With an invitation that seems to resound with a hearty “All Aboard,” the Arizona Big Train Operators have announced their Annual Spring Open House Railway Tour. For the 2013 Tour, 22 members — including seven stops in Mesa, two in Chandler, four in Sun Lakes, two in Gilbert and another in Gold Canyon — will open their large-scale backyard railways for the public to view and enjoy.
The ABTO organization, officially founded in 1996, was established to “promote and advance the interest of large-scale garden railroading in Arizona,” the group’s website states. 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.
In addition to monthly meetings, which are held to advance the camaraderie of its membership, discuss ideas and to work together on model railroading projects, the group hosts two open house tours annually – one at Christmas time and one in the spring.
“This event offers family-style fun for children of all ages to come out and enjoy. It is great to see the expressions on the faces of all ages when they see the miniature world of railroads,” event organizers say.
ABTO vice president Ennis Thompson says each of the displays has its own unique features. At each of the 22 stops on the tour, visitors may walk around and see all of the layouts with their cities, towns, bridges and landscaped gardens.
Among the garden railways that will be part of the spring tour, one of particular interest is at the Mesa home of Dennis and Lizabeth Sirrine. Sirrine said his interest in trains began when he was just a child and got his first train.
“I was hooked when I was three,” he said. He started with the G-scale trains in 1982 and said he adds to his backyard layout each year. Today, the Sirrine’s display is one of the largest in the area, with more than 6,000 feet of track.
“It has lakes and streams and all kinds of things. It’s really magical to watch it run,” Sirrine said.
At the Chandler home of Jack and Dorothy Johnson is an eclectic layout in which five trains are running all the time.”
“My motif is called Bonneville Mills,” Thompson said.
“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.
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.”
While no fees are charged, tax deductible donations will be accepted at each home and will be used to support ABTO activities throughout the valley, including the maintenance of the train layout at the Cardon Children’s Medical Center at Banner Desert Hospital in Mesa.
As part of the spring tour, the public is invited to visit the Medical Center as well to see the railroad there, which has three trains plus a trolley running through a large display of well-designed scenery.
The tour will run two days, with the 15 East Valley layouts open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 16. Locations in Phoenix and Glendale are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 17.
For more information, including addresses, maps and videos of the locations, visit www.azbigtrains.org.