History – Illiana Garden Railway Society (IGRS)

Article By: Al Gengler & David Ransom
Photos By: IGRS Membership

A Beginning

To say that the Bull Moose Line came together without a formal plan might be just a bit of an understatement. Yet the elements that led to its construction were hardly a gleam in the eyes of the sixteen founding members of the Illiana Garden Railway Society (IGRS) when they met to begin a mutual G-Scale railroad group.

What had begun the previous year as a personal canvas by Max Samuelson to find practicing Garden Railroaders in the tri-state area of Northern Indiana, Southwestern Michigan and the Northeastern suburbs of Illinois, led to the founding of the IGRS, and ultimately to the construction of the Society’s G-scale Train Garden.

Since 1998 Max an avid G-Scaler, with a family greenhouse business and a small hobby shop, enjoyed the fulfillment of Garden Railroading. With his wife Fran, he built a dual line Railroad Garden around a two level water feature at their home. The two also erected a small single track indoor garden-pond display, within the Samuelson Greenhouse, on State Route 2 in rural Valparaiso, Indiana. By 2002 Max was on a mission to spread the comrade of family participation in Garden Railroading. Through his efforts the Illiana Garden Railway Society came together on April 14, 2003. A newly elected Board of Directors, with Max as president, began by outlining the Society’s primary activities. The current 2018 president is David Ransom of Valparaiso, Indiana.

Some Goals

Among the goals of the fledgling Society was the education of the tri-state public about garden railroading, railroad modeling and the construction and running of Garden Railroads in particular. Five of the founding members had family Railroad Gardens in operation. These five pledged to show their individual garden layouts to the general public at various times throughout the year. The next logical step for IGRS members was to work with one another to complete gardens for G-Scale novices in the group. Other first year activities included monthly meetings with ‘how to clinics’ and modeling demonstrations, visits to completed railroad gardens, railroad show attendance, steam train excursions, a summer family picnic and, a team building project.

Making Tracks  

The group’s first cooperative effort was the building of a Portable G-Scale Diorama. During the late fall and the cold winter months, October through February, in the first year of operation, the IGRS built a 14′ x 20′ Portable G-Scale Road, using the life work skills of its members and a generous donation of hollow core doors from Home Depot, folding legs from Menards and track from member Don Coleman who was retooling his own layout.

The Portable was built to emulate an outside Railroad Garden in operation. Its purpose, exhibit G-scale modeling at schools, children’s hospitals, nursing homes and various fairs in the tri-state area. The portable was also a learning experience for the IGRS modeling team to capture the spirit of an outdoor garden layout on an indoor setting. Complete with a three-track rail-yard, switch-frogs, dual loco shed and passenger station the portable also contained two platform trestles, a truss bridge, tunnel, waterfall and a working pond surrounded by Styrofoam rocks. There were even inset holes for live plant & tree placements. It was originally built to be run from a master control panel designed by George Janjecic, one of the society members as engineer. In 2007 it was changed to an automatic switching system.

The Portable Garden made its first appearance in May of 2004, to the delight of onlookers, at the Marquette Mall in Michigan City, Indiana.     With this showing, the IGRS had taken its initial steps to promote G-Scale railroading as a hobby in the tri-state area.

By happenstance, at this first public display a lone Bull Moose figurine found its way onto the layout, a precursor of things to come.

A Success

By the spring of 2004 the group of sixteen IGRS member families grew to twenty. In 2017, sixteen families are actively involved with the IGRS.  The success of the Portable Garden Railway was more than expected. Children and adults gathered at county fairs, steam shows and mall train exhibits to watch as many as three locomotives at a time chug and whistle around the portables tracks. The onlookers were especially amused by one work engine that now sported a surprised moose spread eagled across its pilot. The Portable Garden was soon booked at many different venues from June through December. More Moose figurines began to show up with each outing, so began the IGRS Bull Moose Line. The busy IGRS members were looking for a new challenge.

Illiana Road “The Bull Moose Line”

Under the IGRS by-laws it is not necessary to have a Garden Railroad, nor a garden for that matter, to become an active member. All it takes is an interest in the hobby. It soon became apparent to the Board of Directors that not every family who joined the Society would have a suitable area in which to build their own right-of-way, or to even want to have a Railroad Garden at their home. At the monthly meeting in May of 2004 Max Samuelson opined that the IGRS could and should build an outdoor Railroad Garden to accommodate the perceived needs of all the members. Those without home roads could use the Society’s outdoor layout to run their trains, while members who had home layouts could use it as a place to experiment with new ideas. Now a company of twenty-eight, the IGRS members agreed to the undertaking. Max generously donated an area on the corner of the Samuelson Greenhouse property for the project. The Moose collection grew to fifteen. More Moose, in various woodland poses, seemed to materialized every week. The nickname for the proposed outdoor Illiana Bull Moose Line began to take form.

Land Shaping

Building of the Illiana Road outdoor layout began in May of 2004 on an open plot of grass covered lawn, near a drive path, on the Southwest corner of the Samuelson’s Greenhouse property. A suitable, easy access location not more than five hundred feet away from where the real Canadian National winds its way through Indiana on the old Grand Trunk right-of-way. IGRS members Max Samuelson, Tom Krieger, George Janjecic, David Ransom, Ed Briesacher and Al Gengler begin the first phase of the outdoor layout.

The primary idea in mind, by the seven able bodies assembled to begin the daunting task of building a railroad, was to make sure that the diorama would be elevated to accommodate the many old worn out knees and hip joints of the builders. The two tools used that day were: a can of fluorescent red spray paint and a hammer; the paint to mark out the future location of a retaining wall; a hammer to pound in wood stakes to mark the locations for future water features, an upper reflecting pond and a lower retention pool.

There was no plan for the track layout. The only decision made by the gandy work gang that day was to have at least one long straight run of track to show off rolling stock on the move.

In the following week Art Maxwell, Paul Urlich, Dave Besterman,  Don Hewlett and Carl Hinderer joined the gandy dancer work force to labor. With the help of Max’s son Eric, manning a back hoe, a trench was dug along the red spray outline. Concrete brick, resembling cut stone provided by Max Samuelson, was then set by the work team along the straightaway and curves of the 53′ x 33′ tract. When completed the retaining wall topped out at a height of three feet, on the low ground end of the yard, facing east, and leveled to two feet at the high, on the west. In 2007 and 2008 an additional 20’ were added to the length of the layout.

Winters on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, especially in Northern Indiana tend to be fairly harsh, with many freezes and thaws coming in the late fall and early spring. The fluxionary weather usually takes a heavy toll on the roadbed under outdoor track. To compensate for ground heaving and settling almost 90 yards of fresh black dirt were poured into the cut stone enclosure. To form a solid non-shrinking base, the loose dirt was pounded down, every six inches of depth at a time, with hand tampers by the IGRS work crew. Once the filling operation was completed the pond settings were measured out and re-marked. Then the back hoe was brought up a ramp over the retaining wall to cut in the lower retention pond on the east side of the enclosure. Using the unearth dirt, the back hoe operation set up a future mountain on the south end of the enclosure to hold the upper reflecting pond. That mound of dirt was hand tramped into place too.

Paper Ideas 

As this work progressed Art Maxwell decided that indeed such a project should have, at the least, a simple sketch to outline the track system before the water feature was completed. He set down a plan for four main lines with switch-over’s, train yards, bridges, trestles, tunnel, and associated spur lines. This was the first time the IGRS garden crew’s ideas were set on paper. As the group poured over Art’s hand drawn blueprint other layout angibles began to emerge.

There would be several different on-going experiments within the IGRS Garden Railroad complex. A new type of pond retention liner would be tested to determine its useful life under year-round use. At least four different substrates would be used in the roadbeds and trestles, to test structural integrity through the mid-west winters. The four track support methods chosen by the crew consisted of inset interlocking concrete edger block, pioneered by Art Maxwell; HDPE plastic timber post and stringers from an idea developed by Bill Logan an Architect from Indianapolis, Indiana supplied by Al Gengler; plus green, pressure-treated lumber stringers and a natural “chicken grit” limestone base often used by mid-west modelers. One roadbed method would be used on each of the four different main lines. The Garden would also test plants, shrubs and dwarf trees for their desirability and suitability to the Indiana climate. Different building materials would be used in scenic structures to determine those best qualified for year-round outdoor use in local weather conditions too. Three different brands of track and switch mechanisms would be used to test their overall durability: LGB, USA and Aristo-Craft.

Other operational plans for the IGRS outdoor layout became apparent. George Janjecic, suggested separate track loops with individual power packs that could be synchronized to allow switching from one track to another. Because of the diversity of individual members equipment and locomotive propulsion, track grades, switch-over’s and depth of curves would have to accommodate track powered, battery driven and live-steam engines. Size comparability was also a concern. Both modern diesel and classic steam engines from 1:32 to 1:20 scale would have to be able to traverse all four tracks, cross bridges, navigate through tunnels and pass alongside of building structures. As a gesture to Max Samuelson’s generosity the layout would, over time, become a showplace for Samuelson’s Greenhouse dwarf garden plants and also be used as a test track for demonstrating new rolling stock to hobby shop customers.


Workin’ on the Illiana Road

Towards the end of June, better than 15 tons of field stone, supplied by the Samuelson’s Greenhouse Company, were set in place over the rubberized test liner. The parameters of the two ponds and the series of rock water falls between them were arranged to get the maximum sound effects of a gurgling stream. As the field stone was set into the water feature a 12″ corrugated culvert pipe was drilled through the supporting black dirt under the rubberized liner to prepare for an eventual “figure eight” main line crossover. That crossover would run both beneath and over the water fall. The completed waterway was now a two-tier water system with PVC lines concealed beneath the liner connecting the flat land retaining pond with the upper mountain reflection pool. A filtration pump, part of the pond system supplied by Max Samuelson, was installed in the lower pond would move 4,000 GPH to the top pool to begin its journey down a series of falls to the bottom pond. Several new Moose figurines made an unexpected appearance beside the mountain top reflecting pool.

The unusually warm July found the gandy dancers hard at work setting track. Each one of the four main line roadbeds presented a different set of work tactics for installation. To set the interlocking concrete edger block, a trench had to be carved out of the packed down dirt base. Then each block needed to be individually leveled as the track was put in place. Both the HDPE plastic and the treated lumber stringers needed grade posts pounded into the ground so that the stringers could be attached, leveled and set for grade before track was added. The natural limestone base had to be tamped into shape and then backfilled several times then tamped again to bring the road to level as the track was set on top of it. The track itself was placed one section at a time using a combination of pre-formed stock sections and free formed curves, pulled with a rail-bender,to match the roadbed topography. Each section of track needed to be carefully adjusted to allow for summer buckling and winter shrinkage before being permanently anchored to its substrate base. Using low voltage drop lines that followed the track alignment, the entire system was ready for both AC and DC electrical hook-ups by the time the rails were set in place.

Even as the track and power lines were strung together the work crew prepared for the second development phase of the garden. To minimize invasive weed growth, gardeners black landscaping cloth was placed over all of the open areas of the layout designated for future locations of structures and plants. As each of the four individual track lines was completed, the gandy dancers added small white granulate stone, that mimicked the color of the nearby, Canadian National ballast, to complete the natural look of the roadbed.

In the first week of the project a large, double door, walk-in tool shed, courtesy of Samuelson’s Greenhouse Company, was added to the plan, becoming the Illiana Roads central operations depot. The shed, equipped as a tool shop for train repair, also handled rolling sock and parts storage. It is the command hub and power source of the five-line track operation. Carefully positioned so that a side window overlooks the layout, the operating engineer has a clear view of the four main line tracks in operation. A direct crossover switch connects the outer main line to the depots staging track by a suspension bridge. Trains can be run directly into the depot for overnight storage. As many as four trains can be brought inside and switched onto separate holding tracks in the depots staging area. Conversely, this track is also used to move newly coupled rolling stock out from the inside staging platform to a starting position on the main line track.

Through a two-day weekend effort Tom Krieger and Ed Briesacher brought electrical power to the operations depot. George Jangecic had prepared for this by building a master switch control box to synchronize the turnout switches with the four independent AC power packs. Now, with electric power available, George, along with Max Samuelson and Art Maxwell, spent hours wiring all of the power connections from the tracks and automatic frogs into the depots control block. Ancillary wires were capped off and left for the future use of lighting a township and industrial yards and for track expansion and a signal system. Aristo-Craft walk around controls were added to the four power units behind the switch control box so that each main line track could be operated independently by an individual IGRS member working without a full-time engineer stationed at the depots main controls. (In 2009 Mike Hughes, George Janjecic and Joseph Novisel re-wired the control panel and installed conduit and junction boxes to accommodate the DCC power to the main line tracks and AC circuits for ancillary use.


The end of the second week in July found all the main lines, including by-pass tracks, turnouts and bridges, cribbing and trestles built by Tom Kreiger and George Jangecic were in place and operational. Test runs were being made almost daily to check out the independent power supplies, walk around controls, switch response and power demand. A group of pond plants, including water lilies, lotus and parrots feather were placed in the lower retaining pond and a small school of fresh water fish were added to keep down the mosquito population. A starter assortment of dwarf conifers including Boulevard Cypress, Motherload Juniper and Little Gem Spruce were planted into the rich black dirt along the now functional right-of-ways. Miniature Sedum and Elfin Thyme were started near future structure locations as groundcover.

 The Bull Moose Line

As the gandy dancers went through the final tweaking of the main lines several more Bull Moose figurines mysteriously migrated onto the landscape. By now it became obvious to everyone, that there was no other choice than to nickname the Illiana Garden Railway Societies outdoor layout “The Bull Moose Line.”


Start UP

On the fourth Wednesday of July 2004 at 7:00 P.M. the IGRS inaugurated the Society’s Garden Railroad with the driving of 3 gold spikes, donated by Light Jewelers, at the terminal of each of the main lines. The Illiana Road was christened with a champaign toast by Al Gengler to its first public run as the whistles of the model locomotives blended with the whistle of the real Canadian National freight train passing by. And to the applause of the assembled IGRS members, a series of G-Scale trains moved out onto the main line from inside of the depot staging platform.                                         “The Bull Moose Line” became operational.


In a fitting end to the start-up celebration, Betty Trickler, one of the Society’s two women engineers, added her own touch to the layout. She installed a newly built passenger station at the junction of the main line tracks. The placement of this first model building signaled the start of the next phase of the IGRS Railroad Garden project, township development. The building of the dioramas cityscape, farms, and industrial complex within the railway garden had begun.

In the summer of 2005 a point-to-point trolley service (developed by Don Hewlett) and additional track were added to the main line bringing rail service and city transportation to the growing town of Franville on the South end of the diorama. In 2008 a train-yard was added to the North end of the layout to make room for a roundhouse and a functioning turntable. The addition, added by Max Samuelson and Mike Hughes, was connected to the main line via an extended 18’ platform bridge built by George Janjecic, Mike Hughes and Al Gengler.

IGRS Future

Today, in 2018 there are sixteen IGRS member families. And, there is still plenty of work ahead to be done along the “Bull Moose Line.” Future plans include the relocation of the Society’s “Bull Moose Line” (lock stock and barrel) to the Porter County Park District, Sunset Hill Farm Park. The move will again test the construction and modeling skills of all the IGRS members. Opening sometime in 2019 (or sooner).

Humm….. Maybe a holding pen for a growing herd of Moose will be added.


This function has been disabled for Illiana Garden Railway Society.