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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)
New Boston and Donnels Creek:

Report: June, 2013 Open Railroads

In June, 2013, the National Garden Railway Convention came to Ohio for the first time in eleven years. Hoping to promote garden railways any we could, we volunteered to present several clinics and to have an open railroad for out-of-town visitors. Later I realized that we usually do one or the other, but not both, in the same month. So we don't usually have to prepare for the clinics at the same time we're preparing the railroad for visitors or vice versa.

So late winter and early spring of 2013 saw us prepping for four clinics and an open railroad at the same time. This article is a report on the open railroads (as it turned out, there were two, not one.) It is also a follow-up to three articles about what it took to get the railroad ready this year.

Part 1 included getting buildings ready, something we started in the cold months.

Part 2 focused on the weeding, track clearing, and getting a few more "little people" ready to set out.

Part 3 focused on ballasting, mulching, and last-minute preparations. Last-minute is a literal phrase here, as people started arriving even before we had the signs out or trains on the track.

The afternoon before our first open railroad, I presented a clinic at the convention center, then drove home and did more work on the railroad. That included re-setting several buildings that I had taken to the clinic as examples.

The New Boston and Donnels Creek was supposed to be open for visitors from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Friday, June 7. Visitors were expected to "taper off" by 1:00 PM because the clinics were starting at 2:00, and the convention was located more than an hour away from our house.

This very fine sign was donated by the Miami Valley Garden Railway Society.  Thanks, folks.  The photo is by Mauro Pasquini, and old friend who stopped by.  Click for bigger photo.When the first visitors showed up before 7:30, I had just got the sign ready to set out and was still getting trains out of the garage. Shelia and our daughter Molly were just starting to get the snacks set out. I got trains running on the permanent railroad, greeted the visitors, and put up the sign. To make our house easier to find, I also set out a big yellow sign the NMRA gave me to use whenever I have an NMRA-sanctioned open railroad. (One person recognized it later during the day, and asked me if the NMRA was having an event that weekend. No, sorry.)

I had also set up a plastic track oval for a radio-controlled Lionel "G-Gauge" toy train and a separate temporary brass loop for Thomas to run on, in case we got any kids. Because of the demographic of the average convention attendee, we didn't expect many.

But, come to think of it, we didn't expect nearly as many people as we got, either. The last time we did this, eleven years ago, we got about twenty visitors. This time, we had twenty visitors by fifteen minutes into our "official opening."

Trains on Track

I had tested several trains earlier to decide which ones to set out. When the crowds came quickly, I decided to start out with locomotives I knew I could count on to run reliably - my AristoCraft Mikado and a like-new Bachmann 0-4-0 tank engine.

The Mikado, which really is an impressive locomotive, started out pulling four Aristo heavyweights, but due to track damage that occurred about halfway into the open railroad, that went down to two.

AristoCraft Mikado is sturdy, reliable, and very heavy.  Click for bigger photo.

Bachmann's 0-4-0 unpainted tank engine pushing three custom-painted cars. Click for bigger photo. The Bachmann tank engine, still equipped with Bachmann couplers, ran like a charm. But, as it turned out, didn't like holding onto my Aristo-coupler-equipped shortie freight cars. So I set it to push the train instead of pull it, and it cheerfully pushed three customized shorty cars around the track all day long. It would have been four, but in my rush to get the trains on the track, I brought out a car with LGB-style couplers by mistake.

There's Too Many of Them!

Our family tried diligently to meet every person who came, although there were several times when so many people came at once, folks got in without us noticing. Molly did most of the greeting, while running interference in other ways. In the meantime, Shelia was baking more cookies and replenishing the snack table again and again and again. By 8:30 it was evident that we would need a lot more snacks. Shelia and Molly got the popcorn popper out onto the driveway, then realized we didn't have enough supplies for it. Shelia made a supply run, then came back and made more cookies. And the people kept coming. Molly divided her time between making popcorn and greeting visitors, and managed to catch most of them. I managed to meet most of them as well, answer several dozen questions, and nod politely when someone explained how I should have done some project or another.

We were delighted to receive several longtime readers, and a number of friends that we haven't seen in many years. Previous acquaintances were in the minority, though - there were folks from all over the country, parts of Canada, and even Australia. Sometimes folks clustered around one part of the railroad and I was able to address the group as a whole, and sometimes we just had quick conversations with one individual or couple after another after another after another.

Murphy Pays a Visit

About 10:30, right before the tour bus arrived, we had our "disaster." (If you don't have at least one disaster per open railroad you haven't done it right.) A very fat cat that lives in our back yard even though the neighbor feeds her decided that she needed to jump over one of the bridges on the mainline. Instead of going over the bridge, she went into it, with about as much velocity and weight as if I had thrown a thawed turkey sideways into the track. The crash was so loud, that I thought my train had fallen off the trestle. As it turned out, it was worse than that.

The cat's sideways impact had broken two of the normally effective Aristo rail-joiners, causing mechanical and electrical issues with that section of the right-of-way. Worse, one of the little screws broke off in the rail, which meant that reparing the damage would require replacing the track. The tour bus - with somewhere between 35 and 60 passengers - was coming any minute. But I have too many vivid memories of other folks' open houses where all I saw was the owner's back side as he fixed some problem. So I elected to turn up the train speed, take off two cars, brace the track in place as well as I could, and stand near the damaged section so I could nudge the train if it "hung up." Not optimum, but you do what you can.

They're Coming In Too Fast!

The open railroads hosted by Miami Valley Garden Railway Society members were all fairly spread out. In fact, even limiting each stop to 20 minutes, there was no way for a single bus to get to all of the railroads. So only one tour bus out of the three came to the Springfield, Ohio railroads. But it seemed pretty full as it discharged its passengers in our front yard about 10:45, and they worked their way to an already crowded back yard. That was the period in which we lost all hope of greeting each visitor, or getting everyone to sign the signup sheet.

Somewhere about that time, some youngsters showed up. Molly set up the battery-powed Lionel Polar Express to give them something to do.

Lionel's battery-powered 'G Gauge' Polar Express set out on our old swimming pool deck for visiting kids to run.  Click for bigger photo.

About 11:15, the bus rolled out again, but so many other folks had driven up in the meantime, you could hardly tell. We figured that we had entertained at least 200 visitors by 12:30PM. After that, though, we started to get down to a reasonable amount of folks in the yard - twenty or thirty at a time. Sometime about then, we were glad to welcome Garden Railways editor Marc Horivitz and plant editor Nancy Norris - the first time either of them has been to our railroad. Marc and Nancy, if you read this, my apologies if I was less than coherent by the time you stopped by.

By 2:00, when the open railroad was officially "over," the crowd was thinning down to a a half dozen or dozen at a time. Bill Logan, the Columbus architect who designed the HDPE flexible "ladder" roadbed method used by many elaborate railroads today, also stopped by - his first visit as well. We actually had time for a brief chat. Again, I hope I was coherent.

People were still trickling in at 3:00 but from time to time there were moments without a single vistor. Our last visitors probably left sometime about 3:30PM, and they were still hoping to get to two other railroads before they closed at 2:00PM (yes, I can do the math). I don't know if the other folks stayed "open" as late as we did or not.

In the meantime, Shelia and Molly went through the signup sheets. Counting the signatures we had, and the individuals we knew who had never gotten around to signing in, we totaled over 300 visitors. Only about fifty of those had come because of our web site or previous acquaintance, so that means that the convention had done a pretty good job of getting folks out to the tours.

About 4:00 the signs came down, the trains went up, and I collapsed on a chair indoors. I realized that, although I had carried a camera in my pocket all day long, I had not taken one photo. Since then I've contacted several friends who were there to see if anyone got photos of the crowd. Though they got photos of the trains, nobody got pictures of my back yard with a hundred or so people in it. So you'll have to take our word for it, and the word of the folks who were there. Sorry. If you read this and remember visiting our railroad, please get in touch and I'll give you an e-mail address you can send photos to.

After an hour or so of relaxing, I started loading the car for Saturday's clinics, then working on my presentations. I did replace the piece of track that the cat broke.

On the next day (Saturday), Molly and I went down to the convention early enough to unload our car and still have time to look around before we set up for our clinics. After the clinics, there was a meal we could have attended, but I wanted to get home and make certain we ready for Sunday's open railroad.

Sunday's Open Railroad

When I first committed to an open railroad, only a handful of other folks in the club had committed, and I wanted to make certain that the MVGRS made a good showing. Later, I learned that most of the Springfield-area clubs (and two in the East Dayton area) were going to be open on Sunday, too, for the sake of anyone leaving the convention by car who wanted to see a few more railroads on their way out of town. So I volunteered to be open on Sunday, too.

After our experience Friday, we knew to prepare for a crowd. Shelia made two big batches of home-made chocolate-chip cookies, and had other treats ready to prepare. Molly and I restocked the popcorn popper. I set out all the trains, including our Thomas, who had never got out of his carton on Friday. Then I set the signs out early, in case someone was coming by.

Two couples from the MVGRS.  Thanks for stopping by, folks.A few people who had been in our clinics did stop by on their way home. Then there was a pause. Then several fellow MVGRS club members stopped by. We had time for some nice chats, then they went over to see some of the other MVGRS railroads that were open. Thanks for stopping by, folks.

From that point on, there were only a couple more visitors. During "down times," I alternated between resting up from the last two days and "playing with trains," putting other locomotives on the track, etc.

One locomotive I brought out was a Lionel Atlantic with an Aristo tender. Although this Lionel Atlantic was originally painted for NYC, the model is based on a Pennsy E-6 prototype, so putting it with a PRR-labeled tender gives it a nice overall appearance.

The pilot trucks on these are "techy," derailing every several trips around the mainline, even after I've strengthened the springs and replaced the plastic wheels with the metal wheels from a Bachmann ten-wheeler (an exact fit). That's why this locomotive wasn't my first choice for the busy periods of my open railroads. But I like having a PRR-designed locomotive running on my railroad so much, I'll put up with the hassle when I'm running for myself or a small group.

Lionel's NYC Atlantic pulling an Aristo long tender and heavyweight.  Click for bigger photo.

The Bachmann 0-4-0 had done a nice job of pushing its little consist around the track for hours, but I wanted to give it a break. I replaced it with one of my old beat-up Aristo 0-4-0s, the one with the sound tender. Again, I'm a Pennsy fan at heart, so seeing the little A-4 pulling a slope-backed tender warms my heart, even if it's lost the bell again somewhere.

Aristo 0-4-0 pushing a small consist past Donnels Creek station.  Click for bigger photo.

During another slow period, I swapped out the Lionel Thomas with a Bachmann Thomas set I had bought on closeout and never got out of the box. Then I swapped them back. Then I took a bunch of photos and made plans to write an article comparing the Lionel and Bachmann sets. (I have since written the article. If you click on the photo below you will jump to it.)

Lionel's battery-powered 'G Gauge' Polar Express set out on our old swimming pool deck for visiting kids to run.  Click for bigger photo.

By 4:00 it was getting quite cloudy, so I put up the Bachmann Thomas again (Lionel Thomas doesn't mind a light rain, but I don't know about the Bachman Thomas yet). I took the big locomotives and long trains off of the railroad and put on short trains that I could put away in a hurry if I had to. At 4:30 I put away both kids' trains. At 5:00 I pulled up the signs, put away the rest of the trains, and went indoors and directly into a coma.

I had expected more people on Sunday, but perhaps the information about our Sunday open houses wasn't published as well as we thought. On the other hand, it was a nice break after a very busy week.


First of all, I want to thank all of our visitors for being friendly and courteous, and to apologize for not being able to visit longer or answer more questions. It was a lot of fun meeting and entertaining you. Also, thank you for all the compliments on the railroad and on our cookies and popcorn.

I especially want to thank Shelia and Molly for all their hard work. And cookies. And popcorn. And hard work. Love you both more than life!

Back to the railroads, lots of visitors also said great things about the other railroads they had visited. Thanks to the other folks who held open railroads. (I can't help wondering if some of you had 400 or more, considering you got two busses.)

Our visitors also said lots of nice things about all of our volunteers' hard work in every aspect of the convention.

As for my personal "retrospective," any person who's ever done anything like this starts thinking about what they'll do differently next time. But, come to think of it, there won't be a next time. The way these things are scheduled, I'll be in my seventies by the time the convention comes to our area again, so that's not really on the table. But we are glad to share our "lessons" learned. If you have any questions or corrections about anything in this note, please contact us and we'll get back as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, several folks who planned to come out had last-minute conflicts or some such, so we didn't see everyone we hoped to, but we were very glad to see the folks we did. If you ever think you might be coming near Springfield, Ohio, let us know and if there's any danger of us getting trains on the track for you, we'll let you know.

In the meantime, enjoy your hobbies, and especially enjoy any time you can spend with your family in the coming season.


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