Getting started in the garden

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Large Scale

Garden railroads
Getting Started
DCC in Garden
G Scale Details
FAQ
Track Cleaning
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Kleine Sächsische Schweiz, Zug und Kirche.jpg

Getting started in Garden Railroading can be quite intimidating. Just keep this in mind: *You can toss down some rails and start playing without getting too technical!* This article is intended to get you on the right track to getting your first garden railroad operating smoothly. Hopefully, if you follow this advice, you won't go wrong and you will go on to a lifetime of enjoying garden railroading.

This is not meant to be a complete guide. It's meant to get you thinking about the differences between indoor railroading, and outdoor.

Before your first purchase

There are many things to consider before your first purchase.

  1. How much space do I have?
    • What is the largest radius curve my space will handle?
    • Smallest?
  2. What era do you want?
    • Modem?
    • Steam?
    • Live-steam?
  3. What type of operations?
    • Passenger?
    • Mining?
    • Lumber?
    • Portable beer carrier?
  4. Location?
    • Dessert?
    • Mountians?
    • Make believe?
  5. What do you want to do?
    • Turn it on, and have trains run around?
    • Switching operations?
    • Computer control/human control (or combination?)
    • Host large groups?
    • All the above?
    • Computer control/human control (or combination?)

This will help determine your radius, what engines to buy, what types of cars to buy, scenery, plants, track, etc etc.

Track Selection

Track selection will be one of the most critical decision you can make; however, you must first decide if you will be using track power or battery power. Most DCC operations use track power and this must be considered when making track material (and brand) selection.

Steps:

  1. Select material type
  2. Select manufacturer
  3. Find a place that sells desired track, or at least a sample of track

Track material types

Aluminum

Low cost alternative, great for battery powered layouts, not durable and easily bends out of place, wears fast.

Pros Cons
Stength
  • Flextrack is easy to bend
  • Not good for high traffic
  • Deer and other large critters easily bend the rails
Electrical
  • Highly conductive
  • Low voltage drops
  • Must use rail clamps
  • Unable to solder to
Maintenance
  • Low if: Not in corrosive environment, not used for track power
  • If used for track power, *high*
Outdoor worthiness
  • Only in dry, critter free (kids, dear, etc) areas
  • Corrodes easily
  • Not for use in moist or salt air places
  • Mixing metal types causes more corrosion
Cost
  • Low
Manufacturers
  • 215
    • LLagas Creek Railways
    • Switchcrafters
  • 250
    • LLagas Creek Railways
    • Microengineering
    • Sunset Valley Railroad
    • Switchcrafters
  • 332
    • AML
    • Aristo=Craft (out of business)
    • Microengineering
    • Sunset Valley Railroad
    • Switchcrafters
Other notes
  •  ??

Brass

Good choice for many people, however, due to increasing costs of brass, many people are looking to stainless steel. Track powered trains is feasible as long as track is regularly maintained and cleaned.

Pros Cons
Stength
  • More durable than aluminum, flextrack bends relatively easy
  • Still durable while being flextrack is still bendable
Electrical
  • Good conductivity, reasonable voltage drop
  • Easy to solder to
  • Needs frequent cleaning for track powered layouts
Maintenance
  • If not using track power, low
  • If used for track power, high, but less than aluminum
Outdoor worthiness
  • Good if using battery power
  • Durable track holds up well
Cost
  • Lower cost (though, brass is getting more expensive, almost equal to stainless steel)
Manufacturers
  • 250
    • AML
    • Sunset Valley Railroad
  • 332
    • AML ??
    • Aristo-Craft (out of business)
    • LGB
    • Peco
    • Sunset Valley Railroad
    • Train-Li
    • USAT
Other notes
  •  ??

Nickel Silver

Nickel Silver or Nickel plated brass - Given the benefits of this material, the cost is not justified over regular brass. Durability hasn't been proven outdoors.

Pros Cons
Stength
  • Stronger than brass or aluminum
  • Most likely need rail bender
Electrical
  • Better performance than brass or aluminum
  • Low voltage drop
  • Can solder to
  • Recommend using rail clamps with anti-corrosion grease
Maintenance
  • If not using track power, low
  • If using track power, regular cleaning is a must
  • Oxidizes easily in wet, salt air, or polluted environments
Outdoor worthiness
  • Good if using battery power
  • Durable track holds up well
Cost
  • Higher cost above brass may not give equal benefits
Manufacturers
  • 205
    • Microengineering
  • 215
    • LLagas Creed Railways
  • 250
    • LLagas Creed Railways
    • Sunset Valley Railroad
    • Microengineering
    • Swithcrafters
  • 332
    • Train-Li - Nickel Plated Brass
Other notes
  • Prototypical color as it ages to a grey
  • Does not hold stain or paint well

Steel

Hollow steel rail should not be used for outdoor railroads.

Stainless Steel

Highly recommended for those that want a reliable track so you can run your trains and have fun. Excellent in wet, corrosive, dirty environments. Many brass railroads have been replaced with stainless steel due to its good conductivity, nearly indestructible rails, almost no maintenance or cleaning. However, this does come at a cost.

Property
Pros
Cons
Strength
Very Strong.


Durable material that can withstand heavy usage and small animals.

Requires a high quality rail bender.


Tight radiuses will require multiple passes.

Electrical
Low corrosion provides long lasting conductivity.


Rail joiners can be used, clamps are suggested for trouble free operation in the long term

Soldering stainless steel is not easy.
Maintenance
Almost maintenance free, can be cleaned with a hose
Durability
Long term usage shows that stainless steel will last for many years.


Low wear with high volumes of traffic.

Cost
Stainless steel (SS) comes with a higher price tag than other metals.


Prices of copper alloys such as brass are increasing as well, making SS prices more attractive.

Suppliers
Aristo-Craft

H&R Trains

Turning Radius

Curves

Here is some specific information for large scale trains in regards to turning radius. *This is a very frequently asked question: "What is the best radius for my garden?"*

Two feet? Four feet? Six feet?

If you want to run every locomotive around, you will need a minimum of 10 foot diameter (5 foot radius) curves. A lot of people don't have enough space to accommodate this. Don't worry, there is plenty of rolling stock that can run on 2 feed radius curves. It's a matter of deciding what you want to run first.

Generally, trains will look better and perform better on the larger diameter curves. However, if you have a small space or the desire to run large rolling stock, don't worry, you can still run a great layout. No, you won't be able to run an Aristo SD-45 around your 4 foot diameter track, but you can run many smaller engines and have just as much fun, if not more.

There have been stories of people taking out their small diameter tracks to make room for bigger diameter tracks to handle the larger locomotives. They build a long train and go think "WOW", that's really neat. However, you've now sidelined most of you other small engines so that only one train can run. After they've realized this, they put some small diameter curves and steeper grades in so that they can run their other engines. In the end, they ended up sidelining their larger engines.

Just for reference: An SD50 has a minimum curve negotiation capability of 29 Degrees. Two units in a consist: 24 degrees. One unit coupled to a 50 ft boxcar: 15 degrees. If you have a Big Boy, their minimum design curvature was 20 degrees, equal to a 40" radius in HO.

In Feet: 29º = 195 feet, 15º = 379', and 24º = 235'. In H0 Scale a 24 degree curve is equal to about 33 inches. Just for reference, the Horseshoe Curve is less than 10º, or about 600 feet. Or 88 inches in H0.

  • In G Scale (1/25) the 600' radius of the Horseshoe Curve would equal 24 feet, or a 48' circle.

Ballast Types

For outdoors, we need to worry about ballast washing away in the rain, wind, and even general cleaning of the track. Here's a list of the different types of ballast people use. Remember, when you're just getting started, it's perfectly ok to lay the track down on your grass or bark to get a feel for the layout and operations. Ballast containing metal can be a problem, as it will be attracted to magnets, as well as possibly shorting the rails together.

Chicken grit

Chicken grit is made up of....and is usually dust free. It can be usually purchased at...
Advantages
  • Looks good and to scale
Disadvantages
  • Normally you will either reballast often or add weatherproof glue or cement to keep it in place

Pea Gravel

Pea Gravel is... About 99% falls through the ties. Although it's much larger than scale so it's not prototypical, it's very low maintenance. Many modellers find that rain, wind, etc, has had no effect on it.
Advantages
  • Low maintenance
    • Stays in place
    • Doesn't wash away as easily
Disadvantages
  • Non-prototypical in size - slightly larger

Trucks and Wheel-sets

  • For outdoor railways, it's highly recommended that you change the stock wheelsets to metal wheelsets. The benefits are:
    • Keeps track cleaner - plastic rubs off, and soon you'll have a nice layer of insulating plastic on those hot summer days.
    • Lowers center of gravity
    • Help wheels track better around your layout

See also