Christmas Train Day 2019
This is a followup to our article "Preparing for Christmas Train Day 2019. That article describes most of our efforts to get ready to host a Christmas-themed open railroad in mid-November, a family tradition going back to 2007.
Between the tasks described in the previous article and the events described in this one, I also:
In the meantime, Shelia made cookies and brownies and prepared meals for our workers.
Midweek, we had about four inches of snow, which slowed down some of the outdoor preparations. But by the time the weekend of the open railroad arrived, most of the snow had melted. Unfortunately, the weather stayed cold enough to keep the waterfall from running.
Saturday morning we had lots of family helping us get ready. Our daughter Emily and Paul's sister Tess had arrived from out of town the night before so helped us get an early start.
Then my sister-in-law and her husband brought our three great-nephews up to help us get things set up. The ladies got the food ready, while I got four track-powered and three battery-powered trains ready to go, and the youngsters set out the little figures and helped in other ways.
After most things were ready to go, and I had a reasonable expectation that nothing else would come up that would have me on my knees in the mud, I asked the boys if they would like to see me in my "train man clothes." So I put on the Dickies-brand overalls Shelia gave me last Christmas, the custom Fox work apron our oldest daughter Kristen ordered for me, and the hat I had bought at a train show. (I had ordered one from Amazon, but when it came in it was baby blue, so it went back, even though the people at Amazon didn't think it was a problem.)
Our helpers also checked out the other trains, including the Lionel battery-powered Polar Express running on Aristo 5' curves on the back deck. (By the way, on wide curves and level track, this engine can pull at least three cars easily, so the extra coach I got at a train show for $5 because the seller didn't know what it was gets a ride, too.)
All told, we had:
As the visitors arrived, I spent most of my time answering questions, Emily spent most of her time helping the youngsters run the battery-powered trains, and the other ladies spent a lot of time serving popcorn, cookies, brownies and other snacks, as well as hot cocoa, and hot cider.
For the most part, we had a steady stream of visitors, including friends from various circles and several visitors from our club, the Miami Valley Garden Railway Society.
No, we didn't get a head count, but I'd estimate about three dozen visitors overall Saturday. Then on Sunday, our oldest daughter Kristen led a caravan of their friends from greater Cincinnati and we repeated the experience, with perhaps two dozen more people.
Once when the National Garden Railway Convention was in Cincinnati, Ohio, a bus dispersed about 70 people into our yard for a short visit. Chaos reigned for twenty minutes, then it was over, and only the people who could shout the loudest got their questions answered. Having a similar number of people spread out over several hours a day over two days is better, I think.
And on this day, all of the parents were very good about supervising their children.
For those of you who were following our adventures with the Hogwarts Express and the castles we repurposed to give it a background: by the time the weekend was over, something like two dozen youngsters had a chance to run the Hogwarts Express. Almost all of them ran the other battery-powered trains as well, but this one was the favorite.
And in case you wondered, the cake toppers of Harry, Ron, and Hermione did get to fly over the castle. After imagining an elaborate setup suspending them like a mobile from tiny wires, I frankly ran out of time; so the night before the big event, I tried wooden skewers to find three that would fit snugly into the little holes that were already there for "flying" them over birthday cakes and painted them black. (In retrospect, gray would have blended in better.) Then after we got almost everything else set up, I discovered that the big fold-out castle (#J5099) had little holes in some of the walls, presumably for flags or something. But the skewers fit right in, giving the magic trio a chance to soar above not only the castle, but also the heads of most of the kids running the train.
Track-Powered Trains in Cold WeatherHere's something I've noticed in the past, but it came back with a vengeance this weekend. The colder it gets, the less pulling power most of my track-powered trains have. So trains that started out with several cars keep getting shorter and shorter just to keep them going. In fact some of my locomotives that are very reliable in comfortable temperatures got so slow and weak after an hour or so of running time that I had to take them off the track. That includes an AristoCraft Pacific and a Bachmann Spectrum 2-4-2T. In the meantime, my Bachmann Percy would overheat the power supply and stop abruptly. After a "time out" of up to 20 minutes it would start abruptly, too. The temperatures, by the way, wavered between 36 and 38 degrees.
The only track-powered locomotive that ran consistently all day long was my PIKO 0-6-0T (the one that comes with starter set #38103). Running on the same kind of power supply as the Pacific and 2-4-2T I eventually had to take off the track, it ran exactly the same speed from the beginning to the end of the event both days.
We've had our Christmas-themed open railroads in colder weather and never noticed the problem being this bad. But I think that on those days, the visitors were more sporadic, so the trains were not running for hours straight. I originally thought that the lubrication might be stiffening up, but that might not be the whole answer. When it warms up, I'll test those trains again to see if they'll behave themselves in normal operating conditions.
For More Information
For more information about the battery-powered Lionel trains we used, please visit our article "Lionel's Toy 'G' Trains."
For more information about the Hogwarts Express, including the very real locomotives used in the movies and theme parks, please check out our article "The Real Hogwarts Express."
For detailed descriptions of why and how I have been building my new garden railroad more like a wedding cake than a traditional rock garden, please scroll down past the conclusion to see all the stages the planning and the railroad have gone through so far.
One advantage of having regularly scheduled events like this is that it gets you to push yourself to get jobs done. This year was complicated by having to squeeze a lot of stuff in at the last minute, but would I have got it all done before cold weather set in otherwise?
Of course the big advantage is getting to spend time with old friends and make new ones. We were delighted to host so many fine people and give their kids a chance to interact with the trains. Over the years, the vast majority of our young visitors had never touched, much less controlled a train before. Few or none of their parents went out and bought them trains, but I still like giving kids new experiences, and from my point of view, a nudge in the right direction.
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,
Return to "Preparing for Christmas Train Day 2019" - Wrapping up construction projects for 2019 and getting ready for our annual Christmas-themed open railroad. Includes new lighting and other features, providing a temporary home for a Hogwarts Express train, weather issues, and more. Click to go to article.
Click on the following link to see our progress of mid-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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