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

Christmas Train Day, 2015

This is a follow-up on our article about getting ready for "Train Day 2015" Not all of the preparations were done when I wrote that article, but now everything is done by default, because the Train Day 2015 event is over. When people ask me how many features we'll have each year, the answer is always "I don't know." I keep adding things and testing them until people show up and then I stop working on the railroad and start being a host.

Building Signage

I've been printing my building signs with weatherproof labels on a color laser printer for a few years. Unfortunately they do fade, especially if they're in direct sunlight. The buildings that didn't get put up last year before all of the snows fared the worst. So one of my tasks was reprinting and reinstalling the signage for several of my buildings. Most of that signage is on this page if you're interested in learning more about it or using it yourself. I'm told that if I spray with UV-resistant flat, clear acrylic or polyurethane, it will solve or at least reduce the fading problem, but life always intervenes.

Building Lighting and Curtains

In the last few years, I got a few more buildings ready to go, but didn't get them all lit, and the lighting on some of my existing buildings had given out. So I wanted to make a point of getting most, if not all, of the building lighting replaced before the event. In addition, several of the buildings had lost windows somehow, and most of the new buildings didn't have any. Nothing says "This is a plastic toy" like empty windows.

So I went back to my "Curtains Resource" page and used my color laser to print off a few pages of curtains on overhead projector film (yes, you can still get it if you look hard enough).

Instead of futzing with Lucite like I usually do, I cut the overhead projector film into appropriate sized and glued it right into the buildings, shiny side out. I don't know if it will hold for long, but it worked and significantly improved the look of the buildings where curtains had been missing or never installed.

My "building lighting circuits" are really 12-volt garden lighting systems that I tap into wherever I need a building. I run a wire from the line to wherever the buildings are going to be, then use those twist-on wire connectors to wire the building in.

Three buildings wired together before installing as a group on the railroad.  Click for bigger photo.In years past, I have wired the buildings into my garden lighting circuit one at a time, which is very time consuming. This year, I tried wiring them in groups of three in my workshop, and then just wiring each group in. I had hoped, in fact, to fasten each cluster of buildings down to a plexiglass base, to make the whole thing easier to move, level, etc. But I ran out of time for that.

The music store after repair and signage replacement. Click for bigger photoThe music store after repair and signage replacement. Click for bigger photoIn the "music store," the 12-volt light had shifted and melted a hole just next to the sign. I happened to have a translucent saxophone pin that someone had given me or my sister (who also played sax) forty or more years ago. I pried the metal pin arrangement off of the plastic saxophone, and glued the horn to the storefront. It's not perfect, but it hid the hole and added a little interest. The "after photo" also shows the new signage.

LED globe lights on a buildingI have three buildings that came with molded-on "lights," which I drilled out and replaced two years ago with small, clear marbles. They look good while they last, but the birds pick them out. So I tried using little round LED lights from a light strand. They would require 3-volt circuits instead of the 12-volt circuits I use for the building lights, and I didn't have time to arrange that. But they did look nice, I think.

Track Leveling

I had enough pea gravel to more-or-less level a "temporary" circle of track that I ran Thomas or James on last year. And finding a bag of granite turkey grit at a local feed store allowed me to level the track on the worst parts of my big mainline. I had hoped that I would have time to level things up enough to run my longer locomotives and cars, which require a smoother track than my shorty equipment. But I didn't have time to test them before folks started showing up, so I went with the shorty locos and cars that I had tested.

Track Power Checkup

I attached power supplies to all of the powered track segments and made sure that there was plenty of juice all the way around.

I also spent some time trying to make sure that my "jumpers" would keep the track properly powered from one end of the "big" railroad to the other. I repaired two jumpers. Then the morning of the big day, i discovered that another one had broken. I didn't have time to fix it, but my belt-and-suspenders approach meant that the trains got enough juice anyway.

Treat Prep

Shelia made several dozen cookies, as did my sister Tess, who was coming down from Michigan, and friend Kelly Hellwig. So the morning of the open railroad, Shelia set the cookies and drinks out on a table, with the help of Tess and Kelly. We started the popcorn popper, which Molly took over after she was done setting out all the little figures. Gene Rahrig, a friend from the Miami Valley Garden Railway Society, stopped to see if we needed any help setting up and dropped off a box of pretzels left over from an open railroad at his house. Thanks, Gene!

There was mulled cider, hot cocoa, lemonade, in addition to six or seven different kinds of cookies. Nobody went away hungry or thirsty.

Populating the Towns

About half of the figures that Molly set out. Click for bigger photos. At one of my first open railroads (I think the one in 2003), my towns looked a little like ghost towns. I didn't have enough little figures to make the communities seem alive. Well, folks have been giving me figures for years, I've been picking up Lemax figures cheap at after-Christmas sales, and I've experimented with ordering Chinese plastic 1:24 and 1:32 figures to use on the communities that were farther back from the edge of the railroad, where they would be harder to see.

The morning of the event, Molly helped me get several containers of little figures out, and proceeded to sort them before she set them out. The picture above shows about half of the figures she eventually found a place for. The photo on the left below shows New Boston set up with a sort of street market. The photo on the right below shows a closeup of the same scene, so you can see the busker, the flower vendor, etc. Clicking on any of these will bring up a bigger version of the photo.

You can tell that Molly sorted the figures by period, putting the obviously Victorian figures (mostly Lemax) together in this scene. The more modern figures are in other communities. Thanks, Molly.

Kristen's Klothiers, a detail from the New Boston photo to the left.  Click to see a bigger photo. Kristen's Klothiers, a detail from the New Boston photo to the left.  Click to see a bigger photo.

Train Setup

I checked the batteries on the two Lionel battery-powered trains, and set them out ready to go. The Polar Express is at the left, with an extra coach I got at a train show for $5 because the vendor didn't know what it was. A Santa Fe is at the right. Both locomotives are scaled-down Berkshires. Clicking either photo will give you a bigger picture. For a review of these trains click here.

Lionel's G Gauge Polar Express. Click to see a bigger photo. Lionel's G Gauge Santa Fe train. Click to see a bigger photo.

Molly started to set up the Playskool children's train that has been a feature of every Train Day so far, but we discovered that the locomotive wouldn't work, so we had to put it back in the box. I have ordered a replacement, in case I can't get it fixed, so we'll see.

I had also tested several of my 0-4-0 and 0-6-0 locomotives to make sure I would have enough ready to take over there was an accident or some such. I set out all four track-powered trains. Then I set out the signs we use in the front yard to announce the event (one from the Dayton NMRA and one from the MVGRS).

A visitor figures out how to make the Lionel Santa Fe set start and stop.

Guests Arrive

We had a little rush at first, some downtime, then a bigger rush that didn't stop until after dark. When all was said and done, Shelia figured that we had about 70 people, of whom 32 were children under ten. We have had more visitors in a single day, of course. But the weather was very nice for November, and most of our visitors stayed for 45 minutes or more. (In fact, we've never had bad weather yet at one of these, thank the Lord, although one year it was pretty chilly.) So from about 2:15 until about 5:15, we had a constant crowd of about 35 people in the back yard. We were VERY glad to host, of course, and as far as I could tell, a good time was had by all. Child running in circles around train.

Everyone loved the cookies and popcorn. As far as I know every child got a chance to run at least one of the trains they were allowed to run, and most of them ran all four. There was a constant stream of mostly-very-well-behaved children running from railroad to railroad across the yard.

There was only one minor "disaster." One of the kids (not the kid running in circles arove) kicked a circle of track hard, and knocked a piece out of gauge, so I had to retire that circle of track about 3:00. It is probably reparable, but I haven't got to it yet. Considering how many kids we had, and how many times I've had trains fly off the track or some such during these things, that was pretty good.

The other hassles had to do mostly with the fact that the Lionel battery powered trains and the Lionel Thomas coaches are too light to stay on the track if there's any unevenness at all, so they each probably got re-railed about 150 times during the day. But that's a cost of using toy trains with children. Thanks especially to Molly who was pretty much on popcorn and rerailing duty nonstop for the whole day.

For some unknown reason, the pond pump stopped about an hour into the open railroad, so the waterfall no longer worked. I unplugged it and plugged it in a few times, and it started working again. It's still working now, in fact. Go figure. Something unexpected HAS to go wrong at these things, or you're not doing it right.

New Boston at twilight. Click for bigger photo.

The "Witching Hour"

As always, the railroad became more stunning as twilight approached. As the lights in the trees became more obvious and the windows began glowing, the magic of a Christmas railroad really became apparent. Though I hadn't got every building lit, the ones I had lit looked great.

Donnels Creek Station after dark.  Click for bigger photo.Starting about 4:30, the sky grew darker, and the lights seemed brighter every minute. Unfortunately it was also getting colder, so most of the families with small children left before they got the "full effect."

Though we've shown Christmas or train movies outside after dark in the past, I knew ahead of time that it was going to be too chilly for that this year, so I hadn't even set up the projector. Just as it became completely dark, some friends from Dayton arrived with their grandchild and we had one more nice visit before they left and I pulled the signs out of the front yard.

I put all the trains up and pulled the popcorn maker back into the house, as the ladies picked up the cookies, etc. Then we all put our feet up. Another great "cap" to a lot of hard work by all.


At the moment the buildings and little people are out, and we can put a train on the track. I will probably take everything in by New Years' but if you ever think you might be coming near Springfield, Ohio in the meantime, let us know.

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


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