At the beginning of the book “Prince Caspian,” the Pevensie children were waiting for a train to return them to boarding school. Instead, the train whisked them back into Narnia. Since our grandson loves trains, a train seemed the perfect Narnia-themed Christmas present for our grandkids. Last fall when I was stymied by an electrical problem on the dollhouse, setting up a train provided a welcome break. And that is how Narnia went South, into our basement.
After lots of research online, I found the Bachman Overland Limited HO train set on Amazon. It has one of the few suitably old-time steam engines of all the trains I looked at, as well as plenty of cars and track.
We considered building a train table, but in the end Didi drove out to the mall and brought home a ping pong table. It was a major job to put it together, but he got it done!
Meanwhile, I prepared the train board. When I was little, we used a heavy gray paper board into which we “nailed” tiny railroad spikes to hold the track in place. Our train came with E-Z Track, a raised plastic roadbed with the track mounted to it. A 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood provided the most stable surface for the train. I spray painted it brown, then sprayed patches of green over the brown to give a realistic earthy appearance. Misty served as Quality Control.
Every train needs a tunnel through a mountain. First I formed a tunnel out of chicken wire and curved it to fit the track, making sure the train could go under it.
I used craft store plaster strips (similar to old-fashioned cast material) soaked in water to cover the sharp chicken wire.
Using cardboard box cut-outs for a base–not under the tunnel, of course–I added lots of brown wrapping paper, held in place with masking tape, to build the mountain around the tunnel. I made sure to keep everything uneven and mountainous-looking and poked in a few holes for caves. Once the structure was formed, I began covering it with strips of the plaster fabric soaked in warm water.
A rubber kitchen glove on the hand doing the smoothing prevented me tearing up my fingers. I had to work fairly quickly, but I was able to shape the mountain as I worked. You can see one of the “caves” at the bottom.
This process took several days because the plaster had to dry after the tunnel was formed and after the mountain was finished. I took advantage of a dry warmish day outside to spray paint the mountain with the same brown and green paints I had used on the base. After giving the mountain an all-over coat of brown paint, I used short, light bursts of green to “dab” the paint on here and there, avoiding making the mountain too green.
The beautiful Davis Mountains in Far West Texas, our beloved family vacation spot for many years, were the inspiration for my mountain’s terrain and color.
Sparkly rocks brought back from West Texas added texture, interest and a nostalgic element to the mountain.
On Christmas morning we gave the children the empty train box and sent them on a treasure hunt to find out what had happened to the rest of the train. After some excited exploration of the house, we “helped” them find the basement door, and they hurried excitedly downstairs.
It didn’t take long before the train was chugging through the tunnel, to their delight.
Even the youngest got to play “Engineer.”
A new LED-lighted barn ornament provides shelter for the very old painted lead livestock from my childhood train set. A few cows suffered broken legs through the years, so I made a pasture with hobby store grass on a cardboard form, added a lichen hedge, and glued the animals permanently out to pasture. Sticks, lichen and hot glue made a grove of trees to shade the farm, and a new toy tractor stands in for Didi’s Kubota.
The old paper houses of childhood memory were grouped into a village at the foot of the mountain with the well-worn train station a short drive away. This layout was not a labor of model train artistry, but rather a labor of love to give joy to our young grandchildren. Hopefully, as they grow we can add together to our tabletop Narnia of the South.