Loveland’s historic Milner-Schwarz House will be a tour stop during the National Garden Railroad’s 37th annual convention, slated for next week in Denver.
On June 23, up to 500 enthusiasts from across the country are expected to visit the history-themed miniature railway, which loops around more than two dozen faithfully rendered monuments of Loveland’s agricultural past.
“We made replicas of all the buildings that were once downtown,” Michael Perry of the Loveland Historical Society said of the miniature system. “There’s a lot of history here.”
Perry offered to bring a garden railway to the Milner-Schwarz house five years ago, after seeing how enthralled young viewers were by a demonstration by longtime modeler Douglas “The Conductor” French at Timberlane Farm.
“They were looking him straight in the eye and listening to every word he had to say,” Perry said. “And I thought that was what we needed – when mums look at home, kids can come here.”
He recruited Frenchmen and volunteers Graig Marrs, Bob Crosby and Everett King for the cause, and immediately began working to bring the idea to life.
The first step was to prepare the area in front of the Milner-Schwarz house to hold the track, a process he compared to what their real-life counterparts do.
“We had to bring in a special type of soil… then breeze, which goes under the track and supports the rail. The tracks here basically use the same breeze under these rails,” he said, pointing to the ballast along the tracks next to Roosevelt Avenue. “They’ve been there since 1877 and they’re doing well.”
Next, Perry and his crew researched local history and mapped out their route, carefully studying photos provided by the Loveland Museum. After that, it was time to start bringing the site to life.
One of their first challenges was trying to determine the color of some of the buildings, since the photos they were using for reference were black and white.
“But we knew they used a lot of bricks,” Perry said, pointing to a dark red model of the Great Western Sugar factory, built in 1901.
Finding weatherproof materials for the roofs of the replicas was also a challenge, as many could not withstand summer hail. Eventually they settled on cement board, Perry said. “And then we had no problems.”
Amid the historic buildings are snapshots of 19th-century urban and agricultural life in Loveland – a hand-held fire truck with an eight-member crew, a crowd at the Fairgrounds racetrack and many more.
In total, Perry estimated, it took about two years to get everything they wanted. “And then we just kept adding a little bit more detail, more numbers, and things like that, which really make a difference.”
Encircling it all on several hundred feet of 45mm gauge track are authentic model steam engines of the era, passing through Mariano’s Crossing in the west, to Timberland Farm in the east. and many other notable sites from the city’s past, such as Douty Mill, the Big Thompson Hotel and the Eastside School.
The Milner-Schwarz Garden Railway is one of 10 stops in northern Colorado on the upcoming convention tour. The public is invited to register for free. For more details, visit the NGRC.