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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

Fall Has Fell - and my Christmas Trains are Grateful

When I was a kid, autumn was my favorite season. When our first house had enough tall trees to dump a foot-deep layer of leaves everywhere - including the rain gutters, that enthusiasm moderated. Actually I still enjoy raking leaves the first time or three I go out to rake. But I admit that now my "ideal" autumn is one in which an early cold snap brings down all the leaves at once (or at least within a brief period of time), and I can get the leaves cleared up before it gets too cool to enjoy the outdoors.

Click for bigger photo.

This is especially important if I plan to run trains late in the year, like I did last year - a Christmas-themed open house in conjunction with an NMRA open railroad tour. My preparations for that event included clearing the leaves off of the railroad with a shop-vac. But many leaves fell that week - too late to clear my yard of them. I just asked my kids to rake the area around the railroad for visitors and dealt with blowing leaves the rest of the weekend.

This year, it's all better. Most of the trees within 100 feet of the railroad have shed almost all of their leaves, and I have most of those raked (and in some case shop-vac'd). At the moment, most of the railroad is completely clear of leaves. And since we haven't had a long snap of cold weather, the groundcovers and conifers are keeping everything fairly green. So, though I have a lot of work left to do for this open house, I have hopes that the leaves won't pose the problem they did last year. Other details of preparations I'm making include:

Click for bigger photo.

  • Lighting the Trees - I plan to light the trees up like I did last year. Many of my strands are getting borderline, so I made a point of buying some LED strands at the end of season sales last year - I'll report on how those do.

  • Checking Rolling Stock - Last year the bumpy track caused some unforseen problems. Since I won't have time to really iron things out this year, I will probably wind up running trains with small locomotives that will handle just about anything. I've already found a locomotive I misplaced and didn't use last year - an AristoCraft Christmas-painted 4-wheel industrial diesel (the kind they call a "critter"). It uses the same reliable mechanism that powers the Eggliner. Because it will ride over pretty rough trackage, and I will not be getting my trackage fixed by my next open house (November 15, 2009), this is one of my "fall-back" locomotives in case the bigger ones don't run well on track I haven't "tweaked" since spring. I'll also be sorting my passenger cars to use only those with internal lighting, since part of the tour will be after dark, and a lit passenger train is so much more compelling than an "unlit" passenger train.

Click for bigger photo.
  • Setting up Thomas Somewhere - Last year I set a small Thomas railroad up on the well cover, a 5'x5' concrete block on the back of my house. I still have most of the wooden roadbed I made for a Thomas railroad I set up at Holden Arboretum in 2007, and the viaduct is intact. so I'm thinking about maybe setting Thomas up somewhere he has a little more room to run.

  • Adding Buildings and Building Lighting - I can actually fit more buildings on my railroad now than during the summer, so I'll try to re-add all the buildings I had up for 2008's open house. Some will require tweaking - as an example, many of the curtains I installed have gotten mildewy and need replaced. Also, three of the garden lighting fixtures I was using in some of my houses have given out, so I'll have to figure out what's wrong with them.

  • Adding Additional Lighting - I have three "towns" and a couple clusters of other buildings that I lit with low-powered floodlights last year. Still, you couldn't really see the figures and accessories after dark. So I'm thinking about adapting some of the 12-volt LED spotlights I tested last month to give better lighting to those "zones" on my railroad, and maybe to light the waterfall, which I may have running if it's warm enough.

  • Music - I'd like to have a better music option than CDs playing on a boom box. In part, even the best Christmas CDs have some songs that are obnoxious or too quiet to be heard. So if I have time, I may make a "mix" to play, and try to distribute the speakers better. Yes I realize that to a railfan, the sounds in my locomotives should be all the music they need . . . .

  • Others - If I have time, there are a dozen more things I'd like to add. It looks like I might have an industrial-sized popcorn popper on hand, for instance.

Looking forward to your suggestions, additions, criticisms, and anything else to let me know you're paying attention, I remain,

Paul Race

Click to see some ways you can help us grow the hobby.P.S. Enjoy your trains. Especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks.

To get information about this year's Christmas-Themed open house on the New Boston and Donnels Creek and other area large scale railroads, click here

To see last year's preparations and outcome for our 2008 Christmas-themed open house, click the following links.

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