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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 2

This is a follow-up to our first article about planning the next iteration of the New Boston & Donnels Creek RR. As you may expect, planning has continued apace, since our move, now five months ago. But since I'm wavering between three or four techniques I have never seen in practice, I'm beginning to think that I may need more than one "proof of concept."

All of my current schemes involve railroads that are raised on lumber framework to at least 24" height. No more hands-and-knees weeding and track-cleaning.

None of them involve bringing in a ton of dirt or other high-maintenance garden approaches that allow weeds to get a foothold or require a Bobcat to dismantle if you need to move things later (in other words, most of the techniques I am investigating will work for renters, hint, hint).

In addition, none of the plans involve nailing the roadbed directly to the posts like I did in my Simple, Raised Railroad and Temporary Outdoor Railroad" articles. On permanent railroads, with posts sunk below the frost line, moving things around is as labor-intensive as installing them in the first place. When you know exactly where things have to go, that's great. But not everybody gets it right the first time. Certainly I don't.

All of the schemes I'm considering involve some sort of "tabletop" construction that will let me reconfigure or tweak my track plan without having to rebuild the railroad.

All of the schemes involve using pressure-treated lumber for the roadbed, either 2"x6" or 5/4 decking material cut the way I specified in my original Simple, Raised Railroad article . Properly assembled it keeps the track very stable and provides enough support that even mistakes like stepping on the track won't usually cause damage. Also, it's more weedproof than anything but poured concrete, which I've also used, but which is not exactly trivial to install or move.

What About Track? - Speaking of trivial, another thing that is NOT trivial is the cost of track, which is about five times what it was when I started out. While I'm doing my "proof of concept" tests, I will probably mostly be using leftover track I brought with me from the other house. Some is left over because it was used in demos and clinics, more is left over because it was on my "permanent" railroad, but the ties deteriorated so I put new track down and bought tie strips for this track. So it is seriously "odds and ends." But that's okay for now. I don't want to buy a bunch of new track while I'm still in the "trying things out to see if my idea is stupid" phase. Eventually, I'm sure that some new track will be in store.

Current "Master Plan"

In case you're wondering what happened to the "master plan" I discussed in the last article, it's still very much on the table. In fact, in some ways, it's very much like a table.

In its current version, the plan looks roughly like a set of concentric loops, with 4', 6', 8', and 10' curves respectively. At the moment the two smaller (and higher) levels will probably be the only ones that get done this year - that's if I don't change my mind on how the thing is going to go together, again.

Since my last post, I started trying to figure out what it would take to build each of these as a sort of deck, with real decking, probably 2x6". The last time I did this sort of thing was when I rebuilt the waterfall on the original NB&DC. I used flexible pool liner over the decking to protect it from excess moisture, and slanted the decking so that any runoff would go into the little pond beneath it.

Then as I was working through the details, I thought about making a deck-type support, but instead of using decking, using hardware cloth for the "surface." Adding those coconut fiber sheets to hold most of the dirt in place would add some cost, but allow drainage. I can't find any data on their longevity, though. If I want to go to decking later, I still can. Can you tell I'm still wavering? :-)

The diagrams below show the potential layers of this "mountain," from the top down. Most of the "grid" pattern represents two-foot squares, though I cheated a little on the outside edges and around the ponds. The Maccourt Connecting Pools hold eight gallons each and their spillways make a nice waterfall effect. I used one on the first iteration of the NB&DC when I upgraded my waterfall, and was very pleased. That said, they're a funny shape, so the frames I've designed on paper may need to be modified to accommodate them. I definitely need to have one on hand when I build each level.

Top layer of NB&DC waterfall/mountain as conceived April, 12, 2017.  Click for bigger photo.
Second from top layer of NB&DC waterfall/mountain as conceived April, 12, 2017.  Click for bigger photo.
Top Layer
Middle Layer
Third from top of NB&DC waterfall/mountain as conceived April, 12, 2017.  Click for bigger photo.
Lowest layer of NB&DC waterfall/mountain as conceived April, 12, 2017.  Click for bigger photo.
Bottom Layer
Botton Layer Extended

Detail of the top loop as conceived, April 12, 2017.  Click for bigger photo. The picture to the right shows the top level with the track and roadbed removed. If I use this as the top of my "mountain," the posts will stick out of the ground about four feet. (In Ohio, 2' of of the post needs to go into the ground to get below the frost line, so the posts will be about 6' long overall.)

The dark dotted lines represent the joists which run "lengthwise." They support the frame, which is represented by the medium gray dotted lines. The really light dotted lines show places where frame bits are connected to other frame bits without direct support of the joists. Usually to give extra support to the roadbed under curves that aren't otherwise supported.

The Maccourt Connecting Pool will be installed several inches below the main deck. (In the diagrams, it is shown on the next level down.) Some sort of bridge will eventually be added for where the track crosses over the little pond. The ponds are irregular enough in shape that, once their borders are disguised with plant life or landscaping, no one will notice that they're the same shape and size.

The biofilter will be sitting on the top deck or, if it seems too tall, sitting in a shallow depression. Eventually it will be surrounded by enough plant life and/or rocks to disguise it.

The second-from-the-top level would have the pond sitting on that level, and a gap where another connecting pond will go under that.

The joists and frame shown on the second level will be a foot below their counterparts on the top level. They be fastened both to the posts that are already there and to additional posts that stick out of the ground about 3'. It will support a track loop based on 5' or 6' curves with a few straight pieces.

The next level down will be a foot lower. It will be much larger and will support a track loop that is based on 8' or 10' curves. It will require many additional posts which will stick out of the ground about 2'.

The fourth picture above shows one idea for how the "mountain" can be incorporated into a larger loop that encircles or crosses a pond. I don't show the framework supporting the larger track loop because I'm sure you have the general idea by now. Plus I'm not sure how I want to make the "big pond" yet, and that may affect construction techniques.

Yes, if you're used to using retaining walls and lots of hauled-in dirt, this will seem like cheating. But I can always disguise the gaps between layers or between the bottom layer and the ground with vertical boards (maybe from shipping pallets) or with concrete-on-chicken-wire rock shapes.

I am thinking I will probably use decking at strategic places, so I can climb up to trim plants, wipe track, etc. I will use 2"x6"s, since most of the supports are on 24" centers. No, the framework will not be up to code for a deck that people actually sit on or whatever. For example, I'm not planning on using carriage bolts for all the joists, but I'm not planning on having a party on it either.

I may even wind up using decking on the whole thing. If I do, I will use use ground-rated 2"x6"s, I can dump dirt right on the decking. Or I could use rubber liner to hold the dirt, but I'd want to taper the decking a little to keep puddles from forming and drowing my thyme or whatever.

What about trees? I can also put holes with shelves underneath them to hold 1-gal flowerpots with little trees. When the trees get too big, I could plant them elsewhere instead of spending my life trimming. No, I'm not the first person to think of this. I WILL have to be careful to make certain that the trees don't dry out in dry weather. But it would allow me to buy trees every couple of years instead of trimming all the time,

Pressure-treated roadbed cut to match the length and angle of pre-formed curves, with a layer of similar lumber staggered underneath to add stability.  Versions of this method have been used since modern garden railroading started, and many of the earliest installations are still in good shape.  If you go this way, look for lumber that is 'ground-rated.' Most folks use a saw to trim off the pointed parts on the outside to give a smoother look.  Click for bigger picture.What is not shown in the detail of the top level above is the pressure-treated roadbed that I will be putting under the track. If I use decking, that's not entirely critical, but it will help the track resist vertical kinking, and pretty much eliminates weeds growing up through it. Also, it will raise the track high enough that I can put dirt and plants around it without burying the track. Though this may seem like an extra step, cutting 2"x6" roadbed to go underneath pre-curved track is a piece of cake (as described in the Simple, Raised Railroad article). I don't show the roadbed for the other layers, since the exact configuraton will depend on what radii of track you use.


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 articleProceed to "Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 3" - We have still not broken ground. In part because we plan to rent a post-hole digger and dig the post holes for our raised vegetable garden and the first phase of the garden railroad at the same time, and we don't have enough lumber on hand yet. (If we didn't break it down into multiple trips, we'd be blowing out the shocks on our minivan.) In the meantime, we used a line level to see if the slope of the back yard was as bad as we thought it was (it's worse), and we did other site preparation, including planting a whole bunch of spruce tree seedlings to eventually give us some privacy in our side and back yard. Plus, I'm still wavering a little on the "where-to-start-first" issue.

Click on the photo to see what we were considering as of late April, 2017.

Click to go to articleReturn to "Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 1" - If you're subscribed to our newsletter, you know that we moved just after Thanksgiving in 2016, leaving behind most of the track, a few of the bird feeders, and one Bachmann train set for the new owners. We also left behind a high-maintenance garden that we do not intend to replicate at the new place. This is the first chapter of a new chapter in our lives, which we hope will include a lot of "lessons learned." But first, some serious landscaping had to take place.

Click on the photo to see what we were considering in March, 2017.

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.

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