The IGRS, it’s More Than a Hobby

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Published on June 30, 2010 with No Comments

by Carl Kurek
All Aboard!
Atop a 2000 square foot raised layout, more than 600 running feet of track, dubbed the Bull Moose Line, makes up the Illiana Garden Railroad Society’s outdoor G-scale railway. .The IGRS is a not-for-profit group of G-scale enthusiasts from throughout Indiana and Illinois whose goal is to educate the public about garden railroading, railroad modeling, and the construction and running of garden railways
The IGRS was founded in April of 2003 and the construction of the Illiana road began in June of the following year on the north-west corner of the Samuelson Garden Center in Valparaiso.
“Max [Samuelson] pretty much started this for us, he basically got it laid out for us, we’ve just gone from there,” David Ransom, president of the IGRS, said. “This is the fifth or sixth year we’ve had it.”
The club started out with a portable unit that they could take around to encourage interest in G-Scale railroading as a hobby in schools, children’s hospitals, nursing homes and various fairs in the tri-state area of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. This portable unit made its first public appearance in May of 2004 at the Indiana Pond and Water Show in Crown Point.
The group started out with only a small set up, but over the years, it grew to include a waterfall, a millpond, live plants and a mock town, Franville, named after Fran Samuelson, the founding members wife. There are even 30 to 40 moose figurines scattered throughout the layout.
“We just brought one out one time and it was about the right scale and from there we just started collecting them. We have kids count the moose sometimes,” Ransom said.
The whole set up is wired to supply electricity throughout the layout and members can bring their own trains to run on the tracks anytime the Samuelson nursery is open.
Many members are Valparaiso residents, but some come from as far away as Hebron, St. John, Ogden Dunes, Lake Station and even Monticello. Some of the members were in the train business, running real engines while others just loved trains as a child.
“Our members are real good about coming out and assisting on Saturdays. We’ve got some pretty talented members, some even built the buildings in the little town,” Ransom said.
“It’s a family affair. We invite the entire family to come out and have a good time,” he added.
Don Hewlett is another one of the clubs founding members who has since taken on the title of treasurer and owns a number of trains that he frequently runs on the Bull Moose Line.
“It’s more than a hobby really,” Hewlett, who has been involved with model trains for over 60 years, said. “You can come out every week and you’re going to see different trains running. You’ll see a lot of variations.”
The club’s location is an attraction to the young and old. The older tend to appreciate the hard work and skill that goes into setting up something like this, while the children tend to enjoy it for another reason.
“We’ve got to keep Thomas the Train out because the kids just love that. We’ve got two of those incase one breaks down,” Ransom said.
This past Saturday, Russell and LuAnn Shirley brought their twin grandsons, Austin and Connor, out to the IGRS’s location.
“It’s much cooler than the zoo and we knew it was here so we wanted to bring the grandkids because they love trains,” Shirley said about the 2 1/2-year-olds, to which his wife added, “We usually just come for the plants but it’s good to come see the trains too.”
The IGRS is open to the pubic every Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from March through October weather permitting and admission is free. The group is planning to host an open house sometime in July to try and attract more people to the Bull Moose Line. The IGRS is located at Samuelson’s Garden Center located off of North State Road 2 in Valparaiso. For more information about the IGRS and the open house call (219) 462-2708 or visit

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