The Family Garden Trains Primer section was started in 1999 to encourage newcomers to garden railroading, and to help them avoid some pitfalls. Since then, the list of articles has grown and has benefitted from many suggestions, corrections, and additions, by industry leaders, professional gardeners, prominent hobbyists, and other authors and friends.
Our goal is not to treat every subject, but to cover the 20% of information about garden railroading that 80% of all beginning garden railroaders need to know. If you want to know why we are making these articles available for free, please visit our article on "Why Our Content is Free".
Please let us know if an article is helpful to you, or if you think it could be made more helpful, or if you need information on something we don't discuss. Also, if you would like to be notified by e-mail when a new articles are posted, please sign up for our free e-mail newsletter by clicking the green button at the right.
In addition, please remember that all articles are for your personal use only; they are copyrighted by their respective authors and may not be copied without permission.
Table of Contents
Introduction to Garden Railroading:
Garden Railroad Planning Articles: - A new index to available resources. We have articles about planning the layout and infrastructure, the operational options, the kind of railroad, the "look and feel" of your garden and many more. Updated, October, 2008.
A short list is provided below. For a complete list of our Planning articles, with descriptions, click here.
- Building a Garden Railroad on a Budget - Updated February, 2008
- Planning Your Garden Railroad for Watchability - July, 2006
- Planning Your Garden Railroad for High Reliability - January, 2001
- Planning Your Garden Railroad for Operations - August, 2006
- Tackle Those Grades With Ease Pete Eggink's article on calculating and planning grades - April, 2010
- Garden Railroad Track Options - June, 2008
- Is Aluminum Track a Viable Option? - June, 2008
- Accessible Garden Railroads - March, 2006
- Which Scale Should I Model? - Updated April, 2010
- Themes, Conventions, and Willing Suspension of Disbelief - Updated April, 2008
Garden Railroad Construction Articles - A new index to available resources. The articles in this section start easy, small, and temporary, and work toward more permanent and more elaborate. We also try to present new, cost-effective, and easy-to-use techniques in great detail, so even the most inexperienced gardener, landscaper, or carpenter can achieve permanent, quality results.
A short list is provided below. For a complete list of our Construction articles, with descriptions, click
- Introduction to Garden Railroad Construction - Updated, October, 2008.
- 1-Day Railroad - When You Have One Day to Build a Garden Railroad - Updated, October, 2008.
- Building a Temporary Outdoor Railroad - Whether you're practicing for the "big one," starting a railroad on a rental property, or setting up a display for a party, Christmas display, or street fair - this article shows you how about three hours in the back yard with about $60 worth of lumber can give you a little railroad you can use for years and move whenever you want - December, 2012
- Raising a Ground-Level Railroad - April, 2006
- Flextrack and Railbenders - April, 2006
- Building a Simple Raised Railroad- A must-read! - January, 2006
- HDPE Flexible Roadbed - An elegant solution - Updated March, 2006
- HDPE Lumber In the Shop - January, 2007
- The Little Railroad That Grew - June, 2003
- How We Built Our Garden Railroads - January, 2004.
- New Article: Refurbishing Garden Railroad Roadbed - September, 2008.
Garden Railroad Plant Articles: - A new index to available resources. We have articles about planning, planting, and cultivating the "garden" part of your garden railroad just like the "pros" do . . . well, actually, better than some of them. Updated, October, 2008
A short list is provided below. For a complete list of our Plant articles, with descriptions, click here.
- Groundcover 101 - Updated August, 2005
- Trees for Your Trains - Choosing and Cultivating Dwarf Conifers The definitive article on planning, purchasing, trimming, planting, and maintaining evergreen plants that will give your railroad life and charm all year long - October, 2006
- Inexpensive and Low-Maintenance Plants for Garden Railroads - September, 2001
- The Secret Life of Perennials - June, 2001
- Early Spring Color for your Garden Railroad - Start learning now how to make your railroad sparkle with bright color next Spring, in time to learn the name of things while you can still see them in bloom. Includes a bonus springtime "picture-poem" you can print as a poster! - April, 2006
- Gardening Safety Tips - July, 2005
Landscaping Tips for Garden Railroaders:
- Landscaping Design Tips for Garden Railroaders - Color, balance, proportion, and location of shade trees are just some of the factors that go into making a garden railroad a great garden as well. New July, 2010
- Retaining Walls and Backfill - The definitive article on retaining walls for garden railroads. Includes photos and building tips for the most common ways to support your railroad, with guidelines to help you decide which method is best for you - June, 2006
- Making Concrete Rocks and Cliffs - Updated, September, 2007
- Dry-Setting a Paver Path - Ideas for walkways to, from, and past your garden railroad (and other places) - New October, 2008.
- Water Features and Garden Railroads - New information and photos about autumn and winter pond care, updated Fall, 2006
Electrical and Lighting Articles - Explanations and hints about electricity on a garden railroad, including lighting buildings, and powering and controlling your trains. A short list is provided below. For a complete list of our electrical and lighting articles, with descriptions, click here.
- Large Scale Power and Control - How will you power and control your trains? Updated August, 2005
- DC Power Demystified - Describes the kinds of DC power used by model trains and the technologies that provide that power. Also provides an overview of "analog controllers" for track-powered trains. New January, 2011
- Almost-Free Building Lighting - Use inexpensive supplies and discarded Christmas lights to create building lighting that is all but free. But don't wait until after Christmas to pick up the crucial part - 12v replacement bulbs for Christmas light strands. New December, 2012
- Electrical Safety and Garden Railroading - Rules of thumb for safe use of electricity in any garden, especially a garden railroad. August, 2002
- Lighting Buildings with Low Voltage Garden Lighting - Describes low-voltage garden lighting installations and some ideas for using them on your garden railroad - Updated November, 2008
- 12 Volt Street Lamps from Specialty Light Strands - Use specialty garden-supply light strands to build working street lamps for a fraction of what they cost to buy. August, 2009.
- Building a Simple Power Cart - Jim Satterfield's tips on building a "power cart" to attach your power supplies and remote control receivers to your railroad quickly whenever you are ready to start running trains. New May, 2010!
- External Structure Lights - Wil Davis' article on adding industrial-style lights to your buildings. New April, 2010!
- Low-Voltage LED Garden Lighting - Using LED fixtures that have been "wired" to work in 12-volt systems - more light, less power, a few drawbacks. Updated December, 2009
- Ideas for Solar Lighting - Now's a good time to experiment with bringing light to the darkened corners of your railroad - Updated October, 2008.
Free Project Wire from Bad Light Strands - a source of useful project wire for house lighting, etc., in from something you were going to away anyway - January, 2009.
Garden Railroad Structures - A new index to available resources. We have articles about making conventional models more durable and realistic, and about creating buildings from unconventional (and inexpensive) materials, and much more. -
Updated October, 2008.
A short list is provided below. For a complete list of our Structure articles, with descriptions, click here.
- Painting Plastic Structures - Free "how-to's" and many photos and examples to help you make your buildings more attractive and weather-worthy - Updated October, 2007
- Trashbashing 101 - Updated for 2013 - More photos and tips about converting busted-up or discarded toy buildings into attractive, inexpensive, weather-resistant scale buildings. But we've also added inexpensive alternatives you might consider, unless, of course, you are addicted to the "flea market flip" aspect of this approach. Updated, May, 2013
- Stuff to Have on Hand - What to keep around so you're not always having to run to the store.
- Trashbashing Step-By-Step - This followup to our "Trashbashing 101" article has additional tips on using masking tape to get a clean, professional paint job with no skill required but patience. New, October, 2012
- Temporary Building Fronts from Recycled Plastic Signs
- If you have access to a color laser printer, you can print inexpensive, attractive building fronts that you can afford to leave out in bad weather or public displays. - New, September, 2012
- Painting a Piko Gingerbread House - February, 2008
- Painting the Colorado Model Structures Tower - October, 2007
- Glazing Windows with Lucite® - October, 2007
Printed Buildings for Outdoor Railroads - Use your color printer, some waterproof label material, and some concrete blocks to make a whole business district that you can afford to leave out in less-than-secure locations. August, 2009
- Recycle Road Spam - Reusing fluted plastic sign material - January, 2008
- Making Corrugated Metal Panels from Disposable Aluminum Pans - a cheap, quick, and effective way to produce attractive "corrugated steel" building materials - January, 2009.
- Converting an Artline Bird Feeder into a Gazebo - November, 2008.
- Mullions (Free windowframes) - Updated October, 2008
- Trestles 101 Build elaborate-looking structures with a home-made jig and a few simple hand-tools. July, 2007
- Rod Horsburgh's Windowsill Trestle - An indoor display bridge that can be moved outside when the time comes. New, July, 2009
- Building a Simple Foam Viaduct - September, 2007
- Building an HDPE Tunnel Portal - an easy but effective project by reader Daryll Smith, New April, 2009
- Cribbing - Build attractive "retaining walls" to complement your tunnel portals and mountain trackage, another easy but effective project by reader Daryll Smith. New June, 2009
- Cast in Concrete - Ben Hartman's Stone Houses - September, 2008.
O Gauge Outside
- Introduction to O Gauge Outside - The first two articles in a series that will show the "does and don'ts" of building an O gauge garden railroad. Lots of help from John and Gale Blessing; lots of photos from Dawn Hatfield. - May, 2007
- Using O Gauge Gargraves Track (Outside) - January, 2008
- Evolution of the B&P Garden Railroad (B&P) An O Gauge Hi-Rail Railroad Designed for Outdoor Use
- Part 1 - Designing an O Gauge Hi-Rail railroad for outdoor use
- Part 2 - Building an HDPE Roadbed Infrastructure That Will Survive Las Vegas Summers
- Part 3 - Finishing Touches on an HDPE Roadbed
- Part 4 - Installing Atlas Nickel-Silver O-Gauge track on HDPE Roadbed
- Part 5 - HDPE Expansion in the Nevada Summer - July, 2008.
- Part 6 - Additional Track Repair, Storage, and Wiring for TMCC - November, 2008.
- Part 7 - Final Outcome and Lessons Learned - New, October, 2009
- Using Lionel's TrainMaster™ Command Control Outside - October, 2007
- Fred Young's Ground-Level Arizona Railroad - A ground-level railroad that has TMCC control, lots of operational options and some unique ways of adapting to the Arizona summer sun. Updated, September, 2009
Garden Railroad Maintenance Articles - A new but growing section on how to keep your garden railroad operating properly. Although we have several more articles "in the pipeline," the ones that are "ready for prime-time" are:
Real-World Trains and Operations - Articles of introduction to railroads in general and the kinds of operations you can consider modeling in your back yard, including:
- Real-World Trains You can Model - What kind of railroad do you want to model? This is a summary of your basic choices, followed by a list of reading resources for learning more. Note: Unique resources you'll find only on our pages include:
- Thirty-Inch Railroading - The trains that "did more with less." Some 30" railroads provided all the functions of full-service common carriers on hastily-laid trackage that went boldly where no one else has gone before or since - New, April, 2008.
- Small but Mighty - 30" Power - The unique "real-world" steam locomotives that pulled 30" trains - May, 2008.
- The Little River Railroad - A standard-gauge logging railroad with common carrier aspirations. This Smoky Mountain railroad used compromises and combinations of equipment that hardly anyone would believe today if it wasn't for the photographs - August, 2008.
- Little River Railroad Northern Division Learn about the last and most unusual locomotive that ever ran on the Little River Railroad, now fully restored and running in south-central Michigan - October, 2008.
- Rail Cars and Busses on the Little River Railroad - with more modeling ideas for your own empire - March, 2009.
- Introduction to Train and Car Cards - This is a companion article to the Planning Your Garden Railroad for Operations above. This article gives more detail about how folks use various planning techniques to run their railroads more like the real thing. - August, 2006
Introduction to Mallets - Anatole Mallet's designs allowed a locomotive to use steam twice. Learn about these steamboat-sized centipedes to your railroad. New, June, 2010
Articulated Locomotives of the USA - Pete Eggink gives us an overview of Articulated locomotives, which had hinged frames to allow very long locomotives to go around curves. New, August, 2010
Reference Information and Things to Think About - Miscellaneous topics that are important to most garden railroaders.
- Details for your Garden Railroad - Updated, October, 2008.
- Idiot-Friendly Digital Cameras for Photographing Trains (and other things) - with new examples and tips, and a "best buy" to consider if you still haven't taken the digital plunge yet. Updated, December, 2009, including New Recommendation list!
- Open House Checklist - Tips about preparing for and holding a garden railroad open house.
- Glossary of Garden Railroading Terms - Updated June, 2005
- Getting (and Keeping) the Kids Involved - Updated 7, 2007
- Where to Buy Garden Railroading Stuff - Updated 9, 2006
- Storing and Schlepping your Garden Trains - New, October, 2009!
- Where Do I Go From Here? - Updated, April, 2008.
Other Articles about Garden Railroading and Large Scale
- Garden Railroading with Toy Trains - No, we haven't "sold out" on our commitment to support folks who make quality trains. But we also have friends who like seeing how far they can "stretch" a dollar or an "envelope." Whether you're pinching pennies or just want to try something different, these tiny investments can provide big fun inside and out - January, 2009. Related articles include:
- Basic Weathering with Powders - a "primer" for someone who wants their equipment to look more realistically "grungy" but who is nervous about getting started. - New, May, 2010!
- Letters to the Editor - You may have a question we've already attempted to answer for someone else. Click here to see. This file is updated often. Be sure and stop by every few days for updates.
- Other People's Articles
- If you want to get "down-and-dirty" technical details on most of the commonly used Large Scale locomotives and rolling stock, refer to George Shreyer's "Technical Tips Page". This page also reviews many power and control solutions for your locomotives, including DCC, Crest/AristoCraft Train Engineer, etc. In fact, George is an expert on several subjects and one of the hobby's most prolific writers. His resources should be important to you as your railroad grows.
- If you want some quick ideas for inexpensive and relatively easy
scratchbuilding projects, look at Phil Creer's Toenail Ridge Shortline Articles Page.
Note: Our Contents pages for Planning, Structures, etc., also include links to related articles on other sites we enjoy.
Keep watching this space: We always have more articles in the "pipeline."
*Note: In some cases, I also wanted to provide an authoritative reference to reduce some of the misunderstandings about issues like scale and gauge that have caused problems and even arguments. To that end, I sought and received the assistance of many industry professionals when putting together articles such as "Which Scale Should I Model?" Thanks again to all who participated.
Thanks to all my editors, error-catchers, contributors, and encouragers, including:
James R. Avery
Noel F. Widdifield
David J. Smith
Earl J. Chevalier, Jr.
TATE (Whoever you are)
||Reading Index Pages||Buyer's Guide Pages|
Note: Family Garden Trains™, Garden Train Store™, Big Christmas Trains™, BIG Indoor Trains™, and BIG Train Store™ are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically
For more information, please contact