Annual event benefits local food banks

Published in the July 12 – July 25, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

By Marty Cheek

Photo courtesy Garden Railroad Association
A young girl examines a steaming model volcano as part of a backyard garden railroad.

If you’re a model railroad enthusiast in the South Valley and need to let your caboose loose, Aug. 12 will be a special day where you can get back on track.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the public is welcomed to get a peek into the backyard train towns set up in 10 private homes in Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Hollister and Aromas — and the adventure is for a good cause.

The Bay Area Garden Railway Society and the South County Railroaders group will host the 23rd annual Garden Railroad Tour which will serve to benefit the St. Joseph’s Center in Gilroy and the Food Bank of San Benito County.

“Anybody can tour the railroads,” said Nigel Mallinson, an organizer of the event. “You can start wherever you want and you can visit one or all 10 railroads. All have something different to offer. Some are large with a lot of track and bridges, trestles, water. And some are smaller with a lot of detail and animation.”

Local railroad fans and families with kids who love model trains can pick up a guide book to the various locations of backyard train sets at BookSmart in Morgan Hill or Garden Accents in Gilroy. They can provide a nonperishable food donation such as canned goods, pasta or cereal. Cash and checks made out to “St. Joseph’s Center” or “Food Bank of San Benito County” are also accepted. Participants can bring a food donation to at least one railroad or they can donate to all of them, Mallinson said. There are three locations of the garden railroad tour in Morgan Hill, four in Gilroy, two in Hollister and one in Prunedale.

“Everybody loves garden railroads,” Mallinson said. “The kids like them so much that it’s hard to get them to leave. Their parents have to drag them out.”

The South County Railroaders are part of the Bay Area Garden Railroad Society, which throughout the year hosts open houses in cities across the San Francisco Bay Area. The South Valley division is the only one for this region. Member Dale McAnally started the food drive component of the popular garden tour many years ago and Mallinson took over the organization of the event two years ago.

“It’s our chance to give something back to the community and help the more unfortunate,” he said. “I like trains. My dad had a layout when I was a kid. I enjoy building and designing my animation features and running the trains for the kids.”

South County Railroaders member Tom Monti loves model railroads so much that he put the train set in his Morgan Hill backyard on the Garden Railroad Tour to share his passion for this fun hobby with others while helping to raise funds for the two nonprofit organizations.

“People should expect to experience an enlarged version of the type of trains typically seen around the Christmas tree,” he said. “My layout has approximately 200 feet of track that is configured in a disfigured loop with a few sidings. It encircles my pepper tree and then goes up the hill, through a tunnel and returns.”

Monti’s railroad is primarily focused on the modeling logging type railroads. The track stays out all year but the buildings and trains stay inside. His trains run off of a powered track, but many others railroads on the tour run battery operations with digital controls.

“Other railroads you may visit on the tour have animated features, such as an operating sawmill, mining operations with explosions, or other animation and sounds,” he said. “Each railroad is different. Some are small and some are large. Some have elaborate landscape and some have numerous hand built buildings. In the end, it’s your railroad to satisfy your vision.”

He enjoys the building of the layout and has constructed the bridges, tunnel portals and some of the buildings.

“I enjoy seeing others appreciate my work and giving them inspiration to pursue their own layouts,” he said. “I enjoy visiting other layout to see what they have done. It gives me inspiration of future changes for my layout.”
The annual Garden Railroad Tour is a fun way for families to enjoy a day together exploring the many elaborate train sets throughout the South Valley region, Monti said.

“This is a great tour because kids love trains,” he said. “Not only that, dad, the biggest kid, gets to see trains and gets to see that he could also have trains in his backyard. Mom can get excited about the idea that maybe dad could actually plant landscape in the backyard and maintain it. Mom gets a landscaped backyard and dad and the kids can play. Win-win-win.”