Winter landscape, train and Santa's Workshop


A few months ago Science Center of Iowa (SCI) reached out to us and asked if we could come up with a display for their Spirit of the Season event. The event, sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, runs from Thanksgiving to New Years and includes a number of displays and activities at SCI throughout December. The request was simple enough "something with a train, perhaps a winter scene?" "Sure!" we replied.

It wasn't long after that Chris had some preliminary ideas written down. Even a humble circle of track or small oval is enough for a 6' round table however it doesn't provide for much room to build a scene. Much of the useable space is consumed by the curved rail bed and ballast making for a tight space for anything else. He wanted enough room to build the scene and enough to build it in a modular fashion for moving and storage. He settled on a footprint of 45" x 75" using the 48x48 stud baseplates 3 wide and 5 long.

At the October Meet Up Chris set out the baseplates and put down on top a loop of LEGO 9V Train track to introduce the project, officially, to the group. The very next night it was set back up on tables in his basement and the work on the winter landscape began.

The Design

The layout will be on display for a number of days, and likely running for much of those hours, for that reason the first choice made was to go with the LEGO 9V Train system. All of the current train sets are Power Function and use battery packs. We didn't want to be changing batteries so it was an easy choice. Of course, the 9V system is retired and while you can still find plenty of the elements, if you're starting from scratch it's a bit of an investment to get all of the components needed. Chris had some fortuitous luck on eBay and won an auction at a really good price for nearly all of the train track and power supply parts.

Another design choice was to elevate the track, rather than have it sit on the baseplates. While this is very (very, very) parts intensive, the intention was to create a bit more physical buffer between the guests viewing the build, and the accessibility of the train track. With it elevated and landscaping up to the rail bed, the plan is to protect the track a bit with a bit of landscape sculpting, as if the rail bed was carved and leveled on the side of a mountain.

The layout features include a heavy steel beam bridge over a rocky stream, a tunnel through a prominent snow covered hill (calling it a mountain may be stretch) and of course some trees, critters, and may be some not-so-obvious-nor-fitting vignettes to add some interest for those taking time to look for them.

Lastly, nestled into the bend of the hill behind some trees is where you can likely spot Santa's Workshop (#10245-1).

The Train

The train system is LEGO® 9V which uses a metal rail, power controller, and track connectors to power the main drive motor. LEGO 9V ran from 1997 to 2007. We didn't have any big train buffs in the group who have worked on their own custom trains so we looked back and have used the instructions from some of the LEGO® 9V train sets from 2001 for ours. Those are:

We made only a few color alterations, mostly out of necessity. For instnace we made the Passenger Car tan because the windows in Green were very hard to find. We were able to find enough windows in Tan, and those we ordered from a Bricklink seller in the Netherlands.

LUG Collaboration

IowaLUG members met weekly for build nights to get a couple hours work in on the model themselves. This was a really positive experience for the group, as it brought us together for the first time to work on a collaborative project. They type of project opportunities we had hoped would come about.

Sneak Peak & LEGO Build

Saturday November 1st, IowaLUG members Chris, Scott, and Ryan were down at SCI for a few hours to provide a sneak peak at the landscape as it was still under construction and hosted a small LEGO Build for visitors to make their own micro train.


Check out these additional images: