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Band conductor takes on new meaning with train collection

Band conductor takes on new meaning with train collection

Dennis Fischer, the associate director of UNT’s wind studies program, conducts a practice with UNT’s Symphonic Band. In between songs, Fischer filled his critiques with jest that left the students laughing often. Samantha Hardisty

Band conductor takes on new meaning with train collection
February 27
15:11 2017

Some peoples’ backyards could hold anything from an outdoor grill and patio furniture to stubborn weeds. Dennis Fisher has taken a different track.

Fisher, the UNT Symphonic Band Conductor, has built an entire railroad collection in his backyard. Complete with an estimated 20 buildings, four simultaneously running trains, a waterfall and an elevated trestle, Fisher’s steel army spans the length of the outdoor space.

“We started off with a small Christmas train that we put in the front yard and eventually we outgrew putting it up and down every year,” Fisher said. “So, we re-landscaped and reinstalled it in our backyard permanently.”

Fisher began this collection 15 years ago, after his three children were in college.

His interest first sparked, however, when he received a train set at around 8 years old. Fisher saw it as a way of revisiting an enjoyable childhood hobby.

“As I got older in my life and I had a more disposable income and time, it was an opportunity to regenerate that hobby and one thing led to another,” Fisher said. “Now everything we’re doing we’re overdoing, I guess.”

The trains in Fisher’s collection aren’t the toy trains that most people may be familiar with. All of them, along with the tracks, are purposefully built to withstand the outdoor conditions.

“[The train] was the G-scale, which is the largest train scales in electric train size and is designed to be outside,” Fisher said. “The tracks are all made of brass and have UV-ray resistance ties. The trains themselves are steeled so that they can run in any kind of weather.”

The biggest challenge for Fisher wasn’t collecting the trains, but rather conquering his backyard landscape. 

Fisher has put together almost every aspect of his collection, no matter how much time or energy it took.

“I dug a big pit and created a two layer waterfall with a pond and put in the piping and plumbing for that,” Fisher said. “Putting in the tunnel and leveling the track was also a challenging part of it. That was all labor intensive.”

Besides some figures and trains, most of the railroad collection is left in the backyard year round. 

Because of this, Fisher has to make sure he has a steady upkeep regarding both his collection and his yard.

“The track weathers and loses some of its electric conductivity, so it has to be cleaned periodically,” Fisher said. “Weeds grow up through the tracks and have to be weeded out, too. Any number of [fake grass] that imitate grass [and] any kind of landscaping have to be trimmed.

Over the course of 15 years, Fisher has been continuously adding different types of elements to his collection. Many of which he has scaled, measured and made by hand.

Fisher said that his collection is in a constant state of revision. His track, as a whole, changes from year to year.

“When I sit and watch it, I think, ‘OK what if I added a spurr here?’ or ‘what if I changed the direction of this track and what if I added buildings here?’” Fisher said. “When I go back and look back at photos from when I started 15 years ago, it doesn’t even come close to resembling that.”

And sometimes, that means starting over completely.

Two summers ago, Fisher completely tore out the collection and began to build a new version. Although his collection is a cherished pride of his, Fisher isn’t afraid to start anew.

“I got many ideas for what I wanted to do and the only thing that I could do was to destroy everything and start from scratch again,” Fisher said. “Everybody who has trains does that periodically.”

Fisher said the process of creating details of the buildings, landscaping, the individual cities and farms make up the whole experience.

“I’ve built a couple of the buildings from scratch,” Fisher said. “I was able to purchase scaled plans of actual buildings and build it in real life. So it’s the detail that really interests me.”

Fisher is used to having positive responses from outsiders. Many people, even those who have been Fisher’s students, are surprised at its sheer size and uniqueness.

“I thought it was crazy and I loved it,” said Carlos Strudwick, a former UNT trumpet player. “Being a musician is already a great creative outlet, but sometimes, especially while in school, it can feel more like a chore and a grade and you lose sight of that love you had for it. Those separate hobbies are needed.”

Those close to Fisher also enjoy seeing that sentiment work itself into a reality.

His wife, Janet Fisher, has been by his side as he’s conducted this unique hobby. Although he loves music, she said she likes seeing him pursue other passions.

“It’s fun for him to have a hobby other than just work, so it’s been rewarding to see him to do that,” Janet said.

Most importantly, Fisher has felt the benefits of having the railroad collection.

Fisher said that it’s been a helpful outlet to him throughout the years. Whether it’s band concerts and tuning instruments or rearranging train cars and building new tracks, Fisher is always able to go from one passion to the other.

“It’s good for everyone to have an interest in something that’s different from their profession,” Fisher said. “It makes them a more well-rounded person, and it gives them a different context and perspective on what you do on a daily basis that’s part of a profession that creates a level of enthusiasm and interest that’s supplemental.”

Featured Image: Dennis Fisher, the associate director of UNT’s wind studies program, conducts a practice with UNT’s Symphonic Band. In between songs, Fisher filled his critiques with jest that left the students laughing often. Samantha Hardisty

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Amy Roh

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