The Washington, Virginia & Maryland Garden Railway Society
What is Garden Railroading?
During the past fifteen or so years, the Garden Railroading hobby has seen rapid growth here in the United States. Garden Railroading is simply this: take a garden, lay some track through it (yes outdoors) and operate the trains in and amongst the plants. This simple explanation tends to elicit many questions. Model railroading in the U.S. was so deeply entrenched in electrically powered trains that the thought of running these trains outdoors seemed odd or even dangerous to some. In 1968 a German toy manufacturer decided to use a scale and gauge of model trains that had not been actively modeled since the late 1800’s, and developed large weatherproof electric trains with sealed components. This allowed trains to be set up outside on the lawn and to be operated by children with ease. This, of course, intrigued a few model railroaders to take this idea further, and to build more intricate railways complete with buildings, miniature plants and natural landscapes. Garden railroading is a way to create miniature wonderlands in and amongst our everyday surroundings.
A Brief History of the WVMGRS
When Garden Railroading began to gain momentum in the early 1980’s it was only natural that clubs and societies would form across the United States. Shortly after the publication of a magazine called Garden Railways, (which had grown from a local newsletter in Denver, Colorado), hobbyists in the Washington, Virginia, and Maryland area began to band together. Many of these founding members met each other at small conventions devoted to the new hobby and clubs that were faithful to a specific manufacturer who held the lead in large scale outdoor electric, LGB of Germany.During 1986 these founding members met at each others homes to share experiences and philosophies about this new hobby. Some of these members had maintained a garden railway in one form or another for many years. Others were new, urged on by the idea of being able to integrate their gardening and railroading into a combined venue. An announcement was sent to Garden Railways magazine announcing the forming of the WVMGRS and during 1986-1987 membership began to grow.
In September of 1987, it was decided to take the informal group one more step and the initial Constitution and By-laws were drafted to formally inaugurate the Society. The same thing was happening across the U.S. During this time frame, the WVMGRS was one of the initial seven Garden Railway Societies listed in the December 1987 edition of Garden Railways magazine.
The years that followed for the hobby and the Society moved at a fast and furious pace. Manufacturers were jumping into the large scale outdoor railway business as news of this fun and exciting family oriented hobby spread. In 1992 the Society was officially incorporated as a Non-profit Organization in the State of Maryland. Our membership now stands at approximately 120 individual or family memberships.
During the formative years of the Society, public displays at nurseries and train shows were the basic tool for recruiting new members. The WVMGRS won several awards at Flower Shows and hosted local mini-conventions. In 1992 and 1997, the Society undertook the enormous responsibility of hosting the Annual National Garden Railway conventions that brought 1500-2000 visitors to Washington DC to see garden railway layouts designed by WVMGRS members.
The club started doing a Holiday display at the U.S. Botanic Gardens in the late 1990’s that lasted 5 years. We had several circular tracks around and under large holiday trees and ran several trains, including “live steam”. These displays were suspended for a few years while the USBG underwent complete renovation, and then we produced a few more layouts before our run with them ended.
The club became involved with the Fairfax Station Museum. The museum hosts an “all scales” train show the 1st weekend in December every year, now in its 19th year. This show is a major fund raiser for the museum.
Beginning in 2005, the WVMGRS joined with Brookside Gardens located within the Wheaton Regional Park in Montgomery County, Maryland, to put a Holiday train display on from the day after Thanksgiving through the first of January each year. This display has quickly become a favorite of several thousand visitors who also go to the gardens to see the “Garden of Lights”, which runs from mid-November into the first of January. Our display takes approximately one week to put together, with numerous members helping out. And, Brookside adds the trees, shrubs and flowers to make this display a great place to visit. Last year, when a wedding was held at the gardens, the bride and groom chose our bridge overlooking the train display for some photos shoots.
To foster club camaraderie, we also go visit historic railroads together, such as a weekend in Strasburg, PA, joining the Shenandoah and Potomac Valley Garden Railway Club as guests at their annual picnic and ride on the Walkersville Southern Railroad, and other fun outings.
Membership in the Society is open to everyone. The Society’s monthly meetings are held at members’ homes during good weather and at public meeting halls during the cold weather months. Meeting places generally alternate between Virginia and Maryland areas, and also alternate between Saturday and Sunday, allowing for the varied schedules of our members. The club is a great way to learn about garden railroading, and each meeting we try to put on a demonstration for members to enjoy and take away something that could benefit their own layout or interests.
Through the years the Society has developed its own traditions and is one of the largest and oldest Garden Railway Society’s on the Eastern Coast. The society puts on approximately 11-12 shows each year which are open to the public. With the great club participation we have had many excellent layouts through the years, and often get kudos from our visitors.