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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

Letters to the Editor, 2006

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 2006, 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 2006 Letters to the Editor

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Atlas O-Gauge Track Outside? - December, 06

After communicating me about O-gauge track that can be used outdoors, Matt Jackson writes to tell me what he's learned:

The Atlas-O track (2-rail and 3-rail) now have UV-stabilized plastic ties and nickel-silver rails. They're suitable for outdoor use. There's an outdoor O gauge 3-rail layout in the Santa Barbara area that has this track. I'm trying to get a handle on the location and contact info to arrange a visit.

MTH also has ScaleTrax which I believe is also UV-stabilized. I'm checking on that. It's a little tricky to work with because it uses an odd method of joining track, but I've been told that you can use modified Atlas 2-rail track joiners to get around this.

I'm trying to find a local source (Southern California/Los Angeles area) for HDPE lumber. Trex lumber isn't a a good substitute because it contains wood and isn't as flexible as the HDPE. Whether I go outdoors or not, I like the thought of using HDPE lumber for "spline" style roadbed. Happy Holidays - Matt

Matt,

Thanks for getting back to me. You shouldn't have to be "pioneering," based on all the interest there is, but the manufacturers are slow to listen. . . . One of these days, the manufacturers will catch on that there are a lot of folks out there with some flavor of O that wouldn't mind running it outside on a dry day. . . .

You're right about Trex, it's not as good period, but it's not nearly as good on curves tighter than, say 8' diameter.

Photos, please - Paul

What to Run on O Gauge Aluminum Track Outside? - December, 06

Bill Ford asks:

I currently have an 0 gauge aluminum track outside and I'm looking for a battery powered train...do you have any ideas?

Bill,

Do you have trains that run outside on that Aluminum track, or did you inherit the trackage without the trains when you moved in?

Also, is it 3-rail or 2-rail. If it's three-rail track and properly insulated, you COULD run Lionel electric trains on it (as long as you didn't leave them in out for hour on end or leave them in damp conditions).

If it's TWO rail track, are you certain it's O-gauge (about 1.25" between rails)? If it's G gauge (about 1.75" between the rails), a cheap New Brite battery set will work on it.

All commercially-manufactured O-gauge trains run on electric current. Some guys do experiment with battery power/remote control, but that's an expensive add-on that might not be necessary.

Sorry I'm not more specific, but if I had a better idea of exactly what you have and exactly what you're looking for, I can give you more specific information. > Paul Race

Expanding From a Loop? - November, 06

Lee Ann, of Springville, Utah, writes:

We have an oval loop installed in the back yard. We'd like to expand, eventually, to take over most of the yard, but I'm not too clear on how to design a track plan that's fancier than our oval--especially one that could be implemented in stages. Is there a book or other resource that could take us step by step through that process?

Oh, and thanks for the "trashbashing" articles! We got 4 future structures at the thrift shop for $16!

Lee Ann, I've been trying to think of resources I could send you to for answers to your question. YEARS ago, Kalmbach published a book or indoor railroaders called "The HO railroad that Grows," ISBN # 0890245150

If you can scrounge one up, that may give you some ideas. But basically, as I recall, it's a loop that keeps getting other things added on. Some folks would say just to multiply everything by three, which is mathematically valid. But whenever you use an "indoor track plan" for operation, remember that it's a lot easier to reach the middle of a 3'-diameter loop than it is to reach the middle of a 10'-diameter loop. Keeping turnouts and most of the mainline within reach of the operator in case you need to fiddle with something or rerail a train adds a layer of complication that most folks don't consider until they wind up repeatedly having to stand on or clamber over their railroad like a cautious Godzilla or King Kong.

If you look at my track plan, you'll see that it started as a relatively small loop and went on to become a sort of dogbone. Not that I did it as well as I could have. If I was doing it again, I'd probably try to come up with something more creative for the addition. But I had some 60' to work with and I wanted to work with it.

Have you seen my article on planning a railroad for viewer interest? That has a few track plans that might get you thinking.

If, for example, you could make your existing loop into one "end loop" of the "folded dogbone" (the last one I show), that might give you some ability to add a VERY interesting extension. Whether you could keep your loop operating at the same time depends on whether you have room for turnouts that would allow you to add your "extension" on while you maintained operations on your existing loop like I did on mine.

Another possiblity would be to use your present loop as it is, and add a more elaborate track plan of some sort around it. This is especially useful for folks whose first railroad uses a circle of "tight" curves. When they add a railroad based on 10' or larger curves around it, they can use their original loop for an industrial (mining, etc.) or traction (trolley) line.

If I had better understanding of your present railroad and where it sits in relation to the part you want to use as an expansion, I might be able to think of something more inspired or more suitable for your situation. Do you have any drawings or area photos of your back yard you could e-mail me?

Regarding the trashbashing projects, try to replace any masonite or chipboard with plexiglass or something before the project goes outside. And please make certain the outer surfaces of your project are absolutely clean before you spray them. I hope to add more details and examples to my article on painting plastic buildings within the next year, but things keep getting in my way.

Have a great holiday season. - Paul

Moving a Railroad from Ireland to Colorado - November, 06

Chris Reid, of Colorado (lately of Ireland) writes:

I'm transferring an Irish garden railway to CO. I bring with me Tenmille flex track with GRS turnouts (handmade). What should I be looking at in USA to match? Thanks for any information you can provide. I was assuming Aristo but was not sure of flexible track/rail/ ties makeup - presumably these come separately??? Thanks, Chris

Chris

This may sound overly simplistic, but I need to know how HIGH your Tenmille rails are. AristoCraft and LGB are the highest rails made for garden trains running on 45mm track. Both companies' "flextrack" solution consists of selling rail and tie strips separately. They are Code 332, which actually JUST means that the rails are .332" tall.

Several other brands are Code 250, which is to say 1/4" high. A good example would be Llagas Creek track, which uses aluminum Code 250 rail. AMS brass flextrack, which was recently introduced, also is getting good reviews. It is possible to find track with rails that are even smaller, so if your existing rails seem smaller than 1/4" try to get as precise a measurement as you can and e-mail me back.

Now here's the other complication. Almost all Code .332 rail has the same profile, that is it will fit in the same tie strips, use the same rail joiners, etc. But Code 250 rail varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. That means you might have to fudge a bit at the rail joints if you add, say, AMS flextrack to your existing track.

If your Tenmille track is Code 332, you probably need to get your hands on some AristoCraft "euro" track and see how you like it. That uses the same tie spacing and the same rail profile as LGB, but its rail joiners make a better connection. If you can't come by a couple pieces just to see how they interact with your track, order a loop of something with the idea that you can always use it for a trolley or something freestanding if you're not satisfied with the fit to your Tenmille track. Unfortunately, some of AristoCraft's wider radius turnouts are hard to come by in "euro" (narrow gauge) tie spacing, but LGB turnouts DO work with AristoCraft track.

You WILL need a railbender if you buy AristoCraft "flextrack." Some folks get by for a few years with track that they've nailed right to a substantial roadbed, but it will always have that tension.

Please let me know what you wind up using. And photos of your progress (whenever that occurs)

Best of luck - Paul

[Note: Chris wrote me back to say that his Tenmille track was the same height as LGB, but a different width at the base. He had used LGB with his Tenmille rail by filing down the width of the LGB rail to match the width of the Tenmille rail. Chris also assured me that he already has a railbender and will try to get ahold of someo Aristo Euro track to see what he thinks. - ed]

Is Buddy L Back In Business? - November, 06

Reggie Rodman, of Arvada, Colorado, wrote

Can anyone there tell me about Buddy L limited edition set? Is this a regular G scale set up?

Thanks for your time and effort - Reggie

[Note: The following response was made after trying to contact the company in question and not being able to find any trace of support for the product. Even the "official site" of the company that made these: (www.buddyltoytrains.com) has gone away. If I have misstated anything, please contact me with corrections, etc.]

Reggie,

The Buddy L Limited edition set is NOT made by the people that made the famous Buddy L trains many decades ago. As far as I can determine, someone acquired the trademark and began marketing these trains in the name of a previously revered manufacturer. According to some folks who have handled them, the trains seem to be Bachmann Big Hauler knockoffs (with some differences like a few metal parts that are plastic on the Bachmanns). They WILL run on Large Scale track (45mm) like LGB or Bachmann Big Hauler. Some people who've gotten them for a relatively inexpensive price mail-order have been reasonably satisfied. I'd personally rather spend money on a train from a real company that operates under its own brand name and provides service and accessories. If you're looking for a fairly inexpensive train, you can't do better than Bachmanns like the ones featured on the Bachmann Starter Sets page.

Of course Bachmann track can't be used outdoors, so I recommend Aristo track to everybody. I also recommend using track that's 10' in diameter if possible.

I notice you're already into HO. If that means that you like to model standard gauge trains, you might be more satisfied in the long run with trains from AristoCraft, USA, or MTH. A few AristoCraft starter sets are shown on the Starter Set page. The trains on that page aren't big, but they are standard gauge, and I've run several of the little 0-4-0 for many, many hours without problems. The "free" remote control doesn't hurt my feelings either.

Hope this helps, please let me know if you have any more questions - Paul

What Products Can I Use Outdoors? - October, 06

Cheryl, from Metairie, Louisiana, writes:

I am in the beginning part of building an outside landscape train model, and I am not sure about what type of products to use on the outside that would hold up in the weather?

Cheryl,

Greetings. I spent much of December, 1999 in your neck of the woods working on a project on a branch campus of Tulane. Got REAL spoiled by fresh shrimp. On the other hand, we now know never to take a Chevy Suburban across the Huey P. Long Bridge again. Hope all is well and that your neighborhood is in full recovery.

By products that hold up in the weather, are you asking about trains, buildings, supports? All of the "garden train" brands are made to be moisture resistant, but I wouldn't leave them out in the rain all year long. More importantly, they are also UV-resistant, so they won't fade and turn brittle like unprotected plastic, although storing them in the shade when they're not actually running won't hurt them either.

There USED to be a professional garden railroad in either the Botannical or the Zoological gardens down there (sorry, I don't remember which). I think I heard that the railroad has been restored. If you get a chance to visit, it will give you many ideas. At any rate, they use mostly LGB trains, which none of my vendors sell, unfortunately. However, the AristoCraft and Bachmann Large Scale trains listed on my site are also UV-protected and weather-resistant

Even more important, both LGB and AristoCraft track pieces are weatherproof and UV-protected. I prefer AristoCraft track because it makes a better connection and it's easy to run jumper wires between sections using the little screws on the bottom. AristoCraft starter sets also come with a small remote control that will work inside and outside, unless your railroad gets huge (over 50' from end to end).

Regarding buildings, all buildings made by AristoCraft, Piko, Pola, and Colorado Models are made to stand up to heat, sun, and rain. That said, buildings that are painted will look better longer than buildings that are not painted - the paint adds another layer of UV protection. So the AristoCraft 7200 and 7201 station, which are painted and assembled, could go right out onto your railroad. On the other hand, if you buy a kit that you have to put together, plan on painting it first for the best weather protection.

The AristoCraft "built up" stations are the first two buildings on the Garden Train Store's Structure page.

People who build buildings from "scratch" tend to use cedar - if you don't stand the building in water, it will hold up pretty well overall.

Regarding railroad support, you can use pressure-treated 2x6s or HDPE plastic lumber - look at the articles in the Construction section of my Primer page for more information. Most people who build trestles use cedar, but the sad fact is, if you bury the base, it will rot off anyway, so on some railroads, the trestle is more-or-less cosmetic with the top actually supported by a 2x4 or something and the base "floating" free in dry gravel for drainage.

Landscaping materials for retaining walls, etc., are all the same as for any landscaping project.

Hope this helps - please let me know if I missed anything. Have a great holiday seasion - Paul

[Note: Cheryl e-mailed me back and said that, yes her neighborhood was recovering, though slowly, and the information I sent her was just what she needed. - ed]

Wooden Bridge Construction and Design Information - October, 06

Ted Anderson, of Eugene Oregon, writes:

I am interested in Bridge Construction using Redwood &/or WRcedar. Also designs for bridges as I am designing a modified figure 8 with three over/under crossings.

Ted,

The best SINGLE resource I know of for this sort of thing is the Garden Textures site. They have plans and complete kits for any number of unique wooden bridges.

Many of the plans have been published over the years in Garden Railways magazine, but of course finding them would be interesting. If you have a friend with a lot of back issues, he may have some bridge plans worth looking at, though.

The Garden Textures site that has most of the bridge kits and plans listed is:

If you contact them, please let them know I sent you.

I'm planning on an article about building trestles, but that's not nearly as complex a subject. If you have Jack Verducci's new book, there's a little bit about trestles in that.

Hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions at all, and let me know how things progress - Paul.

Using HDPE Decking for Roadbed? - October, 06

Jim Carter, of Wichita, writes

Would the ladder system work satisfactorily using 5/4ths thick Everlast [hdpe] instead of "2x4" [actual 2x4?]? My home deck is built with the 5/4ths x 6" decking material and I have a number of eight foot lengths remaining. The lengths would be cut at the 3/4" widths for stringers. The length of the 1" and 2" locks would be cut to 2" as proscribed. Thanks.

Jim, I've seen garden railroads built with composite (HDPE and sawdust) 5/4"x6" pieces. In each case, the roadbed was supported by backfilled soil and sitting in gravel/ballast. Those seemed fine. In any case, the horizontal dimension should be fairly strong, but the vertical dimension would be weak so it would require more support than you see in the example photographs in the article.

To get a second opinion, I contacted Bill Logan, the architect who designed the is system and has installed several. He agrees with me that the horizontal strength would still be pretty good, but the vertical strength would be seriously compromised. Bill agrees that if you are going to backfill so that these are resting on "ballast" in soil, the vertical strength isn't as important. Otherwise Bill recommends vertical support every 12", not 18" or more as the article shows with the 2"x4" solution.

That said, this gives you some options, and if you're careful, the finished installation should be very usable and attractive.

Please let me know how things turn out (photos would help, too), as I suspect there are other folks with the same question. Best of luck - Paul

The Future Worth of LGB Trains - October, 06

[This note came right after I sent out an announcement that LGB had resumed manufacturing after a couple weeks of financial termoil in September, 2006 - Ed.]

Phil, of Chicago, writes

I've seen tons of LGB on Ebay, are people already selling and switching to a different brand of G scale. I wonder if I should hold on to mine.

Phil,

Your LGB trains won't lose their value - some folks were probably hoping the price on used or collectible-quality LGB would peak due to rumors of the company's demise. If you're satisfied with your LGB, hang on to it and run it. If anything REALLY changes at LGB, the value of your trains will go up, not down.

As far as owning and running LGB trains is concerned, 90% of the service, etc. that is provided to North American LGB owners is provided by a separate company (LGBoA) that shouldn't be affected by anything that happens at the manufacturing company (EPL). So you should be able to get parts and service for many years to come, and you are already running the most reliable trains in their class.

The only reason garden railroaders who own any significant amount of LGB actually sell it and switch to a different brand is if they started with one kind of train (say European Meter Gauge or 19-century US Narrow Gauge) and they decide later to model a different kind of railroad altogether (say US Modern Standard Gauge, which other companies support better than LGB does). There ARE some folks who dabble in LGB for the collector's value only, but you don't want to follow their lead, because they make choices that don't really apply to garden railroaders.

Hope this makes sense, and that you enjoy your trains for decades to come. - Paul

Getting A Train to Perth In Time for Christmas - October, 06

Margaret, in Perth, Western Australia, writes:

I am in Western Australia. I would love to have a train running around my garden for xmas; it is just the postage that I need to know about. Hope you can help me. Thanks.

Margaret, I have a long-distance friend who lives in Perth also. My other Aussie friends tell me that if something hasn't left the docks here by Sept 1 it's not likely to get to you by Christmas. However my friend says that says he has had good luck with Stanbridges Hobbies in Guilford Road Mount Lawley. I've also copied him on this e-mail. If you still want to try to get something from the US, I'll be glad to work with you, but I think it will probably end up costing more if you have to have it flown to you in time for Christmas. And you might as well get a chance to see what you're getting up close.

If you stop by Stanbridges, tell them we sent you. Best of luck - Paul

Why Does My Train Run Better on Curves? - September, 06

Walter Steinle, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, writes:

This is my first G scale train layout and I have found that (and I don't yet have a reason) my engine picks up power just fine on the 10 and 15 ft diameter curves but has real trouble getting power on the straight track. I'm not blaming the track itself yet but I was wondering if you have seen this before? I cleaned the track and very soon (hours) later the straight track is giving me trouble.

Walter,

First of all, does all of your rolling stock have metal wheels? Plastic wheels leave a gummy powder that has to be wiped off of tracks after several hours of operation. Toy train manufacturers don' t care, since most people only run toy trains an hour or so at a time, but it makes a big difference on a garden railroad, especially on hot days when the track is sitting in the sun. That's one reason most major garden railroading manufacturers provide only metal wheels these days. (Other reasons include a lower center of gravity for more reliable running and a clickety-clack sound instead of a thumpity-thump sound.)

With all metal wheels you should only have to clean the track two to four times a year (depending on amount of rain, pine sap, etc., you get in your RR). I'm usually good with one good "spring cleaning" and an occasional wipedown where a patch of track has gone less conductive because of ant or snail trails, raccoon pee, or even a blade of grass or bit of weed that's been smashed by the train and the juices have gummed up the railhead.

The reason your train performs better on the curves may be that centrifugal force is combining with drag to force the flanges on the locomotive's pickup wheels into firmer contact with the inner edge of the railhead. On a straightaway, the "slope" of the locomotives wheel causes your loco to ride in the center of the track, so the flanges seldom hit and there is less surface area to conduct electricity.

And, of course, the less surface area to conduct electricity, the more arc-ing on the pickup wheels, which means they need cleaned more often . . . etc.

Now if I've missed my guess and you HAVE all metal wheels, there may be something in your environment (unusual amounts of dust or tree goop or something) that is causing the problem. You might try getting an AristoCraft track cleaning car, and running it on a "preventative" basis every couple hours of operation. I don't feature it on my site, since few people really need it once they've gone to metal wheels. Pay attention to what kind of stuff is building up on the cleaning pads, though, it may be something that you can change once you know what it is. Here's AristoCraft's page on the thing:

http://www.aristocraft.com/catalog/rollingstock/trackcleaningcar/index.html

Let me know if the above suggestions don't work out for you and I'll help you narrow down the problem further. - Paul

Note: In subsequent e-mails we determined that Walter's train is partially under some sort of nut tree - I've noticed that some nut trees give off a fine mist of sap in the fall - if you park your car under them you'll notice microscopic sticky spots coating it when you come out. In my case, I recently came out to find a bunch of yellow jackets licking the stuff off my PT Cruiser. How wierd is that? At any rate, that seems to be a seasonal problem and shouldn't plague Walter all year round. Also, he's made a home-made track cleaning car that seems to be helping.

What Are My LGB Switches Worth? - September, 06

Terry Jackson writes:

Paul, can you give me a rough idea what to sell a couple of LGB electric switches for. They are still in the box and haven never been used. price on box says $49.95 and I bought them 5 or 6 years ago. I am going to try and sell them at [a Large Scale get-together] next week and just wonder what they are worth. 1205 and 1215 switches.

Terry,

These are handly little switches, especially for someone running shortie equipment or with limited space. The switch machines are better than AristoCraft's so I'd recommend them to anybody in terms of usefulness and reliability. That said, I prefer 1600 or wider turnouts, and I'm not alone, so the demand for these isn't what it could be. You can get these from big mail-order places for about $32 apiece, so from a private seller would be a little less. Certainly $25 apiece would be a very fair price. You might do better swapping them for something someone else has that's in the $60+ price range, though. But don't trade for something ELSE you don't want.

Of course, even though you wouldn't put the curved side of the turnout on the mainline (a bad practice anyway), you could always pop these into your RR somewhere just to give you more operational possibilities later. I have at least two turnouts of this radius operating on my RR - I use those sidings for ore cars or some such that are appropriate for that radius.

Hope this helps - Paul

What Are My LGB Trains Worth? - September, 06

Sue Katz, of Baltimore, MD, writes:

Hi, we just came into a collection of new Lehmann trains, some new in box - we don't know where to get pricing to sell these items. The one on my desk is a B&O 4643 engine with the following info on the bottom sticker: OK 901048 LGB and stamped into the plastic LGB by Lehmann 1989 made in Germany

Can you possibly help us? Are you a dealer or do you maintain a list of people who might be interested in purchasing? We also have boxes of model circus trains and related items that we haven't even opened!

Thank you for any assistance you may be able to offer. Even a lead sending us somewhere else would be appreciated.

Thanks again - Sue

Sue,

The first thing is to put together an inventory listing manufacturer and product ID and a one-line description. Put condition also. If anything is sealed in the box, leave it. Otherwise if it looks like it's never been run, put "like new," if it looks like it's been run a bit but otherwise looks new, put "excellent condition" and so on. I'll be glad to circulate such an inventory to folks to see what they think. You can also check with www.Wattstrainshop.com or other large LGB dealers, as they often know of collectors, and some of them have collectors working for them.

That said, you may get the best possible pricing (although it's a hassle if you haven't done it before) if you post the items individually on EBay. The collectors watch those pages and they do tend to bid up to the real street value of the things. You might also check Amazon and see what the latest "Greenberg's Guide" to LGB is. Obviously if it was published after some of the trains you have, that won't help you all that much.

Hope this helps, please let me know what you decide - Paul Race

Have Tracks, Need REALLY BIG Trains - August, 06

Chris says:

Paul, I just purchased some property that has [quite a bit of track]. . . . The track is 16'' on center 6 gage rails. I am looking for a source to puchase a engine and a few cars to ride around the family and friends. I am not looking for a steamer type engine but some thing more current looking. Thank you for your help. Chris

Chris,

Is it possible that there is 14" BETWEEN the rails? Railroad gauges are measured from one inside edge to the other, not center to center. If you have a 14" railroad, that's a common scale for Live Steam, about 1/4 the size of the real thing.

One 1/4-sized railroad I've ridden on is the Junction Valley Railroad in Michigan. They used to sell the 1/4-sized trains they made, including "diesel" engines, but I don't see anything about selling the really big trains on their web site today.

In addition, the Live Steaming site has a list of clubs. You may be able to find someone in your area who knows someone who can help you get the items you need. Some Live Steam club members also have gasoline-powered trains for the days when they just want to give their grandkids a ride around the track or whatever.

Please let me know what you discover. And if you could give me some idea where you live, I might be able to put you in touch with regional resources. For example Dayton, Ohio has a very active Live Steam club that has helped people with similar requests. Believe it or not, you're not the first person with this kind of question.

Best of luck - Paul

Inclement Weather - August, 06

Chris Burton writes:

What do you about inclement weather?

Chris,

The track is made to stay outside, rain or shine, winter or summer indefinitely. And the roadbed, plants, retaining walls, etc. are all "borrowed" from "regular" landscaping so no special provision has to be made for them.

Most of us leave the buildings and accessories (like figures) outside during the whole operating season (summer in Ohio, winter in Florida). But very few of us leave the trains outside between "operating sessions" (in layman's terms this means that we take them in when we are done running them and we take them back outside when we want to run them). Many people build a route of some sort by which they can run their trains right into their garage or basement at the end of the day, and back them out again in the morning, rather than having to schlep them in and out. For folks who generally run only short trains, the schlep isn't a hassle. I have a little tunnel that a very short train can sit under and be out of the rain - some years I have left a short train under the tunnel so I could run trains at a moments notice.

A word about buildings and accessories such as figures: The buildings and accessories made for garden railways are weather-resistant and UV-resistant. Most folks take their figures in at the end of the season. About half leave their buildings out all year long. I generally bring my buildings in around Christmas and clean them up before I set them out sometime after Easter.

Although you can put together buildings right out of the box, I've noticed that the plastic (especially on white parts) begins to yellow after a few years, especially if they're in direct sunlight much of the day or if they're left out all year long. I paint all of my buildings (even the ones that come molded in nice colors), and they stand up much better to being left out all year long (which I have done a couple of times). That said, I've seen many plastic structures that were left out all year long for upwards of ten years that were still attractive and useful. Shade during the summer, and especially during the hottest parts of the day seem to contribute to longevity.

My article on Painting Plastic Structures explains what I do to protect my buildings:

Some folks who build their own buildings from weather-resistant materials such as cedar design them to be left out all year long. And I've seen several such that have survived for ten or fifteen years.

A long answer to a short question, I know, but it was an important question. Please let me now how your plans are coming, and I will point you to any resources I can.

Best of luck - Paul

Have Track Need Train - August, 06

Dan writes:

I bought a house with a Koi pond and surrounding the pond is a garden train track, the previous owners took the cars and I cannot remember what scale the train tracks are, I also need a transformer. How do I measure for the scale of the track etc? Please advise! - Dan

Dan,

Lots of people would love to be in the fix you're in, especially if the track and pond are in good condition. The easy part is to measure the track from the inside of one rail to the inside of the other. 99% of all trains running outdoors today run on track that has rails 45mm apart (about 1 3/4"). If that's what you have then any Large Scale trains will work for you and you just have to decide what kind of trains you want to see running around your koi pond. (If you have a different measurement, say 1.25", I can advise you there, too.)

Back to "Large Scale" trains, if the rails of your track are 45mm apart, any of the trains on the "Garden Trains Starter Set" page would work. The AristoCraft trains are very solid and come with a remote control. (I personally have mostly AristoCraft, because they make the kind of 20th-century mainline trains I like to run.)

The Bachmann trains are big and bright and are especially good values. A few more Bachmann trains are shown on the "Bachmann Starter Set" page. I have a few of these, too, that I run when I feel like running some "old-timey" trains.

All of these "starter sets" come with a little circle of track that's probably too small to use outside, but you can use it around your Christmas tree or whatever. In addition BOTH kinds come with a power supply that should work on a small railroad (although you would want to bring it in at night).

If you feel like you'd like a station or some other buildings, check out the "Buildings for Garden Railroads" page. The AristoCraft Built-Up Passenger Station and Freight Depo are both very good buys that will give your trains a reason to go from A to B.

For more information you need to get started, check out the "Garden Railroading Primer" articles. The Go Outside and Run Your Trains article is a good place to start.

If you can e-mail me a digital photo and give me the approximate measurements of the loop of track, I may be able to advise you more specifically.

Also, is your pond in good health? Let me know if you have algae issues or whatever. The most important thing is to keep water circulating while you figure out what else (if anything) your pond needs for now. Also if you're in an area where the seasons change and you have lots of trees, Buildings and Bridges for Garden Railroadsyou might want to keep your eye out for a net you can stretch across your pond during leaf-falling season. It won't keep everything out, but should keep enough out to keep the decaying leaves from poisoning the water or using up all the oxygen. Again, a photo and a better idea of where you live would be extremely helpful.

Hope this helps; please let me know how things are going. Above all else, we want to help beginning garden railroaders get started off "on the right foot."

Best of luck - Paul

Kits for Trains and Buildings? - August, 06

Karl Deissler writes:

I am new to garden railroading. I would like info on how to make my own LGB size track. I would also like to build some cars (LGB) from kits. Also some buildings from kits. Thanks for any help you could supply. - Karl

Karl,

Sorry for taking a while to get back to you, but you've asked a question I haven't been asked since maybe 1984, and I wanted to think about my answer a while and do a little research. It would help to know why you're interested in making your own track and in building your cars and buildings from kits. Do you like the improved realism or are you trying to save money? I've provided answers that address both issues.

Track Issues - Some folks make their own track because they think it looks better. You can buy code 250 or code 332 rail (the kind LGB uses) from a bunch of sources, decide what size ties you need, cut some bits of cedar fencing or somthing into ties and go from there. If the issue is financial, then shop around. Llagas Creek is a good source of code 250 flextrack that is pretty reasonable in price. They also sell the rail separately if you want to use it to make your own track. Don't use anything smaller than code 250 track for LGB trains. In fact, if you plan to use LGB switches, you probably want to use code 332 brass rails for your track. Those are available from LGB, AristoCraft, and several other sources.

Building issues - If you're mostly interested in saving money on buildings, consider starting with the Colorado Model Structures. These are heavy-duty plastic models that may take a little more work than some of the more expensive plastic models, but they look nice when assembled and painted properly, they are great sources for kitbashing parts, and they are ridiculously inexpensive. If, on the other hand, you're interested in beautiful craftsman hand-built-looking buildings, you'll find some top of the line wooden kits at Garden Textures. The Garden Textures plans are frequently featured in Garden Railways magazines. Their kits require some skill, but the results are beautiful. ( http://www.gardentexture.com ) You can buy just the plans, or buy the plans and the doors and windows you need (if you already have the lumber) or buy everything in one kit, or buy lumber supplies or doors and windows separately.

About car kits: At the "low end" if you're thinking about saving money: for a while Bachmann Big Hauler (an expensive line in a size similar to LGB) sold "kits" of some of its cars. The kits were basically unassembled, unpainted versions of their "finished" cars, complete with molded "shells," etc. They haven't sold them in quite a while but you might still find a few somewhere. Of course you could get almost the same effect by buying an unfinished Bachmann car and taking the shell off. At the "high end": is Hartford Products. The company recently changed hands so I don't know if everything in the catalog is actually available at the moment. But they've offered some great car kits in the past. They're not cheap, though. Hartford also offers many parts for scratchbuilding your own cars.

Hope this is enough information to get you started. Please let me know more specifically what you're looking to accomplish by building kits, and I may be able to point you toward even more suitable resources.

Best of luck - Paul

DCS Outside? - August, 06

Aubrey Stapleton, of Pennington gap, Virginia, writes:

I have a few questions since I have only had 0 gauge trains....I want to put a train outside...I want to go bigger. Is G the biggest scale they are or are there larger ones? Can you get them in dcs like the mth and lionel systems? Can you direct me to online stores where I can pick the logo railroad I want? Thanks - Aubrey

Aubrey,

If you want Large Scale trains with DCS, you're in luck. MTH makes them. They make a Hudson, a Dash-8, a Challenger, and a mess of other pieces. The MTH trains are 1:32 which makes them slightly smaller than the more popular AristoCraft trains, which are 1:29, but as long as you don't park them next to each other, nobody will notice.

AristoCraft's current trains come DCC-ready. DCC is an "open" system similar to DCS except that other brands run on it. (MTH is the only brand that runs on DCS at the moment) .

One of the companies that sells accessories for me carries the full line of AristoCraft: The AristoCraft home page is at www.aristocraft.com. If you want to learn more about MTH trains for garden railroads, check out their 1 Gauge web site.

Hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions - we're always glad to help people get started off "on the right foot."

Best of luck - Paul

Electrical Safety Question - August, 06

Phil, of Chicago, writes:

I have a small garden railroad with two LGB trains that produce smoke. Right now I am using the transformer that came with the starter kit and using this in my outside railroad garden. but I am using a extension cord. Probably not a good idea. Is there something I can use that would be safe, maybe battery power or r/c controller? any suggestions would be helpful. Thank you.

Phil, FIRST OF ALL, is the extension cord plugged into a GFI-protected outlet?

If it is and you bring your power pack in between session, you're reasonably safe. I hope you are using at least a 16-gauge extension cord (14-gauge is better - look for "workshop" cords meant to handle lathes and such).

The electricity between your power supply and the track is almost harmless - you'd be more likely to get a dangerous shock from your car battery. Some people have the transformer (the part with all the coils that "steps" the current down from 110v to 18v) inside and the rheostat (the part with the knob) outside. The rectifier (the part that converts from AC to DC) can be either place. Several companies, including AristoCraft/Crest make nice 3- to 10-amp "power supplies" that convert the AC to DC and step down the voltage. You can put that inside your train shed if you have one, then put the rheostat someplace dry near the railroad on a long cord so you can fish it out when you want to run trains (both LGB and AristoCraft/Crest make fancy rheostats that are meant to be used this way. LGB's is shaped sort of like a building and meant to be left outside, although most people who do that cover it from the rain between sessions. AristoCraft's has built-in pulse power, "inertia," and other features.

My article about electrical safety in the garden may give you some other ideas about the 110v part of the equation.

My article about Large Scale Power and Control may help you wade through the remote control choices.

If you can afford it, the AristoCraft/Crest track-powered TE system is a good way to get into basic remote control without wiring your locomotives or installing batteries. The "Train Engineer" basic is an expensive way to get started in a very small railroad, but the ART-5470 is the number for a transmitter and receiver pair that are much more powerful. (They are also sold separately).

George Shreyer's web page tells you more about Train Engineer than you'll ever want to know.

Back to your extension cord, as long as you are reasonably cautious, you have it on a GFI, you have at least a 16gauge cord (14 is better), and you don't let little kids play with the wiring, you'll be safe enough for a while; so you don't have to rush into anything. Hope this helps.

Please let me know if you have any other questions. - Paul Race

AMS Flextrack Questions - July, 06

James R. Van Winkle, of Duncan, South Carolina, writes:

I am thinking flex track for our layout (15 foot diameter curves - about 120 foot total length). St Aubens advertises flex that does not require rail benders. Do you know anything about that product? I suspect it is similar to that for HO and N scale. Any comments/suggestions?

James, First of all, thanks for getting in touch. I get many of my article ideas from reader questions, so I'm always glad to hear from people in any stage of the process. I just poked around the St. Aubins site to see what kind of track you're referring to. As you may have noticed, their site organization isn't altogether intuitive. For example AMS track, which you're probably referring to, isn't listed under Track, but it is listed under Accucraft, the company that makes AMS. Accucraft/AMS is a VERY reputable supplier. Moreover, Kevin Strong, a frequent contributor to Garden Railways, has used AMS code 250 brass track on his own railroad. In fact, he wrote a series of articles in this year's Garden Railways that you may find interesting. Kevin gives it a "thumbs" up in terms of quality. However he DOES say that, although you CAN use AMS code 250 brass track without a railbender, he recommends using a railbender if possible. Other folks have said the same thing about Llagas Creek Code 250 aluminum, which is even easier to bend.

To me it comes down, in part, to what kind of roadbed you're using. If you'll be fastening Code 250 track to 2x6" pieces or some other very solid roadbed, you can pretty much get by without a railbender. On the other hand, if you plan to "float" the track in ballast or to use Bill Logan's HDPE Flexible Roadbed method, you'll get a more reliable infrastructure if you use a railbender so that the track is not "fighting" your roadbed.

Another issue is turnouts. Do you plan to have many? Few turnouts are available for Code 250 track yet, and the ones that are available are more expensive than the ones available for Code 320 track (and THAT's saying something). On the other hand if you're only going to have a few turnouts at first (or maybe to have your "freight yard" in code 320 and the rest of your railroad in code 250), that won't be as big an issue. Hope this gives you enough information to decide what is right for you. If I've overlooked something, or made a false assumption about which kind of track you were looking at, please let me know. Also please keep me appraised of your progress.

Best of luck, Paul Race

Flextrack Questions - July, 06

Walter Steinle, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, writes:

I would like more information on brass flex track - how to bend it, what it costs. I'm looking at starting a garden railroad and like the ability to adjust curves to suit the area.

Walter,

If you don't need many turnouts and you're planning on supporting the track very well (say by 2x6 boards), you can save money by using Code 250 aluminum flextrack like that by Llagas Creek. With Llagas Creek track some folks don't even bother using a railbender, especially if they have a very solid roadbed to fasten the track to, although most makers of aluminum rail recommend it.

If you want the ultimate in rigid track (for example, if it's in a place where people may be walking on it, etc., brass code 332 rail is good, code 332 stainless steel is the ultimate in high durability and low maintenance.

AristoCraft sells code 332 rails for flextrack that are 8' long (product #20035 for stainless steel or 20035 for brass); you buy the tie strips separately by the foot (#30033). Some product descriptions are at the AristoCraft track page.

Other companies have similar products, of course. With any code 332 track you have to have a railbender (and it's recommended for code 250 track, although you may get away without one if you are using a 2x6" roadbed such as that described in the Building a Simple Raised Railroad article).

Also, did you see my article on "Flextrack and Railbenders?" There's a lot of detail in that article that might answer questions you haven't thought of yet.

The AristoCraft railbender will bend their brass or steel rails. If you order a railbender, make certain you order the right "version", for code 250 or Code 332.

Please let me know how things progress - Paul

Thanks Again - July, 06

Joe Bova writes:

Joe, Thanks for the nice comments. I don't have room to post all of your photos, but this one gives the general idea (click on it for a "blowup"). Keep us posted - Paul

Notes about Lionel and Bachmann Large Scale - June, 06

Mike Connor, of Texas, writes:

I guess the smartest thing I've ever done was discover your website and 'built up' the track roadbed (on the top AND the bottom track). and absorbed your other articles too. I have acquired about a dozen engines (all steam) with about twenty passenger and freight cars .I'm a little partial to Bachmann and Lionel because of their customer support. I have had about three 4-6-0 engines 'redone' by Bachmann along with various parts and accessories from their Philadelphia plant and on every occasion I was treated like a valued customer. The same goes for Lionel..I have practically rebuilt two of their 0-6-0 engines with their prompt delivery of parts. They have a great customer support crew (considering the fact that they are almost out of the 'G' scale business. And I love my PRR E6 4-4-2 (with that 'real' sound of a loco bell) Also have 5 Aristo Craft (0-4-0, Rogers and a Mikado). Next project: buildings and maybe a couple of turnouts for sidings. I am a freelance videographer with my own audio/ video editing suite and have been a train (mostly steam) lover for about 65 years. Again, I say thanks for everything you've done to take the 'sting' out of building a garden railroad. You have been a Godsend.

Mike, thanks for the nice comments. You should know that any AristoCraft power supply will blow out the sound in your Lionel 4-4-2, so please be careful never to let anyone put that combination together on your railroad. Also you should know that the pilot wheels from the Bachmann 4-6-0 fit the Lionel 4-4-2 very well and stay on the track better, since they're heavier. I've also had great luck with Lionel 0-6-0s, and am sorry that they've basically discontinued their Large Scale line. Let me know how things progress - Paul

Live Steam On30? - June, 06

Stephen, of Hewlett, New York writes:

On20 Live Steam - is this available?

Stephen, my live steam expert just e-mailed me that there are no commercial live-steam products currently being made for On30. If you already have an On30 railroad and you want to try finding an HO live steam locomotive, that would run on the same track. If you don't have an On30 railroad now, consider O gauge or Large Scale live steam. Both have many products available.

Within Large Scale (the size used for most garden trains) the "Ruby" line and the AristoCraft Live Steam Mikado are both great products for beginners.

Best of luck, let me know what you come up with,

Paul

Can I Get Printed Copies of Your Articles? - June, 06

Ron Adams, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan writes:

How can I obtain printed copies of all the articles written here on the Family Garden Trains website?

Since I am just beginning in live steam garden railroading these primer articles on tracklaying, track types etc will be very informative. Having said that I would like to obtain printed copies to take out into the garden to see if these ideas will work in my yard.

Ron, thanks for getting in touch. I've been investigating ways of making my materials available in print for some time. I have no objection, of course, to you hitting "print" on your internet browser and printing them off. That said, I know that the header/index block and any advertising blocks get printed as well, and worse yet, some of the photos don't print right or at all, depending on your page breaks. Also, most pages have "thumbnails" where the "big pretty photos" would ordinarily go on the printed page, so to get the "full effect," you'd have to print the "blowups" individually as well. Ideally, I could put up "printer-friendly" versions of each article, but the trouble is that the pittance brought in by our advertisers pays the internet provider fees for thousands of downloads a day from what is a free site for you but not for us. (The way the internet works, if we put up a "printer-friendly" version of each article, it wouldn't be long before all the links went to those, and none went to the versions that help pay the bills - unless I put a lot of time I don't have into building safeguards into the system.) If we went to a "subscriber" mode we could pay the bills another way, I suppose, but then people who are just beginning and don't even know what they need to know wouldn't have access to the information they need most.

Another alternative: Garden Railways has gone to putting .pdf versions of their articles for sale on the internet, but that's a big job to do right, including page layout, resizing all the graphics, etc. Most people I know who've tried this have yet to bring in enough income to justify the time it took them to set it up. And, ironically, some readers get angry at internet sites that charge for "printer-friendly" or "advertisement-free" versions of articles that they can view or print for free from their browsers, so providing this extra service can actually cause a "public relations problem." Maybe I could try a couple of articles as a "pilot project," but I won't be "banking" any income before I see how things really work out.

What about donations? Well, if it's any example, my "Free Graphics" site requests $1 donation for every graphic that people download and actually use (of which PayPal would actually get half if anybody actually donated). Since March of 2005, when I started keeping count, there have been almost 36,000 downloads of high-resolution graphics (in addition to about a million views of the low-resolution equivalents). To date not one donation has been made. That doesn't mean we'll take the site down, but it does mean we'll leave the advertising "up."

So, in case it sounds like we've given this a lot of thought, the answer is that we have. And we're still thinking. We've also begun a mailing list so that I can better estimate how many people who use the site on a regular basis might be interested in other features such as printer-friendly or printed versions of our materials. I noticed that you did not check the box requesting e-mail updates, so you won't be receiving any announcements we make of this sort of thing. But you should consider checking back every so often, at least.

Sorry I didn't have a single good answer, like I usually do for questions people ask me. Let me know if there's a particular set of articles you might find most useful in printed form, and if I ever start a conversion project, I'll start with them.

Best of luck,

Paul Race

Disposition of Lionel Large Scale Trains - June, 06

Linda, of Rochester New York writes:

Years ago my Mom started a train set for my son (now a senior in college). Most of these cars have never been out of the box, and all are in their original Lionel packaging. My son was never interested in playing with these trains. The reason I write to you is that we are interested in selling them. I thought about ebay, but then found this site, and thought garden train enthusiasts might be more interested in what I have. Here are model numbers of what we have. I also have extra track. We would be willing to sell all, or just the cars someone might be interested in. We have:

  • Gold Rush Special (8-81000)-this is the locomotive with 2 additional cars
  • Gulf Tank Car (8-82602)
  • Borden Tank Car (8-87603)
  • Operating Hand Car (8-87200)
  • 1990 Seasons Greetings car (8-87007)
  • B&O Gondola (8-87405)
  • Southern Gondola (8-87406)
As I mentioned, all are Lionel and in original packaging. Thanks for your time, I look forward to hearing from you!

Linda,

Regarding the pieces you have. The Gold Rush Special is one of my favorite Lionel Large Scale sets. You may have seen the locomotive on my site if you poked around long enough. One VERY early photo, snapped in the winter is at: http://www.familygardentrains.com/newbost/pondpic.htm.

In fact, if you'd like to send your Lionel trains to a good home, I know one. :-)

Okay, let's assume you want to recoup some value.

I don't usually "appraise" folks' stuff, but I happen to know most of these pieces and have some idea what folks are getting for htem. The "wholesale" value of these if you were selling them as a lot to a dealer (based on what I've seen around here) would probably be somewhere around $20 a car, $40-50 for the handcar, and $100 for the train set, or $250 or less for all. If you sold the pieces individually on e-bay you would probably come closer to $400 (but then of course you'd have to box and ship them). If you could find a Lionel collector looking for particular pieces, then you might do better, but most of those guys are pretty shrewd, so you might not do MUCH better. Now, more than likely your mom has more than that into these traoms (depending on where she bought them), and you might be wondering why they're not worth more now. Well, being an odd scale for Lionel, they didn't attract as much collector attention as, say, the forty-seventh repaint of the same old O27 boxcar shell did. And they're not quite as good a quality overall as much of the products being made for garden railroading. So anyone wanting to spend over, say $40, on a used tank car to go with their garden trains, can probably find an LGB or AristoCraft car they like better. In other words, they sort of fall in between the cracks. If it makes you feel any better, most Large Scale trains depreciate in value between 45 and 50% when you take them out of the store, so this is about average.

I personally think they're pretty cool (but I'm tapped out), and it might be that you'll find someone else who does, too.

The Gennessee G Gauge Railway Society is just up the road from you. Their home page is at: http://www.trainweb.org/gggrs.

The "about" page includes several contact numbers, and the club seems to be active, so you might give them a call and tell them what you told me.

My friend Bob McCown has a free classified on his web site and would be glad to list them for you at http://www.largescalecentral.com.

Please let me know how things work out, Paul.

[Note: After Linda got in contact with a couple of people, she received several inquiries regarding whether these trains ran on "G Gauge" (45mm) track. I assured her that they did (as do all Lionel with product numbers in the 8-8XXXX range). She also said she had a bunch of people interested, so presumably they've gone to a good home by now. - ed]

Buying Bachmann Track to Expand Railroad - May, 06

Allan Cronshaw writes:

I have ordered a Bachmann Train - The Silverton Flyer/Denver & Rio Grande Western. Which track does this set come with, so I can order to expand the dimensions?

Allan,

The Bachmann trains are very good values. BUT the Bachmann track isn't made to be used outdoors, so I don't generally recommend it as a separate product (although it IS available). If you are planning to run your trains outside, You may read up on solid aluminum, brass, and stainless steel track on the Track Options page. Or check out the AristoCraft track listed on the Track Order page.

If you are planning on using your train inside, and you just want a few more feet of track, you can certainly contact my supplier's 1-800 number, tell them what you ordered, and how much more track you'd like, and he can get it for you.

The number is: 1-800-404-4414 Mon-Fri 9a-6p EST

I've copied my supplier on this message. Hope this helps, please let me know if it doesn't, or if you have any other questions. - Paul

Is Stainless Steel Track My Best Choice? - May, 06

Keith Wells, of North Carolina, writes:

I am having a hard time deciding what material I'd like the track for my brand new layout to be. I've seen brass, Stainless and metal. What would last the longest? I intend to use special track cleaning cars to remove natures way of oxidizing. I have been thinking about using flex track to go around my pond area, which is already finished. There will be several slight bends in the track near the pond and the bends. I am moving up from "N" Gauge to "G" gauge, because of all the room I have on our 1.03 acre lot. 3/4 of that are in the back yard where I have built the pond and now the garden train part of the project. THANKS ...Keith

Keith,

Regarding moving up from N scale, have you seen the article on "Outdoor Railroading for Indoor Railroaders?".

Most of what I know about Garden Railroading track, I've put into the Garden Railroad Track Options Page. To answer your specific questions, solid stainless steel, such as AristoCraft's stainless steel track, will probably hold up longer than anything else and require less maintenance, though it's a little bit tougher to install, since the rails are stiffer and getting electrical contact can be a tad dicier. (Although the screws on the bottom of Aristo track are a big help). That said, most of the brass garden track ever laid is still in operation. The only way it ever gets "worn out" is if someone is too generous with the LGB track cleaning locomotive and wears through the head of the rail. That's almost impossible, but I've seen a couple examples. Again, I've been using brass track outside since 1998, and several of my friends have been using it outside since 1984, and it's holding up fine. In fact, many friends have been using aluminum since the 1980s with good luck, too. So longevity might not be as important when you're choosing track materials as you might think. That said, Bachmann's track, though it's advertised as stainless steel, is not solid and is not recommended for use outside.

To reduce maintenance on any kind of track, make certain that your trains have all metal wheels. Black plastic gunk from plastic wheels cause more conductivity problems on track than any other source.

Whatever kind of track you use, if you have all metal wheels on your rolling stock and you're not sitting underneath a pine forest or something, you'll get by with a good cleaning in the spring, another one mid-summer, and a few minutes' touch-up here and there to take care of bird poop, tree sap, etc. Keep in mind, that you have to inspect the right of way occasionally anyway, to remove plants that have grown over the rails, etc. So wiping the track clean with a very fine sanding sponge or something at the same time is no big hassle. I have about 200 feet of active trackage, and I spend about three hours a summer, total, keeping it clean.

Sounds like you're at the starting point in a great adventure. Please take advantage of our resources and of the resources we recommend (on http://www.familygardentrains.com/special_offers/books_etc/books_etc.htm for example). Please let me know of any other questions that come up. Best of luck,

Paul

[Note: Keith wrote back with a question about grades on his sloping lawn. He also wondered how many pieces of track he would need for big track circles. My response follows:] Keith, thanks for the photo. It helps me see what you're working with. You should know that most track comes twelve, 16, or 24 pieces to a curve. So the pieces for a 10'-diameter circle (about 31' around) are a little over two and a half feet long (divide 31 by 12). And so on. A 20'-diameter circle is made up of 16 pieces of track. Each piece is almost four feet long. So don't worry about how many one-foot pieces you need to make a given curve. You won't be working with any one-foot pieces. If you have a specific circle in mind, let me know and I'll track down the details for you.

Regarding grade, the best thing you is keep your track fairly level. If you want to run long trains, you shouldn't have more than 2" of rise for every 100" of length, that is 2%. One percent is better. A sloping yard givs you the chance to have the train LOOK like it's going up and down just by staying level while the ground rises and falls. Incidentally, a 1'-high trestle that is twelve feet long can be just as spectactular as a 3'-high trestle that is four feet long. Have you seen the "Raising a Ground Level Roadbed" article? It's a good example of a railroad that only has small grades, but the potential for a lot of vertical interest. The photo to the right shows the trestle that has been added since I wrote the article.

Using A Spiral to Raise Trains 5'? - May, 06

Barry Rausch writes:

I would like to setup a g-scale system that runs both inside and outside my home. I would like the trains to run high upon the interior walls (about 1 foot or so below the ceiling) and then into the garage. In the garage I would like the track to drop in height from about 6 feet above ground to 1 foot above ground. Then the track would lead outside to the garden and back in. I'm as new to model railroading as they come and would like to know if 1) my plan to step down the track height within the confines of the garage is practical, and 2) just how could this be done while taking up a minimum of space. I have seen pictures of model trains running through a spiraling-down section of track - styled not unlike a parking garage - that allowed the train to drop a few inches in vertical height every 360-degrees of turning until it was down at ground-level - but I don't know if this can be done with a big G-scale setup. Any ideas or advice you would have would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks - Barry

Barry, thanks for getting in contact. For your "two-level" railroad, I think you should consider two railroads. Long trains run better on grades of 2% or less. That would be 2" of rising or falling for every 100" of horizontal movement. So dropping your track 60" will require 3000" (250') of track. I doubt your garage is 250' long, so you'd wind up with a "spiral silo" where you used to be able to park your car. At the bare minimum of $2.50 a foot for track (most is more like $3.50 a foot) you'd be looking at $625 just for track for this section. It would probably be cheaper to have two separate trains and it wouldn't take over your garage.

Don't feel bad, a lot of folk have to make adjustments when their dreams bump up against the physical universe. So where are you, and do you have a local club or anybody helping you get your feet on the ground with this thing?

Paul

Video In the Works - May, 06

Mike, of Tyler, Texas writes: I am shooting video for a documentary on the construction of a 'raised railroad'...I have a ground level 'G' railroad put in about a year and a half ago. I have used quite a bit of your ideas(about 2X6's and plates of 1X6's, etc). . . . My wife is a SUPER gardener.

Mike, Hope you find the ideas helpful. Best of luck with the video, let me know what I can do to help,

Paul

Why Can't Bachmann Track Be Used Outdoors? - May, 06

Brandie says:

I know nothing about trains but my husband saw a documentary on garden trains on PBS and loved them. I am trying to get him a fathers day gift that is relatively inexpensive but I wanted to get him started. Your site shows a Bachman train that I like, but I read that you can't use the track outdoors. Can you run the train on the Aristocraft track, and how would I know what kind to buy? The train is called the Silverton Flyer/Denver Rio Grand but I don't know what track it will run on. (3 foot or 2 foot , Standard gauge etc.????? could you help me?

Brandie,

AristoCraft track (and track made by LGB, USA Trains, Llagas Creek and many others) is made of solid brass rail that is formulated to stand up to outdoor weather (although it may need wiped clean now and then to conduct electricity to the train.) The plastic used for the ties is also formulated to withstand UV (which will eventually destroy plastics that aren't so forumulated).

The Bachmann track is made inexpensively so they can sell train sets without having to charge another $40 or so for the track. It does't use solid rails; rather it has plastic rails with a sheet of stainless steel wrapped over them to conduct electricity. I don't think the ties are UV-resistant, either. This track actually holds up pretty well indoors, but it won't last longer than a season or two outside.

In any case, the track that comes with starter sets makes a VERY small circle (48" diameter). Some trains look funny on those tight curves, and many don't handle as well on those curves as they do on wider curves. No matter what kind of track comes with your starter set, I always recommend saving that track for use inside at Christmas and getting larger curves to use outside. For information about track made to be used outside, please check the Garden Railroad Track Options page.

Hope this helps; have a great summer,

Paul

[Note: Brandie wrote me back and asked the following question. My reply is below.]

I found someone selling LGB Lehmann G-scale train track. Do you know anything about this track? Do you know off hand if it would be standard or narrow gauge, and the quality for using outdoors?

Brandie,

LGB track is great. It is very solid and weather-resistant. It also represents "Narrow Gauge" track, so it's a good match for a Bachmann train. If you have access to AristoCraft "Euro" track, that is very similar, but sometimes its a little less expensive, and it makes a better electrical connection. But the two are entirely compatible, so if you start with one and add the other later, you haven't lost anything.

Hope this helps,

Paul

Source for "Fairy Village" Buildings - May, 06

Jerry writes:

Enjoyed reading about your plants but was THRILLED when you mentioned having outside buildings. That is what I am searching for. I want to make what I am calling a Fairy Village (whatever that will eventually turn out to be). What are your buildings made of (Resin?) and where do you get them? ANY information you can provide will be deeply appreciated.

Jerry,

Most of my buildings are plastic models. Some are made by companies like Pola or Piko who make buildings that are meant to be used outside.

A good example of this kind of model is shown in the photo at the right. Click to see a blowup.

A few buildings I leave out over the winter so the garden railway doesn't look quite so naked ARE resin. One is shown in this photo. I have three houses similar to the one in this picture that came from Big Lots, a discount chain store.

The houses were "bird houses," although they were really for show only, they were carried among the garden supplies a few years ago. These particular houses are not made now, and they don't hold up GREAT outside, since they're a little fragile, but it might give you some idea. (Hope you don't mind me reusing a photo I cropped and labeled for an article about spring plants.) The barn in the background is also resin; it was sold by Wal-Mart a few years ago as a "toad house," a place for toads to go in and cool off during hot days. (They really work, too.)

Right now my local WalMart has two kinds of "houses" left in their garden supply that have solar panels so they are illuminated at night. Both kinds are too fanciful for me to use on my railroad, but if you can find these, they might be your best bet for a start on a "Fairy Village." But get to Walmart now, they're almost out.

In addition, Piko, who makes buildings for outdoor railroads, has come up with a few fanciful buildings (in their "Fantasy Series") that look more like they belong in Alice and Wonderland than on a "serious" garden railroad. One is the "Hansel and Gretel" house # 62255.

Also, my friend Ray Turner, at www.mysticmountainarts.com sells fanciful figures and trains including "fairy trains" that might be fun for you to think about.

Hope this helps; have a great summer, Paul

Lemax Figures Size? - May, 06

Shane (of Northern Ireland) writes:

I am trying to find out what scale or height the Lemax Christmas figure are. Do you know?

Thank you for your help on this matter.

Regards, Shane

Shane,

If you want to know everything I know about them, my first article on the subject is at: http://www.familygardentrains.com/archives/resin.htm

My most recent article is at: http://www.familygardentrains.com/primer/details/figures/figures.htm

The short answer is that most Lemax figures are about 1:32, although their legs are all shorter than they should be, giving them a "stumpy" appearance if you stand them in a medium like sand to disguise their base. (I think Lemax does this so that the overall height, counting the base, looks "right.") They are a tad larger for most Christmas Village structures, which go from about 1:45 to 1:60 in scale (Larger Structures are modeled in smaller scales to keep them from overwhelming any given scene). Lemax (and Dept. 56) makes their figures a little larger than they "should be" so they don't get lost in a Christmas Village display. Accessories (like flower pots) and small animals like cats and chickens are made even larger in scale.

Lemax figures are about the right size to go with MTH trains (which are 1:32) or AristoCraft trains (1:29). They look a tad too small next to LGB trains, but if you do what I do and keep your 1:32 stuff together and a little bit back from your 1:22.5 stuff, nobody will lose any sleep over it.

Hope this helps; let me know if I can help with anything else.

Paul

Weatherproof O-Gauge 3-rail track? - May, 06

Karin Schwarzer, of Palmer, Alaska writes:

For outdoor railroading I am, of course, a G scaler. But I try to model Alaska Railroad in the 2 major scales I actively run (G and Z). But I have aquired, via mixed mfgrs., an O gauge ARR. The engine is your typical 3 rail Lionel. To get to the point of my question I need to know if there is any such thing as all weather 3 rail track available as I want to run that train outdoors for forced perspective. I think I hit a dead end until you opened up my chance to ask a real person. Thank you for that. Karin S.

Karin,

The only thing that looks like a good lead is a new line of Gargraves track I haven't had a chance to examine yet. Gargraves makes three-rail O-gauge track with many ties (instead of six or eight per piece), so it's real popular indoors with "high-railers" - people who use tinplate trains to model as realistic a railroad as they can. A few years ago, they started a line for garden railroaders that used plastic ties (instead of their old wooden ties which didn't hold up to any kind of weather).

It now appears that Gargraves is making sectional track with plastic ties and stainless steel.The web page on which they list these products is: http://www.gargraves.com/plastic.htm

As you've probably figured out, I don't usually feature something on my site until I've had a chance to work with it, and I've only worked with Gargraves' indoor track. If THIS track is as advertised, it could be what you need. If you try it out, please let me know how things work out.

Paul

[Note: Before this exchange took place, several other folks asked questions about O guage trains outside. The information on the Gargraves track above is the newest I have as of May, 2006, but it is information I didn't yet have when I responded to the earlier e-mails. Please e-mail me if you have a specific question about any of this, as O-gauge outdoors is still in its early infancy, and something may have changed again by the time you see this. - PR]

Raised Railroad using 8' Curves - May, 06

Bill Hennegan writes:

I really enjoyed your article on Constructing a Raised Railroad. I am using it as the main resource for my planned site. I have two questions:

  1. I am planning on 8' radius curves. Your discussion indicates that I could get away with one 4x4 post per 1.5 pieces of track. I do not see how that is possible if you use the guide you provide for the 2x6 stringers. I can only envision where a post is required at every junction of 2x6 stringers and the guides call for one board per piece of track. Otherwise, you will have an unsupported junction between two 2x6's. The only thing I can think of is that you can get two pieces of 8' curved track on a single 2x6 board. Even if you use 1x6 plates to join the two 2x6's, I would not think you would want them unsupported (without a 4x4 underneath).
  2. Do you have any other pictures of using 2x6 blocks for horizontal support??

I also plan on reversing things a bit. I will probably cut the 2x6's first to fit my track layout and then try to spot the 4x4 posts as I go. It may take longer but I would rather take the time and find it easier to re-dig a hole rather than messing around with cuttinmg the track. Just another approach!!

Bill,

How many posts you use per piece of track depends on your comfort level. I've known people who've done it both ways, which is why I was "wishy-washy." If you join the 2x6s the way I documented, the joint is pretty strong. If you plan to backfill you can get by with fewer posts, but if you don't think you'll get around to backfilling for a while, or you want to feel very secure about your infrastructure, go ahead and do one support per piece of track You're right about the difficulty in getting the posts exactly right. Many people use process similar to what you described, of getting the roadbed assembled, then deciding where to put the posts. But even if you do this, consider using spray paint to do an "x marks the spot" for each post, because no hand-drilled post hole is ever completely "on center." In places where it is impossible to measure precisely, I have even stuck the posts into the holes and set the 2x6 roadbed on top to make certain the posts were exactly where they were supposed to be when I poured in the concrete. Again, don't feel bad about taking every precaution. Also, don't feel bad if you take every precaution, and you still get something off by an inch or two.

The short version is, use methods that you are comfortable with and avoid shortcuts that will backfire (like not sinking your posts past the frost line), and you'll be very satisfied with the results. I've tried just about ever method there is, and, though several are easier at first, railroads built this way seem to require far less maintenance overall than any other kind.

Please let me know if you have any other concerns, corrections, etc. ALSO, as you proceed, if you find an easier way of doing anything, or want to send photos for me to include in the article (hint, hint), please stay in touch.

Paul

Ups and Downs on a Hilly Yard - May, 06

Michael "Chief" Duncan writes:

. . . One question right off the bat would be percentage of grade I can build the track. The area I plan to build this on is a little hilly. Thanks for your time.

Chief Duncan Ret.

Chief,

A hilly lot will save you paying big bucks to bring in dirt to make your garden railroad more visually interesting. That said, it's best not to have any grades more than 2%. How do you get around the hills? You establish an average RR height that's relatively high, then build up some of the low part and use bridges, viaducts, etc. to span the rest. This will give the effect of your train going up and down hills without the speeding-up-and-slowing down problems that real hills create. You're in special luck if your back yard slopes up as it leaves the house. Then you can have part of your RR at "ground level" but the whole thing will really be closer to "eye level" for viewers. If the hills are especially steep, you may need to do some terracing to get enough flat spaces to put towns, etc., but having them at the height of the viewer's knees or higher allows people to see more than rooftops. If your back yard falls away from the house, you might want to consider a walk around the railroad and a viewing area downhill looking up at the railroad. Either way, if you put your most common operating position somewhere where the tracks are at knee level or higher, your back will thank you.

Hope this helps; let me know more about your plans when you have a chance -

Paul

Another O-Scaler Contemplates Moving Outside - April, 06

David Gustafson writes:

I have just read most of the articles in your primer for getting started in Garden Railroading and feel like I have enough knowledge to take the plunge. I already have an 850 sq. ft. O gauge layout and it will be fun to start working on the backyard. I do believe I want to focus on American Standard and the 1:29/1:32. I'd also like to run live steam. I know there are a number of companies out there producing ready to run live steam locomotives, but what I'm wondering about is if there is a good source for used equipment? I think I'd like to hold off on "new" engines/cars until the layout matures. Any recommendations?

And while I'm at it, I wanted to thank you for a most enlightening, pragmatic and very useful series of articles. They helped tremendously. It's a real service to this industry.

David,

You ask several good questions; I may have to get back to you on a couple of them, but here are a couple thoughts that occur.

What about using O scale outside? I haven't written any articles about O scale outdoors, but you might consider it in spite of the caveats. I've already answered one letter about using smaller scales outdoors and another letter specifically about O scale outdoors. The latter is a growing, if tiny, segment of the hobby, though, and I can help you track down more information if you're considering that.

If you want really big trains outdoors, though, you'll find that AristoCraft, USA trains, MTH, and the newer Accucraft stuff is quite attractive and sturdy, and all of it competes, say, with Williams or MTH's better O scale stuff for quality.

I don't think you want to buy a used live steam locomotive. If a used electric engine craps out, you have a dead engine. If a used steam engine craps out, it could explode. The risks are small, admittedly, but there is a larger risk that it has been misused in a way that the average hobby shop can't fix. If you want to start off small, buy a Ruby (yes I know they're closer to 1:22.5 than 1:29), but they're an excellent introduction to live steam. However, the AristoCraft live steam Mikado has been getting VERY good reviews, and if you're going live steam anyway . . .

Still, I'm not sure trying to learn live steam at the same time you're trying to get a railroad started is the best approach. If you're certain you won't want track power, you COULD start with battery-powered, remote-controlled engines, which are VERY reliable once properly converted. That or track power will also give you something to fall back on when you just want to have the trains running while you're turning shrimp on the barbie or whatever.

Let me know how much room you have, whether you are considering a raised railroad (invaluable for live steam), etc.

Best of luck,

Paul [Note: Since this exchange, David has ordered some AristoCraft rolling stock and stainless steel track and begun making plans for a ground-level railroad to get things started. He say his wife likes planting things so he's hoping for great things. He also send me photos of his indoor O-gauge railroad. I've told him to keep me apprised.]

Building a Garden Railroad on a Deck? - April, 06

Gene Nordgren, of Waldport, Oregon, writes

Hi Paul,

I have decided to build another deck here at my place and use half of it for my railroad. I have just a little more than 1/2 acre of landscaped yard with it all being in the front. I have a perfect place for another deck measuring about 90ft by 35ft with a gazeebo at the end. I am thinking that I will build it in such a manner that the middle portion is about 2ft lower than the surrounding sides so that the trains will be raised. Right now the area where I want to build the deck is garden area so the it is a good place to put the deck. It will be about 2ft to 3ft off the ground at one end, and 4 to 5ft at the other end. I will build steps from the existing deck down to the lower end of the new deck. I think setting the trains up on a deck will be a lot easier than on the ground. What do you think of this overall plan?

Gene,

About raised railroads, have you seen the article on accessible railroads? Not that you need it today, but you'd be suprised how many visitors appreciate it. Plus it's so much more fun to sit and look ACROSS at your trains and towns than to hover over them all of the time like the Jolly Green Giant.

About building on a deck - I think ANYTHING you do to get your trains away from ground level is very good. But I'm not sure the expense of a deck JUST to raise your train is necessary all the way around. Have you seen my article on Simple Raised Railroads? Basically you build it on posts, the same way you would a deck, then whenever you get around to it, you put up some sort of retaining wall and backfill. If you put the whole thing on a deck, you have to figure out how to get enough depth of soil to plant plants. Certainly putting your "holding tracks" and maybe certain industral scenes and any turntable or the like on a deck is an excellent idea. But you might think about mixing construction methods up a little so you can get some garden into your garden railway and maybe carry over your landscaping themes a little.

Hope this gives you some ideas,

Paul

LGB Starter Set and Track Questions - Jan, 06

Joe Bova, of Pennsylvania, writes:

Thank you for the opportunity to ask a few questions about garden railroading. I am new to the hobby with one Pennsylvania summer under my belt. I have an LGB starter set and about a 40' loop on flat ground next to my pool.

I used LGB brass track on a bed of limestone for ballast. As this did not hold the track down too well, I used thin rods used to hold insulation between floor joists by bending a small "U" at the top and nailing it down into the ground over top of the tie. This worked well but I see some ground heaving them up during the winter.

Question 1: Is there a better, more accepted way of fixing track to the ground?

Question 2. I did not use anything more than the standard rail joiners that come with the LGB track? What aftermarket rail joiners do you recommend with my existing LGB track?

Question 3: Is it safe to assume that the AristoCraft track that Mr. Race refers to will work outdoors?

Thank you again.

Joe,

First of all congrats for getting a start. Regarding your track staying "down," unless you dug a trench and really tamped down the limestone "gravel," you can expect "floating" track to work its way around a little the first couple years. MOST people who use "floating track" (including myself) spend an hour or two each spring skootching the track where it needs to be and reballasting, which consists of pouring more ballast on top, and sweeping it from between the rails so that it says at the level of the top of the ties. This is usually enough to compensate for the roadbed rising in some areas due to frost. (I also do this to compensate for moles and voles making little "mole-runs" under my track, which I'm sure cause more havoc than your frost cycle, since you're also in zone 5 as far as I know.)

Regarding fastening your track down, that shouldn't be necessary unless you get washouts. Sooner or later your limestone "bed" should stabilize and hold the ties in place better.

Regarding rail joiners: These serve two functions: mechanical and electrical. I like AristoCraft track because the screw-on rail joiners do both well (The AristoCraft "Euro" track would be a good match for your LGB if you decide to expand later). That said, when you install LGB outside, the LGB people recommend using a conductive paste in each rail joiner that helps with the conductivity. If you DIDN'T do that don't feel TOO bad, that paste fails in a few years anyway.

If your mechanical connections are bad, then any aftermarket connector, like those by Hillman or Split-Jaw will do fine, although due to their cost, I don't think I'd automatically replace every rail joiner, just the ones where there a problem. SOME rail clamps go over the existing LGB joiner, so it's easier to put them on without disrupting your track. Maybe you could get a package of those and just keep them on hand for when you have a mechanical problem.

On the other hand, if you're NOT having mechanical problems, the only other reason to worry about rail joiners is breakdowns in electrical conductivity. You can solve that problem by running "jumper" wires to several places around your railroad, a LOT cheaper than you can solve it by adding rail clamps everywhere.

Large Scale Track order FormRegarding AristoCraft track: The brass is an ugly yellow color for the first year or so, then it weathers to a nice brown not too different from the brown color your LGB track is beginning to take on. I've had both outside since 1999, and I'd say they hold up about the same. For folks starting out, I recommend AristoCraft because it's generally available cheaper, and the screw-on tie plates and rail joiners make connectivity and running jumpers better. Again, if you're looking to add on to your railroad, use AristoCraft's Euro track; it's closer to the LGB look. If you're looking to replace your track, then I'd choose the Euro track if I was running mostly narrow gauge equipment (like Bachmann or LGB) or US-style track if I was running mostly standard gauge equipment (like AristoCraft). In my case, I bought most of my track before US-style track was even available, so I'm running Standard gauge trains on Euro track, and no one would notice if I didn't point it out to them, so this is not a "life-or-death" decision, as long as you use similar-looking track throughout your railroad.

P.S. Where in PA are you? If you're close to Philly, the Southeast Pennsylvania Garden Railway Society will be glad to hear from you and give you a hand: www.sepgrs.com.

Hope this helps. Have a GREAT spring, please let me know how things are going and if you have any other question,

Paul

What Kind of RC Should I Use for a Mix of Trains? - Jan, 06

Gene Nordgren, of Waldport, Oregon writes:

I happened upon Paul Race's article for "Family Garden Trains" concerning Large Scale Power and Control thru a posting in the MyLargeScale forum. This is an excellent article for both the beginner and those of us who have made the transition from HO to large scale. Especially those of us that do not live close to either a hobby shop or others that are in to the large scale hobby. As a result, I have a few questions with which I would hope you could assist me.

I am finally at a point where I can now begin building my out door layout. I have all LGB track and turn-outs, and have decided to go with track power, at least initially. My motive power consists of LGB, USA, Aristocraft, and one of the first Bachmann Shays. Although I have about 600 feet of track and more than 35 turn-outs, I am planning to begin small and expanding as I become more familiar with the operation. I would like to operate more than one locomotive at a time on any given piece of track but do not plan on any MU operation except for two USA GP-9s' possibly. I am not interested in any kind of automatic operation and would like to be able to walk around and control. I have looked at the various control systems being offered but since I do not live close to anyone knowledgeable in the field, I simply am not sure what to purchase. This is where I am hoping you may be able to assist me.

I purchased my motive power between the years 1991 thru 2005. All of my LGB locomotives with the exception of my Sumpter Valley, were purchased in the early 1990s'. The Sumpter Valley was purchased in 2005. My Aristocraft locomotives, again span pretty much the same time frame with my RS-3 being early and my Pacific and Mikado being purchased in 2005. My USA GPs are first run and my PAs' being purchased in 2005.

I believe I would like to purchase the Train Engineer (TE) system but am not sure it will do what I want, that is, being able to operate two or more locomotives on any given piece of track without a "block system", and walk around control. What I would like to know is, will the TE system work in this manner with track power, and if so, what components do I need to purchase?

Thank you for any assistance you can give me.

Gene,

The bad news is that your different collection of products each "cries out" for a different solution. The most obvious solution for your newer locomotives might be MTS or DCC, two similar products that use track power and remote control. Your Sumpter Valley MAY have come MTS ready. Your AristoCraft Pacific and Mikado MAY have come DCC-ready. To convert DCC-ready locomotives to DCC operation, you buy a little interface card that plugs into the locomotive. If the locomotives are NOT DCC-ready, you have to do some wiring, namely finding a place to mount the DCC card, then intercepting the power between the locomotive wheels/pickups and the engine, so the DCC card can act as a throttle.

MTS is LGB's brand of DCC, and an MTS-ready locomotive can be converted to MTS as quickly as a DCC-ready locomotive can be converted to DCC.

The problem is that MTS isn't entirely compatible with DCC. And the last I checked into it, MTS converters weren't available for non-LGB engines. :-(

This complication means that you're looking at aftermarket conversions (where you wire things up by hand as described above) for most of your locomotives whatever you choose.

Aristo/Crest TE has converters that go into the locomotives and receive radio power from their hand-held remotes. If you go that way, the converters are more expensive than DCC, but you don't need to buy the extra DCC transmitters. Your Pacific and Mikado can probably be converted to TE quickly, since the "DCC-ready" plug will also accept a TE convertor. But all of the rest of your locomotives would require a more hands-on conversion.

For most diesels, the conversion would be a piece of cake, since you have lots of room to work with. Your LGB toys would be a bigger problem.

On the BRIGHT side, if you convert your engines to TE, it's a snap to convert them to battery control later; you can even convert one at a time, so you can have a dozen different trains crawling on your railroad in any combination of battery and track power.

If you want to run some really long trains, I'd retain track power for now, at least. One friend in Ohio bought a trackside TE receiver and wedged it into a diesel so he could get the maximum amperage onboard, so it can be done.

If you want more information about DCC, take a look at George Shreyer's page.

Hope this helps,

Paul

[Note: Since Gene wrote me, Paul Davidson (who may be a member of the Central Oklahoma Garden Railroad Society) sent him a book on AristoCraft/Crest TE, and Gene's decided that he's better off trying to work with TE than any of his other options, considering his present collection of locomotives. He later wrote me with another question about building a garden railroad on a deck (above). Stay tuned. :-) ]

What Should I Name My Railroad? - March, 06

Rick Padley, of Long Island, writes

Every railroad has a name, and I need help in thinking of one, friends. My pal . . . suggests "Eden Express" which is pretty good, because Jon thinks I live in toy heaven. But I am open to more ideas. Please help.

Rick

Rick, is there an old "short line" that used to run near you? Or are their (or were there) communities with quaint-sounding or unique names near you that you could pretend your railroad connected?

An abandoned settlement down the hill from my house (all that's left now is the graveyard) was called "New Boston," and a local historical society uses the name "New Boston" for a re-enactment of a village trading fair. Another nearby town (named Donnelsville, very little to look at really) was founded by a guy named Donnels who built a pickle factory near the creek. So I named my RR New Boston and Donnels Creek to give it a local "flavor" and a sense of history. I've since named one community "New Boston" and the other community "Donnels Creek" and given them each a different character, with New Boston being more of an Eastern city and Donnels Creek having more of a frontier flavor. Donnels Creek doesn't have a pickle factory yet, but I did label some cars as "vinegar" tankers to get ready for it, whenever I get around to building one. As a rule, I think that railroad names that "could be" real provide more room for a garden railroad to develop a "personality" than names like "Bubba's Express," "Oak Tree and Patio," etc.

Hope this helps. - Paul

Professional Landscaping With Garden Trains - March, 06

Ben Bayer, of New Carlisle, Ohio writes:

Hi, We are a landscape design-build company . . . We have done a few G scale train layouts and would like to do more. . . . [Note: I've deleted part of Ben's e-mail because it relates to specific business opportunities that I don't want to mess up for him].

Ben,

If you've looked at my site at all, you'll see the emphasis on "do it yourself" projects. You've also seen that I stress that MOST of the cost in beginning a garden railroad is not trains, or even track (which is usually more than trains), but timber and landscaping materials to support the trains and track. A beginning hobbyist can throw down a ground-level garden railroad for less than $1000 in a weekend, if he follows the instructions in my "One Day Railroad" article. But ground-level garden railroads, while fun, are less fun to view and harder to maintain than raised railroad. So our beginning garden railroad can raise the TRACK LEVEL to 24" for a hundred or two more, depending on the size of the railroad (or to 30" if he or she wants the railroad to be more "accessible"). But to backfill even a small garden railroad and raise most of the dirt to the track level so he can add towns and stations that he can see as well as the train, will cost him more than he has spent so far, once you count in the cost of the topsoil and whatever he uses for retaining walls.

Frequently people see my relatively simple railroad and say, "What would it cost me to have the same thing built?" They can't believe it when I say $2000 or more (I probably spent $800, counting the trains I usually run, but I scrounged most of the materials and did all of the work myself). I try to explain that the pond and railroad ties and waterfall and stones and dirt cost more than the train, but they don't "get it." They leave thinking that Garden Railroading is an expensive hobby. It's not. LANDSCAPING is expensive. But you can't separate the two if you want an enjoyable, maintainable garden railroad.

Several friends who've tried to make a living installing trains for people have run into the same thing. The client has a $400 train set and another $100 worth of track and thinks he ought to get a railroad that looks like a professional display operating in his back yard for another $200-300. Again, you CAN get a train set running in the back yard for $100-200 worth of landscaping cloth, mulch, gravel, and dwarf alberta spruce, but the results won't hold the interest of visitors for long, and it will be hard on the back to maintain.

One approach for your company to ease into Garden Railroad construction as a major area might be to add garden railroading to your "bag of tricks" or to suggest garden railroads as an "add-on" to other jobs. ("Would you like a train running around that pond while we're at it?") Once you get some better photos, you could add a "Garden Railroading" section to your gallery.

BEST case would be to have an outdoor showcase that shows off different kinds of garden railroads and garden railroad products the same way those pond guys in Enon show off different kinds of ponds and pond products. Alternatively, you could "donate" landscaping and garden railroad installation to places like nurseries that attract a lot of people interested in doing things in their back yards. Have a sign and keep a stack of brochures refreshed. BTW, I would suggest recommending "raised" railroads from now on, and consider using one of the lumber-supported solutions I describe in my Primer section. Ground-level railroads do not get run as much, do not get visitors as excited, and consequently do not create the "buzz" that raised railroads do. Plus, as your customers get older, their ability to maintain ground-level railroads goes downhill, so customer satisfaction decreases.

Whatever route you choose, keep the emphasis on your landscaping expertise. For some reason people who don't mind spending $10,000 to make their back yard look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens can't bring themselves to think of spending $11,500 for the same back back yard that also has a train running through it--unless you've already sold them on the other work.

Have a great spring,

Paul Race

Finding Wild North American Animal Figures - March, 06

Dan Diller writes:

I receive garden railways magazine, I am looking for wild North American animals for my garden train layout. I found some bears, but I am looking for wolves, coyotes, moose, deer, and any animals that can be found in the wild. I want to do a western layout that would have mountains, desert, swamp, and prairie. Can you help me with resources?

Dan, The Britains company has a wide selection of 1:32 animals, which may seem small for your railroad, but are very high quality.

You might call Watts Train shop (go to www.wattstrainshop.com to find the phone #). Dave Watts has a HUGE collection of animals and other figures that are hard to find elsewhere. Dave also carries Britains, so he may have the Britains figures you need, in addition to other brands.

Please let me know what you come up with - Paul Race

New To All This, With Kids - February, 06

Rick and Beth asked my friend Wil Davis, who forwarded this message to me:

We have decided to put in a garden railroad this spring and are going to start getting stuff (started set) and so on in the next few weeks. We hade N and HO for a yew years but dropped it with all the moves involved with a military lifestyle.

Rick and Beth,

You might find my article on the difference between indoor and outdoor railroads helpful.

1 What is the closest scale for vehicles to go along with G scale?

If you are planning to operate an old-timey railroad such as the old Denver and Rio Grand, anything in the 1:20 range is useful. A 1:18 vehicle or two in the foreground and a few 1:24 vehicles further back will give som forced perspective (since you're not likely to find many 1:20.3 or 1:22.5 vehicles).

If you're planning to operate a modern railroad with big long trains, you'll want to steer for cars a little smaller. 1:32 cars are usually available and would be about right. The big modern train models tend to be between 1:29 and 1:32, if that helps.

My article on garden train scales might be helpful.

2 Any special things we should know for the Minnesota area?

You get a lot of snow. :-)

I like a raised roadbed in snow-prone areas because you can still see where your trains are supposed to be. I have several photos of my RR in which the "raised" part is about the height of the snowfall, so the trains could still run if I wanted them to. If you go with a raised roadbed make certain your vertical posts are sunk properly. See my raised roadbed article for details.

Also, if you have a pond, dig it real deep and provide an air pump system to shoot some air to the bottom during freezovers.

3 We want to make this that out grandchildren can play around it so duribility is an issue

AristoCraft track and LGB track are exceptionally durable, although AristoCraft makes better electrical connections. Aristo Track on a 2x6 raised railroad as I described above is about as "bullet-proof" a combination as you can make. If you're wondering about trains for kids, read my "trains for kids" article.

I also have a "trains for kids" catalog page.

4 any other tips?

Listen to everybody and make up your own mind. Most of all, have fun,

Paul

Track Power, Remote Control and MTS - February, 06

Michael Cote writes:

Can someone out there explain the LGB MTS system...in simple English? I can't figure out what the heck I need to do to run with a wireless remote without track power. Or is track power required? . . . [Another question about track power was deleted by my e-mail reader, but it had to do with "jiggering" the track to regain continuity.]

Michael.

First of all, when I installed my track, I ran jumper wires between most sections. It only took a few more minutes (using Aristo Track which has screws on the bottom that are great for this purpose), so I almost never have to "jigger my track."

Second I have a high-level overview of different power and control options on: http://www.familygardentrains.com/primer/power.htm.

Third, garden railroading's resident super-tinkerer, George Schreyer has described several of these options in much more detail at: http://girr.org/girr/tips/tips.html.

That said, here's my present understanding of MTS, which I am certain someone will correct:

MTS is a sort of proprietary subset of DCC. Unfortunately, converting nonLGB locomotives to MTS is a pain. Fortunately converting ANY locomotive to DCC is fairly easy. Unfortunately radio-controlled DCC is still an evolving science. Why am I starting to sound like Tevye?

On the other hand if you're interested in getting away from track power altogether, is there any reason not to consider a strict radio remote control such as the radio Crest Train Engineer, or RCS?

A few friends have put the "trackside" Crest TE receiver into trailing cars or locomotive tenders, so they could get SERIOUS amperage to their locomotives even with radio remote and battery control.

The SHORT answer as of Feb., 06 seems to be that MTS is great on a 90-100% LGB railroad, but for non-LGB, either DCC or TE is better if you want track power. And if you are getting away from track power altogether, radio TE or RCS or a similar solution may be easier and more cost-effective than radio DCC.

Now that I've stuck out my neck, I'm sure someone will send me the appropriate corrections and clarifications.

Best of luck,

Paul

Cleaning Track and Loco Wheels - January, 06

Van Woods writes:

I have a lgb starter kit train, I have also purchased several other rolling stock cars. I moved it out side and have had trouble with the track. The engine will hesitate then go on. I found that the engine will not run at low speeds. I have to run the controller up almost full speed. And once it gets going the jerking starts. I have used several methods to join the tracks. But no success. May be you could give me a tip to find the problem. Thanks, Van.

Van,

There are two or three issues here.

The easiest thing to fix is dirty track. You need to clean the top and inside surface of each rail until it glistens. If the track "looks" clean, you might get by using LGB track cleaning fluid and a cloth. If the "dirt" is ground in, you will probably have to use something like an LGB track cleaning pad or a 3M ultra-fine sanding pad (get the "finest" one you can pick up). If your cars have plastic wheels they will deposit black powder on the rails and eventually grind it in. If the track is in the hot sun while you're running, you may even get an oily deposit from the wheels. So one way to reduce this problem in the future is to replace your rolling stock's metal wheels with metal wheels.

Sometimes if your railroad goes past a pine tree or over a trail that the ants use, a particular bit of rail may need cleaned from time to time, even when the rest of the track is fairly clean. If you notice the train "hanging" or hesitating at the same exact place often, clean that segment and see if that helps.

A tougher thing to fix is dirty wheels and pickups on the locomotive. Most LGB locomotives have little shoes that scrape the track to pick up electricity. Make certain those are clean, using something like a cotton rag and LGB track cleaning fluid. (Don't do this near open flame!) You CAN'T be as "brutal" on those as you can on the track surfaces because there is less material to work with, so be careful. If the wheels look grunged up, clean them as well. Cleaning drivers is the hard part. You need to clean the part you have easy access to, then hook the locomotive up to power for a second to expose a different part of the wheel, etc., until you've cleaned the whole wheel.

I usually get a small power supply with a couple wire leads, plug it in near a chair, turn the locomotive upside down and hold it between my legs gently so as not to break anything off or to put any pressure on the mechanism or wheels. That way I can bring the leads over from the power supply and tap the drivers or pickup shoes to "goose" the locomotive into turning a little at a time until I've cleaned the whole surface of the drivers. Wear old pants when you do this, as you may get oil or wheel gunk in your lap. There are also commercial "cradles" for doing this, but I've never gotten around to purchasing one.

Try not to knock a bunch of dust or other crap into the engine while you're holding it upside down or you'll create a different set of problems. Once again, replacing plastic wheels with metal wheels on all of your rolling stock will significantly reduce your need for this sort of maintenance.

Finally, you may have poor connectivity between track pieces. LGB sells a conductive paste that they recommend using for outdoor installations. This usually helps conductivity stay high between pieces for a few years. I prefer AristoCraft track, since the rail-joiners screw into each piece and make things more conductive for much longer. But with any kind of track, you run the risk that eventually conductivity between two adjacent pieces of track will break down, usually when you have people over to visit. For that reason, I recommend running jumper wires to different locations around the layout, so electricity gets where it needs to even if a particular junction fails. (I actually run jumpers between most pieces, just to be on the safe side.) Make certain that you don't cross-wire and create a short. Again, AristoCraft track has little screws on the bottom of each rail that makes it easy to run jumpers, but you should be able to figure something out with your LGB track.

Hope this helps. In my case, I ran a lot of jumpers, and I use only metal wheels. I clean the track once or twice in the spring and almost never clean the locomotive wheels, and the trains run fine most of the time.

Have a great rest of the week,

Paul

Flex Track on Flexible Roadbed? - January, 06

Bob Zajicek writes:

Your site is awesome, I'm so glad I found it!

I have a question regarding Bill Logan's flexible ladder style road bed construction method.

I am just planning my garden rail road. I have some serious terrain and accessibility issues that prevent a conventional grounded, ballasted rail road. May I use code 250 track for this style of roadbed construction? I would prefer the 250 flex track because it's going to make the installation with this type of road bed much easier (from what I hear) as it can be hand formed around the radii. Code 332 requires a rail bender, etc.. Planning this with sectional track will turn this project into a monumental chore, which I'd like to avoid.

Thanks much for your help! Cheers, Bob

Bob, I just came across these in my files and thought they might help answer your question. This railroad in the Columbus, Ohio area is built using the Bill Logan Flexible Roadbed method, and the track seems to be Code 250 aluminum throughout. This MAY be Llagas Creek track, but I don't remember.

The main advantage of larger track profiles seems to be that they withstand mechanical abuse (from people walking over it, kicking it, etc.). The Franklin Conservatory RR shown in the Flexible Roadbed articles uses high-profile track because it is exposed to physical contact with unenlightened visitors and botanists. If your RR is designed in such a way that folks won't be walking on or kicking the ROW, smaller (Code 250) and softer (aluminum) materials should be fine.

ALSO, the more traditional ACQ lumber (4x4" post and 2x6" stringer) construction works well with flex track also, since you don't have to worry about the radii of your stringers lining up exactly with the radii of "storebought" curves.

That said, you may find that, although you don't HAVE to have a railbender, borrowing an appropriate railbender will make a large job a little easier, even with smaller track profiles. Some clubs have one they loan out to members.

Let me know how things progress,

Paul

[Note: Bob subsequently bought a pile of HDPE lumber from EPS and has started working with it. He planed the lumber down a little before he sliced it up because there was a slight "dip" in the middle that he was afraid would keep his final framework from being as even as possible. Other than that, Bob is very pleased with the EPS product. I've asked Bob to take lots of photos that we may be able to use in updating the Flexible Roadbed articles.]


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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