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Though they share an elite skill set, the Color Country Model Railroad Club is far from exclusive in their willingness to share their remarkable productions.
From childhood to retirement, whether a classic Lionel set or a professional-quality replica railroad, most people have spent a quiet moment watching a tiny train steam by, filling their mind with delight and curiosity. Though school, career and family became his priorities, he never fully abandoned the hobby, occasionally building a train over the years. Most nights, he can be found spending a couple hours working on his layout; he also frequently stocks up on supplies and research. Paul Bottino, of Ivins, has one of the only outdoor layouts (also known as garden railroading) in Southern Utah. Over 600 feet of track wind through Bottino’s yard, on which engines, freight cars and a trolley run, among bridges, tunnels, buildings and figures creating a lifelike 1950s scene. Merrill, Bottino, Harding and Schramm are all members of the Southern Utah division of the National Model Railroad Association. Every month, about five members get together and “play trains” on a layout (usually Merrill’s) for a few hours. Model railroading isn’t just a fun hobby, but an educational opportunity and a form of creative expression.
Building a layout requires considerable skill in carpentry, electronics, engineering, research and at least a dash of artistic talent. Though Sulphur Gulch is fiction, Merrill goes to great lengths to ensure the historical accuracy of his portrayal of the railroad industry.
Train enthusiasts will soon have a chance to view the club’s finest layouts in living color.
Indeed, those who watch these miniature locomotives power down the track are equally enchanted by their inexplicable magic and those who build these masterpieces. Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
Alexa Verdugo Morgan began her journalism career in 2009, working for various newspapers, magazines and online publications, including the Mainstreet Business Journal of Southern Utah and Southern Utah Youth Sports Magazine, before joining the STGnews team in October 2011. Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Life, NewsTagged 5th Annual Model Railroad Home Layout Tour, Color Country Model Railroad Club, Dave Merrill, Gorilla Hobbies, hobbies, John Teas, model railroad, model trains, Paul Bottino, Sgt. The inside details are well under way: I chose to use two long benches to make it possible to hide the batteries. Here is a hard working Shay (the grade is over 5% and the logs on the flat cars are real) going up a homebuilt loop. This bug was built from a Lego MindStorm set (with a few parts borrowed from some other kits as well). The animal and plant exhibits found in the North American area of The Living Desert come from all four deserts in North America.

The Discovery Center is an indoor facility where children can cool off and roam, explore and get hands on with interactive exhibits. The Gecko Gulch Play Park is a one-acre outdoor playground that encourages children to explore, play and most of all have fun. The Tennity Wildlife Hospital & Conservation Center is a state-of-the-art wildlife hospital facility that allows visitors to interact with hospital staff and observe medical procedures and examinations taking place in the Animal Treatment Rooms. The animal habitats and gardens in the African area of the Living Desert reflect some of Africa’s most arid deserts such as the Sahara, Sahel, Namib, Kalahari, and the Horn of Africa. The popular “large scale” G-Scale Model Train exhibit runs seven days a week with at least seven trains running continuously on the layout. The Living Desert’s Village WaTuTu is an authentic replica of a village found in northeast Africa complete with authentic African music, grass thatch-roofed, mud-walled huts, Petting Kraal, shopping, food and plenty of shady spots to cool off.
Camp under the desert stars in a teepee tent village with the entire family during The Living Desert Starry Safari Overnight Adventure.
Desiree Eaglin is a Southern California explorer and she thinks The Living Desert is definitely worth the drive. This weekend, club members will open their homes and yards to the public, offering a unique opportunity to watch some of the area’s finest layouts in action.
The popularity of model trains has endured since the time when the railroad was still a primary method of transportation in America, spanning generations.
Now semi-retired and in his mid-70s, he has been working on a massive layout in his home since 2009 (it’s currently about one-third finished). Bottino grew up in a railroad town and has been involved with model trains his entire life.
Founded in 2000, the club features a variety of skill levels and styles; members have earned numerous honors for excellence in model railroading from Wasatch Rails and the NMRA Golden Spike Awards, among others. Each operator has a set of instructions and they run the railway with several trains, each carrying a different kind of “cargo,” at once. Typically, layouts are either a figment of their creator’s imagination or a replica of actual historic places and events. Set in northern Utah during the 1930s, its story follows a steam railroad passing through Sulphur Gulch, a hazardous canyon with a massive bridge.
He is currently building a meat packing plant and accompanying slaughterhouse and ice house; he spent hours researching the process of transporting livestock from farm to slaughter via cattle cars, then being preserved on ice and sent to their destination in refrigerated cars.
Adults and children alike are invited to a progressive tour through club member’s homes to see their displays of both indoor and outdoor layouts in a variety of scales and styles. About 350 people, of every age and from all walks of life, attended last year’s tour, drawn by a common interest; members are hoping to see even more turnout to enjoy their displays this year. It uses an LGB diesel engine's power brick (one that comes in a starter kit, I think) with one axle removed.

I scratchbuilt a new cab out of wood (my first G scale board by board model ever!), added some new front and rear couplers (home made link and pin) and a few other details. You can see the home made front beam with its link and pin coupler (scratch built from brass). Housing exhibits, gardens, activities and animals from deserts all around the world, The Living Desert showcases species that have developed useful adaptations to endure extreme desert conditions, like how to avoid or dissipate heat and retain or acquire water. Along the pathways in North America, visitors will encounter birds of prey such as hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures. Visitors can see more than 30 species of exotic African plants as well as endangered slender-horned gazelles, cheetahs, warthogs, meerkats, weaver finches and more. Each Starry Safari will feature up-close animal presentations and a nighttime guided walk through the park. After all, seeing people appreciate their rails and perhaps becoming inspired to build their own is rewarding. Also, his grandchildren love visiting “Grandpa Train” and watching the locomotives in action. The track winds through mountains, forests and settlements populated by lifelike figurines.
Haste is essential to ensure that the valuable load doesn’t spoil, so when Merrill and friends gather to play trains, they put “fresh meat” on the fastest engine, which takes priority over the others on the line.
The botanical gardens at The Living Desert represent more than 1,500 species indigenous to the arid areas of North America and Africa. Visitors can also spot mammals such as coyotes, badgers, wolves, mountain lions and bobcats.
His impressive collection includes approximately 400 locomotives, 2,000 cars and 470 buildings.
Visit the Color Country Trains website for map and scheduled hours (click on each location for directions) or pick up a copy at Gorilla Hobbies, 538 North Bluff St., Unit 1, in St. Here is the story behind its funny shape: this engine was in a locomotive shed that caught fire and burned to the ground.
A children’s discovery center and playground, live animal shows, endangered species carousel, G-scale garden railroad, and many other special features make The Living Desert a significant attraction of the Coachella Valley.

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