Waterscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Part 4This is a followup to Part Three of our series "Waterscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek Rail Road," being written in conjunction with other construction and planning articles that tell the story of our "new" railroad in chronological sequence, beginning with planning efforts in early 2017.
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 mid-September of 2019, I had the weir, the top two connecting pools and the big ground-level pond installed. However, I didn't have the third connecting pool (the last level of the waterfall) installed, nor - due to a need for some hose and connectors - did I have the pump and filter hooked up in the big pond yet.
The round and oval tubs in the photo below are temporary substitutes, so I could have an operating waterfall before the last bits were installed.
Wildlife Welcome - or at Least Tolerated - In our previous location, raccoons and other critters frequently visited the pond. I expect the same here, which is one reason I got a deeper pond. No matter how much of a mess they make - and they can make a lot - raccoons almost never bother anything too far down to reach without falling in.
Wasps of all sorts have been swarming around the railroad while I worked on this project. They need water to make their nests, and it's been far too dry for them to get any naturally. Brown wasps and yellow jackets will viciously guard their nests, but when they're just collecting water droplets far from their nests, they usually aren't a problem.
The black wasps we have around here are "mud daubers." They build their nests from mud, not paper, and they almost never sting. I like them because they kill harmful insects like carpenter bees.
While I was digging the hole for the pond, I saw a mud dauber struggling to get out of the water in one of the connecting pools. I stuck the end of a short board underneath her and she climbed on it, then I set it on the ground. In a few minutes she dried off and flew away. To be honest, I'm not sure I would be as merciful to the brown wasps or yellow jackets both of which have stung me in other circumstances.
The morning after I first filled the pond, I found two toads drifting in it. Toads like sitting in puddles once in a while - it helps them rehydrate. But they can't jump up out of a pond like frogs can. When I startled them, they started scratching furiously - and fruitlessly - at the plastic liner. Relieved to see that they were alive, I got my fishnet and fished them out. Once they were on the ground, I told them, "Thanks for all you do; keep up the good work." Then I went back into the house and they found their way elsewhere. Now my morning routine includes a toad check.
After about twelve weeks with very little rain, I wouldn't be surprised to see other animals coming to drink. If we get coyotes, though, any photos will be from inside the house.
To my knowledge, no animals were harmed during the production of this garden railroad.
Extending the Pump Reach - I visited Lowes and picked up some fittings and a 6' piece of hose that would allow the pump to reach to the bottom of the new pond. I also picked up a 2' piece of 1" ID vinyl hose to go between the filter and the pump - that way the filter would be more-or-less at the opposite end of the pond from the waterfall.
The 6' piece of hose, also vinyl, would allow me to move the regulator valve out of the pond - otherwise I'd have to reach down 16" inches or so to tweak the flow of the waterfall. If, when all is said and done, I don't need it at all, that's fine, I'll just leave it open all the way. By the way, I used vinyl tubing for the waterfall return on my old pond, and it was still working fine 16 years later.
Flushing the New Pond - Then I moved the pump over to the new pond and pumped as much water out of it onto the ground as I could without causing the pump to "bottom out." While the pump ran, I kept churning the water with an old broom. Mostly, I wanted to get rid of some of the dirt that had gone into the pond while I was backfilling. But it would also reduce the chance that any contaminants acquired in manufacturing, shipping, etc., would cause problems. If you don't get your water free (well water, for example), you can skip this step.
It says something about how dry our land is in that pumping over 150 gallons of water out onto the soil did not even cause a puddle to form, or to wet the ground more than a few inches in each direction.
I was pleased to note that after refilling the new pond to the point of running over, the edge of the pond was within 1/4" of the water surface all the way around. It could still shift, of course, but hopefully it will stay close enough not to require reinstalling.
Checking Pump - Most pond pumps have a magnetic drive that turns a little propeller-shaped object they call an "impeller." Unlike electric motors, the rotating bits aren't fastened in place. They spin within a chamber that holds the moving parts more or less in place. But that way if something jams them, they won't burn out immediately. You don't want to run them dry, though, or run them indefinitely with any obstacles.
This pump has been used, off and on, for many months. I unscrewed the philips screws holding my pump together to make certain nothing was impeding the impeller before I put the pump back to work.
The left photo below shows the face of the pump removed. You can see the "propeller" part of the impeller sticking out of the body. The right photo shows the other end of the impeller, including the long cylinder that contains the magnet that makes it work.
Frame Construction Begins - After reassembling the pump and reconnecting it to the hose running to the waterfall, I started on the frame for the lower connecting pool. This required some crawling around under the railroad, and some "creative" approaches to handling the odd angles I had designed into the thing.
I was also concerned that if I wasn't careful, I could be building something that would make building the next level of my railroad more difficult. My plans include a lower outer loop that will cross in front of the water spilling from the second connecting pool, and the frame for that layer will have to connect to the existing posts and frames.
As it stands, the long board that runs between one of the new posts and two of the old posts is more-or-less underneath the long cantilevered board supporting the second connecting pool. So I added a vertical member between the two to give the second connecting pool a little more support. You can see this more clearly if you click on the photo then click on the "blowup" to make it even bigger.
I was wondering just how I would run the decking for this level as I proceeded, but I figured it out about the time I needed to put my tools away.
Because I hadn't put the last board into the frame, I could still squeeze the "wine barrel filler" into its old position. I turned it toward the new, in-ground pond this time and started the pump. As you can see, the water went where it was supposed to.
Finishing and Decking the Frame - Studying the distance the water was falling into and out of the wine barrel liner, I decided that the lower connecting pond should sit a bit higher than I had originally projected. So I decided to build the frame up just a bit before I decked it out.
Before that happened, though, we got a 30-minute rainstorm that I would estimate gave us a quarter of an inch of rain - not enough to replenish the aquifer or anything like that, but a nice break from the desert conditions we've endured since late June.
When things dried up a little, I resumed. I ran the decking out at an angle, so the third connecting pool could turn slightly toward the east compared to the other two. This was part of my original plan, but you'd be surprised how often things don't work out exactly. :-)
In the photo to the right, the decking for the third connecting pool has been installed. The outer edges still needed trimmed, obviously, but I wanted to make certain I had the connecting pool in the right position.
I positioned the connecting pool where it needed to sit and trimmed the decking. Then I lined the deck and the back of the new platform with "billboard tarp," a material provided by people who peel vinyl off of billboards and sell it for about 7 cents a square foot. (If this sounds familiar, I first introduced this material in Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek page 4".) I had used up my first order and reordered some new material for the next stage of the railroad.
They say that the vinyl sometimes has little holes, from peeling it off the billboards. But the material I've received so far has been in better-than-advertised condition. In fact, it's mostly been misprints or the end of rolls, or some such - it's never been applied, and some of it has never been printed on. It makes a great lining for planters, flowerboxes, etc. You could probably use an unused piece for a pond liner, but you can't guarantee you get an unused piece unless you pay extra. Also, they recommend thicker pieces for that. I ordered 7 mil (.07/sqft) for my project, but the pieces they recommend for pond liners are much stronger at 22 mil (.33/sqft). If you want to try your luck - I make no guarantees and have no relationship to these people except as a customer, their site is here.
Everything but the Dirt - The photo to the right shows the whole waterfall with the third connecting pool in place. I put some rocks around it, but their placement won't be permanent until I get the topsoil installed as well.
If you click on the photo, you'll see a bigger version. If you click on that version, you can see more details. The waterfall starts just to the right of the trolley on the top level of tracks. A short freight train is passing in front of the second level of the waterfall.
When the third and lowest level of the railroad is completed, a bridge should cross in front of the next level down. I say should, because my plans often change once I get the next part of the project started and get a better idea of how it is really going to go together.
The day after the last connecting pool went in, I found several enormous raccoon footprints on the inside edge of the pond. So the wildlife certainly isn't waiting for an invitation. To my knowledge they haven't gotten any of the goldfish yet, but I'll be glad when the water lily branches out next year and gives the fish more cover.
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 "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 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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