Butler County residents showcase their elaborate model train layouts this weekend

An Oxford couple is among those opening their backyard this weekend to showcase elaborate model railroad layouts.

Allan and Liz Pantle have been working on the Midwestern and Rainbow Tunnel Railroad in their yard since 2006. The garden includes 500 feet of track snaking over 2,500 square feet of land. Scaled up to real life, that’s over three miles of track.

The trains will pass through rail stations and model cities, through a tunnel and over dozens of switches. Five years ago, they added a loop through a “national park” area with model campgrounds and an interactive cable car.

Allan says he was first interested in trains as a child. When he and his brother were young, they received Lionel trains every year for Christmas and slowly built up their basement train. They eventually sold off the train set as teenagers, but Pantle retained the interest in the hobby.

For decades, Pantle taught experimental psychology at Miami University. He said that he grew tired of spending all his time running vision experiments in a dark college lab.

“When I retired, I said I’m absolutely getting a hobby that gets me outside and doing physical work,” Pantle said.

Creating the model railroad system at his home took years of work, he said. The track was designed by Allan in 2006 using a computer program. After the tracks were laid out and leveled, he spent weeks packing in tons of dirt by hand to create the unique landscape. The landscape includes hidden drainage systems to prevent the track from being flooded by rain.

“It’s absolutely quiet and peaceful here,” Pantle said. “You look outside at the trains and the lights and it’s so realistic.”

While the trains have been Allan’s passion, his wife, Liz, is also involved in the project. She focuses on the natural aspects, maintaining the plants and trees to keep them at an appropriate size for the model.

“In the national park loop, we let the trees get larger. I try to trim the leaves and keep those at the right scale,” she said.

The design of the railroad is intentionally old-fashioned. All the trains are 1/32 models of real trains from the 1940s and 1950s, and the miniature buildings are designed after the same period.

But in the last few years, the train controls have become much more modernized. Allan said the former system of dials has been replaced with an app that lets him control the speed and actions of each train, as well as set up more complicated patterns and loops.

“Just like how you can record a conversation on your phone, I can record an hour’s worth of train motion,” Pantle said.

This will be the 12th year that Pantles will show off their train as part of the Greater Cincinnati Garden Railway Society’s annual tour. Allan has also volunteered at EnterTRAINment Junction in West Chester Twp., which claims to be home of the world’s largest indoor train display.

Their house in Oxford is part of several on the North Tour for GCGRS, which takes place from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday. The Saturday tour also includes railroads at two locations in West Chester Twp. and one each in Montgomery and Lebanon. The tours on Sunday feature locations in northern Kentucky.

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WHAT: Greater Cincinnati Garden Railway Society's 2018 summer layout tours

WHEN: 1 to 6 p.m.Saturday, July 21

WHERE: Multiple locations across the Cincinnati area:

  • Oxford: 111 Country Club Drive
  • West Chester Twp.: 7357 Susan Springs Drive
  • West Chester Twp.: 7379 Squire Court (inside EnterTRAINment Junction)
  • Lebanon: 827 Hawthorne Hill Drive
  • Montgomery: 11261 Grandon Ridge Circle

COST: Free

MORE INFO: More information about the layouts and locations for Sunday's tour can be found online at www.gcgrs.org

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