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ALL ABOARD FOR MODEL-RAILROAD FANS' OPEN HOUSE EVENT HOBBYISTS IN TRAINING TOGETHER, BUILDING BACKYARD SETS.

Byline: Carol Rock Staff Writer

CASTAIC - A tiny Al Swearengen leans over the balcony of the Gem Saloon, except this bar isn't anywhere near Melody Ranch, home of his HBO series ``Deadwood.''

This tyrant lords over a miniature homage to the series by train fan Debbie Goetz, who, with her husband, Dan, has built the Western town into their 140-foot backyard garden railroad.

The saloon isn't far from Goetz Yer Guns and a rustic but shiny Harley-Davidson dealership.

``You get to take a certain amount of artistic license,'' Dan Goetz said with a laugh as he showed off his layout. ``This allows you to combine your interests.''

The Goetzes are among four garden railroaders opening their backyards to visitors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday for the Santa Clarita Valley Garden Railroad Club open house.

A similar event held last year drew more than 300 people to layouts across the valley. Other ``scale nuts'' (as they affectionately call themselves) welcoming visitors are John and Marie Nozzi, Alan and Donna Wright, and Curt and Cheryle Ehrlich.

The club has 30 families, about half of them running trains, and others in the process of building their layouts. Meetings rotate to different homes, where members share their skills in areas such as laying track, electrical wiring, ballast, landscaping and weathering.

``We go over and help each other,'' Goetz said. ``There are a lot of books on the subject, but there's nothing like learning from someone who has done it before.''

Dan said once he and Debbie decided to do a garden train, they had engines running on tracks surrounded by nothing but dirt for the first few months.

``It's important to get your trains running early and not get discouraged,'' he said. ``The quality of the layout definitely improves with age.''

The Goetzes spend about three hours a week clearing leaves and sticks from the 600 feet of track that lines their hillside yard and Debbie keeps a watchful eye on the creeping greenery, wielding needle-nose pincers on ground cover and the more than 100 bonsai, boxwoods and junipers that create the perfect wilderness.

With eight engines and 60 passenger and freight cars, Dan usually runs five trains at a time, the sound of their whistles drifting over the canyon breezes.

``My neighbor, Terry, says he hears trains echoing in the canyon,'' Dan said. ``I tell him it's just the ghost railroad.''

In September 2001, the couple wanted to do something with their backyard and saw an ad from the local railroad group in a magazine. After a visit from the club's president, Alan Wright, and some other hobbyists, the Goetzes were hooked. Now, literally, the rest is history, with their ``Deadwood and Dry Gulch Railroad'' teeming with 250 people as well as scattered buffalo, bear, moose and a pack of miners that resemble seven well-known dwarves.

Garden railroading doesn't have to be an expensive hobby, but one look at the layouts shows extensive networks of irrigation drip systems, landscaping, scenery configurations and electronics that make the engines come alive, blow their whistles and change tracks as they chug along.

``Depending on how much detail you want to get into, you can control how much you spend,'' Dan said. ``If you build scratch buildings, it will cost less than building from kits.''

In the winter, the engines, people and wooden buildings come inside for a little refurbishing as Debbie turns their dining-room table into a restoration workshop.

The layout evolves continuously; originally the Goetzes set the era of the layout at 1880 to 1900, until Debbie got interested in vintage enamel trucks. Now a Coca-Cola truck can be spotted not far from a Texaco vehicle; a milk truck ambles toward a house and the pumpkin patch has the ever-present pickup truck ready to be loaded.

``We've expanded to 1930 now,'' he said. ``But we'll never be finished.''

Carol Rock, (661) 257-5252

carol.rock(at)dailynews.com

IF YOU GO

Santa Clarita Valley Garden Railroad Club Open House

9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday

Four garden layouts featured:

Goetz home, 30307 Winchester Road, Castaic

Nozzi home, 25740 Tamarisk Place, Valencia

Wright home, 24403 Zermatt Place, Valencia

Ehrlich home, 26052 Viento Court, Valencia

Maps of layouts are available at each home, or via an e-mail request to adwright(at)comcast.net

CAPTION(S):

6 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Debbie Goetz trims the trees in her tiny railside town. She and her husband, Dan, have built a small Western settlement into their 140-foot backyard garden railroad in Castaic.

(2) Dan Goetz takes the controls of the miniature railroad next to his house in Castaic. ``It's important to get your trains running early and not get discouraged,'' he said.

(3 -- 4) Above, a little ``Pick Yer Own'' pumpkin patch adorns the model town in the Goetzes' backyard. Below, Deadwood station, inspired by the HBO Western series ``Deadwood,'' is part of the Goetzes' miniature garden world.

(5) A small locomotive makes its way, chugging around the track through the diminutive scenery in the Goetz yard. The Goetzes are among four garden railroaders opening their yards to visitors.

(6) Freight cars are pulled by a tiny locomotive. The Goetzes spend hours a week keeping the 600 feet of track clear.

David Crane/Staff Photographer

Box:

IF YOU GO (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 3, 2005
Words:888
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