“I grew up in the era when we had trains at Christmas. I was 5 or 6 years old,” said Phil Hatrack, president of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Garden Railway Society. “It’s only been the past 15 years that I have rekindled my interest in model trains. It’s full-blown.”
Garden railway is typically practiced outdoors, with tracks permanently installed in garden beds (the brass tracks are designed to withstand weather). Because the Philadelphia Flower Show is the largest indoor flower show in the world, the kids had to bring their toys inside.
In accordance with the Flower Show’s theme — the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service — the trains run through vignettes representing 11 national parks, including Yellowstone (with working geyser), Gettysburg (with tiny, hand-cast memorial statuary), and the mecca for rail fans and trainspotters, Steamtown.
“It doesn’t look exactly like Steamtown,” said Hatrack of his re-creation of the historic rail yard in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “What I did was build things to depict the famous features of Steamtown. The roundhouse. The turntable, used to rotate locomotives. That’s a notable feature.”
To be part of the Flower Show, the railway vignettes had to feature real plants. No miniature plastic trees allowed. So the railway society had to engineer rail beds with false bottoms, into which they could insert more than 200 red, plastic cups as planters, buried in mulch. They also had to figure out how to put Old Faithful on a timer.
“That’s model railroad,” said vice president Rich Bowen. “It’s engineering, carpentry, construction, electronics, artistry. It’s everything. You never tire of it. It never gets old. We’re just bigger people who still play with trains.”