If you plan on enjoying the spectacular lights at Celebration in the Oaks at New Orleans' City Park this holiday season, you should make it a point to check out one of the hidden gems in the Botanical Gardens. It's a collection of model trains and streetcars that take a journey through a miniature Crescent City. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes you aboard these tiny trains in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.
You've probably never seen this New Orleans train ride from this angle before. In fact, you'd have to be about 2 inches tall to get this view out of the engine of one of the trains that circles the tracks in City Park's train garden.
“To be able to entertain children and watch them, and you know the delight in their eyes - I say that we entertain from age 2 to age 102 here,” said park volunteer Mack Maginnis.
Maginnis is one of the volunteer engineers who keeps the garden-sized trains and streetcars moving around 1,500 feet of track. At nearly every turn, there is another Crescent City scene. Like Creole cottages, lighthouses from West End and Pontchartrain Beach, the city's famous cemeteries and St. Louis Cathedral.
This is the 12th Christmas that this train garden has been in operation at City Park, and the volunteers try to add a little something new to their layout.
Redwood boards that survived Hurricane Katrina and old iron drainage grates were used to build a new elevated section of track.
“The trestle itself abstractly represents the Illinois Central trestle over the Bonnet Carre Spillway,” Maginnis said.
You can hear some of the engines as they chug and blast their horns, watch trains pass each other on different loops and see the control lights flash from green to red.
“We are told that we are the fifth-largest public display,” said volunteer Ron Goldman.
Goldman, who retired from the phone company, handles all of the electric circuits.
“I am the electrician they call me - I'm just a guy that's not afraid to get shocked,” he said. “So I do the lighting and track repair where the electrical is concerned, and any other electrical work. I'd probably say we've got over a mile, mile and a half of actual wire - not counting the rails themselves.”
A few of the trains are owned by City Park, but the vast majority of engines and rolling stock belong to volunteers who enjoy sharing them. And that's a common theme among those who keep these trains moving night after night.
“And I've always had trains since I was a little boy,” said volunteer Bob Fairbanks. “Started out with Lionel, which is oh gauge, and it's a labor of love for me.”
So if you visit City Park's Celebration in the Oaks, don't overlook this impressive train display. And be sure to take your time and look really close, and see what's down the track.
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