What to Do When a Tree Eats Your RailroadUpdated June, 2006
For years, I've been concerned about the huge dead branches falling off trees on an adjacent property. We had several incidents over the years of branches so large they had to be chopped up with a chainsaw to move, and I have reglued several buildings back together several times.
The property owner helped me on one of the worse occasions to clean up the mess. He also said he was planning to have the trees topped. But in the summer of 2001, I had so many buildings damaged that I gave up and shut down my railroad about mid-July for the rest of the year.
In late winter of 2002 I was making plans to finish several projects on the railroad by the National Garden Railroad Convention. It would be held in greater Cincinnati that June, and people from all over the country would be touring area garden railroads. But that March of 2002, a windstorm followed by an ice storm brought down several huge branches on my right-of-way. The windstorm buried the north loop and the ice storm buried the south loop in rotten, but still heavy, maple branches up to 8 inches in diameter. (My track plan is available on the "Layout So Far" page if that's any help in visualizing what happened where).
Click on each photograph to see a blowup appear in a new window.
North Loop Windstorm DamageThe tree brought down by the windstorm was completely dead from about six inches up, but it shared a root with another tree that was still alive (my guess is that two saplings had grown up together, both reached maturity, and one died). So when the dead tree came down, it made a mess of its living "brother." As far as I could figure from what was left, the dead tree (which was over fifty feet tall) broke in two about twenty-five feet from the ground, and the top part rotated 180 degrees and slammed into the ground. Branches from 1/4" to 8 inches in diameter impaled track pieces and lawn furniture as they drove into the ground several inches. After the storm was over, it looked like the New Boston and Donnels Creek had lost an archery assault - hundreds of twigs, sticks, and branches were jutting out of the ground over a 100 square foot or so area.
In addition, the trunk and several large branches, having hit the ground "top-first," then fell over sideways. They smashed up a wire fence (of which more will be said later), knocked down the RR tie retaining wall holding up the western ("back") edge of the railroad, and busted up about $100 worth of track. They also smashed up a double trestle that I had bought from another hobbyist about a year earlier. The only reason they didn't destroy any buildings or trains was that I hadn't had any buildings or trains outside since 2001, when I shut down the railroad early because of ongoing damage from the other tree (the one that lost a huge branch a few days later).
The next picture is taken from the "back" (West edge) of the railroad looking toward the north loop. In the lower right corner, you can see one of several long pieces of AristoCraft track that flew off in various directions when hit by several hundred pounds of wood.
It WAS interesting explaining to two different insurance companies what a garden railway is and why something I leave out in the rain might still have replacement value if destroyed.
A few days later, the SOUTH loop was buried by a huge branch from the tree that had been dropping branches all along. An icestorm brought down a branch that was over sixteen inches in diameter where it broke off from the tree, so even though it was a single branch, the destructive potential was enormous. The branch did smash the other end of the wire fence to the ground and knock the gateposts awry, but miraculously managed not to puncture the pond.
Fortunately, most of the heavy part landed on the fence instead of the railroad. In fact, no track to speak of was damaged on the south loop. I'm sure buildings would have been smashed, though. The next photo below shows the same area after the ice on the tree branches melted. Look at the right edge of the photo to get some idea of the diameter of the branch that came down.
Initially it looked like I was out of luck.
My insurance company, Metropolitan, told me that if I wanted to report the damage under my policy:
Both companies wanted to know if there were any green leaves on either tree. Turns out that the "rule of thumb" is: If a tree with any leaves on it whatsoever falls over, it's not anybody's fault, even if the tree was obviously 99% dead. If the tree was completely dead, period, then a person could make a claim that it was the owner's fault for not having them removed before they did any damage.
I explained to both companies that, although one tree in question did still have green branches, one was completely dead, and both trees involved had been losing huge branches for years.
Both companies asked if I had proof, like an earlier insurance claim, to back up my claim that the property owner knew these trees were dangerous. Silly me, I didn't. It all came down to whether the property owner would admit that he knew the trees were falling down. Fortunately, he did. This took the claim out of the "acts of God" category and put it into the "negligence/liability" category of his insurance policy. Unfortunately his deductible for that was very high, so he was out some bucks, and not exactly happy about it.
What the Insurance Companies DidFinally, after a lot of phone tag with the adjuster, State Farm (the property owner's insurance company) asked me to submit my list to them directly. I did my homework and got several bids on things that were busted up, etc.
To my very great surprise, State Farm sent me a check for exactly the total I requested. As it turns out, some things I thought were damaged beyond repair were reparable, and several things I didn't take into account had to be taken care of, so I haven't spent the money exactly as things were itemized. But if I was to go back with a new list, based on the way I have spent the money, the amount would be about the same.
The property owner had the trees taken down instead of just being topped. The lack of shade has been a problem for both families, but I've replanted trees which should one day solve that problem on both sides of the fence. (In fact the oak I planted for my neighbor is doing better than the oak I planted for me - go figure).
During my June, 2002 open house, it was 94F, and the sun shown directly on the railroad most of the day, meaning that many of the "visitors" hovered in the shade across the yard. Working on the railroad in direct sun since hasn't been fun, either. But at least I can leave a building out overnight without worrying about whether it will be in pieces in the morning.
Lessons Learned about Dead and Dying Trees
Why Did I Tell You All of This?
In case you are facing similar issues. Some of the lessons learned are:
Update, June 2006State Farm (the neighbor's insurance company) gave me enough money to pay a tree company to clean up the mess and to replace the destroyed track, dwarf evergreens, and lawn furniture. Almost half of the money State Farm gave us went straight to the tree company that was supposed to clean up the mess. Then I spent about forty more hours cleaning up branches and twigs they had "missed" and rebuilding my retaining walls. I replaced the track and dwarf evergreens right away, though we never directly replaced the destroyed lawn furniture (we bought a patio set sort of thing instead, later).
State Farm also gave me enough money to have the wire fence that was destroyed replaced with a similar wire fence. The neighbor, however, wanted a privacy fence, which we couldn't afford. Since he wouldn't discuss a mutually beneficial solution, I bent the wire fence back into shape as well as I could and let it stand. He subtly signalled his opinion of the whole situation by building big trash piles along the property line, and by parking his beat-up old pickup there on days when we had people over for important events like my children's graduations. After three years of watching the trash piles grow higher, I ripped out the old wire fence and planted a row of Emerald Green Arborvitae that I hoped would eventually shield the view. Then the neighbor bought some cheap privacy fence panels and started a fence, which he stopped building with about half the "gap" between us filled.
Not only did it look very silly from our house, but kids from another family, new to the neighborhood, began cutting through the gaps in the fence to visit our railroad and throw our buildings into the pond. I bought enough panels to finish the job, which more than exhausted the money State Farm had given me to replace the original fence. To his credit, the neighbor put the rest of the fence up himself. (He says it's because he wants to think of it as "his" project - I think it's because he's seen more than enough of my projects.) So, although the fence that our neighbor picked out is not attractive or well-made, it is better than not having a fence, for any number of reasons.
Update from Later on: The neighbor bought the cheapest possible panels, and they started disintegrating within a year. For only about $4 more per panel, he could have bought much better ones, but I think he was trying to prove a point. Along that line, he used "landscaping timbers" instead of ground-rated posts, which saved him about another 20 on the entire project. Those "landscaping timbers" aren't actually ground-rated. They're not even pressure-treated. So they started decaying immediately. When they started breaking off, the fence kept falling over onto my railroad, which I had rebuilt by that time. My neighbor clearly did not see it as his problem. A later article describes how I dug holes on my side of the fence and installed ground-rated 4'x4's.
We now return you to our 2002 article.
One of the greatest losses was the shade itself, which, in spite of my neighbor's protests, might have had a greater effect on us than him (since we lost our afternoon shade, while he only lost his early morning shade). I've planted three oak trees (one in the neighbor's yard near where one of the fallen trees had been), but it will be decades before they provide the amount of shade we used to have. So in the meantime, we use borrowed canopies and the like to protect guests from the sun on special days, and we get used to visitors squinting into the setting sun to see our railroad.
To see what the railroad itself looked like after we cleaned it up and it had a year to settle in, look at the June, 2003 Photo page. Unfortunately we didn't get a good photo of the North Loop in that collection, so I've included a early spring (mid-building setup) photo from 2006 to show you the restored roadbed, etc.
Please let me know if you have any comments or criticisms, or if you have any examples of similar "natural" disasters you'd like to share with our readers.
Next - Our "June, 2002 Photos article contains photos of our garden railroad as it was set up for the 2002 National Garden Railway Convention in Cincinnati.
Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
Family Garden Trains is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
For more information, please contact us
|Visit related pages and affiliated sites:
|- Trains and Hobbies -
|- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
|- Family Activities and Crafts -
|- Music -