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Garden Railroading Clinic Report. This photo is from a clinic at the Holden Arboretum in August, 2007. If this is your family, let us know and we'll send you a 5x7. Click to see a bigger photo. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running wellGarden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
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Clinic Report - Holden Arboretum part 2: August, 2007

Visit our Garden Train Store<sup><small>TM</small></sup> Buyer's Guide PagesIf you've read Part 1, you know that in 2007, the Holden Arboretum, in Kirtland, Ohio asked us to give two 2-day presentations on how to build a garden railroad. Part 1 describes our preparations and the July trip in detail. Thanks again to all who attended and especially to all who helped. This much briefer article describes our return trip.

Preparations and Arrival

I was a little concerned that the pond-and-landscaping section of the first clinic had been more "telling" than "showing," so I picked up a few more things to use, including some little "castle blocks" and another "waterfall/fountain."

On Thursday night, I loaded the car, which didn't take as long as it did the first time, since we had left the lumber at the arboretum. Molly had soccer, and Shelia had to stay to drive her, but Kristen Coppess, my oldest, was able to come help.

We stopped at a Columbus area "outdoor mall" called Eastown, and took some photographs of a garden railway that architect Bill Logan built at the "town center." I've seen that before but only in bad weather.

After we turned onto I-90, we made a point of using Holden's directions. If you're approaching from the west on I-90, there is a big "Holden Arboretum" sign off to the right that you may only see AFTER you've gone the wrong way, so pay attention. :-) The first time up, we saw the sign only after we had followed MapQuest's directions and missed the most convenient exit.

Once we got to Holden, we "checked in," at the visitor's center, then made certain that the lumber and everything else we needed was in place. Thanks again to the Holden folks who were more than helpful once again.

Kristen and I walked over to the Busse railroad and saw several things I had missed the first time around. Also, a different set of plants was in bloom, so that gave a different look to some parts of the railroad, besides. In other words, if you were there in June or July, there are still new things to see in August or September, hint, hint. Then we drove to Mentor run errands and get supper. At Radio Shack, I bought some lugs for connecting power to the track, which almost immediately got misplaced. We also stopped at a hobby shop to see if folks could get Large Scale trains regionally. BOTH visits were surreal - if I get a chance I'll blog about them sometime. But suffice it to say, by the time we got to Red Lobster, I almost expected to find the Mad Hatter or Cheshire Cat waiting on us. Fortunately the server acted like a person interested in customer service, and the meal was fine. Then we retired - I finished a book while Kristen worked on her lesson plans.

Saturday's Meeting

The weather was perfect on Saturday, dry, sunny, and mostly between 70 and 76 degrees Farenheit. The crowd to see the Paul Busse railroad was bigger than usual, and a good proportion of the folks that we met actually came to hear and see us. Some had seen the announcements on the Family Garden Trains(tm) web site, and some were on the arboretum's mailing list, and many had heard on the radio. Yes they even had radio advertising.

If you know who this youngster is, get in contact, and we'll send you a 3x5 photo. Click for bigger photo.As we did last time, we put up a little Thomas railroad, with a windmill, viaduct, and trestle. But we didn't put the little ground-level loop down, because I didn't have "coverage" to protect both from little hands (and feet) at the same time. I held off testing the elevated "Thomas" loop until the last minute, telling Kristen that once we got Thomas out, all bets would be "off." I was right, of course, kids must have a "Thomas radar" or something, because we were almost instantly swarmed. Once again, Annie and Clarabel didn't like the "high winds" on the track, so we put a troublesome truck behind Thomas and ran him that way the rest of the day.

We set the waterfall we had taken up previously under Thomas's railroad to give it more interest. And we set the new waterfall in the middle of the tarp that would become a railroad. Then we opened the pond liner we had brought and made a little "pond" with the round rocks Holden had supuplied. We didn't have enough rocks to really make it look great, but it gave the general idea, and it gave me something to "talk to" when folks asked pond qestions. A wierd turn happened when we filled the pond with, though. As I mentioned earlier, the hose we were using actually brought water from a lake (now somewhat stagnant) not from a well. That's great for irrigation, which is what Holden uses it for. The last time around, it had turned the waterfall brown in a couple of hours, but since we had only used a gallon or so, we hadn't noticed a bigger problem - the smell. When we poured thirty gallons or so into our makeshift pond and started it circulating through the waterfall, the smell was quite interesting for the first few hours. Twice, when the wind changed direction, I had to move a few feet over to continue my demonstration. Let's just say, that the lake water must provide many additional nutrients to the plants Holden waters with it. To be fair, we were there at the end of a dry period that had lasted almost ten weeks, so the lake hadn't been getting anything fresh to speak of for a long time. And when I say we were there at the END of the dry period, I mean that quite literally, as you'll see.

Allen is mulching around our 'Simple Ground-Level Railroad.' Click for bigger photo.We also had a good number of volunteers. Allen Nickels and George Kuznar, who helped us in July, were on hand. Another fellow named Mike Dory, came and brought some sample buildings to show. A few others drifted in and out. Many of the volunteers helped with questions, especially during the short breaks.

Allen was also helping with the Busse railroad, so he went over to check on it first thing. He also brought HIS Thomas, so the kids could see a Thomas running on the big railroad (Sadly, I didn't get a photo of that - too busy). If I had thought about it, I should have run James on the elevated railroad so the kids could see both in the same day, but I didn't really think about that until late afternoon.

We didn't get the name of this volunteer, who, with his sister, helped set out our figures. Click to see the whole frame.Many people stayed through most of the demonstrations and a few families came early and stayed through the whole thing. At one point, a volunteer counted at least a hundred people around the tent, some listening to me, some watching Thomas, and some watching the kids watching Thomas. Allan got to pass out a bunch of information for the Northern Ohio Garden Railway Society, and may have recruited several new members, based on people's expressions of interest. (Once again, it's a lot easier to get started with a little encouragement.) One attendee who lives near George invited him to visit their backyard and see if he had any suggestions before they finalized their plans.

Again, we started with a demonstration of a simple ground-level railroad, laid on a tarp that Holden had given us.

Mike displaying houses he had made from a $5 Michaels log cabin. Click for bigger photo.During the "buildings and bridges" discussion, I demonstrated how to fasten a simple bent together using my trestle jig (the thingie I use to align precut strips of wood and bang a trestle together). George had also brought his trestle jig, which was a hundred times more elaborate. So George showed how to put a big fancy bent together using his jig.

Later, during the building discussion, Mike and I showed his log cabins as examples of inexpensive resources that make a nice addition with a little work.

Sunday's Meeting

Saturday night it rained. Early Sunday morning it rained. Late Sunday morning it rained. By the time we were on the arboretum's grounds there was a steady downpour - the kind that usually lasts for hours, or in some cases, days. Well, they DID need the rain.

At the arboretum, our pavilions protected us from the downpour, but our lumber, gravel, and mulch were quite saturated by the time we arrived. I had thought of bringing the lumber home for another project, but I knew it would weigh twice as much and would cost me more to drive across Ohio than it would cost me to replace.

Allen was there soon after we arrived, but George couldn't come. So Kristen, Allen and I got things set up as well as we could. Kristen and I also borrowed coats and rain gear from two very nice Holden employees - we hadn't come prepared for 55-degree weather and occasionally blinding rain.

This is the 'crowd' a few minutes before it was time to start on Sunday.  Click for bigger picture.We set James and one Troublesome Truck out in the rain and let them run for a couple hours. There were a few soggy children drifting in and out to watch, being herded by soggy parents, but not enough to cause the "security" issues we had had on pretty days.

When it was time to start, though, we had several couples who braved the weather to hear and see our presentation, and who stayed all the way through, and one fellow who had come back from the day before to hear more. Needless to say, we also had time to answer many individual questions.

We did the "simple raised railroad" demonstration again, then I talked about groundcovers and demonstrated how to propogate thymes and The rainfall was so strong even native wildlife was seeking shelter under the pavilion. Well, actually this spider belonged to an audience member. Click for bigger picture.sedums. By the time the landscaping and pond discussion started, though, it was obvious that no one else was coming into the park. So after I hit the basic principles, we went into along informal "question and answer session" on any garden-railroading-related subject.


When everything was done it was time to unscrew all of the roadbed. I had no immediate use for most of it (nor desire to move it across the state), but we knew George was helping another fellow install a raised railroad near him. Allen volunteered to take the lumber to George, so most of it went into his truck - I kept only enough to have another little raised Thomas railroad at our next open house.

Thankfully, a fellow named Bill that I didn't get to know very well helped with teardown. We sent the Dwarf Albereta Spruce his way, along with some stepping stones that I didn't want to haul those across the state, either. Kristen and I repacked the van in a heavy rain (in fact, I was in sort of a fog, too, by then). Then we got the borrowed jackets and raincoats back to their owners, changed into dry clothing, and headed south. An uneventful journey, characterized by much rain and an overly long wait at a Cracker Barrel. . . .

One building was slightly damaged, but most of them made it unscathed. In addition, I discovered that someone had turned the sound DOWN on my Mikado's Sierra sound system but hadn't turned the system off so the custom gel battery is completely run down - I'm told I'll have to replace it - ouch! Ironically, the really fragile stuff like the windmill and trestle got home unscathed.

All told, we had a great time, made a lot of new friends, and learned a lot ourselves. Would we do it again? Not right away. :-)

Keep in Touch

Please let us know about your ongoing projects. Ask questions, suggest article ideas, whatever you think will help you or your fellow railroaders. In the meantime, enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks,

Paul Race

Reader Feedback

A few folks who attended the clinic have taken time to get back in touch with me via e-mail. Here are some of their notes:
  • My wife and I were there Saturday. We got there late during the first conference and stayed until the end. . . . We really enjoyed the conference. My wife wasn't sure when I talked about Garden trains. Now she knows. - Boe Lininger, Fostoria, Ohio
  • My wife and I attended the program at the Holden Arboretum on Saturday, August 18. I am just starting construction of my garden railroad and found the program very interesting and informative. Great job! - Don Barnot, Charleroi, PA

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