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Letters to the Editor - Family Garden Trains 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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Large Scale Christmas Trains: Trains with a holiday theme for garden or professional display railroads.Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs
Garden Railroading Books, Magazines, and Videos: Where to go to learn even more
Collectible Trains and Villages: On30 Trains and accessories designed by Thomas Kinkade and others

Click to see exclusive, licensed train collections in your favorite NFL colors!
Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

Although Family Garden Trains was started in 1996, it didn't get its own web site until 1999. Originally we started the site to answer questions from people who new to garden railroading (which included just about everybody then). At the beginning, most of the articles were in the form of "Frequently Asked Questions," but those have been gradually replaced by illustrated, magazine-style articles. At the same time, we keep getting questions. Some of these are important questions about topics of general interest that we just haven't gotten around to writing about yet. Some only apply to the person who wrote to us and maybe a few other people. A handful of these questions relate to products that are described on our Garden Train Store and Big Train Store pages. However, we've been around long enough to know that for every person who posts a question, there are a dozen or more folks with the same question that never ask. So, in early 2003, we tried to start (and keep) posting those questions on this page, in the hopes that it will do other readers some good. (In case you wondered, for each question and answer that appears on this page, we have answered dozens of other questions that are so specific that there's no point in posting them here.)

And, finally, I am getting WAY more e-mails every month than I have the month before, and that's not always reflected here, because I get behind. But we do want to be of service. I still try to reply directly to reader questions as soon as possible, even if the answer doesn't show up here right away (or at all, in some cases). So keep in touch.

Update for 2010 By 2009, the page had gotten so long that I put letters from 2007 and earlier on separate pages. I have just done that for year 2008, as well. I have kept the topics on this page so you can go through the "archives" without having to navigate through every page. As you go back in time, remember that some of the earlier questions have been superceded by more recent developments, so if you find an answer from 2004 and one from 2008 that address the same question, they may be a little different. On the other hand, some questions haven't been asked since 2004, which is why I am keeping that year's questions available.

Are We Getting Fewer Questions? - If you just count messages it looks like we got fewer questions in 2009 than I did in 2010. The truth is that we got many more in terms of number, but the number of NEW questions that we haven't answered either here or our articles has stabilized. Once again, we try to answer ALL questions promptly, but when the answer is mostly "read such-and-such-an-article," we don't usually publish the question and answer on this page.

Asking questions and getting answers published (as well as in a return e-mail) may seem like a simple exercise, but I regard these exchanges as a valuable resource. For example, if two or three people ask me basically the same question, that tells me that I need more or better articles on the subject on my web pages.

So, if you have a question that isn't answered on this page or in the articles, send it in - chances are twelve other people are wondering the same thing. And your questions are what keep the site growing.

As always, we hope that you will please contact us with any corrections or other follow-ups to our answers.

Topic list






2003 and Before

Visit our Garden Train Store? Starter Set Buyer's Guide

Click to see sturdy, weather-resistant buildings for your garden railroad.

This GIF animation is just to give you an idea of how a unique new Thomas Kinkade Christmas Express collectible tree looks in motion. Click to be taken directly to the supplier's page.

Aristo Sierra Coaches Not Rolling Well - September, 2010

Mark Cappola writes:

Hello Paul. I bought two Aristo Craft V&T yellow coaches to run with my PIKO Starter set engine. The train is barely able to move and the engine spits and sputters sometimes lighting brightly and jerking forward and other times dim lit and crawling. I have the power on max but doesn't seem to help. I cleaned the tracks but not much improvement. Could it be the power shoes on the engine not making good contact? Is the engine too small (I wouldn't think so)? Are the lights in the cars drawing too much power from the engine?

I was looking forward to them running well. Thanks - Mark


Are the coaches new or used?

Do they have lighting circuits? The coaches without lighting circuits have "closed" curtains and no interiors. The coaches with lighting circuits have "open" curtains and interiors.

Are the cars free-rolling? That is, can you send them a few feet down the track with a light tap?

If your cars don't have lighting circuits, then it's almost certainly a friction issue. If they do have lighting circuits, it still might be one.

See if one of the trucks is out of whack or something keeping a wheel from turning apropriately.

If these are lighted cars, and don't roll freely, there's one more thing to check.

Turn the car over and look at the little device that is supposed to provide electrical conductivity from the wheels. Each pickup has a metal tube that SHOULD be holding a little carbon rod (something like a fat pencil lead) up against the inside of the wheel. In used cars, this carbon "brush" may be either worn out or missing, and the metal tube itself is rubbing on the inside surface of the wheel, causing MUCH more traction than the carbon brushes ever cause.

Because the carbon brushes are spring-loaded, they can pop out and shoot across the room when you remove the wheels for cleaning or some such. I won't make the accusation that the previous owner, dorking around with the coach, let one or more of those brushes or springs fly, and when he couldn't find it (them), he put the coaches on Ebay. But that has happened to coaches I bought on Ebay.

If the friction doesn't seemed to have a direct mechanical cause, lubricating the axles might help. I don't have any Aristo docs handy, but I like to use JUST a dab of lightweight oil, what might be considered 5 or 10-weight if it was automobile oil. No WD40 and no axle grease. :-)

If you don't want to take the trucks apart (and I wouldn't recommend it for beginners- they're hard to get back together) you my be able to get the oil back into the truck cavity with a toothpick or some such. If your cars are lighted, it could be a friction problem or a power problem.

If the cars are free-rolling, try putting the cars both on the track without the locomotive. Do they both glow when you attach power? If one glows and one doesn't, one car may have short.

Try the cars one at a time and see if the train runs. If the "dark" car causes a problem and the other one doesn't, that narrows it down, too.

If both cars seem to perform about equally, it is possible that the lighting circuits may be drawing more power than your little power supply can dish out. I doubt that, though. I would try all the other things above before going out and buying a new power supply - lots of folks are using 5-amp power supplies to power trains that would run just fine on 1 amp or less if they were properly maintained.

Hope this helps, or at least gives you some ideas to try. By the way, those carbon brushes are inxpensive to acquire and a little tricky to install. But the cars are sweet, especially the lighted ones. - Paul

Editor's Note: Mark got back to me and said that my guess that the carbon brushes and/or springs were missing was dead-on. He has since ordered the parts and is looking forward to seeing these coaches operate the way they're supposed to.

Security for an Outdoor Christmas Train Display - September, 2010

Stan Miller writes:

Do you know of any way that a garden railroad and train can be secured against theft (other than keeping it in a locked building, I mean)? We live in a nice neighborhood, but that didn't stop some chump from stealing a decorative rope light train we had around an evergreen tree out front a couple of years ago. I'm thinking about stepping up to a model train instead, but I don't want to have to set it up and take it down every night.


The first thing to realize is that people almost never steal the track. In fact, if you use a cheap battery powered train like the kind from Scientific Toys, the track isn't worth stealing. If you do anything like that, I'd suggest putting the track on a 2x6" pressure treated roadbed. Or 5/4" decking.

I made a temporary layout that way for a display one year - I'm still using the roadbed and viaduct:

Click to see a bigger photo.I used the same display for a Christmas open house for two years running - look toward the end of the following article:

The technique for cutting the roadbed is in the following article, under the section called "Measure and Cut the 2x6 Stringers":

If you want to go with an electrically-powered train set, consider one from AristoCraft, Piko, or Bachmann. Bachmann's track isn't made to stay outside, but it should last one season. The relative cost of cheap versus solid track is reflected in the relative cost of the train sets.

If you buy AristoCraft or Piko, you get better track, but only one 4'-diameter circle of it, so if you want an oval, you'll need more.

Here are some examples of garden trains in Christmas colors:

Hope this gives you some ideas. Have a great holiday season. And if you DO decide to put a garden train in your front yard this year, please send photos. Thanks for getting in touch - Paul

Feedback on Bachmann's Percy and Thomas Line - August, 2010

I asked reader Mark Ole for feedback on the Bachmann Percy set he had bought for his son, and this is his response.:

The drive train is OK, but we're not talking about an LGB starter set. . . . That said, I've been impressed with Percy so far.

  • Detail: The buffers on the ends are nice for details, but tend to break off when dropped from about 2 feet on to solid concrete. The cab roof comes off Percy, which would be good if the cab had a true floor. Instead, the cab floor is just below the window opening. So, putting a character in there is a bit of a challenge. The eyes rotate back and forth as he flies down the track, which is a nice feature.
  • Running: Percy is geared for kids. HIGH SPEED! Side rods are flexible gray plastic. When liftoff speed is reached, he flies off the track!! And that is on 8' diameter curves.
  • Coupling: As received, Percy has hook and loop couplers body mounted. When you try and connect to other large scale trains, the couplers are 5/8" too high. Upon further inspection in the box, I found spacers than are used to mount at normal heights. Some folks had problems with Thomas, Annie and Claribel derailing on 4' diameter curves. My nephew got the Thomas set, and didn't mention derailing problems.
  • Troublesome trucks: These cars are great for hauling 'stuff' like blocks and Lil People. The wheels are spoked metal and the axles ride in metal tabs, so there is a good sound to them running down the track. The faces are separate pieces attached to the cars. Great detail and look like what is shown on TV.
  • Annie and Claribel: These coaches have roofs that pull off. Same story with the faces, very nice.
  • Size: These are big trains. Percy is pretty big and Thomas is downright huge. They look closer to 1:20.3 scale than 1:29 or 1:32. Makes them a great choice for little hands. Compared with the ARisto 20' gon (which I got for Luke's birthday), the troublesome trucks are taller (inside and overall) and slightly longer.
  • The verdict: These trains are a hit. I believe that with parental supervision, these trains are a good choice for the Thomas fan. As Luke gets older, we'll probably do less with Thomas and Percy, but I think they will have a home on our railroad somewhere.

As a side note, I really like your idea of having a separate railroad that Luke will own. I am preparing to rebuild my railroad and was thinking about having a siding near a sandbox to represent a 'quarry'. Also, I am part of the RR museum of PA's Garden RR Open house tour (Except this year, new baby due 9/21). I have made it a point to have a separate 'kids' railroad, even before we had Luke. All I did was put a loop of track in the grass, and a transformer. Last year, I built an oval with LGB 1600 curves (8' diameter) and 8' straights, all mounted to 1x6 or 1x4's I also built a tunnel out of a mitre saw box. All was a huge hit, and the trains ran as well as possible. Derailments were expected but not frequent. That relieved pressure on the mainline where we had $3000 trains within easy reach. No mishaps to report, thankfully, since most of those trains were acutally visiting...

Mark, thanks bunches for the feedback. I'm sure our other readers will appreciate it - Paul

Trains in the Wild - August, 2010

Jim Metcalf, of Needham, Mass, writes:

This link shows my train in our Town Forest. ST cars have New Bright trucks and are plated with coffee stirrers. The trains are in locked boxes but the layout is on public property and has held up for more than 12 years. It's also part of a geocache and letter box site. If the link doesn't work, search You Tube for "Martini Junction". I found your site to be very interesting. Thanks

Jim, thanks for the link; I'm sure our readers will enjoy it - Paul

In response to a follow-up question, Jim added:

Yes it is a Science Toys locomotive that has been repainted and has a modified front end and converted to an 0-6-0 wheel arrangement. Here is a link to the Geocaching site which has 250 pics taken byfolks who have visited. I think that this is probably the only G-scale layout on public land and open to all. If you read some of the logs, you'll see that it generates lots of positive comments - Jim

More Low Voltage Lighting Ideas - August, 2010

Mike Connor, in Texas, writes:

Paul, I just finished your article on the "Solar" lighting endeavor. I have found that with a 'cheap' DC power supply (like those 12 Volt variety found at garage sales or the 'starter' set like Bachmann 'G' scale 4-6-0 or maybe an 'old' HO DC supply) and some 'hook up wire' I have all the lighting I need. I go to the local electronics store and for just a couple of dollars I get about a dozen LEDs. and the 500 to 750 ohm resistors that go with the LEDs and I have enough light. I also use the red and green LEDs with 800 ohm resistors hooked to each rail for Right of Way signals. I reverse the polarity on the red and the green so when the train heads North the green LED is lit and when the train is headed South the red LED is lit. This system provides almost constant lighting of your 'block signals' (instead of the typical 'dim to bright' regular bulbs.

Again, Many thanks for ALL you are doing for the 'G' Scaler ... We will never be able to repay you - Mike


Thanks for staying in touch, and for the suggestions - Paul

Should I Start Out With DCC? - August, 2010

Lawrence Silverman writes:

I have been purchasing new equipment, locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, buildings, and track to eventually build a garden railroad . . . My latest question is to decide on whether or not to begin with DCC controls


Hopefully you've taken a look at our article on Large Scale Power and Control.

The references to AristoCraft/Crest Train Engineer need to be updated to talk about Revolution, Aristo's new version. It is everything that TE was PLUS more features and programmability.

A lot of folks like DCC for internal RRs - it originally became most popular with HO users and eventually caught on in the bigger scales. It seems like it shines best when you have a lot of trains running in a fairly confined area, sharing the same tracks, etc. The control signals come through the rails, along with the track power. (MTH's DCS is a similar, but incompatible, technology). Radio-only DCC with battery-powered trains is possible, but far less common. I won't say anything against it overall, because I have a few friends who swear by it. However, they tend to be very technically oriented, and don't have a problem tweaking things to get them to work.

BTW, LGB's digital train controls are made by the same people who created most of the original DCC spec, and they are compatible with most DCC commands, so if you have a huge LGB investment, that might be a consideration.

AristoCraft/Crest Revolution will work ALMOST as well as DCC in that kind of environment, but it's more flexible overall. So you can have radio control and track power, or radio control and battery power, or if you have sections of track that you only run one train on at a time, you can control the voltage going JUST to the track, so any train you put on that track will be controlled by the remote. This is a VERY popular option for railroads that have a lot of trains running on different tracks, but relatively little interaction. If someone brings an Eggliner or something they want to run, you just put it onto that track and control it with the remote.

Of late, AristoCraft has been making their locomotives with a little plug-in control that will take an aftermarket TE/Revolution receiver OR a DCC decoder.

Both DCC and TE/Revolution with track power are good for people who want to run multiple-unit trains.

My overall sense is that TE/Revolution gives you far more flexibility, in case you find your hobby growing in directions you didn't expect later. But if you're sure track power is for you, and you can find a DCC solution that is cost-effective, that may be a good way to go.

You might also contact folks in your area (we have a club search list) and see what most folks are using. Having someone nearby who can walk you through it is almost as important as which technology you choose.

Check out our Garden Railroad Club page:

Hope this isn't more confusing than it is helpful :-) - Paul

What Scale Should I Make Buildings and Accessories in? - August, 2010

Ron Green writes:

I would like to make things in G Scale so;

I am looking for a program or a formula to make things to G scale.

How would you break it down so it would be the right dimensions? But I would need it to work with all items, buildings, bridges, tunnels, etc?. Have you heard of anything like this? Thank you for your help - Ron


What kind of trains do you have? If you are LGB and most Bachmann trains are 1:22.5 which is the "true" G scale. But AristoCraft trains are 1:29 and MTH trains are 1:32. A few more expensive trains, including some high-end Bachmann is 1:20.3.

So the real question is what scale will go with your trains?

Back in the early days of model railroading, a lot of folks made buildings and accessories in 1:24, since it's sort of a compromise between 1:22.5 and 1:29. Also, you can order 1:24 parts like windowframes from dollhouse catalogs. So if you're thinking about making buildings or accessories to sell to a general garden railroad audience, 1:24 is a good scale to go with.

Whatever scale you model, just divide the size of the full-sized thing by the scale you're going to model in. So an 84" doorway in 1:24 would be 84"/24 or 3.5"

Colorado Model Structures makes most of their products in 1:24 scale, but they have little inserts people can use in their doorways to shrink them down to work with 1:32 people, in case the modeler is running AristoCraft (1:29) or MTH (1:32) trains.

Hope this helps - Paul

Looking for Civil War-Era Locomotives - April, 2010

Ern Snook writes:

I am interested in the Civil War era locomotives.


Welcome aboard.

If you don't mind using really big curves, Bachmann's 4_4_0 is the nicest Civil War era locomotive made in Large Scale. If you don't have money or room for one of those, their ten-wheelers, which are much cheaper and run on tigher curves, can work as a stand-in, although ten-wheelers tended to be later, like 1880 and so on. The 4-4-0 was THE standard locomotive of the Civil War era.

Here's an example of a Bachmann 4-4-0

Here's an example of a Bachmann ten-wheeler: I have one of these and it's a dandy.

Hartland Locomotive Works has manufactured 4-4-0s that are smaller, less expensive, and which run on tighter curves than the Bachmann 4-4-0. The Hartland steam locomotives, including their 4-4-0, are shown on this page:

Best of luck with your plans. Please keep in touch - Paul

Isn't Flextrack More Versatile than Preformed Curves? - March, 2010

Robert Williams writes:

I clicked on the flextrack link and arrived here. Please tell me about G-scale flextrack. Years ago I preferred flex for indoor HO. Doesn't track with preformed curves seem less versatile? Thanks!


The thing to remember is that "flex" is relative when you're talking about solid code 332 rail, which is about 1/3" high. For most of it you NEED a railbender. For all of it you SHOULD use a railbender.

I'm familiar with HO flex-track, too, from my childhood. You'd wrap the track around whatever curve you needed, saw off some extra rail here and there, and tack the stuff down. If you tried that with most 45mm track, the rails would constantly be trying to pull away from the ties and straightening out again. Aluminum code 250 rails aren't as bad - I know folks who've used Llagas Creek track without a railbender - but you have to have a very solid roadbed to peg the track to.

BTW, most "flex track" in Large Scale comes unassembled, the rails in one shipping package, the tie strips in another - otherwise you'd have to unassemble it before you bent the rails anyway.

So the question for a beginning garden railroader is, do you want to buy or make a railbender and bend the rails to get the curve you need, then assemble the track, or do you want to figure out what radii you need and order them? Most professional installers or folk with really big railroads go the first route. Most beginners go the second. If I was starting a new RR right now, I'd probably go the second just because it's faster, especially if you've already planned your RR. Most pros and folks installing really large railroads or railroads that have to work around existing obstacles prefer the "flextrack/railbender" route.

The article on railbenders has more information:

Best of luck - Paul

Can I Use Potted Trees On My Raised Platform RR? - March, 2010

John H, of Holbrook, New York, asks:

On the raised part of my layout I want to sink pots into the platform. How do the mini and dwarf plants do in pots? How large should the pots be? what soil should you use?

This will give me the opportunity to make my raised sections very realistic. Thanks - John


What you are planning to do is a great idea, and I don't know why more folks haven't tried it.

I've been thinking about doing a project railroad that is all raised, with the only actual dirt in containers where the plants would be. My handicap is that my design skills are limited, and I'm afraid of creating something truly hideous. :-) But if I have a chance, I still may take the risk and try it this year.

As a general answer, I would say, make the container about as big as you expect the plant to get over, say, the next three years. Don't bother getting really good soil - you need to "stunt" the tree's growth a little. Something that packs fairly loosely so excess water that the soil won't hold will drain off. Maybe a 1:1 mix of regular dirt (such as hauled-in "topsoil") and potting soil. Don't buy Scott's Miracle Grow topsoil - as far as I can tell, it's really just chemically treated clay that will overfeed your plants the first year and turn into useless clumps after that.

The hard part of container gardening outside in temperate climates is controlling rainfall. If you get a lot of rain in the spring, your trees may grow faster than you planned. If you have a very dry August, and you're out of town, the container may not have enough reserve moisture to keep the tree alive.

Of course, you can control excess growth through trimming (most people do). And if you need to leave your home for more than a few days at a time, you can set up a watering system.

And there are big advantages to not having to haul in tons of soil and later having to weed vast areas where you don't want any plants growing anyway.

Here's a parting thought. Now that Dwarf Alberta Spruce are available fairly cheap, some folks buy them every few years, and they put them pot-and-all into the soil. Then when the trees get too big for a garden railroad, they plant those somewhere else and start with a new set.

In fact some display garden railroads replace all of the trees once a year. That's not ideal, but it gives you some "backup" in case you have a very rainy year and can't keep up with the trimming.

Hope this gives you some ideas - Paul

Trains for Outside Running - March, 2010

Gary Mariano, of Paisley, Ontario, writes:

I'm just starting out on research. I do lots of RC-ing with trucks but always loved trains, I'm going to put some around my yard, I want to learn the right ways to start. The trains ive found don't recommend outdoor use. I'm a little confused but still searching.


AristoCraft, LGB, and USA trains all come with trains and track that you can use outside. Bachmann comes with trains you can use outside and track you can't (some of the boxes tell you not to use any of the set outside, but that's bogus.) A number of folks are running toy trains like Scientific Toys Eztec that are NOT supposed to be used outside at all. But as long as you protect them from weather when you're not using them, they hold up pretty well. In fact, I've run several brands in a driving rain when I was doing a clinic somewhere, but I don't make that a practice.

The MAIN thing to worry about using outside is the track. AristoCraft solid brass track is as good as any and better than most - I like it because it has extra screw-on joiners, etc. that make it even more reliable.

At the "toy train" end of things, I've known guys that used Scientific Toys Ez-Tek all-plastic train track outside (on a solid 2x6 roadbed) for three years without problems, so even that's possible.

MOST of the transformers say not for use outside, but that's because they don't want to get sued if you leave them out in the rain and they elecrocute fluffy or something. . . .

Hope this helps - Paul

Ground-Level Roadbed for O Gauge Outside - March, 2010

Timothy Lott asks:

I have questions about road bed ideas for a garden rail way. I am going to build an O gauge railway outside because I want to run trains too long to fit on a loop inside my new house. The loop was in be in the garage but due to the way the door is mounted I only have half the space I was counting on. One train would be over 19' long and another can be longer or small depending on how many of the themed cars I wish to run. But I want to know how to do the road bed. I was thinking trex or concrete or even using the bottom of vinyl gutter burried in dirt. Any suggestionsn would be welcome. Thanks - Timothy


The least expensive, but reliable, way to build a roadbed is probably to use pressure-treated lumber according to the instructions in the "Simple Raised Roadbed" article. You don't even have to raise it if you don't want to - but having a solid foundation will help keep your track level and prevent weeds from growing up through the track. If you're going to leave it for a long time, I'd recommend raising it a bit to keep the lumber from sitting in water too much at a time - only the posts are rated for full, indefinite ground contact.

The following article includes templates and instructions:

If you have a rototiller or some other way of quickly cutting a 6"-deep, 6" wide trench for your roadbed, that works, too. If you choose gravel only, line the trench with top-quality landscaping fabric first - so it can drain, but weed growth is restricted. Vinyl rain gutter would work, if you punched some holes in the bottom so it could drain, but it would probably be overkill.

If you choose to use concrete, consider embedding rebar to reduce cracking if the ground shifts.

The following article shows how I used concrete to replace a gravel roadbed that wildlife had destroyed:

Hope this gives you a good start - Paul

New Brite Locomotive Flakes Out - February, 2010

Jerry Barker Writes:

I am having trouble with an old New Bright Holiday Express train. The train operates great when being hekd but when i put it on the track the wheels will not turn. Please help - Jerry


Unfortunately New Bright doesn't fix their own trains or offer any parts for their trains. :-(

So folks who own them learn to troubleshoot.

Sounds like it may be a short. Does the train run on a flat surface (not on the rails?) Or does it stop operating when you set it upright?

Lots of times folks have allowed batteries to go bad, then the battery connections get flakey. It might be that they make connections when the train's upside down or sideways, but not when it's right side up. If that's not the problem does jiggling the wire between the tender and locomotive have any effect?

If you're sure there is nothing wrong in the tender or the wiring between the locomotive and the tender, you may have to pull the shell off the engine to see if one of the wires going to the motor is damaged, loose, or maybe getting pinched.

Sorry I can't be much more help. The good news is that Scientific Toys and several other brands of battery-powered Large Scale trains will run on the same track, and most of them will even couple up to your trains.

Hope this gives you some ideas at least - Paul

Acorns and Standing Water - February, 2010

Brian Behrman, of Decatur, Mississippi asks:

The kids and wife want me to get the train out of the living room. They all know the spot I've chosen for my (our) trains, but am held up by what to do with the oak tree issues, and with the water that ponds in that area of the yard. Thank you - Brian


Thanks for getting in touch. Building a garden railroad under an oak tree isn't as bad as you might think - most acorns don't really do any damage, and you'll be glad for the shade. A friend down here built a garden railroad under a buckeye tree, and those things could really smash stuff. He called it "Buckeye Falls Railroad"

Regarding standing water, I always recommend raising your RR anyway (Google "Simple Raised Railroad"). Then you could haul in enough dirt to backfill the part where you want your train. And/or cut a sort of "gully" to divert overflow and line it with stones for a dry riverbed look.

Maybe even build a low "deck" at the "front edge" of the RR so you have a dry place to stand or sit and watch trains even if there's a river running behind them?

Just thoughts, but I've seen each of these ideas used one way or another over the years. Best of luck - please let me know when you get further along, especially if you have any questions. - Paul

Where Can We Buy Your Graphics? - December, 2009

Mary Lou writes:

. . . . My husband and I are mainly interested in graphics that is the stained glass windows and brick coverings etc. We cannot find anything here in our area. We have checked every hobbie and craft store - nothing. Could you please help us out? Thank you - Mary Lou

Mary Lou,

Thanks for getting in touch.

The graphics are free for personal use. You just have to download the hi-resolution version (usually .pdf but sometimes .jpg) and print them off on a color printer.

I printed the stained glass on clear plastic for making overheads. "Vellum" like you get for making fancy signs will work, too.

If you're not sure how to do that, get a computer-literate friend to help you.

Are you working on a diorama, or model railroad or dollhouses or ???? If I know that I could help you find the right scale of graphics to download.

Have a great holiday season - Paul

How Do I Get Replacement Parts for New Bright Trains? - December, 2009

Bob writes: Is this this the correct company to get replacement parts for a "New Bright Train Set"? No. 185/189?


Thanks for getting in touch. We do not actually sell trains, though we accept advertising from several manufacturers, and our buyer's guides have reviews of many more products besides, with links to vendors who have a reputation for good customer service.

Regarding New Bright, we don't even have links to their merchandise, since they are only available at certain times of the year and their manufacturer doesn't carry parts or provide any support past the first 60 day "warranty period." (In contrast most of the trains we have link to have lifetime warranties and parts availability. Then again, they cost a lot more and are a lot more solid in the first place. . . . )

The New Bright customer support page is at:

One of the "FAQs" on their web page is as follows:

    Q. My Train Set is an older model and no longer works. Can I get a new replacement Engine and Coal Car, or necessary parts, to get it running again? A. Replacement Engines, Coal Cars, and other functional pieces for the various New Bright Trains are no longer carried through us per the manufacturer. We recommend trying local hobby shop for avialable parts. Sorry for the inconvenience

That said, there are a lot of used New Bright trains around that are still in good shape, that you might could acquire for not too much money. A few are listed on this page of ebay. (Make certain you get one that is labeled "G Scale" as they made some smaller trains as well.)

Alternatively, if your train will work for Christmas, you can check area stores to see if anyone carries New Bright and wait for the after-Christmas sales to buy a replacement set for half price . . . .

Best of luck, please let me know how things work out - Paul

Passengers for my Bachmann Jackson Sharp Coaches? - November, 2009

Jim Schulz writes:

What manufacturer's figures will fit and look the best seated inside a Bachmann large scale Jackson & Sharp passenger car?


Sorry it took me so long to get back to you - I get REALLY snowed under this time of year.

Sadly nobody makes a good set of sitting people that fit well inside most passenger cars. If you can get a set of the USA trains sitting people without spending a fortune, you could try those. You'll probably have to add a bit of plastic under their butts to get them high enough, but at least their knees should fit in the rows.

The cheapo people sets from Everyday Goodz might be a consideration. I wrote about them in this article:

For each set of ten 1:25 figures you order, you'll get 3 or so sitting figures. But if you're not squeamish or don't have little kids playing with the cars, you might consider sawing the standing figures in half and gluing them to their seats - nobody can see the legs anyway.

Hope this gives you some ideas. I think there's a huge market for "benchwarmers" in this scale, but nobody agrees with me. Have a great holiday season - Paul

More Down-Under Railroading - November, 2009

Martin Taylor, in Rockingham, Western Australia, writes:

Click for bigger photo. Hi Paul, thanks for the latest newsletter. I enjoyed it very much. Firstly I also intend to install some of those coloured LEDs with solar power around my outdoor layout. I have some Bachmann telegraph poles I can string them on. It is our summer now so we can look forward to spending some warm balmy evenings enjoying the lights and trains this Christmas. I also appreciated the article on track cleaners. I prefer the foam sanding blocks too. I find the scotchbrite pads aren't as effective. My outdoor layout is maturing. I have added a small tunnel with Aristocraft portals and 2 of the Aristocraft signal bridges. I was recently in Los Alamos NM for 5 weeks visiting my son and his family. While I was there I purchased a USA trains NW-2 loco in Santa Fe colours ( we visited Santa Fe 3 times). We also visited the impressive layout in Albuquerque botanical gardens. It was one of the highlights of our trip. It even snowed 3 times which is a novelty for us as it never snows here in Western Australia. Thanks once again for the newsletter and I trust all is well with you and your family, warm greetings for Christmas - Martin and Kayleen Taylor

How Should I Fasten My Track Down? - October, 2009

Tony, in Las Vegas, Nevada, writes:

Paul, ... I live in Las Vegas, which is hot and dry. I am just beginning a new railway in the back. It is raised 2' off the ground. I am planing to use 3/4" marine plywood in 8' strips as the base for the track, crusher fines for ballest and then back fill as time, money and dirt becomes available. How should I secure the track to allow for expansion? I was thinking of tacking it down with two or three nails every 8' section. Thanks for your help in advance - Tony


First of all, try not to have a lot of long straight places. Imagine instead of a long straightaway, having two very slight curves in opposite directions. Then you can tack down that section in the middle, and any expansion would be outward, not lengthwise.

I prefer not to tack down the track at all. In one part of my RR, I have a bit of wire loosely holding the tie strip to the roadbed with plenty of "give" in every direction, so that the track can move in and out or up and back without coming competely off the roadbed. But unless you've designed your railroad to minimize the effect of expansion through lots of curves, even that won't help.

Also, make certain that your roadbed pieces connect very solidly (say with a 10-14" wooden "plate" keeping every joint solid. That way if one bit raises and falls, the adjacent bits will, too, and you won't have things getting out of line vertically either. Folks who live where is plenty of frost heave do this automatically, but I recommend that EVERYBODY respect the need for integrity of their roadbed.

Above all, consider installing a small test loop, say a 10'-diameter loop, the way you plan to install the whole thing, then leaving it up for a while before investing hundreds of dollars and hours into a method that works a few miles away, but doesn't work in your back yard for some reason. Engineers call this "proof of concept"

Best of luck, please keep me posted. - Paul

I Bought Trains From Somebody Else and It's Your Fault - September, 2009

(Actually this is a toned-down example of a kind of e-mail I receive periodically from people who aren't readers or customers but don't know who to contact when a train purchase goes south. In this case, it seems to be a fellow who signed up to receive monthy shipments of a Hawthorne Village train collection from Collectibles Today, a company that bends over backwards to provide good customer service if you contact them directly instead of randomly blasting people who provide links to their products. Basically it's a reminder that you should print off and save the purchase information WHENEVER you order something over the Internet.)

A Reader Whose Name is Withheld Wrote the Following: (He also used all caps and worse language but I'll spare you that.)

Stop sending me any more train items, sets., etc. I have put all items in mailbox. I have paid for all that I ordered and a few more I didn't until I realized that you send them periodically. I don't want any more sent to me.

Thank you in advance. I also find it interesting that I cannot locate a phone number in order to talk to someone regarding these unauthorized shipments.

Dear Name Withheld,

Visit our BIG Train Store? Buyer's Guide PagesAlthough I recommend many kinds of trains to my readers, I don't actually sell trains myself.

In this case, it sounds like you have ordered a Hawthorne Village train collection from Collectibles Today. My pages and the Hawthorne Village pages all explain very clearly in large print that these are subscription trains, which you get and pay for a piece at a time, starting with the locomotive. I am sorry that you did not read the materials when you ordered your train, but the good news is that the people you actually bought it from are really very helpful and will be glad to help get this straightened out.

That said, you have to call them yourself. Their customer service phone (which is posted on the Contact pages of their web site) # is 1-877-268-6638. Call during business hours Monday through Friday.

I recommend Hawthorne Village and the rest of Collectibles Today's products to my readers because they have good products and the best satisfaction guarantee and customer service I've encountered in this market.

Good luck - please let me know if I can help with anything else. - Paul

Note to Readers: Do you Need the Order Tracking Pages? If you have questions about an order you placed with one of our recommended suppliers, please click on one of our Order Tracking Pages:

  • If you ordered a Lionel product, the best place to start is on the Lionel Order Tracking page.
  • If you ordered any other product, including Bachmann, Hawthorne Village, and AristoCraft, please go to the general Order Tracking page.

AristoCraft Coupler Compatibility - September, 2009

Chuck Klein writes:

. . . Do you have, or have you come across anything that describes the compatibility of different brands of G-scale knuckle couplers?

As a relative newcomer to garden trains, I've noticed that not all brands of knuckle couplers seem to work with each other very well. I recently purchased a track cleaning car from Aristo-Craft Trains and it came with hook/loop couplers. They included knuckle couplers for conversion. In the leaflet that was included it stated " Note: However, these knuckle couplers may not operate automatically when attempting to couple Aristo-Craft trains products to knuckle couplers used by other model railroad manufactures. Knuckle couplers may have to be joined by manually coupling the knuckle on each car in a closed position by lifting one end coupler and inserting the closed knuckle onto the Aristo-Craft Trains knuckle coupler."

Obviously, this would be a hindrance to operations. Instead of starting to buy all brands of knuckle couplers and experimenting, I was hoping that you or your readers may have some experience with this and provide guidance.

Hi, Chuck,

I have been thinking about couplers recently and kicking myself for not collecting all the information that has come across my computer screen in the past fifteen years.

Bachmann and Lionel knuckle couplers operate by gravity. When you slam two couplers together, a little vertical sliding piece drops down and supposedly locks the coupler into closed position until something happens to bump it up again. My old American Flyer S gauge trains worked this way, and they were just about bulletproof. The difference was that the piece that dropped down actually had a weight on it. Unfortunately, the Bachmann and Lionel knuckle couplers do not have weights on the part that drops down (sorry I don't know the name). As a result, after a few times around the track, those parts may work their way back up and allow the coupler to uncouple at random (usually over rough track, inevitably someplace hard to reach).

Aristo had the option of making their couplers compatible. They chose instead to make them reliable. They are held in "closed position" by spring action, not by gravity. This adds about 1/2" to the length of the coupler.

I run about 90% Aristo, so I've replaced most couplers on most cars with Aristo couplers, in spite of the fact that it makes a couple of the cars look a bit goofy because the couplers stick out so far. This is a screwdriver replacement. My cars almost never come uncoupled.

I HAVEN'T tried putting Baachmann couplers on an Aristo car but I wouldn't be surprised if it was fairly simple.

A few friends use Bachmann couplers on everything, and they've figured out a way to make them more reliable. I DON'T have access to that information right now, but one suggestion is posted at the following link:

George Schreyer, who gets down and dirty with various technologies has put together a reference of sorts.

The short version is that if almost all of your rolling stock is the same brand, consider standardizing couplers on that brand, unless you're frustrated with them.

Quite a few folks have replaced their Large Scale couplers with Kaydees, although they don't all use the same model of Kaydee coupler, so their cars aren't necessarily compatible if they take them to other railroads.

Hope this makes sense - Paul

Bending Track to Go Around a Large Pond - September, 2009

Pat Keith, of Amity, Oregon, writes:

I have a 32 foot diameter outdoor pond that I am thinking of installing a railroad to circle. Can straight track be bent enough to travel a 32 foot circle?


It is VERY reasonable to use a railbender to get the track to go to a 33' radius or whatever you want. Consider buying "flex track," which is track in which either the rails aren't attached to the tie strips, or else track in which you actually get the rails and flex track separately, like you do from AristoCraft.

I have a bit of information on railbenders in the following article:

That reminds me, I have an Aristo Railbender now and I really should get some photos of the thing in action.

Best of luck, Please let me know if you have any more questions. - Paul

Garden Railroad Construction Videos? - September, 2009

Ian, from Waukegan, Illinois, writes:

Click to see unique Disney Halloween village collectibles and moreI would like to know if there is a step by step video on building or setting up a outdoor train system, i build a pond in my backyard and i would like to install a outdoor train around my pond, my pond is about 17fts by 6 fts with a 6fts long waterfall i have no knowledge about train but i'm good with my hands, i would like to start off small,but lay the foundation so i can add additional tracks


The ONLY professionally-made video about installing a garden railroad uses a system that frankly doesn't work for long in the Midwest or Great Lakes states - mounding up the dirt and tamping it down where you're going to put the track. Moles, frost heave, and erosion keep that from being nearly as robust in Ohio (and Illinois) as it is in the American southwest, where it is used widely.

You would be surprised how easy it is to make a nice solid roadbed out of pressure-treated 2x6s using the templates in my (Easy Raised Roadbed) article.

If you plan to keep your railroad on the ground, just fasten each piece together very solid and let rise and fall with the frost heave.

Otherwise, raise it a bit using the instructions in that article or in the "Raising a Ground-Level Roadbed" article:

If you don't feel up for that procedure, consider laying out your track on the ground, marking it (by pouring flour over it or some such) then digging a 6x6" trench where the track will go (a ditch shovel is a big help for this). Use rebar or rolled-up hardward cloth to provide lateral strength, fill your trench with concrete, then pour medium-fine crushed stone on top to level it out, lay your track, adjust the ballast, and pour fine crushed stone for the top ballast.

Neither method is exactly "rocket science," which is why I can use them myself. :-)

I WOULD recommend doing a small version of whatever method you think will work best for you before you dig or build the big version. That way if you decide you should have gone the other way, you haven't invested your whole summer into the project or some such.

Best of luck - Paul

Crossover for Use with #6 Turnouts - September, 2009

Thomas Duke, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, writes:

Click to see Halloween Trains and Towns for your seasonal displays.I want to construct a double cross -over because of layout restrictions. I am thinking that 4 number 6 switches (2 Right, 2 left) and a 19 degree crossover should work, but had difficulty finding out the number degree of the number 6 turnout. It has been 50 years since i took geometry in high school, so I am a little rusty. Thanks

Tom, I'm forwarding your message to my contact at AristoCraft.

T.A.T.E, I haven't experimented with this kind of setup, so I don't know how well the Aristo pieces fit together or what kind of transition pieces will be needed. Tom wants to use a 19-degree crossover and four #6 turnouts to create a double crossover between two lines. How feasible is this, or should he get fresh hacksaw blade when he orders his track? - Paul

TATE, The Aristo Train Engineer, writes:

The 19.5 degree crossover was made for use with the #6 switch to create a double track crossover. - Regards - TATE (The Aristo Train Engineer)

Can I Put a Train Around a Pond? - August, 2009

Mike Edwards writes:

I want to set up my railroad around my pond. Will there be any problems with doing this? Looking foward to starting. Thanks in advance - Mike


Welcome aboard. People put railroads around ponds all the time. It's a lot easier than installing a pond inside a railroad. Do you have a waterfall or anything like that? That can be fun, too.

Sounds like you probably need your loop of track to be at ground level. I'd consider either laying down a 2x6" roadbed like I describe in the "Simple Raised Roadbed" article. Or digging a 6x6" trench and filling it with concrete and a few rebars. Either approach will help keep your railroad very low maintenance.

You can also run a "bridge" across the pond if you want. Start with a 2"x6" pressure treated board, and add any trim you want to the outside.

The track that comes with AristoCraft trains is made to be left outside and holds up very well to moist environments. The trains from AristoCraft AND Bachmann are also made to hold up well to moist environments, though you'll probalby bring them in at night.

Best of luck - Paul

Where Can I Get 2-Rail O Scale Track and Turnouts for an Outdoor Railroad? - August, 2009

John Hickinbottom, of the UK, writes:

I am planning a 2-rail garden railway on which to run my MTH locos. Some have Amerian standard hi-rail rails, Some have American standard scale wheels. Control will be by MTH's DCS digital system.I purchase from USA dealers.

Click to see articles and resources for a joyful family Christmas.Is there a suitable USA 2-rail track system for outside use that will accommodate the locos,preferably with "universal" switches? The stock will run on British made Pece bullhead track but due to narrower USA back to back and the thicker wheel flanges will not pass through the Peco switches. Minimum radius needs to be about 42 inches.


Sorry for taking a while to get back to you. I've been trying track down information related to your plans.

Regarding O Scale outdoors (as opposed to O Gauge outdoors): One US friend who ran O scale indoors (with the itty-bitty flanges) tried to take it outdoors with disappointing results. If you go this route, you will need to have VERY solid, very even roadbed, and you will need to police the track carefully for pine needles, etc. before you run every time.

Regarding O gauge turnouts outside, while my O Gauge outside (tinplate) friends were excited to see Atlas claim that their O gauge track is weather-resistant, the track BARELY holds up to the normal stresses and strains of swelling and shrinking, etc. outdoors. The turnouts DON'T seem to hold up at all.

The folks who used Gargraves (3-rail) with stainless steel rails fared better. It looks like Gargraves might make 2-rail O turnouts with stainless steel and plastic ties, but I haven't used any Gargraves O products for a long time and I'm not entirely certain I'm reading their web site's information right.

Take a look about half-way down their web page and you'll see what I mean:

You're probably familiar with Gargraves. Their "rail" is really rolled sheet metal, similar to Lionel's tinplate track, but it has little flanges on the bottom that are pressed right into the ties. It's not terribly attractive, and conductivity between sections suffers outside, but folks in temperate zones are using the version with plastic ties successfully.

I WISH someone who makes track for Large Scale would make two and three-rail O-gauge track that is actually made to hold up outside, but that hasn't happened yet. :-(

If you find a brand that works I haven't thought of, be sure to:

  1. Make the ties UV resistant (maybe by taping the railhead and spraypainting the ties).
  2. Allow for expansion (avoiding long straightaways, for example, so the track can "give" left and right and not just linearily. (Is that a word?)
  3. Report your findings for the "next generation." Take lots of photos.

I wish I had more positive news to report. In the meantime, I hope this helps, or at least steers you away from the worst of the rapids. :-)

Best of luck - Paul

[John responded with the following notes: PECO 'O' gauge track is used extensively and very successfully for outdoor railways in the UK. Their 'O' turnouts have adjustable check rails that may accept american fine flange scale wheels. I will carry out some experiments on our club's track. There must also be track for outdoor railways available in continental europe. Their 'O' gauge track at 32mm. is the same as 1 1/4 ins.but I know nothing of the other standards.Enquiries will be made through the UK's O Gauge Guild,French Echelle Zero and the German Spoor Null. I'll let you know of anything positive.]

Where Can I Get Replacement Traction Tires for an Ez-Tec Locomotive? - June, 2009

Gerald Kasper, of Florissant, Missouri, writes:

Where can I get replacement traction tires for a Scientific/Ez-Tec Grand Canyon Express engine?


The first time or two I tried this, I couldn't get to the right page on the Ez-tec web site for some reason. But I got in this morning. Try the following link:

This is the Ez-Tec "frequently asked questions" page. Most "parts" questions take you to a generic "e-mail" form that you have to fill out:

This wasn't working the last time I tried, but it seems to be now. Good luck - Paul

How Do I Make a Twig Bridge? - June, 2009

Doreen B. writes"

I would like to build a twig bridge like I saw in the NY botanical gardens train show at Christmas. Do you know what kind of twigs I should use? How to attach? Thanks.


The first thing you need to know is that the twigs are "cosmetic." There is actually a 5/4"x6" or 2"x6" board supporting the track. Sometimes tree bark or something is stapled to the edges to hid the edges, but the board is there nevertheless.

That said, you can see that ANY twig you can bend to shape will work. Paul Bussee (whose people built the bridge you're talking about), used to try to collect local materials, but sometimes he makes the bridges in his workshop in northern KY and brings them from there.

I would recommend anything that is flexible enough to work with and has the kind of bark you want. Usually you'll get them from this years' growth on a hedge plant (whose twigs stay more flexible than tres). You could use Japanese Honeysuckle, Forsythia, that sort of thing. Especially if you are trimming them back anyway.

You can use grapevine, too, but it can get weird with humidity changes, curling more or less than you wanted it to.

Hope this helps. For more photos of Paul's bridges, check out the following link:

I would use a brad gun with 1/2" or 3/4" nails to attach the twigs while I was working, and maybe go back and add little screws to the main stress points.

Please keep a photo journal of your project and let us see how it's coming.

Have a great rest of the summer - Paul Race (NOT Busse)

How Do I Wire Electric Turnout Switches? - June, 2009

Ted Gannutz, of Ickesburg, Pennsylvania writes:

I have bought track and electric switches but cannot find boxes or instructions - what voltage etc. do I use to remotely change the switches - is there a book or artical on electrical applications of the garden railways????


Sorry, I don't have anything like that yet. Do you have the switches that control the turnout motors?

If you have AristoCraft, here's the wiring diagram for those:

The LGB is the same principle, but I don't have a diagram for it handy.

I also believe that the AristoCraft controllers will operate the LGB switch motors and vice versa. But I haven't tried that for about ten years so I'm not 100% sure now. . .

As you can see, you attach the controller to the AC output on your power supply, then run lines from the controller to the terminals on the turnout motor.

In my experience, LGB turnout motors are a tad more powerful than AristoCraft, but all of them will work better if your power supply has a bit more juice. So, for instance, the .6 or 1-amp power supply that comes with some train sets might make your train work, but it might not have enough "kick" to make your turnouts work reliably. Plus, if you use the turnouts outside, be careful about gravel or other things creeping into the moving parts and jamming them.

Folks who have a lot of time (say they're retired or self-employed) to run and maintain their railroad seem to have relatively little trouble keeping their turnouts in operating condition. I only have a few turnouts on my RR, but I only get to really operate trains a few times a summer. I replaced the electrically-powered switch machines with manual ones after a few years, because when weeks go by between running sessions, dust, etc. builds up and makes them a tiny bit less reliable than they were before, and they're never 100%.

Other folks say I must be doing something wrong. Your mileage will vary.

Hope this helps - Paul

Can I Run Large Scale Trains Indefinitely Indoors? - June, 2009

Allan Taylor, in UK, writes:

We are opening a petrol station and convenience store next month in Somerset. To keep the kids interested and to pester their parents to return on a regular basis, we want to erect a simple train set at high level above the counter and along the front of the shop. Total length approx 50 metres.

Can the train run all day or do we have to be selective about duration? Do you have details of kit and costs? Thanks - Allan Allan,

My own backyard railroad has acquired a number of AristoCraft 0-4-0s, the kind that comes with most of their train sets. Several times, during open houses, parties, etc., I have left them running for hours on end with no problems at all. My Lionel 0-6-0T needs maintenance after the same number of hours. Some folks have expressed concern that the AristoCraft's 0-4-0's wheels gum up quickly, but that hasn't been a problem for me, and it won't be a problem for you if you put metal wheels on all of your cars (an additional expense).

I have also seen Aristo diesels run on an "all-day" basis. And most LGB locomotives can run for hours and hours, although I have never tried their smallest ones this way.

Bachmann trains are the cheapest, and they're lightweight in many ways compared to Aristo, USA, and LGB trains. I have never used them in continuous running myself, nor do most folks who operate "professional" model railroads seem to use them this way. I HAVE run a Bachmann street car continuously for hours during an open house with no noticeable problems.

All of these trains will run on the same track, so if you mix and match a bit, that's no problem. That said, you will want to have a couple of backup locomotives, because you never know when someone is going to knock one off the tracks or something, and you don't want the next family that comes to see you disapointed.

Sadly, most of the dealers I work with in the US won't ship overseas, but Bachmann UK also distributes AristoCraft and other brands in Europe. Their web site is: They only sell trains through dealers, though, and their site doesn't seem to have a list of authorized dealers anywhere. :-(

Also, since LGB is insolvent, their stuff is getting harder to come by, but I wanted to mention them in case you had an opportunity to get a set at a good price. Many of their products are very Euro (based mostly on German and Austrian trains). I don't know if your customers would rather see trains with bumpers on the end . . . .

The only British-inspired Large Scale trains I'm familiar with are the Thomas Large Scale trains that Lionel made in the '90s. They're actually pretty well made, but they're higher maintenance than Aristocraft, USA, or LGB. That said, Bachmann Trains has acquired the rights to make their own line of Thomas trains, and they may be nice.

If three-rail O gauge is an option, the Lionel Hogwarts train is a nice (wrong-color) interpretation of a Hall-Class GWR locomotive, and it seems sturdy enough for indefinite operation. You could swap it out with the Lionel Polar Express in the winter if you liked.

Again, whatever you use, have backup locomotives. For "indefinite" operation, I'd rather have four small, well-made locomotives (like the Aristo 0-4-0) than two nice big ones.

Finally, if you want to put up scenery in a hurry indoors, check out our Building Fronts page. A great way to add a downtown scene where you only have a couple of inches of depth to work with.

Okay, I know this was more information than you probably wanted, but I'd rather tell you what you needed to know up front than tell you just enough to make critical mistakes. . . .

Best of luck with the store, please keep in touch. Photos would be nice, too - Paul

Can I Make a Waterfall with Bob Treat Rocks? - May, 2009

Grace, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, writes:

I have your article on making rock cliffs, etc. and am wondering if it would work to place the homemade rock in my waterfall feature (or if you have first hand knowledge of someone doing this). I'm making a waterfall, stream & pond and trying to have it as "natural" as possible and want all black rubber covered right under a flat stone drop off to a slope. Would the home made cement rock hold up to steady water flowing over it?


It is great to hear from you.

I'm thinking about a big waterfall project myself in the next year (unless we move, which is a possibility the way our life is going).

I was thinking about using 4x4 posts and 2x6 walls in a series of concentric irregular polygrams to build the "framework" of the "mountain," rather than hauling in tons of stone like I have before. Then using chicken-wire-and-"Bob Treat" rocks to cover those. This is just daydreaming so far, but I think it's doable and a lot simpler than using real rocks. And if we do move, we don't have to tear down real rock walls. I even thought about building hidden storage into the "back" of the "mountain."

That said, your project will probably be done before mine. . . . .

Regarding concrete and waterfalls, a LOT of folks use concrete molded to look like rocks to camouflage the black rubber of "streams" and pond edges. The only gotcha is that the lime in the concrete will eventually leach out and harden the pond water. Most people don't find that to be a problem, it doesn't seem to bother goldfish, but it will leave "lime lines" at the waterline.

If you use Bob Treat's pattern of painting after the fact, the stones that are constantly exposed to water WILL soon lose their color. So if you want them something besides gray, consider buying a concrete pigment for those stones only. That's sold in stores near the cool sidewalk molds that are supposed to make brick patterns or whatever.

Another underlying issue is that your chicken wire will rust through quickly. I think that extra-galvanized hardware cloth will be pretty reliable.

Please let me know how it turns out, or if you decide to go another way - Paul

How Do I Get a Different Basic Train Engineer Frequency? - April, 2009

Jon Durkin writes:

I bought a crest basic engineer to operate one track system on my HO setup. Then, I bought another for my second system and it was the same frequency (27.195) as the first. In the article you wrote you said that there were several frequencies available. Do you know if there are still different freqs available? Thanks, Jon


TE Basic's are made in "batches," a big bunch of one frequency, then a big bunch of another, etc. Most dealers only order a few at a time so they wind up with an assortment of frequencies. There is supposed to be something on the packaging to indicate which batch it is. Obviously that's not much help to you now. :-(

At any given time there are usually six or seven different frequencies on store shelves around the country. If you still have the receipt and packaging for the second one, you might be able to exchange it for a different frequency, or return it to the store and try to find one with a different frequence somewhere else. Otherwise, maybe AristoCraft's service department can help you.

I'm copying your note to T.A.T.E., a sort of spokesperson for AristoCraft who is also a good friend; he almost certainly has more insight into this than I do and may be able to suggest an alternative I haven't thought of.

[Ed. Note: The following reply is from T.A.T.E]


Thanks for your interest in Aristo-Craft Trains!

Paul was right on the money when he said that when we produce the TE Basic, we make them all one frequency, and then the next production is on a different frequency.

Since the very largest portion of our TE Basic users never use more than one at a time, this meets the needs of 99% of our TE Basic customers. We do make multiple frequencies, since we do know that some folks do use multiple units.

Each package has the frequency identified on a white star sticker on the outer packaging. The best way to get a second unit on a different frequency would be to contact a few of the larger mailorder retailers, and see what frequencies they have in their stock. Dealers who maintain very large inventories of our products often have more than one frequency in stock. . . . [Watts Train Shop, in Indiana, is one dealer that keeps a large inventory.] Be sure to be very specific about the frequency you have and the requirement that the purchased unit be a different frequency.

e-Bay is another option.

You can also give our sales desk a call at: 973-351-9800 (10AM-5PM Eastern M-F) and we can check our stock to see if we have a different frequency in stock. All items sold directly from our warehouse are sold at MSRP +shipping, as we try not to compete with our retailers.

Alternatively, let me know what frequency you have, I can have the warehouse check what's on the shelf.

Enjoy Your Trains! - TATE - The Aristo Train Engineer

Is There a Better Way to Slice HDPE? - April, 2009

Thomas Duke, of Lancaster, PA, asks:

In the article on HDPE Flexible Roadbed, Bill Logan used 3/4 inch stringers, what was the reason for cutting two 3/4" stringers from a 2x4?


Thanks for getting in touch. Regarding the way Bill slices and dices his HDPE: I don't know why Bill made the exact choices he did, but in part, cutting the stringers from the outside edges helped make sure that your stringers were all the same in height and width. Also, it was Bill's way of making sure that the spacers and the posts were consistent in width. By making the stringers, spacers, and posts all of the same material, he also eliminated the possibility that one component might expand or contract differently than the others and tear the roadbed apart in weather extremes. That said, other folks have figured out other things to use for the posts, which lets them get more stringers out of their 2x4s. For example, Bob Canfield uses pvc posts in his railroad, which gave him more material to use for stringers.

Just remember to save a core every so often to make the spacers with.

If you live someplace with frost heave, be sure that, whatever you use for posts, it goes down below the frost line. Also, if you backfill around the RR, try to use gravel, not dirt around and under the roadbed itself, to reduce the effects of frost on the roadbed. This advices is true whatever kind of roadbed you use, of course, but it's more true for HDPE.

Hope this helps - Paul

How Do I Compensate for Rainwater Runoff? - April, 2009

Thomas Chamberlain, of Canton, Georgia writes:

I have been actively planning a garden railroad since last summer. I have been purchasing odd pieces of track and rolling stock on e bay for the past couple of years. Have not yet settled on location suitable for the railroad. Runoff rainwater is a major concern. Any help in this planning would be greatly appreciated - Tom


If runoff is likely to be a problem, consider a simple raised railroad." If your roadbed is on 2x6s, supported well off of the ground it will stay where you put it in almost any kind of weather (tornados excepted). If you want to raise much of your RR's "dirt" level to match the trains, leave routes for the water to travel through the RR. Some folks set up a "dry river bed" with big river rocks, etc in the middle of the RR to handle the runoff. The rocks help cut down on erosion, while keeping a very natural look. If they are often damp, or well-shaded you can get moss started on them for even more interest. It also gives you an excuse for bridges.

Best of luck with your plans, please keep in touch - Paul

How High Should G Scale Doors Be? - April, 2009

Gary White, of Little Lake, Michigan, writes:

. . . We have been collecting rolling stock for the past twenty years, have three sets of C-16. Plans are for a garden railroad, features townsite, farm site, logging & sawmill sites, and a granite quarry in the 1860-1890s' period. . . . I plan on working on the buildings this winter (2010), which brings me to this question. We will be in the scale of (G). I know there are a lot of buildings and kits on the market in this scale, but I would like to do the construction myself with aid from my wife Laverne.

I have looked, have possible overlooked, but cannot find anywhere the scale for (G), as in how high should the doorways/windows be. Also, how high the roofs on a single, or double story building should be. Once the height is known, the width and length will fall into place. Would appreciate any information regarding "building in G-scale". Thank you - Gary


Thanks for the update. Regarding scales, there are many scales use by Large Scale train manufacturers. G scale (1:22.5) is the most common but it's only actually the "right" scale for Euro meter-gauge trains like the first ones LGB made.

Most Bachmann starter sets are also 1:22.5, but the fancier Bachmann stuff like the Shays are 1:20.3. And there IS a difference.

You mentioned that you have C-16s. If those are AristoCraft's, they are about 1:24, because they were originally designed by a now-defunct company called Delton who started making trains in 1:24 back in the 1980s but nobody else followed their lead.

My article "Which Scale Should I Model" will tell you more than you wanted to know.

Also, most buildings made for Large Scale are about 1:24, although they all have a much smaller "footprint" (length and width) than the original buildings would have had. Some Pola buildings seem closer to 1:22.5, at least in door height.

Chances are that not all of your trains will be in one scale, unless you decide to start your collection all over again. So I would consider finding an "average" for your buildings and accessories. Or building the buildings around the logging RR to a slightly larger scale than the buildings near your mainline.

A hundred years ago, most permanent buildings had 9'-10' ceilings on the first story at least, so a two story building (not counting the peak of the roof or the top of the facade on a flat-roofed building) might be 18-22 feet tall (counting the foundation). Older buildings like log cabins or pioneer structures would be shorter. Doorways today tend to be 80" tall (with 30-36" widths), but a century and a half ago, they were shorter, with 72" being common; widths of 24-30" were far more common than 36"

So that gives you some leeway, depending on what kind of structures you're making. If you want to go with 1:22.5, just divide either 80" or 72" by 22.5 to get the door height you want. And so on.

Most of my trains are 1:29 (Aristo's most common scale), but my buildings are all over the map, since I bought most of them as kits. I leave the bigger-scaled buildings near the front of the railroad, or near the track that I'm more likely to run 1:22.5 trains on. Same with my figures, unless I let the kids set those up, then anything goes.

Hope this helps - Paul

Can I Combine Brass and Aluminum Track? - March, 2009

David Winslow, of Eliz City, North Carolina, asks:

Can I combine brass and aluminum track?


According to what the manufacturers and other hobbyists tell me you can. However you need to use stainless steel rail joiners and leave a bit of a gap between the metals. You may notice that your smaller locomotives' metal wheels will sometimes show a little spotting, where a VERY low-voltage arc has occurred when the wheel was crossing that gap, but it's never a problem. Hope this helps - Paul

Building a Cheap, Level Railroad - March, 2009

Molly, From Vienna, Virginia, writes:

My hesitation: I am an ageing arthritic grandma with 5 lovely grandchildren (aged 5-13 years) with no help available. . . . I have a lovely flat large backyard with a covered barn. A garden train could run on a fairly large simple track and come to rest in the lockable barn, when there is no one to guard. However, this may prove to be too costly unless I do the entire thing myself and from second-hand and giveaway [if ever any] items. I will need a lot of orientation & guidance if not actual help & assistance.

Can you please, counsel me on how I can build a large sized simple track along a potion of my backyard for the least expense? Thanks, Molly


Thanks for getting back in touch.

I understand the obstacles facing you. Back in 1983, I 'lucked out' and got a starter Large Scale garden train set for half of its value - if I hadn't, I might not be in garden railroading today. I have other trains now, but I've never had the option of going to the hobby shop and dropping a thousand dollars at a time on what I needed for some project or another.

Recently, some friends who could afford better trains nevertheless took it as a challenge to do garden railroading with the least expensive G-gauge trains you can buy, the kind with plastic track and batteries that you can get around Christmas for $50 or so. New Bright and Scientific Toys/EZtec are two brands. Most people seem to think the latter hold up a little better. Turns out that their track holds up fairly well outside if you put it on something solid (like a 2x6).

Some of their findings are described in January's article on using toy trains in a garden railroad:

I admit, it's hard to find Scientific Toys/EZtec trains this time of year, since they tend to come out at Christmas. But if you could get started with such a set and get someone to cut you out and assemble the 2x6 roadbed you need, you would have most of what you needed to get started.

For instructions on the 2x6 roadbed, refer to the section "Measure and Cut the 2x6 stringers" in the following article:

In your case, you'd fasten the "stringers" together using smaller boards we call plates, but you'd leave the whole thing on the ground. Plan for an oval shape big enough to hold all of the track that comes with your train.

Then buy batteries every time the grandkids are coming over.

For houses you could start out with those decorative wooden bird feeders that are coming into the stores right now. You'd want to bring them inside between sessions, too - they're not really made to stay outside - but your grandkids will enjoy setting them up and running the trains between the little towns.

If you want something more permanent later, and people get excited enough to help you, the "one-day railroad" article has a lot of other good ideas for a temporary railroad.

Most starter New Brite or Scientific Toys/Eztec trains come with 18-20 foot of track, enough to make a nice oval. You can buy extra track fairly cheap. Figure a little over a $1 a foot for the lumber you need, and you'll see that, as long as you can get a train set and get someone to cut and assemble the wood for you, you can get started for well under $100.

Sorry I can't come over and help, but I'm in Ohio and getting ready to put the third kid through college as we speak. :-)

Finally, are any of the clubs on the following page close to you?

The closest club might have someone who can come over and give you some other ideas, if not help.

Please let me know how it is going - Paul

Mountainbuilding Ideas - February, 2009

Carl Kurtz writes:

Currently trying to find ideas on how to build a "mountain" that will support a dwarf Japanese maple behind the water feature. Also looking to put train garden I'm planning into a relatively small part of the backyard so that I don't have 3 boys and a tom-girl (or even 3 or 4 tom-girls and a boy) running all over the garden when they get too excited to notice what they're doing.


Raised is the word. Here's what I would do:

Use the "Simple Raised Railroad" method to raise the track itself and make a "bulletproof" roadbed for it (so if someone bumps or stands on the track, it stays in place).

Then use the 2x6 "fence-style) retaining wall method I describe at the end of the retaining wall article to raise the earth around it. Use an irregular shape, of course, not square like the one in the photos.

To make a mountain that I felt was very secure, I would build a series of concentric circles, each of which would create a terrace that, when backfilled appeared to support the trains at that level. If you make the lowest "bump" 18" high, no child will go onto it by "accident."

That approach could also give you a framework for the pond at the base of the waterfall - even if it's fairly small, it has to splash into SOMETHING. Then you camouflage the 2x6s with the "Bob Treat" concrete rock face method shown in the following article.

You'll see that Ray Turner's application of this technology (toward the end of the article) is not quite as artistic as Bob's but it allows him to raise parts of his railroad as much as six feet from grade level in a few horizontal inches.

Of course, my railroad isn't built like that at all, because nobody was doing (or at least sharing) this sort of thing when I started my railroad back in 1999. But if fate calls on me to move or to significantly add on, you had better believe the next one will rely a lot more on timber and a lot less on stacked stone. . . . :-)

Whatever you do, please keep in touch, and take lots of photos, because you'll want to show your friends what it took when they ask you to come over and do one for them (for free). Best of luck, have a great spring - Paul

Warping 2x6s in South Carolina - January, 2009

Robert, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, writes:

Ihave used 2x6 and 4x4 construction it all warped. What can you sugest?


Thanks for getting in touch. I'm sorry you're having trouble wth your roadbed. I've had great luck with mine. The pressure-treated 2x6 roadbed showing in the title photo of the "Simple, Raised, Railroad" article is the lowest-maintenance part of my railroad. Were your efforts along the following lines?

In Ohio, the only reason these RRs don't hold up is if people don't use pressure treated wood, they mount the individual boards so they "cup" and hold water, or they fail to respect the frost line (the most common problem). That said, I know several folks who have used this or similar methods and whose roadbeds have required very little maintenance for years.

If you're living in a rain forest, and you think that may be the problem, you might take a look at Bill Logan's "Easy Flexible HDPE Roadbed" solution:

Again, if you don't respect your frost line or support the roadbed adequately, it can twist, but it's very easy to fix if that happens. If you support the roadbed appropriately, it is quite reliable.

On the terraced part of my RR I had problems with critters undermining my gravel roadbed, and recently dug out a trench and poured concrete under that section. We'll see how it fares:

Hope this gives you some ideas at least. If you have more info, I might be more helpful.

Best of luck with your projects - Paul

Watch this space: I am getting e-mailed questions constantly, and I try to post the ones that would be most helpful as soon as I can.

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