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Michigan Model railroader out of basement, into the garden

Oversized version of traditional model train now chugs around maple trees and day lilies

BAY MILLS, Mich. – It’s hard to say if kids still play with model railroads. Certainly, our parents did, our grandparents for sure. Regardless, model railroading runs the gamut between a barebones “toy set” on an oval track on a floor, to elaborate table-top renderings of locomotives rolling through towns, industrial settings, and mountain ranges.

But if MR enthusiasts really get the bug, things get bigger. Like six times bigger. Like out of the house and into the backyard bigger.

Welcome to G (as in Garden) Scale model railroading. This is where Eric Newmann of Bay Mills Township in Michigan finds himself, along with his wife, Kim – in a world that takes up 55 by 22 feet of their backyard.

“I’ve been doing HO scale model railroads for 40 years,” said Newmann. “I started thinking about G scale about five years ago. When Covid hit, my wife wanted to make masks in the basement, so I dismantled my set and decided it was time to scale up.”

Now the basement is Kim’s crafting workshop. Eric has tools in a heated garage devoted to building his outdoor diorama, which has 300 feet of track threading through rolling hills and small rural crossings that include one trestle and three hand-built bridges.

The N&J Line – named for Newmann and Kim’s maiden name of Johnson – is 13 engines and 35 cars strong. “For the past year he’s been ordering track, rheostats, cars, and engines from eBay,” said Kim. “I’ve been keeping a close eye on UPS.”

Eric also spent the past year clearing an outdoor space and building a platform for his vision. He’s been planting track, moving dirt, wiring controls, and installing electricity since June. First motion on the N&J Line came shortly thereafter and has been going all summer.

“I didn’t have to give up any gardening space,” said Kim. “There’s lots of room to expand. Our property is one deep acre.” At any rate, she pointed out, Eric’s trains will thread past ornamental trees and flowers she prefers to plant. Some selections will include foliage more in line with G Scale.

“I’d like to get some miniature Alberta Spruce trees,” he said. “They only grow one to three feet high.” Eric and Kim agree that a variety of flower, called a hasta, would look nice.

It’s only natural that the Newmanns mutually embrace a hobby that marries gardening with railroading. Real railroading runs deep in Kim’s blood. “My grandpa worked for the Chesapeake-Ohio Line down in Saginaw,” she said. “He must’ve liked Eric because he gave Eric his rail red lantern and hardhat.”

And as summer trails into fall and then glides into winter, what will become of the N&J Line? Will it hibernate in a shelter, as bears do in these parts? Hardly.

“I can put snowplows on the engines,” Newmann pointed out.

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John Shibley

About the Author: John Shibley

John Shibley is a veteran writer, editor and photographer whose work has appeared locally and, via the Associated Press, in publications such as the New York Times
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