Waterscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Part 3Due to long work hours and bad weather when I did have time to work outdoors, most of 2019 got by me without anything significant happening on my garden railroad. Fortunately, the way the new railroad is constructed, I can still run trains whenever people come over. In the old days, I'd have to know about visitors a week in advance, just to get control over the weeds, shifting roadbed, etc.
Now that I'm back in "retirement mode" (maybe for good this time), I've been working on some of the glitches that were left over from my first two years' effort on this railroad, and digging holes for the next addition - my in-ground pond.
If you've been following my efforts, you know that my overall plan was to have three layers of railroad and four layers of waterfall. The drawing to the right is a not-to-scale cross section showing my overall plan for the water feature.
By Spring of 2018, I had the weir and the top two connecting pools installed and "dirtscaped."
I used a "wine barrel liner" with a spillway to stand in for the yet-uninstalled third connecting pool. I used a thirty-gallon "utility tub" to stand in for the big pond I had yet to install. You can sort of see what that looked like in the photo to the lower right.
This year I wanted to install a real in-ground pond. Turns out Menards charges about 60% of what everyone else does for the MacCourt ponds, so I ordered one early this spring, to get a "jump" on the installation.
The in-ground pond on our old railroad was a "Jamaica," which was only about 18" deep and held 100 gallons. I learned from buying a small pond that it's easier to keep a large pond regulated than a small one.
This year I chose a "Grand Cayman" pond liner, about 165 gallons. The actual footprint isn't that much larger than the footprint of the Jamaica, but the pond is deeper, so the whole ecosystem should be more stable. And the goldfish should be safer from the raccoons and neighborhood cats. MacCourt also claims that the deeper ponds help fish survive the winter better. Your mileage on that one will vary - certainly mine has.
The downside, of course, is that I have that much more dirt to move. :-)
Unforseen Delays - Regarding that "jump" on the installation, my job began requiring many more hours away from the house than before, and when I was home, the weather was brutal. For example, the wettest June ever was followed by the hottest July ever, and the second hottest August ever.
My contract ran out at the end of August, so I've been working outside more consistently, even though many days are still hitting 90F in mid-September. By the way, never tell a gardener who's been planting and tending all sorts of plants for nigh on to 60 years that climate change is a hoax.
Where to Put the Dirt - Another project I tried to start in early spring was building another bit of raised garden. Last year it seemed that we didn't have enough room for everything we wanted to grow. Plus, it would give me a place for the dirt from the hole for the pond, so I wouldn't have to move all that dirt twice. So early this spring, I drilled the holes for the posts, but it never got any farther until this month.
I had some leftover boards and 4"x4" posts from last year, so when I finally got a chance, I cut the posts and installed the boards, the same way I did the first three in April, 2017. (Click here to see that account.) Now I have a big empty "garden bed" that is ready to receive as much dirt as I can pull out of the hole for the pond, and likely then some.
Leftover Construction IssuesTo be honest, I cheated a little when I installed the second connecting pool, since I knew I'd be installing the third one eventually. Because I had determined to make the raised structure of my railroad as solid as a deck you would walk on, there should have been a post at one corner of the little platform I built for it. (The corner hanging out over open air in the lower left of the photo to the right.)
But I knew I would be adding a post further out eventually, so for the meantime, I had cantilevered the thing by fastening a long supporting board to two posts further back. It would stick straight out and support one corner of the little platform as long as I didn't try to stand on it or something.
The photo to the right shows that framework before I put the deck boards across it. (For more information on how I built that layer, click here.)
Counting nine gallons of water and 2-3 cubic feet of rocks and dirt (shown in the photo further up), I imagine that the structure is holding over 140 pounds. It's shown no sign of bowing yet, but the next bit of construction will include something to shore it up.
The brown lines in this not-to-scale detail of our overhead plan show how I cantilevered the support for the second connecting pool. It has held fine for a year and a half, but will need braced eventually.
I include this drawing because it will help rest of the article make more sense.
Where to Dig HolesI had a pretty good idea where I wanted the big, inground pond to go, and I also knew I wanted the third MacCourt connecting pool to drain into it.
I also knew that I needed to install the supports for the connecting pool before I dug the big hole for the pond. So I skootched the third pool around to help me estimate where those supports would have to be. The posts will only stick out of the ground about 11", but the supports and decking will add height, so hopefully the third pool will be vertically about halfway between the middle pool and the big pond.
One of the supports would have to be in line with the board supporting the "left" side of the cantilevered platform. It would be sitting several inches below it. But once I had the supports connected to the new and old posts, I could use the new, lower supports to brace the layer above.
I hope you realize that this part all falls under the "don't try this at home" category. Many other folks would have planned this all out from the beginning and proceeded in a more orderly fashion. But since I've been "breaking new ground" in any number of ways, each new sub-feature is a sort of experiment, and I pause to see if it is working before I add on to it.
I dragged the big pond liner out from behind the garage and kept turning it around to figure out which part the "waterfall" should pour into. The most logical places were over the relatively shallow "plant shelves" in the "corners." But I thought the waterfall would cause less churning if it poured right into a deep part, so that was the way I oriented the big pool.
I determined that I would need to install the last two posts before I dug the hole for the pond. Because the last connecting pool needs to overhang the pond a little, the structure holding it up would have to be right at the edge of the pond. And once I had a nice deep hole dug for the pond, I wouldn't have any place to stand when digging the holes for the posts.
Once I had a pretty good idea where the posts supporting the lowest connecting pool needed to go, I marked the positions with two of the flags that the utility company left in our yard the last time they were thinking about doing some sort of repairs they never did.
I also painted a "chalk circle" around what would become the deepest part of the big pond form and pulled it back out of the way.
Then I half-emptied the basin and utility tub I've been using to represent a pond and pulled them out of the way.
"Staking Out" the Platform for the Last Connecting Pool
Fortunately, the soil where the posts were going was only clay, instead of rocks and old broken up concrete, which I've encountered in other parts of the yard. And the clay had been kept moist by splashing from the water feature. So both post holes went in pretty quickly with my manual post hole digger.
The boards laying on the ground in the photos below are the boards that the "wine barrel liner" sits on. I had to move some of them out of the way temporarily, too.
Once I had the posts firmly in place, I put the temporary pieces of the water feature (the "wine barrel liner" and "utility tub") back in place so the fish could keep getting aerated. Then I got out the shovel.
Digging down the first few inches was like chiseling through concrete. I guess that's what twelve weeks of mostly dry weather with most days hitting 85-93 will do to your back yard.
On the off chance that it would help, I turned the hose on and filled the shallow hole with water and let it sit overnight. There was always the danger that it would just make a big muddy mess, but I thought that might still be better than what I had.
As it turned out, the soil absorbed the water fairly evenly. The first several inches were damp enough to dig easily, but not muddy. Again, your mileage may vary.
That said, there was still a lot of dirt to move, and it was still 90F. So I kept digging and dumping a few wheelbarrows full at a time, then coming in to cool down. At my age there's a delicate balance between not getting enough exercise and getting too much. :-)
Once the hole was deep enough to drop the pond in most of the way, I marked where I would need the bumpouts for the plant shelves (above right). Because the new soil I would be digging through at the edges was still as hard as concrete, after I removed and repurposed the sod, I filled the hole with water again. By the time I got back to digging a day and a half later, the water had drained and the new digging areas were soft enough to dig through. Again, I wouldn't recommend filling the hole twice if you are paying for water, or if you haven't had a 12-week drought with record-breaking temperatures.
From that point on I stopped shoveling the dirt into the wheelbarrow, knowing I would need some for backfill.
By the time I was sure it was deep enough to sit properly, I had a couple bushel's worth of dirt in piles on each side of the pond. I got the pond fixture to sit level, then I kept checking the level in both directions as I shoveled and raked the dirt back into the hole around the pond.
Then I filled the pond most of the way. It still may shift a bit as the dirt continues to settle, but I'll worry about that if it happens.
When the pond was more-or-less stable, I turned the round "wine-barrel liner" so the spillway was facing the pond. It dumped water into it just fine. So when I move the pump and filter to the big pond, I can just turn the other piece for now, until I get the rest of the platform for the third spillway built.
I haven't done that yet because - as it turns out - the tube going from the pump to the top of the waterfall doesn't reach all the way to the big pond. Ooops. The pond sits further out than I had expected when I bought the original hose. Most stores have a 20' length of a different style that should work. We'll see.
I'll resume this series when I have more lumber and a longer hose. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, here's a photo of the big pond mostly full of water:
Keep in Touch
Finally, please let us know about your ongoing projects. Ask questions, send corrections, suggest article ideas, send photos, whatever you think will help you or your fellow railroaders. In the meantime, enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks,
Proceed to Waterscaping Part 4. - Installing the last connecting pool, so the whole planned waterfall is complete except for dirtscaping and planting.
The process included checking the pump, extending the hoses, rescuing toads, building the platform, trimming the platform, testing the pool's location, etc.
Click the photo to go to the article.
Return to Christmas Train Day, 2018 - After two years without our traditional Christmas Train Day (something we did from 2008 through 2015), we were anxious to get started again, even without a huge right of way to show off. The kids' trains, the extra Thomas railroad, the popcorn popper and two Bachmann Christmas trains got a big workout. And the visiting kids all loved it!
Click on the photo to see a lot of last-minute preparations and some photos of the November 10, 2018 event itself.
Return to "Adding a Train Shed Part 6" - Installing the board and batten siding on our train shed, installing the windows, installing the trim, testing the "tunnel entrances," and more.
By the way, going over lumber receipts in early 2019, I couldn't believe I was still siding the train shed in late October, and managed to have an open railroad in mid-November. It is a little crazy how fast things can go together if you have a deadline and a lot of gift cards.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of late October, 2018.
Return to "Adding a Train Shed Part 5" - Planning the doors, walls, and windows of our garden train shed.
Includes choosing the siding and windows, installing the door, painting the windowframes, and adding crosspieces to support the vertical siding boards.
Return to "Adding a Train Shed Part 4" - Choosing and installing underlayment and drip edge to protect the sheathing until I can get the final roof installed.
Now the roof is waterproof enough to get us through the next couple of months at least, maybe more.
Return to "Adding a Train Shed Part 3" - Adding fascia, sheathing, and end trim to the in-progress train shed.
I thought about bringing in helpers for this part, but a reader commented on how helpful it was to see how one person could do this sort of thing by himself, so I just kept plugging away.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of September 13, 2018
Return to "Waterscaping Part 2" - 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.
Return to "Adding a Train Shed Part 2" - Adding rafters to the frame of the in-progress train shed. Now it's starting to look like it might actually be a structure and not just a crazy collection of posts.
The way we got the rafters and ridge board up wouldn't work for everybody, but it worked for us, and hopefully will help other folks to "think outside the box" - literally in this case.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of July 14, 2018.
Return to "Adding a Train Shed Part 1" - 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. If it ever gets finished, 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 "Waterscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek Part 1," our article on getting the top two layers of the waterfall on solid footing and getting the third layer framed. After we finish decking and dirtscaping the third layer, we will probably add a washbasin or something for the water to flow into, then add a pump to get the waterfall flowing. No big pond until next year at least - too many other projects.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of June 13, 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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