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Letters to the Editor, 2005 - 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.
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

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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

Letters to the Editor, 2005

Update for 2008 - 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 in 2005, 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 for 2005 Letters to the Editor

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

Click here to return to the Letters to the Editor home page.

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.























































































































































































































































































































































































































Using Bachmann Trains Outside - November, 05

Mike, of Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia writes:

Found your web page really interesting and need some info. I'd like to start with a simple indoor/outdoor set. I read your article on the starter sets and liked the Bachmann "Tweetsie" train. When I linked to the availability section, it says that they are not recommended for outdoors. What do you recommend for an "old timey" look that can run both indoors and out? Also, when you say they are outdoors, it sounds like they do need some upkeep, e.g., steel wool occasionally on the tracks. Can the cars themselves remain outdoors, or do you have to put them out only when you run them and then keep them indoors?

Also, I've never seen a garden train! Do you correspond with anyone near Roanoke or Lynchburg, VA who has a garden train? I'd like to see someone's arrangement for ideas and local advice.

Any advice you can give would be helpful.

Thanks, Mike

Mike,

According to Garden Railways magazine, theres a club in Troutville, and one in VA Beach. I've CC'd the club contacts on this e-mail. Hi, Jim. Hi, Sherry.

Regarding Bachmann outside: Unfortunately I don't get to write the descriptions on the vendor pages. The Bachmann trains are designed to run out of doors; the TRACK isn't. That's why I always recommend buying a loop of AristoCraft, and a bigger one at that - that 4'-diameter curve looks silly and insignificant outside, especially with some nice long cars like the Bachmann coaches running on it. I've left inexpensive Bachmann stuff out all summer, and it starts to look bad after about two summers. I've left some out all winter and it starts to look really bad after a year. Most people either build a little shelter that they can run it into to protect it from the worst of the weather when it's not running, or bring it in between sessions. But if you leave it out in the rain a few times, that's fine.

Brass track doesn't need steel wool, unless you route it under many pine trees and let the resin dry on the tracks. I use a VERY fine sanding sponge from 3m, and there are commercial track cleaning products that are even finer. If all of your equipment has metal wheels, the only thing that will gum up your track is bugs and vegetation getting smashed on the track, and that's usually cleaned in a moment (I keep a sanding sponge under one of my houses so I have it handy for quick touchups).

Hope this helps. If you ever head toward southwest Ohio, give me a holler,

Also if you don't mind York PA, there's a BIG Large Scale train show there every spring. I think it's the last weekend of March this year. Google ECLSTS for more information.

Best of luck, - Paul

Using Bachmann Track Outside - November, 05

Manford, of West Virginia, writes:

Just received a Bachmann G Scale starter set with 32' of track and want to use it outside. Would you recommend that I use this track or recommend another type for use in West Virginia weather. You have a great Web page.

Thanking you in advance - Manford

Manford,

Thanks for the nice comment.

Now for an answer you won't want to hear.

You can't use Bachmann track outside for more than a few weeks. Within a year it'll be unusable. I always recommend AristoCraft Brass track. It screws together making a great electrical connection and holds up to LOTS of bad weather. If you're going to stick with the "Old-Timey" trains like the Bachmann, you may want to order the "Euro" track, which has ties that look at home under a Bachmann train. If you're thinking about going with big modern trains eventually, consider the USA style track.

Now about curves. If you have room for a 10-foot-diameter circle or larger, please consider getting a big circle of track. This may seem hard to believe, but a 10-foot-circle OUTSIDE takes up about the same amount of visual space as a 3 or 4 foot circle of track inside. Your train will also run MUCH better. 8' or 5' circles work, too, of course, but consider larger circles if you can. My first outdoor segment was based on a 10' circle, with a few straight pieces to make it more like an egg shape. Still, front-to-back across the "railroad" was ten feet, and the whole segment (railroad ties and all) was about 14 feet deep. As an experiment I asked several non-hobbiests how deep they thought the railroad was at that point. Answers averaged around five feet deep. I don't want to discourage you, but I hope you understand what I mean when I say that people's perceptions get reset outside, and anything smaller than 10' (or maybe 8') diameter curves looks cramped.

Let me know how your progress, - Paul

Scale and Brand Questions about Maxi, etc. - October, 05

Thanasis, of New York, writes:

Hello, your article "Which scale Should I model?" cleared up a lot of the confusion I had about G-scale. Thank you so much!

I've been playing with Marklin HOs as a kid in Greece and now that I'm in the US for good, I wanted to get into a "bigger" scale for my children to have fun, with an eye towards garden railroading in the future. Most probably I will not go with Marklin 1/Maxi (do you have an opinion Maerklin 1s/Maxis as garden trains?) so suddenly I am learning about all these other possibilities.

I hope you dont mind a simple question: Can all these models "share" the same tracks at the same time? E.g. can LGB, Aristocraft, and Bachmann engines run at the same time? Do they have the same power requirements?

I appreciate your help and congratulations again for such a wonderful site.

Thanasis

Thanasis,

Garden Trains for KidsThank you for the kind words about the articles. The short answer to your question is that LGB, Aristo-Craft, and Bachmann can all run on the same track and can all run off the same power supplies. That said, Bachmann train sets included cheap track you can't use outside and very small power supplies that wouldn't drive a railroad larger than say 30 feet of track. Bachmann trains also require a little less power, in part I think because they are so lightweight in comparison to LGB or Aristo-Craft. Aristo-Craft and LGB train sets both come with better track and a better power supply. Aristo sets now also come with a remote control device that controls, not the train, but the track. So if you later add a Bachmann or LGB train to your railroad, the AristoCraft remote control will control them or whatever else you put on the track. (Of course if you put two trains on the same track segment, they will both run at the same time.)

I was disappointed with the Maxi that is supposed to represent North American trains (their European stuff is much, much better). It was like they wanted to make toy trains in the mold of the ancient Lionel "tinplate." They look like toys, even the plastic ones. Hardly anyone uses US-style Maxis in Garden Railroads. (In fact I don't know one person who still does.) I suppose that it comes down to what kind of railroad you want to model.

If you want to model the big European standard Gauge Trains, Maerklin may still be of interest. If you want to model European Narrow Gauge Trains, consider LGB. If you want to model US Narrow Gauge trains (like Denver and Rio Grand) consider Bachmann and LGB. If you want to model US Standard Gauge trains, consider Aristo-Craft. By the way, there USED to be a Large Scale Thomas set, but it's just about unavailable these days. The LGB "Toy Train" sets are made to be sturdy enough for kids. But the AristoCraft "Critter" starter set is nearly as sturdy, includes a remote control, and is much cheaper. I think if I was starting out with Large Scale today and had small children, a "Critter" would be the first set.

Hope this helps,

Paul D. Race

HDPE Questions from Puget Sound - Sept, 05

Tom, of Greater Puget Sound, writes:

Hi Paul,

I am a member of the Puget Sound Garden Railway Society. With the 2010 NGRC coming on strong, I need to get started on my railway. I was reacquainting myself with the use of HDPE lumber for the public display layout for the Franklin Conservatory in Columbus. [Click here to see the article Tom is talking about-ed.] I am personally leaning to using HDPE for building my own layout.

If I may ask, in the Materials Needed section of Part I (towards the bottom of the article) you note the following:

    HDPE lumber - 2" by 4" or Composite HDPE for stringers, spacer blocks, and posts

Are both types HDPE lumber needed? Can the Composite be used through the layout? Is one better than the other?

How is the layout? Have there been any problems or unexpected structural issues?

Many thanks for sharing your techniques and for any advice you may send my way.

Tom

Tom,

You can use either. If you don't want any really tight curves, the composite is fine BUT you live in the humidity capital of the world. Ask around and see how Trex and similar brands are holding up on people's decks, etc.

I saw a backyard railroad this past weekend built with the HDPE stuff and the trackwork was quite attractive. (Not much else was, since he just built it this summer.) Yes, I know the straight HDPE costs twice as much. If I was building a railroad today, I might still be tempted to use 2x6 pressure-treated lumber. But I have no imagination when it comes to trackwork. With some HDPE and some imagination, you can get some beautiful effects, as the Franklin Conservatory example shows.

Let me know if I can help with anything; also I hope to see photos when you're done.

Paul

Sizes of Outdoor Christmas Trains - August, 05

Brian, of Phoenix writes:

I have some questions on the size of the trains and additional track. Please have a sells rep contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx. Thank you.

Brian

Brian, the best way to find out about size of trains, etc., is on the Manufacturer's site. For example, AristoCraft trains are fairly well described on the AristoCraft web site. Most "boxcars" are about 17" long and 6-6.5" high if that helps, so a ten-car train (not counting loco and caboose) is usually about 15 feet long. That's one reason not to try to get by with 5'-diameter curves--your locomotive will look like it's chasing the caboose. The longest passenger cars are the AristoCraft heavyweights, which are about 32" long, so a 4-car heavyweight train plus an AristoCraft Pacific to pull them is nearly fifteen feet long as well. For "mainline" railroading most people consider 8'-diameter curves the absolute minimum, although I think 10' is the minimum, and 15' is better. If you'd rather have "short line" or "narrow gauge" or "old fashioned" or "industrial" trains (such as 20', 4-wheel cars, etc.), you can get by with smaller curves.

Hope this helps,

Paul

[Then Brian wrote back with another question.]

Paul

Thank you for your help. What I'm looking at doing is going around my yard for a Christmas display. the yard is aproximatly 40 feet across and 30 feet deep for the area I want to do. I am looking for a train that you can see from the street which it sounds like the ones you decribed would do the job. I am looking for enough track and the old fashioned style of train. Nothing modern. Can you give some advice on that and maybe a round figure dollar-wise on what something like that would go for?

Brian, sounds like a Bachmann train or three would do you some good. Look at the trains on the Large Scale Christmas Trains or Bachmann Starter Sets page. The Bachmann locomotives are a little shorter, lengthwise than some of the huge AristoCraft locomotives (which I don't generally show in my catalog, since it's mostly for beginners). But they're taller, and more colorful. They're also not as solid as AristoCraft, or anywhere near as expensive, another trade-off.

Bachmann Garden TrainsBachmann boxcars are about 15" long, 5 5/8" tall, and 4" wide. Their passenger cars are wider and longer, but I don't have exact measurements handy. As you can see they have a variety of Christmas trains (including the trolley which might be cute to put in its own circle of track somewhere), and the very nice ET&WNC sets which are green enough to look like Christmas from a distance but could certainly be run any time.

I would recommend AristoCraft track. (You can't use Bachmann track outdoors for long, and I certainly wouldn't want to use it for a very long run- it doesn't conduct electricity as well.) For the "mainline," I would do something based on 10'-diameter curves, although you can use 5'-diameter curves if you have a tight spot, or you're running a trolley or a train with shorter cars and locomotives. Because the Bachmann trains are fairly reasonable in price, you'll probably wind up spending more on track than on trains. My track pages have more information on track than you'll ever want. Also, everything I said about reliable operation in my article on Planning a Garden Railroad for High Reliability counts double on a "display" layout (where you won't be watching the trains every second). No tight S curves and in your case, probably no turnouts at all. Large Scale Track order Form

The REAL work will entail getting a level roadbed. I'd suggest using 2x6's, cutting separate pieces for each length of track (with a 15-degree angle at each end for track that is 12 pieces to a circle, such as the 5' and 10' diameter curves), and using 1x6 "plates" underneath to fasten them together. (My article on Building a Simple Raised Railroad has most of the information you will need for cutting and assembling the roadbed.) Then you may use some sort of temporary post or block arrangement to get everything a few inches off the ground so people can see the trains properly from a distance, and to give you room to compensate for any irregularities in your yard. Some folk have used DekBlocks for the purpose, others just cut 4x4 hunks and set them on little 1"x6"x6" bases or some such, which you can get away with if you're only going up a few inches.

You MIGHT want to start with one train and one oval of track to see how much work it takes and whether it really is visible from the street anyway.

Best of luck. I expect photos. Maybe an article for my web site. :-)

Paul

Using Smaller Scales Outdoors? - July, 05

Bob writes:

Hi Folks:

All of your articles are among my growing numbers of "Favorites." I, like many just entering the world of Garden Railroading, find the amount of space I have is limited. I am wondering what sizes of smaller (as in smaller than LGB on 45mm) that one can use in the outdoors?

Any help that you can give will be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance.

Bob

Bob, you have lots of good questions. It would help to know what kind of railroad you want to model, how much room you actually have, and what your overall expectations are for your railroad.

If you're looking to do "operations," and you'd be happy with an industrial line with "shorty" cars, etc. you're probaby better off sticking with Large Sale and using 4-wheel cars and short locomotives (The Bachmann tank engine, AristoCraft "Critter" and Hartland Locomotive Works/HLW shorty industrial engines are all useful for this. You might consider a Critter starter set such as the one at the Garden Train Store's storefront on Discount Trains.

I have a friend who models a French short line that also uses "shortie" gear, so there are many options.

If you want something more elaborate, and you're satisfied with an "oldie" look, On30 offers some nice options. It uses HO track, though, which is small, so you have to be more careful about keeping even tiny leaves, etc. off of the track. You've probably figured out that there's a nice listing of products at: http://www.familygardentrains.com/special_offers/on_30/on30_display.htm

However you should know that neither On30 gear, nor any other "indoor" products are made to be used out-of-doors. That means you must make certain they are stored in a very dry place, never left out in the rain, and not left out long in the sun (unless you coat them with a UV-resistant coating). Track ties, too, need painted. If you're using preformed curves, you COULD just spray the whole piece of track, then wipe off the top and inside edge of the rail before it dries. Or if you're using flex-track, spray the tie strip before you put the track together. Of course if you're planning to build your own track from scratch with cedar ties or some such, that won't be a problem.

Several nice garden railways have been done with O-gauge trains; again, the caveat is storing the trains carefully, using stainless steel or solid brass (not tinplate) track and making certain the ties are UV-protected. Keep in mind that if you want to use more realistic models than, say Lionel 3-rail stuff, an O SCALE railroad will take up about two-thirds as much space as an equivalent Large Scale train by a manufacturer such as MTH RailKing. (1:48 isn't THAT much smaller than 1:32).

Hope this gives you some "food for thought." You should know that if what you REALLY want is an HO-type railroad with really long trains and lots of operations capability, you may be better of with an indoor railroad. Have you read the "Outdoor Railroading Primer for Indoor Railroaders?"

Best of luck,

Paul D. Race

[Note: In subsequent conversations, Bob reported that he thought the On30 stuff was too small for outdoors, and he was going to try to find Large Scale equipment that suited his sitation.]

Indoor Train Gardens of the 20s, 30s, and 40s - June, 05

Jim writes:

I have about 120 figures from the 20, 30s and early 40s that we had in our train garden when my brother and I were very young. Most of the people are two and one half to three inches tall. They include railroad station employees, both black and white, farm employees and many just plain folk doing everything from strolling to playing tennis. Most were made in prewar Germany or Czechoslovakia. They are made of metal and some type of compound. They are in great condition considering the are 65 to maybe 90 years old. I am wondering if you have any information on these.

Thank you

Jim

Jim,

How exciting to find someone who had a train garden BEFORE LGB "invented" the hobby. I'm sure that your figures are collectible, but without knowing more, I wouldn't know HOW collectible. And I'm not a collector so I would have to ask around to get details.

It would be just as fascinating to me to hear about your train garden. Don't suppose you have any old photos? ? ? Are the figures all that is left? Did you use "storebought" trains or did someone build them? Most train gardens before 1970 were made of "home-made" or "scratch-built" equipment, although there were a few manufacturers in the 1910 era that made a few pieces that could be used outside.

Every so often Garden Railways magazine runs a "feature" on a train garden from the past, and it's fascinating to see what people came up with. Or I'd be tickled to put an article on my web page if you have any photos and enough information.

Back to your figures. Chances are some of the figures were made to go with "Standard Gauge" trains, the tinplate ones that Lionel and Ives made that were twice as big as O gauge. Lionel kept making them even when O gauge took over; no one seemed to mind that they were too big for O gauge trains. Some of the others might have been from farm sets or the like, I suppose. I couldn't imagine ever using any of them outside today--they probably belong in a display case.

What part of the country are you in? I'm near Dayton Ohio. Would you like me to try to locate a trustworthy hobbist or collector in your area who might be able to answer your questions?

Best of luck,

Paul D. Race

[Note: In subsequent e-mails, I learned that Jim's Dad's "Train Garden" was actually an indoor Christmas display using Lionel electric trains and many home-made structures. Jim was from the greater D.C. area, and I've learned that such "Train Gardens" were common in Baltimore and D.C. homes between the World Wars. Mothers might complain when Dad's train garden took up the whole downstairs, but it was the one time of the year when most Baltimore dads had an excuse to really set up their trains. Jim didn't have any photos to share, but I'd be glad to share anyone else's if you have one.]

[Editor's Note: Since this exchange, we have learned more about Baltimore/DC-area "Christmas Gardens" and similar tree/town/nativity/train displays that were often called "putzes" by German immigrants. For more information, check out the updated FamilyChristmasOnline.com? article "What do Trains Have to Do With Christmas? - Paul]

Trimming Dwarf Alberta Spruce April, 05

Jeff, from Jacksonville IL, writes:

Paul

. . . The reason I wrote you is that my wife has purchased 20 dwarf Alberta spruce trees and needs some suggestions on how to trim them. I have heard that you should remove every other row of branches. [Jeff had another question about breaking the branches off, which someone had told him to do, but my e-mail butchered that part of his note.]

Jeff:

About dwarf alberta spruce. There was a good article in Garden Railways a year or so ago. Basically, if you like the cone-shape and want it to stay that way, you get a pair of nippers of some kind (breaking branches is silly, you need them cut off up against the trunk so the bark can cover the stump in a year or two, instead of leaving a dead stick that rots and turns hollow and allows easy access for bugs). If you can, leave the tree in the pot for your first treatment; it makes it much easier to work on.

Starting at the bottom (usually), you remove about every other branch (not row). If you want the "windswept" pine look, I suppose, you could remove every other row as well, but for the sake of the tree's longterm health and appearance, every other branch is about right. Try a few of each, if you like, but the MOST important part is to thin out the branches within the rows, not just to thin out the rows. You'll notice that each ring of branches has several really strong branches, and a few really weak branches. If I have a choice between removing a big, tough branch, and a little wimpy branch, I'll save the little wimpy branch as long as it looks healthy--it'll take the tree that much longer to get fat there.

Also, the diameter of the tree is probably more than you want it to be, so on the branches that you leave, experiment with cutting branch tips back to healthy junctions. (I usually cut branches back as close to the trunk as I can and still have green needles on all the parts that are left. Some times that means cutting back several branch tips on the same branch, to get it even. This helps keep the narrow shape that you want--left on their own, Dwarf Alberta Spruces will eventually grow into a shape that looks like an apple wearing a dunce cap.)

Note: The tree people just take a miniature hedge trimmer or something along the surface to get an even shape. This works great to get the tree looking fine for sale. But when you cut a branch between junctions, the new growth almost always come out as two or more new branches, and the tree gets thicker faster than you want it to. It also forms a dense "outer shell" that shades the inner branches so that they lose all their needles, and you get to the point where you couldn't cut it back very far if you wanted to.

If you're worried about creating an unnatural look or otherwise interfering with nature, remember that Dwarf Alberta Spruces do NOT live in the wild. They couldn't. They produce two to three times as many branches as they need. Left untended, these thick extra branches draw spider mites and other animals that love dark, moist places, and will kill the trees. You want your Dwarf Albertas to have branches that are fairly "open." And don't worry about hurting the tree--even if you accidentally make a mess of one, it will need trimming again by next spring, and you can do any touch-up you need by then.

Good luck,

Paul

[Ed. note: We now have an article about choosing and caring for dwarf conifers. Click here for more information.

Getting Down to Brass Tracks - April, 05

Hello Mr. Race! I absolutely love your very informative website and links! This is something I've wanted to do for years, but didn't buy our first home until 3 years ago. Being settled into our home now & renovation projects done I would like to begin detailed research & purchasing some things now to begin the railroad garden no later than next year (we've got to replace our fence this year first which would disturb the rail system). With that being said, my question is this: Is brass the best track to use? If so, what kind of cleaning does it involve? and how frequently to keep the train running properly? (in my mind I'm comparing it to the arduous cleaning of my decor brass peices). I would like to have a lot of track but my job requires a lot of my time and energy, so may need to down size. Thank you in advance for your time reading and answering my inquiry.

Shelley

Stainless steel and nickel silver require even less cleaning than brass, but they're both more expensive and stainless is harder to work with with if you have to cut pieces, etc. That said, I clean my brass track about twice a year, taking a track-cleaning pad or super-fine Scotch sponge drywall sander to the top and inside of each rail. I have about three hundred feet of track and it takes me about an hour. I spend more time than that cutting back thyme and other plants that have encroached on the track, which I would have to do no matter what kind of track I had.

One key is using only metal wheels. Most rolling stock comes with metal wheels now, but if you start with a train with plastic wheels, consider changing to metal soon. The trains will run better because of smoother rolling and a lower center of gravity. And they'll sound better (because clickity-clack sounds better than thunkety-thunk). But even more important, metal wheels don't deposit black gunk on your track on hot days. (When I ran American Flyer trains indoors as a kid, 99% of what I cleaned off my track was black plastic powder, and plastic wheels make an even bigger mess outside when the track is hot to touch.)

Does the brass corrode? In a sense. The formulations used by LGB and AristoCraft (which I prefer because of its screw-together connectors) fade/corrode to brown within a couple of years, which makes the track look much more realistic. When you do your semiannual "wipe" with the track cleaning block, you'll be scraping that brown patina off the surface and inside edges of the rails and exposing the bright brass color again, but it will go back to a brown tone LONG before the track ceases to be conductive. Does the brass turn blue or grow warts or any of those things that brass decorations in your house do? No, because the formulations used are MUCH better. In our Western Ohio club are a few railroads that were started over 20 years ago, and I've never seen track that had to be replaced because of corrosion.

If you get a chance to visit any garden railroad older than five years, chances are you'll see what I'm talking about. I'm thinking that your climate is even a little dryer than ours, so you have even less to worry about than we do.

The only club I can find ANYWHERE near you is the Kansas City Garden Railway Society.

There is also a Tulsa club, the Tulsa Garden Railroad Club.

Either club may have open houses scheduled for this spring or may be aware of individuals closer to you who have garden railroads. I don't know anyone in either club, I'm afraid, so I can't vouch for them personally, although most garden railroad clubs are very helpful.

Sorry for the long answer to a simple question. Hope this helps,

Paul D. Race

Signcutters and Christmas Train Displays - March, 05

Brian, of greater St. Louis writes:

Paul Race, I work for Missouri Botanical garden in St Louis Mo, We began two years ago to create a train show for Christmas, Ten trains 2000 feet of track, 100 structures, etc. In making models we work with our labeling department, to cut out plastic windows in various sizes. They are computer programmed to a laser cutter and are very economical, plus they give us cast off plastics for bldg, material. I think your readers could contact a sign /engraving shop and get custom windows made rather cheaply. We cut all from white core /black material and spray paint in any color. A printing co also gives us huge sheets leftover from signs which are just like the styrene you buy in hobby shops and its free. Sometimes has trial posters on the back. Just a couple ideas. Thanks

Brian

Brian,

That's great. First of all, I'm glad the Mobot is letting you do this--a lot of zoos and botannical gardens talk about it and never get around to ever doing anything. Second, it's great that your sign dept has the tools and willingness to help you with these projects. BTW, are you saying they're giving you glazing or mullions/frames? Or both? Either way that's a very big help for you. Thanks for the tips, too. I'll try to get them into the relevant articles.

Now here's a creative question, have you seen Paul Busse's layouts? My friend Pete Wine who put together the Holiday Garden Railroads video works for Paul, and has been videotaping as he went. Paul is good at designing routes that aren't obvious--people used to trains running in a circle often express surprise when a train they expect to show up one place shows up someplace else instead. "Serious" railroaders call it a "spaghetti bowl," but for display layouts, it holds interest. Paul also likes having vertical dimension, which I'm sure you have plenty of, too.

If you don't know which video I'm talking about, there's a 45-second download at: the Media Moments site.

That said, Paul's other schtick, of using 90% natural materials, isn't as interesting to me as it is to some folks. Give me good solid, but realistic-looking models any day. :-)

Have a great day,

Paul

Track Questions - Jan., 05

John and Sandra write:

I am in the beginning process of setting up a Garden train. My idea is to have two settings, one outdoors, and one in the loft of our garage, that we call our barn.

I have purchased what I think is a starter set of a Bachmann 4-6-0 Silverton Train with track, transformer, and 2 cars. I also purchased 4 rolling stock made by Bachmann to go with it.

The first questions I have encountered are to do with track. Please suggest what track I should start with so I do not invest a lot and find out I am started in the wrong direction. It will be sometime before I go into a large layout, but one of some size is in the cards eventually.

Do you have a suggested place to buy? I do not have a hobby shop of signifcance for 100 miles.

I am reading many of the article on your site and will try my best to do my homework before asking a lot of questions.

Jon and Sandra,

Once you've scanned the articles in my site for a while, you'll notice that I frequently say to save the track that came with the train to go around the Christmas tree. In EVERY case, the radius is too small to look right outside, and in the case of Lionel and Bachmann track, the track isn't made to work outside anyway.

My preferred track is AristoCraft. It has little screws on the rail joiners that help the track to conduct electricity as well as making a better mechanical connection. Also, there are little screws on the bottom that make it ideal for running "jumper" lines to take extra power to the far side of the railroad to compensate for any weak connections. I have been satisfied with brass track overall; I doubt I've had to clean it much more often than I would have to clean stainless steel. If all of your rolling stock has metal wheels, the track will stay fairly clean, especially indoors. Out of doors, you still have to wipe pine sap, bird poop, etc. off the track once in a while anyway.

Within the Aristocraft family of track, you may still choose between "Euro" and "US" style track. The "Euro" track has fewer, larger ties. It matches LGB track pretty closely in appearance, and is supposed to represent trackage for old-time narrow gauge trains (such as the trains you have from Bachmann). (P.S., I'd consider most of your Bachmann trains closer to 1:22.5 than 1:24, but 1:24 accessories [say from a dollhouse company] will look great with them.) The "US" style track has more, smaller ties and represents the type of trackage used on mainlines in this country today. Whichever trackage you use, the most important thing is to try to be consistent. (My garden railroad is almost entirely "euro" since I started accumulating trackage before the US-style track came out. If I were starting now, I might go with the US-style trackage.

[Note: Since this e-maiil was written, the Garden Railroad Track Options page has been added. It explains all of these track choice issues in far more details than this e-mail.]

The other factor is space. For inside your garage's attic, you may have no choice but to use a small radius, but you're better off with a 5'-diameter minimum than with a 4' one, better off with 8'-diameter than 5' and so on. Trains run better and look better on wider turns. Outside, unless you have no room to speak of, consider 10'-diameter your minimum (15' is better--if I was starting all over again in my present space, I'd go with 15'-diameter curves or larger for the most part). Yes, I know that all of your Bachmann stuff WILL run on the 4'-diameter turns, but it will look so much better on 10'-diameter trackage you'll never want to go back. I know that this sounds like it will take up a LOT of space, but your expectations and sense of proportion get "reset" outside--see my article on outdoor garden railroading for indoor railroaders for an explanation of this phenomenon.

Arisocraft trackage is physically compatible with USA Trains and LGB trackage, so if for some reason you became an LGB fan or something in the future, your AristoCraft trackage would still work. (I like AristoCraft track better because of the superior connections, and also it's usually a little more reasonable in price--the quality otherwise is very comparable.)

So the short answer is, don't throw your Bachmann trackage away; you can even buy a few more pieces if you want for using indoors. But out of doors, go for solid rails, etc.

My personal favorite Large Scale train providers in the Midwest are Watts Trains, near Indianapolis and Davis Trains, in Milford, Ohio. [Note: Since this e-mail was written, the Garden Railroad Track Order Form page has been added. It contains recommendations for commonly used track pieces and links to online vendors.]

But which shop will be best for you depends on where you live. Also, if you tell me where you live, I MAY be able to get you in touch with a club that will help you learn what kind of construction, plants, etc., work best in your area.

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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