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

Prepping for the 2013 Open Railroads
Part 2

As we mentioned in our article Prepping for the 2013 Open Railroads Part 1, our New Boston and Donnels Creek RR is on the open railroad schedule for the Friday morning (June 7) bus and driving tour for the 2013 National Garden Railway Convention in Cincinnati. We are also scheduled open for Sunday afternoon, June 9 for folks heading north or east out of the area.

Part 1 focused a lot on getting our buildings ready, in part because that's a process we started last winter and are close to finishing up. Now for the real work.

Weeding, Weeding, and Weeding

As mentioned earlier, I sprayed part of my railroad with a grass killer several weeks ago. I've been very conservative with this in the past, because I was afraid of damaging some of my grass-like plants. But in the last couple of years a few particularly invasive weed grasses have done real damage to my groundcovers. In some areas, they displaced the thymes that were there before, but during their dominant months, other weeds had also moved in. The photo to the left below shows what looks like a nice miniature field of groundcovers interrupted by a few thistles and dandelions. The photo to the right shows the same area once all the weeds were removed. Hopefully the thymes will fill back in eventually. But in the meantime, you can see why I picked up extra mulch last weekend. Please ignore the building placement for now. Except for the New Boston station, I was moving the other buildings around willy-nilly to make room as I worked. Click on either photo for a larger picture.

Our garden railroad looking north from the south end, before weeding in May, 2013.  Click for bigger photo. Our garden railroad looking north from the south end, after weeding in May, 2013.  Click for bigger photo.

As Tolkein says, 'The Way is Shut.'  Click for bigger photo.Weeding, clearing the right of way, and other cleanup probably took about 25 hours. And weeds weren't the only thing we had to clear off the tracks. Raccoons had rearranged the rocks around the "waterfall" and dropped one on the track, as you can see in the photo to the right. With the thistles standing guard, it looks a little foreboding. This is the "back" of the tunnel, the part viewers never see, in case you wondered. We had a nice portal on it once, but the raccoons kept moving it for us so we gave up.

By the way the oak leaves are from a neighbor's Pin Oak, which doesn't shed its leaves until early spring. I actually planted it myself, as a peacemaking effort after I made him pay for cleanup and repair after two of his trees smashed up my garden railroad in 2002. Sadly, that didn't keep him from piling his trash along the fencerow for the next several years or parking his rusted pickup on that side of the yard every time we had an open railroad. Now that I'm having to clear leaves from the railroad in the spring as well as the fall, I can't help remembering Mark Twain's remark that no good deed goes unpunished.


While I spent many hours pulling weeds and otherwise cleaning up the garden, I also spent a little over an hour cleaning the track, adding one jumper and tighting a few rail joiners. I'd guess, there's about a 20:1 ratio, which frankly makes me wonder about the truth of friends' claims that once they went to battery power, their garden railroads became "zero maintenance." I figure that battery power would save me maybe three or four hours a year, a very insignificant amount, considering. That doesn't mean that battery power is bad. But if you have an actual garden with many live plants (not to mention wildlife), battery power won't save you from weeding, trimming, and clearing the right-of-way once in a while.

To ballast the track, I have always used Gran-I-Grit granite turkey grit, which is coarser than chicken grit. I went to the mill where I always buy it and they had ONE bag. I probably need about six, so I'll be doing some shopping. Or else buying "paver base" at Home Depot. I MUCH prefer the graded grit, though. So my ballast refresh/track leveling hasn't happened yet.

Going Loco

AristoCraft 0-4-0 locomotive with a replacement cab. Click for bigger photo.Because portions of my right of way are still "wobbly," I have yet to get my really big trains out and try them. I did replace the cab on an 0-4-0 that got dropped some years back and put away while I ordered a new cab. The new cab had a black roof and a custom name under the door. I left the name, but painted the roof with rust primer. Looks good, if I say so myself. Yes, I know the bell is missing. The bells are always getting knocked off these. I have a stash I ordered somewhere.


The first time I held an open house, and spread all my figures out over three communities instead of one, I felt like each town looked more like a ghost town. On the other hand, I don't think it's a good investment to populate multiple towns at $6-25 a figure. I have collected a bunch of less-expensive figures through various sources, including several Lemax "Christmas village" figures that weren't standing in snow drifts.

But some time back, while researching an article on cheap figures, I had ordered a bunch of inexpensive Chinese-made plastic people to try out. I have used some of the sitting people to provide passengers in some of my coaches. But the "standing" people don't actually stand up without gluing or alteration idn't stand up. Plus I had ordered some sets unpainted to review.

So, to add some figures to some of my more distant settings, I got out the cheapies. Daughter Molly has started painting some of the unpainted ones, and I've started gluing the ones that were already "painted" to clear plastic (PETE) bases cut from a grocery store salad mix container lid. (File the bottom of their feet flat first.)

Inexpensive plastic figures ordered in bulk from China, being painted with acrylic craft paints. Click for bigger photo. Inexpensive plastic figures ordered in bulk from China, being glued to PETE bases.  Click for bigger photo.

Building Touch-up

Playskool Sesame Street storefronts masked so awning can be sprayed. Click for bigger photo.As reported in Part One of this series, our building repair, refurbishment, touchup, etc., started in early spring. Still, there's always something left to do. For example, the Playskool stores that I trashbashed needed their awnings painted. I could have brush-painted them, but I prefer the durability and smoothness of spray paint. Using masking tape and lots of newspaper, I masked off everything but the awnings, then gave them two coats of white.

My daughter Molly then used acrylic craft paint to paint the colors on the awnings, including the first Playskool store we trashbashed this way (in the middle). I never put signage on the old one, but we're thinking about making the one with the red and white awning into a barber shop, the one Playskool Sesame Street storefronts with awnings painted. Click for bigger photo.with green into a grocer, and the one with blue into a deli. All three businesses provide a wealth of detailing possibilities (although those may come later).

Also I have MOST of the signage for my refurbed storefronts ready to print.

More Weeding

When I got back to weeding, I noticed that several weed grasses that spread primarily by seed were starting to come up. The grass killer spray hadn't affected these beause they hadn't germinated yet. So I pulled countless "startups" by hand, then applied grass killer all over again to catch any stragglers.

Elfin Thyme being invaded by a weed grass.  Click for bigger photo.The photo to the right shows a patch of Elfin Thyme that has been invaded by weed grasses (that thinned it out in the past) and is being invaded again by new growth. Elfin Thyme is the slowest-growing and most delicate thyme I have tried. So easing the little 1/2"-tall grass seedlings out of the thyme patch without uprooting the thyme required surgical precision. A couple days later, I hit another patch of the same grass on another part of the railrad. By then, it was 2-4" tall. I pulled that up too, then hit the whole railroad one more time with grass killer. Hope that does it.


Once again, these accounts aren't exactly "how-to" articles, but we hope you get some encouragement or ideas from them.

If you see this before the 2013 convention, and you're planning to attend, we'd love to meet you. We'd especially like to welcome you to our back yard. If nothing else, it's proof that a family working around day jobs and a limited budget can still assemble and maintain a garden railroad that is a pleasure to run and watch year after year after year.

And maybe that's the best "takeaway" we can offer.

If you're heading this way, drop us a line and we'll be looking for you.

To jump to the next article in the series:

  • 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.

To return to the first article in the series:

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

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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