we have in common—most have a family member or know someone who has worked for railroads.

Mall show. Our biggest event is a Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s operating display at the Maine Mall in South Portland, Maine. The 2012 holiday ( is our third year at the mall, with an even larger layout—36'-diameter on four levels. The mall put us in for an award with one of their associations last year and we came in fourth (out of 250) in national competition. One of the most rewarding aspects is the awe in children’s faces when they see our trains in operation. Parents see this, which we hope will encourage them to develop that interest into a lifelong hobby for their youngsters.

A BNSF locomotive pulls into the scale, historic Wayzata Depot, which sits next to the actual depot inside a raised, figure-eight garden-railroad exhibit open year-round to the public. The Minnesota Garden Railway Society scratchbuilt the structures and maintains the railway and the Lake Minnetonka Garden Club fabulously tends the plantings. Learn more at
Jan Scheier
Jan Schreier
Minnesota Garden Railway Society
Minnetonka, Minnesota, Zone 4

The Minnesota Garden Railway Society ( has active members ranging in age from 15 to over 80, who share ideas and help each other, whether they are novices or experienced model railroaders.  

Annual meeting.
During the cold winter months, we Minnesotans work on projects that we share with club members during our annual spring meeting, featuring our installation-ready projects, photos, door prizes, entertainment from our “Roundhouse Five” band, and, of course, food.
At the “Run what you brung” meet and greet, at Doug’s Northland Railroad, Ken Brunt, who started the annual “American Invasion” in 1998, keeps an eye on his steamer.
Chris Lyon
Doug Matheson
Ottawa Valley Garden Railway Society
Manotick, Ontario, Canada, Zone 4

The Ottawa Valley Garden Railway Society has no dues or officers—just garden railroading. Here’s how we’ve attained constant growth over the years:

Info/inspiration. Our active website ( gets more than 5,000 hits a month, due to regular updates by volunteer club members.

Annual invitational. In July, many of our friends from south-of-the-border join us for a weekend of operations known as the American Invasion. Last year, the Finger Lakes Live Steamers in Marengo, New York hosted one day of what has become a five-day event.

Weekly steamups. Every Saturday morning we run trains on a club member’s large railroad. We encourage visitors, especially small-scale-live-steam modelers, and give them a train to run. Many return to join our group.

Dick Friedman
Sacramento Valley Garden
Railway Society
Sacramento, California, Zone 9

In addition to monthly meetings, here are three of the ways the Sacramento Valley Garden Railway Society ( attracts and keeps new members:  

Public clinics. At our late-winter meeting, we organize workshops covering as many topics as we have members to present the clinics. Last year about 20% of attendees were non-members, and we’ve added some of them to the club roster.

Modular railroad. We set up a layout at about five or six venues in our area, run trains, pass out literature, and answer questions. Members without railways get the chance to run their trains.
Field trips. Last summer we took a trip to the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. It was different from many of our activities, attracted some members we seldom see, and recharged our modeling instincts. We’ll do that again!

Bill Hewitt
Rusty Rails & Rotten Ties/Boston Inner City Garden Railway Club
Mansfield, Massachusetts, Zone 5

I belong to two clubs: Rusty Rails & Rotten Ties and the Inner City Garden Railway Club of Boston. The latter is one of 1,200+ model-railroad clubs that use an international website registration,  It’s a “Community Portal…that provides free listings and event promotion for specialized communities’ organizations and their activities.”

Social/think tank. Rusty Rails is basically a social group that extends to Rhode Island. Members help other clubs, especially ICGRC, and share wisdom with newbies.

Modular service layout. ICGRC, while small in numbers, promotes the large-scale hobby bigtime, showing a modular layout, headed by John Carroll and Fred Malhouf. Three times a year
we take the layout to Boston Children’s Hospital to entertain the kids and families there. During the winter months, the layout operates at many of the local home shows.

At the Ames’ SJR&P Railway, 10 to 30 people run operation sessions all day on an 1,100' mainline, with dozens of branches. “Ops” tasks can run into the nighttime, as in real life.
Nancy Norris

Stan and Deb Ames
New Hampshire Garden Railway Society
Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Zone 5

Large-scale interest in New England is high but dispersed. The New Hampshire Garden Railway Society sponsors train shows, and the Central Connecticut G Gaugers has a large modular layout at one of the largest multi-scale shows in the US.

Regional meet. Several clubs in the area pooled their talents to sponsor a yearly, three-day event called “New England Large Scale,” (NELS), a friendly, open, social event where large-scale modelers could meet each other and share their models and enthusiasm. To appeal to a diverse group we held an array of activities, including an evening operating session, a “bring your train and run” picnic with a steam-up, a white-elephant table, and, on the final day, we opened many railways in the area to visitors. At the advice of GR magazine, we formalized registration and collected a nominal fee to help pay for the food. Because of glowing feedback, we plan to move the event to various locations across New England. See how we set up the show at

At most meetings, Columbus GRS offers how-to clinics that are helpful to both new and longtime members. CGRS will open their railways for the 2013 National Garden Railway Convention “Pre-tour” (
Jack Easterday
Cecil Easterday
Columbus Garden Railway Society
Columbus, Ohio, Zone 4

I’m so proud to call myself a member of this group. The Columbus Garden Railway Society has no constitution or bylaws, no officers, not even a budget, yet our club is very active—things get done! At every monthly meeting, 60-70 members show up, which allows us to quickly respond to each other’s ongoing railroad challenges.  

We are family. In the fall, we fill a large motor coach and travel together for four to six days, riding big trains, visiting museums, other garden railways, and public gardens. This allows people to get to know each other well and form friendships. Because of our volunteerism and raffle donations, we’ve kept the cost of our annual banquet the same for the last five years!

Helping hands. When it becomes difficult for members to drive to meetings, other members offer to pick them up and take them. When one couple had health problems and trouble getting their railroad going, CGRS organized a work party. Thirty-five members showed up to weed, clean track and buildings, and fix electrical issues. They even installed a passing siding. By the time they left, five trains were running and the railroad looked great! And you know that couple with health problems? It was my husband and I!

Frank Lucas, Bay Area GRS
Pleasant Hill, California, Zone 9

As Membership Coordinator for the Bay Area Garden Railway Society (, I call, greet, welcome, and interview all new applicants, answering their immediate questions.

Why do they join?
During the interview, I find that, by far, our number-one source for new members is through personal contact with one or more of our 268 member families. Why do they join? They say, “I had a train myself when I was growing up, and now that I am retired. . .”; “My grandson is. . .”; “Our nine-year old just loves. . .”; and sometimes even, “Well, I just inherited this box of. . .” (This last phrase pops up more often than you would think.) Eighty percent of them say they want to learn something.

A public welcome.
I submit a short biography of each new member family to our monthly newsletter, and also notify our special-interest groups (Live Steam, Modeling, Roving Garden Railroad) if a new member had expressed an interest. Also, if some special need or request is expressed, I have one of our members call them and work with the applicant personally and in more detail.  

In a welcoming letter sent to the new family/member, we encourage them to attach “New Member” ribbons to their BAGRS badges. This letter also suggests checking the newsletter for upcoming open houses, the annual meeting, the summer barbecue, the clinics, the contests, the swap meets, the steamups, the board meetings, the public outreach projects, etc.
Members of this “active adult” residential community run their garden railway weekly but open it to the public on advertised days. Note the easy-to-maintain benchwork-like roadbed, raised, with bark covered, slab-wood walls.
Nancy Norris
John Knych, Kishwaukee Valley & Eakin Creek Railroad
Huntley, Illinois, Zone 5

Sun City Huntley is a 55+, age-restricted community. Our Kishwaukee Valley & Eakin Creek Railroad was founded in the early days of the community’s origin in 1999. In addition to the pictured large-scale railroad, we also have layouts in O, HO, and N scales in our clubhouse.

Media. Our successful “Lifestyle” magazine, distributed door-to-door, covers events, both local and for the surrounding community. Our website ( is geared primarily to our residents but there is a public section that allows anyone to access announcements for upcoming events. When we hold our holiday open house, we distribute flyers to local hobby stores and to various public buildings around Huntley and neighboring towns. We also communicate with many local model-train clubs in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.


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