model train set on track

Super Portable Train Gardens, Part 1: A Large Tabletop Train Garden

e*Train Issue: Jun 2023   |   Posted in:

This Train Garden uses only 3 loops of track, 3 transformer handles, and 3 pairs of wires!

By John Halajko, TCA #84-20653                                                                Summer e*Train 2023

In the mid to late 1990s I was a member of a Module RR Club that ran mostly MTH PS1 engines with some long consists of 60 to 100 cars. Modules were stored in a trailer pulled by a pickup truck. Setup and tear down were long tasks and required 5 to 6 guys over three hours. The layout was changed from show to show by members bringing new trains, accessories, or buildings making it more of a train garden than a stagnant layout.

I am now an active member of the TCA Atlantic Division. We enjoy sharing our traveling layout with the public. Unfortunately, it still takes a lot of time and a big van, because we are acting as furniture movers!

The Train Garden in this article and shown here was setup by Strasburg Model Railroad Club of NJ at one of their train shows in late 2022. It is refreshing that the heart of this garden can be setup quickly and transported in a large trunk or behind an SUV back seat.

I hereby define Super Portability as the ability to transport the heart of the train garden: tools, trains, track, buildings, and transformers using one large car trunk or behind a single SUV’s back seat. It requires the cooperation of the Train Show Site to provide power connection and tables. The Train Garden shown in this article uses only six (6) standard eight feet by 30-inch tables arranged to provide a 16’ by 7.5’ work surface. 

If you have not used the show location before, it is recommended you bring bungee cords to secure the tables together, shims to level the table surfaces, a long power extension cord, and a crew of at least two to enable setup in about 30 minutes. You can see from the train garden photos that the scenery is somewhat Spartan. It is GREAT to be simple, and have the public enjoy the train sounds and animation provided by the train motion. Animated cars can provide extra enjoyment.

Simple is Best! Keep it Simple.

The heart of this Train Garden was transported in only four tubs. Buildings, trees, and more trains require more tubs.

Wiring was limited to only three pairs of wires!

The running results of this tabletop garden are shown below. It is at the proper height for   young RR fans.

Link to Video showing the layout in action.

In Part 2 we will show how to expand this concept to other seasonal gardens. It will include wiring simplifications and the use of batteries to power LED lighting. For further information contact the author at [email protected] or Dave Luciano at [email protected].

Remember, no lights mean no wires to contend with. Simple buildings add to the charm of the trains being in the spotlight.