The Lazy Bear Railroad rumbles past the Happy Camp Hotel, a ski shop and a Napa Valley winery before coming to a stop on a cul-de-sac near east Medford's Frohnmayer Park, and Jack Shaffer grins like a 71-year-old kid.
The train and the towns through which it passes are decked out in flags, banners and other accoutrements for Fourth of July. In the next few weeks, they'll get a holiday makeover for Halloween with skeletons, black cats, ghouls and whatever else Shaffer can imagine.
In between those holidays, it turns into a logging railroad complete with a brand-new sawmill. When the snow flies, it'll turn into a Christmas railroad, and about the time daffodils are pushing skyward next spring, it'll become an Easter train.
The Shaffers have combined Carole Shaffer's love of flowers and Jack's passion for scale-model trains to transform their tidy 1,854-square-foot bungalow into a veritable playland.
The Lazy Bear Railroad occupies a prime position in the couple's garage, where Jack has spent countless hours building not only the train and 32-foot-long track but the villages, buildings and countryside along the rail line.
He's meticulous, and it's full of detail, right down to the figures who recline outside the establishments, but it's just one small part of the tour you'll get when you visit the Shaffers.
An even bigger railroad set — dubbed the New Lazy Bear Railroad — runs in a gazebo in the backyard. To reach it from the garage, you'll have to pass through Carole's realm, the flower garden. A putting-green lawn with spotless walkways is lined with begonias, vincas, impatiens, marigolds and other annuals. Only annuals. No vegetables, perennials or herbs. Some are in colorful pots, others rise from manicured beds, but all are bright and healthy as state-fair entries.
“She has the greenest thumb west of the Mississippi,” boasts Jack.
“The dirtiest thumb,” corrects Carole, 69, and sure enough, the thumb she extends is as brown as the dirt at her feet.
After visitors pass a sign that announces Carole's Garden Cafe, The New Lazy Bear Railroad rises in the distance, a 240-foot loop dominated by Bear Mountain. It takes a long time to absorb all the details poured into this large-scale model-train set and all the towns, villages and establishments lining its route.
There's a circus train, a cow train, a ladybug train — Carole has a thing for ladybugs — and a passenger train. Jack, wearing a Great Northern Railway T-shirt, sounds like a tour guide as he points out details a casual visitor is sure to miss, such as the lions, tigers, monkeys and bears near the big top, and the moonshiners near the Wild West Saloon.
When he fires up the circus train, it chugs past a fire station, the A.C.M.E. Hardware Store, a biker bar, Walgreen's, Dutch Bros., Jackpot City Casino and Judd's Tiki Hut, named in honor of Judd, their border collie-labrador mix. Then there's a pet shop, a diner, a mocha shop and Vicky's 19th hole bar, and you still haven't seen most of it.
Jack reaches for a sound controller and injects a new level of animation into the scene as a rooster, horse, dog, chicken and cow announce their presence. He grins like a sprite over the screeching sound of brakes as an orange sports car crashes near the police station. Don't even get him started talking about the lights, including the strobes near the train tunnel on Bear Mountain that mimic a lightening storm.
He likes to dare visitors to guess the number of bears hiding in the landscape — 45 — but he doesn't like to answer questions about how much his creations, almost eight years in the making, cost.
Before going full-bore into trains, Jack was into radio-controlled model airplanes, a hobby he abandoned when a close friend who flew with him died a few years back.
"I was so lucky," jokes Carole. "He went from airplanes to trains. Trains are even more expensive."
You know she's kidding by the way she lights up when talking about the way their passions dovetail in the picturesque little yard.
To reach Jack's third model-train set — the Butte Falls Timberline Railroad — which is located in an enclosed back porch, you have to pass through "Gecko Corner," where Jack pauses to point out about a dozen gecko yard ornaments adorning the wooden privacy fence lining the rear property line.
"We go around spending endless hours looking for just the right ones," he says, leading the way toward the final stop on his homemade railroad tour.
The first question people always ask after seeing their creations for the first time is, "How much work did it take to do this?" he says.
Jack chuckles at that because he doesn't think of it as work. He and Carole worked 50- and 60-hour weeks — he worked for a defense contractor, and she was a customer-service rep before they retired — so they know about work.
"We just love the outdoors," explains Carole. "In the summer, we just live outside, and this combines both of our hobbies."
Reach Mail Tribune Features Editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.