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Future Project...

3489 Views 10 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  Brian Considine
Right, so...

For the last twenty years or so, I've considered the idea of building a garden railway.

Not so much for the idea of building another model railway (Do I really need an excuse? Not really!
), but, more for the fact that this would be a Father/Son project. My father and I have a great relationship, but we don't really have a lot of common interests, but he's into gardening and I'm the carpenter/"train guy," so I think this would be a perfect project for us to work on together.

I'm just starting to research the subject, but are there any tips you guys would share with someone just getting started with large-scale garden railways, any advice you wish you would have had when you started?

Which scale would you suggest modeling? 1:22:5 or 1:32? I want to run realistic-looking, standard gauge (4'8.5") trains and possibly dabble in live steam. I plan on doing a lot of scratchbuilding, but are there a lot of kits for UK equipment out there for G gauge/No. 1 scale? (I'm afraid I don't know about much beyond, say, Aristo-craft American-type equipment and LGB stock.)

And, what vegetation to you guys usually grow in your garden railways? Are there particular flowers to avoid planting?

Just curious.

Anyway, that's it for my initial queries. I'm sure there'll be more to come.

Anyway, I thought I'd inquire and appreciate any advice you have to share.
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Seems like a great idea and will certainly keep you both occupied for some time.

Obviously, it would help to know how much land we are talking about as clearly the smaller scales would simply disappear in a huge area; and what sort of terrain are we talking about and also what climate (I understand Minnesotta can get quite hot or very cold, depending on the time of year, plus the odd tornado)?

If you're thinking of live steam, then the larger the better - not to say that small gauge live steam isn't possible or rewarding - it's simply the bits for small scale engineering are so much smaller and access to specialist equipment such as small scale lathes etc is needed if you intend self-building. Though I have seen locos produced from the back of someone's shed!

Look forward to hearing more.

Actually, I'd start here --> Minnesota Garden Railway Society

Briefly many years back I was involved with them as I was intent on building a garden railway - have "some" G-gauge track and a moderate amount of stock plus an LGB Pennsy 2-6-0 loco (smoke/sound etc), and an Aristo ALCO FA-1- however, the same thing that halted my other modelling ideas intervened, family/kids etc., and I never built it.
They're a nice bunch of folks - or were when I was last in touch with them - and you'll see some good ideas, AND the fact that yes, indeed you can run outdoors in our "relatively hostile" climate all year round if you're so inclined. They used to have monthly meetings that were often at members' homes to view the layout.

Hugh - yep, Minnesota weather is "all of the above". Summers can easily get to 90's and it's generally very humid due to the large amounts of water in the state - state motto "Land of 10,000 Lakes". Winters are generally a combination of plenty of snow - average annual is around 50" or so, and it is also colder than you'd like to think about in mid-winter, we routinely have temperatures in the zero/below zero centigrade especially in January where it's not unusual to have a week or more with below zero centigrade. At least in winter it is "dry"

I originally expected a garden railway would be potentially "nuts" in this climate but was proven quite wrong, though you may have to get out there and shovel off the track after a heavy snowfall, even a G-gauge plow-equipped loco can't plow through 8-12 inches of snow!
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It sounds as if you are an engineer rather than an operator and the basic fact is that the bigger you build the easier and less finnicy it all is so while it is possible to build to Gauge One and I know at least one person who does I know a lot more who build to run on 5" or 7.25" gauge ... in the States read 4.75" and 7.5" I believe, if I got that right
. But such locos take a lot of time to build, though we had one member who allowed himself three months and had about seven locos and numerous stationary live steam engines in his stable. Plus boats and a snow cat/mobile, Antartic type.

It does depend on how much space you have. If you go Gauge One you can have a lot of ready-to-run stock available to you both electric and live steam. G Gauge uses the same gauge 1.75" or 45mm but is largely European Narrow Gauge which is ideal if your space is limited. Aristocraft will sell you stock built to either scale with American profiles, probably others I have not heard about.

If you are thinking of going for the big stuff I suggest you search out for your local model engineering society. My society of which I have been a member for over 35 years now is unusual in that it caters for model engineers, scale raillway [ HO and other scales] radio control boats with a garnish of tethered cars and aircraft builders and I have indulged in the various groups over the years and currently into G Gauge with a small 'test track' under construction in my small garden.

The other question of course is how much are you prepared to put into this venture, at one extreme I saw a loco on E-bay for US$35,000 awhile back, forget what it was but something like a 4-8-2 or so. in 7.5" gauge ... which or course wants a large space for the gentle curves it needs. While G Gauge can look good with just three foot radius though really six foot is better if you are going to have bigger than 2-6-2 locos. A freind hired a landscape artist to plan his garden to accomodate 6ft radious curves and the trains look good going between plants.

I guess you have a snow blower though how they work over plants I'm not sure
My Son lives in CO. .... Or how you work the shovel as the track wanders through the greenery.... my railway was covered with about 1.5" of snow a few days ago but it melted the next day no time to build a snow plow or blower .... LOL

EDIT .. from your other post I see you are into O Gauge and this is quite possible in the garden with live steam although I am not sure what profiles are available but there is a lot of fun Narrow Gauge and the Roundhouse firm* in the UK made live steam for this gauge. Very popular in Europe is 16mm scale or making 32mm [ 1.25"] track represent two foot if I can nudge you away from standard gauge stuff
* not to ignore Mamod and the European manufacturers with their european profile stock. Perhaps run the railway out from the house into the garden with a waist high in-building layout descending to ground level for the garden where some build up a bit around/across rockery beds etc.
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Hi there Erik,

As mentioned it would be useful to know an approxomate size you are looking at.

I can only advise on my experiences with a garden railway.

Orginally, I started with "O" gauge - Peco trackwork & some European outline modified Lima rolling stock - a couple of Lima diesel locomotives were re-motored (very nice mechanism's, but I cannot remember the make) but it simply was not up to the running conditions.

In the end I took the plunge, dug deep, very deep & bought an LGB start set & enough track to go round the garden & have never looked back. Having said that, I run LGB narrow gauge, US & European standard gauge & mix it all up - the garden railway is for fun (the "serious" side is HO Euopean).

I had to keep at ground level as the railway crosses the path twice - not the ideal, it would be better raised off the ground level.

The track is a mixture of LGB, Aristo & Tenmille, but is all brass with every single railjoint bonded with soldered 1.5mm jumpers & 2 heavy 6.0mm feeds (currently I rum DC or DCC).

I run all year round & because I run trains on an almost daily basis rarely have to clean the track, the only things that stop running are frogs (which get stunned, but don't seem to suffer any long term effects), heavy snow or when the wind blows the stock off the track (occasionally into the pond) - the cat's move when nudged.

The track is laid on hardwood, concrete blocks or a dry mix of sharp sand/cement - all wrong according to the "experts".

As for plants, it would depend on your soil conditions - I really have not a clue here - I plant what I think will look good & it lives or dies. I do tend to plant a fair amount of small evergreens & when they start getting too big transplant them elsewhere. In a number of places I have some ground cover stuff that grows accross the track to give a "neglected branchline" look.

I'll try & post some pictures over the weekend.

Hope this helps.
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QUOTE I plant what I think will look good & it lives or dies. I do tend to plant a fair amount of small evergreens & when they start getting too big transplant them elsewhere. In a number of places I have some ground cover stuff that grows across the track to give a "neglected branch-line" look.

Everything in moderation..Brian
Maybe I'm stating the obvious (again!) but just in case, there are some excellent magazines available, such as Garden Rail (UK) and Garden Railways (USA). They are very good for gardening information too. I think it's next month that Hornby Magazine is bringing out a garden railway supplement, so there should be good material there.

I appreciate the replies, guys!

Hugh, as Ian pointed out, being in the upper, Midwestern United States, we get a lot of the cold, snowy weather coming down out of Canada, so we get a lot of "the white stuff" between late October and early March (we even had snow on May 2 this year!). This spring has been quite rainy and summers, especially in late July/August. it can be quite hot and humid.

And, yes, tornadoes can happen here, although I live in a river valley, so I'm a little more sheltered than someone who lives up on the prairie lands.

So. we have quite a diverse climate here... which will affect the railway.

Which means I need to plan for drainage, frost heaving and whatnot...

Did I mention I'm crazy enough to HANDLAY the trackage for this railway? ** Cue "Dr. Who-eszue dramatic music here **
Okay, so, as to the question of space...

At this point. I don't know. I'm planning on moving in the near future, so it will be determined by the size of the backyard. Once I find out how much real estate I want to dedicate to the railway I'll let you know. (I'm planning on having a paved patio with a barbecue and a storage shed that will be uncannily similar to a MKII Metropolitan Police Box, so whatever room is leftover...)

But, just to get some preliminary measurements, about how tight to I dare get with my curvature? And how far apart should the track centers be?


As fun as 7.5" and 5" would be, I think they'd be too big for what I want to do, so I think I'm going to stick with 1:32 scale. And, I don't want to run anything massive, like Union Pacific "Big Boys," I'd rather run British stock, not unlike the O scale layout I have in the works. So, the biggest thing I'd like to run would be Gresley and/or Peppercorn A1/A3s and MKI passenger stock. Although, I might also get a Thomas to run on the railway, too, to run on the railway for any future nieces and/or nephews.
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A bit late I know but here are some pictures of "BelmontBahn" my garden railway.

1st & 2nd pictures show "Stainz" 0-4-0 with train approaching the station - this is the section that is supposed to give the impression of an overgrown & neglected branchline.

3rd picture shows the train just passing the station & entering the long sweeping curve by "The Queens Conservatory".


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& another 4 pictures.

1) On the curve & approaching the pathway.

2) The "well maintained" section - the track here is laid onto a "dry" mix of sharp sand/cement, tamped in until level & then the sand/cement is lightly watered. When dry the track stays put & then the whole track is coated with a brown coloured wash of wood preservative. Lake Belmont is to the right of the track - the white plastic conduit is to stop the seagulls swooping down & nicking the fish.

3) Train approaching the tunnel.(Have still to fit the tunnel mouth).

4) The other side of the tunnel - the ground cover here has grown over the track - provided I run the trains enough it does not overgrow the track completely. AFAIK the ground cover is called "Bizzie Lizzie".


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