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

Planning the New New Boston and Donnels Creek Railway, Part 1

Readers know that we moved in November, 2016, after one last running session in October. (The annual "Christmas Train Day" event I usually write about in November or December of each year didn't happen, sorry. Hopefully next year.)

The buyers wanted the railroad to stay, so I left the track and several plastic and resin buildings - mostly bird feeders - that I felt I could replace easily enough. You can see them in this last photo of the south loop. You can also see a couple "through" girder bridge pieces from Colorado Model Structures, a great way to dress up a raised ROW.

Last photo of the New Boston and Donnels Creek before we moved.  Track, bird feeders, pond, waterfall, and a couple dozen miniature trees mark the place where we hosted lots of 'runs' and fun over the years.  Plans are for the next iteration is lower maintenance, though.

Folks are already asking me if we have the railroad running again, but I don't. For a number of reasons. One is that the new house had a number of glitches that the inspections didn't turn up, that I've had to spend time rectifying, including rewiring the back porch lights, adding and replacing lighting fixtures in the garage, fixing railings and steps, and so on.

But the "biggie" was the crater. Three owners ago, the property had a 15'-deep pool that was 18' wide and 32' long. We knew that the fellow we bought it from had "filled it in," because there was a huge patch of weeds where the pool had once stood. What we didn't know until the weather cleared up enough for me to clear off the weeds was that he had "filled it in" by having a dump truck full of "clean land fill" (including construction waste) back up to it and dump clay, big rocks, rebar, and hunks of concrete into the hole then drive off without doing anything to level off the land.

"Before and after" photos below courtesy of Clark County's property tax web page. As you can tell by the photo, the amount of land made unusable by the "filling in" process was about four times the area of the original pool. Yes, we saw the weed patch when we bought the house; and we would have bought it anyway, but we had no idea how bad it was until I cut down the weeds.

Overhead view of our 'new' home five years ago when the swimming pool was still there, but unused. Overhead view of our 'new' home about two years ago, after the swimming pool was 'filled in' with construction waste and the weeds had grown up over it.

After a number of phone calls to people who had bulldozers or dump trucks or both (and having more than one flashback to Larry, Darryl, and Darryl of Bob Newhart's fictional Vermont village), we finally found a local fellow with a Bobcat and a dump truck. Not only did he level out the damage done by the previous owner's "guy," but he leveled out several places that had been recontoured decades ago when the pool went in. Shelia was delighted that the back yard was starting to look more like a yard and less like a bomb site. I then spent a couple days digging out the rocks that were protruding from the soil (I don't care about rocks that are several inches down, as long as grass will grow over them.)

The crater area after the Bobcat owner used dirt that had been pushed up into little hills around the old swimming pool when it was first installed to fill the pool in the rest of the way and level things out.  I had started pulling up the stones that came to the surface at this time.  Click for bigger photo. Most of the rocks I collected after the initial leveling and scraping.  The landscaper offered to get rid of them for me, but I plan to use most of them in our gardens and garden railroad. Click for bigger photo.

Because the landscaper had to recontour parts of the yard that had been pushed into useless little hills, etc. when the pool was initially installed, the final patch of bare ground was several times larger than the pool had been originally.  Once new dirt was spread over it, I began to rake and seed it. Click for bigger photo.At this point there was a patch of bare soil in our back yard that was about 100' by 40'. Our landscaper brought out about eight cubic yards of much better dirt than we had in the yard before, then brought the backhoe back out and leveled everything out again. I reseeded soon most of it soon after.

Now I have some idea of where we'll be putting the gardens, including four raised 12'x4' vegetable garden beds and the first stage of our garden railway. I say A preliminary plan for where the vegetable gardens and railway will live.  Click for bigger picture. "first stage" because I know I won't be building the whole railroad I would like to have eventually in one summer.

In the last photo above, you can tell that our yard extends out quite a bit from the house. But it's a corner lot with no privacy whatsoever. I don't want my railroad sitting out where everyone driving by can see, and Shelia's not fond of having to tend a big garden on a thoroughfare. Also, big privacy fences in the country actually draw attention. So we're keeping both the railroad and the raised garden in the part of the yard that is somewhat shielded from the street by the house.

What you can't see from the map is that the yard slopes toward the west, with something like a five-foot drop in places, so that will make things interesting, too. Yes, there is, technically, 100 feet between the house and the back fence. On level ground that would seem like a good place to run an very large oval or dogbone. But with such a slope, a long east-west run would require more engineering than I want to get into, at least right away.

Why put the first loop so far from the house? I thought about putting the pond where you could see it from the back deck, but because of the slope, you would have to stand up to see it anyway. And, though you can't see it in the photos, there is electrical service of a sort near where I show the RR starting - the Bobcat pulled up a bit of conduit that used to serve the swimming pool and still connects to the garage fusebox (I have that fuse turned off, in case you wondered).

By the way, we actually had more real estate at the old property, and people used to ask me why I didn't have a half-acre garden railroad. I suppose if I had infinite money and time, that might have been possible, but toward the end, simply maintaining the 18'x70' plot of ground that was dedicated to the railroad took far more time and energy (not to mention getting up and down on my knees) than I am likely to have in this house. So, even though I plan to create as low-maintenance a railroad as possible, I didn't see that huge side yard and go, "Cha-ching!"


Some 18 years after I broke ground for the first New Boston and Donnels Creek, I've learned a little bit. For example, construction techniques that work where people only get 16 inches of rain a year don't work in Ohio. Also, ground-level railroads with lots of room for weeds to grow are not back-friendly.

Having seen a lot of other railroads come (and sadly, go) over the last two decades, and having made more mistakes than I'd care to admit on my own, I have to say, I have a list of requirements for the next iteration of the New Boston and Donnels Creek railroad. If you get our newsletter, you've already seen these, but here's where I am saving them for "posterity."

  • Maximum Reliability - including smooth track plans with easements where possible, reliable electrical feeds, and all turnouts within easy reach.

  • Minimum Maintenance - including weed-proof, raised roadbed, minimal places where weeds can root, and all areas that might need weeding or track cleaning within easy reach.

  • Maximum Interest - especially visual interest, with waterfalls and trains running on multiple levels to start.

  • Expandability - planning far enough in advance that the earliest iteration of the railroad doesn't preclude features we hope to include eventually.

Possible Configurations

Since I want to have a relatively high vertical section, with elevated trains and waterfalls, I probably need to build that first. At the moment, my plan is to have three concentric loops of track. As things are planned now:

  • The highest loop will be based on 4'-diameter curves and feature short cars and tank locos, probably an ore train or the like. It will be 44-48" above ground.

  • The next highest loop will be based on 6'-diameter curves and feature 8-wheel freight cars or shorty passenger coaches. It will be 30-36" above ground.

  • The lowest loop will be 18-24" above ground and will be based on 10'-diameter curves. Hey, I have to run my Aristo heavyweights somewhere. :-)

At first I was going to use 2"x6" roadbed, mounted directly to posts, a technique I've used before with success. (See our "Simple, Raised Railroad" article for details). Then I was going to fill the dirt up to the roadbed level, a common practice.

At the moment, though, I'm thinking of building the three levels as you might build three decks. This will take a little more wood, but it will take away the prospect of having another dump truck worth of soil brought in. It should also be easier to reconfigure if that is ever necessary.

The March, 29, 2017 version of the plan for the first two installations of the new New Boston and Donnels Creek. Click for bigger photo.For this summer, I hope to get the top two loops built. The lower loop, which will eventually be much larger than the raised loops, can wait until next year if it has to. That's one reason it's shown as a dotted line.

The picture to the right may give you some idea of what I'm thinking. The little round circles indicate 4"x4" posts. They'll be square of course, but it's hard to keep turning the graphic to make them oriented the way they will be in the "real world." The little brown lines represent 2"x6" pressure-treated boards that will be connecting the posts and supporting the "decks," which are not actually shown. The supporting infrastructure for the largest loop is not shown as it may not happen this year.

Water Features

Yes, I want a pond with goldfish, pickerel rushes, and water lilies. Frankly, a bigger pond than I had before. And it's a lot easier to build a railroad around a pond than it is to dig a pond under a railroad. So originally, I was thinking of putting the big pond in before I started the railroad. But for 2017, the water features will mostly be vertical and adjacent to where the pond will probably wind up. So the big pond will wait until I decide if my "proof of concept" is a success. That's why the picture above shows a small pond.

I'm thinking about having one of those biofilters sunk into the top platform, (with the 4'-diameter loop running around it). I'm looking at a biofilter that has a spillway so it can create a waterfall effect on that level. Below this, sitting on the same level as the 6'-diameter track loop, I hope to put something like the Maccourt Connecting Pond, which has a spillway of its own. One of these gave me great service on the old NB&DC, so I know how useful they are.

Below that on the next level, I may have another Maccourt Connecting Pond, turned at a different angle from the upper one and emptying where the "big pond" will go eventually. Both Connecting Ponds and the biofilter will have landscaping and plantings that disguise their shape.

The "big pond" is planned to go adjacent to the raised loops, not under them. That way it can be added next year if necessary, hopefully the same time as the longer 10'-diameter based loop of track. In the meantime, I'll put something simpler there to catch the water from the waterfall, maybe a small circular pond or a watering trough, with a pump that gets the water back to the biofilter.

Eventually, I would like the "big pond" to be so big that it seriously cuts down on the real estate that I have to weed, etc. Believe it or not, ponds are lower maintenance per square foot than dirt, no matter what is on the dirt. And bigger ponds are lower maintenance than little ponds, since the water chemistry is more stable.

Pond Liner Considerations - While I was dabbling with the idea of putting a pond in first, and then building the structure that would hold the upper loops, I investigated what it would take to use a flexible pond liner. I also investigated several of Maccourt's pre-molded larger pond liners. (I had a 100-gallon Maccourt Jamaica pond at the other house and it lasted from 1999 to 2016 with no problems whatsoever).

Click to go to our One-Day Waterfall issue.While investigating the Maccourt pond liners, I created digital templates that represent the shape of these ponds and how they would fit inside track loops using 4', 8', or 10'-diameter track. By the time I was through, I had enough content for an article about preformed liners in general and Maccourt in specific. Click here to see the article.


I am going to stop adding things to this article before it gets too long to read in one sitting. As you can tell, we have a sort of blank canvas, a hundred "lessons learned," and a hundred things I'd like to try. Before you start drooling over the potential opportunities, please consider that we also have a budget and a limited amount of time, at least for the next year or so.

Click to visit our tips for planning a garden railroadOn the other hand, if you live anywhere near Springfield, Ohio, and you'd like to "learn on the job," you are quite welcome to come help on the "work days." In the meantime, if you're planning your own garden railroad, check out our planning articles by clicking on the picture to the right.

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


Click to go to articleGo to "Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 2" - More plans. We've moved on from the 2"x6" roadbed-on-posts to a sort of "train-table-outside" plan. Our goals include low-maintenance, high interest, and high reliability. We're also trying to get around having a thousand dollars' worth of dirt hauled into the back yard. If you want to get some idea of what our planning process looks like, reading these through in sequence may help. Or it may drive you crazy.

Click on the photo to see what we were considering in early April

Click to go to home page of the New Boston and Donnels' Creek RR, Paul Race's home railroad. Return to the New Boston and Donnels Creek RR Page - This is the page describing Paul Race's progress and frequent rework on his own garden railroad, started on a shoe-string budget in 1998, later expanded, and later refurbished several times as issues arose. Issues that Paul hopes to avoid by building the next iteration above ground.

Return to the Family Garden Trains Home PageReturn to Family Garden Trains' Home Page - The home page with links to all the other stuff, including design guidelines, construction techiques, structure tips, free graphics, and more.

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