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

Preparing for Christmas Train Day, 2014

Seven years ago, the NMRA contacted me and asked if we would host an open garden railroad the week after their November train show. The whole point of the open railroads was to get folks who are thinking about starting their own model railroad a real-world example to look at. The other expectation is that people who are still trying to decide might be more likely to ask questions in a home than they would be at the show, which can be pretty hectic. Since then we have hosted six Christmas-themed open railroads, in November. Last year, not enough indoor railroaders would commit to having an open RR. I guess having to blow the dust off their turnouts was just too much hassle, compared to raking leaves, weeding, deadheading perennials, trimming conifers, and all those other little maintenance chores that indoor railroaders miss out on. We had the event anyway, and had lots of attendees.

This year I spent most of the summer away on business trips and spent no time to speak of in the garden. So I was far, far behind, compared to where usually am this time of year (far behind). But I figured we'd do it again, even though the indoor railroaders bailed on having open railroads this year, too. Maybe they had too much raccoon poop on their mainline. Wait, that was me.

That said, we had all kinds of scheduling conflicts this year. I compare scheduing an open garden railroad to throwing a bowling ball into the middle of a trampoline, then inviting everyone else in your life to add golf balls, tennis balls, croquet balls, whatever they have and see where they wind up. In other words, whenever you set the date, it seems like every other important thing that could possibly be scheduled for a month before or a month after, suddenly gravitates to that date, too. So we rescheduled for later in the year than we usually do. The good part of that was that I had a little more time than I would have had otherwise to get things ready. The bad part was that the BIG leaf-fall and the fist snowfall both happened beore the event, which did affect my schedule as well. This is an account of what we managed to get done and what we're still hoping to get done in the next few days.

Getting Down to Brass Tracks

In a nod to the "shoe-string" railroaders among us, when I set up a plastic, battery-powered (Lionel) train for the kiddies I usually set it on plastic track as well. Most of the track came from my original Bachmann Big Haulers, but I only use it for this so it's not in bad shape. That said, the plastic battery-powered trains are very lightweight, and they don't like running on track that's rough at all. And those 4'-diameter curves don't do them any favors. The little visitors get so disappointed when the trains they're trying to run won't stay coupled or stay on the track. So I figured I'd get out some of my track that still need re-tied and try to make two more circles of track.

Click to see our article on refurbishing old GR rails with new ties.The process of putting new ties on old rail is described in our article Refurbishing Garden Railroad Track.

I also ordered a bunch of brass railjoiners for Bachmann track. They were available very fast and I was told they were the same as Aristo's. Ditto for a pack of USA Trains rail joiner screws.

After poking through the bin of needy track pieces, I determined that I had enough Aristo pieces for a 10'-diameter circle. I also had six Aristo 5'-diameter pieces and seven or eight Delton Locomotive track pieces in the same diameter. Most of the Aristo had come off the railroad after the ties had deteriorated beyond usefulness. Some of the Delton needed new ties, some didn't.

At any rate, I figured that two new circles of track in my back yard would help.

Temporary Railroads with "New" Track

A 5' oval on our old swimming pool deck.The above-ground swimming pool is gone, than goodness. But it's deck remains. It's a handy place to put an oval of track for the kiddies to run a train. This year, instead of plastic track, it has an oval of brass track, mixed Aristo and Delton. Funny, it doesn't fit as well as I had hoped, but it fits. I used the Aristo railjoiners, screwing them to the Aristo rails and just trying to make certain the rail joiners pinched the Delton rails sufficiently. If this was going to be permanent, I could use over-the railjoiner joiners, or get the little tap to tap the Delto rails.

A 10'-diameter circle underneath a recently trimmed spruce. Click for bigger photo.Where to put the 10' circle? Well that was even easier, once I cut the dead branches off a spruce in our back yard (it's being crowded out by other trees, so it didn't have any live growth closer than 12 feet to the ground). I put railjoiners everywhere but only fastened together one rail per junction, since I don't need electrical connectivity (yet). My plan is to get some fine gravel, pour it over the right-of-way, pull the track up through, and level it that way.

Clearing the lower branches of this fir restored access to part of the railroad I had to struggle to reach. Click for bigger photo.I also sawed off the lower branches of a fir that had taken over my railroad. It was there before the railroad, but it was only a couple feet tall when I laid track around it. For the last eight years or so, I've been crawling on my hands and knees to maintain the track and grounds under its branches. Sorry, but crawling on your hands and knees when you're 62 isn't the same as when you're 48. This opened up about 80 square feet of a the railroad, and made it much easier to see my double-trestle (which is, admittedly) coming apart. The buildings to the left of the tree trunk in the photo are just there by chance - I was in the process of moving them to one of the temporary railroads. But the irony is that they're sitting where they started out, when I finished the loop of track behind them in 2001. Now that I have that area open, I have to decide whether to put the town back where it started. For the open RR, I may put a temporary 4' loop around the tree.

New Boston under the second leaf-fall.  Click for a bigger photo.Leaf Alert

My ideal autumn is one that has an early killing frost, then a long warm spell. So I can be finished with the leaves early and enjoy my time in the year. This year, I did get the early killing frost(s). But I didn't get the long warm spell.

We actually had two heavy leaf falls, courtesy of an unusually wet August and September. The photo to the right shows Donnels Creek with just the leaves from the second leaf fall (we'd already cleared them once). In fact, as I write this, two big silver maples in my neighbor's yard have yet to shed appreciably, which is one reason I'm not bothering to get every little leaf ouf of the yard just yet.

New Boston after Leave and before snow.  Click for bigger photo.So I got most of the leaves up and cleared the ROW over one weekend. But then I started hanging the light strands in my little trees after I got home from work, because: A. Daylight savings time was going away, and B: It's a lot harder to hang lights after the weather turns cold. Surely you can see how chores like these make me feel sorry for the indoor railroaders who can't show their railroads this year because there's cat hair on the tracks or something.

In the photo you can tell that the little LED spotlights I installed a couple years ago are still working, as are some, but not all, of the building lights. That was something else I checked before the weather got too cold. On the other hand, you'll notice that I took a row of buildings out of Donnels' Creek's downtown district. With three or four temporary railroads going up shortly, I would need the extra storefronts.

One day after the photo above. Click for bigger photo.Snow Alert

No sooner did I get the leaves picked up and most of the trees bedecked with lights, than we got six inches of snow. Pretty? Yes. Does it mean I have to focus on stuff going on indoors for a while? Yes. Boy do I bad for those indoor railroaders who are missing all this. :-) No, I'm not bitter, just amused.

Indoor Stuff

Three unpainted storefronts and one painted one.  Click for bigger photo.Because I would need as many buildings as I could scrounge, I dug out three storefronts I had primed, frosted, and masked, but never painted. Three of the storefronts shown in the photo are from Colorado Model Structures. I have since painted them. But I can't find the doors. I know I have them because I remember painting them with another batch of stuff. Another sign that when you get a building you should work on it until you're through with it and not start something else in the meantime. Stay posted.

BTW, I painted the green storefront and two others (not shown) last year. I gave the other two back to Bruce at CMS to use on a display and he traded me two unpainted ones to use in a workshop. Our article on masking these is here

The other storefront is from a Fisher Price structure. Again, it wasn't painted yet because I used it in a workshop. Details on how I use these buildings are in this article.

A Pola structure left over from a broken switch tower. Click for bigger photo.Another building I had left undone was the top of a Pola switch tower. I got just that much, in pieces, from Watts Train Shop, in Indiana. It had come to them without the bottom from an estate sale. I didn't even know what it was, at first. There is glue on the bottom where the rest of it would have gone, but when I got it, there were stickers that implied it was a bar or hash house. I'm guessing the original owner repurposed the top after some disaster. At any rate, i had already painted the roof parts gray and undersprayed them with black to bring out the texture. I didn't have time to put in curtains or an interior. But since it has a bottom, gluing the roof back on would mean making it impossible to do so later. So I attempted to glue the roof together without gluing it to the structure. We'll see.

Still to Come

Printing new stickers the replace the signage and posters that have faded on my buildings in the last 18 months. Testing all the trains, buying batteries for the kids' trains, putting up one more loop. Stringing lights above the new 10' loop so it doesn't disappear altogether when it gets dark. If I have time, fixing some of the building lighting that isn't working and cleaning the wheels on the locomotives I prefer to use. If I really have time, putting the remaining storefronts together and fastening them to structures. We'll see.


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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