With Ken Martin

GREAT TRAIN-ING: About 600 people came to our house last week. They came by chartered bus. They car by car. They came from 40 states and 8 foreign countries. They came to view our garden railroad under the auspices of the National Garden Railway Convention.

A garden railroad, usually referred to as “G-scale”, for those that haven’t seen one, is a large scale model railroad (about twice the size of your Lionel) that runs outdoors, generally in or around the garden. It has scenery like any model railroad you may have seen. The major difference is that the ground, rocks and greenery are real but in miniature. The trees are actually live and growing. The locomotives, cars, and track are mostly produced by commercial manufacturers but some people build their own. The most common power source is electricity but there are also engines that run on live steam.

The National Garden Railway Convention is held each year at various locations throughout the country and usually draws about 2000 participants. Past conventions have been held in such places as Denver, Cincinnati, Orlando, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, Chicago, and the Bay Area. This year’s meet, the 22nd annual, was hosted again by the Bay Area Garden Railway Society (BAGRS), our local club of over 500 members. I say “again” because our club has hosted conventions in 1989, 1993, and 1998. Future convenings are scheduled for Las Vegas, Phoenix, Seattle, and Kansas City.

There are about 180 garden railroad layouts in the Bay Area. Over 100 were opened for the convention goers. Three of those were here in Castro Valley. The hosts were the Russ Miller family, Rich Johnson, and Patty and I. Open houses are busy and tiring but are a great fun day. Having people from all over the country and the world visit your home is a great experience.

Preparation for our open house got pretty hectic. For a number of reasons, our railroad was somewhat neglected for several months, so a lot of work was needed to get it in shape for visitors. Outdoor layouts, unlike their smaller scale indoor counterparts, are subject to the vagaries of the weather. After all the rain this year, there was track to align and ballast, trees to trim, buildings to repair, etc. With the help of Patty and a volunteer crew, we made it – barely!

All the activities center around the Santa Clara Convention Center, where the convention was headquartered. In addition to the layout tours, there was a barbeque, an ice cream social, and a banquet, all sponsored by various manufacturers. To allow you to absolutely lose your head, 50,000 square feet of the center was dedicated to vendors and manufacturers displaying everything that is available in G-scale trains and accessories. Temptations abound!

Garden railroading is great fun and is definitely a family hobby. Between the trains and the gardening, there’s something for every body. If you would like more information, contact me or go to

What’s up with your hobby? Contact CV Side Trips at or (510) 727-9296.