Petaluman Hope Stewart finds her garden train hobby therapeutic in the midst of tough times

  • Hope Stewart adds a caboose to one of her G scale trains that travel through miniature towns and landscapes in her backyard on Monday morning October 21, 2013. The White Pass train caboose is her favorite because the real White Pass caboose is on a train she would like to travel on in Alaska.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and that's exactly what Petaluman Hope Stewart did when life took a sad turn.

In her small 20 foot by 60 foot back yard, the semi-retired photographer has created a magical world away from her worries with a G (garden) scale model train railway.

With a flick of a switch, Stewart's east side yard comes to life with "Little Annie M," a little red steam engine named after her mother, clickity-clacking down the track past tiny farms, miniature log cabins, and through a town she built, called Bliss — population 73.

"We're working on increasing the town population," says Stewart, whose imagination and creativity have turned her back yard into a happy oasis in the middle of some difficult times.

"It's been very good therapy," says Stewart. "I've always wanted a garden train. My dad built a train set for me when I was 5. It was a G scale train he set up for Christmas. He built another one in the cellar after my brother was born."

A native of New Jersey, Stewart never forgot her father's train sets. Even after life brought her to California, she still carried a love for the hobby, but never dreamed she would take it up until her husband, Gordon, became ill with dementia.

"His issues started to surface in 1996 after he retired and we moved to Petaluma," she says. "He is in the advanced stages of it now."

In 2007, she made the difficult decision to place Gordon in a skilled nursing facility in Petaluma. Though she visits him often, she admits she needed something fun and relaxing to occupy her mind when she came home.

"It was hard," says Stewart, whose cheerful tone turns serious when mentioning her husband. "We were going to grow old together. Life throws you a tough deck of cards sometimes."

That's when Stewart stumbled across an article about garden trains by hobbyist Ben Moore.

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