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He makes garden railroad grow

Trains for many evoke romance or tragedy.

For Gary Tebo, of West Seneca, they've carried both.

"I took my first ride on a train when I was in the second grade," recalls Tebo, now a retired West Seneca Middle School science teacher. "My uncle worked for New York Central Railroad and arranged for our class to ride in a car pulled by a large steam engine. It was very exciting for an 8-year-old."

Yet eight years later, his uncle was killed in a railroad accident.

"While working late one night, another train rammed his train by accident, and he couldn't get out of the caboose," Tebo recounts. "They used coal pot-belly stoves, his caboose caught fire, and they couldn't get my uncle out in time to save his life."

However, Tebo didn't forget the happy railroad associations his uncle gave him.

As a college student in Chicago, where Tebo met his wife, Nancy, he'd sometimes return home by train. And today he distinguishes himself with the safest of trains -- small ones.

Tebo, a former principal of West Seneca summer school, is one of the founding members of the Western New York Garden Railway Society. This fall, his group will create a garden railroad in the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. It will run through the "fern room" of the city's own crystal palace, featuring a "Banana Republic" railway.

He recounts being tantalized by those miniatures:

"At 6 years old, I wished I could play with the train on the shelf in our basement. My father had purchased the train, a New York City bullet-nosed Dreyfus. He never set them up, so I had to wait until my son was 1 year old to buy a train set 'for him.' "

He bought the Lionel set at Spoonley's Trains on Choate Avenue in Buffalo.

Visitors viewed the garden railroad he created with his wife and heard the train whistle blow Saturday in West Seneca. It's part of the Garden Railway Society's open houses.

It has a bridge and pond, and the train travels around a mountain and a 5-foot tunnel. Actually there are three chugging trains on the huge layout, complete with riders, a flowing stream, dwarf pines, diner, general store, church and even a cemetery.

"Our basic theme follows the first half of the 20th century," Tebo says.

He put in a school, of course. Among the plantings on the garden railway are small hostas, spruces and boxwoods.

Next Sunday, a tour will take place at an Orchard Park garden where the train runs over a pond with fish and waterfall. For more information, call 675-4856.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile, or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? E-mail: lcontinelli@buffnews.com, or write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240

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