About Us & Our Layout
Hello, we are Roger & Faith Clarkson and our HO and G-Scale Train Layouts are in Riverside, Ca.
Even though Roger is 79 and relies on a walker or power chair, nothing can derail his passion for his HO and G-scale trains and layouts.
What was once a mere diversion kept picking up steam, roaring to life as a full-blown obsession over the past three decades.
As it stands now, the layout has reached 3,200-feet of track crisscrossing 1/3 of an acre in their Riverside backyard. With a flick of several switches in an elevated control tower gazebo that Roger built, 17 trains can simultaneously chug through tunnels, over bridges, around waterfalls and lampposts. The trains, ranging from two to 50 cars per train, coast past turn-of-the-20th-century mining towns, a harbor, Mt. Rushmore, factories, an airplane hangar, an oil company, a winery and a California mission, and much more.
During the past three decades, Clarkson and his wife, Faith, also 79, have shared their their miniature wonderland with thousands of visitors through as many as 28 home and garden tours a year and stories by CNN, NBC, Australian and cable TV and “Garden Railways” magazine.
Roger loves to see the looks of amazement when people just stop and stare, most can’t speak. They’re overwhelmed.
His hobby began modestly but earnestly around Christmas 1983 when Roger bought himself a model train and a stretch of track. At the time, he owned a collection agency and his wife Faith worked in banking.
On board with Roger’s new passion, during the next four years she encouraged and helped him transform their three-car garage into a fantasy HO Scale trainscape. Instead of sticking to one era or theme, Roger and Faith juxtaposed a jumble of mountain skiers, a circus, a hot-air balloon, Sunkist orange factory and a burning IRS building. The Clarksons were having so much fun and expanding so fast that they ran out of garage space.
But in 1988, the couple, inspired by the haunting whistle from a friend’s garden railroad, decided to go bigger, faster, more elaborate and outdoors.
Garden railroads are called G-scale (12 inches equals 24 feet) and a steam locomotive can be more than 2 feet long and weigh as much as 10 pounds. The exception is Roger's 58-inch, 64-pound behemoth Big Boy steam engine.
These miniatures aren’t for riding, but Roger poured hours into designing, wiring and building his course while Faith helped landscape with small shrubs and trees, ground covers, annuals and perennials. She also configured the hundreds of tiny tableaus. She painted with deft brushstrokes, sometimes personalizing the buildings, cars, people and critters that would become permanent backyard scenery.
If it weren’t for my intelligence and her money, it never would have happened,” Roger joked. “All from the seat of my pants.”
He installed hundreds of lights to create night magic and constructed seven waterfalls. A crew helped him haul in all the bricks, rocks and stones from quarries. Clarkson installed all the electronics, including a sound system inside each train’s engine. He wired computer chips to simulate various engine noises, steam escaping, brakes being applied outside the stations. Listen to the nuances in tones when a train sits at a depot, its generator running.
As with the indoor trainscape, the outdoors is an imaginative mashup of time periods, terrains and buildings. Up to speeds of 15 mph, the trains, many controlled by computer, chuff around an Old West Gold mine and puff past a hydroelectric dam. The Lilliputian buildings all have electricity; churches boast stained glass windows; grand hotels show off Victorian fretwork and peaked roofs. The Mission of Hope, modeled after a California mission, sports an eerily realistic red-clay tile roof. The structure is surrounded by shops for the tourists and mariachi bands.
The presidential figures carved into Mt. Rushmore peer down into a New England harbor town. A trolley is on hand to transport fishermen and tourists. An airplane hangar sits beside the local fire station, engines ready to go. Adjacent to three operating oil pumps at the Red Rock Oil Company is the 8-feet-long oil refinery Roger made from scratch, complete with a gas flame that shoots 15 inches in the air.
In another corner, newly cut logs float downstream and travel up a flume to the mill, passing under a bridge crossed by an R&F Lumber Co. train. It's easy to spend a whole day here and still not seen everything.
Because garden railroading is an expensive hobby, Roger and Faith fed their their habit by opening and running Pacific Coast Hobbies on Indiana Avenue in Riverside from 1992 to 1998. “I bought everything wholesale” he said.
During the past few years, the Clarksons have scaled back more than their open houses. They installed drip irrigation and replaced thirsty, high-maintenance flowers, ground cover, shrubs and trees with drought-tolerant plants and rocks — slashing their water bills from $500 to $56 a month and greatly reducing their $400 monthly gardening costs.
“I love sharing what we built with people ,” Roger said. “Especially the children, as long as they behave.”
Roger and Faith’s Layout is one of the best home railroads in the West.
Thanks to Riverside's "The Press-Enterprise" and staff writer Laurie Lucas
This site was last updated 08/08/16