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Bloomfield Hills

July 16, 2013

Railway comes back to life for another summer

By Jason Shubnell
C & G Contributing Writer

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — “With trains, you want to see them disappear and hear them come back.”

That is how Bob Dunn describes miniature locomotives. It is also how you can describe his annual sight of wonder and invention. The Lakeshores Garden Railway Club stretches from Grosse Isle, up to Selfridge and over to Milford, and Dunn’s garden in Bloomfield Hills is one of just two displays built on a hillside.

“Every layout reflects its owner,” Dunn said, making his way across his track’s 50-foot straightaway. “It’s really a lot of fun.”

Dunn began running his garden railway 12 years ago. He became an official member of the Railway Club two years later. Once the weather clears up sometime near the end of March, Bob and his wife, Sharon, are outside getting the town in order.

“It’s a hobby, like a photographer. Their layout never ends,” he said. “Every year, you just keep adding.”

More than 700 people have come to visit Dunn’s ever-evolving canvas, some to check up on what is new and to see an entire village come to life like few stationary toys can.

Returning visitors will notice a new and improved cable car system that transports villagers from the farm to the biergartens and shopping center. The ‘Dream Cruise’ area has also been revamped.

“This will be my third year checking it out,” Michael Reetz, of Clinton Township, said. “The little details are fascinating to see.”

In the tiny village, a bride and groom celebrate their love for one another in the west, while Al Capone and his cronies are up to no good in the east. Tiny toy children enjoy a bright summer day on little wire swings and ladders that Dunn made himself.

Sounds from an Oktoberfest celebration trickle from the Oberon factory. Across the tiny town, a calliope engine keeps the clowns smiling, while children enjoy the Ferris wheel view. The cobblestone shopping area brings miniature visitors to the streets of Europe.

“It’s definitely worth the trip out here,” Reetz said.

The first few years brought about 275 visitors to the garden, but that number has at least doubled over the past five years, according to Dunn.

“People tell us they’re glad to see we did this. They come back every year, and a lot of the parents think, ‘Gee, maybe I could do something like this.’”

He has even had some of his son’s coworkers visit from all over the world. 

“China, Germany, South America, Mexico — they just love it.”

“Dunn’s Diversion” also serves fresh popcorn, candy and bottled water to all who visit.

“My wife bakes about 400 cookies in the morning. People walk around and like to see the garden from the top, bottom and side. You discover something new everywhere.”

Dunn’s 6-year-old grandson, Robbie, has his own village in front of the house. The track stays the same, but Robbie’s display is always changing. Children will recognize the famous Disney characters running the tracks.

A new trestle was made for the cable car system. After 12 years, it sums up the Dunn garden railway pretty well.

“Not sure about other people, but my first attempts sometimes aren’t my best,” Dunn said with a smile.

“The Itsa Lotta Werk Open House” will be held 10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 21 at 3320 Devon Brook Drive, just east of Telegraph Road, between Long Lake Road and Hickory Grove.