Building A Garden Railroad
Perspectives and Recommendations from a Beginner!
Part 3 of 3
(Originally published in 2012 for the Orange County Garden Railroad Society)
By Vic and Sue Thies
Operators of the TooMuchFun RR (TMFRR)
In parts one and two of this series we covered 6 recommendations from a beginner’s perspective of lessons learned in getting into this great hobby. Many of these lessons were costly to us in not only wasted money, but also in time spent redoing various construction segments. In this segment, we will cover several recommendations that might prove to be useful for longer-term durability of your layout and equipment, and the avoidance of electrical problems.
Again, all of these recommendations have been from a layperson’s perspective, possibly unique to our particular situation and may or may not have applicability to your current or future garden railroad.
Recommendation # 7: Avoid sun and weather destruction of your layout. Use appropriate building materials.
Early in our TMFRR construction, we saw how destructive the fury of nature can be on all materials used in the building of a garden railroad. From electrical wires for lighting and track power to structures of all types, all will eventually succumb to the elements; some just more quickly due to the types of materials used.
We bought some cute and inexpensive buildings made out of a soft wood that after just a couple months showed signs of severe weathering. These buildings will be lucky to survive two years before having to be replaced. While we did coat them with both water and UV protector, soft wood materials will just not have long-term durability. Thankfully, we did discover a more durable material for many of our buildings, that being precision board from Rainbow Ridge Kits (www.rainbowridgekits.com). With proper UV protector these buildings should last longer than my aching back! Of course, the major manufacturers of garden railroad buildings use UV tolerant plastics which also hold up fairly well to the elements but nothing compared to the precision board buildings. Properly constructed wood structures are also great if the appropriate hard wood (cedar, redwood, etc.) is utilized and protected.
Additionally, UV protecting most of your railroad buildings, figures, signs and structures will hopefully add years to their life expectancy.
While the buildings below the Santa Fe consist are cute, the soft wood
construction will not hold up to the destructive sun and rain
(Update 2016-all of these buildings were replaced after just one year)
The Dragon’s Lair Restaurant and Dragon’s Gate Castle are one of a kind buildings
constructed of Precision Board and we expect many years of durability
We did install numerous water drains throughout the low-lying layout areas to avoid standing water and this is where more is better.
Water is very destructive to anything metal and our numerous metal bridges are showing signs of severe rust where located near splashing waterfalls. I would recommend if you incorporate any metal structures in your layout, purchase them unpainted, take them to a zinc or galvanizing coating business and then have them properly painted or powder coated. It has been very disheartening how quickly our bridges have rusted to the point where they will have to be dismantled and finished correctly or replaced.
Photo date approx. 2013
Improperly coating metal structures will lead to severe rusting – if placed
near constantly splashing water, it may happen within a couple months
(Update 2016 - the 3 lower bridges had to be replaced
due to severe rusting after only 3 years of operation)
All electrical wires really need to be rated for outdoor use and/or placed in conduit if you expect decades of trouble free use. Low voltage landscape lighting type wire is excellent if conduit is not feasible. The challenge with this wire is they are all the same color and labeling correctly for later ID purposes is critical. Use a good label tape suitable for outdoor use.
Recommendation #8: Minimize electrical issues (for dummies like me)
My personal disclaimer. When it comes to electrical/electronic subjects I (Vic) have no expertise or aptitude whatsoever! I couldn’t tell you the difference from a watt to a volt to an ohm if my life depended on it.
Early in the construction of the TMFRR, Sue and I realized that we wanted to have a railroad we could enjoy as much at nighttime as well as during the daylight. Planning for this early in the construction (irrespective to the fact that we did not plan adequately for future expansions) necessitated consulting with our household electrician who did work for us over the years. He gave us great advise on how to avoid problems with electrical issues down the road. He also built our control center with industrial grade/military spec material for years of hopefully trouble free use.
We have approximately 20,000 LED lights throughout the layout and minimizing electrical problems was a high priority.
The TMFRR comes to life after dark
The TMFRR Control Center has 40 lighting circuits (right side),
each with an inline fuse to help locate short circuits
Final recommendation #9: Just have TooMuchFun
Hopefully some of our recommendations in these articles will be helpful to you or someone starting out in this great hobby. God willing, Sue and I plan on having way TooMuchFun for many years to come in garden railroading.