Friday, June 24, 2011

Illinois Top designer shows lavish garden railroads in N. Barrington, Illionois: Top designer shows lavish garden railroads in N. Barrington

Sure Silets has other gardens, including a trellis created with espaliered crabapple trees and a 450-year-old bur oak tree that anchors the shady area.

But Silets is a professional designer of railway gardens and indoor model railroads, designing and building them all over the country. And for one day only, she is inviting the public inside to see her own incredible display.

Aficionados want to see “The Gloree & Tryumfant Garden Railway,” 11 separate G-Scale model trains traveling on 6,000 square feet of operating bridges, waterfalls, streams, lakes, bridges, trestles, city and country vignettes and a circus, covered in plant material and miniature trees of all types.

Then there's the Japanese garden where The Shabui Garden Railway chugs through the waterfalls; and the indoor museum dedicated to Chicago and its trains.

Inside the museum trains operate on three levels, in some places side by side on independent tracks. Model ballplayers really play at Wrigley Field, cars drive through the McDonald's, a man paints the “Welcome to Barrington” sign, water flows in Buckingham Fountain, and Silets and her late husband, Harvey, spit at each other from the iconic fountains in Millennium Park.

All three venues will be operating Saturday, which is the one day of the year that Silets opens the grounds to the public.

Silets fell in love with the iron horses when she was 3 or 4 years old and has been making high-end train systems for 22 years.

“We install to the same protocol as the regular railroads,” said Silets. “We have the same problems, the winter freeze and contraction and the expansion in the spring.” And she uses the same grades for hills, 3 percent or less.

Visitors can watch the trains as long as they want, but they also get to talk to Silets and hear her stories about trains, both real and model.

One year her services were offered as a Top 10 Christmas gift in the Nieman-Marcus catalog, and she built a railway for the buyer in White Plains, N.Y. Another time she struggled to build outdoors in a Dallas park when the temperature was 110 degrees.

Children recognize the different types of rail cars from watching Thomas the Tank Engine, the animated television series.

Silets will talk about driving a steam engine for the Rovos Rail in South Africa — “The scariest thing I've ever done.”

The firebox was on one side of her seat, and she got pelted with cinders when she put her head out the window on the other side.

Still, that train is on her list of favorites, along with the White Pass & Yukon where passengers look down on a trail 20 inches wide that miners had to climb with 150-pound packs before they got to the ice stairs.

And she rode the Orient Express when it was not a luxury train.

But her best train ride ever?

“The bullet train in Japan,” said Silets.

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