Fairplex Garden Railroad

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Fairplex Garden Railroad History

The Fairplex Garden Railroad is located on the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, California.

The railroad began in 1924 by the founder Mr. Hennan Howard and his brother who were members of the Pomona Model Yacht Club. A single Pacific Electric Railway 1200 interurban model ran around the Army Corps of Engineers' Puddingstone Reservoir Exhibit during that year's Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona. The train diorama was to promote the dam, which had just been built. The exhibit later was moved to a tent, and in 1935 to its outdoor location. The railroad was sold in 1958 to Mr. & Mrs. Herman Templin. After the death of Mr. Templin, just before the fair opened in 1968, Mrs. Templin, with the help of her daughter Suzanne and Mr. John Huie, kept the railroad running. In 1970, the Los Angeles County Fair took ownership of the railroad, and Mr. John Huie, under an agreement with fair management, kept the railroad maintained and running through 1996.

The exhibit ran every year for the Los Angeles County Fair except during World War II. The War Era brought a halt to the Fair for six years when the grounds were taken over by the U.S. Army. The first year the fair and the Outdoor Miniature Railroad resumed operations after WW II was in 1948.

The original rolling stock was all "handmade" and ran on one-half inch scale standard gauge custom laid steel track. There were both steam and diesel consists of freight and passenger service running for the enjoyment of fair-goers through various displays of the old town of Pomona and the surrounding countryside. Approximately 2,000 linear feet of underground pipes and conduits support its operation. Nearly eighteen miles of wires operate the electrical system and over 12,000 gallons of water flow through its lakes, rivers, and streams. With over 4,500 feet of track it was, and is today, the largest operating garden railroad in America.

Each year over one million people from all over the United States and the world have attended the Los Angeles County Fair and other annual events held at the fairgrounds. Approximately 750,000 of these each year visit and enjoy this spectacular exhibit.

In April 1997, volunteer model railroad enthusiasts began to upgrade the exhibit with the use of G-gauge materials and rolling stock. Maintaining the original right a ways and roadbed, the original steel rail was removed and over 5,000 feet of new brass rail was installed. The electrical system was also upgraded and re-wired to accommodate the new track and switches. A volunteer crew has devoted more than 16,000 hours on-site to the renovation project between April 19, 1997 and the start of the 1998 Los Angeles County Fair. It is estimated that another 4,000 hours were spent outside the exhibit during this same time with the renovation of the existing and construction of new exhibit model buildings. Work is now underway to complete plans to have the exhibit depict California life from the 1850's through the year 2,000.

Today, the exhibit is most likely the oldest and largest garden railroad in America with over 7,000 feet of track covering a 100-foot by 300-foot area with trains running every year since 1935, except during WWII war years (1942-47). Multiple scenes with four main lines, five trolley lines, two operating truck routes through mountains, farmlands, lakes, rivers, towns and deserts bring the railroad to life. Four interactive areas allow children of all ages to operate trains on ten additional loops and a mountain mining scene.

With the support of the Fairplex Management, the volunteer Fairplex Garden Railroad Crew will continue to create as many pleasant memories for railroaders in the future as this exhibit has in the past.

Track. Both AristoCraft and LGB G-gauge track are used on the layout

Power. The main lines are powered by custom-built power packs that were also used on the 1/2 inch scale standard gauge railroad prior to 1997. A 10-amp Bridgewerks is also put in service on the mountain loop and LGB starter set transformers are used in the inter-active area. AristoCraft systems will be used in the new interactive area for the 1998 Fair.

Rolling Stock. During the year, crew members use the railroad and provide their personal rolling stock. Valley Train Station, Chino, California provides the rolling stock for the annual Los Angeles County Fair under a special agreement with Fairplex. It is not uncommon to see over 100 car consists running.

Buildings and Scenes. Some of the buildings are from the original exhibit and their exact age is unknown. Others are commercially available and several are hand made by our current crew.

Landscaping. The volunteer crew maintains the grounds.

Video. Box Car Productions, Incorporated has produced an outstanding video showing the railroad fully operating for the 1997 Fair with interview on construction methods. The video is available by contacting any member of the crew.

Fairplex Garden Railway Track Plan

The Fairplex Garden Railway is a display layout designed to entertain, educate and interact with the public. To that end it consists primarily of loops, some of them very long. There are staging yards at the rear of the display (bottom of the diagram) to allow the trains to be regularly changed. Several short loops are built in the upper left of the diagram (circus theme) and the upper right (old west theme). These short loops are interactive. The upper section of the fence is taken down near both interactive displays to allow children of all ages to operate the trains.

The display is located near the center of the fair grounds and sees a lot of foot traffic. Hardly anybody walks by without taking at least a short look. Yesterday, at the fair, I watched many children latch themselves to the fence.

The pictures below are links to more and larger pictures and text along the same themes as the picture shown.

Fairplex Garden Railway Overall View This view showing about half of the display is taken from the front center of the display looking generally southward. To the right of the picture is the truck road and a town scene. The yellow building to the rear is the main operator's station.
Interactive Area The public is encouraged to interact with the display by actually running some of the trains. There are several stations where kids of all ages can participate. Here at the circus display, two children are held in rapt attention. I had to wait for quite a while to get this picture. Usually there were so many people crowded around the controls that I couldn't show anything but people crowded along the fence.
A Circus Loop The circus/carnival interactive area consists of six separate loops where circus theme trains can be run by the public. Each train carries a large letter which identifies which power pack runs that train.
Western Town It costs money to install, maintain and operate the Fairplex Garden Railroad. Most of the display rolling stock and some of the bridges and structures are provided by manufacturers and local large scale dealers. The western town interactive area is supported by John Rimpau and Aristo Craft Trains and BridgeMasters.
Viaduct and Dam The Fairplex Garden Railway features a working dam. The dam is in the southeast section of the layout and is called "Hoover Dam." Water features play a significant role in the display as over 12,000 gallons of water are used in various lakes and streams.
Waterfall This little waterfall is tucked into a 19th century themed area. Unfortunately, its in a location on the backside of the display that is virtually impossible for the public to see.
Bridges There are many bridges, viaducts and trestles on the display. This steel bridge is part of the original display and has been providing good service for many years.
wooden bridge This wooden truss bridge crosses a small lake near the backside of the display. This is another feature that is difficult for the public to see.
wooden bridge I believe that the wooden bridge is part of the original display while the trestle approaches are new. BridgeMasters provided several of the bridges and trestles in the rebuilt display.
truck route A two lane powered truck route is also part of the display. These are motorized vehicles that run on track embedded in a concrete roadway. The route forms a long L shaped loop along the south side of the display and roughly halfway up the west side.
california mission There are many smaller scenes on the display. This California mission is prominently placed front and center. Next to the mission is a field of grapevines and across the track, an native American village.
futureopolis It's been many years since I'd been back to the Fairplex Garden Railway and some things have changed. "Fantasy Corner" was installed at some point containing Futureopolis. However, this scene is due to come out soon to be replaced with something else.

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© 1998-2009 George Schreyer
Created 7 June 1998
Last Updated November 1, 2009