The Arizona Big Train Operators are not only “big” in terms of the size of model trains they run, but also on holiday spirit as they host the Trains in the Garden Christmas Open House Tours again this year.
Members of the group are fans of the G-scale garden railroads, the largest of their kind, with train cars that are 1/24th scale and stand five or six inches tall. The group meets monthly. Then, twice each year — in the spring and at Christmastime — they host benefit events with tours of various members’ backyard railroad layouts.
This year’s tour will benefit the promotion of garden railroading and provide funds to maintain the indoor garden railroad at Cardon Children’s Medical Center at Banner Desert Hospital in Mesa.
In addition to the railroad at the medical center, the tour includes 15 homes across the Valley. The homes are located in Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, Sun Lakes, Chandler, Gold Canyon, San Tan Valley and Phoenix.
Ennis Thompson, ABTO vice president, says each of the displays has its own unique features, and many are decorated for Christmas.
“My motif is called Bonneville Mills. I am from Indiana and there is an old grist mill there called Bonneville,” he explained, noting that his layout includes 14 houses and other elements that portray his home state.
“Rich Hall has a real nice layout called Rooster Creek that depicts Iowa and Kansas,” he said.
Hall also has a separate circus room with a Ferris wheel, a carousel and a stationery train of cast cars that ultimately will include all of the more than 90 cars of the Ringling Circus train.
At a display in Chandler, Jack Johnson “has a real eclectic layout,” Thompson said. “He has five trains running all the time.”
Dennis Busby, who helped design the displays for Thompson and Hall, has a “premier layout” of his own in Gold Canyon, Thompson said.
At all 15 stops on the tour, visitors may walk around and see the layouts of cities, towns and landscaped gardens, many adorned with holiday lights and decorations. At the Cardon Children’s Medical Center, the railroad has three trains plus a trolley running through a large display of well-designed scenery.
Thompson said his own interest in the big trains started when he was a young boy. “My dad and grandpa were railroad engineers,” he said. “I worked on the railroad for four years, then taught elementary school; and I have always liked to build things.”
“But,” he added, “Trains seem to have a fascination for everyone.”
The tour will be open this weekend, Saturday, Dec. 15 and Sunday, Dec. 16. Most locations will be open from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
For more information, including maps and videos of the locations and specific times for certain displays, visit www.azbigtrains.org and click on the Christmas train. Information is also available on its Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/HolidayGardenTrains.
There is no charge to see these railroads, but tax-deductible donations are accepted at each site and are used to support ABTO and the railroad at Cardon Children’s Medical Center.