|Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)
and New Boston and Donnels Creek:
Dirtscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 1If you've been following along with our planning, groundbreaking, and framing articles, you know that we are building a new garden railroad that will be built as solid and entirely raised for low maintenance (and less stress on my knees and back than my former railroad). By the time I'm finished, my "garden" railroad will essentially be a series of large, raised planters. Since I haven't seen this approach actively promoted by anyone else, I may be "boldly going where no garden railroad has gone before." Except for the professionals; some of them do this all the time, then they do things that camouflage the basic structure. I'll do that, eventually, but not this year - time is running out.
This is article is a follow-up to our "Decking the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR" article, in which I decked the middle layer with 2"x6" ground-rated boards (which weren't that much more expensive than any of the other solutions, but which were much more likely to last a very long time). By now, I had also decked out the top layer, installed a vinyl underlayment over the decking, and installed a loop of track based on R2 curves. So, technically, the top layer has been almost ready for "dirtscaping" for some time.
Where Things StoodAt the end of the last article, I had finished decking what will eventually be the "middle layer" of my proposed 3-layer railroad. The next steps before the track and the dirt and the plants are installed would be installing the vinyl on the middle layer and attaching something to keep the gravel and dirt from coming off the edges.
I also had the track painted and assembled into subsections so it was almost ready to install.
Vinyl UnderlaymentHaving bought a new box of staples for my staple-gun, I rolled out my billboard vinyl again and started cutting and patching. It took a bit more than I expected it to, but I had bought a slightly larger piece than I had, technically, needed, so that wasn't a problem. Also, if I was using this for a pond or roofing or something that had to be waterproof, I wouldn't have patched so gleefully. But I was going to be poking drainage holes in this anyway, so having more patches and staples than Frankenstein's monster wouldn't really hurt anything.
In the photo above, you can see the bags of dirt and gravel I bought several weeks ago, as well as the two pond fixtures I was hoping to install this year. Weather permitting, I still may get them in place, but it's a little late to start a working waterfall. So getting it running may be a spring project. Especially if it stays as cool as it was the last two days (high about 42F).
Quest for a ShrubberyI had hoped to pick up some evergreens at the year-end closeout sales at the neighborhood stores, but a bunch of landscapers had apparently beat me to the punch. There were no Dwarf Alberta Spruce, no Hetz Midget Arborvita, no Boulevard Cypress, no Mugo Pine - none of the varieties I had enjoyed on my other railroad.
At a Home Depot, I found some nice Holly ("Royal Duet") to plant on one side of the house. And I caught site of a goofy-looking Taxus I had never seen before which is purported to have a much more upright growth habit than the common varieties - Taxus Hicksii. It was 80% off, so it was worth a couple dollars each to bring them home.
I have had plenty of experience with "standard" Taxus varieties and knew Taxus is not railroad-friendly. But when I put those two goofy Hicksii Taxus on my platform, it made me want more stuff. So I got a few more. No, they won't be permanent residents on my railroad, but they were cheap and green.
One potential experiment I'm considering is installing small potted evergreens on the railroad in the pot, then pulling them up after a year, putting them elsewhere, and getting some more. Some folks who only keep a few Dwarf Alberta Spruce on their property prefer replacing them every year or two to trimming them every year. Not saying I'll do a lot of this, but it's a possibility. These goofy shrubs won't stay on my railroad indefinitely anyway, so maybe it's worth trying this approach out with them.
EdgingMy plan for the two layers I have built so far included putting pea gravel around the track on the outside. (Yes, crushed granite would look better, but it costs a LOT more.) Then I plan to put rocks and dirt toward the inside, with rocks somewhat separating the dirt from the gravel. What I needed before I poured the gravel, though, would be something to keep the gravel from spilling off the edges, plus dressing up the edges where the vinyl was tacked down.
I tried several options that were very clever, but didn't work at all, so I won't bother telling you about them. I had held off on using lumber because I knew I'd have to cut a lot of little pieces to go around all those notches I put in place for the waterfall. When I realized wood was my only good option for now, I started looking for ground-rated 1"x2" or 1"x3" boards. I couldn't find any closer than two hours away. I toyed with the idea of ripping a ground-rated 2"x6" both ways, to get boards that were essentially 3/4" x 2 3/4". But that seemed like a boatload of work.
What I did have was a handful of old 5/8"x5.5"x6' dog-eared fencing boards from a project I had never finished at the old house. They had been stored outside, so they had some nice weathering, and they were pressure treated, so I figured I'd give them a try. Also, they were only 5/8" deep, so they'd be less "intrusive" used this way. I ripped each board into two 2 3/4" strips, then took the boards, my circular saw, my drill, and a box of screws out to the railroad.
A few stops and starts later, I had the edging up. The first photo shows a few from the east (the side facing the house).
You may be able to see how I used the "dog-eared" ends of the board to make little notches where the track would pass the boards. Hopefully it will help keep things like steps from snagging. If not, I can always notch them a little more.
Once I got started cutting and attaching the boards, it wasn't too bad. The most time-consuming part of this was probably adjusting my circular saw between 90 degrees and 45 degrees every two or three boards. Obviously if I had brought my table saw or some such to the back yard, that wouldn't have been a problem. But it also would have disguised the fact that a guy with a $35 circular saw can get "close enough" for such projects.
The cheapest small gravel you can usually find consistently at landscaping places and big-box hardware stores is "pea gravel," so called because each stone is roughly the size of a pea. It's very rounded, so it doesn't lock in place like turkey grit or most of the other gravel garden railroaders use for "ballast." But I don't need it to stay in place on this implementation, because once I dump it out along the track and "whisk broom" the excess from between the rails, there's no place for it to go.
ConclusionOnce again, I had hoped to be farther along by now, but several cold, wet weekends this fall haven't done me any favors. Plus being off Daylight Savings Time means it's dark when I get home.
I will keep plugging ahead as I get opportunity, though. There is more gravel to distribute, then will come rocks, dirt, and plants. My sedums and other ground-cover plants will be out in the weather all winter regardless - right now they're either in planters or little pots. So if I can move them before we get "serious" snowfall, they'll probably be better off. The Taxus will stay in their pots for now, though I hope to disguise the pots with rock piles.
I don't know if you remember, but we have a lot of rocks, courtesy of a previous owner who "filled in" a 15'-deep swimming pool with construction waste. (That story is here.)
In the meantime, it's amazing how much a little bit of gravel around the track can improve the appearance. More gravel, more dirt, more plants to come. I would still like to get my railroad looking something like a railroad before Christmas. At this point, the pond pump will be waiting until Spring, though.
As always, if I've helped you get any ideas at all for your next garden railroad construction, I will consider the time it took to document all of this time well spent.
Best of luck, all,
Enjoy your hobbies, and especially enjoy any time you can spend with your family in the coming season.
Proceed to "2018: Springing into Spring on the NEW New Boston & Donnels Creek RR. - Sorting out our priorities for the spring and summer of 2018. There a lot of little chores we really should get done before we start on the next big addition.
Click to see our plans as of February 27, 2018.
Return to "Decking the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Decking the 'middle layer' of our proposed three-tier outdoor railroad. Prepping more track, laying out track and decking to make certain we have measurements correct, installing most of the remaining decking for this layer.
Click on the photo to see our status as of October 25, 2017
Return to "Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 6" - Modifying and finishing the framing on the second layer, cantilevering, using R3 track versus all other pre-curved track formats, finalizing the track plan, why painting the track makes old and new track blend better, and more. This will be the last bit of "framing" in 2017, and it worked out well, considering.
Click on the photo to see our status as of October 15, 2017
Return to "Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 5" - Spreading the billboard-sourced vinyl underlayment on the top layer. Prepping used Aristo track for (hopefully) many more years of service. Laying the first loop of track, attaching power wires with spade terminals, and testing conductivity with a Bachmann streetcar.
Click on the photo to see our status as of October, 10, 2017
Return to "Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 4" - Planning and running the decking for the top layer, testing the track plan, checking clearances, prepping used track with new railjoiners, examining the vinyl I ordered to go over the decking, and more.
Click on the photo to see our status as of September 26, 2017
Return to "Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 3" - Getting the frame finished on the top layer, ordering other things I'd need eventually, deciding on materials for the decking on the top layer (at least).
Click on the photo to see our status as of September 17, 2017
Return to "Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 2" - Once I had the overall frame relatively solid, I hooked up the underground power lines to two GFI plugs that should be in easy reach once everything is finished. I also decided to frame out the top railroad layer while I could still access the center of the railroad easily. Because I was running out of vertical space, I reconfigured that layer. Then after I got the "core" pieces on, I changed my plan again. But the whole thing is getting easier and easier to visualize, and is getting closer to complete with every board I cut and fasten on.
Click on the photo to see our status as of September 7, 2017
Return to "Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 1" - Once I started dropping posts in the holes and screwing things together, I didn't want to stop before I had the basic frame built (for one thing, the wood warps less once it's fastened in place). Now the folks driving down the street past our house (we're on a corner lot) probably wonder if I'm building an elaborate chicken coop, but that's fine with me. I still need to make a few more lumber runs and do a lot more cutting and sawing, but having the basic frame in place should make the next bits a lot easier.
Click on the photo to see our status as of August 10, 2017
Return to "Breaking Ground on the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek" - Okay, in case you wondered if we'd ever get started on the thing, we broke ground in July, using a manual post-hole digger. Well two manual post-hole diggers. But by the end of this article, we're ready for the posts to start going in.
Click on the photo to see our status as of the end of July, 2017
Return to "Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 4" - Well, the rented post-hole digger fell through, so we dug our vegetable garden with a manual post-hole digger (the scissors kind). In addition, I stake out where the railroad was going to be. Twice. And tweaked the plans again. Sorry about the redo's, but sometimes just walking around the yard trying to visualize things makes me reconsider something that seemed "settled" only a few days before.
Click on the photo to see what we were considering as of late May, 2017
Return 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
Return 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, 2017
Return 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
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.
Click on the photo to see the home page of Paul's railroad.
Return to Family Garden Trains' Home Page - The home page with links to all the other stuff, including design guidelines, construction techniques, structure tips, free graphics, and more.
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