All aboard the garden railway tour

09/13/2013 12:00 AM

09/12/2013 8:09 PM

When David Rothenberger decided to pursue a new hobby three years ago – a model railroad for the garden – he was retired and didn’t exactly have a lot of money to spend on it.

Because of that and because he likes to build things, he started making his railroad from scratch. Three years later, you can see what he’s created if you go on the 16th annual garden railway tour on Sept. 21 – all three tunnels, gold mine, trestles and pond of it.

“He comes up with a lot of stuff,” his wife, Marie, said.

The free tour, which runs rain or shine, will cover seven home railways and the Gene Spear Garden Railway at Botanica – which means free admission to Botanica for the holder of a tour map and his immediate family during tour hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Sept. 21.

The Rothenbergers’ layout shows how you can build a compact garden railway in a small space, David said. It’s in a corner of the backyard formed by a screened-in porch and kitchen nook that he built onto the house.

The model trains cross a bridge to chug through an opening in the screened-in porch for storage – and the goldfish pond extends under one of the walls and into the porch as well. When the leaves of an overhanging sycamore start falling in the autumn, the Rothenbergers put a net over the pond outdoors, and still have an opening indoors where they can feed the fish. (They do have to put a board over the opening in the porch, though, when their son’s shih tzu comes over. It fell in the drink once.)

David Rothenberger has built everything except the tracks, the engines and the caboose. He’s built the trains’ cars, and a water tower (reminiscent of the one from “Petticoat Junction”), and a functioning water wheel. A waterfall spills out from under the gold mine and over rocks down to the pond.

“I had a lot of fun building the trestles and getting them to be nice and even coming around,” Rothenberger said.

Inside the screened-in porch during the tour, you can watch a video of how the railway was built, and even footage shot from a camera that Rothenberger mounted on one of the trains.

“Did you see the eagle’s nest?” Marie Rothenberger asked. I sure did – a tangle of browned honeysuckle vine, white feathers from birds that drink out of the model railroad’s shallow “river,” and eggs made of white clay, all atop a cool rock formation.

“Next year we’ll people-fy it,” David Rothenberger said, hoping to add characters to the layout.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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