. . . [As] I began planning a new resource that would reduce barriers that were keeping people from entering the hobby. I came to realize that one of the largest barriers was the barrier of terminology, including what we called the hobby itself.
. . . only one significant online resource prominently featured that phrase [Garden Trains] before the year 2000 - Family Garden Trains(tm)
. . . their newfound "family" emphasis is really a "bait and switch" operation, and, unfortunately, Family Garden Trains(tm) is the "bait."
The . . . sad part isn't that people looking for Family Garden Trains may wind up getting the information they need from another site - it's that they won't get the information they need at all . . . .
What's In A Name?
Family Garden Trains(tm) was the first significant online resource to promote the phrase "Garden Trains." However, not all "Garden Train" sites are created equal. In fact, a few seem to be designed only to snare beginners looking for "Family Garden Trains" or the "Garden Train Association" site. I've written more than I ever wanted to on this subject, but it keeps coming up, as the copying, trademark violation, and plagiarism becomes more and more blatant. So, for what it's worth, this "installment" is a timeline that outlines how and when we began promoting the phrase "garden trains," and how other people have since begun using it appropriately and inappropriately ever since.
1984-2000: How the Phrase "Garden Trains" Got Into Our Title
In the early 1980s, when I first got interested in garden railroading, most people who were doing it or writing about it had come from a model railroading background, so everything they wrote (even the names of their articles and web sites) was targeted to people who already understood railroads and model railroading. As an example, the names of many resources included phrases like "Large Scale," which meant nothing at all to most people.
In the mid-1980s, when I began writing and doing public speaking on behalf of the hobby, I came to realize that hardly anyone outside of the model railroading hobby knew what "Garden Railroading" meant either. In those day, if you said "LGB" people would remember something cute they saw in a toy store (the Stainz and its four-wheeled coaches, of course), but that was about it.
Of course I was just as guilty as anyone else - in the late 1980s, I started a company called "Mad River Garden Railroads" with the idea that it would become a place where other hobbyists could get hard-to-find information and products. Although my "company" never made a dime, I learned a lot about the industry in the process (some of which is in our Primer article Where to Buy Garden Railroading Stuff). I also learned that almost no one who heard the name of my company had the foggiest idea what it was about. Ironically, Mad River Garden Railroads still gets appeals from charities in the mail, some ten years after I abandoned the name and let my state licenses "time out."
In the mid-1990s, I began planning a new resource that would reduce barriers that were keeping people from entering the hobby. I came to realize that one of the largest barriers was the barrier of terminology, including what we called the hobby itself.
After watching enough people's eyes glaze over when I tried to explain "garden railroading," "Large Scale," and related terms, I finally boiled it down to "trains you run in the garden," or "garden trains" for short. In fact, the phrase "Garden Trains" meant more to most outsiders than any of the terms we were used to using, and it was also easier to say.
In 1996, I named my new resource "Family Garden Trains"(tm) to incorporate this simpler, more meaningful terminology. I also wanted to convey that garden railroading is truly a family hobby, and not just something Dad or Grandpa does in the basement during cold weather. In April, 1996 I changed the name on my old "Mad River Garden Railroads" letterhead to "Family Garden Trains"(tm), shown above. (I've digitally erased my phone number from the graphic, because you can get some wierd calls when your phone number is posted on the internet. But it it's any help with the dating, the area code was "513," an area code that hasn't applied to Springfield, Ohio for years.)
In 1997, I drew a better logo and incorporated the phrase "Make your back yard the family place to be." Since the purpose of my resource was informative, not commercial, I "piggybacked" my early pages about garden railroading onto the web site I'd been using for my consulting business (www.btcomm.com). It didn't occur to me at the time that I would need to register trademarks or register my site name as a domain name. After all, domain names were a lot more expensive in those days, and we "garden train" afficianados were all on the same side, weren't we?
In 1998, I began organizing the garden railroad portion of my site more seriously. Initially I called the site "New Boston and Donnels Creek," after the name of my own garden railroad. However I did feature the "people-around-the-train" logo (above) and state that the site was "sponsored by Family Garden Trains(tm).
In 1999, I restructured the site to put the emphasis on the beginner-oriented articles (making the "New Boston and Donnels Creek" part more subordinate). From that point on the site name was simply "Family Garden Trains"(tm).
It is true that the phrase "Garden Trains" has been used in the past in magazine articles and other places in passing. But, to my knowledge, only one significant online resource prominently promoted that phrase before the year 2000 - Family Garden Trains(tm).
2000-June, 2001: Garden Trains Association Comes Onboard
Shortly thereafter, I learned that the major manufacturers of "large scale trains" were trying to start an industry organization that would advocate for the hobby in other venues, including mass media and "generic" gardening magazines. Garden Media Group, the advertising agency they hired to help set up and promote their organization was in contact with me from the beginning (they even paid me for material they used in their early advertising). The industry group came to be incorporated as Garden Trains Association, and in June, 2001 they registered the domain name "gardentrains.org". I didn't feel threatened by the similarity of their site name to mine, because the GTA and I had entirely different, and entirely complementary objectives. No one who found either my site or the GTA site by googling "garden trains" would be remotely confused about which site was which.
August, 2001: The First Copycat Sites Emerge
Soon things took a darker turn, however. In July and August, 2001, the owners of a commercial website registered four domain names that were very similar to gardentrains.org (they registed a fifth the following year.) Now there is nothing at all wrong with registering domain names, even many names that are similar to the domain name of a legitimate site, unless your purpose in doing so is to trick people who are looking for legitimate sites into thinking they've found them. The site they created at that time camouflaged its affiliation to its "home" site, so a person stumbling across it might honestly believe he had found a legitimate "garden train" site like Garden Trains Association or Family Garden Trains, instead of a counterfeit meant to divert traffic from those sites. At the time, the site looked more like the GTA site than it did ours, so I wouldn't have considered it a direct threat to Family Garden Trains, except that they embedded the phrase "Family Garden Trains" as an invisible search term in their pages. At the time, I "looked the other way" because they had close to fifty times our budget, and I didn't want to raise a stink that could hurt the hobby. Unfortunately the other site owners must have credited my inaction to ignorance or apathy, because the attempts to siphon off Family Garden Trains readers (or even GTA readers) to their site didn't end there.
2002-2004: Domain Name Squatters Get Involved
familygardentrains.com gets kidnapped - I didn't realize it until later, but in April, 2002 the domain name equivalent of my own site name (familygardentrains.com) was registered by another site owner (so were the .org and .net versions). Since I had been using the name "Family Garden Trains"(tm) in "interstate trade" since 1996, there was no way the other site could actually use that domain name without violating federal trademark laws. My guess is that they wanted to keep me from using it, or else that they were hoping we'd close up shop soon and they'd be able to jump in and siphon off our readers (something people are still trying to do in other ways).
gardentrainstore.com is also waylaid - Since I founded the Family Garden Trains web site, people have been asking me where to find garden railroad products. In October, 2004, Kalmbach set me up as an advertiser for their products, which gave me the ability to link to other products I could advertise as well. In February, 2005 I began a "subsidiary" page called "Garden Train Store(tm)" that provided descriptions of products that most beginners need, with links to multiple vendors for each product when possible. As users requested access to more products, though, I began contacting additional vendors. In March, 2005, one very large company gave me the "runaround" for several days before they finally blew me off altogether. However, in April, 2005 the same company that had blown off my proposal registered the domain name "gardentrainstore.com." Again, I didn't realize that until later. Even now, I can't imagine what they were thinking, since they can't use the name themselves unless I close up shop. Maybe they're keeping their fingers crossed as I write this.
In late 2005, I realized that some trademark violations were beginning to have an effect on the integrity of my brands. I decided then that it was time to cough up the money and register my trademarks as domain names. That's when I discovered that "familygardentrains.com" and "gardentrainstore.com" had already been registered by other hobby site owners. Yes, they're in violation of federal trademark law. And yes, if I had thousands of dollars laying around I didn't need for anything else, I could go to mediation and buy the "right" to use my own trademarks. But this is an avocation, not a vocation, and money goes out faster than it comes in at the best of times. So I registered "familygardentrains.com" and "garden-train-store.com" and began using them to make it obvious that I was STILL using my trademarks in interstate trade, and hopefully convince the squatters that theirs was a lost cause.
2006: Copycat Sites Claim a new "Family" Emphasis
In early 2006 I mentioned that certain sites had been using "Family Garden Trains" as a search term on their web page for years. Word must have gotten back, because those pages have recently been revised. Unfortunately, the copying became even more obvious. Sure, the phrase "Family Garden Trains" was taken out of the search field section, but the word "Family" was inserted in the header, in close proximity to the phrase "Garden Trains." The sites' slogan has been changed from one that had emphasized trains to one that emphasizes family - something they had barely referred to before. In addition, some of the other materials on their sites (as of June 20, 2006) directly plagiarize material from Family Garden Trains pages.
Of course the site owners could argue that the newly proclaimed "family" emphasis is a result of a religious conversion or something. But if that was the case, why don't they have any articles on Getting and Keeping the Kids Involved, or any family- or kid-oriented articles on their site to speak of (as of June 20, 2006)? In fact, they don't actually have any real articles, but they do have a lot of links to other sites they run and products they sell. This tells me that their newfound "family" emphasis is really a "bait and switch" operation, and, unfortunately, Family Garden Trains(tm) is the "bait."
The Real Danger of Copycat Sites
But would these suddenly "family friendly" copycats fool a newbie or search engine looking for "Family Garden Trains"? Well, unfortunately they could, unless a person typed our site name in exactly. The sad part isn't that people looking for Family Garden Trains may wind up getting the information they need from the other sites. I am all for people getting the information they need - that's why I link to so many books and magazines and videos, including products that I don't get any compensation for selling. The sad part about people being fooled by counterfeit sites is that they won't get the information they need at all, as the "copycat" sites are not particularly informative. So anyone "siphoned off" to the copycat sites may not only fail to realize that they've been duped; they may also become frustrated and "turned off" from the hobby that Family Garden Trains(tm), Garden Trains Association, and many other legitimate resources have been striving to build up for years.
What Can We Do?We can continue to provide free, professionally-written content that encourages beginners to investigate, and, hopefully, to get involved in the hobby. Ultimately that will benefit the owners of the "copycat" sites along with everyone else, but that's a risk we have to take.
We have added an extra header with the words "The Original, The Only" on the top of many of our pages now. We're also striving to carry our "standard" look and feel throughout more of our pages. It's not much, but at least folks who do find their way to our pages will know where they are.
As of June 19, 2006, it seems that the "squatter" who registered "familygardentrains" domain name back in 2002 has let the registration lapse, and I may actually have control over it within a few weeks. We'll see.
In the meantime, we are still the original the only Family Garden Trains(tm), the Internet's largest collection of free, professionally-written Garden Railroading articles for beginning-to-intermediate Garden Railroaders.
What Can You Do?Enjoy your trains. Add us to your link pages and your favorites list. And when you hear or see the phrase "garden trains," remember, like so many other things that have been copied from this site, you probably saw it here first. I don't own the phrase "garden trains," of course, but neither does anyone else. I do own the phrase "Family Garden Trains"(tm) and I intend to keep it.
Update, June 27, 2006After playing a game of digital "capture the flag," it looks like the familygardentrains.com domain name is finally under the control of Family Garden Trains(tm)! Imagine. Details are in the very brief article "What's In A Name, Part 2: familygardentrains.com Comes Home".
Please let me know if you have any feedback, and have a great summer,
See you online,
Note: Family Garden Trains?, Garden Train Store?, Big Christmas Trains?, BIG Indoor Trains?, and BIG Train Store? are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically
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