Garden railroading is a hobby where individuals run small toy trains in their gardens rather than in their basements or family rooms. This move outdoors usually occurs when a spouse says, 'I don't care what you do outside, you're not having those trains in the house!' Many elaborate layouts exist in countries such as Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and the USA.
Where Did It Start?
Although toy trains date back to the 1800s, garden railroading is relatively new. Most modern garden railroads are gauge 'G' which is usually 1:20 or 1:24 scale. The other gauges that are not usually used in the garden are 'O', 'HO', 'N', 'Z' and a few obscure others. The old Lionel Trains run on gauge 'O', 'HO' is a smaller gauge developed in the 1950s, 'N' is even smaller and 'Z' is a micro gauge developed in Germany in the 1980s. The smaller gauge rivals 'G' in price, due to its miniature size. An entire 'Z' railroad can fit into a briefcase. The reason most are model railways are not used outside is due to their small size and lack of durability. Rust, corrosion, dirt, animals, insects and plants can play havoc with the motors and track. 'G' gauge is usually made of brass and resists corrosion more readily.
Some garden railroads are larger scale and can be ridden. Most modern garden railroads use some LGB parts, trains or track. LGB is an old German company that once made elaborate mechanical toys and developed the modern 'G' gauge track and trains in use today. Established in 1881 by Ernst Paul Lehmann in Brandenburg, Germany, they continued to make toys until 1948 when the factory was seized by the East German Government and was nationalized. The family moved to the West and continued to manufacture toys in Nurnberg. In 1968 two sons of the founder's cousin introduced the LGB trains and garden outdoor railroading. LGB stands simply for Lehmann Gross Bahn, translated as Lehmann Big Trains.
How Do They Work?
Many trains have electric motors and run similarly to their indoor cousins. Some are run from the current carried by the track, while others are converted to battery and radio control. Trains like this run from about £100 to around £500. Those converted to radio control can run to higher sums. £500 is only the starting point for the next category of garden railroad trains, steam locomotives in miniature that actually run. They have diesel oil glow plugs to heat a boiler that usually takes up to 20 or 30 minutes to produce a 'head of steam'. A steam engine can cost from £500 to £5000. Some engines burn coal and wood instead of diesel oil.
Where Does the Garden Come In?
For many, the garden is the main focus of the hobby. Enthusiasts spend thousands of pounds on plants that mimic the scale and theme they are trying to present. For example, dwarf juniper makes a great pine tree lookalike. There are many varieties of plants that produce very small flowers that seem perfect for the scale of garden railroads. Some people never run actual trains, but produce beautiful layouts and settings.
What About Structures?
Again, many people obsess about their bridges, tunnels, towns and other structures. Some buy plastic models, others build their own from scratch. There is a large industry that provides materials for making such things as stone buildings, mills, steel bridges and trestles. Some of these pre-built structures are quite expensive - it can cost £500 for a bridge, for example.
Where Do These People Congregate?
Many spend their holidays visiting other people's layouts. Most garden railroaders are very hospitable and like to show off their railroad. Some charge admission, others don't. Annual shows exhibit the newest gear and give clubs a chance to show their layouts. There is a large garden railroad at Disney World.
What Does One Look Like?
The author has collected several pictures on an external website that may help you to visualize this relatively new hobby. You can have a look...