Taltree Arboretum and Model Railroad Garden

In order to meet my own self-imposed deadline of getting this published before the end of September, even though it is already a year late, I am presenting what I consider to be one of the most fantastic model train layouts in the country. The only other one that I have seen that is anywhere close to this layout is at the huge arboretum in Pittsburgh, but I have only seen that one in someone else’s blog post recently, and have not been there myself to compare them. There is another one in Scottsdale, Arizona, but I have not seen that one yet, either. I’m sure each is unique in its own way.

According to their site, “Taltree Arboretum and Gardens is a dog-friendly oak preserve of formal gardens, woodlands, wetlands and prairies that offers a variety of events, classes and exhibits year-round.

Located approximately 25 miles from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and 70 miles southeast of Chicago in Valparaiso, Indiana, Taltree offers beautiful vistas, quiet corners and hiking trails to escape into its diverse landscape…

…Our most intricate formal garden is the Taltree Railroad Garden. This garden features model steam trains in a miniature conifer and woody plant landscape. The garden tells the story of early 19th century U.S. railroad history featuring scenes of the Civil War, westward expansion and the American Industrial Revolution.

There… I couldn’t have said it more eloquently myself. It also has awards for “Best of the Region” for 2013 and 2014.

They are located at 450 West 100 North, which is west of the city and south. They are open daily from April to October from 8 AM to 7 PM, CST. The Railway Garden is open 10 AM to 7 PM. Trains begin running at 10 AM, There is also free admission on the first Tuesday of every month. Trains do not run in inclement weather – snow, ice, rain or strong winds. If in doubt, please call 219-462-0025 to verify that the trains are running.

There is ample parking on limestone centrally located, but it is at least a couple hundred feet to the depot, unless you drop passengers off at the front door of the depot building or use the handicapped parking spaces nearby. The depot and one of the trails is on the east side, and the other trails are either farther down the partially paved access road or across the street from the parking area. As with any kind of outdoor exhibit, be prepared to do a lot of walking, unless the train yard is the only thing you wish to see. It is located behind the depot building.

Taltree Train Sign 1

The welcome sign on the front of the depot.

Inside the depot building is a small gift shop, restrooms, and a sitting area. Water and limited snacks may be available. The basement of the depot building is where all the “behind the scenes” train work is done. They can launch the trains from there and retrieve them from access rails that go right into the basement through tunnels hidden in the outdoor display. From the basement, the trains climb in elevation as high as 14 feet to the very uppermost rails.

Here’s a great introduction to the park:

After re-naming the photo files, I realized that I had not kept the original numbering, so the photos will be presented in somewhat random order, organized only by the alphabetical titles applied to them. We did a walk-around of the entire display…twice…in a clockwise direction, because it is impossible to notice all the details in only one viewing. And due to those details, I am presenting the photos as large as possible, even though it will likely slow down the page loading time. Details will be in the captions below the photos.

Taltree Train Lincolns Funeral

Lincoln’s funeral car in Michigan City, Indiana, 1865.


Taltree Circus Cars and Lincoln 1

On the siding behind the circus train is President Lincoln’s rail car in Michigan City, Indiana. The train is loaded with Union soldiers and dignitaries, with a portrait of Lincoln on its front, waiting for the coffin to be loaded back up to continue its journey.


Taltree Train and Truss Bridge 1

A truss bridge, one of 30 hand-crafted metal bridges and trestles on the nearly one-acre layout.


Taltree Train Bridges 1

Two trestle styles and two truss bridge styles over a waterfall and river, with the full-size depot in the back.


Taltree Train Burned Town 1 (Bad)

A small representation of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that destroyed about 4 square miles of the city. Cleanup was swift and rebuilding started almost immediately.


Taltree Train Canyon 1

Some of the tunnels that take the trains to the basement of the depot.


Taltree Train Canyon 2

Two more of the 30 trestles and bridges in the display.


Taltree Train Cemetery 1

A small town cemetery.


Taltree Train Civil War 1

Union soldiers dismantle bridges and tracks while Confederate soldiers watch from across the ravine, unable to stop them.


Taltree Train Civil War 2

Around 1863, armored rail cars were introduced to the battlefields, for transporting troops as well as to hold cannons behind protective shields.


Taltree Train Depot Area 1

A typical city depot in a waterfront town, with railroad employees, town dignitaries and families with their luggage await the trains. In the foreground are the wharves with warehouses built into the hillside under the train platforms.


Taltree Train Grist Mill

A riverside grist mill with the railroad tracks close by.


Taltree Train Hotel w Roof Patio

A hotel(?) with a roof patio.


Taltree Train Layout 1

An overview of only a small part of the Taltree Garden Railroad.


Taltree Train Layout 2

The opposite side of the view above this one, showing even more of the 30 hand-crafted bridges, trestles, waterways and waterfalls.


Taltree Train Layout 3

A coal pit building has a ramp where narrow gauge coal trains emerge from mine tunnels and dump their coal into railroad cars waiting below.


Taltree Train Layout 4

This is only the western mountainside of the exhibit. We haven’t even gotten to the plains side yet!


Taltree Train Layout 5

Just as in the real life mountains, waterfalls are everywhere!


Taltree Train Waterfall 1

Few things are more spectacular than mountain bridges and waterfalls!


Taltree Train Waterfall 2

Add a circus train to bridges and waterfalls, and you just about have everything!


Taltree Train Waterfall 3

If every railroad bridge had a viewing platform, wouldn’t it be great?


Taltree Train Lift Bridges 1

What train layout would be complete without fully operational lift bridges?


Taltree Train Susp Bridge 1

What mountain backdrop would be complete without a beautiful suspension bridge?


Taltree Train Logging Cars 1

As forests are cut, small locomotives help move equipment and logs to and from the mills.


Taltree Train Sawmill

The lumber trains would haul the logs to a sawmill to be made into building components.


Taltree Train Mountain 1

A wooden trestle and new steel trestle side by side.


Taltree Train New House

A new house under construction in a small southern plains community, indicated by the Spanish design fountain in the plaza.


Taltree Train New Tressle 1

A new railroad trestle being constructed over a deep canyon.


Taltree Train New Tressle 2

Another railroad trestle just getting off the ground.


Taltree Train Quarry 2

A limestone quarry in New Bedford, Indiana with blocks ready to load onto train cars.


Taltree Train River 1

Many small trestles and bridges were needed in crossing the plains, also, and depots were often the largest buildings around.


Taltree Train Riverfront 1

Riverfront cities were the largest shipping centers, often with both railroad and barge traffic, as well as roads.


Taltree Train Wharf 1

Piers loaded with goods await the next river boat to dock.

Taltree Train Wharf 2

Railroads and wharves with their warehouses were and still are the shipping centers that keep this great country moving.


Taltree Train Road Crew 1

Many early towns had only muddy streets until road crews could come in and add limestone to them. Asphalt hadn’t been invented yet, and cement was in short supply.


Taltree Train Stockyards 1

Trains were also important to the cattle industry. After trail herds would get their cattle to the stockyards at a shipping center, the cattle were often sent by rail car to the larger cities for processing.

Well, that concludes the tour of the Taltree Arboretum Railroad Garden. As I said earlier, there is no way to see and understand all of what they have done here just in one pass, and pictures are no substitute for seeing it in person. Figure on at least an hour here, and if you really want to study it in detail, figure on two or three…at least.

The statistics of what all went into this project can be found on the web page for the rail road garden. And don’t forget to click on the text links in the first few paragraphs, as those will give you even more insight into the history that they tried to represent here.

And if you want more photos, Google it and then click on the “images” text link near the top of the page.

If you are too far away to get there, here’s a great video of what to expect:

I hope that it was worth a year of being in suspense over what was to come. The day after we visited here, we headed back home to Arkansas. By this time next year, we should be somewhere between South Dakota and Colorado, or from there, already on our way south to Arizona via Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Until then, we will continue to empty this place out to get it ready to sell, work on our traveling vehicles, and formulate our final plans to get out of here by next August to enjoy as many years as possible traveling freely, anywhere and anytime we want to. We will post as interesting thoughts and situations come up, but it may not be often. Let’s face it, being stuck in a house is boring!

Let me know your thoughts on this post, or about anything else on your mind.