In Episode 14, the Question of the Day was: If you work for or volunteer with a tourist railroad or railway museum, what do you enjoy most about it?
My most recent railroad-related volunteer position was as a Model Railroad Volunteer at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA. For decades, Phipps has created a seasonal garden railroad display every fall for the winter months. I remember visiting this display going back to when I was a kid, thoroughly enjoying it every time and finding out what the theme of the year would be. In September of 2013, I joined their team to create a Jurassic Park-themed display.
The fictional history of the display was that dinosaurs were brought back to life by mining fossils and extracting the DNA. While a Prehistoric Park was created for people to view these creatures, several escaped and were causing havoc for both the city and the railroad.
During the construction phase, most of my time was spent on adding non-plant scenery. This included placing buildings, adding details, positioning rocks, and creating scenes with miniature people interacting with the dinosaurs. One of my favorite projects was designing the locomotive shed scene using a broken locomotive and workmen.
The employees at Phipps were always very helpful in providing expertise on projects, and they were very open to my creative input. I learned a lot from them about creating interesting displays and incorporating various types of plants with a garden railroad.
My favorite part of volunteering was getting hands-on experience with G-Scale trains. I own a small starter set but had never worked on a full-size layout of this kind before. There is something incredibly cool about watching a five car streamlined passenger train cruising through beautiful landscapes using real plants.
After construction was complete, I helped to monitor the display. It was a treat to see how excited the children became when they first walked into the hall, and I challenged them to count the number of dinosaurs (it was over 50!)
I’m very glad I had this opportunity, and it demonstrates that you’ll never know how much you’ll love it until you do it!
Check out the full gallery of images below!