By Bonnie Sitter
Pat and her husband Jim Campbell live on a farm in Perth County which provides the space to show off their hobby and passion which they call Paradise Railway. How do you begin to build your very own garden railway? Jim and Pat joined not one, but two, Garden Railway Clubs in 2005 and began the process of listening and taking advice from club members who offered encouragement and ideas about how to make a garden railway
The year was 2007 when “things” really started to move ahead. Having studied the layouts of other garden railways, the Campbells felt they were ready to begin to transform their backyard garden. Out came the graph paper and an oval area was designed measuring 45 feet long and 25 feet wide.
A G-scale or Garden Railway Scale ranges from 1:24 to 1:32, which is the proportion of their model engines and cars to the real items. The scale used for the buildings which are an important part of their display is 1/2 inch equals one foot. The track measures two inches wide and some of the train cars are 30 inches long. Choosing a Western theme meant they needed mountains. They brought in large fieldstones, mostly from their own farm, to outline the site. One very large grey stone weighed over a ton! The area inside the fieldstone needed to be levelled so topsoil was added and then they waited and waited until it finally settled. They cut two-by-four-inch Baleboard plastic lumber in order to make the base for the track. The tracks were ordered and placed on the bases that Jim had worked so hard to prepare. As the layout was coming together the Campbells purchased the LGB Canadian National Starter Set and set it up in the basement to see how it looked and ran. Of course one engine pulling a few cars is never enough. The next purchase was the Aristo Canadian Pacific Steam Engine and all seven cars. This limited edition set is a replica of the train that the royal family used when they visited Canada in the 1950s.
A friend and fellow garden railroader, Jeff, assured them that he would be their electrical engineer when the set up was ready for power. When Jeff completed his job and the trains started to roll, Jim and Pat were thrilled with how the trains ran. More engines were added to their setup because you can never have too many engines!
Pat had her steam engine purchased and Jim wanted a diesel engine, so a model of the White Pass and Yukon engine that runs between Skagway and Carcross was purchased. Eventually their engine total reached six. Each engine has its own electric motor and the low voltage current comes from the track. Most of the engines have their own sound (whistle), but one particular engine has the unique train sound of the South Simcoe Railway that runs out of Tottenham to Beeton Ontario. At any one time there are at least four engines running on the tracks pulling a variety of box cars, tankers etc.
The landscaping was designed with a variety of trees, mosses, miniature ferns, succulents etc. and they were planted throughout the display. There are 18 dwarf Alberta spruce and five maples that they keep well trimmed. Rocks and trees have been carefully placed to hide and then reveal the trains as they navigate the curves, tunnels and pass the variety of buildings with people, vehicles, wild animals plus of course horses and cattle in the farmyards. Jim and Pat are very proud of the buildings in their set up as they were all designed by Pat. Together they cut the cedar shingles that were needed. Their friend Jerry from Stratford loves to make things out of wood and he volunteered to make the buildings. Jerry’s wife Bernice also got involved and made tiny lace curtains for the log cabin and stained-glass windows for the church. A service station with a service garage is included in the layout and is dedicated to Jerry because he owned and operated such a business in Stratford for many years.
There are special places in Western Canada where Jim and Pat have visited that are depicted. One is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump which is a World Heritage site. Local Perth County landmarks are also included. The one room school called Brocksden, that Jim attended and is now a country school museum, is in the garden layout as is a local stone church and a log house where a friend lived as a child. The trains also pass by the house and barn from the “Little House on the Prairie” series. So many interesting things to enjoy as the trains come and go.
The Sloman School Car is a feature that gains attention. It is painted in CNR green and is pulled by a CNR engine just like it was when it travelled from Capreol to Foleyet. Fred Sloman taught the children in the School Car for nearly 40 years.
There are so many special features it is obvious that the Campbells have a passion for trains. Have they ever had a train wreck? Yes, they have! Pat described it as a dandy, just like in the movies.
The pathway around the layout allows for close up viewing and their grandchildren especially love it. It would be difficult not to be impressed with the work that has gone into this garden railway.
Each summer it takes them about four and a half hours to set up the layout. Only the engines are brought indoors overnight and the rest of the layout is covered. In the fall, they carefully store everything, except the tracks, inside.
The garden train project stems from wonderful memories Jim and Pat have of their travels on more than two dozen famous trains in countries including the U.S.A. ( Eastern States, Pennsylvania and Colorado), France, England, New Zealand and Switzerland. Rail trips in Canada include Ontario, Yukon, Labrador and British Columbia. A special train ride took them from Stratford to Kamloops, B.C. on Via Rail.
They love trains so much, they built their own railway in their garden. ◊