Preparing for Christmas Train Day 2019
This is a followup to our article "Decking the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek Part 2. It describes our efforts to get an expansion to our raised platform railroad ready to hold trains and accessories. And because it wasn't ready before November, it only makes sense that the first trains running there will be seasonal.
Last year, I ran "spruce" garland around the top of the train shed and ran little Christmas lights around the outside edge. I also set up a little raised railroad near the big one to put James or Percy on for the kids watch. Outside of the railroad area, I set up two battery-powered trains for kids to run on the deck and put additional strands of lights there. Along with a few additional seasonal touches around the yard. No "serious" Christmas decorations on the house yet, though, since it's not even Thanksgiving. Together with the Christmas music playlists I've made over the years, it conveys the "spirit of the season" and gives kids lots of fun without going "over the top."
This year, I hope to accomplish the same setup and decorations, but this year, we're also planning to welcome the Lionel Battery Powered Hogwarts Express to our arsenal of running trains. I wanted to, anyway, but a trip to Universal Studios Orlando gave me some additional inspiration.
In the meantime, the eastern extension isn't big enough to hold the big trains I hope to run when the other half of that platform is built. But it is big enough to hold two loops of track - one based on 5' curves and one based on 4' curves. Knowing that they are temporary, I nevertheless crawled around on my hands and knees to get every piece screwed together and a good solid power connection made, so it will be reliable as long as it's there.
I used up the last of my track connection screws in the process. Not to worry - I've ordered a couple spare sets of screws.
Gravel-ScapingI can't finish dirt-scaping until I have the "permanent" track and roadbed in place. In the meantime, to make the platform look a little more finished, I camouflaged the uneven lower edge of the corrugated steel panels with my remaining rocks and poured pea gravel everywhere to hide the black vinyl. When the more permanent track and roadbed needs to be installed, it can easily be swept aside or scooped up and reused elsewhere.
Lighting AdditionsIn addition to the light strands wrapped around the bottom of the middle platform, I attached a rope light to the inside edge of the trim. You can see it in the photo to the right. That way it will hopefully throw a little light on the train I put there.
An acquaintance in northern Kentucky who has Christmas-themed open railroads uses rope lights to outline the ROW for those showings, but without a "permanent" ROW, this seemed more practical.
I am also outlining the "base" of the railroad, including the pond, with colored rope lighting I used to use for the same purpose on the old railroad. I staked it in place and put mulch behind it so it would look like all those bare places were supposed to be there. (I also put mulch in a few places that tend to get muddy so any visitors wouldn't get stuck in the mud, literally.)
Choosing TrainsAt this point, I have four powered track loops on the railroad, and I plan to erect a simple raised railroad loop that I take to clinics nearby.
In times past, I've put realistic trains on the railroad proper (though sometimes they were painted in Christmas colors). And I've put Thomas or James on the temporary raised loop.
The battery powered trains work fine on the back porch and deck, since I can keep them far enough apart so the remote control doesn't interfere.
But this year, we're going to be adding a battery-powered Hogwarts Express, and we've spent some time preparing castles and other resources to go with it. Though it's a bit undersized for "Large Scale," Lionel's set #7-11080 looks and runs great on the upper platforms of our railroad. Unfortunately, because of the steel panels and the electronics in the train shed, you have to keep walking around the railroad with the remote to keep it going.
BTW, this is the old, discontinued set which actually runs on 45mm track (plus two extra coaches I picked up separately). If you want to run a Hogwarts Express on existing garden railroad trackage, look specifically for the discontinued set #7-11080. Other sets, like #7-11960 will NOT run on your garden railroad track.
I considered running the train on a loop of track on the back deck. But the concensus seems to be that the Hogwarts Express deserves to be run on the new platform. That said, there are two loops of track, either of which could be powered. I can't put a typical Large Scale train on the other loop - it would dwarf the undersized Hogwarts Express. Maybe my Christmas-colored eggliner. If only someone made a "Knight Bus" in the right scale. :-)
For more information about Hogwarts Express, including the real British trains that have been repainted and otherwise repurposed for the role, as well as a more complete discussion of the various model options available to hobbyists, click on the photo to the right.
Also, the toy castles I've repurposed to go with the train are best viewed from the front. To see a step-by-step account of that "trashbashing" effort, click on the photo to the right.
Driven IndoorsI worked very hard in the early part of November to get as much ready as I could, including mulching under and around the railroad platforms, adding additional light strands, testing the trains I planned to put out, etc. But I was highly motivated by the fact that we were supposed to have bitterly cold weather the week before the open railroad. For a long time, they were predicting a high of 40F on the day of the event, so that didn't discourage me.
But we were driven indoors by several inches of snow on Monday and cold weather Tuesday.
Not to worry - I had plenty I could do indoors. For one thing, I had printed up a Platform 9 3/4 sign on full-page weatherproof "stickers" from Online Labels.com. I had been planning to stick them to a plywood circle and suspend them from an ornamental bracket like this one from Home Depot. But time was getting too short for such experimentation (and it is really too cold to be working in our detached garage right now). So I gutted a "railroad clock" I bought from Hobby Lobby several years ago and used outside until the clock faces faded almost too much to be seen.
Using "quick and dirty" protocols, I cut out cardboard circles, stuck the stickers on them, magic-markered around the edges and popped the signs into the clock where the faces used to be.
I realize that not everybody has an old "railroad-style" clock laying around, or a color laser, or a really fat Sharpie, but hopefully this will give you some ideas if you ever want to try a similar project for yourself.
In addition, I will be:
In case you're wondering why I didn't get all that stuff done before I published this article, check out this photo taken four and a half days before the open railroad event. (I usually get this kind of photo in January, but early snowfalls seem to be much more common lately.)
Once it warmed up a tad, I installed the Platform 9 3/4 sign where the clock usually hangs.
I also brought the castles and the Hogwarts Express out for a photo op. I can't show a video of it running in the snow because there is still a lot of ice between and on the rails. Hopefully that will melt off today.
Keep in Touch
If you're seeing this before November 16, 2019, and you're not that far from Springfield, Ohio, you're still invited to come over and see or help with the open railroad. (Use the contact page to ask directions.) If not, make certain you check us out next year.
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 "Christmas Train Day, 2019" - Three years after starting a garden railroad in our new home, we host another Christmas-themed open railroad, giving many families a jump start on Christmas celebrations and sharing the experience of running trains with lots of kids.
Click on the photo to see a brief record of our busiest weekend in November, 2019.
Return to Decking the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek Part 2 - Getting the next part of the railroad ready to install trains. Includes installing 2"x6" decking, vinyl sheeting, edges to hold back the gravel, and corrugated steel panels. It's not done, but it will give us another place to set up trains for our next Christmas-themed open railroad.
Click on the photo to see our status as of late October, 2019.
Return to "Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Part 7" - Installing posts, joists, framing, and decking for the eastern expansion of the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek. Although this installation was complicated by having to fit into an existing framework, the methods used could work for any raised-platform railroad.
Click on the following link to see our progress of early October, 2019.
Return to "Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Part 5" - Once the major components of the water feature were installed and tested, we decided to add one more bit of railroad proper before our "Christmas Train Day," this November. The addition, about 5'x11', will allow us to put a small train and some scenery closer to eye level for youngsters. Eventually it will be part of the larger plan that will allow us to run our bigger cars and locomotives.
Click on the photo to see our plans for the next addition, as of late September, 2019.
Return 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 "Waterscaping, Part 3" - After seven months of crazy long work hours, I finally got some free time to continue working on the railroad. Weather permitting, I often worked all the live-long day. This article describes installing two posts that will eventually support the last connecting pool, then digging the big hole for the in-ground pond, complicated by a three-month drought that turned the ground to concrete.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of mid-September, 2019.
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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