Old-fashioned train garden in Arbutus delights all ages

Kaitlyn Hughes had no trouble picking out her favorite in the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department's 19th annual train garden display. The 12-year-old, who came with her cousins, liked the autumn scene the best.

"I like it because I like fall," said Kaitlyn, of Edgewood, as she watched the trains circle the various scenes. "It's my favorite time of year."

She was baffled by the dinosaur sitting in the scene, however, as were Vanessa and Allison Carroll, of Halethorpe.

"We're not sure about about the the dinosaurs," admitted Vanessa, who was visiting for the first time before getting a Christmas tree from the parking lot. "It's nice. We usually go to Ellicott City's train garden. This is bigger."

For the last 19 years, the fire department has hosted a Christmas garden. Each year, the train display is different. Some years, visitors are asked to spot various items throughout the gardens. Others, they are encouraged to find a certain number of items – like dinosaurs. This year, there are three gardens running and the dinosaurs were just placed randomly.

"We have nine trains this year," said Connie Atkinson, who along with her husband, Chuck, have helped lay out the trains for the department since the garden's beginning. "We've had as many as 21. It varies on the shape of the Christmas garden. When we have small shapes like this, it limits it."

Work begins on the gardens the last week of July, Atkinson said, with someone working on it six days every week. The Atkinsons use a room that the department had designed to be used by the gardens. For seven months of the year, the room is filled with trains, the remaining months, the room can be rented out.

Cheryl and Greg Saylor of Severn were visiting the garden to get ideas for their own train garden, which Greg is planning to measure about 8- by 8-feet.

"We're getting ready to start building our own little garden," Cheryl said, looking around the villages. "There are so many details, a lot to see in one spot."

"I like the trestles and the two-train set-up running one over another," said Greg, nodding to a corner. "It maximizes my layout for space I have to work with."

From 6,000 to 10,000 people visit the train garden during the six weeks it is open.

This year, the garden is open weekdays, 6:30-8:30 p.m. and weekends, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., until Jan. 5. Special holiday hours on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Christmas Day. Admission is free, but donationas are accepted.

While many of the engines are owned by the Atkinsons, most of the "rolling stock," or cars being pulled by the engines, are owned by the fire department, as are the various buildings.

The black steam train was Andrew Throneburgh's favorite. The 6-year-old Halethorpe resident comes every year with his family.

"We typically buy a tree out front and during that time, we pop in here," said Ryan Throneburgh, Andrew's dad. "The kids enjoy it."

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