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While Gene and Sandi Haslett's HardPan Valley Railway is certainly a work-in-progress, it's clearly already succeeding at a task that most of us find terribly daunting and difficult -- integrating a railroad layout with a genuine, honest-to-gosh garden. And we're not just talking about a few beds of pansies here. We're talking about onions and cucumbers and tomatoes.

And if Sandi sets the bar high in full scale, then certainly the G-scale citizens of HardPan Valley must follow suit. Gene hand-strung the grape vine trellis for these colorful "Michaels" varietal vines. Note the repairs underway with posts down near the winery building.

And after a good harvest, a conscientious farmer needs a barn and silo. The valley line has been operating since August 2013. The mountain line in the background is currently under construction.

Sure, it's nice to have a trestle on your layout -- but how about a trellis? Just turn it 90 degrees, put in a few supports, and you have this interesting sort of 'organic tunnel' through a hillside of zucchini plants.

But other areas of the HardPan right-of-way are clearly going through drier, leaner times. Is this an old, weather beaten meeting hall? A grainery? The elements have worn the sign down to tantalizing illegibility. An old mine and hoist have also seen better days, although those tents may indicate somebody's optimism; and there's a row of what looks like logger's cabins clad in fresh-cut siding.

A town has grown up under the shade of a tree, and has created enough business to attract a train stop. On this side of the tree is an orderly row of kit buildings...

...while on the sunlit side, business is booming and so are new buildings. Gene tells me that he makes the building shells from plywood, then carefully glues down the scale lumber siding strip by strip. Looks like we have at least one freight depot here... and strangely, a small blue building that I suspect makes strange "Whoohoop" sounds when it appears and disappears.

Looking down the valley from 'tree-town' reveals the rambling water feature fed by a mountain waterfall seen in the previous picture. The HardPan Valley Railway expansion can be seen as tunnels for track stretch along the horizon.

One of the nice things about visiting a bunch of layouts in a short time is that you begin to get a sense of how far along they are on the way to their goals.

While the Haslett's, by their own description, are still developing the mountain level of their "Hardpan Valley Railway," Earl and Jody Martin's Thunder Valley Narrow Gauge Railway is a mature layout of 16 years and 350 feet. Earl is a serious modeler who doesn't abide by the ten-foot rule; this is a true F Scale, 1:20.3 layout running on Code 215 track.

We'll start with this shot of a nicely weathered K-27 coming around the bend towards Thunder Valley Station (elevation 1100 feet, btw.)

We'll pull out a bit so you can appreciate the details of Thunder Valley. The old Model T at Joe's garage is pretty dusty, f'rinstance, but the local Fire Department insists its equipment be kept clean.

Panning over towards the right, we catch up with the train as it crosses a bridge.

A look across the layout reveals a dry creek bed that's probably of great utility in handling full-scale rain drops. It's the 1930's, so there are automobiles and shiny new automobile bridges.

In fact, I suspect that this car is a Rolls Royce "Silver Ghost." Note the Burma Shave signs, as well as the healthy landscaping.

This little flag stop is at the other side of the bridge.

We've caught up with the train again as it starts into a return loop. Looks like we have some industrial strength earth-moving equipment heading out of town. There's another small town in the background, nestled in the trees.

This beautifully natural creek also takes the spill-off from a water-powered mill. A couple of guys are panning for gold.

And further down the creek, this fellow thinks he can outwit the trout hiding under the rocks.

A small engine shed and freight depot sit along the right-of-way in that second town we noticed a while back.

This Roundhouse "Darjeeling" comes out of the siding and bears witness to another one of Earl's passions -- live steam!

Using R/C, Earl hooks the Darjeeling up to a fancy 'wedding train.' Notice there's a 'high-line' running through the trees along the fence. That might be the source for those cars of gold nuggets accompanying the bride and groom; a nugget from each wedding guest would make a great "nest egg."

A close-up of the wedding party -

That high line takes us down a long siding, where we discover one of the nicest gold mines I've seen.

If we keep following it, we discover that the two lines meet in an industrial 'nook' that includes a cattle pen and the "Ryan Rock Quarry."

SWMTP and I visited the Martin's impressive layout during the 2003 19th National Garden Railway Convention when it was just five years old. Earl and Jodie have maintained the fine-scale operations and landscape beautifully since then. There is hope for all of us; maintenance-of-way will pay big dividends over the years.

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Thank you and your lovely SWMTP, I always enjoy your tours, almost as good as being there.
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