Railroad in my Backyard

The layout of Centralia Garden Railroad is over 12′ X 60′ located in my backyard in Spring Hill, Florida. The layout was based on Centralia, a logging town in West Central Florida, that existed from 1900 until 1922. Because there are only a few photographs from the early 1900’s of Centralia, and nearly no remains from the town, lots could be left to one’s imagination and creativity. So, below are current photographs of the model railroad town as created by the “engineer”.

New Retaining Wall

Now that the plants have been replanted and structures moved, the garden railway is coming alive in March with new blooms and new growth.

The layout is over 12 x 60 feet, with 3 lines, a tunnel, 2 rivers and a 4 lakes. Planted with over 60 species of miniature plants, the layout depicts a logging town in west central Florida, however, imagination sometimes triumphed, as it is unlikely tunnels would be needed in this part of the state.

In 1910 mill that employed over 1000 people is modeled here in the middle of the layout. Close by is a model of the water tower with the famous log that was seen in photographs recording one of the largest logs ever cut. In the History of Centralia section, the original photos of the mill, water tower and log may be viewed.


The layout has a couple rivers, but this one represents Weeki Wachee Springs as it flows to a recreational area that is represented by a sand castle. In real Centralia of the 1900’s, a popular recreational area was Tooke Lake which is nearby Weeki Wachee, however, the river does not flow into that lake.

The railroad passes over a dry river bed past the Centralia Boarding House in the back left. In the foreground there are two other rail lines with a road that is located in the center of the photo. The concrete roadway seemed to look out of place and has been subsequently removed and replaced with limestone, which is probably more realistic for the time.

Buildings, Figures, and Features:

When construction was underway for what is now “Grand Centralia Station,” a small “doggie doors” were included so one of the lines could enter the building.

In the early 1900’s, Gambles Commissary was one of the largest dry goods and grocery store in Florida. The commissary had hours from 6 AM until 10PM daily. Since I have been unable to locate photos of the exterior of the building, I used a couple model buildings that I purchased for the commissary. The fruit and vegetables in the market are mostly made of “magic sculpt”epoxy molding clay or painted beads. The baskets are painted beverage caps that are filled with painted beads or molded fruit.

This photo shows a model of the Boarding House at night. All the interiors buildings are lit at night and have landscape lighting so they can be viewed at night.

“Magic Sculpt,” an epoxy modeling material, was used to construct tree stumps next to the Centralia Garden Railroad. Centralia had to have a huge number of stumps since timbermen cut over 15,000 acres of cypress trees alone between 1900 and 1922.

Located in Hernando County, Centralia was surrounded by limerock mining and farming. In this photo a mine with a steamshovel is shown. A point-to-point line runs from the mine to a limestone processing plant on the other end of the layout. On that line a 1921 Mack gasoline powered locomotive runs to and fore.

In this rather poor photo, figures are shown in the local saloon, which Centralia had several.

Centralia had a 1900’s version of Walmart in the merchandise and drygoods store known as George Gamble’s Commissary. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any photos of the exterior of the building, but have copies of photos of the interior and descriptions of massive size of the store. Built in the early 1900’s, the Commissary was larger than any stores in Tampa or Jacksonville. It was large enough to hold over four freight car loads of goods. In fact, the railroad came right to the commissary to provide merchandise to the residents of Centralia. Open from 6 AM until 10 PM, the store had a pot-bellied wood stove where towns people would gather for tallk.

A New Commissary:

In the garden railroad town of Centralia, I built a two-story commissary that appears to have wood clapboard siding. However, I used a method from “Stoneworks” that uses concrete made to look like clapboard siding. With Florida’s weather extremes and insects, this method seemed sensible.

Below is an old photograph of the interior of the commissary:

When building the commissary, I felt it was important to make it as realistic as possible. So I included a pot-bellied stove with two-storied shelves of merchandise. Although it is difficult to see, my commissary is lighted so you can see the shelves of merchandise and the pot-bellied stove in the middle of the store with folks gathered around in conversation.

A Cabin at the Weeki Wachee River:

Several years when shopping for Christmas items for the Centralia Garden Railroad, I ventured into Michaels and found an interesting little cabin. I bought it and then modified it by making it into a stilt house and adding a front porch. On the layout, the cabin is located near Weeki Wachee Springs area and is the home to a model mermaid. However, the original construction material – basswood, was not the best quality for outdoor use and has weathered poorly. The roof has needed repair several times and now needs it again as you can see below:


So the rotten wood was replaced and a new paint job was applied. This should last another year…then a complete new roof, probably made of metal or hardyboard, will be needed. In the meantime, the mermaid at Centralia’s Weeki Wachee Springs has a new home.


My Trains:

The shay is a live steam engine that usually runs on an elevated track next to the Centralia Garden Railway. This engine is manufactured by Accucraft.

The live-steam engine above is manufactured by Roundhouse in England. The model is a forney.

Here an LGB engine pulls several LGB car on the Centralia Garden Railroad.

This LGB model, a mogul, is similar to the photos seen in the 1900’s in Centralia. It has a wheel configuration of 2-6-0.

On the Centralia Garden Railroad, there is a point to point line with this Mack carrying limerock from the quarry to the processing plant. There is no evidence that this engine was or was not used in Hernando County mining, however, this little Mack was a gasoline powered engine that went into use in 1921.

One of my favorite engines is a “Ruby” made by Accucraft. This live-steam engine has been “kitbashed” and modified.

5 comments on “Railroad in my Backyard

  1. My husband and I took our 4 children to see the remains of the Centralia Site- It was a fantastic adventure. We would love to visit your Centralia Garden Railroad in person. I am also writing an article about Centralia and perhaps you have some historical information that would help.

  2. I live in Spring Hill and just beginning my journey into Garden Railways in Florida, The “Melonhead West Central & Southern is being born as I enter this reply! Would love to see your layout and share ideas. grmelon@msn.com

    • Thanks for dropping me a line. Too bad you didn’t write me a week earlier, as we just held a meet for the Florida Garden RR group at my house. We’d love to have you come by to see it. Unfortunately, I will not be available until after January 10. Also, I built a garden railroad 20 years ago at the Nature Coast Botanical Gardens on Parker Ave in Spring Hill. It only runs on Saturday morning, but the garden is open daily dusk to dawn. We are looking for volunteers to help on Saturdays, if you’d like to help out. I won’t be at the Gardens until January 15. Looking forward to meeting you.

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