Outdoor Railways

First things first. An outdoor railway plan is a huge hobby. Make no mistake this is not a weekend home improvement project. It will require tact and patience if you are to do it well.

According to my thirty years expert hobbyist, and neighbor, “you’ve got to get the wife’s approval too.” After all you’re talking a good bit of landscape transformation in order to make the go-round smooth yet interesting. His eighty feet of track runs through tunnels, around a Koi pond, through a valley, and over a bridge. Every year he will add a few more novelty items to keep it fresh. Mostly though he turned over the adornment to his wife’s taste which leaves him more time to work the trains, readjust and align tracks and collect new cars and railroad pieces.

He first got the outdoor railway bug back when his kids no longer hung around the swing sets leaving only a huge mowing chore. He took a class on gardening and planted a few exotic ornamental oddities that pleased the wife, but it just didn’t feed his soul the way railroad models did.

He had a small set in his basement so he began to wonder if he couldn’t take it to a grander scale and move it into the yard. He’d been reading some model magazines that talked about the larger scale models. Reading and research led to the garden railway he runs today. It is a yearly event when he pulls out the rail cars, puts up his rail crossing sign and invites the neighbors over for open season.

The best place to start is to take a tour of pre-existing outdoor railways. It gives you a few ideas to take home and plenty of good solid advice about what to avoid. Most of the people who invest in this kind of hobby have a lot of ready to share expertise. They love to talk about their frustrations and joys a love for model railroading has brought to their lives. In true club-like fashion they often spend their summers traveling and touring each other’s railways.

The basic railway takes place when you lay your first set of tracks. It’s best to start with a small simple roundabout plan without too much complexity when you’re first setting up. At least until you get a feel of the land and a better understanding of how to operate your railway.

You will need to clear the space of plants, and debris smooth layer a sheet of weed protection and pebble gravel to set your track on. Plan the gauge; or width between tracks according to scale of train cars. This is especially vital on turns and hills the trains must fit concisely in order to operate correctly.

You can layer a heavier rock over your pebble gravel to add textured areas or mountainous terrain. But where ever the railway meets challenge you need a solid footing under the rails. You want to be sure to avoid steep grading when you lay the rails. Once your routes are set, the ground throw; the machine that moves the point of rails of switch, is set up properly and your trains are making the rounds well via remote or battery packs.

You will want to think about theme. By this I mean as far as the aesthetics of your layout. If you have a theme Idea; western, modern, circus, it makes it easier to plan your dwarf plants conifers and other plants. It takes upwards five years for some plants to reach full maturity so you will want to know ahead what that will mean to your design plan.

You will have less trim and destruction if you plan your plants to fit in as they mature. Give them space to grow and flourish around your design you can always add a few annuals to fill in the meantime. There are many miniature plants, houses, people and other novelties that you can purchase through hobby stores, model railroad magazines and at shows throughout the year. When you are more advanced building structures will involve Styrofoam cut with a hot wire foam cutter, but, in the early stages you might want to use kit bash; or commercial products that you adapt to fit your plans.

Most model trains can withstand the elements but maintaining the garden, tracks and structures because most people to take their sets apart in winter store them in sheds and reset up in the early spring. My neighbors have designed a special wall in their house to run the trains into their basement and then they simply open it up in the spring and send them on their way again.

Apparently not everyone closes during the winter though. My neighbor told me of a friend that made a special plow he attaches to his cars. His theme is, of course, Christmas wonderland. The most important thing to remember when planning a winter railway is electrical safety and structural character.