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Letters to the Editor, 2003 and before - 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
Large Scale Starter Sets: Begin with a train you'll be proud to runBest Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders: a short list of things you're most likely to need when starting out
Large Scale Track order FormSturdy buildings for your garden railroad.
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Garden Railroading Books, Magazines, and Videos: Where to go to learn even more
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

Letters to the Editor, 2003 and before

The Letters to the Editor page has gotten so long that I have decided to break it up. This page contains only letters I answered before 2004, and the index to them. For the "master list" of questions, go to the Letters to the Editor main page.

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

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Small Children, Big Plans - Dec, 03

William, of San Diego. writes:

Dear Race Family,

I just spent the past couple of hours reading some of the pages that make up your Family Garden Trains web site. I'm very impressed with the depth of coverage, especially all of the various articles targeted to neophytes like myself.

Thanks very much for the effort it took to put the pages together. I've learned more from your site in a couple of hours that I have from reading most of an Intro level book on Garden Railroading I bought two days ago. In fact, with your site out there, I may as well return the book. :-)

I have two small girls, and a wife who is at least accepting of the idea of putting a train into the back yard of our new home. I'm sure we'll be making good use of what we learned from you.

Thanks again, and happy railroading.

Thanks for the nice comment. Please let us know how things progress, and if you have any questions we haven't addressed--that's how most of the articles got up there in the first place.

Happy holidays--hope Santa brings something that runs on 45mm track,

Paul

American Standard Gauge Questions - Nov, 03

Donald, writes:

Paul,

I have just finished reading a few of your thorough articles on the Internet. You are a great writer, and seem to be very knowledgeable about the subject matter. I especially found the "Which Scale" article to be very helpful. So after a 8 year hiatus from model trains (divorce), and almost giving it up entirely, I have decided to get back into it again with a small HO layout in the corner of my office --in my condo, and then trying to mimic a similar layout (small railroad yard back in the late '40's - early '50's; in Gauge 1 - Standard American gauge, in my little backyard (25 x 12 ft).

According to your article, there is only one toy train company that makes 1/32 scale standard American gauge stuff, and that is MTH. Is that their Rail King 1 Gauge? Yesterday, I called several train shops in southern California, and almost none of them carries that brand, and the ones that do almost ignore my inquiries about MTH, or steer me into LGB. Why do you suppose they do that? Is there something wrong with MTH's stuff?

Today I went to a shop and, as usual, LGB was highly recommended, and Marklin's 1/32 scale American stuff was barely given a marginal "okay", and the viability of MTH as a producer of 1/32 gauge stuff was brought into question.

Question, Marklin is not on your list as a manufacturer of 1/32 American scale Standard Gauge. Is that because it's not, or has something changed since you wrote your article?

After reading your article, I do know that I want to model American standard gauge railroads of the 1940's - early 1960's. And I especially like freight trains, because of the complicated car switching, although I wouldn't pass up a beautiful Southern Pacific, ATSF, or Great Northern F7 (my favorite locomotive) with a string of streamlined cars in tow either.

I do like the idea of getting the scale right, i.e. the ratio of track size to train size. Therefore, am I going to be limited to MTH's Rail King 1 Gauge only? Second, do you think that MTH is going to be a viable manufacturer of this scale?

Any of your thoughts or opinions will be greatly appreciated!

Donald,

Marklin makes toys that, if they were models would be in about the right proportion for 1:32. Mostly they are stamped metal like the early 1900s Ives trains. Cute, VERY non-prototypical. The F-unit is plastic but has so much molded-on detail that its owners wince whenever it gets too close.

My guess is that MTH WILL be viable, as long as the economy continues to recover. [Note: Since I wrote this they have introduced many new products, so I was right about that.] They have deep pockets. That said, the detail is a lot more realistic in most AristoCraft products, which are, unfortunately, 10% too large for the track they run on. (Also, many of AristoCraft's earlier products, such as the F-unit, sit to high off the track.) [Note: Some of MTH's newer products have excellent detail for the price, so I was wrong about that.]

Here's the important part: the REAL WORK of your backyard empire is not in choosing what rolling stock to use, but in installing a solid reliable track system. If you do purchase some Aristo or MTH trains, and later on wish to change to something else, you can always get at least some of your money back out of the trains and try again. The RR itself, the scale mile of track or so you plan to lay in your yard, is the part that makes you a Garden Railroader. And, you may not believe it now (hope you've read the article on indoor gardeners making the adjustment), but MOST garden railroaders operate far less equipment on most running days than they have in their garage - the schlepp gets too exhausting. So start with a few pieces you like, and make changes and additions as you get used to working in Large Scale.

Also, if you try to choose accessories that will look right with a 1:29 or 1:32 train and you eventually change to the other scale, they will still look right. Keep your eye out for LeMax figures you like during the Christmas season, most of them are suitable for either scale.

Where people really get messed up is when they buy a bunch of 1:22.5, THEN decide they want to model standard gauge and wind up with a mishmosh of trains AND accessories.

Hope this answers your questions,

Best of luck,

Paul

Do Backyard Trains Come Bigger in Texas? - September, 03

Linda, of Arlington, Texas writes:

Hi Paul,

Great website! I surfed on in looking for some information that I am going to go ahead and ask you about. I realize it has nothing to do with your website, but i'm just going to start asking people I live in Texas. There is a home a few miles away that has an actual traintrack running throughout the yard. It's tantamount to the train tracks you see at carnivals for the 3 & under ( or so ) to ride. I study genealogy, so I know how to research. I can't find ANYTHING!!!!!!! Any help or lead would be most appreciated. We want to do this for our kids for christmas.

Thank you, If you know nothing- [Thanks for the vote of confidence, Linda - ed.] Thank you anyhow, and you really have a great website!

Linda

Take a look at my article "Really Big Trains (Backyard trains you can ride)"

"Riding Railkits" has a "starter kit" for about $4000 that includes an engine and two cars that you have to assemble. Junction Valley used to make equipment to sell, but it's more of the amusement park ride sort of thing and VERY expensive in comparison.

Do a search on "live steam" and Texas to find the Live Steam club closest to you. You'll see that $4000 is the WAY low end of the scale for these guys, but there might be someone in your neck of the woods who could offer free advice.

Let me know what you find out.

Best of luck,

Paul

HDPE Roadbed for Small Indoor Railroads - Aug, 03

Jim Dudlicek writes:

Just reading your articles on HDPE roadbed for large-scale outdoor railroads and wondering if it would work, with smaller components, in HO scale for my indoor layout. I'm looking for an alternative to wooded spline roadbed to get smooth curve easements. I get the feeling, though, that even as flexible as HDPE is, it wouldn't be able to get down to the 28-inch and smaller radii I have planned. Comments? Thanks ...

Jim,

Well, you might be surprised; HDPE lumber is REAL flexible in thin strips. you might want to use decking or something not quite as thick as the 2x we use in the larger scales. That said, folks have used the HDPE for 24" radius, the smallest commonly used G scale radius (I know that seems awfully tight, and it is. . . ).

But the "trex" type, plastic and wood composite, won't go that tight.

Order a couple hunks of the HDPE lumber and give it a try.

If you do, be sure and tell me your results so I can add them to the web page.

Best of luck,

Paul

What is a Bachmann Train Worth? - Aug, 03

An Unnamed Reader Writes:

Hello, I was wondering if you could help me with a question I have? I recently acquired a Bachmann train set called "Chattanooga Railroad" it is a large scale, comes with a tender and a 4-6-0 locomotive.

Well, "worth" is a relative term. If this is the one with two passenger cars, it could two or three prices:

  • The "list price" you would pay if you walked into a typical hobby shop and ordered it from them, probably somewhere between $250-350.
  • The "Costco/Sams" price at which Bachmann allowed a few warehouse clubs to sell certain "starter sets" in the 1990s because the "Costco/Sams" deals allowed them to decrease costs on some of the most cheaply made individual sets by increasing volume, probably somewhere between $100-130. Note: Not every set was available this way, and the sets have been improved since, so to my knowledge, none of those sets is currently available at that price. Most sets sold today are "upgrade" sets with better mechanical components, more brass handrails and less plastic, more metal wheels, etc.
  • The third price is the price you could expect to pay mail-order for the new set from a large mail-order dealer of Large Scale trains. Probably $200-250 range for one of the newer, upgraded sets. Ironically the "used" price for the same set will be the same or higher, since most buyers of used large scale are ignorant of what the mail-order stores charge for new stuff. Note: No matter what it says on E-Bay, almost NONE of the non-LGB equipment manufactured for Large Scale today has "investment" or "ollectors" value to speak of. So if you bought this set (or any Large Scale train set) thinking that it would have intrinsic collectors' value beyond just the value of a good, solid train set, you'll probably be disappointed).

The good news is that Bachmann stuff is a very good value for the dollar, no matter how much you paid for this set. If you're interested in Large Scale and you like the RR it models, hang onto it and use it. Even if you replace it with more expensive equipment later, you can keep it as a backup or to run when the grandkids come over.

If you DON'T like the railroad and you want to try to sell it and buy a set with a railroad you like, you may do that as well, of course.

I RUN mostly Aristocraft, since I mostly model standard gauge, but I have several relatively inexpensive Bachmann pieces I get out once in a while for the fun of running something different, or when I need to bring something to a "public display" where I may have no control over who is running the trains.

Hope this helps.

Best of luck,

Paul

Multiple Reverse Loops - July, 03

Chuck, of Seattle, writes: Trains Magazine

I'm sending you this drawing in the hope you can help me get my railroad up and running.

As you can see there are two ovals and a crossover as well as a starting track.

I need to know how to wire this so the train will run around the mainline then around the outer loop back around the mainline then through the crossover then back around the mainline on a continuous run. I will truly appreciate any help you can give me.

Chuck,

One problem is that you have two reversing loops built into this RR. I'm guessing your plan was to have the train reverse directions every time or almost every time it goes around the loop. Unfortunately that makes wiring very complicated.

Ordinarily on a loop of track, each rail is always the same polarity, even if you go to a figure eight or use a crossover. Think of the yourself in the engineer's position. Let's say when you start your journey, your locomotive's left wheels are on the positive rail. On an ordinary loop, those wheels will always stay on the positive rail and the track polarity never has to change. But a "reversing loop" turns the locomotive around so it's heading back onto the same track in the opposite direction. As the locomotive enters the reversing loop, the left wheel stays on the positive rail. But as soon as it reaches the turnout (switch) that is going to take it back to the mainline, the left wheel is going to be on the negative rail. In fact, if you don't have the reverse loop electrically isolated from the mainline, your track itself makes a dead short period and nothing runs. To make a reversing loop work, the mainline has to change polarities while all the powered units (including lighted passenger cars) are on the reversing loop. There are store-bought devices for doing this automatically, and lots of folks have built railroads with one long mainline and a reversing loop at both ends. But your track plan has your reversing loops built into a greater loop, and all sorts of other complications. You would need your track isolated into at least four, probably more like eight separate segments, and you would have to have automated devices triggered by magnets on each locomotive flipping track polarities constantly. In short, the best way to wire the plan you sent us is by using battery power.

My guess is that you also want to do "unattended running," that is, to watch the train go around without you having to be constantly throwing turnouts and electrical switches. Keep in mind that every turnout significantly increases your chances of a derailment, especially on an automated system that you're not watching every moment. If you want the effect of your train changing direction, etc, you might try working out a plan without actual reverse loops but with "concentric" loops. So the train may look like it's changing direction, but it's actually on an adjacent track. If you want to try real reverse loops, you might try two reverse loops that are physically in the "center" of your table feeding one "mainline" that goes around them on the outside.

George Shreyer, whom you also e-mailed as far as I can tell, could probably give you a segment-by-segment breakdown of exactly how to wire the layout you've proposed, where to install the magnets, and what kind of control technologies to use. If I tried to do that, I'd probably overlook something and steer you wrong, but the chances of a trackplan with electrical requirements this complicated working properly even if you did things entirely right are remote.

Something else to realize is that a layout like you've diagrammed won't have the interest of something a little more free-flowing. Maybe you only have a very small area, and you're doing the best you can, but if you can get away from the "snap-track-on-a-table-top" look, your RR will be more interesting. Of course if you DO have a lot more room than your diagram implies, you need to get away from the "track crammed into every possible space" look. In Garden Railroading, they call it a "spaghetti bowl" railroad.

I've attached two VERY primitive drawings. One is of an overgrown figure eight that could use cross-overs or over-and under to get the EFFECT of using reverse loops to change direction on part of the railroad without having to use turnouts or reverse loops at all. The other shows a couple reverse loops embedded inside a larger mainline (you'd have to use a couple crossovers or over-and-under to get this to work, too). Sorry for how primitive the art is, I'm doing this on my lunch hour. But I hope they give you ideas for other ways to make the "train running in a circle" look more interesting without creating a wiring nightmare or installing so many turnouts you can't afford to buy trains. Hope this helps; have a great rest of the summer, Paul

Running Trains From Inside The House - July, 03

Yvette writes:

My family would like to build a garden railway in our yard. We are looking for R/C trains with the battery pack in them so we can control from inside the house. We have been to local train stores but [haven't been able to find anything "off-the-shelf" that does what we need.]

Yvette

Yvette,

Please pardon me if I read between the lines here. If you're hoping to run the trains from inside, that probably means you aren't looking to do a lot of "operations" (where your train stops at sidings and pick up or drop off cars along the way like real railroads do). It sounds like you're more interested in operating in a "display" mode (where the trains can run basically unattended, say on a loop of track). For this kind of operation, track power usually works out better for most people--otherwise you're bringing in your locomotives for recharging every couple of hours. As you've also discovered, no major brand currently sells garden trains that are already equipped with batteries and RC. But that might not be your best solution anyway.

One option that would give you remote control AND the ability to run your trains all day long without stopping to recharge would be using the Crest Train Engineer and a 5 or 10 amp power supply.

The power supply would sit inside your house so only 18 volt DC would be going outside. Then between the power supply and the tracks goes a "receiver" that controls the current that actually gets to the track. You could keep the receiver inside or in a waterproof container on the back porch, wherever it worked out the best (but not out in the rain). Then you control the receiver with a hand-held remote control device.

Depending on where you placed the receiver, you should be able to run the train from inside or from the back yard.

Disadvantages include having to keep track conductive (well-connected and fairly clean).

Advantages include: being able to run all day long without recharging, and being able to use "off-the-shelf" locomotives (without installing aftermarket RC/battery equipment)

For more information, please read my article on Large Scale Power and Control carefully:

If you are still certain you want to go with battery power, please let me know where you live and I'll try to find someone in your area who can help you retrofit a locomotive.

Best of luck,

Paul D. Race

Starter Set Question - April, 03

Paul Richter writes:

Hi,

I'm looking for a simple kit to get started with in a garden train lay out. I m sure that once I get started, things will progress and I will want a more and more elaborate set up. Can you direct me to were I can purchase sets? Something I can add too but I want it as nice as possible to start with so it keeps my attention.

Thanks,

Paul Richter

Paul,

First Question: Where do you live? If you've never seen any of this stuff to speak of, and there's a good train store within 100 miles of you (or a good club with operating layouts) it would be worth some phone calls and a drive to check out various pieces.

Second Question: What kind(s) of railroads would you most like to model? If you're thinking about an old-timey railroad, any Bachmann starter set with a 4-6-0 (ten-wheeler) locomotive would give you a good start, although you can't use the Bachmann track outside.

If you're more interested in a 20th century look, check out the USA NW-2 Diesel (switcher) starter set, or the Aristo 0-4-0 (steam switcher) starter set (get the set with the tender so you get choo-choo sounds). Either set will give you a working locomotive and a couple cars you'll enjoy running the wheels off of.

Whatever you buy to start out, you'll probably wind up putting some or all of your starter set back eventually for visiting children to run when they come over, as your tastes mature or evolve, and you find some bigger pieces you like better. ALSO, keep the track that comes with the starter set for around the Christmas tree (or holiday icon of your choice). Outdoors, try to run 10'-diameter or larger curves if you can squeeze them in. Even dinky garden trains look better on larger curves.

The "Where to Buy" article on my Primer page describes some of the dynamics of shopping various places for garden railroad equipment. Manufacturer sites are listed at the end of my "Which Scale Should I Model" article. [Note: The Garden Train Store, which was added since this e-mail was written, also lists many userful products and provides links to reliable suppliers.

Best of luck,

Paul

Model Car or Boat RC Controllers with Bachmann Trains? - April, 03

Don Lewis writes:

Have there been any articles on using small r/c units designed for model boats/car and batteries to power Bachman G scale engines? Specifically the 2-4-2? If not, can you "steer" me to someone who might be able to help me. I am willing to just try it on my own, but I'd like insight if possible.

Thanks so much.

Don Lewis

Don

My article on "Power and Control" on the "Primer" page should give you an overview of the technologies people use most often. Several folks HAVE adapted boat, model airplain, or model car sets to use on garden trains, but it's hard to get them to operate the bells and whistles. If you're just interested in speed and direction, you should be able to figure it out. But think about voltage, amperage, and distance. Your Bachmann is going to want to see something over 6 volts before it does much movement, especially if there's a load. Some locomotives want to see more like 12 or 16 volts.

If you plan to pull trains, you'll need an RC controller that handles more juice than most model cars pull. (1000ma otherwise known as one amp, would be nice, 500ma would work for short trains on fairly level track).

Also, some cheap model car RC units aren't effective past, say 50'. If you have a small railroad, that may not be a problem.

If you already have this stuff in your garage and don't mind messing it up on an experiment, go for it. The battery pack in your RC boat or car will tell you most of what you need to know about the RC unit's voltage and amperage handling capabilities. It shouldn't be hard to figure which wires control speed, which is all you'll probably control with this unless you want to get into some really stranger areas, like using the steering control to control which window the engineer looks out of or something.

If you don't already have RC units laying around unused, I'd consider buying something made for trains. After all, one day you might want a sound card in the engine, and you wouldn't want to screw up a $200 sound card trying to save $100 on an RC device.

For a bunch of details about store-bought power, sound, and control systems, and for some ways to juice up your Bachmann locomotive, check out George Shreyer's Technical Tips Page:

George doesn't seem to think much of the Bachmann 2-4-2, unless you have the Spectrum which IS a much nicer version. My only experience with the 2-4-2 was very brief. I got one in a trade with a lot of other stuff, didn't like the way it looked with my other equipment, and sold it to someone else without doing anything more than verifying it ran. So I can't help you out much with specifics on that locomotive.

In case you wondered, the newer Bachmann locomotives are much more solid. If you like the overally look of the 2-4-2 but would like a locomotive that is built better and runs better, consider investing in the Anniversary version 4-6-0.

Best of luck,

Paul

Thanks for Saying Thanks - Sept?, 03

Peter, of Australia, writes:

Dear Paul

On Jan 7, 2002 I downloaded your article "Go Outside and Run Your Trains"

I contacted you shortly after, well nearly two years on my Garden Railway has grown thanks to you. Your article was the motivation I needed.

I am revisting all those who helped in the early stages just to say thanks

Family Garden Trains is a great site that I will be revisiting

Thanks for saying thanks, Peter -- Paul (Where's Mary?)

Garden Wiring Revisited - June?, 03

Scott, of Rochester Minnesota, writes:

Paul,

I have only recently started done the 'Blessed Garden Path' toward a garden railroad. I have grown up around trains. My dad an I have started ( albiet never finished) several layouts in both N and HO. Now that I am grown and have moved out I have a good sized N scale layout of my own(agian nowhere near finished).

With all this past experince in hand, I have decided that it's time to, as you put it, "Go outside and run my trains". I am really impressed with your site. It has the most useful and complete set of articles for beginners of any train site I have seen for any scale. Way to go and Thanks for the help.

In the way of a request, can you fill me in on the method of using low-voltage wiring to run a garden train. Are there special connections or something that will bring the power up to whas needed by the trains and accesories? Please elaborate on this in some acticle soon. I think that this would be a much easier way to go than worring about all the voltage and saftey concerns otherwise.

Thanks again, Scott

Scott,

First, thanks for the nice comments. Also, thanks for the question. Now for the bad news. There is no "one good way." I try to document the 'best practices," not necessarily the way I do things. In my case, I have buried AC cable in a part of the RR that would be pretty impossible to hit with a shovel, and purchased GIF outlets and waterproof boxes. But most of that stuff won't be hooked up to anything until I can bury a line from the house, a thirty-foot gap I haven't had the heart to start digging a ditch across yet.

Several friends whose railroads abut either the house or outbuldings with AC have the transformer/rectifier part of their power circuit inside the building and only DC lines running to the railroad itself. This is the safest solution, but doesn't work well of you have a 20-30' gap to get power across. Other friends run AC out to a sheltered point where the transformer/rectifiers sit, and the DC is spread out through conduits from that central point. One thing worth remembering in such a solution is that, as silly as it sounds, MOST transformer/rectifier units built for garden railroading are not supposed to be left outside, even in a relatively protected environment.

Many other folks have a container or lunchbox or something they fasten the transformer/rectifier thingie in. On operation days, they haul the thing out and attach it where DC current needs to be by alligator clips or something.

Several of the Dayton area hobbyists have some form of remote control, the most common being Crest (was AristoCraft) Train Engineer (TE). With the most common kind of TE, you put an "receiver" between the transformer/rectifier and the track segment you want to control. Then you operate a remote control keypad, which controls the voltage, etc., on the receiver. For this kind of setup, you need one receiver for each segment you need to power differently (say a switchyard you control at the same time your mainline is different). But you can control multiple segments from one remote if you keep track of things. One advantage of this is that you don't have to hook up an extra set of wires to the track every time you run. A couple folks have the TE receivers insider their houses or on boxes under the eaves or whatever, and just the DC cables running to the track. That way ALL they have to do is turn on a switch inside, then walk out into the back yard with their TE controller in hand and run their trains. Others carry the TE in the "lunchbox" with the transformer/rectifier.

If you don't use TE, you'll have to get a rheostat (throttle) into the line between the transformer/rheostat and the track. Without TE that's two more sets of wires to connect every time you want to operate. I don't have TE yet though I plan to eventually. In the meantime, I drag my power supplies out in a solid plastic container (actually a mailbox that looks like a log cabin), and hook them up every time I operate. I had hoped to experiment with something more permanent this year, but time ran out.

Since you mentioned low voltage, I thought you might also be referring to the low voltage lighting kits. AT LEAST the power supplies for those are recommended for reasonably sheltered outdoor use. But they're not regulated, and not recommended for running trains, even little ones.

Once again, I'm sorry to say there's no one best practice for any of this stoff.

Once you start visiting other people's garden railways, you'll be amazed at the different ways people do all of these things, and still get a working railway. WHATEVER you do, make certain everything is carefully labeled and that all AC is GFI protected.

Best of luck,

Paul.

O-Gauge Garden Railroad? - April?, 03

Tom, of Chicago, writes:

I am moving from Chicago, after dismantling my basement 16' x 20' lionel layout, to Las Vegas.

I am interesting help in pointing me in any direction as to how to take my Lionel layout outside.

I will leave all operating accessories indoors but would like advice from anyone who has taken their layout outdoors. I only wish to set-up a basic loop (I know they all start that way!) thanks in advance. Tom

Tom, using Lionel outdoors, I expect your four biggest enemies would be dampness, UV, dust, and shlepp.

Lionels exposed to the elements are prone to rust and to get dust in the gears. Unprotected plastic fades and turns brittle.

You might want to select a subset of your collection to run outside and spray it with a UV-resistant coating like they use for photographs - you can buy it at photo shops. Similarly, try to use locomotives that don't have the gears exposed if possible. Large Scale locomotives have mechanisms that are fairly well sealed against dust. Yours may not.

Consider where your trains are going to be sitting when they're on the track but not actually running. Consider having "storage tracks" shaded and having a wind barrier of some sort. It doesn't have to be obvious, just something that slows the sand down.

Obviously , you'll have to find or build weather-resistant track. Brass three rail track is better than tinplate, of course, but I don't think anybody's making 3-rail track with ties that are uv-resistant, so you'll want to paint them or spray them with a uv-resistant coating. Gargraves has stainless steel rails, but their basswood ties fall apart in our climate in about a year--if you soak the track in something to weatherproof them, it might last MUCH longer for you in the desert. Speaking of track, consider steel wheels on your rolling stock - if you run on really hot days, the track gets hot enough to make the plastic wheels get a little wierd.

Shlepp has to do with the effort of transporting trains in and out. Unlike many of us who leave a train or two "out" to run when we get a few spare minutes, you can't do that to Lionel trains without aging your trains quickly. If you don't plan to have a line running out of your basement directly into your outdoor loop, consider building special containers or equipping storebought storage containers to make it easy to schlepp stuff in and out. Otherwise, since you know you can't leave this stuff in the weather, you might be reluctant to run trains on days when you only have a couple hours to run--and your RR winds up sitting idle more often than not.

On the positive side, there are several notable outdoor O-scale and O tinplate railroads that have overcome all of these obstacles. A few of them have been profiled in Garden Railways over the years, although I don't know what volume/issue you should try to scrounge up. WIth O, even O scale, you could fit a lot more RR into your space than you could with LS--I've told MTH not to worry about making LS stuff, just to make their O-scale stuff more weather-and-UV resistant. Of course they're not listening to me on that score or most others. Maybe I should try Williams.

Finally, consider contacting the Las Vegas Garden Railway Society to find out more things you need to know locally. - Paul

[Ed note: Since this letter was written, we've answered many related questions and begun a series of articles about O Gauge Outside railroads. Click here for more information. - Paul]

A Future Colorado Railroader -

Raf Biezenbos, of Colorado, writes:

Mr. Race, I happened to come across your site looking for help and advice for the beginner in "Garden Railroading". I've read a couple of your very helpful, insightful and "right on the mark articles" to help me get started. Like many modelers, I started with 027 gauge, moved to HO, then to N scale, back to HO and finally, as a result of have my first grandchild, on to G scale. I'm taking the advice you offer in your article "Building a Garden Railroad on a Budget" and investing in track as opposed to a lot of rolling stock. In the past I've done exactly what you warn against and ended up with rolling stock and track-side kits I never used. This time I will concentrate on the layout and let the rolling stock build with time. I now come to you with some very specific requests:

  1. How do I subscribe to your e-magazine?
  2. Are you aware of a Garden Railroad group in the Denver/Littleton > Area?
  3. How and with what materials do you build the rail bed?

I'm enjoying the articles I've read and want to thank you in advance for whatever help and advice you may offer.

Sincerely, Raf Biezenbos.

Raf, I don't currently have a "subcription," although I've thought about it and collected some addresses. Basically you add my site to your "favorites" list and check back every couple of months. If I get something more e-mail oriented going, I'll try to let you know.

[Ed. note: Since this letter was written and answered, we have started a "sign-up-sheet" and an e-mail newsletter that comes out about ten times a year. Click here for more information. - Paul]

For a Denver-area Garden Railway club, try this site and see if there's anyone close to you. http://www.denvergrs.org

You can find other clubs by going to our club lookup page at: http://www.familygardentrains.com/outside_resources/grr_clubs/grr_clubs.htm

Finally, my favorite method for raised track is described in the following article from my February e-mag: http://www.familygardentrains.com/primer/

That would work for a ground-level RR as well but it may be overkill.

I "raised" most of my existing RR by building a raised flowerbed (lots of rocks, dirt, and railroad ties, and putting the ROW on tamped soil in the flowerbed.

If you want to lay your track on the ground, some folks dig trenches and fill them with gravel, others dig trenches, run rebar and conduit, then pour concrete. I had decent luck in one corner with "hardpan" (dry packed clay soil) by just laying the track on the ground, pouring granite chicken grit over it, and bringing the tracks up through the gravel, shaking it as I went, until the gravel was the same height as the ties.

It wouldn't hurt you to find out how folks in your new neighborhood are attacking this problem. You may see something you like that you wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

Best of luck,

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. Click to go to the Letters to the Editor home page.

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