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Christmas Train Day 2014.  An Aristocraft passenger train approaches the New Boston depot.  Click for bigger photo.  Garden Railroading  Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)
New Boston and Donnels Creek:

Christmas Train Day, 2014

Last month, I published a report on what I was doing to get ready for our Christmas-themed open railroad this year. Some of the things I planned worked out and some didn't but "the show went on" regardless.

Click to see last month's articleNote: Several of the projects described on this page actually started in last month's article, so if you haven't read last month's article, please click here

You may recall that I put this on about two weeks later than usual, so the big leaf-fall and the first big snow-fall happened in the days leading up to the event. I did get the leaves cleared and clear the right-of-way (which mostly involves cutting back intruding vegetation).

More Prep

During the inclement weather, I did what I could inside the house to get ready. This included gluing a bunch more of the bulk Chinese figures to clear plastic squares that I cut from packaging materials and containers for pre-washed salads. I used Fix-All, which takes a while to dry but doesn't turn brittle like Superglue. The first photo shows the figures with masking tape to hold them in place while the glue dries - a critical step. The second photo shows them after the tape is removed. No, they're not dramatic, and some of the figures repeat too often. But I needed people I could put within reach of little ones and not worry about them being damaged or lost. I can also use them to populate distant station platforms, etc., where a very detailed figure wouldn't show anyway. Because I bought these in bulk, the final cost of each figure was about 50 cents (as opposed to $3-5 for first-quality figures). There is more information about buying figures from off-the-wall sources at this link.

Inexpensive prepainted Chinese figures being prepared for deployment by gluing them to clear plastic squares.  Click for bigger photo.
Inexpensive prepainted Chinese figures being prepared for deployment by gluing them to clear plastic squares.  Click for bigger photo.

Note that several of the figures in the photo above were custom painted by daughter Molly, using acrylic paint. Both of the African-Americans in the photo were painted by her - why do manufacturers assume that only white people ride trains in this country?

Lionel Thomas on well cover.  Sorry I don't have a better version of this photo.Most years I put up a little elevated loop of track with Thomas on it, but I don't usually let the kids run the train, because they tend to send Thomas off into space. This year, I used the roadbed for something else and put Thomas on our well cover, where he's been a time or two before. This was on a 4' circle of AristoCraft track from two different sets, so the tie size and color varies between pieces. The kids don't really care. (And I've discovered that if I dump gravel or grit around the ties, the adults never notice either - so many of the arguments about so-called Large Scale "issues" are really "much ado about nothing.")

I added four of my trashbashed Fisher-Price storefronts, with a handful of inexpensive shoppers. I also added my bird-feeder-cum-gazebo and an AristoCraft freight station. In honor of Thomas, I put Sir Topham Hat and one of the drivers on the station platform.

Fisher Price Storefronts repainted with new printed signage.  Click to see a bigger photo.I also refreshed the signage on some of my storefronts by printing off new signs. Yes, a color laser printer, or a friend with a color laser printer is a good thing to have. Plus an order of #OL176LP full-page labels from doesn't hurt anything either. I've discovered that UV DOES cause stuff printed on these to fade, so if you're going to leave your buildings out, a coating of UV spray won't hurt. Also, the darker the pattern, the slower the fade - I'm thinking the ink itself must provide a tad of UV protection.

Kids' Favorites

I have two of the battery-powered Lionel toy trains with remotes that are great for little kids to run. As mentioned last month, I have been putting them on plastic track (which they come with), but I thought that this year I would try putting them on brass track to see if that reduced the uncoupling and derailing.

Lionel Toy 'G gauge' train on a circle of Aristo track. Click for bigger photo.The circle of roadbed I usually elevate went on the ground to support a battery-powered Lionel toy train. Initially I had planned to run this loop around the fir tree I had trimmed, but the roots right around it made the ground too uneven, and it would have brought the kids I expected to run it too close to the powered track (with more expensive trains). So I put it into the newly cleared area and moved some of my buildings nearby to make it look more like part of the "official" railroad.

Instead of using plastic track that came with this train, I screwed together a circle of brass Aristocraft track. That made the right-of-way smooth enough to (almost) eliminate derailments, which is a problem with these trains.

The other Lionel toy train went on a 5'-diameter loop of brass track on the well cover. This was mostly track on which I had replaced the ties (see last month's article) At first it wouldn't stay on the track. Then I realized that one of the pieces I had reconfigured was out of gauge - not enough to throw a "real" model train but enough to throw the lightweight toy train. So I replaced it, and the train stayed on the track for most of the day - a big deal for these trains. Proof that even toy trains look better and run better on larger curves. The hastily-draped rope light in the photo is a shortcut to compensate for the fact that this part of the yard gets very dark after the sun goes down, and last year we had kids who wanted to run the train long after that.

The Lionel battery-powered 'G Gauge' Polar Express on the old pool deck. Click for bigger photo.

By the way, this set only comes with two passenger cars. But I found another coach for $5 at an antique show. The guy had got it in a box from an estate sale and knew nothing about it. I love it when a plan comes together. On the better, wider radius track, the toy locomotive had no trouble at all pulling three cars.

New Railroad for James

With the help of daughter Emily (now a schoolteacher in Indiana back home for this event), I dumped enough gravel on the new circle of track around the spruce tree to even it up.

Usually I alternate James and Thomas on the little raised railroad. But I didn't put that out this year. Instead I put Thomas on the well cover (above) and James on the 10' circle of rehabilitated Aristo track that I had installed around the newly trimmed spruce tree. The battery powered train was still "iffy" on this loop, but James ran great, pulling two cars the whole afternoon with no derailments to speak of.

A Lionel James pulling Annie and Clarabel around a 10' circle.  Click for bigger photo.

The top of a Pola switch tower is relabeled as a cafe and added to James' tiny village.  Click for bigger photo.You may recognize the Pola building I was re-gluing last month. With new graphics it seems to make a fine cafe, as well as an addition to the little town James was to circle. You may wonder why the stations for these railroads are so far from the tracks. Obviously you've never had three-year-olds running your trains.

I also strung a fancy string of lights from the branches of the spruce overhanging this little railroad, so it wouldn't disappear altogether when it got dark. I took them down the next day, though, since that particular set includes parts that will rust, so I don't have any photos of that.

Stuff That Didn't Happen

The storefronts I was going to paint up and use didn't get quite finished in time to do anything with them. For one thing, I tried to paint one blue, and the Krylon satin blue paint "bled" under the masking tape something fierce. So I have to touch that storefront up before I can use it. I had a similar problem with a different tint of Krylon "satin" blue paint earlier, but I've never had the same problem with any of Krylon's other colors. In fact, the other two storefronts I painted at the same time - also with Krylon satin - came out almost perfect. It's probably just as well it didn't come out - I was out of time to do very much with it anyway by then.

I got the projector and DVD player out to test them and make certain they would work, but I didn't hook them up in the morning because it was supposed to rain before it got dark anyway.

Final Prep

The day before the big day, Emily populated all of our little villages. She used the figures shown near the top of the page to populate little towns that had been ghost towns otherwise because they were in the reach of children.

The morning of the big day, we put the trains on the track and made certain everything was ready to run. Cincinnatians Kristen Race and Aaron Petrusch came up to help and both did whatever needed to be done as the day went on.

We wheeled the popcorn popper down to the driveway, and we set out train-shaped homemade Playskool made the best garden scale train for little kids EVER.  Unfortunately, it's been out of production for decads. Click for bigger photo.sugar cookies that my sister Tess and daughter Emily had made.

Emily set up the little Playskool battery-powered train we always set up on the back porch, adding a toddler-friendly train to the mix.

The snow that had fallen some ten days before was almost all gone, but there was still ice on the pond. So Emily put some of the ice skaters we had gotten with a village set onto the ice. (We made sure we picked them up before the ice melted.)

I set the lights to come on and stay on all day, and turned on the Christmas music.

New Boston with a frozen pond and Christmas trains whirring by.  Click for bigger photo.


As it turned out, attendance was down, possibly because it looked like it was going to rain any minute, and the weather people kept changing the time it was supposed to start (from 4:00PM to 1:00PM to 2:30PM to 5:00PM to 2:00PM, and so on). Still, we had a number of kids onhand, and a high enough adult-to-kid ratio to allow each kid to try not only the remote-controlled toy trains, but also Thomas and James, both of which were electric, and would have been in danger of flying off the track with unsupervised acceleration. Kristen, Emily, and Shelia Race all three spent most of the afternoon helping one or the other of the kids with trains they wanted to run.

Boy watching train near Donnels Creek station. Click for bigger photo.

Boy watching train near Donnels Creek station. Click for bigger photo.

A child noticing the hobo on top of the Lionel Polar Express train. Click for bigger photo.I think it's safe to say that a good time was had by all who attended. A great time was had by all the little ones who let the magic take hold.

My late friend "Papa" Ted Althoff, a lover of all things Christmas used to say that our best and most precious memories of Christmas are formed in early childhood.

As the old MasterCard commercials would say, the joy we were able to bring to our young visitors was "priceless." (Click here to see Ted's entire essay.)

About a half hour before we were going to close officially, it started sprinkling. That's okay - all of our little visitors were looking pretty drowsy anyway; they'd had a big day. The ladies got the foodstuffs in while I rescued the trains and power supplies. And everybody relaxed. For those of you who didn't come out because the weather forecast kept changing: sorry, the rest of us had a great time. And we now have a 100% record of nice weather for these events, quite the blessing.


One thing that an open railroad does is force you to get things done that you would keep putting off otherwise. I reassembled that Pola structure, rehabbed a bunch of track, glued a bunch of figures on their bases and did any number of other things that will benefit our railroad, not just for the open railroad, but also in the future. Okay, most people aren't crazy enough to hold open railroads this late in the year, but consider holding one a year if you can - you'd be surprised how much it will do for your railroad. :-)

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.


By the way, I often close these reports with a scene of my railroad covered with snow, since the first snowfall typically falls a few days after "Train Day." This year, they happened the other way around. But I wouldn't want to disappoint you, so here's a photo of the railroad under snow a couple weeks before our open railroad. And you wonder why I was messing around with things inside the house when I should have been doing things outside. Click for a photo that might be big enough to use as a background on your computer screen.

Our first big snowfall this year was about two weeks before our open railroad.  Click for bigger photo.

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Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains.
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