Retired Engineer Creates Intricate Tracks of Garden Trains

Photographer / Amy Counts

Retired industrial electrical engineer Don Davis has always had an interest in trains. For years he owned a Lionel train set and his father worked for the railroad. However, for the last 14 years, he has taken his model train hobby to a level rarely realized. During the warmer months, the backyard of Davis and his wife Norma is transformed into a magical land through which his five tracks of garden trains travel.

“We wintered down in Tucson, Arizona for a couple of years,” Davis says. “My daughter lived there. We discovered outdoor garden trains set up in people’s backyards. I started with ours in 2005.”

Larger than regular model trains, garden trains are sometimes referred to as G gauge and usually have a one-to-32 scale to real trains. They are made of strong materials designed to stand up to outdoor weather and direct sunlight. Setting up a garden railroad is a labor love. It requires preparing the space for the tracks, setting up a sound system, developing geological features and putting in vegetation to enhance the scenery. For Davis, the sky is the limit.

“Every year it changes,” he says. “I just keep adding to it. In the beginning, I set the track with four-by-eight timbers. I had to dig it out and make trenches. I used the removed dirt to make mountains with tunnels and waterfalls. Then I added a village with cars, shops and houses. It includes a service station and a fire department with trucks.”

As time went on Davis developed many different scenes. The old western village includes a stagecoach parked outside a saloon where sounds of a piano playing and laughter are heard. Beyond the town, buffalo are grazing and wild animals such as grizzly bears and deer are seen in the mountains. Miners are loading their gold in wagons. Down below, the sounds of clucking chickens come from a large farm while the race track has a big horse barn and grandstands filled with spectators. To complete it all is a circus, complete with a big top tent, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and clowns.

“I run five trains at a time,” Davis adds. “My favorite is an old Shay steam engine. It’s used in the mountains to bring timber down. This year, I added a track with a depot at each end that has a trolley running back and forth between the two.”

Davis is affiliated with a few organizations that he enjoys sharing his garden trains with. He is a member of Indiana Large Scale Railroaders and takes his turn hosting club open houses. He and his wife enjoy riding a Honda Motorcycle Trike and have invited the Circle City Motor Cycle Honda Club to view his railroad. He has also shown it to a local Corvette club.

When asked what he is planning to add next year, Davis laughs, “I’m running out of space. I’m just thinking about how I have to take everything down when the weather turns cooler. I take up everything but the brass track which I just clean up in the spring. It takes a whole day if I don’t stop. It takes a whole lot longer to set it up.”

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