The RBG hosts the “Mechanical Botanical” Exuberance of Paul Busse. All aboard!

By Margaret Lindsay Holton

BURLINGTON, ON  December 6, 2012   When we were young, my father built-up a landscaped train set on a ping pong table in the basement for my brother and me (and him) to play with. We tinkered away at it for several years: adding scenes, rail cars, quaint little buildings and funny little critters (my speciality!). There is something intoxicating about crafting miniature anything that suits all imaginations.

Unhappily, all came to a rather untimely end when one exuberant younger member of our family decided to pull out all the wires from the switching box when no-one was looking. These were ceremoniously given to dad with an enthusiastic ‘Choo! Goo! Choo!’ Dad never did get around to re-wiring the set, and that was that. Nonetheless, I have always had a fond attraction for the intricacy and sophistication of ‘toy’ model trains. It is an enthusiasm shared by many, included most of  those of the Burlington Model Railway Club.

 “Our intent is to create the illusion of a REAL train, not a TOY one!” huffed one gray-haired veteran of the Burlington Model Railway Club.

These dedicated elders, in conjunction with the Central Ontario Garden Railway Association

And the RBG, have invited Paul Busse, principal ‘tinkerer’ of Applied Imagination

from Alexandria Kentucky, to their annual Model Train exhibit at the Royal Botantical Gardens.   In opposition to their more conventional exacting efforts, there is nothing very ‘real’ about Paul’s ‘toy’ trains. Rather, his fanciful sets appeal to all ages. In a word, they delight.

 In recent years, Paul Busse has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,but that has not stopped his son and a crew of 15 crafting up another of his signature ‘mechanical botanicals’ train-scapes for the RBG.  Imaginative landscapes and iconic provincial buildings have been built using an exotic array of native and non-native flora. This ‘Canadian’ set took 2500 hours to assemble using 7 tons of cedar slab, 3000 pounds of rock and 250 feet of 45 mm-wide track. Hand-hewn cedar, sliced berries, carved-out walnuts, peeled birch bark and hand-sculpted wooden bears adorn the site. Pungent narcissus and ruby red poinsettias punctuate the topography. Altogether, this Holiday set is a festive feast for the eyes, ears and nose.

Detail of miniature throne made from sliced walnut husks and seed pods.

Now up and running, you will find whimsical interpretations of the Parliament Buildings, a Saskatchewan grain elevator, Haida Gwaii totems, crafty igloos, the Canadian National Railway HQ, and some very fanciful interiors, like an illuminated ‘bee depot’ inside a honey comb, (with a wacky walnut husk throne and a mysterious miniature sword placed on that wacky throne…)

CN Tower presides over all.

High bridge gives illusion of train terrain.

Freight train barrels thru cedar slab mountain.

Covered Bridge with Caboose.

A majestic CN tower presides over it all. Below, an assortment of colourful G-trains swoosh continuously around the loops, tunnels and covered bridges.

  This is Applied Imaginations’ first border crossing into Canada and, to be sure, it is an elaborate extravaganza  To my mind, it is conceptually similar to Cirque de Soleil’s ‘over the top’ gymnastic inventions. Busse sure has taken ‘model TOY trains’ to a whole new level.

Busse’s Railway Station. Will Freeman Station tart up as nicely? 

 Judging by the all age enthusiasts in attendance over the past weekend, the Freeman Station in Burlington, once restored, will easily become a solid Burlington attraction. It may not be a miniature, but it does embody the history of real trains rolling through the region. Busse’s Railway Station could well act as inspiration for the Friends of Freeman Station.

 As a sidebar, it seems a pity that the Friends of Freeman Station, the RBG and the Burlington Model Railway Club didn’t coordinate a simple fund-raising effort to compliment the restoration of Freeman Station, a citizen-led initiative. ‘Tis the Season to Give and all that. It would have been a natural fit.

For those who are interested in supporting that restoration, go to the Friends website:    Better yet, join the Friends of Freeman Station at their Annual General meeting 6:30pm, Thurs. Dec. 6, City Hall, Council Chambers. The meeting will feature: election of board members; progress updates on preserving the Freeman Station; and presentations from FOFS leadership.

And do go see Paul Busse’s marvelous ‘Choo! Choo!’ set at the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Take in the simple joy and wonder of it all.   Exhibit runs until January 6th, 2013.  Entry fee: $12.

Margaret Lindsay Holton is both an environmentalist and a community activist.  She is an artist of some renown and the designer of a typeface.  She is also a photographer and the holder of opinions, which are her own, that she will share with you in an instant.   She appears as an Our Burlington columnist every two weeks. All photographs are by MLH unless otherwise indicated.



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2 comments to The RBG hosts the “Mechanical Botanical” Exuberance of Paul Busse. All aboard!

  • Karen (nee Lambo) Choronzey

    Margaret Lindsay Holton – would love to get together with you to discuss old times at U of T!!You’ve caught my own imagination with your details of the trains and your own website about your current activities. Well done!!!

    Hope we can get in touch… Karen. (New College )