The Great Train Show – All Aboard for Model Train Fun

Phoenix, Arizona.

A chance notice online alerted me to The Great Train Show happening one weekend in Phoenix. It’s an annual occurrence at the Arizona State Fair Grounds. No, it’s not about real trains, it’s about model railroading, those small “train sets” that hobbyists go overboard building in basements, spare rooms, and even outdoor gardens around the United States. Who could resist stopping for a visit? In Phoenix, several different groups brought and set up small (and not so small) railroad setups. As you can see in the opening photo, it’s not just about trains, it’s also about miniature cities, rural areas, and other scenery designs.

While I’ve seen several different train configurations in other places I’ve visited, I discovered at this show that Lego has a collection of small railroad components. Those Lego sets have that unique “look” that is immediately recognizable as Lego so it’s not that realistic looking miniature setup, but judging by the interest in the displays, there is a large following of people interested in that “Lego” look. The image above is only about half of the largest Lego train set display at the show.

My favorite style is the realistic HO gauge size, a common scale that most people are familiar with. In addition to looking at the modeler group’s setups, it was interesting to walk through the vendor area where people were selling new and used components, cars, engines, and scenery. Other common gauge sizes are N gauge and O gauge and there are other less popular gauge sizes.

I learned at this show about the “G” gauge trains and components. I was told that “G” stands for Garden and these larger train layouts are meant to be designed and landscaped in exterior gardens. According to Wikipedia, the first G scale trains started appearing in the market in 1968. To give you an idea of how big these train cars and engines are, a scale 40-ft (12.2 m) box car is 17.25 inches long by 4.5 inches wide by 6.5 inches high (43.8 cm x 11.4 cm x 16.5 cm). Compare this to a standard HO gauge 40-ft (12.2m) box car at 5.75 inches long by 1.5 inches wide by 2 inches high. (14.6 cm x 3.81 cm x 5.08 cm). HO is the most popular scale probably because it allows realistic layouts in much smaller space than the larger scales. The G gauge train is at its best in an outdoor garden with live garden plants. The large size and detail, though, is accompanied by a considerably larger cost for each component.

Part of the hobby is in the construction of the landscapes. In the photo above, a model railroader concentrates on repairing a section of track. Some tracks are electrically wired to power the trains, other systems have the power source built into the engines. As with most hobbies these days, smart controllers allow each train to be controlled by the “engineer” and track switching can also be automated as well.

This large trestle is but a short section of one of the larger displays. As you can see, this is not a Lego style design. If I recall correctly, this setup is an HO gauge display.

Finally, for those who got tired of looking at the smaller trains, for a small fee, kids and their parents could be “engineer” and drive hand powered engines. If you don’t live in the Phoenix area, there are several locations around the country that feature different model train expositions. By far the biggest number of shows are organized by The Great Train Show but you can see a map and schedule of model train shows in the country in 2019 can be found here.

All aboard for train show fun!

John Steiner


  1. I remember as a kid I saw Roadside America in PA. For years after that my Dad and I built and painted houses, tunnels, etc. I still love trains!!

  2. You have me wanting to go unpack my HO-gauge set now, John – my late grandfather who I was named after gave me his entire set and it is one of my most prized possessions ( and I am very sentimental!)

  3. I’ve wondered why model railroaders rarely do urban settings… That would be fun with graffiti on the bridges/train etc. Who doesn’t have a soft spot for legos? What a cool place to visit!

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