Many people remember a childhood with an
electric train set. Perhaps it was an HO-scale
layout on a sheet of plywood in the basement or
a brand-new Lionel set first discovered under
the Christmas tree. While most of those train
sets have been long since put away, some
Southern Illinoisans' fondness for model
railroading has grown, both in levels of
interest and in the size of their trains.
John Bible of Jonesboro is among area G-scale
model railroading enthusiasts, pursuing a hobby
that can take over not only basements and
garages, but outdoor spaces as well. In fact,
Bible's train layout takes up the entire front
yard of his home near Jonesboro
Officially, G-scale trains, also known as garden
trains, run on tracks that are 45 millimeters
(about 1¾ inches) wide. That makes the trains
themselves about 1/29th the size of actual rail
cars and engines. As such, G-scale locomotives
are up to 18 inches long, stand 5 or 6 inches
tall and weigh up to 8 pounds. The size of the
models and their ability to withstand less-than
ideal handling and all sorts of weather make
G-scale very popular for outdoor train layouts.
"I had a small HO (1/87th size) scale layout in
my bedroom when I was younger that my father
helped me with. I had forgotten about it, then
one Christmas after my son was born, we got a
starter G-scale set and it's sort of gotten out
of hand since," Bible says, adding that he's
always been intrigued by the G-scale, especially
the trains' applications for outside layouts.
Today, Bible works on his outdoor layout almost
daily, often assisted by his son, Noah, age 7.
"It's a family hobby," Bible explains. "It's not
just trains; this hobby gets you outside and
even involves gardening."
During the winter months, Noah helps with inside
projects such as painting rolling stock or
making electrical connections. When the
weather's nice, father and son often can be
found working on the outdoor layout or running
the trains around Bible Grove, the name they
have given to their layout and model railroad.
"We have a few hundred feet of track and more to
put down," he says. "This is a hobby where
you're never really done; you're constantly
Bible's layout is not as big as those of other
area hobbyists. Andy Clarke says the G-scale
layout at his home south of Nashville consists
of nearly 1,200 feet of track; that's the scaled
equivalent of more than six miles of rail line.
"My wife says we built our house around the
railroad," Clarke says. "It runs through the
basement and outside through a window."
He says his model railroad includes 30
locomotives and some 200 freight cars. Unlike
when he was a child with an HO model railroad,
Clarke says this layout is about more than
watching trains run in circles.
"I'm setting it up as my own fictitious
railroad, and I'm into operations, meaning I
model things like actual runs, picking up and
dropping off cargo."
"Ops," as enthusiasts call this type of
modeling, is growing in popularity, says Scott
Fowler of Benton. Fowler, who has a 630
-square-foot G-scale operation of his own, is
president of the Southern Illinois Train Club
and a worldwide organization called the Big
Train Operators Club.
"The camaraderie of the clubs is great, and you
are able to get advice from other G-scalers on
everything from how to wire a switch to how to
keep the miniature trees in your outdoor layout
looking right," he says.
Fowler says one of the things he likes best
about the hobby is the range of people involved
in model railroading.
"I'm a blue collar guy, but at a G-scale
convention, you can sit with millionaires and
all be talking at the same level and about the
same things," he says.
Many of the hobbyists with outdoor layouts
participate in the Garden Gateway Railroad Club,
a St. Louis-based organization that regularly
meets at member homes to share their passion
with others. Bible credits the club with helping
him advance his railway. The Garden Gateway club
is responsible for trains at Barnes hospital and
both clubs exhibit at conventions and shows.
"It's a growing hobby and is becoming extremely
popular," Jim Kirk, owner of LGB Train Shop in
Carterville says. "Garden railroading is
probably only about 40 years old, which is
relatively new in terms of hobbies. Indoors or
out, I think people like G-scale because of the
size of it. It's large enough that small hands
can hold them, people with bad eye site can see
them better, and they can run in the rain and
the snow -they're impervious to weather, so
they're great for around gardens, pools and
Bible says the larger size also allows for
easier customization of models. His stock of
equipment includes a railroad snowplow for
winter and a trestle carries rails up to the
edge of a swimming pool, perfect for delivering
drinks to swimmers, he says. Across the yard,
track snakes through tunnels, around shrubbery
and over bridges.
While older model railroad locomotives ran from
powered tracks, today's G-scale locomotives use
lithium ion batteries placed inside the engines,
says Robby Dascotte, owner of RLD Hobbies in
Albion. Dascotte's company is one of the
nation's largest suppliers of G-scale models,
shipping around the globe.
"The technology today is amazing," he says. "The
battery issue is fantastic, and there are a lot
of different things you can do."
Dascotte tells of cameras that can be placed in
the noses of locomotives, relaying "engineer's
eye" views of the layout to monitors. He says
there are also sound systems for realistic
railroad ambiance. Everything, from the movement
of locomotives to rail switches and the lights
on accessories, are controlled by a wireless
electronic remote control, allowing operators to
move around their layouts. He adds that
hobbyists' trains can range from those modeled
after 1860s steam engines (there are even some
that actually are steam engines) to locomotives,
tankers and freight cars that look just like
those on the rails today.
Kirk says a basic starter G-scale train set is
about $200, from there, he adds, "the sky is the
limit." Dascotte says with batteries, lights and
sound, a modern-looking locomotive can run as
much as $800, and "trains don't look right with
just one locomotive," he adds.
Model railroaders don't consider the cost as
much as they value what the hobby brings to them
in terms of enjoyment and fellowship. "Working
on the railroad really takes my mind off of
everything else," Bible says. "I'm outside with
my family; I can have music playing and its