National Garden Railway Convention - 2006
22nd National Garden Railway Convention Santa Clara was the site of the 2006 edition of the National Garden Railway Convention. The Bay Area Garden Railway Society would serve as its host. Santa Clara is in Silicon Valley which is just south of San Francisco and around 20 minutes from where I live. Though I don't currently have a garden railway and none is planned for the foreseeable future I couldn't let this opportunity pass. Because it was held the week of the 4th of July holiday and I would be returning from Las Vegas that weekend I had to limit my attendance to a single day. I chose Thursday because that would get me into the train show that was to be held at the end of the convention as well as allowing me the opportunity to visit several garden layouts that were holding open houses.

I've always wondered what it would be like to have an open house to show off your layout and I was very pleased by the hospitality of the hosts. They all seemed to enjoy meeting people and it looked like they have had a lot of practice. Model Railroading can sometimes be a lonely hobby when most of your family, friends and co-workers have not only no interest but also little comprehension of what our hobby is all about. After having been asked questions like how much does it costs and do you like real trains as well it's easy to see why you would fail to mention your hobby or even close the door to you train room with you in it hoping that your visitors and your wife will just leave you in peace. Having people over who you know love trains must be very uplifting. Concerns on how your layout will be received is I think unfounded. Building my layout in my upstairs library may make having an open house a little more challenging but I think that when I finish my layout I would want to show it off. Not because it's anything special but rather I suspect being European in focus it's different than other layouts in my area. 

22nd National Garden Railway Convention22nd National Garden Railway Convention
22nd National Garden Railway Convention22nd National Garden Railway Convention22nd National Garden Railway Convention22nd National Garden Railway Convention22nd National Garden Railway Convention22nd National Garden Railway Convention22nd National Garden Railway Convention
In visiting the layouts you had an option of reserving a seat on the tour bus or using your own transportation which was what I elected to do. Each day there were different layouts on view with none repeating on other days. The first layout I chose was one hosted by Bob and Irene Brown.  The layout contained a mix of U.S. and Foreign trains which seems to be more common amongst the Garden Railway set than in the smaller gauges which tend to focus on a particular period and location. Garden Railroads are often what is called freelance and sometimes whimsical in nature. Since many garden railroaders have indoor layouts as well it's almost as if their outdoor layout allows them some freedom of the strictures that they place on their indoor empires. I didn't have the chance to ask this question but I would have been interested in Bob Brown's response because upstairs he had his famous On3 layout. The Browns are publishers of a wonderful bi-monthly magazine called Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette.

22nd National Garden Railway ConventionPacked into their layout were water features, miniature scale plants and wooden trestles. I especially liked their live steam locomotives. Their house and garden had a real lived in look rather than looking like someone had just moved in and not finished un-packing.  But to tell you the truth it was their On3 layout that I wanted to see most. Based on the quality of their magazine I must admit I had high expectations when I climbed up their stairs. The layout that I saw was not only amazing in it's detail but also charming in its subject matter. To describe the layout as museum quality is an understatement as it surpasses any layout that I have ever seen in private hands, hands that I understand have been busy for more than 40 years building the creation that I had in front of me. Bob holds a NMRA Master Model Railroader certificate and after seeing his railroad I can easily understand why. Looking at the layout you felt frozen in time, imagining that you had just checked into the Tahoe Inn, soaking up the last rays of the sun before dinner. 

The next layout I visited is owned by Charles & Elizabeth Garbett and is built around a pool. The motive power is mostly modified Bachmann with some scratch built. As you followed the layout along it's course you were shown several scenarios. I especially liked the harmony of the design and the vignette of the laundry that was hung out to dry.  Their house was very nicely situated in Palo Alto along a dirt path and I would have been satisfied just to tour their house, another one that looked well lived in. The reason I mention this is that most of our friends are immigrants and if anything a large screen TV, hooked up to a karaoke machine is the center of attention where as I much prefer a well stocked library and all sorts of bric brac.

From there I crossed the Bridge to Castro Valley and the home of Pat & Ken Martin. From the looks of things Ken has had a rather interesting life including a period where he raced cars. The grounds where the layout was situated was the largest that I would see that day and offered a 500' mainline. There were water features, multiple trains running and swings in which you could sit and watch the trains. The Martins have a roster of over 100 large scale locomotives and radio control was used in several places. Their layout was a veritable Disneyland of model railroading that could serve as either a focus or background for large parties that could be easily held in their backyard.

The last layout I visited was one in Fremont which is next door to where I live in Union City. This was the layout belonging to Rick and Liz Zem. The layout contained a small turntable and roundhouse and was made to represent lumber and mining during the '50s. The layout has recently been renovated and I must say their work is very impressive, especially the large trestles and the concrete rocks cast from aluminum foil molds.

All in all four very different layouts each offering hours of entertainment and of a quality each owner can be proud of ... which I'm sure they are. It's a lot of work to open your house to a bunch of strangers from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm and each should be commended. It was quite an eye opener to learn of so many layouts in my area and I can understand how popular layout tours have become at the national level. The Convention Program created by the Bay Area Garden Railway Society helped to make my tour a very enjoyable experience.

While my schedule unfortunately did not allow me to attend any of the seminars that were held as part of the convention I did attend the Large Scale Train Show where many of the companies involved in this segment of the hobby were able to show their products. The featured car of the convention is a 1/24 scale G-gauge Cable Car (powered) made by Accucraft Trains that retailed for $300. By the looks of it this was a very popular item and I know that I longed for one. 

The range of companies was quite extensive with representatives from AMS, LGB, Bachman and Aristo Craft to name a few.  Some of the notable products I saw were:

  • Steel Bridges by Eaglewings Iron Craft
  • Power Controls by Bridgewerks
  • Live Steam by Accucraft
  • Wireless Throttles by CVP Products

Mention should also be made of detail parts by Ozark Miniatures as well as new publications by Garden Railways Magazine. To top it off the Bay Area had a short line modular layout and the Live Steamers had a layout as well to run their live steam locomotives. This was my first American national convention as most of NMRA's conventions are held in the East Coast or mid-west which is the center of model railroading in the United States. Though I model German prototype there is much to enjoy and learn at these conventions.