Updated for 2012! with several new listings and reviews!
Over the years I've answered all kinds of questions for people. In fact, most of the
articles on the Family Garden Trains website came about because several folks
asked the same questions.
One question I get asked often is "Where Do I Go to Learn More?"
My Primer article Where do I go From Here?" answers that question with many links and hints (as well as the book, magazine, and video resources listed here). But sometimes what you need most of all are encouragement and ideas from a range of resources. The books, magazine, and videos listed on this page are all great sources of inspiration.
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Back in the early days of modern garden railroading, writer and railfan Marc Horovitz scratched out a self-published black-and-white magazine that grew as the hobby grew. Eventually Kalmbach (publisher of Model Railroader and many more hobby magazine) bought Marc out, allowing him to focus on content, not accounting.
The magazine has remained so influential to garden railroaders, that industry analysts often confuse the number of subscriptions with the number of active garden railroaders. Both Marc and I know, however, that lots of folks subscribe to GR for the same reason they stockpile Large Scale trains in their basement - they plan to have a garden railroad one day. Also, lots of folks who have working garden railroads have let their subscription lapse, especially in the poor economy. Hoping to reverse that tendancy, Kalmbach has uploaded hundreds of GR's best articles from past issues on a web page that all subscribers can access for free.
Marc tries to cover a range of issues and to have articles of interest to beginners as well as fellow "experts." The
photographs are my favorite part; they provide a lot of ideas and inspiration.
Though I don't always agree with Marc Horovitz's opinions, GR is the best resource for garden railroaders overall.
If you are new to this hobby, realize that the cost of subscribing is about what you'd pay for a third of a new boxcar, and will do you far more good in the long run.
Narrow Gauge Annual-- This is a once-a-year publication started out as Fine Scale Railroader, with an emphasis on detailing railroad models. Reader interest and article contributions tended to focus on narrow gauge trains, and advertising revenues made it difficult to support multiple issues a year. So the editor opted to publish one issue a year. If you like narrow gauge trains, you should subscribe.
The following books will give you many ideas; they will also more than pay for themselves by helping you avoid costly mistakes. Yes they may contain conflicting advice or contradict advice I give in my Family Garden Trains primer articles. But that's all the more reason to read up on your various choices early and often.
- Miniature Garden Guidebook is written by Nancy Norris, a garden railroad designer and frequent contributor of plant articles to Garden Railways magazine. This is the only book ever published that focuses on the kinds of plants and plantings that garden railroads demand. My only concern is that it has so much information it might overwhelm beginners. That's why my review of the book includes some "how to use this book" hints.
I know you're thinking this would be a good Mother's Day gift, and you're right. But it would be an even better Christmas present, because it's better to plan updates to your garden in December than in May.
To go to our review of Miniature Garden Guidebook, click here
To go directly to the Amazon listing for this book, click here.
- How to Design and Build Your Garden Railroad, by Jack Verducci, is the best recent "how-to" book to come along. Jack has been contributing articles to Garden Railways magazine for many years, and I've personally learned a great deal from his experience. I expect this book to become the "new" standard reference for years go come.
Update for 2008: For some reason, this book is no longer available through Amazon. I know I had a hand in getting sales off the ground, but I can't believe they went through a printing this fast. As of April, 2008, you can still get the book through your local bookstore, directly from Kalmbach, or through
- Gorgeous Garden Railways is written by Marc Horovitz and Pay Hayward, the editor and gardening editor for Garden Railways magazine. Both authors have selected their favorite photographs from the thousands in their collections and written narratives that "tell a story." The result is an informative, but beautiful "coffee-table" book that should be in the collection of every current and prospective garden railroader - not because everyone has the skills to replicate the most impressive examples, but because everyone should know what is possible while they're dreaming up their next project.
In May, 2005, I wrote a long, informal review of this book.
Or click here to jump straight to the Amazon listing, which includes a peek at some of the book's pages.
- New July, 2012: Building Buildings - Jack Verducci's Building Structures for Your Garden Railway
- Kalmbach has published another collection of Jack Verducci's most popular articles, this time focusing on Jacks tips for building, installing, and maintaining garden railroad structures. Though it's not a step-by-step "how-to" instruction manual, it's guaranteed to give you some great ideas. Not to mention that it's easier to take around with you than a web page, and makes a great gift, hint, hint.
To see our review of this book, click here
To jump right to the Amazon
Amazon listing for this book, click here
- Garden Railroading: Getting Started in the Hobby is a collection of beginner-oriented articles from Garden Railroading magazine. This is not a single "how-to" source as much as it is a source of encouragement, with several contributing authors writing about their favorite aspects of garden railroading. In a way, it supplements Jack Verducci's How to Design and Build Your Garden Railroad (with a bit of overlap, I'm afraid). Many people appreciate the great photos, which also appeared in Garden Railways magazine at one time. Please click on the image to see the Amazon listing.
- Practical Garden Railways by Peter Jones. Peter is a creative modeler, gardener, and writer who frequently contributes to Garden Railways magazine. Still, to "get" this book you have to realize that garden railroading has been around in the UK for over a century, and that they don't do it quite the way we do. For one thing, there's much stronger emphasis on using real steam power and home-made or kit-built equipment. To facilitate live steam operation, as well as realistic switching operations, the tracks are more likely to be raised to 28" or higher. This, in turn has an effect on where and how you use plants, buildings, and other accessories.
There are other differences, including smaller yards and wetter weather, but the end result is that UK garden railroaders take things for granted that Americans don't pay attention to at all, and vice versa. In other words, if you live in the UK, buy this book. If you live in North America, consider this to be a potential - but not critical - supplement to the other books on this page.
To see the
Amazon listing, click here
- A Passion for Steam Small Scale Steam Locomotives and How They Work - Garden railroaders in Britain and Ireland have used real, but small steam locomotives to pull their trains for over a century. Garden Railways editor Marc Horovitz has studied, experimented with, and collected these powerful little teakettles for much of his adult life. A British publisher has published Marc's book that describes in detail how these work, then gives many examples. "Live steam" locomotives aren't for everyone, but if you're interested in learning more about them, you'll find this book to be a valuable resource.
This book is not available directly from Amazon or Kalmbach. Clicking on the title or photo above will take you to Marc's web page, with detailed descriptions and links to the UK publisher. Amazon does have a page for the book with two very good reviews so far, but it links to third party sellers. If you want to see the Amazon page, click here
- Getting Started in Garden Railroading (Out of Print, but available on Kindle). By Allan W. Miller, this was an organized and comprehensive single text on Garden Railroading, and a strong seller for several years. Sadly it is out of print, and a number of resellers will be glad to gouge you for up to $200 a copy to get your own. If you can get a copy in decent shape for less than $30, it's probably worth your while. Click on the graphic to see listing on Amazon.
Update for 2012: Allan has reissued this in electronic format. If you have an e-reader, you can download the Kindle edition.
- Beginner's Guide to Large Scale Model Railroading
(Out of Print). This book contains good content from the early days of Garden Railways magazine. That part, written by Marc Horovitz, was the most useful information available on garden railroading at the time (2000). (Marc is founder and head editor of Garden Railways magazine. Unfortunately, the publisher chose to supplement Marc's content with include "filler" about model railroading in general, so if you're coming from a model railroading background already, this will not be as helpful as you might think. The book has not been updated since 2000, so a lot of new approaches, materials, and products have come and gone since then. Plus much of the useful material is now free to download from Garden Railways digital library (available free to Garden Railways subscribers). If you come across one for a reasonable amount, you will find it to be a useful reference in a format that is much handier to carry around than a collection of pdf files. But please don't pay serious money for it just because it's hard to find. Click on the image to see listings on Amazon.
- The Large-Scale Model Railroading Handbook (Out of Print). This book was largely written by a fellow who wrote mostly indoor railroading books. As a result, a good chunk of the book was really just about model railroading with Large Scale trains, and not about garden railroading per say. Like the Beginner's Guide to Large Scale Model Railroading above, this book has not been updated since 2000, so a lot of new approaches, materials, and products have come and gone since then. Again, if you come across one cheap, it may be a useful reference, but please don't pay real money for it. Click on the image to see listings on Amazon.
- If you're a little put off by the gardening side of Garden Railroading, you should get some guidance and encouragement from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Rock and Water Gardening, Illustrated.
Amazon links to some of these books and a few others are shown in the table at the bottom of the page. If any of the boxes contain a generic Amazon button,please refresh this page to see the link properly.
Right now, relatively few videos are available. One that was worth owning, but is now out of print is How to Build Your Garden Railway by Marc Horovitz and Rod Wentler. Although Marc and Rod didn't do things exactly the way I would have (they probably did them better), it was a this is a great introduction to a kind of garden railroad construction that many beginners have used successfully. A series of Garden Railways articles that make an excellent companion to this piece have been republished in the book Garden Railroading: Getting Started in the Hobby, shown below.
Marc, if you ever reintroduce or replace this video, please let me know, and I'll post it here.
Holiday Garden Railroads Video - Peter Wine, garden railroader and photographer, has worked on several of the nation's best-known display railroads (under the direction of master builder Paul Busse). Pete has captured live-action video of several of those display layouts as they were decorated for Christmas, including display railroads at the Smithsonian and the New York Botanical Garden. It should give you lots of ideas, even if you're not doing a Christmas display at the moment.
For more information, or to purchase this video in VHS or DVD format, please click on the photograph to the right.
Here you'll find Amazon links to the books I talked about above, as well as links to several other books that garden railroaders have found helpful.
Note: this is not an Amazon link, but it works. Click on the picture to see Jack Verducci's book How to Design and Build Your Garden Railroad.
Fairy Garden Books
Okay, this isn't about trains, but I've gotten quite a few e-mails from folks trying to track down information and supplies for fairy gardens. Let's face it, they both share many aspects of miniature gardening, and for a very long time not much info was available. Plus a number of garden railroading families have devoted at least part of their garden to whimsical displays of some sort. So when I saw these resources, I was glad to add them.
If you come across any resource that you'd recommend to others, please
Best of luck,
Paul D. Race