Garden Trains are big, weather-resistant model trains that you can run outside. Once you install the track, you leave it out all year 'round, (though most people bring the trains in overnight). You can surround your railroad with real ponds and plants that not only make your trains look "at home," but beautify your yard all year long as well.
Since many new Garden Trains became available in the 1980s, the hobby called Garden Railroading has been attracting both "indoor" model railroaders and families that never owned an "indoor train." All have found that a Garden Railroad is a family enterprise, with everyone finding something to enjoy and something to contribute. That's why, when we started "Family Garden Trains"TM in 1996, we put the word "Family" into the title and kept it there.
We at Family Garden TrainsTM are Garden Railroaders who want to help our hobby grow, and we think that the best way to do that is to give anyone interested the information that they need the most to get started. That is why we publish that information on our web site in the form of free, original articles. Each article is written or edited by a professional writer with the beginning garden railroader in mind. To help you as much as possible:
- We provide clear explanations, step-by-step instructions, and lists of resources you can consult when you need more detail about a particular subject than we can provide.
- We keep our content "fresh" by adding new content and updating older articles as new products or techniques become available.
- We encourage two-way communication, through a Contact Page for your questions, a Newsletter signup, a Discussion Forum Page, and a Facebook Page.
Also, if you poke around a little, you'll also see that we have incorporated reader feedback directly into dozens of our articles, and we'll be glad to include your suggestions, additions, and corrections as well.
Raised Platform Railroad Articles, Redux
Longtime readers know that after some sixteen years of trying to keep a traditionally-installed retaining-wall-and-dirt railroad in running condition, we moved and decided that the railroad at the new house had to be as low-maintenance as possible.
The story of our new railroad, starts with many plans, false starts, and new plans, but by the time we had the first "proof of concept" installed, we felt we were definitely on the right track. It is told in our our New Boston and Donnels Creek blog starting with our article "Planning the New New Boston and Donnels Creek Railway, Part 1."
Just yesterday, we had links to all of those articles on this page. And you can still see them if you follow the links above. But now we've put together a short, easy-to-follow article that describes the basic precepts we used in building our new railroad.
"Building a Raised Platform Railroad" is our new "flagship" article, based on 40 years' experience and observation in the hobby. It describes an approach to building an outdoor railroad that will require almost no maintenance and last without major refurbishment for as long as you plan to live in your home - New February, 2020
If you want to see how the simple principles in that article have been applied to our new railroad, you can download our four-page PDF "Building the NEW NEw Boston and Donnels Creek."
If you ever built a back deck, you used materials and methods selected to keep the structure solid as long as you live in your house (hopefully longer). To me the infrastructure for a garden railroad should be the same.
Personally, I believe that low-maintenance raised railroads are the future of the hobby, because they allow garden railroaders to run trains more often and for years longer without major repairs than most traditional approaches.
NGRC Nashville - If you would like to hear more of our ideas and conclusions regarding low-maintenance, reliable, cost-effective garden railroads, be sure and stop by our clinics at the 2020 National Garden Railway Convention in Nashville.
Information about Garden Railroading
Free: Garden Railroading Primer Articles - Everything you need to know to get started, including many planning and construction articles to give you more ideas for getting a railroad in your back yard this year. The following list shows the general breakdown of our articles, as well as a few recent or especially helpful articles. Clicking on the list will either take you that portion of our Primer page or to a table of contents for that topic particular (if available).
Garden Railroad Plant Articles - Articles about planning, planting, and cultivating the "garden" part of your garden railroad
Landscaping Tips for Garden Railroaders - Ponds, retaining walls, and more, including:
- Introduction to Garden Railroading - Help getting a handle on the worlds' fastest-growing model railroading hobby, including:
- Garden Railroad Planning Articles - Help planning the physical, operational, and aesthetic aspects of your garden railroad, including:
- Garden Railroad Construction Articles - Cost-effective and easy-to-use techniques for building your own garden railroad, including:
- Introduction to Garden Railroad Construction - An overview of the various recommended construction methods, with guidelines to help you decide which method is best for you
- Building a Raised Platform Railroad - This is our new "flagship" article, based on 40 years' experience and observation in the hobby. It describes an approach to building an outdoor railroad that will require almost no maintenance and last without major refurbishment for as long as you plan to live in your home - New February, 2020
- Building a Temporary Outdoor Railroad - Whether you're practicing for the "big one," starting a railroad on a rental property, or setting up a display for a party, Christmas display, or street fair - this article shows you how about three hours in the back yard with about $60 worth of lumber can give you a little railroad you can use for years and move whenever you want - New, December, 2012
Installation and Lighting - Powering your trains, lighting your buildings, and more, including:
- Landscaping Design Tips for Garden Railroaders - Color, balance, proportion, and location of shade trees are just some of the factors that go into making a garden railroad a great garden as well. New July, 2010
- Paver Choices - Guide to the most common materials for making sidewalks and patios, with links to "how-to" articles. New October, 2013
- Pool2Patio - Dry-Setting a Patio With Antique Bricks - Why waste that great pad of compressed sand left over when the above-ground swimming pool came down? A really big patio made from used bricks is more fun than more lawn any day. New October, 2013
Garden Train Rolling Stock - hough we are currently working on more articles, these are the articles we currently have that address the trains themselves.
- DC Power Demystified - Describes the kinds of DC power used by model trains and the technologies that provide that power. Also provides an overview of "analog controllers" for track-powered trains. New January, 2011
- Almost-Free Building Lighting- Use inexpensive supplies and discarded Christmas lights to create building lighting that is all but free. But don't wait until after Christmas to pick up the crucial part - 12v replacement bulbs for Christmas light strands. New December, 2012
- Low-Voltage LED Garden Lighting - Using LED fixtures that have been "wired" to work in 12-volt systems - more light, less power, a few drawbacks.
Garden Railroad Structures - Articles about creating and improving buildings and bridges for your garden railroad. New articles include:
- Bachmann Couplers - Suggestions for making them work better for you.
- Buying Passenger Cars (Old Timey) - "Pros and Cons" of the "old-timey" passenger cars produced by each of the major garden train manufacturers
- Freight Car Measurements - How do the various boxcars, reefers, and stock cars from different brands "stack up"? I started this list in the 1980s, when it was hard to get product of any kind, and folks were "mixing and matching" products from different brands, scales, and periods just to make up their trains. Which, of course, caused all sorts of arguments about what was "close enough." I thought at least folks should have facts in hand when considering their next purchase.
- Fallen Flags of Garden Railroading - A description of garden train suppliers who have gone out of business, including Kalamazoo, Delton Locomotive Works, and Lionel's track-powered 45mm trains.
- Railbuses, Doodlebugs, and RDCs - Describes the various self-propelled gas, diesel, or diesel-electric rail vehicles that carried passengers or sight-seers over routes too small to justify locomotive-drawn trains, as well as past product lines that replicate those vehicles in Large Scale.
- Thomas the Tank Shootout - A side-by-side comparison of Bachmann's Thomas the Tank set versus Lionel's. Yes, both have been discontinued, but folks are still trying to track these down for their kids or display railroads.
- Bachmann's G Gauge Christmas Trains - An unofficial catalog of Bachmann's seasonal Large Scale offerings. Hopefully it will help you know which sets are worth tracking down.
O Gauge Outside - Using O gauge trains and accessories outside.
Garden Railroad Maintenance Articles - A new but growing section on how to keep your garden railroad operating properly, including:
Real-World Trains and Operations - An introduction to railroads in general and the kinds of operations you can consider modeling in your back yard, including:
Reference Information and Things to Think About - Miscellaneous topics that are important to most garden railroaders.
Other Articles about Garden Railroading and Large Scale, including:
- Detail Painting Storefronts - Colorado Model Structures' new Market Street line of inexpensive 2- and 3-story city buildings was the inspiration for an article to help even beginners help city structures look their best. New, August, 2013
- Prepping a CMS Plastic House for Year-Round Service - A step-by-step introduction to "best practices" of prepping a plastic model structure for appearance and durability. New, September, 2013
- Trashbashing 101 - Updated for 2013 - About twelve years after our first Trashbashing article was published, things have changed enough to justify updating the article. Can you still convert busted-up or discarded toy buildings into attractive, inexpensive, weather-resistant scale buildings, with about as much work as it takes to properly prep the average kit? Yes. But the source materials are getting harder to find, and inexpensive alternatives are becoming available. We have added more photos and tips, but we also discuss when it makes more sense to choose an alternative approach. Updated, May, 2013
- Trashbashing a Fisher Price Cape Cod ("Play Family" House)
After eight straight years outside, a building that I converted from a toy to a useful farmhouse over a decade ago needed some refurbishment. While it was in pieces, I took photos so I could explain how anyone who comes across one of these cheap can have a nice scale structure for a few dollars and a little elbowgrease. New, October, 2013
- Trashbashing Step-By-Step - This followup to our original "Trashbashing 101" article has many photos and illustrated tips on using masking tape to get a clean, professional paint job with no skill required but patience. New, October, 2012
- Inexpensive Structures and Building Materials - Save real money by thinking "outside of the store-bought-kit box" when you plan, create, or acquire your structures. New, January, 2013
- Temporary Building Fronts from Recycled Plastic Signs
- If you have access to a color laser printer, you can print inexpensive, attractive building fronts that you can use to jump-start your railroad or to leave out in bad weather or unattended public displays. - Updated, January, 2013 with new tips and graphics.
- Letters to the Editor Section - Answers to questions about garden trains.
- Garden Railroad Photo Gallery - beginning to sort out some of the better photos we've featured on this site in the past.
- My garden railroad, the New Boston and Donnels Creek - with many photos and links. including:
- New Boston Marketplace - We're not exactly "downsizing," but we are selling off some stuff we bought for one project or another and never used. New, January, 2013
- Christmas Train Day Report: Our Fifth Christmas-Themed Open Railroad
On November 10, 2012, our garden railroad, the New Boston and Donnels Creek was open to the public, in conjunction with the NMRA show in Dayton a week earlier. We had several trains running, including three trains the kids could run, lots of Christmas lights, Christmas music, outdoor movies, popcorn-machine popcorn and other treats, and lots and lots of helpers visitors. A good time was had by all.
- Special Features
- Trees and Trains - The Holden Express - a Photo-Journal from Family Garden Trains(tm) A detailed record of our visit to a unique professional garden railroad in Kirtland, Ohio (near Cleveland) in mid-July, 2007. Lots and lots of photos you can click on for a bigger view. This railroad closed September 23, but the photos are still online, because they are seriously inspiring.
- Into the Woods: A Garden Railroad in a Public Forest Jim and Evelyn Metcalf built a garden railroad that anybody can access. It's also on the GeoCache list, and works just great with an inexpensive train and plastic track.
- Blog-Like Articles - An attempt to keep in touch with timely, informal remarks, including:
What's In a Name - Again - Domain name squatters, content pirates, and other obstacles that we hit head-on years ago, but resulted in issues we're still sorting out today. Hopefully our warnings can help you avoid similar problems when when you name a business or start a web pages. Includes real-world examples from the history of Family Garden Trains and affiliated sites.New July, 2013
It Makes a City - Another Great Buy from Colorado Model Structures! -
CMS has always featured garden buildings that offered great value. This spring, they have issued enough new kits to give you an entire city's worth of buildings for the cost of a single building from many other companies. If that sounds hard to believe, please check out Colorado Model Structure's new lines, some of which are being displayed for the first time at the Cincinnati convention in June. New May, 2013:
Preparing for a Once-In-A-Decade Open Railroad - Check out an early "sneak peak" at some of the many things we are doing to get ready for the June, 2013 convention-related open railroads.
New April, 2013: The "sequel" to this article is now located here.
- Economics of Garden Railroad Buildings
- A recent experience selling some used buildings and building kits reminded me that most "name brand" large scale building kits cost too much. Way too much. I'm reminded of why I spend so much time trying to keep the hobby affordable for folks with average incomes. New January, 2013:
How do I Sell My Train Collection?
- I often get contacted by people who've found, inherited, or grown tired of a train "collection" and need help figuring out what to do with it. Click here for the best advice I've heard (and some I've given) on the subject. New September, 2012
- Put the Garden in 'Garden Railroading' - Nancy Norris' 'Miniature Garden Guidebook'
- GR plant specialist Nancy Norris has released the only complete book dedicated to the garden part of "garden railroading" ever published. Click here to see an original review. New August, 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. New July, 2012
- Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics for use on your own railroads. Includes brick paper and other texture sheets, business signs, pre-scaled, printable building fronts, and curtains and shades for dressing up your buildings.
- Finding a Garden Railroad Club Information to help you find likeminded folks in your area.
- How (and Why) to Write "How To" Hobby Articles - Our "business site," Breakthrough CommunicationsTM, has posted a series of articles to help you give back to your favorite hobbies by sharing what you've learned.
Garden Train Buyer's Guides - Descriptions of the products you will find most useful when you are starting out, with links to multiple suppliers when available.
- Garden Train Store - An extensive buyer's guide that provides pictures and descriptions of the products you are mostly likely to find useful when you are beginning and expanding your railroad. Links to multiple suppliers are included when available.
- Best Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders - A one-page buyer's guide designed to save you time and money by helping you locate the most useful (and generally the most affordable) products for when you're first starting out.
- Garden Trains for Kids - What do you buy someone who's not ready for big expensive models but wants something of his or her own to run? Several solid, weather-resistant trains with superior play value are suggested. New, August, 2013
Starter Set Buyer's Guide - A description and catalog of several quality train sets that you can use to start your Garden Railroad.
- Big Christmas TrainsTM - Free projects, ideas, and buyers' guides for Christmas trains, towns, and other displays.
Big Trains StoreTM - On30 is a fast-growing hobby that can use resources from O gauge railroads, collectible villages, and even from Large Scale - In fact many Garden Railroaders have On30 trains they run inside during cold weather. The Big Trains StoreTM buyers' guide describes On30 and O gauge model trains for building indoor railroads.
Classic Train Songs - An index to a small but growing library of popular songs about trains. New format and features, 2010!
Train Movies and Railroad Videos - Several of our readers have been shopping for movies about trains, feature movies that feature trains, and so on. This page is new, but growing. April, 2010
Other Resources - The following club links will help you learn what other people in southwest Ohio are doing with trains outside.
What Members of the Large Scale Community are saying about Family Garden Trains