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September, 2020 Update from Family Garden Trains<sup><small>TM</small></sup>.  This is one corner of a massive display railroad that Paul Busse's Applied Imagination set up at Holden Arboretum in northeast Ohio, in 2007. Click to see a bigger photo. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running wellGarden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
Large Scale Starter Sets: Begin with a train you'll be proud to runBest Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders: a short list of things you're most likely to need when starting out
Large Scale Track order FormSturdy buildings for your garden railroad.
Large Scale Christmas Trains: Trains with a holiday theme for garden or professional display railroads.Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs
Garden Railroading Books, Magazines, and Videos: Where to go to learn even more
Collectible Trains and Villages: On30 Trains and accessories designed by Thomas Kinkade and others

Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden TrainsTM

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September, 2020 Update from Family Garden TrainsTM

Note: This is the web version of a newsletter from the Family Garden TrainsTM web site, which publishes information about running big model trains in your garden as a family activity.

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Update for September, 2020

Old-timers may wonder why I bother writing new articles about stuff "everybody knows." The answer is that new hobbyists and folks who are just plain curious sign up to my newsletter every month, and many of them live far from anybody who can "show them the ropes."

Long-time GR readers noticed the same thing - the magazine went through cycles where every issue had more advanced topics than the last one, then suddenly they'd realize they were no longer meeting the needs of new hobbyists. They would start including articles on basic topics all over again and working their way toward the more advanced. In fact, some folks would periodically drop their subscription then pick it up again when things got interesting for them.

Our Family Garden Trains resources mostly target folks who are just getting their feet wet, or who have something set up they enjoy and want to advance to the next level. But you'd be surprised how many folks who've been in the hobby for some time find some nugget in our beginner- or intermediate-oriented articles that they had not considered.

That's an introduction to one of this month's articles, a description of the most common roadbed in many parts of the country - 2"x6" pressure-treated boards sawn into trapezoids that go together to match the curvature of the track. Ironically, every time I demonstrate this, I get questions from long-time hobbyists who thought it looked too complicated, but now realize both how easy it is to build and how many of their problems it would solve. Note: This isn't the way I am building my current raised-platform railroad, but I still cut my roadbed the same way, so it's applicable to a wide range of installations.

Speaking of my own railroad, I have to confess that the New Boston and Donnels Creek Revision 2 has been pretty static so far this year, due to a brutally hot summer, several other projects, and continuous lumber shortages. I even left my "winter" buildings (mostly North States bird feeders) on the railroad since we weren't going to be doing any summer "open railroads."

But, if you don't mind me going off-topic, an improvement elsewhere has still made our railroad more enjoyable. The back deck of the home we moved into in 2016 faced our railroad and waterfall, but it was sadly in need of repair. Plus it was lined with Bavarian-style balusters that made it impossible to see into the back yard from a sitting position. We have pulled out those balusters, and we paid a local contractor to refinish the deck and put steps to make it easier to get into and - as it turned out - see into the garden.

We hope to replace the balusters with horizontal cables so you can still see the back yard when you're sitting down. But in the meantime, it's a lot easier to enjoy the garden from the back deck than it used to be.

What our back yard used to look like from a sitting position on the back deck.  Click for bigger photo. What our back yard looks like from a sitting position on the back deck now.  Click for bigger photo.

The old rails, which you can still see in the second photo, will be replaced when we run the cables.

One of these days, I will extend the lower platform of the railroad so that it wraps around the pond and makes a backdrop for it. But when I considered doing that this past spring, I learned that the kind of lumber I plan to use was completely out of stock almost everywhere, and some of the shortages continued until a few weeks ago. At first, apparently, everybody had the idea of taking on background projects while they were stuck at home, and now there's a lot of rebuilding going on due to bad things happening in the Gulf Coast and California. Our heart goes out to our friends, family, and fellow hobbyists in those regions. Please let us know how you are faring.

I did track down enough posts to get started on a scaled-down version that will support 10'-diameter track. If nothing else, I need to put something in the post-holes I dug last spring before things changed.

This is usually the time of year we start planning our big November Christmas-themed open railroad. If we do it at all this year, it will have to be scaled down, maybe limited to the families who came last year, assigning time slots to each family, and wiping lots of stuff down in between.

We'll see. In the meantime, stay safe, enjoy your trains, and enjoy any time you get to spend with your family this season.

In This Issue

The following content is linked to or included in this newsletter:

Click to go to article.Railbuses, Doodlebugs, and RDCs - I admit, I'm a steam fan, but I also enjoy funky old trains like the gas-powered "rattletrap" railbuses of the early 20th century, as well as their descendants, the diesel-electric-powered RDCs. Such vehicles allowed many railroads to economically serve routes that had low passenger or freight traffic. They also connected traction lines to each other or to the big railroads by shuttling passengers and freight over unelectrified trackage.

Though most Large Scale models of these "self-powered" vehicles have been discontinued, they're not hard to find used, or even to build from a combine and a power truck. Most of them have plenty of room to add the sound and control system(s) of your choice.

You may be able to add a small right-of-way to give visitors something to watch or even to run while your mainline trains are operating elsewhere on the railroad. Or if you want to add a trolley or interurban line but don't want to string wires, they can be a prototypical solution. Most visitors find them fun to watch either way.

Click the following link to go to the article:

Ground-contact-rated lumber makes a sturdy and relatively inexpensive base for your track and trains.  Click to go to the article.Simple Wooden Roadbed - Though LGB and many early adopters claimed that you could set up a "garden railroad" simply by laying your track on dirt or gravel and running your trains, that only works for a very short time in regions with a lot of rainfall, a lot of frost heave, or a lot of burrowing animals.

Here in Southwest Ohio, we have all three. Despite my best efforts, I could not keep weeds from growing up between the rails or burrowing animals and frost heave from turning the right-of-way of my gravel-roadbed loop into a roller coaster. I was not alone.

About four decades ago, about eighty miles south of me, professional garden railroad installer Paul Busse (founder of Applied Imagination) began to make a, sturdy, inexpensive, but long-lasting roadbed that was impervious to weed growth, and which maintained its alignment and structural integrity for years. (Other folks have come up with nearly identical solutions, so I can't give Paul all the credit, but around here, he's largely responsible for popularizing this approach.)

Pressure-treated roadbed for a 48-inch circle of track: stringers with plates attached.As an example, the little photo to the right shows a circle of pressure-treated roadbed that I once cut to support a 48" circle of track for a display railroad, using templates that are included in the article. Once the roadbed is installed, I trim off the corners to give it a smoother appearance.

In the simplest application, this roadbed can be set right on level soil (or landscaping fabric) and shimmed up where necessary. Some folks who live in areas with serious frost heave problems set it on concrete blocks, and shim it up each spring.

Most newbies don't realize how widespread this approach is, because many hobbyists who have used this approach set their roadbed on posts sunk deep into the ground, then backfilled with dirt and topped the wooden roadbed with ballast.

Now that ground-contact-rated 2"x6" boards are available in most of the country, it's safe to say that any roadbed built this way should last indefinitely - but it can still be moved, modified, or removed at any time.

Click on the following link to go to the article:

Notes on Remote Control

Recently folks have been inquiring about various flavors of RC.

Though there are other systems, the two systems I'm most familiar with are DCC and the Revolution (originally from AristoCraft/Crest). The truth is I don't use either one on a regular basis, so the following comments refer to content created by friends for detail.

Revolution - For a time AristoCraft made the most complete usable system of remote control for trains, turnouts, etc. Quite a few useful products emerged under the "Train Engineer" umbrella. That said, when AristoCraft got into the remote control business, there weren't many alternatives except for DCC, which was just starting to come into usage in Large Scale, mostly for track-powered systems that were not universally compatible.

For over a decade, I recommended the AristoCraft/Crest setups for their flexibility and ease of use. (One other supplier who made a system about as sophisticated as you get with New Bright trains spent more time trashing his competition than he did on upgrading his product, so his stuff was never on my "A" list.)

AristoCraft kept upgrading their products, ending with the "Revolution" which added many new features. Unfortunately - as I understand it - the millions of dollars they invested in that product's last upgrades were lost when the FCC changed some of its rules. Some folks say that was the final nail in AristoCraft's coffin. (In addition to the 2008 recession that did in more than one hobby company.)

Today, though, the "Revolution" is still being made and supported by Tinkerer and fellow Garden Railroader Greg Elmassian published a review last year that gives the major pros and cons. Click the following link for details:

DCC - At the same time AristoCraft was spending millions on a technology that the FCC was going to largely invalidate, manufacturers of DCC equipment and DCC-equipped trains were doing a better job of making their stuff mutually compatible and more useful for battery-power and wireless remote control.

Unlike the "old days," when you had to get out the soldering iron to add DCC to a locomotive, many Large Scale locomotives come "DCC-ready." You still have to buy an "adapter," which is a little circuit board that plugs into a slot on the train, but the whole setup is a lot more user-friendly than it used to be.

And you don't have to worry about whether trains from two different companies will both operate from the same controller.

To help newbies navigate the features and challenges of DCC outside, Garden Railways author Kevin Strong published a series of articles that focuses on track-powered DCC back in 2013. Many, if not most, of Kevin's explanations apply to radio-controlled DCC as well. At this moment, that article is available online. To see it, please click on the following link.

Several other solutions have presented over the years, and a few that I haven't reviewed are viable, so I'm not saying these are your only options. At the present time, though, it seems like DCC has advantages such as multi-vendor support as well as unique feature support that the other approaches don't have. But if cost is an issue or you want to use a radio-only solution you can run on anybody's railroad easily, you may find some of the other solutions more attractive.

Garden Railroading in Early Autumn - In so-called temperate zones, September is often the best time of year to operate a garden railroad. Weed growth slows, algae growth in the pond slows, temperatures become reasonable, and generally the weather is a little more predictable. That said, it's also time to start preparing for cooler weather.

Weeding and Deadheading - Don't let crabgrass, nutgrass, or goldenrod go to seed, or you'll be extra sorry next year. The good news about weeding in the fall is that most of those weeds won't grow back again, at least until next spring.

If you haven't deadheaded the little perennials on your railroad, this is a good time. Also, your big perennials like hostas, day lilies, iris, and yarrow need deadheaded at least. If you summer has been so harsh that they are dried out and ugly, go ahead and cut them to the ground. The foliage will come back looking fresh and attractive until the hard frosts start, but you won't have so much to cut back then.

Planting in September - Virtually all plants that are commonly used in garden railroads can be planted in the fall, and many of them go cheap at closeout prices. If you can "kid them along" until heavy frost (which mostly involves getting them in the ground and compensating for any periods of low rainfall) most of them will establish to some extent over the winter and have a "head start" next spring. This is especially true for conifers, thymes, sedums, and many other low-growing perennials.

For more information about thymes and sedums. See the Family Garden Trains article on "Groundcover 101":

For more ideas about perennials in general, see our article on "The Secret Life of Perennials":

Trees and Shrubbery - It's better to plant evergreens and most other trees and shrubs in the fall than in the summer. In addition, they often start going on sale.

Some desirable shrubs, like Dwarf Alberta Spruce have grown in unruly shapes since the garden centers got them in, and you may want to trim them before they go into the ground. If there are any brown spots on the conifers you're looking at, though, skip them - most garden centers pack them too closely, causing lower branches to be starved of light and air. Once a lower branch of a Dwarf Alberta Spruce dies, the tree will never regain its shape. Worse, widespread brown areas may indicate a mite infection which you may never get under control.

If you have any trees or bushes that need trimmed, get started as soon as things start to cool down. Flowering plants such as forsythia, lilac, or viburnum should be trimmed as soon as the flowers go off in the spring, so trimming them now will mean fewer flowers next spring, but if you have to trim them now, it shouldn't hurt the plant.

Click to see our article on dwarf conifersPay special attention to any dwarf conifers (such as Dwarf Alberta Spruce) that have grown up against each other or up against a wall. The warm, moist environment such crowding creates is especially inviting to spider mites and other tree-destroying vermin. Yes, it's hard to trim a Dwarf Alberta Spruce evenly all the way around the tree when it's in the ground, but if you can get it done this fall, the tree will be ready to take advantage of late winter and early spring rains. Do NOT just trim the tree branches back wholesale, like the nurseries do. By consistently clipping off the branches that are longer and leaving the branches that are shorter, you can both "thin out" the excess growth and give the tree a narrower profile at the same time. Whatever you do, don't leave any partial branches that have no healthy growth left - those will die and rot out, making an inviting entry for a whole 'nuther set of tree parasites later.

For more information on trimming dwarf conifers, refer to the following link:

Water Features In September - Maintain good water flow, especially as long as temperatures get over 75F during the day. Algae problems will start tapering off with the return of cooler weather. As leaves on water lilies and other pond plants start looking "sick," clip off and dispose of the ones you can reach. The pond and the rest of the plant will stay healthier.

Start thinking about how you will protect your pond from leaves this fall. Nets made for this purpose are available at pond supply places. And when they're properly installed, they aren't even that noticeable. Don't put the net on until after you've taken care of your pond plants for the winter, though.

Yellow Jacket Alert - Keep your eyes open. If you see yellow jackets "hanging out" in any particular part of your garden, there may be more, maybe thousands more, within a foot or two of where you see them. Move buildings cautiously - they may have uninvited guests. You can find more information about yellow jackets and other safety issues in our article on Gardening Safety Tips:

Indoor Activities - In my part of the country, September is often the best time of the year to run trains, but if you do get rained into the house or otherwise stuck inside, this is a good time to start thinking about winter projects. If you don't have a "test" track (say around the upper wall of your basement) where you can run trains this winter, this may be a good time to start planning one. Are there any kits you'd like to order so you have them on hand once it's too cold to work outside?

Christmas List Hints - Also, if bad weather drives you indoors, this might be a good time to start putting together your Christmas list. Our Garden Train StoreTM and Big Christmas TrainsTM buyer's guides list the best choices for beginning garden railroads or Christmas train fun.

For more information on garden train and accessory choices for beginning and intermediate garden railroads, click on the following link:

For more information on big trains with Christmas themes, click on the following link:

Please let us know if you have some tip that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

Keep in Touch

Finally, please let us know about your ongoing projects. Ask questions, send corrections, suggest article ideas, send photos, whatever you think will help you or your fellow railroaders. In the meantime, enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks,

Paul Race

To view the newsletter for July, 2020, click on the following link:

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Visit our Garden Train Store<sup><small>TM</small></sup> Starter Set Buyer's Guide

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Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
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Visit Lionel Trains. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages. Big Christmas Train Primer: Choosing and using model trains with holiday themes Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.
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Visit the largest and most complete cardboard Christmas 'Putz' house resource on the Internet.
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Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories. Traditional Home-Made Ornaments
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Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Visit musings about music on our sister site, School of the Rock With a few tools and an hour or two of work, you can make your guitar, banjo, or mandolin much more responsive.  Instruments with movable bridges can have better-than-new intonation as well. Acoustic-based, traditional, singer-songwriter, and folk music with a Western focus. Check out our article on finding good used guitars.
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs. X and Y-generation Christians take Contemporary Christian music, including worship, for granted, but the first generation of Contemporary Christian musicians faced strong, and often bitter resistance. Different kinds of music call for different kinds of banjos.  Just trying to steer you in the right direction. New, used, or vintage - tips for whatever your needs and preferences. Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album. Explains the various kinds of acoustic guitar and what to look for in each.
Look to Riverboat Music buyers' guide for descriptions of musical instruments by people who play musical instruments. Learn 5-string banjo at your own speed, with many examples and user-friendly explanations. Explains the various kinds of banjos and what each is good for. Learn more about our newsletter for roots-based and acoustic music. Folks with Bb or Eb instruments can contribute to worship services, but the WAY they do depends on the way the worship leader approaches the music. A page devoted to some of Paul's own music endeavors.