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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

Update for September, 2006 - This article was originally written in 2002, and it was targeted to garden railroaders, people who run big trains outside. (Click on the Family Garden Trains logo above for more information on that hobby.) As a result, the original article included many references to brand names and other information that would mean nothing to the average person who didn't have trains running in his or her back yard. If you stumbled across the article in that iteration and it made no sense to you, don't feel bad--it was my fault.

Recently I've discovered that many non-garden-railroaders have read this article, in search of information about specific products I mentioned. I also became involved, somewhat by accident in another kind of hobby: Christmas Villages and the trains that go with them. This happened when I tried to write an article about Christmas Trains, and it turned into a catalog after people kept asking me where they could buy things. Before this, I confess, I saw the Christmas Village stuff as mostly a way to scrounge figures and accessories for my garden railroad without paying inflated hobby shop prices. After learning about the wide variety of holiday village products available (including some for year-round displays), I realize that I need to make this article more useful for people coming from that aspect of the hobby.

In addition, I have incorporated some of the content from this article into a much longer article on Choosing Figures For Your Garden Railroad. I'm also told that Garden Railways printed an article in December, 05, about the same subject.

A note about the size of things - If you've ever seen a garden railroad or a big display railroad at a botanical garden or some such, you were probably watching "G scale" trains. These are over twice the size of the O scale trains that we recommend for people to purchase to run with Christmas or other display villages indoors. (In fact, the O scale trains are twice the size of the HO trains most model railroaders use, but that's another issue.) You wouldn't think that there would be much overlap between the two hobbies, what with the scales being so different. But there is an overlap that you probably wouldn't expect: the figures. Except for a few exceptions (most of which we'll try to note in this article), the figures made to go with Christmas villages fall in between the scale of garden trains and the scale of Christmas villages.

If you can handle numbers, here's a breakdown:

Now, most garden railroaders use figures that are made by hobby companies, and most of those were made to go with the 1:22.5 structures and trains. These brands of figures include:

Most garden railways you visit that are more than five years old are populated mostly by LGB figures, since for many years, they were the most widely available figures for garden railroads. However, LGB people are made to be "generic," that is their clothing is designed to look "OK" with any train from 1895 to 1985 or so. They are also shiny plastic, and too big for my own garden railroad trains, which are mostly either 1:29 or 1:32, a little smaller in scale than most garden railway trains.

So, like many garden railroaders who want figures with a tad more personality and realism, I've turned to Christmas Village figures, which would be too small for some garden railways, but look great with my trains, as long as I choose carefully.

Figures created to go with Christmas Villages include:

So Now to Our Main Subect:

When I got my garden railroad ready for an open house in 2001, I realized that, when all my outdoor towns were set up at the same time, they looked like ghost towns. That big box of people I had accumulated didn't even make a dent outdoors when all the buildings were out. I couldn't afford to go out and buy a bunch of $4-6 figures (and I didn?t like the shiny plastic anyway). So I took the plunge that fall and winter and picked up several figures by Lemax and similar brands. The next year I left several outside all summer long. Except for me accidentally stepping on and breaking one that the raccoons moved to an unlikely location, they held up surprisingly well.

That's when I wrote my first report on this subject, of which a modified version appears below.

On the Plus Side:

The following list of features relates mostly to Lemax and other name-brand figures. For off-brand figures, you need to decide if they look realistic enough. If you plan to use them with 1:29 or 1:32 trains, figures of adults should be 2" or taller.

Down side:

That said, resin figures made to go with holiday villages may have some disadvantages, especially if you were hoping to use them with Narrow Gauge garden railroads.

Neutral Information FYI

Overall, I'd say that what Christmas resin figures lack in proportion and adaptability to "any" era, they make up for in "personality," realism of detail, and, if properly chosen, sense of period. Is using them a compromise? Yes, but so is using the "plastic puddle" people. Model railroaders are just more used to the latter.


Note: Information on many other sources of figures for your garden railroad is available in our Choosing Figures for Your Garden Railroad article.

Best of luck, all,


Other People's Feedback

(from the original article) Doug Langdon says:

I agree on most of the negatives. On the positive side, the ACCESSORIES are often closer to narrow gauge sizes, maybe for "cuteness"


Bob Atwell says:

I seldom use the resin cast people on my Garden railway outside but I do use a lot of Dept 56 Snow Village figures on my public Christmas displays that I do over the holiday season. I started collecting the Dept 56 figures about ten years ago and now have about 75 or more sets of these figures for use on my displays which are almost always indoors. They add a whimsical touch to the display and they get a lot of attention from the children and their parents. You're correct in pointing out that figures add interest to our railway displays. I guess that I'm too lazy to do it for myself but welcome the opportunity to do it for the public during the holidays.

Wil Davis says:

. . . I have been able to take advantage of some of the kids and a few others. The scale(?) appears to vary wildly even among a given line, Lemax for example.

Some are also good for 1/29th scale. I have several from the Coca Cola line that are closer to 1/24 and might work for 1/20. I try not to place them close to figures that are smaller.

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