Garden railroads can be found throughout the United States and many other parts of the world, but they are typically hidden from public view. Most are sequestered in private backyards where only a few can take part in the unique experience of outdoor model railroading.
The garden railroad exhibit at the Fairplex in Pomona, California is a glorious exception.
The Fairplex Garden Railroad (FGRR) is anything but private and secluded. On the contrary, it is the desire of Fairplex management and the garden railroad volunteers to share this wonderful exhibit with the public.
To get a sense of the proportions of this grand attraction it is best to visit during one of the public run days held on the second Sunday of each month, or during the Los Angeles County Fair held in September.
Occupying the size of a football field, the Fairplex Garden Railroad boasts over 10,000 feet of track, hundreds of rolling stock and locomotives, and a volunteer crew of nearly 70 people.
Each of these opportunities give visitors completely different perspectives of the place.
Run days are usually quiet and slow-paced. It’s the best time to relax in the shade, examine the curves and hills of the layout, and chat with volunteers about favorite scenes. Some guests are so moved by the experience that they become volunteers themselves.
The railroad operates each day of the County Fair and offers guests self-guided tours until 8 p.m. It’s staffed by docents and operations crew members who do their best to provide an unforgettable visit. Each scene is meticulously detailed for the event, so this is the best time to see the layout at its most complete.
The hustle and bustle of the Fair means more crowds and a higher energy level for anyone wishing to visit the FGRR. There is so much to see that many people enjoy taking several passes through the layout during the day – each time finding new details. The volunteer crew suggests a late evening visit to see the scenes illuminated by hundreds of incandescent and LED lights. The sweet spot is a half hour before closing.
It is nearly impossible to see all that the FGRR has to offer in one visit. Many guests remark how they came to the place as a child and have returned again and again to see the changes over the years. Most are surprised to see how the exhibit has evolved in detail and technology.