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Model locomotive one of state's biggest

LOGANVILLE - Boys don't grow up, their toys just get bigger.

Five Gwinnett residents who operate the Vines Garden Railroad, one of the largest model railroads in the state, are living proof of that statement.

The operators may have toyed with small-scale model trains as children, but they never got to play with anything as large as the G-scale trains they now run in Loganville's Gwinnett County Park.

In the setup, passenger and freight trains weave past two villages, a farm and an airport, traveling over a 22-foot steel bridge and through two tunnels on 1,000 feet of track.

It's a labor of love for members of the Vines Garden Railroad Club, all of whom are retired and are starting on their second childhood: Lawrence McFall of Lawrenceville, Bob Giselbach of Buford, Hub Evens of Lilburn, Norman Allum of Dacula, and Johnny Johnson of Lilburn.

A bridge or tunnel can take two months or more to build, often from scratch. Club members, all of them retired, fund most of the railroad operations themselves, with some help from donations.

But none of them love anything more. Evens, who worked for Union Pacific for several years, and said his interest in trains has never waned over the decades.

"It's something that you never get out of your blood." Evens said.

The railroad was created in 1998 by John Gibb, but it faltered in 2001 when volunteers were unable to dedicate enough time to keep it running. McFall restarted the railroad two years later and was soon joined by more volunteers. And the club is looking to add another 350 feet of track and switching units so trains can move between tracks.

Volunteers operate the railroad every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. free of charge and sometimes open it up on weekdays for school field trips. Sometimes people bring their own trains to run on the Vines Garden Railroad's extensive track.

According to McFall, the hobby is getting more popular, too. He said there are at least 75 people who operate G-scale trains in Georgia, up from only 25 a few years ago.

Last weekend McFall, Giselbach and Evens traveled to Perry for a garden railroad convention, the first in the Southeast. They packed all their equipment - trains, track, bridges and everything - into the back of Giselbach's SUV.

"It was packed up so much my wife couldn't have went if she wanted to," Giselbach said.

Club members' love of trains isn't always shared by their wives.

"She knows that I enjoy it and she tolerates it," McFall joked.

For more information, e-mail Lawrence McFall at limfixtur@bellsouth.net or go to vinesgardenrailroad.com.