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Inexpensive Structures and Building Materials
Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running wellGarden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
Large Scale Starter Sets: Begin with a train you'll be proud to runBest Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders: a short list of things you're most likely to need when starting out
Large Scale Track order FormSturdy buildings for your garden railroad.
Large Scale Christmas Trains: Trains with a holiday theme for garden or professional display railroads.Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs
Garden Railroading Books, Magazines, and Videos: Where to go to learn even more
Collectible Trains and Villages: On30 Trains and accessories designed by Thomas Kinkade and others

Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)

How to Design and Build Your Garden Railroad

Inexpensive Structures and Building Materials

Longtime readers know that we've spent almost twenty years trying to help people get started in garden railroading without having to take out a second mortgage on their houses. That effort has included a number of articles about acquiring, adapting, or creating buildings or at least parts of buildings, inexpensively. True, many of those articles depend on access to resources that are not available to everybody. But I hope we stimulate some "out of the box" thinking that helps you find creative, inexpensive solutions to your railroading needs.

I will admit that every alternative to expensive "name-brand" buildings we've discovered or created so far requires either creativity or extra work or both on your part. But this is supposed to be a hobby after all. So far, most of our suggestions for saving money on garden railroad buildings fall into the following categories, listed separately below:

  • Repurposing products made for other purposes (bird feeders, toys, etc.)
  • Creating or detailing buildings with downloadable graphics and weatherproof labels
  • Repurposing scrap materials for building components
  • Finding good building values

We have some other interesting projects in the works, so stay tuned.

Repurposing Products Made for Other Purposes

Repurposing Fisher-Price toys, bird-feeders, etc. into useful, attractive model buildings for your garden railroad, including:

Trashbashing 101 - the original 2005 article on creating garden railroad structures from toys and other non-model sources. Click to go to an article about my first trashbashing projects.
Converting an Artline Bird Feeder into a Gazebo - a 2018 follow-up article featuring a bird feeder you can still get from stores. Click to go to article
Trashbashing Step By Step - a 2012 detailed account of multiple storefronts that were trashbashed simultaneously, with plenty of photos. Click to go to article.

Creating or Detailing Buildings With Downloadable Graphics and Weatherproof Labels

Using Family Garden Trains' graphic files, a color printer, and weatherproof labels to create inexpensive, but effective substitutes for plastic buildings, including:

Printed Buildings for Outdoor Railroads. - Using Plexiglass, labels, and concrete blocks to create suprisingly effective outdoor buildings. Click to go to article.
Temporary Building Fronts from Recycled Plastic - Using our graphic resources, weatherproof labels, and recycled plastic signs to make building fronts that you can use to jump-start your communities, or set up in public places, or leave out all winter in place of more expensive structures. Note: this article has been updated for 2013 with new tips and new graphics. Click to go to article.
Business and Station Signs - Free downloadable graphics to add signage, realism, and "period" to your buildings. Click to go to article.

Repurposing Scrap Materials for Building Components

Using stuff that's free or cheap to build or detail your own buildings, including:

Making Corrugated Metal Panels from Disposable Aluminum Pans. This also works with aluminum cans and similar materials. Includes links to related external articles. Click to go to article.
Recycle Road Spam - Repurposing the material from those fluted plastic signs that out-of-town scammers use to illegally trash your neighborhood. Hey - it's a public service! Plus the stuff holds up. Click to go to article.
Cheap Mullions (Windowframes) - using grocery-store berry baskets, plastic plant trays from the plant nurseries, hardware cloth, and other materials to provide windowframes for your scratchbuilt, kitbuilt, or trashbashed buildings. Click to go to article
Free Project Wire from Bad Light Strands - "Cannabalizing" bad Christmas light strands to get wire for your building lighting. Click to go to article
Almost Free Building Lighting - If you can track down 12volt replacement Christmas strand bulbs, you can combine those with sockets from a recycled Christmas light strand to light your buildings for a few cents each. Click to go to article

Finding Good Building Values

For folks who would rather not trashbash or do everything from scratch, we're also keeping our eye out for building kits that don't cost more than the average television set. As a rule, buildings that cost half or less the cost of the expensive kits are just a bit more trouble to put together. But if you follow our instructions, the end result may be just as impressive.

And no matter how you do the math, a town with 5 well-painted buildings is more impressive than a town with two.

Colorado Model Structures's building kits. True, you can't snap their kits together and set them out like the "other guy's" kits. And they don't come with window glazing, (not even the stuff the other guys include that turns yellow and crystalizes). But I recommend custom painting and lucite glazing no matter what kind of kit you buy anyway. Also, they don't come with graphics (stickers), but we're improving our collection of downloadable graphics all the time, so that's not the issue you might think. So for responsible kit-assemblers, the only REAL difference is that they're a bit harder to glue together. Oh, and, depending on the kind of buildings you want, they cost from half to a quarter of the equivalent name-brand buildings. Click to go to article.

More to Come

Here's the part where I keep my fingers crossed. No, we're not in any danger of putting Pola or Piko out of business singlehandedly. But "behind the scenes," we've been testing other ways to help you put buildings on your railroad without taking too much money out of the bank. So far, we have not had the success rate we'd like before we go public with the new things we're trying out.

With any luck, we'll have something to publish soon. So stay tuned. We're on YOUR side, after all.

Please let me know if you have any feedback, and enjoy your hobbies. Especially enjoy any time you can spend with your family in the coming months!

See you online or in the back yard!


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