Summary: Garden railroad fans will enjoy the HO and G scale model train layout at the R&F Railroad in Riverside.
Location: 1463 Rimroad, Riverside, CA. To find out about the next open house, call (909) 780-1040; or visit www.rfrailroad.com
If you're a garden railroad buff, one of the most impressive model train layouts in the country lies in Riverside, California, at the home of Roger and Faith Clarkson's R&F Railroad.
Documented on CNN, NBC and ESPN — among other major media outlets — this delightful HO train and g scale garden model railroad sits on 1/3 acre of beautifully landscaped land with more than 2,500 feet of garden railroad track.
"We started the railroad in 1988, after visiting other garden railroads," said Roger Clarkson, a former hobby store owner. "Over the years, we've added different sections into what you see today."
And oh, what you'll see! All at once, 15 different trains chug their way through the Clarkson's charming g scale garden railroad, passing through tunnels, under waterfalls, into seaside towns and quaint little villages.
Cows moo in the farmhouse, church bells ring, and a tiny lumber worker yells "Timber!" from atop a logging camp. "We have several scenes that have sound," said Roger. "The problem is when you get so many sounds, it starts crossing over. So we try to keep the volume down."
At night, when all of the buildings light up, the Clarksons' garden resembles a miniature Disneyland. The oil refinery alone has more than 120 lights, complete with a burning flame.
About 70 percent of the tiny buildings were made from kits. The rest were built from scratch by the Clarksons. "I made the Mission out of foam and cement," said Roger, who calculated the height to 1/2-inch scale.
"We visit other railroad gardens and get ideas," said Roger. We modeled the dam after Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona. It's an actual scene that we photographed and then built to scale."
They also recreated a miniature Rainbow Bridge, which sits near Lake Powell on the Colorado River.
More than 5,000 people visit the Clarkson's garden railroad each year. Many are families; others are model train enthusiasts looking to craft their own garden railroad plans. "We pump about 350 gallons of water per minute, and all of the trains and lights use about 60 amps of electricity," said Roger.
It can be an expensive hobby. During the summer, the Clarkson's electric and water bills skyrocket. "But it drops in the winter," said Roger.
With so much money invested in the model train track, all of the garden railroad buildings were waterproofed. "We also throw waterproof canvas over items that took a long time to build," said Roger. "But you don't want to leave any of the cars or buildings with electronic sounds out."
If you want to learn how to design and build your garden railroad, Clarkson recommends subscribing to a garden railroad magazine such as "Garden Railway Magazine," or joining a garden railroad club such as the Southern California Garden Railways Society or attending a garden railroad convention.
Garden railroad supply stores like Pacific Coast Hobbies in Riverside, Train Quest in Moreno Valley and Valley Trains in Chino are all good sources for garden railroad ties, a garden railroad bridge and other fun items. Roger said that most people can buy a good starter set for around $140.
Roger said the possibility of snow shouldn't deter anyone from garden model railroading. "People run them in the snow all the time in places like Cincinnati and Germany," he said.
R&F's garden railroad scale is 1/2 inch to 1 foot on the outdoor g scale track. The Clarksons also own HO scale model trains. Their indoor HO train layout, modeled after the Wild West, has six trains and more than 100 structures illuminated with miniature lights. "The HO trains are the most popular train in the United States," said Roger. "The g scale is more popular in Europe since the largest manufacturer is LGB in Germany. What hurts is that it can be expensive.
"If you're serious about garden railroad trains, get the electric. The trouble with battery-operated versions is that they don't run long enough and the battery always has to be charged. You're better to spend a little more money on the LGB trains, which you can keep for a lifetime. They have a LGB repair center in San Diego, which does fantastic work."
According to Roger, garden railroad layouts at private homes like their's are often opened to the public. He said an open house is one of the best ways to get ideas for a garden railroad layout. "You can find out about them through the Southern California Garden Railways Society," said Roger.
1463 Rimroad, Riverside, CA. To find out about the next open house, call (909) 780-1040; or visit www.rfrailroad.com