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All aboard! Local train enthusiasts bring people along for the train ride — in their own backyards

Tucson Garden Railway Society Vice President John Fennema
Posted at 7:49 AM, Mar 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-01 09:49:53-05

MARANA, Ariz. (KGUN) — The whirling sound of a remote control vehicle fills John Fennema's backyard. It's because he has three trains traveling on the 700 feet of railroad that he built around the yard. The trains pass by different model buildings and people. Some of the model people are sitting down for a picnic while others are wading in the river just a few feet from the waterfall.

A model railway for the Rails in the Garden event
In John Fennema's backyard, there's a railroad with trains and model buildings, complete with model people.

Fennema created a mine with water vapor that pours out of it, mimicking a mine explosion. It's just a few feet underneath the water fall where recycled water spills across a pile of boulders. And above the waterfall is a moving model ski lift.

"I brought in 35 tons of dirt and just started working from there," he said. "I did it all myself and I've really enjoyed it."

John Fennema's Railroad in his backyard
Local train enthusiast John Fennema enjoys his backyard railroad.

For Fennema, trains are a passion. He worked as a locomotive engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad for over 20 years. He's been garden railroading since the '90s but formed a deeper connection to the hobby once he went to a Tucson Garden Railway Society event.

"In 2011, when i went into the Rails in the Garden event, it just got me started again," he said.

He hopes people will feel that same sense of passion and enjoyment during the event this year. On March 2nd and 3rd, the Rails in the Garden event will celebrate the 20th anniversary. From 10am to 4pm, there are 10 different garden railways available across town for people to visit.

"We had about 3500 people come through last year," he said. "But we are hoping for more."

It's a free event but donations are encouraged. Last year, Fennema said they donated most of the donations to the community food bank and kept just a few dollars to cover their operating costs. For a full list of the locations, check out the interactive mapon the Tucson Garden Society's website.

Tina Giuliano is a reporter for KGUN 9. She is a native Arizonan and grew up in Scottsdale. Tina is passionate about storytelling and is excited to work telling Tucson's stories. Share your story ideas and important issues with Tina by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.