On a small patch of land near downtown Gibsonville sits a miniature version of almost every important North Carolinian monument. Kitty Hawk, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Beech Mountain, Grandfather Mountain – even Elon College is laid out along miniature train tracks. 

G-Scale model trains whiz past them every which way. Some of them are scale recreations, such as the model of a Santa Fe diesel engine. Others are just for fun, including Thomas the Tank Engine from Thomas and Friends and a steam locomotive pushing Doc Brown’s Delorean from the “Back to the Future” series. People come to see the model train display from as far as High Point. One thing unifies them all — they were brought there by the community.

Eden Gordon | Elon News Network
Art Gibson packs away his Santa Fe GP-9 locomotive model after running it at the Gibsonville Garden Railroad on Sept. 30.

Several people sit below an awning controlling the speed of the trains. Adults — both parents and volunteers — guide children as they adjust various levers and buttons. Steve Ellis is one of the adults guiding them. 

“We have a kind of generational thing going on,” Ellis said. 

Neil Levanites comes here with his son, Caleb, almost every Saturday. 

“It’s a good outing for Caleb,” Neil said. “We enjoy it because we build great relationships here.” 

Caleb is a huge fan of “Back to the Future Part III,” so Neil made the train that pushes a miniature Delorean around the track. 

“It’s great bonding for father and son,” Neil said.

The Gibsonville Garden Railroad is a nonprofit and has around 80 members, according to Ellis. The garden has over 2,9000 feet of train track with 22 trains running at one time, according to its website. Ellis said visitors can also bring their own trains to run. 

“The city owns the land we’re on, and the nonprofit owns the track,” Ellis said. “So we do all the maintenance.” 

Eden Gordon | Elon News Network
G Scale model train runs on the Gibsonville Garden Railroad on Sept. 30.

Members of the Gibsonville Garden Railroad come up on Friday mornings to make sure the tracks are operational and clear of debris for their weekly openings on Saturday mornings.

In 1996, Bobby Summers — a former conductor of Norfolk Southern Railroad — opened the Gibsonville Garden Railroad. Trains first ran on its elaborate miniature tracks Oct. 9 that year, on the same day that the first train arrived at Gibson Station 141 years earlier. Neil Bromilow, the former director of Planning, Design and Construction Management at Elon University, took up the mantle of the President of the GGRR after Summers’ passing in 2018. 

“Neil does a lot of the track maintenance,” Ellis said. “We’re trying to work on the gardening and improve the look and feel.”

Nadia Pickens is one of the volunteers that runs tours along the tracks. She gives children a guided tour of the garden, which is almost a tour of a condensed North Carolina. She points out the “Land of Oz” attraction on Beech Mountain and explains the history behind the town of Burlington and the Gibsonville train wreck, while gesturing towards a crashed model train lovingly painted to look dilapidated.

Her son, Riker, pushes along a passenger train that’s been disconnected from its engine. 

“He got addicted from my dad,” Pickens said. She said members of the GGRR showed Riker the ropes of model trains, helping him jumpstart his train hobby. 

“Everyone’s helped out so much,” Picken said. “It’s like a big family.”

The Gibsonville Garden Railroad is open from 9 a.m. to noon from April to December, weather permitting.