Attention railroad buffs, train enthusiasts and garden lovers: The Great Pine Railway, a one-of-a-kind, outdoor large-scale model railroad exhibit, is rolling at Old Westbury Gardens.
"This is the first time we’ve done a full garden railway outside," says Paul Hunchak, director of visitor services and public programs for Old Westbury Gardens.
An evergreen exhibit
The idea behind the exhibit, Hunchak explains, is to have folks come see Old Westbury Gardens in a new light, bringing them to a different part of the gardens they may have previously overlooked.
"This exhibit is in the Pinetum, which is the area of the garden where the Phipps had their conifer collection," says Hunchak, referring to John Shaffer Phipps, who owned the Old Westbury estate. "That’s why it’s called, ‘The Great Pine Railway.’"
The railway is designed for the space, notes Leslie Salka, who designed and built the G-gauge model railroad display.
"The pinetum has a nice open lawn area, so we designed it to be something that people could walk around and walk through and enjoy the buildings when the railway’s going through," says Salka, who owns Merrick-based LSI Creative.
A quartet of mini mansions
At 40-by-60 feet, the model railway exhibit comprises three different tracks with 220 feet of railway on which a Great Pine locomotive, New York Central line and Hicksville and Westbury passenger trains run along three different loops. In keeping with the surrounding gardens, Salka added colorful perennial and annual plants to the center of the exhibit.
Old Westbury Gardens commissioned Salka to incorporate four iconic Long Island country houses into the railway exhibit. Visitors will see replicas of the gardens’ Westbury House, Sand’s Point Preserve’s Hempstead House, the entrance tower to Eagle’s Nest at Centerport’s Vanderbilt Museum and Oheka Castle in Huntington, made out of shells, glass mosaics, vintage silverware, wood veneers, and other reclaimed materials.
"The upper loop has two bridges that are about 85 inches high, so you could walk beneath them and view all the mansions and the rest of the rails going around above your head and then go around the rest of them, which are the middle and lower loop on the opposite side," explains Salka.
So far, the exhibit has been a big hit, notes Hunchak. "It’s neat for people of all ages," he says.
Sheila Ziegler, a garden enthusiast, saw the exhibit during a recent visit.
"When you go to see the trains, you also have the benefit of the beauty of the gardens in bloom at this time of year," says Ziegler, 72, of Melville, who particularly appreciated the replicas of the Gold Coast mansions. "So, it’s a doubleheader."
Exhibit goes on
Inclement weather won’t shutter the railway and the trains can still run in a light shower, notes Hunchak.
"They’re designed to be outside," says Hunchak. "When it’s a bad rainstorm, we just take the engines off."
And, you don’t have to be a railway aficionado to enjoy the exhibit.
"It’s just for people who love gardens and motion and color and architecture," says Salka. "Being at Westbury Gardens is a nice experience to begin with, but this gives a little bit of an artistic bent to what you might anticipate for a summer display."
As people currently feel safer congregating outside, Salka believes the exhibit couldn’t have come at a more fitting time. "Outdoors is the new indoors these days," she says.
The Great Pine Railway
WHEN | WHERE: Open daily except Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., now through Monday, Sept. 6; Old Westbury Garden, 71 Old Westbury Road, Old Westbury; 516-333-0048; Oldwestburygardens.org
INFO: Admission to the gardens for adults is $14; 62 & over, $12; children 7-17, $8; full-time student, $12. The exhibit is included in the price of admission to the gardens.