Full steam ahead in Bill’s backyard

Bill Stanley, 67, has created a model train lovers’ fantasy land in his backyard at Lincoln.

Five years ago, he and wife Maggie moved to their .2ha block. Where most people envisioned a flourishing lawn and gardens, Stanley saw “a blank canvas, just waiting for a garden railway layout.”

He set to work, and today has eight model trains which run on more than 200m of track, set amongst a 27m diorama of buildings, settlements, fields and bridges.

The 1/24 scale trains pass through all sorts of activity amongst the Playmobil people, vehicles and buildings, including a wedding outside Lincoln Union Church, fields being harvested, and a quarry being mined.

Some of the buildings, including the church, Stanley has made himself, learning first through the Canterbury Garden Railway Group of which he is a committee member, and then teaching himself along the way.

The track and its impressive setting, complete with a pond and real goldfish, has been a labour of love, and one that has its origins in Stanley’s childhood.

“Trains just fascinated me as a child and they still do, we have been from LA to New York by train,” he said.

His grandfather William Stanley gave him a Hornby double O railway set when he was about five.

Bill Stanley has transformed his backyard into a garden railway enthusiast’s paradise. Photo:...
Bill Stanley has transformed his backyard into a garden railway enthusiast’s paradise. Photo: Susan Sandys
William had worked on the railways, and Stanley has inherited the whistle that William used in his job, believed to be as an engineer, and keeps it on his garden railway key ring.

Stanley kept the passion for trains and railways moving down the generations; he and Maggie bought their 29-year-old son Richard his first engine when he was a baby.


They continued to add to the collection, and always incorporated train travel in their overseas trips.

These were for professional purposes in earlier years as Stanley travelled as part of his job as a pharmaceutical company director.

The trip through the United States was in the 1990s, while they also lived in Thailand for five years to 1998 and travelled extensively through Europe.

“You can set your clock by the trains in Switzerland,” he said.

While trains in Thailand at the time were substandard in comparison, they had been just as enjoyable to travel on as the country’s elephants and longboats.

Stanley sometimes has groups come and view his backyard garden railway creation, and it is a hobby he enjoys with others in the garden railway group, which will be hosting the National Garden Railway Convention in Christchurch on Waitangi weekend.

He said setting up the train track, which runs from a purpose-built, life-size shed, takes 90 minutes each time.

“It’s quite a lot of work to have them running to precision, it’s quite common to have derailments,” Stanley said.

Obstacles such as stones or grit on the track, or interception by creatures such as the Stanley household’s pet cats or dogs, were the cause of such frustrations.

One of the biggest challenges had been securing the track in ballast that wouldn’t move when a blower is used to remove pine needles which have fallen down from nearby trees.