When I was younger, I cut out photos from magazines and paste them into a book labeled “My Future Life.” These photos included huge sprawling gardens, brick country houses, typewriters, and Stephen King books (I wanted to be a writer who lived in a house with a huge garden, if you couldn’t tell). 

I would have laughed if you told me that there would be train tracks and the clickety-clack of a model train running through my beautiful and wild garden. And hard. I don’t even think I knew model trains were a thing until I visited the Christmas model train exhibit in New York City one year. By then, I was about twenty-seven years old and had gone through my life unknowing that this was a hobby to which people dedicated lots of time (and many rooms in their houses). 

Curtis and I at the HSB railway in Germany.

And then I met Curtis. I moved into his apartment, I discovered a small model train set-up taking over the guest bedroom, situated right on top of the guest bed. It was tiny, what he called HO- scale. He made some hills and grass out of this sprinkly stuff that literally got into every crack and crevice. I was impressed by it. So, when he mentioned putting a train around the Christmas tree, I thought it would be cute. And that’s when he brought on the “big trains.” He said they were G-Scale, G standing for garden.

After the Christmas tree had become compost, those trains started making more of an appearance, tracks crisscrossing over the floors of the small apartment. And then we moved to a new apartment. With that came COVID, and suddenly time for Curtis to do more train-related things. Soon there was a train layout permanently stationed on our balcony. But, when it was too cold to play with that, the train extended around our lounge and somehow made it, again, into the office/guest area. Then there was a working station that was meant to be temporary but stayed. 

Through the years, I saw the joy Curtis experienced when he was working (I don’t say playing because I don’t think playing happens when you are up late and swearing at some tiny electrical components) on his trains. As annoyed as I might get vacuuming around the track and stubbing my toes, I knew the happiness it brought, especially in such a difficult time for the World.

And that summer, a few years after I was first introduced to model trains, we packed up our lives and moved to the quaint island of Jersey. Finally, the garden railway would be in the garden. After a year of work, we had the basic layout done, the first round of test plants planted, and I realized I was part of something I had never imagined. We had successfully built a beautiful garden railway.

One day, about a year after we started, Curtis came to me with a serious look on his face. It was after we held our first open day, raising money for a charity he let me choose.

At that moment, he thanked me, telling me how grateful he was that I “allowed” all of this, from the garage to the garden. He mentioned that sometimes others struggled with partners or spouses understanding this hobby. It caused me to pause and reflect. 

Having a garden railway was never my dream. My garden design never included station platforms and making sure plants were cut back far from the track. And it certainly didn’t include a track-cleaning locomotive loud enough to interrupt a nice cuppa. Or a garage dedicated to so many train boxes I can’t keep track and all the stuff associated with digitizing model trains. Oh, and a future plan to convert the loft into an N-gauge layout (I’ve been promised there will be plenty of space for storage).

If I’m honest, there have been times when this hobby and passion has been inconvenient. Would I like more space in our garage? Yes. Is it always a bit of a mess? Yep. Would I have preferred a small greenhouse in place of the train bridges? Yes (although they are pretty when they light up at night). 

But, in a relationship, there is always compromise and understanding. I see how much he cares about this world – from his personal enjoyment to meeting and sharing it with others. I know that it brings him such a sense of joy and contentment. So, we’ve talked and negotiated. And I learned to find ways to enjoy it with him, to fuse my interests with his passion.

While I don’t have any affinity for the difficulty of decoders and sound cards, I did love the challenge of creating a garden that made sense for a train layout. I explored plants I never had before and learned how to lay rocks in ways that looked mountainous. 

I was also introduced to figures and scenery and found my favorite part of model railways. Within our layout, I created scenes, mostly of happy, drunk people (hey, it is modeled after Germany/Austria), but I also tried to incorporate other fun ideas like kids playing with dogs, people swimming by our pond, and hitchhikers coming down off a mountain walk. It was a blast working together on these scenes, and something I can’t wait to continue doing together. 

And, finally, we had our first open day and I saw the absolute delight in the eyes of those coming to visit – both children and adults alike. There were people who stayed for hours, asking Curtis how it all worked and, hopefully, imagining how they could get started. I tend to get an executive decision on the charity, which is typically animal-related, and being able to send those donations to them was the cherry on the cake.

And while I would never have chosen to have a railway in my garden or trains dotted around the house, I will always choose a way to see Curtis happy. And I will also continue to surprise myself with all the ways model railways can be fun and an enjoyable part of our relationship that brings us closer. 

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