Model trains became a part of The Living Desert in 1998 during the annual WildLights holiday program from the day after Thanksgiving until the New Year. Initially, it was decided that although the trains would operate only in the evenings as part of WildLights, basic layout of track would remain in place; only the trains and buildings would be stored. However, because of the popularity of the display, the trains started running full time during the regular park hours beginning January 1, 2001. The trains are referred to as “G” scale, which is approximately 1/2 inch to the foot or 1:22.5 inches, about twice the size of Lionel trains. Although not the largest model scale train, it is the most popular “large scale” train. The locomotives, rolling stock, track, switches and most of the equipment are made by LGB. In fact, the letters “LGB” stand for Lehmann Gross Bahn or Lehmann’s Big Train.
LGB, the world’s first “G-scale” train, was born in 1968. However, the family history of LGB goes back to 1881, when Ernst Paul Lehmann founded a small toy-making company in Brandenburg, Germany. Lehmann had a keen eye for new ideas and his”patent” toys, like the honking Tut Tut auto and flying Ikarus airplane, soon gave “Ernest Paul Lehmann Patentwerk” a worldwide reputation for toy innovation. Ernst Paul Lehmann’s cousin, Johannes Richter, joined the company in 1921 and built on Lehmann’s reputation with patented toys like the ingenious Skirolf skier. After the East German government seized the company in 1948, Richter moved his family and the firm to Nurnberg in the West. Then, 20 years later, Richter’s sons, Eberhard and Wolfgang, introduced the family’s boldest invention: LGB- The Big Train. Today, Ernst Paul Lehmann Patentwerk is still family owned with Eberhard and Wolfgang’s sons, Johannes and Rolf, at the helm. The LGB family also includes the many dedicated employees at the Lehmann’s home in Nurnberg and at LGB of America in San Diego, California. They craft LGB trains using the latest in computer aided design, precision machining processes and robotic production techniques. Together, the LGB family has over 100 years of experience creating innovative products and serving demanding customers. LGB trains are one of the best selling big trains in the world.
Living Desert volunteers built the railroad along with the world’s longest wooden “G” scale trestle measuring 202 feet and 8 inches. However, it was not intended to set a record. It was designed for the same reasons the real ones are. Our trestle allows the trains to negotiate the drop of almost 2 feet between the upper and lower portions of the wash where it was built. The grade is 1% or 1 inch in every 100 inches. The entire trestle is constructed from redwood, glued and stapled at all joints.
Currently there are more than 3,300 feet of track laid. With six different loops of track, each varying from 150 feet to over 900 feet long, the railroad has grown to 3/4 acre. The mainline train travels on 940 feet of track and runs through Old Indio, past the Grand Canyon and along side the mining and logging areas. The trains are driven into a workshop each night, measuring approximately 12 x 42 feet. They are checked for any necessary repairs, cleaned, and made ready for the next day.
The trains operate from 0-18 volts of DC electricity by going through the rails, picked up by the wheels on the locomotive and on to the motors. The larger locomotives have two motors while the smaller ones have only one. The amount of electricity used for one train is about the same as a 25-watt light bulb. All the trains and track along with the buildings are property of The Living Desert.
The trains are designed to be operational during wet and windy conditions but are generally kept in storage until better weather. From June 1 to October 1, the trains exhibit is shut down for maintenance, construction and cleaning with the exception of 2 trains.
Train displays that are currently running are historic scenes such as Mount Rushmore, a California logging and mining town, the south rim of the Grand Canyon with a scale model of the El Tovar Hotel and Southwest US cliff dwellings. The Old Indio train station depicts the early days of railroading here in the Coachella Valley from about 1875 to the mid 1950’s. If not for railroads, our country could not have achieved what we did in the short time the railroads have been around. Just about everything we touch today has been at one time on the rails of our country.
The all-weather proof control center allows us to operate and monitor the location of all the trains operating in the Western, Logging, and Mining sections from one central location. The Living Desert intends to expand and improve the layout each year. Landscaping along with a drip system to support the live plants that will control dust, erosion and enhance the railroad is being added.
With one full time Living Desert staff member and a crew of 25 volunteers, the railroad will continue to grow, running 7 days a week with at least seven trains running continuously on the layout. Alongside the animal exhibits and botanical gardens at The Living Desert, this unique display has become a visitor favorite.
Volunteers and enthusiasts are always welcome to participate. The current volunteers are not part of any one club or group. They are individuals who love the art of the model railroad. No experience or particular skill is necessary. If you would like to find out more about volunteering and playing with fun model trains, just contact Justin Carmichael at The Living Desert at 760-346-5694, ext. 2503.
To learn more about how to Adopt A Train at The Living Desert, click here.
Train Operating Hours:
9am – 5pm from October 1 to May 31
8am – 1:30pm from June 1 to September 30