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'Train lady' opens miniature world to public
By Chad Brooks | Daily Herald Staff

North Barrington's Elaine Silets looks over her garden railway, which consists of 6,000 square feet of miniature waterfalls, streams, lakes and bridges. The garden will be on display today during Silets' annual open house.


Daniel White | Staff Photographer

North Barrington's Elaine Silets owns a model train business and is opening her home Saturday for an open house. She has a personal model train museum that was recently appraised at $2 million


Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Elaine Silets watches some of her model trains inside her personal museum at her North Barrington home. Her trains will all be on display during today's Open House.


Daniel White | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/28/2008 12:04 AM

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North Barrington's "train lady" is giving area residents the chance to explore her elaborate railway gardens.

Model trains running through more than 6,000 square feet of miniature waterfalls, streams, lakes, bridges, and city and country vignettes are on display today at the home of model railroad designer Elaine Silets.

"It is a very interesting place, and it's a fun day," Silets said of the annual open house on her 10-acre property, also home to her business, Huff & Puff Industries.

Huff & Puff designs and manufactures custom model railroads and garden railways for private and commercial clients nationwide. A Huff & Puff piece is on display at the John Hancock Building in Chicago.

Silets, known to many as the "train lady," started her rail gardens 20 years ago, but her love of toy trains goes back to childhood.

"My brother didn't like his trains and I didn't like my dolls," she said.

Besides the garden railway, Silets' massive indoor model railroad museum will also be on display during today's open house.

The museum, which took 2½ years to build and was recently appraised at $2 million, has a train layout featuring a visual trip through both Chicago -- with Millennium Park, Wrigley Field and Buckingham Fountain -- and downstate Illinois.

Silets built the museum for her late husband while he was suffering from cancer and is now donating it to the city of Chicago.

Today's open house "is the last time anyone will be able to see how it was actually built," she said.

The event is part of the New York-based Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program.

Program Director Laura Palmer said its goal is to give expert gardeners across the country the chance to show off their work. Through the fall, open houses will be held in gardens in about two-dozen states.

"Chicago is one of our real strongholds," Palmer said. "There are fabulous gardens in this area."

Besides Silets' garden railways, she also has several other displays, including the Shabui water and Japanese stream garden, a 4-acre pond garden and a wild shade garden that features a 400-year-old bur oak tree.

Children, Silets said, really seem to like her work.

"They are mesmerized," she said. "They just stand there and gape."

There is a $5 admission fee for today's open house. Palmer said the money raised is used to support the conservancy's national preservation work, including the rehabilitation of the gardens on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.

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See the train garden

What: Huff & Puff Industries open house, featuring more than 6,000 square feet of garden railways.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: 125 Arrowhead Lane, North Barrington

Admission: $5; kids are free

Info: or