Building A Garden Railroad

            Perspectives and Recommendations from a Beginner!   

Part 2 of 3
         By Vic and Sue Thies    

Operators of the TooMuchFun RR (TMFRR)

Just came back from another trip to Home Depot.  I think they feel sorry for me making so many trips that they wanted to give me an orange apron as a gesture of “good will”!

In part one of this series, Sue and I discussed several preliminary observations we discovered while getting started in this amazing hobby.

Part two reflects several recommendations for deciding what type of layout to build and avoiding pitfalls and costly (time & money) mistakes in present and potential future construction.

Recommendation # 5:  Building an era-themed layout or just for Too Much Fun

After visiting numerous layouts, garden railroad shows and conventions, one of our first “decisions” we needed to confront was “what do we want to have our RR represent”?  Did we want to model a specific era or a certain geographical area? My vivid memories as a young boy growing up in Los Angeles County was visiting the Union Train Station with my dad and seeing all of the diesel locomotives and trains from the 1950s. I would as often as possible, try and see my dad’s train pass through Alhambra, CA on his way to Albuquerque, NM (his regular route). I can still remember how excited I was when he had the chance to wave back to me.  I certainly had to incorporate those memories in our layout if possible. He worked on the Santa Fe RR and one of my favorite consists is our AT&SF RR freight train.






                                             Memories of my childhood, Dad and the Santa Fe RR
                                 (The pond removal and building the Utah Mountains on the slope
                              were added a year after this photo –plan for expansions –see rec #6)


We also fell in love with the Peanuts, Disney, Warner Brother’s LoonyToons and a variety of “other’ make believe trains that our collection would eventually include.

LGB made several “propeller” powered whimsical flyers, which have proven to be amazingly popular with both young and old.







                                    Snoopy chasing a foe! Kids love these propeller driven flyers!

Our TooMuchFun RR is an eclectic variety of themes, eras, scales and areas. From the mountains of Europe to western towns of America to the medieval castles of mythical times with dragons and knights, the TMFRR works for us. For others, modeling a specific era or area works best for them. Like a friend of ours once said about wines, “whatever wine you like is the best wine for you” I like that philosophy for building “your” layout.






                      Mythical castles and dozens of scenes reflects the diversity of TMFRR’s themes


Recommendation #6:  Anticipate and prepare for possible future expansion.

The TMFRR of today covers most of our backyard. We certainly did not anticipate having a layout this large, but as our love for the hobby grew and we contemplated about the possibilities of building on our slope area, the limitations of not initially planning for future expansion proved to be challenging. Not having enough stubbed out electrical conduit and drip mist tubing and easy access to potential new areas, necessitated a great deal of retrofitting and creative methods of designing new areas.  We expanded the layout three additional times from what we originally planned. Our last (and final? – we did an additional one making four total additions!!) expansion proved to be our most challenging yet most rewarding. This all took place because of the purchase of three used buildings for which we had no place in the existing layout.









                                                           The Koi pond was removed in 2012

As our layout was expanded, retrofitting for elctrical and plumbing proved to be challenging

Here’s a partial list of what we would do differently from the outset if “we had only known”!

  • Stub out pvc conduit and drip mist tubing to every potential “build” area even if you don’t think you plan to construct there
    • Use large conduit -1”to 11/2” if possible and avoid too many turns. ¾ or ½ inch conduit is very limiting in the amount of wires that can be pulled and this is one area where bigger is better.
    • Extra conduit is relatively inexpensive and good insurance for keeping future retrofitting costs to a minimum

Big mistake using 3/4 inch conduit
Suggest using 1 - 1 1/2 inch conduit

  • Plan for access routes to potential build areas
    • Our last (we thought it was the last one) construction area has proven to be a difficult terrain to navigate for track cleaning and maintenance. We will be building an access walkway in the future – should have built it first!  

Building on the slope has its challenges – easy access is critical
(We need to fix that – a future project!)


  • Take lots of photographs and document your efforts
    • This is one area we did fairly adequately from the beginning, but wish we would have done even more and organized better from the beginning. Photographs and an ongoing schematic of conduit and tubing prove to be very helpful once they are covered with dirt and landscaping. Maybe it’s my old age, but trying to remember where lines run is almost impossible with specificity.
    • Construction photos are also fun to look at and reflect back years later on not only what your yard looked like before, but to refresh your memory as to why your aching back still hurts!

                         Documenting your efforts with photos & schematics pays off down the road

In part 3 we will look at recommendations including;

Avoiding sun and weather destruction
Lighting for effects
Minimizing electrical issues for dummies (me)