Deep in the heart of the Needham Town Forest, nestled among the trees and rising up beside a small creek, hikers with careful eyes can find one of the town’s best kept secrets.
For unsuspecting adventurers, a trail of miniature bird houses leads the way to this unlikely scene, while treasure seekers learn of its existence on the Internet and come from miles around to find it.
Everyone is rewarded with a remarkable site: a miniature rail road set, complete with hundreds of feet of track, a station, train bridge and passengers lies waiting to be discovered.
If you’re lucky, you may also find the conductor, and he may bring out the train engine, guiding it carefully from the station, around the twists and turns of the track and safely back again.
Look closely, for the set this train chugs along on has been lovingly hand-crafted with acute attention to even the minutest of details.
Holding the tracks above the contours of the land are trestles, each hand-measured and cut to fit. On the platform, a tiny band of figurines waits for the train’s arrival. Off to the side, another figurine, set to look like a carpenter in a shop, stands surrounded by scale models of the bird houses hikers find along the trail. There’s even a “harbor” with a tiny row boat moored in the near-by creek.
For weary travelers, benches and a table offer respite and a view of the entire, detailed scene.
This mysterious place has many names; some know it as the Depot, while others refer to it as Martini Junction. No matter what name it’s known by, this intricate world has a reputation all its own.
It all started over a decade ago, when the site’s conductor, a local resident and model enthusiast, wanted to create a relaxing spot by a waterfall he’d found in the Town Forest.
He made a bench for he and his wife to sit comfortably and sip their favorite cocktails—martinis—while enjoying the quiet surroundings. The one bench soon grew into two benches, and eventually a table was added.
One day, he had an idea. His daughter had recently given him a plastic train set, and it looked as if it could weather the elements. He brought it out to the site where he had built the table and benches so guests could watch the train while they sipped their martinis.
Over the years, the train set has grown, and so has its notoriety.
The site has become a favorite for geocachers—folks who use global positioning systems and web sites offering clues to hard-to-find locations with stashes of trinkets, log books and more.
“I knew this was to be a magical journey when I spotted the first little birdhouse,” one geocacher wrote on the web site, geocaching.com. “I went on ahead and was treated to such a delightful sight…. Thank-you for sharing this magical place.”
People have added to the set too, making small contributions of figurines and other toys to enhance this little world.
And the 10 years of its existence, no one has ever vandalized the set; people have respected this special treasure in the woods.
So fill up a backpack and head out to the forest. Follow the birdhouses and you may just find Martini Junction. If you’re a geocacher, the lantern is the key.
And if you are fortunate enough to meet the conductor, he goes by the name of Jim.
For previous Boston Globe coverage of Martini Junction, click HERE.
To learn more about geocaching, visit: geocaching.com.