Where does John B. Carr III often go to find peace, joy and solitude? No further than his beautifully manicured backyard – home of the JC Railway Co. Bearing the initials of John Carr and his late wife Carol Jean Carr, the G-scale railroad began operation in 1997 at the Carr's Independence home, 15504 E. 43rd St, for their pleasure.
“I love trains,” says John, who enjoys relaxing in his shady backyard watching two diesel-driven trains traveling at different speeds across 265 feet of tracks that winds through his outdoor layout and circles the centerpiece – a 5- by -12-foot pond. “I could sit there forever and watch them. It's very relaxing … and beautiful.”
The layout though, wasn't always as large and impressive as it is today. In its genesis, the JC Railroad ran on tracks around a pond. However, after watching the trains circle the pond “about a million times,” John enlarged his backyard railroad in 2001. Today, it occupies a 22-by -37-foot layout. With the expansion, more tracks were added and part of the landscape was pitched on an incline, he explains, so that as the trains come by, “you'll see the train at different angles, and if you stand at one site, you can see three levels of a trains as it passes by. So it's kind of designed so that it is not a flat (landscape), but one that kind of (has ) some elevation and good looks.”
Says John: “The JC Railway Co. is designed to give you an all-American cross-country train trip along the way … and you'll find manufacturing, farming, bridges and tunnels. All buildings are scratch built, as are the accessories and some rolling stock. Scenic features include Alberta spruce, plants, ground cover and herbs.”
Would you like to “ooh” and “aah “at John's “pride and joy? You can by attending his annual “Garden Railroad Show,” a benefit for food pantries at St. Mary's Catholic Church and St. Michael's Episcopal Church on Sept. 10 and 11. The garden is open – rain or shine – from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sunday.
Now in its sixth year, the show has collected “around 5,500 pounds of food,” he says, noting last year's show drew 175 visitors, who contributed 1,092 pounds of food and $180 in cash. That show was dedicated to Carol Jean Carr, who John says was the “backbone” of all the painting of the three-inch figurines dotting the landscape. “She was very good at painting,” he says, explaining Carol had the patience to take blank figurines and fill in their faces and paint their pants, shirts and shoes.
“What we try to do with the (layout) is make each scene active, and you do that with people and things. … Carol did all the detailing. She did all the ground cover, all the flowers, all the bushes and those type things. She was a big part in that she did all the painting … (and) I did the railroad part of it: setting the track, leveling it and making sure it was right and performed correctly.”
The goal of every Garden Railroad Show, he says, is “generating more food for the food banks. I kinda had a target every year of collecting at least 1,000 pounds of food. We've got as much as 1,600 pounds one year. We (once) collected 1,200 pounds, and consistently we have been at 1,000 pounds or above.”
To help the food banks, John is asking visitors to bring canned goods of all types, as well nonperishable items and such necessities as diapers, bathroom tissue, feminine hygiene products , toothpaste, detergent, etc. and deposit them on the covered backyard patio. Entrance to the handicap-accessible property is on the east side of the house. Volunteers will be there to assist .
As show host, John keeps busy welcoming and mingling with the inquisitive visitors and answering this most-often asked question: “What do you do with all the houses in the wintertime?” John replies he takes them all inside, explaining he left them outside one winter and the rain and snow got the wood wet, and maintenance cost shot sky high. “So I take them all in. The tracks and trusses stay out. The trains I bring in every night.”
Is there another layout expansion on the horizon? Not likely. “I rotate the scenery so that people see a different view (every year). And I always tell them to walk one way (around the layout), then turn around, walk the other way, and you get a completely new look. For instance, I'll take a farmhouse and put everything related to farming there,” he says pointing his finger. “I will put manufacturing here and take something else and put it over there. I rotate them every year and put them in different places.Then people don't see the same things every year.”
And what's the future of the JC Railway Co?
One day, most of it will go to John's son, Steve, who lives in Tennessee and is an avid garden railroad enthusiast, John says. But Steve may have to wait. His dad isn't ready to turn over his passion, yet.
John explains: “Last year, I kinda had a rough time, you know, being the first year without my wife. I am sitting (at home) wondering, 'Do I really want to do this (garden railroad) or don't I ? ' “So I thought, 'OK, Carol, what do you think I should do?' And I instantly knew what I had to do: 'Get your butt in gear and get it done.' I plan on doing this as long as I can.”
For additional information, call John at 816-373-8487.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.