I T S The Bull Moose Line - Sunset HIll's Illiana Train Society

                           The Sunset Hill's Illiana Train Society Story

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 original Illiana Train Society when they met at Samuelson’s Greenhouse in 2003 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 society 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 Original 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.

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 the 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 group 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 came together.

The portable, designed by Al Gengler, was built to emulate an outside Railroad Garden in operation. Its purpose was to 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  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, for one of the society members acting as engineer. In 2007 it was upgraded  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 Society 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 member families grew to twenty. 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 eagle 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. Meanwhile the busy Society members were looking for a new challenge.

An Outdoor Venue

Under the Society’s by-laws it is not necessary to have a Garden Railroad, nor a garden for that matter, to become an active member of the group. 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 Society 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 Society’s members agreed to the undertaking. Max generously donated an area on the corner of the Samuelson Greenhouse property for the project. More Moose, in various woodland poses, seemed to materialized every week. The Moose collection grew to fifteen. A nickname for the proposed outdoor   G-scale railroad line began to take form.

Land Shaping

Building of the 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 Greenhouse property. It was 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. Society 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-dancer 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 workforce 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 overall length of the railway 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 gandy-dancer 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 also hand tramped into place .

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 train garden crew’s ideas were set on paper. As the group poured over Art’s hand drawn blueprint other layout tangibles began to emerge.

There would be several different on-going experiments within the Train 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 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 member’s 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. It 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.

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 was 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 would have a clear view of the four main line tracks in operation. A direct crossover switch connected the outer main line to the depots staging track by a suspension bridge. Trains could be run directly into the depot for overnight storage. As many as four trains could  be brought inside and switched onto separate holding tracks in the depots staging area. Conversely, this track was also used to move newly coupled rolling stock out from the inside staging platform to a starting position on the main line track.

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  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, Mother-load 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 ground cover.

Naming the Venue

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 outdoor venue “The Bull Moose Line.”

Start Up

On the fourth Wednesday of July 2004 at 7:00 P.M. the group 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 Bull Moose Line was christened with a Champaign toast by Al Gengler for its first public run as the whistles of the model locomotives blended with the whistle of a real Canadian National freight train passing by. And to the applause of the assembled Society 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, along with 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. This 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.

Samuelsons Illiana Garden Railway is gone.

The Bull Moose Line's run at the Samuelson Greenhouse property came to an end in 2017 when the facility closed. 

A Relocation & A New Name

Through a gracious invitation, Sunset Hill Farm County Park became the new home for the model rairoad group.  

In February of 2018 the Society's members voted to change the  groups name to 
Sunset Hill's Illiana Train Society (ITS) to better reflect their new location within Sunset Hill Farm Park.

Today it seems that there is still plenty of work ahead to be done along the Bull Moose Line. Current plans by the Building Committee include the restructuring of the Bull Moose Line, in it's former design by relocated the venue rolling stock, buildings, ponds and track from Samuelson's to Sunset Hill. This move will again test the construction and modeling skills of all the I T S  Society members.

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


Popular posts from this blog

Sunset Hill's Illiana Train Society Bull Moose Line Reopens May 1, 2021

Sunset Hill's Iliana Train Society Garden Railroad at Sunset Hill Farm Park