A Clovis couple have transformed their backyard garden into an oasis for model trains.
Cal and Juanita Terrasas of Clovis have created a garden railway scene that depicts a train chugging its way through the Tehachapi mountains in their backyard on Birch Avenue.
The railway has more than 500 feet of track that meanders through scaled-down maple, juniper, elm and cotoneaster trees to such destination points as town villages, sawmills, missions, rodeo grounds and train depots.
Cal Terrasas, a retired operating engineer of horizontal drilling machines, uses a remote control to send diesel and steam engines – about 7-inches tall and 18-inches long – on their journeys with tenders, railroad cars and cabooses.
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"It's a dream come true," he says.
The Terrasas enjoy model railroading as a hobby. They are members of the San Joaquin Valley Garden Railway Society, which was founded in 1995 to promote building and operating garden railways.
The society, with nearly 30 members, gathers monthly for meetings and excursions to places where they ride trains. The group also holds an annual meeting, which is at the Terrasases' home this weekend.
Arvest "Sparky" Sparks, vice president of the San Joaquin Valley Garden Railway Society, says members devote many hours to maintain their garden railways, which are packed up during the rainy months for protection.
"It's a labor of love – and very labor-intensive," Sparks says. "It's not for somebody who just wants to sit back and enjoy railroad cars on a track. There is a lot of maintenance."
Juanita Terrasas says the couple's interest began in 1996, when she bought her husband a $99 train/track set for Christmas.
"He told me he had given trains as gifts to people, but had never gotten one from somebody," she says.
When the couple retired and moved from Coarsegold to Clovis in 2000, they began collecting diesel and steam engines, tenders, railroad cars, cabooses – and all the pieces making up the destination stops, including the plastic people frequenting them.
The Terrasases had so many pieces that they built a "train yard" to store everything.
Finally, the Terrasases were ready to build in their backyard, which measures 98-feet long by 50-feet deep.
Cal Terrasas developed the brass-rail route, drawing upon his memories as a Southern Pacific Railroad pick-and-shovel worker from 1953 to '56. He spent much time at Bena depot, which is near the historic Tehachapi Loop completed in 1876.
Daughter Elizabeth became the designer. She drew upon memories when the family lived in Coarsegold.
"I wanted it to look lifelike – and not people just standing around. Nobody is in a row or straight line. The roads had to be jagged," she says.
Juanita Terrasas designed the garden, potting everything and regularly trimming the branches so the trees remained close to scale.
The construction took about three years, with members of the San Joaquin Valley Garden Railway Society pitching in.
The railway features a historic Coarsegold village, the Hotel Californian where a man is climbing a ladder to pick dwarf pomegranates, the Bena depot housing section, Mission San Antonio where a priest is waving to parishioners and an A-framed greenhouse with curtains made by Juanita Terrasas.
Sparks says the Terrasases' effort is an inspiration to other club members.
"It's just awesome," he says. "They've put so much work into it. I guarantee they're not done. They'll always find something to add."