|Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)
and New Boston and Donnels Creek:
Waterscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Part 1This is a continuation of my series on building the first two tiers of a proposed 3-level outdoor railroad, using more lumber than dirt. From the start, I planned to have a multiple-tier water feature, with waterfalls that the trains ran past and ponds the trains crossed over.
In preparation for this, I bought three Maccourt connecting ponds, which I have used successfully before. (I would have bought only two, but Lowes was closing them out for a quarter of the normal price.) I also bought an off-brand spillway similar to one that Lowes now sells for about $24.
The idea was that the spillway would sit on the top "table," and one of the Maccourt ponds would sit on each lower level. The spillway of each pond would feed into the next pond, and so on, with a container to be named at the bottom holding a pump that would feed the water back up to the top.
If you're going to install a big in-ground pond, I always recommend installing the pond first. But in this case, I broke my own rule, because I wanted to get the waterfall started on the upper levels as I built them. And with a three- or four-level waterfall, the pond itself won't be as important to the overall look of the railway as it was to the old New Boston and Donnels Creek.
Then I started installing corrugated steel as a barrier to keep the dirt and plants where I wanted them. And I realized that the Maccourt pond would have to sit out a little farther than I had planned.
For more information on the corrugated steel part of this project, please refer to our article Dirtscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 2
Technically, the connecting pond would have been supported okay (it doesn't really need to be well supported on the sides as Maccourt claims). But I also wanted to have the pond somewhat camouflaged by vegetation, and that wouldn't be possible with it sticking out that far.
Not sure I wanted to change the shape of the middle "table," I tried a smaller "connecting pool" that would fit. I also tried a slightly smaller weir that sat lower so it wouldn't be so obvious. But the truth is, it just wasn't that impressive.
In addition, being so much smaller than the other pool meant that the weir would be that much further from the connecting pond. higher. If there was any wind at all, the water would miss it altogether, unless I raised the connecting pond several inches.
Both fixtures came from Lowes and would be perfectly suitable for other applications, but they just didn't work here. Both went back to Lowes. Sorry, Lowes, I tried.
I decided to go with the larger pool. I also decided to raise it about three inches.
Again, the expectation of the vendor, and of most people who buy these things, is that you'll lay a nice bed of gravel and rocks for the fixtures to sit in, and it will stay level and stable from then on. But my experience is that if you want a waterfall to look natural, you have to put a lot of UN-natural materials into supporting it properly.
The photo to the left below shows the supports after I added a few inches to the table and used scrap ground-rated lumber to raise the "bed" of the Marcourt connecting pond.
Not shown - I used a garden hose to fill the weir and test where it would be best positioned to empty most reliably into the connecting pond. Turns out that the water curls around the lip of the weir a little and pours a couple inches further back than it "should." So I position the weir with the spillway jutting out as far as it would go. Not optimum, but reliability trumps appearance.
Connecting the WeirThe smallest hose my off-brand weir would take was 3/4" ID. So I bought a 10' length from my local pond supply. That was probably more than I need for this project, but it's a lot easier to make a hose shorter than it is to make it longer.
I didn't want the hose to kink, so I measured out enough room for a nice, graceful curve. Then I used a hole saw (probably left over from a deadbolt installation somewhere) to drill holes through both tables I have built so far.
The photo at the left below shows the weir with the hose installed. I also screwed scrap lumber on the "back" and sides of the weir base to keep it from wandering out of alignment with the little pond below. Don't laugh; things on a water feature can shift around more than you'd think, with disastrous results (such as emptying your pond) if you don't notice right away.
As part of my dirtscaping project, I went back up and added some ground-rated 2"x6" boards behind the weir (shown below right). Yes, it doesn't look like much from this side, but it allows me to add dirt, rocks, and plants right up against the weir on the other side.
By the way, these photos make it look like the weir is going to dump water right onto the track. That's an optical illusion; there's really a nice gap. But I didn't notice until I'd climbed down from the upper table. If you want a better picture, you have my permission to climb up and take one next time you come over.
The photo below shows the weir with the dirt, rocks, and plants installed. Yes, the spillway part of the weir is still jutting out in plain view, but it's a start. And as the plants crowd around, it should be less obvious. In other words, I consider the mechanical part of the weir's installation finished for the foreseeable future.
Dirtscaping the Maccourt Connecting PondThough the Maccourt people say that all sides of all their ponds need to be well-supported, the connecting pond I'm using does just fine as long as it's sitting on a solid bed. So my next step was dirtscaping around it - arranging dirt, rocks, and plants to make it look more like it is in a natural setting. This had to wait until I had dirtscaped the top layer and was ready to dirtscape the middle layer. But it's a step that brings a raised garden and associated water features "to life" like no other.
The photo to the left below shows the Maccourt connecting pond after I had backfilled it with as much dirt as I could, then layered dirt and rocks around it.
The photo to the right below shows the same pond after I poked countless sedums into the dirt around it. In this case, I used mostly Blue Spruce sedum since they grow tall (I avoided using them on the upper layer since they need deadheaded in mid-summer, and that would be hard to reach). I also put some Golden Crown sedum around the back. It has a broader leaf, but it's a nice shape and doesn't need deadheaded.
Note About My Go-To Plants - By the way, sedums don't do well in every climate. Though they are drought tolerant, my friends in real deserts (like Reno) have had trouble getting them to establish and thrive, even with judicious watering. Find out what garden railroaders are having success with in your region before you heavily invest in something that is high maintenance in your area. Again, if you join a club, you might be able to get starts for free or trades.
By the way, though I've mentioned this in previous articles, it bears mentioning again. Though my photos show sedums poked in here and there, and a lot of visible dirt and rocks, these sedums typically fill in so much that by next year (if not this fall) I'll have to thin them out for you to see the rocks at all. Plus they'll pretty much hide the edges of the pond. So don't let the apparently haphazard location of the sedum starts put you off.
Next Level DownI had planned from the start for my water feature to have multiple layers. But I had also planned for the next level down to be completed when I built the lower, outside level of my railroad, something that probably won't happen this year. After revisiting my design about fifteen times, I figured out a way to build a platform that would hold the next level without requiring me to sink a bunch of posts that would become irrelevant once I started adding the next layer.
This comes under the "Don't Try This At Home" category. I started by adding two new 2"x6" ground-rated boards that went way back under the existing railroad and "cantilevered" out where the pond needed to go. These are indicated by the red ovals in the photo to the left below.
I then added a board jutting out from one of the existing posts to one of the cantilevered boards, indicated by the green oval in the photo to the right below.
Technically, I could have just stuck a post there. If I wasn't planning an expansion, I would have. Unlike the rest of the railroad (almost), this would not be solid enough to stand on, but it should hold the connecting pond for a while at least. When and if I do add the posts for the next layer, this platform will have plenty of support. But in the meantime, another post would have been redundant and in the way.
I also took care not to run lumber that I would have to move or work around when I eventually do add the next layer, a mistake I have made elsewhere.
The photo to the right shows the approximate location of the second Maccourt connecting pond. I plan to deck the layer out, which will add stability and more room for plants, including some shade-friendly ones I can't use elsewhere. Hopefully you can see that each of the right-of-ways I've installed so far run past a waterfall and over a pond. Current plans are for right-of-way on the future, lower expansion to do the same.
I may or may not add an in-ground pond next year. In the meantime, a washtub or some such that holds water and will have room for a pump will "fill in" for the pond once I am ready to hook things up.
But that will be another article.
Frankly, a big pond won't be necessary. But I will eventually want something big enough to keep goldfish in, because they will consume the mosquito larvae that the waterfall will bring down from the upper levels. Plus I do like water lilies and similar plants.
ConclusionHopefully my four-tier water feature will be worth all the work once it's dirtscaped and operating. I expect it will be. Eventually, you won't see any of the framing to speak of, and the plants will "cover a multitude of sins." Ironically, that's the point where the whole thing starts looking "easy" to visitors. "Yeah, I could put up one of these." I would never have considered a project this ambitious if I hadn't had plenty of experience with other methods of garden railway and water feature construction.
In the meantime, I wanted to show you every step I'm going through, to encourage folks who do have the skills and time to undertake such a project.
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.
Skip Ahead to "Waterscaping Part 2" - Skip the next several articles and jump ahead to our article on getting this year's waterscaping project done (for now at least). Installing and dirtscaping the third level of the waterfall. Installing pump and filter, adding an extra container and modifying the ones we already had installed to keep the water running smoothly. And lots of other tweaking. Includes tips about introducing fish and plants, as well as other information about water features in general that you may find helpful.
Click on the photo to see our status as of August 5, 2018.
Proceed to "Adding a Train Shed Part 1. - This is actually the next article, chronologically, after the article on this page. Because the construction on these various projects was interwoven, I was going back and forth between different parts of the project. In this article, I describe how what started out as a simple addition of a deck to stand on when putting trains on the track got a little more ambitious when I realized that JUST installing the deck this year would require more work next year. So we framed out what we planned to be a train shed attached to the railroad, so I can easily put trains on the track at a moment's notice instead of schlepping them out from the garage.
Click on the photo to see our status as of July 9, 2018.
Return to "Dirtscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 2. - Adding barriers to keep the rocks, dirt, and plants where they're supposed to go, placing platforms and running wiring for buildings, adding rocks, dirt, and plants to the upper level of the railroad.
Click on the photo to see our status as of June 1, 2018.
Return to "Adding Raised Roadbed to the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 2" - Trimming the corners off the roadbed on the upper layer and cutting the pieces that will support the curves on the middle layer. We need to get the upper two tiers of the pond installed before we totally complete this step, so the article doesn't quite show the finished product. You'll see it later as part of other articles.
Return to "Adding Raised Roadbed to the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 1" - 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.
Click on the photo to see our status as of February 20, 2018
Return 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.
Click on the photo to see our status as of February 20, 2018
Return to "Dirtscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 1. - Putting edging around the existing "layers" of the new railroad, and beginning to add gravel and rocks. There were a few test runs, but we got stopped early by bad weather before we could dump the rest of the rocks, gravel, and dirt, much less plant the plants we hoped to get in before snowfall.
Click on the photo to see our status as of November 21, 2017
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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