Sunday, June 30, 2002

Garden railway a model event

By Gina Holt
Enquirer contributor

        FORT MITCHELL — More than 1,400 people from all over the country have come together in Northern Kentucky this week to compare “garden” trains and learn how they can make them better.

        The 18th National Garden Railway Convention started Thursday and runs through today at the Drawbridge Inn in Fort Mitchell. The Greater Cincinnati Garden Railway Society is sponsoring the convention for the third time in 11 years.

        Garden railways are built in yards using plants and flowers to enhance the landscaping.

        “We have almost 600 feet of track,” said convention coordinator Grace Budinger, 75, of Montgomery, about the railway in her yard. “We have 30 buildings, stores and churches. An engine is like the size of a loaf of bread,” she added. “The people are as big as your middle finger.”

        All the buildings in the Budingers' display are lighted at night, making it resemble a little village.

        “We got into it because my husband retired and I didn't want him sorting out my spices,” Mrs. Budinger said. “He always loved trains and I said, "You're going outside.'”

        “People come together to check out each other's layouts,” she said about the convention. “The people also come in to learn. There is a clinic each day. Different vendors are here. People come to buy.”

        John Lange, 53, of Villa Hills has a garden railway that covers 1,600 square feet in his backyard. It's 400 feet of track with about 12 buildings, 30 people and a flock of animals.

        “I've always been interested in trains,” said Mr. Lange, who retired last year as a mechanical engineer in product development at Procter & Gamble.

        He had a train room in his house until it became a bedroom for his third child. He missed his hobby and eventually someone from work introduced him to garden railways.

        Mr. Lange's home is well-known in Northern Kentucky for his Christmas display.

        “We decorate the entire layout with Christmas lights,” Mr. Lange said. He uses 8,000 lights around the train and a total of 30,000 lights outside. “Every Wednesday night, from Thanksgiving to New Year's, we open it to the public.”

        He does not advertise the display, but said word-of-mouth brings nearly 2,000 people to his home on Wesley Drive every year.

        Martha Lange loves having a well-known house.

        “It's fun,” she said. “What better way to enjoy it than to share it with each other. People look forward to coming. We feel like we'd disappoint them if we didn't do it.”

        Dan Stenger, 45, of Richwood, can run two trains at once and has about 25 people and 15 buildings in his display.

        “I've been into model railroading for 30 years,” Mr. Stenger said. “I was able to put gardening and railroading into one hobby.”

        Mr. Stenger said he came to the convention to learn.

        “It's a chance to see other people's railroads,” he said. “We learn to trim plants and build waterfalls. It's just fun.”


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