How to make a Temporary Garden Railway/Railroad Track
Keeping up the Enthusiasm
Let's Build a Temporary Garden Railroad - Laying down a temporary line just to get something running could be just the answer to keeping up enthusiasm while constructing your permanent model railroad in the garden.
Planning and building a garden railroad can be a protracted and lengthy process, which can take many weeks, months or even years before trains start running in earnest. Some people never actually get any trains running at all because they simply get bogged down in all the planning and details. Yet, it's vital to keep up your enthusiasm up during this early stages, and the best way to do that is to get something running in the garden as soon as possible, albeit on a temporary basis.
Miniature Dreams :
While you dream and plan that massive garden railroad which runs forever around your garden, it's sometimes better to simply lay a bit of temporary track down, first to try out a few ideas. Also, it’s a chance to let some of your locomotives and rolling stock to stretch their legs after being confined to their original boxes for so long. It need not be a massive affair, just a simple continuous run, a siding and a passing loop, is all you need. Of course, if you make it too complex and far too interesting you may never get around to building your permanent layout.
Dealing with Mother Nature :
Apart from the obvious joy of just running and watching your collection in action, many problems can come to light, which could useful when constructing the permanent layout. As we all know, building a garden railroad is just like building a real railroad. We are also beset with all the problems associated with the prototype, and Mother Nature can be cruel at the best of times. As with the real thing, we have to contend with all types of weather and conditions, which we might take for granted, that is, until we tried to build a railroad outdoors.
Problems with Wind :
Simple things like the type of soil in your garden, the amount of annual rainfall, and the prevailing wind could all be factors that a affect you permanent railroad. Have you ever watch where the water gathers during a heavy downpour in your garden, and how it drains away afterwards? Laying a temporary garden railroad can often highlight potential problem areas, and possibly create new ones.
Despite all my careful planning and measuring, it was not until I had a temporary layout in the garden did I realise I had a serious problem, that I never even thought about. Normally the prevailing wind and gales blows from the south/south west, which is fine as the house acts as a wind break for section of garden I am planning to build my garden railroad in. However, we also often get a chilling east wind, which I discovered would blow off lighter rolling stock from the raised section of line.
Major Re-think required :
Had I gone ahead and just build a permanent garden railroad where and how I originally planned, I would have big problems with expensive stock getting blown off the line into the garden below. At the highest point, the line would have been just over one meter high, which is a bit of drop to the ground. This potential problem has made re-think my design for the line, so I can use the benefit of an old stone wall to act as a kind of windbreak.
Extensive Drainage Required :
Another problem that came to light was that of drainage, which with the type of soil and the lay of the land can be quite slow to drain off. Down the same end as the problem with the high winds, I noticed that the border and lawn takes quite a while to dry out, and often we have a small lake for a few hours after a heavy downpour. Clearly any earthworks would have to have extensive drainage. Due the shape of the local hills and mountain in the area around my house we are prone to heavy cloud bursts, and drainage can be a real problem.
Damp Issues :
More recently, with the onset of autumn and cooler weather, I have noticed that area I am using for my temporary layout takes a long time to dry out to due it's north facing position. If it's been raining and the air is still quite damp, it could take all day for the area to dry out, if at all. The proposed area for the permanent garden railroad could also suffer from this problem too especially if I want to run two rail stock such as my Calf of Man Electric Tramway Bachmann trams, which are still two rail powered.
Building a Dog-Bone :
My temporary layout itself is a simple dog-bone, L-shaped oval with a passing loop and simple siding. The trains get about 64 ft run to stretch their legs (or should that be wheels) around the oval. It's nothing too fancy, but just enough to maintain interest, while the serious business of building a permanent layout is undertaken.
Second-Hand Track :
The track is LGB, coming from a starter set and the rest is all purchased second-hand from eBay. Normally, I am a bit wary of buying off eBay, but the elephant proof LGB Track takes a lot to damage it any case. Usually, all I have to do is check and tighten the fishplates, if required, and polish up the railhead and away you go. Remember, LGB track is very tough and lasts for years, so second hand track on eBay is usual in good condition. It is also prototype practice for narrow gauge railroads to by second, or even third handrail and sleepers.
Location, Location, Location
I used the 3ft wide concrete path around two sides of outside the house. For some reason, my family never uses these two paths as they are a bit out of the way, and people tend to cut across the grass. I decided that this would be a great place to put a temporary layout, and I could sit in my little office and watch the trains go around through the window. The track simply sits on the path, not fastened down, although LGB plastic track joiners are used throughout to stop the track coming apart. Foolhardy you might say, however, in the last six months it hasn't moved at all, apart from the odd minor adjustment. In fact, much to my surprise, it actually stay put during storm force nine gale.
Tricked by the Human Eye :
Now, the human eye is quite deceiving, and while I knew most of the path was dead flat, I didn't realise how much of slope there was on the east side of the L-shape. Our eyes tend to flatten out things slightly. A quick measure revealed the slope was 4" rise in 22', which is just with in the limits of normal G scale locomotive. However, this meant I would have to run shorter trains or doublehead/bank longer ones.
I quickly discovered which locomotives had the guts to pull a load and those that didn't. I have to admit, I don't really like the look of the classic LGB icon, the Stainz 0-4-0T, but they can certainly can pull almost anything, and up an incline too. Meanwhile, the tiny LGB KOF 0-4-0 couldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding, and is limited to a couple of coaches or wagons. I am now aware of G scale locomotive pulling powers on gradients and I am now planning to make my permanent layout as flat as possible with limited gradients to avoid adhesion problems and runway rolling stock.
Going Around the Bend :
While LGB and Bachmann seem to have the knack of making even the largest of locomotives go around a radius one curve, other G scale locos simply refuse point blankly. If I was going to have visiting engines and my Accucraft Isle of Man Beyer, Peacock 2-4-0T locomotives and lengthy bogie carriages running, I would need a minimum of radius three curves.
With this in mind, I replaced my original R1 with R3 curves on my test layout to try out my theory. Well, the LGB locomotives and stock just glided through, whereas a visiting Accucraft Manx locomotive was not happy all the way through the curve. The recommended minimum curve for this engine is R3, but really needs a R5 for smooth running. I am glad I tested one first before I purchase this engine, and had already laid R3 curves on my permanent layout. Another lesson learnt - use a minimum of R5 curves.
Conclusion : Lessons Leant
Having a temporary layout has been a real learning curve (radius 1!), and probably saved me the money, tears and all the stress if I had gone ahead and built my permanent garden railroad as first planned. You can read and plan away for hours, days or weeks, but still nothing beats getting out there and running trains in the garden to discover the problems first hand. Each garden seems to have its own individual problems such as steep slopes, drainage problems, and flooding or high winds blowing stock off the line. Many of these issues will not come to light until you venture out into the great outdoors and start laying some track.
Warning : Don't Let Temporary Become Permanent
However, a word of warning, be careful that your temporary layout doesn't become a permanent layout. It's all to easy to get into just having a temporary line, that all thoughts of build the planned permanent one go out of the window. Set yourself a time scale for how long that you are going to use the temporary layout and stick to it. Think of it as temporary planning permission, which you have to stick to, otherwise you will end up stuck in a rut, and not moving forward with your permanent garden railroad.
The best-laid plans are open to constant change. Since writing this feature, the domestic authorities decided that she wanted to move. So, a new house and a new garden mean fresh challenges. I will of course be laying a temporary layout until I can plan and construct something more permanent, whilst keeping a keen eye on drainage and flooding and high winds.
© David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Useful Garden Railway Links :
- Brandbright Ltd. Garden Railway Manufacturers and Suppliers since 1983
- G Scale Central - G Scale Garden Railway Forum
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