Welcome to our garden railway

If there were ever a place where the "under construction" icon would be most appropriate, it would have to be this section. For you see, that is the state of most of our model railroading projects, which seem to forever be in the planning stages and seldom move beyond doodles on paper or dreams in our heads. Well, that was generally the case before our garden railway came along in July 1999.

Whereas our N and HO layouts have foundered for lack of time, motivation and available piles of spare cash, a garden pike seemed a more natural fit for us. We are fortunate enough to have a large backyard with plenty of unimproved land available for a long mainline run. And Roni has always been interested in gardening, which is a good complement to Glenn's interest in trains.

We had talked about the possibility of constructing a garden layout for at least a couple of years, and that's probably where it would have remained had it not been for Roni taking the plunge and presenting Glenn with an Aristo-Craft starter set for his birthday and the challenge to "do something with it." Translation: "Don't just leave it sitting in a box for years now that we have made this major investment."

Armed with this mandate and several boxes of Aristo track, we set about the task of selecting a suitable location and preparing it for our layout. We settled on a roughly 8x16-foot area located near our garage and across from our kitchen window that up to now had been collecting weeds and other household debris, not to mention the cigarette butts the neighbor kids so thoughtfully tossed over the fence. We raised the planter area 12 inches using boards salvaged from our old retaining wall that we are in the process of replacing, then we ordered four cubic yards of rich topsoil to provide a good base for the roots of our plants. Glenn spent much of Fourth of July weekend shoveling dirt and leveling the planter area.

Once the groundwork was complete it was time to lay some track. Only problem was that Watts Train Shop, from whom Roni mail ordered the train set and track, had goofed on the order and sent us 20 feet of curved track instead of the straights she had requested. They were very good about making the order right -- even shipped it to us for free -- so we took the opportunity to order a couple of extra boxes of straights from them. By the time we were done we had nearly 50 feet of track and had cobbled together a roughly oval track plan with a few twists and turns thrown in to relieve some of the monotony.

We ballasted the track using a product called Quick-Sorb, which basically is kitty litter that you can buy inexpensively in large quantities. Our 50-pound bag cost about $5 and will last a very long time. It looks good and so far has given us no problems. We simply built up the roadbed using available dirt from the planter bed, then laid the track on top and leveled it, then brushed the ballast into the ties using a whisk broom.

We made several trips to Home Depot to purchase a variety of small trees and shrubs that we hope will grow into realistic looking plants once they are established. We started with a couple of Italian cypress trees, two varieties of boxwood, a mound juniper, some false heather, crepe myrtle, alyssum, and a hardy ground cover called rock rose that blooms in a variety of colors. Roni determined the best locations for the plants and popped them in the ground while Glenn completed the trackwork. We added a couple hundred pounds of rocks, poured some mulch on the bare areas and voila!

Currently, all watering is done by hand. Yes, this can be tedious, but it helps keep down the weeds that would most certainly sprout if we saturated the entire layout area with water. Glenn uses a watering can to carefully water each plant. Most have done OK during the long, hot summer. We have experienced some problems with the false heather turning brown on the leaf edges, but it is still alive after a couple of months so we are hopeful for its continued survival.


Hopefully this section will grow as we add to the layout. For the time being, here are a few early photos of our progress:

Santa Fe "Critter" switcher 1554 pulls its consist around Big Rock curve. A lone construction worker attempts to jackhammer little bits of granite off the rock formations. No one knows why.

The consist makes its way up a short grade to Summit Ranch Road, a private crossing, where a farmer's truck sits parked near a sprawling field. The windmill is our only structure at present. A barn and wire fence are planned. A crossbucks has been added at the crossing since this photo was taken, probably at the urging of the local department of transportation.

Here we find a young couple conversing under the shade of a Pink Breath of Heaven. Looks like one of those city slickers from the nearby dude ranch may be trying to pick up on one of the locals. The fair young horse rider has been good at resisting his advances thus far; many mornings we arrive at the layout to find the suitor flat on his back, obviously discouraged by his lack of success.

Our journeyman construction worker is a busy fellow. Here, he has taken to framing the home of a future resident. Apparently that jackhammer is as handy as a Swiss Army Knife, seeing as how he has discovered a use for it in curing the foundation.

At left we find Roni posing for a photo beside our new creation, shortly after the majority of the plants were imbedded the second week of July 1999. She is sitting south of Big Rock Curve. You can also see the fields of the Summit Ranch to the right of the photo, and a bit of the gravel road that will eventually connect the ranch to the passenger station and chamber of commerce that will be located on the east side of the layout.

Our 5-year-old son Benjamin has found the most creative uses for the railway thus far, adding his collection of animals and movie figurines to the action. We recently brought out the train one Monday afternoon and spent several hours giving rides to all his friends.

The electrical connections haven't given us much trouble yet, but we suspect that eventually we will have to tighten the crews in the rail joiners or solder jumpers between the gaps. After having not run any trains for three or four weeks, we did have a slight dirt buildup that hand cleaning alone did not eliminate, and we did experience some hesitation in our locomotive. We solved the problem by adding a drop of 3-in-1 household oil to each wheel of the locomotive and soon it was purring around the tracks once more.

We are still seeking a name for our railway. We will share it with you once we get it figured out.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Please send e-mail to Glenn or Roni Gehlke.

Proceed to Milepost 1147.2 on main track. Hold main track at last named point. Over.

This page was last updated Thursday, August 26, 1999 at 01:55 hrs.