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Volunteers revamp model railway at Garvan Woodland Gardens

HOT SPRINGS — Trains and bricks go together in Malvern. The city was founded as a railway station in the 1870s and has since boasted being The Brick Capital of the World.

The city may no longer claim that title, but the brick industry is still a major part of life in Malvern. That’s why it was important for Garvan Woodland Gardens, the Greater Hot Springs Garden Railway Society and the University of Arkansas to honor those aspects of Malvern when they built the Sugg Model Train Garden in 2004 at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, and why it’s important to renovate the model now, 12 years after it was built.

“Garvan” in the name of the gardens stands for the site’s deceased benefactor, Verna Cook Garvan. Her father, Arthur Bacillius Cook, owned the Malvern Brick and Tile Co., as well as the Wisconsin and Arkansas Lumber Co.

Concrete models of these buildings were built by Dan Turskey, chief engineer of the project, based on photographs that were taken in the early 1900s. Garvan took over the companies following her father’s death in 1934. The buildings are two of the many that represent the family’s holdings and line the tracks of the Sugg Model Train Garden’s tracks. The train garden is located behind the Pratt Welcome Center.

“We just came up with the design for it and made it with the help of the big equipment there,” Turskey said, “and it’s been running for over 10 years, I guess.”

But the train is in need of repairs. When the issue was brought up, it was determined that the model train needed renovation, as well as a few additions. A Thomas the Tank Engine model train will make its debut when the garden’s overhaul is complete.

“This past year, we said, ‘There’s a lot of maintenance that needs to be done,’” said Ted Elzerman, head of the committee in charge of the Sugg Model Train Garden. “One of the fellas said, ‘If we’re gonna maintain it a little bit at a time, why don’t we just rebuild the whole thing?’ So that’s the task that’s been undertaken.”

The G-scale model train garden is staffed by volunteers, and the volunteers working on the renovation have a list of goals they’ve set for themselves. Among them are replacing 11-year-old trestles with 270 bents made of Arkansas-grown cypress, replacing three wooden bridges with steel bridges, refurbishing the 389 feet of track to allow freer electrical flow, re-leveling the track beds, replacing controllers, repairing the train shed, adding new engines (including Thomas the Tank Engine) with a new loop and building, adding donated surveillance cameras and refurbishing the Wisconsin and Arkansas Lumber Co. buildings.

“We’re going to install Thomas the Tank Engine, adding a little loop in,” Elzerman said. “I’m going to enjoy seeing that train. We already have purchased the train; it’s just a matter of installing the little loop for it. That should be an added attraction out there.”

The train will be ready for the busy spring season at the gardens and is always running during Christmastime, when the gardens are lit up. With all of the work being done by volunteers, the task might seem daunting, but members of the group doing the work have a love for model trains that makes their time well-spent.

“I want to thank all of the volunteers for all of the help to get this job done,” Elzerman said. “It’s a big project. We’re all retired, so we go out there and spend what time we feel we can and enjoy what we’re doing. A group of fellas that are engineers now are helping do this; they enjoy running the trains.”

The model train garden was named by Sidney and Joy Sugg of El Dorado to honor their grandsons by bestowing the name Sugg Model Train Garden. Although Elzerman has grandchildren, they aren’t very interested in trains.

When Elzerman was young, he had a wind-up Lionel, and his cousin had an electric train. They enjoyed taking the trains apart to see how they worked, and eventually, Elzerman developed his model-train hobby again in the ’60s.

Elzerman said he’s proud to work on something that makes children happy — something he would have liked as a kid.

Staff writer Morgan Acuff can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or macuff@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Morgan Acuff can be reached at 501-244-4314 or macuff@arkansasonline.com.

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