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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

Letters to the Editor, 2007

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 2007, 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 questions, corrections, or follow-ups to our answers.

Topic list for 2007 Letters to the Editor

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

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New Brite/Scientific Toys Trains Outside? - December, 2007

Robert J. Taylor, in Leesburg, Florida, writes:

Paul, I read your comments about Lionel large scale trains and some of your comments in the New Bright article about other "G" train manufacturers. Were you refering to the Scientific Toys brand as I know they were once associated, or maybe still are, connected to Lionel.

I'm a 68 year old retiree that plans on building a small garden railway (6' x 16') next to my carport using the battery powered Scientific Toys trains and track. I'll be starting on this right after the New Year.......but, I would like to get some more information like....what scale size is this brand (1:22.5, 1:24, 1:29 or 1:32)and whats it compatible with, should I wish to mix and match with other manufacturers. The Scientific trains I have will not be allowed to sit out in the sun and will be brought inside after use. The plastic track will be the only thing left outside to the elements

It has always been my feeling that trains of any size were for personal enjoyment and that make or manufacturer should not enter into it. Am I right or wrong? Incidently, you site is the most informative I have found to date. Maybe some "cons" could be included with your "pros" to inform and answer questions like mine.

Sincerely, Robert J. Taylor


Lionel has allowed a couple of other brands to make "lionel-branded" trains that were really more New-Brite-like in construction. But the only connection was in licensing the brand name, there was no transfer of technology, molds, or anything else to my knowledge.

Folks HAVE used New Brite and similar trains in garden railroads. They will run outside, although I'd recommend putting your railroad so that you can easily reach the whole each part of track. If you spray the trains with a UV-resistant clear spray it will even protect them from getting brittle in the sun (though I wouldn't take silly chances). That said, no plastic track is made to last outside period. You may be able to protect it from UV damage by spray painting it, but unless the track is ventilated 360 degrees, there's a good chance of the sun's HEAT warping it. For your own sanity, consider using real garden railroad track like the kind AristoCraft makes. Your trains will run better on it, too. Before you order track, make certain your track is about 1 3/4" between the rails. If it is, your trains should be compatible. I'd consider creating the kind of "oval" I recommend in the "Consider Easements" section of my article on Planning Your Garden Railroad for Reliability.

Please let me know if this helps - Paul

[Robert went ahead and tried an outdoor garden railroad using plastic track (the kind that comes with New Brite and Scientific Toys. He also sent me more information on the Scientific Toys locomotive which looks to be a larger scale (closer to true G scale) than the New Brite locomotives. And in the meantime, he came across yet ANOTHER Scientific Toys train, so he's definitely having too much fun with these things. Two photos of his railroad as of February, 2008 are shown below. Click on either to see a bigger photo. - Paul]

Click for bigger photo.Click for bigger photo.

Click for bigger photo.Update for 2010: I got so much feedback from Mr. Taylor's question and photos that I now have a page dedicated to Garden Railroading with Toy Trains. Click here for more information. Or click on the photo to the right to see what his railroad looked like in the spring of 2010. You'll will see that Bob went ahead and bought brass track--turns out he has accumulated an AristoCraft Rogers locomotive that is about the same size as his Scientific Toys trains.

Garden Railroading in a Rainy Climate - December, 2007

Burt Falgout, In Lousiana, writes:

My wife says I have too many trains for the house; I should put them outside. I'm most interested in garden trains, looking for some literature, catalogs, etc, for a beginner. I have acres to play on, but don't know where to get started. Any advice would be appreciated.

One big question: it rains a lot in this part of the world - over 20 inches some months - and there are hurricans. Thanks in advance.Burt


Obviously you found my page, which is the best free resource for beginning garden railroaders (or folks just considering). Look at the introductory and planning articles, then glance through the construction articles and see what kind of construction looks most attractive to you.

You should know that rain doesn't affect AristoCraft track. It doesn't affect most garden railroad structures as much as sun, which is why I always paint my buildings before I set them out, to add extra UV protection. If your water table is high, you might want to consider a raised railroad, just to keep the tracks from sitting in water on rainy days.

Other than that, you should know that there were a number of nice garden railroads in southern Louisiana before Katrina. Sadly, I've lost touch with the folks who had them, so I don't know of any currently. :-(

Please keep my in the loop so I can help where I can - Paul

Why is the Wheel Arrangement of a Locomotive Important? - December, 2007

Larry Farnsworth asks:

Is the number of drivers on a locomotive important, or does it really matter that much, or at all? Thanks - Larry


Of course it's important, to the original engineers at least. For modelers it gives you a sense of the size of the engine. USUALLY, engines with more wheels also have bigger wheels and are bigger overall, as long as you're modeling in the same scale. A 4-6-4 is MUCH bigger than a 2-6-2, for example. [In this designation, the middle number is the number of drivers - a 4-6-4 has four leading "pilot" wheels, six drivers, and four "trailing wheels."]

The other thing is that it typically helps designate whether an engine is optimized for freight or passenger service. 4-4-0s, 4-6-0s, and 2-6-0s were multi-purpose, but tended toward light passenger work or "mixed" trains in the last years of their service. 4-4-2s. 4-6-2s, and 4-6-4s were all passenger locomotives with relatively large drivers so they could go at high speeds. 2-8-0s, 2-8-2s, and 2-8-8-2s were freight locomotives. They tended to have more, but smaller drivers - think more power and traction, less speed.

Yes, there were many other kinds, but these are the kinds most represented in garden railroading today.

What does this mean to you? It's not as important as your decision to model Narrow or Standard gauge. For example, an LGB 2-6-0 or Bachmann 4-6-0 is at home pulling either freight or passenger cars, but WAY out of place pulling steel passenger cars. On the other hand, the big standard gauge lines like NYC and PRR never used 2-8-2s for passenger service, except in a pinch. But to most visitors, a standard gauge 2-8-2 pulling a line of steel heavyweights is still attractive, although a 4-6-2 would be more "proper."

Hope this helps - Paul

Where Can I Find Building Plans? - December, 2007

Daryl Dammeyer writes:

I am looking for a book on building garden railroad structures. I am especially interested in dimensions and designs of buildings but have been unable to find such a resource. Any suggestions? Thanks - Daryl


The best single source of plans for garden railroad buildings is Garden Texture, who has often given "free" plans away in copies of Garden Railways. Their plans are written with the assumption that you will build the buildings from real lumber and appropriately-sized wood strips (which they also sell). Their web site is, although I'll warn you that the site hangs up my computer as often as not. Each set of plans costs $10 or $15, so you'd probably want to decide ahead of time what buildings you want.

Here's a question, do you know what scale of buildings you want to build? Most Large Scale buildings are about 1:24 in scale (half dollhouse size), but they should really be larger scale (such as 1:20.3 to go with narrow gauge trains or 1:32 to to go with standard gauge trains).

Also which buildings do you want to build? ANY model railroading resource can give you ideas. "Trackside Scenes You Can Model" is a good idea book.

For other plans, you can use ANY HO plans you find in a book or magazine. If you are running Standard Gauge trains like AristoCraft, USA Trains, or MTH, multiply the dimension by 3x. If you are using Narrow Gauge trains, you COULD multiply by 4x, but MOST narrow gauge stations, etc., were relatively small, and you may not have the real estate you need for scale 1:20.3 or 1:22.5 buildings. Many kit builders compromise by making the buildings about the right height, but not as long or wide. For example, if you have a station with 9 windows on the side, shorten it a bit and use 7 or even 5 windows spaced (relatively) the same way the nine windows were spaced. This will still give you a convincing model without taking over your garden.

That said, if you don't mind 1:24 scale, you could take photographs of buildings you like, then go to the Precision Products web site and order the parts you need from the 1/2" scale (1:24) page. Precision products makes vacu-formed sheets with window molds, etc. Lots of folks around Ohio have used them with success. Then when parts come in, the main thing you have to do is decide how to approximate the building you like with the pieces that are available to you. Some VERY effective buildings have been built this way. For a core you can use styrofoam insulation, which requires you to weigh the building down to keep it from blowing away. One area modeler uses plexiglass scraps.

One other idea, especially if you're looking to make downtown buildings, would be to go to our Building Front Photos page, find a photo you like, print it off, and use that as the plan. On that page, you'll also see what I mean about starting with a big building and shaving it down by reducing windows, etc., without (necessarily) reducing the scale.

These are all just ideas to help get you started. Please let me know if you have any more questions - Paul

Running Lionel Collector's Items Outside? - December, 2007

J.J. White, in Iowa, writes:

My outdoor layout will be in Iowa. I am still debating as to the use of LGB stock (which I own none of) vs using my 1947 Lionel stock. Since most of my Lionel stock is in the "collectors' category I would bring it in at night but that does not mean the log loader with a cloth ribbon, the cattle loader, the milk can unloading dock or the coal car unloading would work very long if left out in the rain. I have the same concern about the 24 O gauge electric switches.


If you are not currently running these trains, they may need maintenance to become really useful, too. In addition, it's not just rain, it's also moisture - even if you take them in and out, in your humid Iowa summers, they'll be more exposed to moisture than if they were inside. And sitting in the sun all day several times a summer WILL cause them to fade eventually, although the painted units hold up better than the molded plastic.

You wouldn't want to use anything that had real collector's value, except for maybe a few times a summer. If you're addicted to O (and some people are), consider getting a couple current "off-the-shelf" trains with no particular collectors' value to run most of the time and only bring your collectors items out on important days such as open houses and parties. On the other hand, if your O gauge is mostly a collection and not currently in much use, consider migrating to Large Scale. AristoCraft, USA Trains, and MTH make the best Large Scale models of Standard Gauge. Be ye warned - they average 6-8 times the bulk of your Lionel trains, but that additional size is REAL helpful outside where things take on a different perspective.

You're right to worry about the turnouts; that's a big issue for O-Gauge-Outsiders. I think more weather-resistant turnouts are on the horizon, but there are few options for automating them.

The short version is that I would recommend O gauge outside to a person who is actively running recently purchased Lionel equipment now, but it sounds like your O gauge stuff is more of a "collection." If you aren't running O gauge trains now, I'd recommend Large Scale - there are WAY more weather-resistant choices and methods.

Please let me know if I can help in any way. - Paul

Click to see articles and resources for a joyful family Christmas.Can I Fit Big Trains Into a Small Space? - November, 2007

Tom Siegler writes:

Paul, I would like to get started in Garden Railroading. My space at the moment is limited to 6 1/2 feet (the curves) by 12 feet. Whats the best starter set to get? How would you start without spending a lot of money? I read some of your articles but am still a little confused. Thanks

Tom, if I had to squeeze a railroad into that area, I'd probably start with a Narrow Gauge starter set like the Bachmann sets on the following page:

That will give you some comparison shopping room. Also check out

To do a price comparison, add the product to your shopping cart and you'll see your final discount.

Sadly, you can't use Bachmann track outside. But you'll want to get a 6'-diameter loop anyway and maybe a box of 12 straight pieces. The Bachmann train will RUN BETTER on AristoCraft track than it will on Bachmann track, even indoors. And wider curves are always better.

That said, if you want to add a trolley line or something similar later, you can always squeeze in a 4'-diamter loop. . .

BTW, I have the AristoCraft starter set shown on the page, and I personally like it very much. It also comes with a remote control and with a loop of track that you CAN use outdoors in a pinch (it's made for outdoors, it's just a very small loop). So if you find yourself lusting after that little remote control on the Aristo set don't feel bad. And here's the really fun part - the remote control controls the track, not the train, so it will control ANY garden train you put on the track later.

Okay, that's probably too much information, but I wanted to give you as much guidance as you could use without just telling you what to do. :-)

Have a great day, please let me know if you have any questions - Paul,

Where Can I Buy Trains Down Under? - October, 2007

Martin Taylor, of Australia, writes:

Hi I am really keen to get started and your site has been very helpful. But I need to know if I can buy G scale in Australia or do I need to buy from the US, if so who would you recommend? Thanks - Martin


I know of a place in Perth. A friend there says that says he has had good luck with Stanbridges Hobbies in Guilford Road Mount Lawley.

Aristocraft lists the following two dealerships down under:

Click for bigger photo. Model Merchant
Phone: 0295559537

Store: Adelaide Garden Railway Supplies
Phone: 8 82716875

Don't know if anyone is closer, offhand, but that might get you started. Best of luck - Paul

[Note: When I heard back from Martin, he had ordered an AristoCraft train and set up a "starter" railroad off his patio. He used old newspapers and "blue stone" gravel for his track bed. The photo at the right shows the Bachmann starter set he began with running on AristoCraft track. - ed]

How You Get Scale Weight and Inertia In Rolling Stock? - September, 2007

Mark Anderson writes:

Does anyone work with getting rolling stock to move with more scale weight and inertia? I have searched the internet without success. . . .

Mark, Relating to your question about freerolling cars: First of all, do all of your cars have metal wheels? That helps a lot, by lowering the center of gravity and improving how freely they roll. Solid metal wheels affect the center of gravity more than plastic wheels with metal flanges, like some Bachmann cars have.

The next step might be getting ball bearing wheelsets. They are expensive, but folks who model yards with "humping" find them invaluable. If I read Aristocraft's wheelset page right, the bearing wheelsets list for $44 a PAIR, so equipping a car will cost you more than the car, even if you find them at a discount.

Also some cars ARE too light and can benefit with a little extra weight. But that will reduce the practical length of your train. Also, I wouldn't bother weighting cars that don't have metal wheels - you'll double the drag without improving any other aspect of their operation, except maybe their ability to handle rough trackage.

I don't know anyone with automated or RC breaks on their cars.

Best of luck with your plans; keep me posted - Paul

How Do You Hook Up Power to an LGB Starter Set? - September, 2007

Don Bixler, of Fremont, Ohio says:

I purchased a used LGB railroad complete with cars, track all accessories, however I have never built a railroad before. I have been reading many of your articles and they have been very helpful. I did not however receive any information about wiring when I bought the train and was wondering if any of your articles relate to how to wire the track and set up transformers etc. Thanks for any help.


Did you get a power supply with your train? If so, there are probably four terminals on the side. Two are DC and control the train. Two are AC and control accessories like streetlights. You can use just about ANY kind of wire to get voltage to the tracks. I usually use lamp cord that you can buy at Radio Shack on a spool. If you get that, you'll notice that one side has a "bead" on it so you can always tell which lead you're hooking to what. This isn't critical when you only have one train, but it gets more critical as your railroad expands. Also, 18 gauge wire is find for short runs (most manufacturers include 24 gauge wire, which is REALLY wimpy).

Look at your track and see if there are any funny-looking thingies on any of the pieces that MIGHT be used to screw wires to. Run one lead to each rail, and run the wire back to the DC terminals on your power supply. Make SURE you use the DC terminals (they might say "train control" or something). AC will hurt your train.

To test, turn the power supply's knob or lever all the way to the "stop" position. Wipe the track section clean that you are setting your locomotive on, and set the locomotive on it. Then start very slowly.

If your locomotive makes a humming noise but doesn't move, make certain you don't have the AC hooked up. If your locomotive moves and stops, your wiring is OK, you probably just have dirty track or dirty wheels on the locomotive.

If you DON'T have a powers supply, try to get one made for garden trains. They draw more amperage than indoor trains.

If you have a DC power supply that is made for HO and it has 2 amps or more of power, it will work for your train. But it won't hold up to dampness.

WHATEVER you do, don't get one made for Lionel 3-rail trains - they put out AC that will damage your locomotive.

Best case, get an LGB power supply, then you know you're safe. I like AristoCraft power supplies, but they have features that the LGB doesn't really benefit from.

Hope this helps. Please let me know if you hit any more snags - Paul

Making Roads - August, 2007

Bob & Marcia Estes, of Denton, Texas, write:

We love our garden train! We have one in my brother's yard (his wife Jenny is our Master Gardener) and we have a smaller version in our own yard. We are enjoying this family project very much. Our question is: What is the best thing to use for the village streets? We bought a pebble mat (Lemax Village Collectibles) but it will prove to be very expensive for our larger setup (156 ft. of track). Surely there is some kind of product that would be more economical and useful for outdoors. We value your opinions and have learned a lot reading your articles! If you have some suggestion for us, we would appreciate it very much. Thank you!

Bob and Marcia

Hey, guys, glad to see you're moving ahead.

You're right about the cost of using a pebble mat oudoors. Plus it wouldn't probably hold up all that well anyway.

The fact that I don't have a great article on how to do roads should tell you that I don't have a great solution. Yet.

It seems to me that an issue of Garden Railways within the last three years had articles by three different people on how they make roads. Seems like one of them involved making a "base" out of screen or something similar and spreading a plaster-like goop on it in thin layers to build up a smooth surface that could be painted to resemble blacktop or some such. You really SHOULD look that article up, because it probably has better ideas than the ideas I'm going to share now.

One friend locally just uses those 2x8x12" concrete stepping stones you can get in most of the country for about 1.25@. He butts them up against each other over landscaping fabrick or some such to deter weeds and builds his whole road system at right angles to each other.

Another uses crushed limestone that he just keeps packing down. This is the same resource he used for his ballast, so he has a lot of it. To see his railroad, you'd swear the stuff was held together by concrete mix or something, but it's just settled in and become pretty solid on its own.

I'm using either trails of gravel or bits of gray roofing material that I bought for another purpose. I actually think the rolls of roofing material might be useful for a number of things, such as setting a big hunk down where your town is supposed to be, and cutting holes where you actually want plants to grow, and just setting your buildings on it to make your city blocks. Of course MY first buildings had sidewalks, so they looked more appropriate sitting this way. . . .

But now NONE of this replicates your cobblestone streets. I haven't thought long and hard about cobblestones, but I have thought about pavers. One idea involved getting a brick molding from Precision Products, who makes all sorts of scale building supplies for Large Scale on a huge "vacu-form."

I actually got the brick pattern, which is 12"x12" with the idea of building a simple mold, and turning out my own "stepping stones" that had a brick pattern on the top. But I never got any farther than bringing it home and putting it into my garage with all my other future products. Of course you could do the same thing with cobblestones. If you do, let me know if it works. :-)

Here's another thought about cobblestones, based on some craft projects I've seen that actually worked for other people. Get a bag of "sand mix," a bag of little round pebbles (pea gravel is one name they go by, if you get a chance to get a kind that's mostly quartz, go for it), and a bottle of that stuff they use to stain concrete a darker color (it's usually near the concrete mixes in the big box hardware stores. Make little forms where you want your roads to be, using hardware cloth or something to provide extra support unless you plan these to be very thick. Mix some water and dye into the sand mix, then when it's a little runnier than you'd like it to be, stir an almost equal amount of pea gravel into the mix. Add more water if you're having trouble stirring - you can always stir a little more sand mix into it later to thicken it up again.

Now spread it into your mold and smooth it down. The mix sets inside as well as outside, not just top-down. So there will be a point, usually between 15 and 35 minutes after the pouring at which the mix is generally set but you could still carve it with your fingernail if you wanted to. At THAT point (again, this is WAY more art than acience), you hose down your "road" with a small amount of water that has just enough pressure to wash some of the "sand mix" out from between the pea gravel, while leaving the pea gravel. Sounds crazy, right? Let me know if you try it and it works. :-)

Again all of these ideas are just to help you find something that is comfortable for YOU. Again, the GR article is useful if you can come by it. In the meantime, I guess it's time for me to write an article on making roads, so I have a reason to try all these things myself. Best of luck - Paul

Question about AristoCraft Flextrack - August, 2007

Roger Houser, of Caddo Mills, Texas writes:

I am thinking of purchasing some Aristocraft Flexrail. Does it come with ties or must they be purchased separately?


I'm sorry it took so long to answer you - I just got back from a garden railroading event in Cleveland. Here is the URL for AristoCraft's flextrack pricing. Sadly, the cost of brass just jumped a bunch (due for demand for copper in China).

As you can see, the tie strips are sold separately, because you can choose whether you want narrow-gauge/"Euro"-style tie strips (big ties, far apart for use with LGB or Bachmann) or standard-gauge "USA-style" tie strips (smaller ties closer together) for use with AristoCraft or MTH trains.

If you already have a BUNCH of one kind, I wouldn't change tie types in the middle of a RR. The rail is the same either way.

Also, you should consider a rail bender, if you don't already have one. Aristocraft's is RAIL BENDER 11920. (A Rail Bender is recommended for ANYBODY's "flex track.")

You'll also want the RAIL TO TIE SCREWS -2MM (50) 11911 - fastens the ties to the rails so they don't slide back and forth.

Unless you want to use someone else's rail joiners/rail clamps, you may also want to consider:

Hope this helps. I used to have a vendor who could answer all these questions on his 1-800 line and get you everything you needed, but he just went out of business. I'm trying to line someone else up who can do the same thing, but in the meantime, if you call San Val, or WattsTrainShop and tell them that Family Garden Trains sent you . . . .

If you don't need a lot of turnouts, you may also consider Llagas creek aluminum track - it's a very easy-to-use product, and does well in dry climates (if you allow for lots of expansion).

Hope this helps. Please let me know how things work out - Paul

Building Plans to Use With Barn Siding - August, 07

Duane Gauger writes:

I would like to construct some buildings out of old barn boards. I really like the look of deeply weathered boards. Do you know where I can find scale plans for buildings? My train set is LGB.


Thanks for getting in touch. A company named Garden Textures sells detailed plans, but they're more suitable for scratchbuilding with smaller components. MOST buildings made to go with LGB trains are about 1:24, which is a dollhouse scale, so you may be able to find dollhouse plans that work (or use 1:12 dollhouse plans and divide everything in half.

Garden Textures' home page is at:

As an additional option, the Colorado Models folks sell doors and windows that would work nicely as add-ons to your barn siding. Check out the following page (scroll to the bottom).

Alternatively, if you want a REALLY rustic look, you might could use hardware cloth for the window mullions.

Hope you have a good jig-saw. :-) Please let me know how things turn out. - Paul

How Do You Stain Trestles? - August, 07

John asks:

What do you use to stain your trestles?


Most folks in our area (SW Ohio) use cedar and let it weather naturally. I have a trestle I acquired from someone else that was already stained, and then sustained damage from a falling tree. I wanted the new pieces to match the old pieces. So I mixed some water-based walnut-colored stain with some water-based Thomson's Wood Treatment, put the combination into a spray bottle and let her rip (someplace where staining the bushes behind the trestle wouldn't be a problem). I don't see why you couldn't do the same thing with a commercial outdoor wood stain. I've asked some friends and if they come up with anything else that sounds especially useful. Their comments are below. - Paul

Dave Smith, of Long Island, says: I put the trestle parts into one of those pump up garden sprayers, dump Thompson's Water Seal in and then "pump it up". The pressure causes the Thompson to REALLY penetrate the wood and tunnel portals and trestles I've had out for years, although weathered, haven't rotted!

This is how they creosote real RR ties!

Dan Stenger, of Richwood, Kentucky, says: Jasco's Copper Brown Wood Preservative gives redwood the look of Creosote. You can purchase it at Lowes.

Fred Mills of Ottowa, says: You can get just about any colour you want in an oil based stain, these days. The paint suppliers will tint the base to any colour you want.

The colour of creosote, is the colour I'd aim for. Don't get fooled into a latex based stain for out of doors. Use the oil based one. It will help preserve the fragile strip wood of your structure, and give you the colour you want at the same time.

I have even used a clear oil based wood preservative, and mixed it with a dark stain. This works great too.

Kevin Strong, a frequent contributor to Garden Railways magazine says: When we did the trestle on dad's railroad, we used a mixture of Minwax "walnut" and Thompson's waterseal. We actually soaked each bent in the mixture for a few hours prior to assembly. Nearly 20 years later, it's still holding up quite well, having weathered quite well. A few of the stringers have had to be replaced, but that's about it. From photos I've seen recently, the stringers aren't treated in any way, they're just plain redwood. That'll weather to a nice grey over the winter.

I've also heard of people spraying used motor oil on the trestles and their wood ties to help preserve them. I'm not vouching for the ecological friendliness of such a practice, just mentioning that it has been done.

Me personally? [Kevin speaking] I've used an iron acetate solution (steel wool dissolved in vinegar) to weather the wood in the past. This works to differing degrees on different woods. Cedar turns a nice, dark brown. Basswood turns kind of orangish tan. My bridges, I've just left to weather naturally. The redwood has turned a nice grey rather quickly. The cedar trestle and Howe Truss bridge still haven't darkened or changed too much, but they should over the winter, especially if buried under the snow like the other bridges were last year. The fence is a nice grey, and it's the same wood.

I've also been known just to brush a dilute mix of black/brown acrylics on the wood to give it a darker look. This seems to have held up well in the short term, but ask me in a few more years about long-term.

Wil Davis, of Dayton, Ohio, says: My bents are made of Cypress which is quite light in color so I stained them. I wanted to represent a creosoted trestle so I used Minwax dark walnut stain and dipped the completed bent in it before it was installed. I strung a rope across my green house and let the bents "drip dry." I improvised a "tank" from four pieces of 1 x 4 that I nailed together in a box and draped a double layer of clear vinyl over it. When I was done I poured the excess back in the can and discarded the plastic. I wouldn't use the remaining stain for fine furniture, but it was fine for the rest of the trestle pieces. I stained the strips for the stringers and braces the traditional way, with a brush.

So far it's doing well after five years.

Can You Modify MTS-Equipped Locomotives to Make Them Work With MTH DCS Controllers? - August, 07

Paul Buckholz says:

I have been told that you can put a 'modified wave rectifier' on an MTH DCS TIU and run LGB engines having MTS with the MTH DCS controler. Don't know the specifics of how to do this. Can you help? - Paul


My "panel of experts" has drawn a blank. Of course they may be suffering sunstroke or something, but nobody I have frequent contact with about this sort of thing has heard of the solution that was suggested to you. My personal response is that this sounds like the kind of wishful thinking certain salesmen verbalize when they're trying to sell you something that's not really compatible with what you already have. (I get a lot of questions based on misinformation from store sales guys, in case you wondered.)

The fact that I don't know about it doesn't mean it can't be done. But MTS-equipped engines aren't cheap, and I wouldn't want to take that risk on my equipment unless I'd seen it done personally.

Sorry I couldn't be more help - Paul

[Note: If you have hands-on experience with the kind of thing Mr. Buckholz is asking about, please contact us and I WILL post details here. Thanks - Paul]

[Note: If you don't know what these acronyms mean, MTS is an LGB system for controlling track-powered trains by remote control DCS is the MTH company's system for doing the same thing. The systems have many differences I'm not sure can be overcome by adding a "modified wave rectifier." For more discussion of remote control technologies, please see our Large Scale Power and Control article.

Are Playskool Large Scale Trains Still Available? - July, 07

Beth, in Illinois, writes:

I bought my husband a Playskool outdoor train about 8 years ago. Do you know if they still make them? I only have 3 trains but would like to add on or sell them. Any ideas? Thanks - Beth


I don't know for certain what kind of train you bought. The Playskool train I'm familiar with is an indoor children's train that runs on plastic track. The locomotive runs on C Cells and you turn it on or off by bumping a knob on the top or pushing a lever on a special piece of track. This train WILL run on G-gauge track (the kind that garden trains run on) as long as you don't have any turnouts (switches) or crossovers or rerailers on the track. So some folks use the trains outside during the day but bring them in at night. I've used my daughter's on a "demonstration" railroad myself, to give kids something to do while the big people were watching the big trains run.

Unfortunately, Playskool has more-or-less discontinued these trains. They reissued them briefly about four years ago, then stopped making them again. The good news is that there are hundreds of OTHER trains that run outdoors. And if you already have metal track running outside, chances are most garden trains on the market today will run on it.

If you have a digital camera, please send me a photo and I'll tell you for sure if you have the train I'm thinking of, or if you have something else altogether, in which case all bets are off.

Hope this helps - Paul [Note: Beth wrote back to say that she had PlayMobil trains. These were built by LGB and are just about the same as the LGB Toy Train line. So I told her so. Sorry for the false trail. I'll try to find photos of both to post along with this article to help reduce future confusion - Paul]

Support Stakes for HDPE Roadbed - July, 07

Noel Arnold asks: ... The HDPE system intrigues me, but I have another question. It says that I just need to hammer the support stakes into the ground, and not to make them with points (which I understand exacerbate the frost heave problem), but how far do you have to go with them, and how come it isn't a frost heave problem? I know that I have frost heave, but I really do like the info on the HDPE. I do have another possible problem, some of the ground where I will be putting the support stakes is quite hard, any suggestions? I also noticed in the article, that the Trex materials can also be used, and I do have a good supply of those in my area (the suppliers of HDPE are very limited and quite far away). Have you used any of the TREK stuff?

Thank you again - Regards - Noel


Thanks for taking a look at the articles. Actually, on Bill Logan's HDPE system, the vertical "stakes" are temporary until you get your trestle or retaining walls or whatever installed. I HAVE seen them used successfully on railroads where the roadbed was raised only a few inches above the surrounding ground level (and the other end of the stake went below the frost line). But according to Bill, the vertical HDPE "stakes" have too much flex to be used to permanently elevate a RR more than a few inches. (This is true of the Trex-like materials, too.)

The Blessings use HDPE lumber for their outdoor O railroad, but he wanted his railroad raised quite a bit, so he bought the kind of metal fence posts you use to string a barbed-wire fence, cut the HDPE stakes short and screwed them to the metal fence posts, which he drove WAY into the ground in some cases.

There's no compelling reason that you couldn't use pressure-treated, ground-rated 4x4s or some alternative for your vertical support, again going below the frost line with whatever you choose.

Back to the HDPE versus trex-like material, David Cook at will give you a 5% discount if you tell him its for a garden railroad - they're nice to deal with because they've been dealing with garden railroaders for years. Also, David sometimes has "seconds" he can let you have a little cheaper although they just upgraded their milling equipment so there are fewer mistakes than there used to be.

Trex-like material (like HDPE lumber that uses a lot of sawdust for volume), is almost as good if you don't need tight curves. So if you're using really wide curves and the price difference is significant, that's another option.

Hope this helps - Paul

More Power for LGB Starter Set Trains - July, 07

Phil, in Chicago asks:

I was considering of buying the LGB 52120 Throttle & the power LBG 50111. I need to run two trains. Right now I still have the starter transformer in which I tried, but both trains ran a bit and then died. Of course they worked again just using one. Do you suggest I purchase these two products? Please advise. Thank You I have LGB Southern & LBG 0-4-0. Thank You


I'm not sure I understand, were you trying to runn both trains off of one starter transformer? That device doesn't have the juice. The 50111 is rated for 5 amps which is enough power for anything LGB makes, and almost certainly enough power for two of the "starter set" engines if you have two throttles.

I can certainly recommend the 5-amp system for one train - you may be pleasantly surprised at the performance difference. You could probably use it very well for 2 trains if you have small engines, small trains, and no grades over 2%.

Hope this helps - Paul

Where Are We? - July, 07

Dian, of Elyria Ohio, asks:

Where are you located? Please send directions. Thank you.

Dian, sorry, I don't have a store front or anything. We live near Springfield, Ohio, if you want I'll let you know when we're going to have a garden railroad open house, probably this September. I'm not sure it's worth driving across the state for, really, though. But any products you see advertised on our site are just recommendations with links to folks who sell them and have a record of good customer service.

I am doing a presentation on garden railroading in Kirtland (east of Cleveland) July 14,15, and again in August. That might be a good place to get your questions answered, plus representatives of the local garden railroading club will be there, and they're a helpful bunch of people.

Plus there's a professional garden railroad on display there this summer that's worth the trip. . . .

Hope this helps - Paul

Two-Rail O Gauge Outside Power Question - June, 07

Jeff Barnhart, of Poway, CA, writes:

Hello, and great web site, lots of usefull information.

However I'm in the process of building an O-Scale(Gauge) Garden Railroad, but I'm unsure of how much power I'll need. I've read your articles on power but I'm still not sure. The area is not very big, and I'll have about 50'to 75' of Atlas O-Scale 2-Rail Nickel Silver track. At this point I'm not planing on having any lights, as I'm doing an "Old West" theme. . . . Any help and advice would be great. Thank you.

Jeff Barnhart

[I forwarded this question to John Blessing, who knows a lot more about O gauge outside than I do. His reply is below:]

Paul and Jeff:

Since Jeff is interested in 2 rail, I am not sure as I do not know if 2 rail running is AC or DC and the power consumption is or could be very different than 3 rail operation.

One aspect of Jeff's plan is total length of track being 50 to 75 feet. Anozira RR has a total of about 800 feet and we divided that into 8 blocks. The total running feet of track per block runs 50 to 75'. Some blocks have passing tracks and sidings. All track in a block is counted as potential load on the power supply as trains can be present on sidings and very often are running spontaneously on passing tracks within a block.

So, IF Jeff planned to operate AC -- 3 rail, TMCC I would not hesitate to say that all he would need is one, Lionel, 180 watt, PowerHouse feeding a Lionel 73-4120-250, TMCC Direct Lockon, which is what Anozira has per block. An Anozira block can run two passenger trains with smoke or 3 freights w/out smoke and one passenger w/o smoke, or 4 freights with smoke. There are 10 amps with which to work in a block as described for Anozira. Long passenger trains, with smoke and pulling hard up-grade can eat 5 amps. Smoke alone is a good amp. Passenger car lights are hungry power munchers.

But, 2 rail power is the other side of the moon for me as I simply do not know. A very good place to pose that question is on the 2 rail section of The O Gauge Railroading On-Line Forum at:

Wellcome Jeff to thrills and expectations of O Out Doors (OOD).

Cheers - John Blessing

Are Garden Train Track Widths All the Same? - June, 07

Bill Loy, of Glacier Washington, writes:

Please tell me the differences in the track width. I want to buy a Bachmann Starter Kit, but later want to get an Astro-Craft passanger train to add to the rail, will this work? Is the track the same width for all G-Scale?


LGB and Aristo and Bachmann Big Hauler trains all run on the same track width - 45mm. Bachmann track isn't very good and can't be left outside, so I recommend that you save the Bachmann track to use around the Christmas tree and buy Aristo to use outside. The trains will run on either. That said, if you're buying a big Aristo passenger set, it might need bigger curves than the 48"-diameter stuff that comes with the starter sets. Some big Large Scale trains require 8'-diameter curves or larger, and ALL Large Scale trains (even Bachmann) look better and run better on wider curves.

So the short answer is that all Large Scale trains use 45mm track (about 1.775"), but some 45mm track is better than others, and some Large Scale trains require bigger curves than anything Bachmann makes anyway. Hope this helps - Paul Race

Using Crest Basic Train Engineer with small LGB Trains - June, 07

Avi Goldstein asks:

I have a question re. the Crest Basic Train Engineer:

My layout consists of two blocks, one driven by a simple 1 AMP power pack from an LGB starter set, the other by a 5 AMP LGB transformer. I have a single train running on each of these blocks - the more powerful transformer is used for a small loc (LGB Waiamanolo) coupled to an LGB motorized tender + up to three cars.

Will I be able to use a Basic TE for each of these blocks? I heard the Basic can only cope with up to 2 AMPs. I doubt the Waiamanolo + tender draws more than this but....

Is there indeed such a limitation (from the article it seems the limitation is with very big trains which is not the case here)

Thanks and best regards, Avi Goldstein


I don't think you should have any problem with the setup you described; however, if you're in a very congested area, you may not get the range you hope for out of the "basic" systems. Out where I live, 40' is possible, as long as I have good "line of sight," but in town, it may be half of that, if that's any concern. Also, when you buy your "basic TE" systems make certain you get two different frequencies. Aristo makes a shipment of one frequency, then a shipment of another, and so on. So any dealer with more than a couple on hand should be able to give you two different frequencies. With the more advanced TE's that's not an issue, since each locomotive also gets its own "ID code."

That said, I have several friends using setups similar to what you described and they are quite happy with them.

Best of luck - Paul

Colorado Mining Question - June, 07

Carol writes

I work for a court reporter and am working on a deposition concerning mining in Colorado. There is a train flatcar mentioned in that deposition and I am wondering if you have ever heard of this term.

I think he's saying "mantry" to describe a flat car used to transport miners in the mine.

Have you ever heard this term or something similar? I've check Google and Wikipedia and can't find anything. If you could help me out I'd really appreciate it. - Carol


This is one of the most unusual questions I've ever been asked. I submitted your question to my panel of experts. One railfan in New England said that a "mantrap" is a car with seats for taking riders into the mine. Two others said the right word is "mantrip," and a site put up by the Kentucky mining authority supports that. Hope this helps. Thanks for help me learn something, too - Paul

Have Pond Need Train - June, 07

William, from Virgina, writes:

I have a garden fish pond.. I need a garden railway now!! I need help with layout and design.

William, Our construction articles should give you an idea of the kinds of railroad you can build.

Also, the design articles on the primer page should give you lots to consider. I would suggest trying the Designing for Watchability article first and going out from there.

Is there a club in your neck of the woods? Many clubs are very helpful to new members. You can use the following page to search for clubs:

Please let me know as you come up with specific questions - Paul

How Do You Fasten Trestle Bents to HDPE Roadbed? - June, 07

Bryan Blazek writes:

I am building a garden railroad in Illinois using Bill Logan's HDPE method and was wondering what was the best materials and if there are any diagrams or plans for building trestles and how to connect them to the roadbed. So far the HDPE method has worked real well except for the amount of mess and shaving cutting the HDPE lumber makes. Thanks for any advice and for making such a great and informative website.


That was such a good question that I sent it on to Bill Logan, who sent me this very helpful answer:

Bill also sent the photo to the right, illustrating the additional 3/4" piece fastened to the bottom edge of Bill's "ladder" framework. The supporting post shown in the photo has since been removed - it was only there to keep the track in place until the trestle was there.

Why Doesn't Bachmann Track Work Outdoors? - May, 07

Paul Ryan, in Springfield, Ohio, writes:

Somewhere in all these online articles from this site, I thought I saw in one, a comparison of Bachman and Aristo Craft. It showed the track profile and something about them not being compatible.But I can't find that article. Can you tell me which one it was in? Thanks.


The bad news is that I don't show the profile of Bachmann track in any of my articles. I SHOULD, now that you mention it. I show some other kinds of track in:

But I don't well describing Bachmann track, because it's irrelevant to garden railroading. Bachmann doesn't actually use rail. If you sliced a piece in half, you'd see that what looks like a rail is really a rectangular piece of plastic with a u-shaped length fastened over the top to conduct electricity to the wheels of the engine. On top of that, the plastic they use is not UV-resistant. Back in the 1980s I asked Bachman if they were EVER going to make track for outdoors, and they explained that this was the way they keep the price of their starter sets down. It does work okay around the Christmas tree. . . .

Aristocraft rail profile is almost identical to LGB if you've seen that, sort of a solid, squat I-beam with a fat "head" and a wide "base" just like real railroad rails, but a tad sturdier than a real scale rail would be. A piece of Aristo is shown to the right.

Aristo is also 100% compatible with LGB track, but I like it better because the rail joiners screw on, making a better connection.

Hope this helps - Paul

How Do I Build a Seasonal Garden Railroad? - May, 07

Barry Rausch writes:

Paul, I've been looking for novice railroad building info from various websites and model railroad magazines, but they never seem to address the basics: starting from the ground up.

I would like to know where I can find some basic - and I mean very basic - instructions in building a simple ground level railroad for a G-scale model train. To start with, I need to know what to use for its base (i.e. plywood, 2x4's), support and how best to attach track to it. I plan setting up an 8ftx8ft display, which will be seasonal only, and will have to break it down into four 4ftx4ft sections. I have basic woodworking skills and can use saws and drills without difficulty.

Any info you can send me - or how/where to find this info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks - Barry


The reason there is no one "how-to" resource to do exactly what you describe is that there are many ways to do it. If "seasonal" means that you'll only have the railroad down a few weeks every year, then the "One-day" method, which puts the track on gravel (and very little else) may be what you need.

If you want something substantially more solid, and you worry about "washouts" or other weather problems disrupting the gravel, consider building the kind of roadbed used in the "Simple Raised Roadbed" method - using mostly 2x6 pressure treated lumber. Nobody says you have to elevate it, but the advantage of having a solid roadbed on a ground-level railroad is that you can keep the track much more level and weed-free. (Many folks do use 2x6 roadbed for railroads that are ground-level or mostly ground-level, by the way.) And you could mostly back the screws out at the end of the season, store the lumber and track someplace reasonably dry, and reassemble it again next year.

Finally, the most elegant solution would be to use HDPE Lumber-Based roadbed. It costs more but is lighter weight and would be easier to move and store in large sections. By the way, as easy as it is to use this method for raised railroads, lots of folks use this method for ground-level railroads, too. That method has the most pages of description in my web site because a friend invented it and I wanted to make certain I explained it properly.

I'd tend to #2 or #3 for a temporary ground-level railroad myself. If this is to be a winter setup and you have snow, I'd tend toward #3, because you can knock the snow off the track easier. And if you have #2 or #3, you CAN set the whole thing up on concrete blocks or something in case of a few inches of snow. Hope this helps - Paul

How Do I Get Cars For My Blue Comet Locomotive? - May, 07

Ginny and John Vigrass, from Ohio, write:

Hi, we are trying to locate the 4 set passenger car set for our BLUE COMET LOCOMOTIVE ( CENTERAL NEW JERSEY ). Where can we locate this ? - Best wishes, Rev. Ginny and John

Ginny and John,

I've done some checking around and it looks like the only way AristoCraft is selling these is in a set with the locomotive. Your note implies that you already have the Aristo Pacific. I might point out that the new version is much sturdier and a much better runner than the old one (which was plenty nice for its time), so you would not be disappointed with the set.

If you want to get the passenger cars only, you might be able to talk a dealer into breaking up the set (whether he agrees MIGHT depend on how it is packaged. If the locomotive comes in its own box, he may agree).

I also checked on ebay, but that's not a great place to buy trains unless you're a very canny buyer (for one thing, only buy from people who accept paypal). There aren't any CNJ cars there now, but there might be some in the future.

I'm also forwarding this message to two friends, one is a dealer and one knows some folks at AristoCraft, so he may be able to help. I'll keep your message for a few weeks and let you know if anything else comes to hand. - Paul

[My friend with contacts at Aristo reaffirmed that these cars only come in the set. I also noticed hat the price of the whole set was a very good deal, not THAT much more than it would have cost to buy the cars separately. So I passed that on. In the meantime Rev. Ginny and John have found at least one dealer who would consider "breaking up" the set for them. - Ed.]

What Track is Better for Logging? - May, 07

Steve Z, in Lombarl, Illinois, writes:

Is USA train track better than Aristrocraft. would Euro track look better for logging?


AristoCraft is my favorite track manufacturer. For narrow gauge, their "euro" track is probably better than their USA-style track. (I haven't used USA-BRAND track, but it seems to be modeled after Aristo's USA-STYLE track.) "Euro" is really Aristo's way of saying that one of their lines of track looks more like LGB track than the other line. But LGB track was made to imitate narrow gauge railroads, so the Aristo Euro track does, too. That's actually what I have mostly, since it's all that was available from Aristo when I got into this hobby. If I built another Standard Gauge RR, I'd probably use USA-style Aristo Track. But for Narrow Gauge railroads, like most logging and mining railroads, the Aristo Euro track is my favorite. Hope this makes sense -

Best of luck - Paul

Should I Grease the Track? - April, 07

Jenny Estes, of Texas, writes: comment: My husband Bill and I are in the process of putting a G scale train in our backyard. We laid out the track and practiced running the train. We put out 156 ft. of track and except for needing more power, everything worked fine. Then the rains came. After the rain, our train began to stop at certain spots on the track. A friend came and said we needed to grease the track. In our reading and investigating this was the first time we heard of anyone saying that the track needed to be greased. We would be interested in knowing what kind of grease and where exactly should it be applied.

Help in Corinth, Texas - Jenny and Bill Estes

Jenny and Bill,

Glad to hear from you. This is a new one on me, sort of. I'm going to hazard a guess, though. In inside RRs, some HO scalers have figured out that a VERY light coat of fine oil (like "sewing machine oil," I think) keeps the track from oxidizing and having reduced connectivity. So after they clean the track, they go over with a rag and apply a VERY fine coat. Too thick a coat would gum things up, attract dust, or make the train slip. But a VERY fine coat does seem to keep the track from oxidizing as quickly on indoor railroads. I don't know anyone who bothers with this on outdoor RRs though, as the elements will remove that pretty fast one way or the other.

Another possibility, is that he's refering to the "conductive" grease that LGB sells for putting in the rail-joiners as you set the track up. It reduces the effect that moisture has on connections between rails and for a few years (usually) really does help the electrical connection.

First, if you're having trouble here and there and it doesn't seem to have to do with whole pieces of track going dead, but rather with a spot here and there where the locomotive has trouble picking up power, you have some sort of contamination on the track. The most likely sources are pine sap, or a "misty" sap-like compound deposited by nut and gum trees, squashed bugs, juice from grass blades that have been smashed by the locomotive, etc. Have you tried going over the spots where connectivity seems compromised with a track cleaning solution (or kerosene)? Or if you can scrounge up an EXTREMELY fine sanding block (400 grit or better) a quick touch is amost always effective. I have a Scot "sanding sponge" I leave underneath a building for "quick hits" under such circumstances.

If you're having the kind of trouble where a length of track goes dead, then you need to improve conductivity between rails.

You don't say what kind of track you have.

If you have LGB track, the problem is that the slide-on joiners don't make the world's best connection anyway, and the conductive grease they sell to compensate for that problem is not permanent. Some folks who've installed huge railroads counting on having that level of connectivity indefinitely are eventually disappointed as the stuff stops being effective. Many folks who start out with LGB track eventually buy aftermarket screw-on-rail joiners that replace (or in some cases screw over) the LGB slide-in rail joiners and make a better electrical connection between rails.

AristoCraft track has rail joiners that screw on so you have better connectivity than LGB out of the box. If you want to use the conductive grease as well, that's possible. But I run jumper wires between pieces, using lamp cord and tiny solderless lugs (like you used to get for old-fashioned screw-on phone jacks) fastened to the screws on the bottom of the Aristo track - a belt-and-suspenders solution that is extremely reliable and longlived.

If your trouble seems to be that certain pieces of track are dead, then run jumpers or buy some screw-on rail joiners and add them where the problem is the worst, and leep extra supplies on hand in case another section goes bad next week.

Okay, that's all more than you probably wanted to know. But it should help you narrow down the problem. Please let me know if you figure out what was causing the problem and how you fixed it - the more I know about individual RR hassles, the more likely we are are to be helpful to the next person who calls.

That said, I hope you've had fun with your trains, and I hope you'll visit often and let me know if you have any more questions. - Paul

[Turns out that the fellow who gave Jenny and Bill advice WAS talking about the conductive grease. Bill got some, they used it, and now the railroad runs much better. - ed.]

Where Can I Get EPS Lumber? - April, 07

Brian Marburger asks:

Where is a good place to buy EPS Lumber for building the road bed. What dimensions should be used?


I don't know where you are, but there's a place in Elgin, Illinois that has been very helpful to garden railroaders in the past. They ship all over the country, and they've recently gotten new machinery that makes their 2x4s even better for this application.

If you call them and ask for David Cook, and tell them you got the contact information through Family Garden Trains, you'll get a 5% discount.

In terms of dimensions, mostly you'll use 2x4s. The article that starts at describes the details. The last page of that article lists several other suppliers, as well.

Please let me know how things work out or if you have any other questions - Paul

Tracking Down Lionel Large Scale Railroad Workers - April, 07

Hans-Werner Lienau, in Hamburg, Germany, writes:

Since my childhood, I'm collecting Wild West figures from the german factory Elastolin. Since 1991 I've got LGB and started buying railroad figures and put them together with my indians and cowboys. I've read your article "Choosing Figures for your Garden Railroad" and found a reference to railroad workers from Lionel in 1 : 24 which are now out of stock. Is there a possibility to get pictures of them. I've never heard about them and would be very much interested in viewing them.

I'm very much interested in getting informations about companies who build figures for wild west between 54 and 90 mm. I have about 600 examples from the 1930's until today. If you like to see many of them, go to



I have searched my own files and places where they often appear on the internet (like ebay) and can't find any photos. They were a nice set Click for bigger picture. that same on a "card" sealed under plastic, about 6 of them for about $10. It was actually a very good value. The workers included a conductor and several other people who looked like station masters or engineers or other workers. They were soft rubber and had little holes on the bottom of their feet for sticking them into the cab of Lionel Large Scale trains. I have several in my collection, somewhere, but I don't have my trains set up for summer yet. When I locate most or all of them, I'll send you a photo, unless I see another photo first.

Have a great spring - Paul

[Actually, I found a fellow selling four sets on ebay. I asked Hans Werner if he'd want to buy a set if I got them and he said yes. And a friend of his also wanted a set. So now two sets of these are leaving tomorrow for Germany. No, I don't make a habit of this, but it was so much fun seeing Hans-Werner's collection, I thought it would be nice to help him add some figures that are bound to be pretty rare in Germany - Paul]

Will 10'-Radius Curves Handle Just About Anything? - March, 07

Rich Larsen a very experienced HO model railroader, from Sacramento, California, writes:

I plan to dramatically increase the size of my layout this year and plan to use 10' radius 90 degree turns in the corners. Will that be wide enough to handle almost everything running on a garden railroad? Thanks.

Rich, multiply your HO thinking by 3 times. An 80' Large Scale car on a 60"-radius (10'diameter) track looks like an 80' HO car on a 20"-radius curve. It doesn't come off the rails but it isn't pretty. In HO a 36"-radius curve is considered effective for "serious" model railroading with big modern equipment. The Large Scale equivalent would be a 9'-radius curve, so your 10'- radius curves should look great.

I have 10'-diameter curves and really wish I had gone bigger.

Have you seen the Outdoor Railroading Primer for Indoor Railroaders?

Let me know if you can think of anything I should add, based on your experience. Best of luck - Paul

How Do I Weather My Garden Trains? - March, 07

Sean Rosekrans, of Fenton, Michigan, writes:

I leave my rolling stock outside 24/7 but it still looks like new. I am trying to make them look realistic which is weathered. Most of the rolling stock is plastic so I would need to do something to them to make them look worn and well used. Do you have any ideas? I do take in the locomotives. - Sean


First of all, a little rust primer sprayed on the trucks does a lot of good in just a few moments. Indoor railroaders use a lot of rubbed-on or brushed on pigment, which may include chalk, almost-dry paint, etc. That stuff isn't weather-resistant unless you coat it with flat acrylic spray when you're done. But some outdoor railroaders, including Kevin Strong, who writes frequently for GR, have adapted indoor techniques admirably to the outside.

For my part, I've only "weathered" a few pieces, mostly pieces that were supposed to look run-down, battered and faded. For example to make a car I painted and decaled look like the lettering is washing off, I give it a light dusting with the same spray paint. .. .

A good primer on what indoor railroaders are doing is at:

The author DOES recommend Testor's Dulcote, a dull finish that indoor modelrs use. Don't use that - it's not UV resistant and will eventually turn things sort of gray. A fellow in Arizona tells me he uses a Krylon flat UV-resistant acrylic spray that he gets at WalMart, although there are never any on the shelves, because the other garden railroaders get there first. But that is the TOPcoat after you've weathered. Have a great spring, - Paul

[Note: This was my SECOND reply to Sean on this subject. The first time he wrote me, he said "weatherize" instead of "weather," so I completely misunderstood what he really wanted to know. Still, it's a pretty good answer to the question I thought he was asking, so I left it in - ed.]

How Do I Weatherize My Garden Trains? - March, 07

Sean Rosekrans, of Fenton, Michigan, writes:

Paul, You have been very helpful with my past questions, so I have another for you. I would like weatherize my rolling stock. Do you have any suggestions on how I may go about it. It is kept outside. Thanks - Sean

Hey, Sean, nice to hear from you. I HAVE experimented with leaving stuff out IN the weather 24/7/365. For an example, check out:

Wierd stuff rusts or breaks down that you wouldn't expect. Springs on the trucks of ArisoCraft gear, handrails on Aristo Cabeese and Bachmann freight cars etc. Based on my experience, I would recommend running the trains into a shed or tunnel or or something with a solid floor (to reduce dampness and with a roof that would keep off the direct rain or sun when they're not in use. If that's not practical, can you at least build something that you can set in place over the top of them when you're not running?

That said, the plastic-handrails-breaking-down problem is probably mostly a UV issue. So spraying your trains with a flat UV-resistant clear acrylic should help that and should also help keep colors overall from fading too rapidly. You should probably try to avoid spraying the windows of passenger cars, though, as it will make them look foggy. This will also help seal in any decals or stickers on your cars that might fail in hot or very damp weather.

If you have a lot of moisture and wanted to rub grease or oil over the Aristo truck springs, that might help slow the rusting, too. But it will make a mess if you ever want to clean the wheels. . .

If your train is in direct sunlight and you have plastic wheels, be careful of any really hot sunny days, as that is bad on the wheels and can actually cause them to deform slightly.

And I wouldn't leave ANY locomotive directly exposed to harsh weather unless there was very good reason. (Although the little 0-4-0 shown in the link I gave you above survived its snowing-in quite nicely).

I mostly schlep stuff in and out, since I don't have a train shed or whatever I can run my trains into, and also there is a slight security risk of leaving too much tempting stuff on the track unattended.

Hope this gives you some ideas at least. Later - Paul

Is Garden Railroading Remote Control Ready for Prime Time? - March, 07

Dick Nester from Temecula, California writes:

I am ready to dive in! I have been reading everything I can get my hands on, and visiting some stores. I am fairly technical, and believe the way to go is battery power and RC. However, I have been cautioned that neither is up to workable and enjoyable standards at this time. Store owners have even told me that some who have switched to RC are going back because it is too complicated. It seems so logical to me and we have been RCing planes for years. What do you recommend? What do you think is the most "dollar efficient" RC equipment?

Thanks, so much - Dick Nester


It's probably a good thing you didn't tell me which hobby shops gave you such bad advice so I can't visit them and beat the "store owners" with a rubber chicken. Translate what they told you into "There's not one off-the-shelf solution that removes all the work and decisionmaking like there is with the 47mhz battery/remote cars they sell at Radio Shack and WalMart. And since I don't have time to learn about it, it's easier to say they haven't worked out the bugs yet than to profess my ignorance." In 1984 that might have been true, but barely, as even then people were adapting airplane controls, etc., to their trains.

Today the most elegant and flexible solution (and the most expensive in certain applications) is produced by AristoCraft/Crest TE. One advantage of the Aristo system is that the receivers in each train (or on each track segment if you're going that way) can be programmed to receive different CODES, not different Frequencies. So while you need one receiver per train (or track segment) you may only need one or two transmitters to control a whole railroad (only one if there's only one operator). Aristo/Crest TE systems include remote receivers for operating turnouts and other accessories as well.

Some people seem to think that the Aristo on-board receivers aren't powerful enough to support really big locomotive with really long trains, but other folks get around that by taking the casing off of the Trackside receiver and sticking it right into the locomotive or tender shell. Aristo has also been experimenting with "battery cars," with plugs that plug right into the plugs on the receivers, but I don't know anyone using those locally, so I don't know if it's exactly as "plug and play" as they say.

If you GO with Aristo TE, look for new "DCC-ready" locomotives (I think that all of them currently are, just be certain you don't get old ones out of a warehouse somewhere - they can be used, it's just not as "plug and play").

The RCS solution uses smaller and less expensive transmitters, but they're not as programmable, so one transmitter per running train is more common. I don't think RCS has the research $$$ to keep up with Aristo, so I would expect Aristo to have more new products and applications in the future. That said, RCS is probably the best representative of the "others," so if you feel that you want to compare solutions, I'd compare RCS agains Aristo/Crest, and assume that most of the other manufacturers are closer to RCS in functions than to Aristo/Crest, if that makes sense.

Hope this helps,


Fastening Buildings Together and Holding them Down - March, 07

Cheryl, from Metarie, Louisiana, writes:

Hello, for the outside garden landscaping part what should you use for the buildings to stand on and what type of glue or cement should be used to hold them together or the buildings to the lanscaping during the outside rains? Thank you - Cheryl


I usually just set my buildings on steppingstones like the concrete 2x8x16" stones you can buy at the hardware store. Some people pour concrete footers, which have the advantage of being whatever shape you need. The advantage of using concrete is that once you level the concrete "base," the building stays level. And when you're doing serious gardening, you can even remove the buildings and have extra places to step or kneel. You don't have to fasten the buildings down - they're mostly heavy enough to stay in place. For a collection of pre-painted, mostly pre-assembled buildings, click here

If you buy buildings made for garden railroading (say from Pola or Piko), they may come with a weather-resistant glue. If they don't I usually use "superglue" to glue them together, then go over the seams from the inside with silicon or some other weather-resistant glue. Obviously, Elmer's glue and most wood glues are "out" as they are water-soluble.

I also recommend painting buildings, if they don't already have an actual coat of paint from the factory. My article on "Painting Plastic Structures" may give you some ideas.

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

Can You Have Garden Railroads in Canada? - March, 07

Gail, in Ontario, Canada, asks:


I would like to try the train but am concerned about our cold, snowy winters. Are there makes that will with stand our weather?


There are more garden railroaders in your neck of the woods than you might think. The following link shows clubs that were active in the last several years (I don't know how up to date it is.) The Nepean/Ottowa club is very active, but I don't think that's very close to you. Maybe one of the other ones is both close and active.

ALL garden trains are made to stand weather. They are made to stand up to UV light and high humidity and even direct rain or snow. The track is made to stay outside all winter long, and stands up to the harshest climates, as long as it is installed properly. (Bachmann track is the exception - it's not meant to be used outside, so I always recommend other brands of track, especially AristoCraft.) But most garden railroaders DO bring their trains and buildings in when there starts to be consistent snow on the ground.

I've left both out in our relatively mild Ohio winters, and based on that experience can say it's not a great idea - why add additional wear and tear when you're not in a position to enjoy them anyway? I have a "secondary" (cheap) set of buildings I leave outside in the winter now, in case I do wind up having a midwinter run.

Hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any more questions - Paul

How Big a Radius Should I Have? - March, 07

Rich Larsen, of Sacramento, California, writes:

I plan to dramatically increase the size of my layout this year and plan to use 10' radius 90 degree turns in the corners. Will that be wide enough to handle almost everything running on a garden railroad? Thnx!

[Note: Rich indicated elsewhere that his background was mostly HO, which is why I answered the way I did.]


Multiply your HO thinking by 3 times. An 80' Large Scale car on a 60"-radius (10'diameter) track looks like an 80' HO car on a 20"-radius curve. It doesn't come off the rails but it isn't pretty. In HO a 36"-radius curve is considered effective for "serious" model railroading with big modern equipment. The Large Scale equivalent would be a 9'-radius curve, so your 10'- radius curves should look great.

I have 10'-diameter curves and really wish I had gone bigger. Have you seen the "Outdoor Railroading Primer for Indoor Railroaders?"

Let me know if you can think of anything I should add, based on your experience.

Best of luck - Paul

Looking for Gears for a K-Line Diesel Engine - March, 07

[Note from editor: About 18 months before they went out of business, K-Line, who has made many O gauge trains for years introduced a line of "Large Scale" trains. They seemed to be fairly toy-like and were only available in a military paint job, so they weren't taken real seriously by hobbyists. Unfortunately, this reader has bought one, and now he can't get support.]

John writes:

I am looking for a wheel gear for a k-line g scale gp. One broken 3 split. The only fix I have found is to have one made - $75 us +$5 ea. gear - that is as much as the train cost! please contact me if you have heard of a fix. There must be others with the same problem.


I'm sorry to tell you that in my circle of garden railroading friends, I don't have one who owns one of these, so I can't pass on anyone else's experiences with the things. I'm now publishing your question in the "Letter to the Editor" page to see if I get any responses.

In the meantime, have you looked at replacing the trucks with power trucks from an AristoCraft locomotive? Don't know if they'd fit, but if they did, they'd be a lot more reliable.

Let me know what you think - Paul

What Gauge Wire Should I Use to Power My Railroad? - February, 07

Ricky Rogers, of the greater New Orleans area, writes: I'm in the process of building a raise garden 20'x48'x2'; we will use Aristo craft R/C Train Engineer system 10amp with a second receiver ( 2 transmitters). This will sit about middle of layout on one side. I will bring power (DC) to track; we'll have about 30ft at the longest point all connected to the track, then my 5 unit switching receiver will be on the garden layout with 25 ft as the longest run to the remote switching machine. Now for the question: What size wire do I need for power to track ( was thinking 16g - or would 14g be needed ) and for switching receiver (18g)? All wire would be stranded. Thank you very much for any information that you can give me. Love all your Articles; only couple of hobby shop left in the New Orleans area, and their knowledge is limited about DCC or the AristoCraft TE System


Are you saying the low voltage line between the DC power supply and the receiver will be 30 feet long? If you already have 16g wire onhand, try that; it is probably all you really need. But if you haven't bought the wire yet, consider 14 gauge just to add an extra margin of safety. Part of the issue is what you'll be running - if you're running trolleys or 5-car trains, you'll definitely get by with 16g. But really big trains, or doubleheaded trains, will work your power supply at something closer to its capacity, and there's no point in making the job "harder" by using too narrow a wire. Some folks recommend 12 gauge wire, but I wouldn't go that far unless I was running the DC line a very long way. 18 gauge for your auxilliary receivers is probably find.

In my case, I bring my power supply right up to the edge of the railroad, and use 18 gauge for just about everything. But the downside is that I have to bring my power supply in between sessions.

Two other things to consider is making certain that your connections between track pieces is solid mechanically and electrically (screwing the rail joiners tight), and adding jumpers every few feet (this comes in handy if a rail joiner fails, which occasionally they will do). For jumpers, I've been using 18g brown lamp cord with little crimp-on lugs small enough to screw onto the little screws on the bottom of the Aristo track. (The kind they used to sell for screw-on phone jack connections will work in a pinch, and is pretty easy to find.) To make my 120-foot+ mainline as "bulletproof" as possible, I ran jumpers between each section. The wires are hidden in the ballast. But you could just run a few. This is a "belt-and-suspenders" approach that MAY keep you from being plagued by a mysterious local power outage on the day you have visitors over.

Back to wire for track power: many of my friends use the sort of cable you buy with low-voltage lighting kits. It's stranded (which you like) and UV resistant. Sorry I can't be more precise about the wire gauge - the experts all disagree, so I'm coming to the conclusion that some of this stuff is more art than science. As an example, some folks seem to getting away with 18v throughout even for long runs (although they won't tell me how many power supplies they go through), others insist on using something like battery cable. I think a conservative in-between approach will probably suit you.

Best of luck - Paul

Should I Go to Battery Power or Run Electric Lines All Over the Yard? - February, 07

Marc Weyd, of York, South Carolina, writes:

I am trying to decide whether a move to battery power with Remote Control would be better than running electric lines all over the yard. Any articles would be appreciated.


Did you see my article on "Large Scale Power and Control?"

I would say that if you plan to run short trains in hands-on operation, battery power will help you meet your needs. On the other hand, if you plan to run long trains and just let them run (say on an oval or figure-8 track) while you're doing other things (like barbecueing), track power may be your best bet.

If you want really long trains but you want remote control, you CAN have track-powered trains that also have remote control

Take a look at the article and let me know more details about what kind of RR operations you plan to have.

Best of luck - Pau

Can we adapt our O gauge set so that it can run outside? - February, 07

Karen asks:

Can we adapt our O gauge set so that it can run outside?

John and Gale Blessing's O Gauge Outdoor Railroad. Click for bigger picture.Karen,

The short answer is that you CAN run O gauge trains outside - you just can't leave them outside. The parts that stay outside are the track and the buildings.

The main danger to plastic buildings is UV light that causes them to turn brittle. O-scale buildings that you paint with spray-paint that is suitable for outdoor use will stand up to the sun pretty well. O-scale buildings that are already painted or that you don't want to paint can be sprayed with a UV-resistant clear coat that you buy at photography studios.

The dangers to the track include corrosion or rust to the rails and UV damage to the tie strips. Fortunately, Atlas' new line of O gauge track uses solid corrosion-resistant rails and UV-resistant plastic in the ties. You should be able to build a railroad outside and leave the track out all year long and the building out all summer long, just like Large Scale garden railroaders do.

Now for the not-so great news. The steel in Lionel trains is not rust-resistant, and the train will start getting rusty from the inside out if you have it outside in damp weather for long. So you need to figure out how to have your trains outside ONLY while you're running them.John and Gale Blessing's O Gauge Outdoor Railroad. Click for bigger picture.

In addition, the plastic is not UV-resistant, so if you leave them in the sun for long, the plastic parts will start getting get brittle. Again, you CAN adjust for that, by spraying them with the UV resistant clear spray that photographic shops sell to make photos UV resistant. The downside is that the spray may reduce the collector's value of your train.

Although Large Scale garden railroads are in the majority, O-gauge garden railroading is growing in popularity, so stay in touch. As I learn more, I'll pass it on. I may even buy some Atlas track and try setting up an outdoor O-gauge set myself just so I can figure out if there's something important I'm overlooking.

Best of luck - Paul

John and Gale Blessing's O Gauge Outdoor Railroad. Click for bigger picture.[Note: Since I responded to Karen's e-mail above, I was contacted by the Blessings, in Arizona, whose railroad is shown in the photos at the right. They've used Gargraves track (which may not be the best solution currently available, but it's what they had when they started out), and HDPE roadbed to create a very large outdoor O gauge railroad. They use mostly O-scale people (available from hobby shops), but their structures are a mix of O-scale (hobby-shop) models and collectible ceramic village pieces. John says he had to rebuild part of his Gargraves track already. He uses a Krylon clear acrylic spray to protect his structures from UV (a big problem where he lives). He also doesn't leave his trains out too long. This is a delightful railroad that I hope to feature in a future article. If you want to see more, click on the Anozira RR button at]

How Can I Make a Static Display with the Locomotive Running? - February, 07

Bill writes:

What is the availability and cost of an operating display? Essentially, a display long enough for just displaying a garden train size locomotive, but that can be operated (sound, smoke, etc.) inside the home sitting on the display - wheels turning, etc. I suspect there is a specific name for all this, but I could not find the item on your website, nor anywhere else. Thanks.


AristoCraft makes a product that allows you to set a locomotive on it and the wheels spin when you power the locomotive up just like it was running, but it doesn't go anywhere. ANY locomotive you like should work, and you'll also need a small power supply.

The rollers are shown on the following page:

Product # is 11905. If I have the information correct, you get a set of four rollers for about $60 list, though they are discounted some places. I think that this, and a short length of track, and a nice locomotive will get you where you want to be, if you add a little imagination. Nobody sells a single set that has all of this together, in case you wondered.

So shop around for the locomotive you want. TrainDiscounts has a good supply of Aristo Locomotives of all sizes at:

They can also get the rollers if you call and ask them at: 1-800-404-4414 Mon-Fri 9a-6p EST. Be sure and tell them you're calling for store #115 so you get the maximum discount.

Best of luck - Paul

What Wire Should I Use for Long Low Voltage Lines? - February, 07

Ricky, of Amite, Lousiania, writes:

I'm in the process of building a raised garden 20'x48'x2'. I will be using AristoCraft's R/C Train Engineer (10 amp) with a second receiver. The receiver will sit about middle of layout on one side. I will be bringing DC power to the track from about 30 foot away. Then my 5 unit switching receiver will be on the garden layout, with the longest run to the remote switching machine being about 25 feet. Now for the question: what size wire do I need for power to the track? (I was thinking 16g - or would 14g be needed ) and for switching receiver (18g). All wire size would be stranded.

Thank you very much for any information that you can give me. Love all your articles.


Are you saying the low voltage line between the DC power supply and the receiver will be 30 feet long? If you already have 16g wire onhand, try that; it is probably all you really need. But if you haven't bought the wire yet, consider 14 gauge just to add an extra margin of safety. Part of the issue is what you'll be running - if you're running trolleys or 5-car trains, you'll get by with 16g. But really big trains or doubleheaded trains will work your power supply at something closer to its capacity, and there's no point in making the job "harder" by using too narrow a wire. Some folks recommend 12 gauge wire, but I wouldn't go that far unless I was running the DC line a very long way. 18 gauge for your auxilliary receivers is probably fine.

In my case, I bring my power supply right up to the edge of the railroad, and use 18 gauge for just about everything. But the downside is that I have to bring my power supply in between sessions.

Two other things to consider is making certain that your connections between track pieces is solid mechanically and electrically (screwing the rail joiners tight), and adding jumpers every few feet (this comes in handy if a rail joiner fails, which occasionally they will do). For jumpers, I've been using 18g brown lamp cord with little crimp-on lugs small enough to screw onto the little screws on the bottom of the Aristo track. (The kind they used to sell for screw-on phone jack connections will work in a pinch, and is pretty easy to find.) To make my 120-foot+ mainline as "bulletproof" as possible, I ran jumpers between each section. The wires are hidden in the ballast, and you can keep the polarity straight because one wire always has a ridge along it. You could just run a few jumpers every so many sections if you prefer. This is a "belt-and-suspenders" approach that MAY keep you from being plagued by a mysterious local power outage on the day you have visitors over.

Sorry I can't be more precise about the wire gauge - the "experts" all disagree, so I'm coming to the conclusion that some of this stuff is more art than science - some folks seem to getting away with 18v throughout even for long runs (although they won't tell me how many power supplies they go through), others insist on using something like battery cable. I think a conservative in-between approach will probably suit you.

Best of luck - Paul

How Should I Wire Lights Around My Station? - January, 07

Robin, of Chevy Chase, Maryland writes:

What is the best way to connect station lights - series or parallel?


It depends on what voltage your lights are and what voltage your power supply is. If your lights are made for use with model railroad, chances are they're rated for 18v each. Most model railroad power supplies have an output for accessories that is 16 or 18v. So those lights should all run in parallel. If you run two 18 volt lights in a series, the circuit turns into a 36 volt circuit, which means that each bulb will only get half of the power it ought to (unless, of course you use a 36 volt power supply).

On the other extreme, I have a set of the little 10-to a pack (or more) christmas lights that are shaped like lanterns but plug right into the wall just like any other Christmas lights. Assuming 110v wall power, each of those lights draws about 11 volts; they're wired in series so that the whole circuit is 110v. If you wired them in parallel and each bulb received 110 volts, you would fry them all the instant you plugged them in. But a person with a nine-volt power supply COULD use them in a circuit where they were wired in parallel. They wouldn't be as BRIGHT as they were when the whole thing was plugged into the wall, but they would last much longer, so that would be a good trade-off.

In between are the little 3-volt lamp-post pairs that are sold to go with Lemax houses and the like. My preference would be to use the 3-volt power supply and wire each pair of lamp-posts in parallel. If you pull a set apart, you will need to figure out whether the pair is wired in parallel or series. If it's wired in parallel (most of them are) then each lamp post is good for 3 volts. You COULD, technically, wire six 3-volt lamp posts in a series to get an 18 volt circuit you could run off an 18-volt supply. But I would rather JUST use a 3-volt power supply. That way if I have to add or remove a lamp post, it doesn't mess up the rest of my setup.

One little test you could do to see if a pair of lamp posts is wired in series or parallel might be to have one pair powered off of the two AA cells. Then you clip the wires from run leads from another pair. Run the leads from ONE Lamppost to a single AA cell. If it glows the same as the pair running off the two AA cells, they are wired in series. Most likely, though, it will be less than half as bright, telling you that they are wired in parallel.

The SHORT version is, I would rather run lights in parallel and use a power supply that is matched to the lamp than run the lamps in series and use a power supply that is way too strong for a single lamp. Hope this helps - Paul

Digital Sound for AristoCraft and Other Locomotives - January, 07

Dennis writes:

I have several engines LGB Aristocraft $ Bachman I would like to put sound into them but they all seem to be very expensive is there anything out there that is worth having I have talked to several folks and no definate answers? I am interested in the Dallee electronics stuff are there any coments on this equipment? Thanks Denny

Dennis, I confess I am not an expert in sound systems, because I live on such a noisy street that anything more than the little "chuff-chuff" systems that come with most steam locomotives would be wasted anyway. After you wrote me I checked around and discovered that many folks liked the Phoenix and Sierra sound systems better than the Dallee, in part because the Dallee system didn't have as many samples. That said, most Phoenix and Sierra dealers were backordered on most stock. I discovered that Aristo has made an agreement with Dallee to provide sound for several of their locomotives at a reasonable price. The Dallee systems will be provided with appropriate sounds for each locomotive AristoCraft makes, at any rate. My understanding is that the "Aristo-Craft-friendly" versions will work best with the newer "dcc-ready" AristoCraft locomotives. And that the whistle and bell will work by remote control if you use Crest TE onboard remote controllers on the locomotive as well. (Otherwise, you can use magnet switches in the track.)

I don't have much more information, but I thought you should know that if you DO have any of the most recent, DCC ready Aristo locos, a Dallee setup may be available specifically for that engine. And the costs seem very reasonable, too, from what I could tell.

Hope this helps - Paul

Starting From Scratch Around/Over an Existing Pond - January, 07

Jill, of Dawson, Georgia, writes:

I am having a hard time trying to figure out how to order track. I have a garden pond established and want the train to go around and over my pond. Any information you can send me would be great. Thanks.


I assume you're thinking about getting a Large Scale train set like those made by AristoCraft or LGB. The Bachmann Big Hauler is good, too, but less sturdy, and its track can't be used outside.

If you get, say an AristoCraft starter set, it will come with a circle of brass, weather-resistant, UV-resistant track that is 48" in diameter. I mention Aristo because their track is the best you can buy and their starter sets come with remote control, a very handy feature.

Obviously, you'll need to buy more track. I would recommend Aristo USA style track because that would match the track that comes with the train in style. I would use larger circles if I had room, because trains look better and run better on wider curves. How big is your pond, and will the train need to go around a waterfall or other obstacles to go around the pond?

As far as going across the pond is concerned, the easiest thing to do is to have the crossing be a straightaway (such as the long side of an oval), so you can just use a bit of 2x6" dressed up as a bridge and not worry about supporting curves. Can you think of a way you could position an oval so that the straight part crosses part of the pond? If so, then maybe you can figure out how big the whole oval will need to be, and work your size requirements from that.

I WOULD recommend that you also think about what the track will be sitting on. You CAN sit it in gravel like the track in the "One Day Railroad" article.

For a lower maintenance railroad, if you have someone good with a circular saw, you can set it on a pressure-treated wooden roadbed made of 2x6" lumber as described in the "Simple Raised Railroad" article:

Once you have a good idea of what you need, the Track Order page describes the most common track pieces people buy.Large Scale Track order Form

If you get a general idea of what you need and want to run it past me, I'll be glad to take a look at everything you have, including sketches, photos, whatever. If you think you've got it figured out and you're ready to go right to ordering your track, you can call the TrainDiscounts people who give my readers a discount on AristoCraft track and work out the details. Their # is: 1-800-404-4414 Mon-Fri 9a-6p EST. Just tell them that you're calling for store #115 so you get the best discount. (They also sell AristoCraft and Bachmann trains at a discount, as well as AristoCraft stations and other structures, in case you want to order everything at once.)

Hope this gives you the basic idea. Please let me know if you have any more questions - Paul

Wanted: The Best Book for Starting a Garden Railroad - January, 07

Jason Vaughan writes:

I am interested in starting a garden railroad looking for the best book to help me get started.


Have you seen the book reviews on the following link?

How to Design and Build Your Garden Railroad, by Jack Verducci may be the best place to start.

Getting Started in Garden Railroading by Allan W. Miller is better organized, but I have the sense the writer is not as experienced in the garden as Jack.

That said, no ONE book has all the answers. My web site doesn't either, but I try to cover a range of solutions so you realize how many choices you have. The following link tries to "step you through" your first, most basic choices.

Please let me know what KIND of railroad you'd like it to be, how big, raised, or ground-level, etc., and I may be able to steer you in a more specific direction.

Best of luck - Paul

Wanted: More Information on Simple Raised (2x6) Roadbed - January, 07

Robert Brents, of Missouri, writes:

The section of your article on "Raised Pressure-Treated Roadbed" has gotten me off on the right foot - that's the way I need to do it for a number of reasons, and this was very helpful. Where can I get more details about that style of construction - description, photographs, etc.? I'm doing planning now for Spring construction (I'm in Missouri). Thanks again for sharing this information!


I'm sorry to say I don't know of anyone who has documented this in more depth than I have. Lots of folks have built their railroads this way, but not very many of them have bothered to take photos or write down the sequence of steps they used. If you have reasonable construction skills, you'll probably figure out a process that works the best for you. If you're using preformed curves, you have to be more precise about post placement than if you are using flex track. Some folks build all the roadbed on the ground and lay the track on it to make certain they've got things exactly where they need to be when they locate the posts. If you're using flex-track (or really wide curves), it's not quite so critical.

In some ways the HDPE solution is easier and produces a more attractive look, but the pressure-treated 2x6s on 4x4 posts produce a very low-maintenance, relatively inexpensive solution. Please let me know if you discover anything I should add for the benefit of other readers. In fact, if you take photographs while you're building YOUR railroad, that would benefit your fellow readers as well, hint, hint. Best of luck - Paul

What About Frost Heave? - January, 07

Jim Haley writes: I'm just getting started. I live on the Illinois/Wisconsin state line. How does the frost affect the track? Where can I go to get info on how to install the track so it stays put. Thanks - Jim


The main thing to consider is a good mechanical connection between rails that keeps them from flexing up and down in relationship to each other. If you go with AristoCraft track, the track itself makes a good mechanical connection so that it doesn't bend out of shape easily.

Some folks who have ground-level railroads just lay the track in gravel and tamp it down. But it's not fastened down anywhere. This is called "floating" the track, because the track still has "give" in all dimensions - it can expand and contract with heat and cold. And when there IS frost heave, all of the track goes up and down about the same amount. Any adjustments that need to be made in the spring are easily when you're reballasting and preparing the track for another season anyway. (Frankly ballast washouts or mourning doves stealing your ballast will be a bigger problem than frost heave with this solution, and weeds growing up between the rails will be even bigger.)

Another version of this would be to lay the track on roadbed made of 2x6s connected by 1x6 plates, the way the roadbed is built in the article "Building a Simple Raised Railroad." This helps the track plan to be even more rigid (and the 2x6s keep weeds from growing up between the tracks) so it's even more stable. As long as the roadbed is not fastened to concrete or posts or something at some point, the roadbed and track and all will raise and fall with the track heave. Again, if any adjustment is required in the spring, it will usually be the sort that can be done by adding a little extra ballast here and there.

If you want a raised railroad (my preference), the most "bulletproof" kind for places with serious frost problems is probably the 2x6 roadbed on 4x4 posts described in the article cited above. Just get your posts a few inches below the frost line, and don't point the ends. (Follow depth recommendations for decks in your area to be safe.)

If you want a very elaborate raised railroad, you CAN make one out of HDPE roadbed.

You'll see that the HDPE "ladder" roadbed is very solid once it's all screwed together. This construction method started in Columbus Ohio, and it's still been used in Zone 5 more than most other zones. MOST people who use it in Ohio DON'T make a special point out of driving the supports below the frost line. So even though it's raised on trestles, or backfilled stone walls or whatever, the whole structure can still rise and fall with the frost heave with few problems. Again, if you wanted it to be "bulletproof," you COULD arrange for each supporting post to reach below the frost line.

Hope this isn't confusing to you. The truth is, most people count on solid connections between pieces of track (and - if used - between pieces of wood or HDPE roadbed) to provide enough strength to keep the whole railroad on the same VERTICAL plane, even if they allow the roadbed and track to rise and fall with the frost heave.

Here's a true confession, from Springfield Ohio. MOST of my track is "floating" in ballast, that is, it's not even on wooden roadbed. But one part IS fastened to 2x6s that go below our frost line. Most winters you can't even see where the "floating" track has raised at all in relationship to the fastened-down track, and there is enough "give" between the two sections that it hasn't be a problem so far. By the time I'm ready to work on the railroad in the spring, any vertical discrepancy between the "floating" sections and the "fastened-down" sections has disappeared.

If I were starting from scratch, I would probably build a 100% raised railroad using the technique described in the "Building a Simple Raised Railroad" article, because a ridiculuously solid roadbed does cut down on a number of maintenance issues. But you can see that nothing that elaborate is necessary to start out.

Hope this helps. Please let me know what progress you're making and if you have any other questions - Paul

O Scale Streamliners, also O and HO Track Questions - January, 07

Robert Domaingue writes:

Hi, can you tell me if anyone is making O scale Streamliner trains modeled from the 1930's/ 1940's? I noticed most O scale trains seem to be 3 track. Are many O scale trains being made for two tracks? I would like to combine O scale Streamliner trains and On30 trains in the graden. Which O track and HO track would be suitable for outside use? Thank you for your help - Robert


I don't keep up with O scale as I should, but I may be able to point you in some appropriate directions. Williams used to make a VERY nice line of 30's-40's coaches as I recall.

Many Lionel users have asked if they could run their trains outdoors. I've been recommending the Gargraves stainless steel with plastic ties as the only option that was widely available, but someone has recently told me that Atlas O-gauge track is now available with UV-resistant ties. The brass and nickle-silver rails should be weather-resistant already. Atlas makes 3-rail and 2-rail track for O, so they should be a good starting point.

About HO track, again, brass or nickle-silver rails should hold up just fine outdoors, but nobody to my knowledge makes HO track with TIES that are UV-resistant. If you're using flextrack, you could always prime and paint the tie strips before you assembled them, and that would be a very big step in the right direction.

Please let me know what choices you wind up making and how satisfied you are, so I can make that information available to the next person with a similar question.

Have a great 2007 - Paul

Track Planning Software? - January, 07

Hugh writes:

Is there anywhere you can purchase some sort of software that will permit you to design garden railroads to be able to play with different designs and it will figure how much track you need, whether it will fit without using flex track, etc. Also I have not seen flex track for sale in the garden G gage size, but everyone talks about it.

Where could you get this if needed?


I haven't evaluated any track planning software in years, so I can't be as specific as you would like. But I do know that several of the most popular packages include AristoCraft and LGB track pieces in their database. I personally recommend AristoCraft track since so many pieces and options are available, and it makes the best electrical and mechanical connection of any of the popular track brands. That said, AristoCraft and LGB both sell "flex track." But "flex" is a relative term. What that really means is that they sell code 332 rail with separate tie strips so you can make your own, but you'll probalby need a railbender for most purposes. AMS, another brand, makes flex track that uses smaller rails (code 250) so it is easier to work with, as long as you have a very solid roadbed underneath. AMS flextrack is also a little cheaper than AristoCraft or LGB flextrack, But AMS doesn't have as many turnouts, crossings, etc., as AristoCraft, so if you want to have a bunch of switching operations, etc., you might want to take that into consideration.

Have you seen my article about Track Options? Also, to get an idea of what's available, I have a list of popular AristoCraft pieces at:

TrainDiscounts is one seller who can offer you pretty much any AristoCraft piece you need. If you use their 1-800#, tell them you're calling for store #115 to get the best discount. That's 1-800-404-4414 Mon-Fri 9a-6p EST.

Hope this helps. Please let me know what you find out and what choices you make and why, so I can help the NEXT person who asks a similar question.

Have a great 2007, Paul

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

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