Sally Edgett’s home was a stop on the American Association of
University Women’s garden club tour, her diverse, well-kept
perennial beds typically attracted, well, women.
But during the last tour, when some 350
people stopped by within a six-hour span, the crowd had changed. Her
visitors were about 50-50, men and women.
The reason, explains Sally’s husband,
Tom, is the railroad garden he engineered within his wife’s garden.
Tom, who is mostly retired, married his
interest in gardening with the fun he derives from model railroading.
The realistic, meticulously assembled result is an 18-by-25-foot
raised garden bed, sprouting around 50 species of dwarf spruce, birch,
juniper, barberry, moss and other plants, engulfing a G-scale railroad
"A garden railroad runs through an
existing garden," Tom insists. "I built a railroad garden
Each rail car on the Tom Edgett Line is
comparable in size to a loaf of bread. His collection includes six
One train of cars is a radio-controlled
diesel locomotive-caboose combo with a half-dozen beer-bearing cars in
Another has a smoke-puffing steam
engine pulling five passenger coaches. Still another is diesel engine
with eight coal cars in tow.
Tom began working on the railroad four
years ago, after viewing a garden railroad at Milwaukee’s Mitchell
Park Domes. "That got the juices flowing," he says.
With Sally’s assistance, he planned
out his rail empire. He began by sketching a layout over winter in
preparation for planting, stringing electrical wires and laying track
As was the case with constructing most
railroads, progress on the project came with a price. He had to fell a
crab apple tree in the yard of their home where the Edgetts have lived
"It really drew upon my knowledge
of engineering," says Tom, who has a background in industrial
video production and sales management. "This involves a little
bit of civil engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering. It is
a very challenging hobby, but it is also a lot of fun.
"Usually, the first time that
somebody sees this, their mouth opens," he says.
Tom selected Lannon stone, filled with
topsoil, to form the raised bed. Within the bed is a miniature version
of the hills, valleys and a river traversed by the Erie Railroad and
Pennsylvania Railroad. Tom chose the 1940s and 1950s as the time
period for his layout because he wanted to display both steam and
His trains chug through a mountain
tunnel, then enter a downtown district, a rural area and a forested
region, along the way passing Tom’s favorite species of tree, a
6-inch dwarf river birch.
The route traveled is hardly level —
track elevation ranges from 25 inches to about 8 inches.
An auto-reversing feature has trains
rolling in one direction, reaching the end of the line, then retracing
the route backward without the intervention of an engineer.
Tom’s interest in trains follows a
route back to his boyhood when he played with a Lionel model train.
Garden railroading is a hobby, he says,
that he and his wife can enjoy together.
In its formative years, the Edgetts’
railroad garden has been a seasonal endeavor that they shut down in
Now Tom wants to follow a railroad less
taken. With the introduction of a locomotive brandishing a snowplow,
or perhaps a motorized snowblower, he envisions wearing an engineer’s
"When the first snow falls, the
buildings get covered and the street lights shine on the snow and it’s
just beautiful," he says. "If the snow isn’t too deep, I
may take the rolling stock out in winter."