All Aboard Part Deux!

l have really enjoyed your comments and thank you for sharing interest in our backyard railroad. If you missed the previous post where I shared a video link of the moving trains you can find it HERE.  It has delighted me that some of you passed the link along to non-blogging rail buffs! 

I’ve had a little trouble composing these posts because had I been blogging during the construction period I would have a very different and more thorough documentary to share. There are many steps I simply don’t have photos to illustrate.

Maybe that’s okay, because hundreds of hours went into planning and building this garden railroad, and we only have time for a few photos anyway.

Long before any grass was removed or the 13 cubic yards of earth were imported and strategically distributed, Jay scoured Garden Railway Magazine, went to large model railroad shows, met with other garden railroad enthusiasts, and spent hours and hours in our own backyard, imagining and visualizing his goal. Then with a pencil and graph paper, often standing on our roof for an aerial view, he created his blueprint.

I wanted to give full support to the project, but I was reluctant, at least in the beginning, to relinquish so much of the garden.

Lots of grass

The original plan involved a relatively small, somewhat circular part of the yard. But the basic geometry involved in laying track made it impossible to configure without establishing a larger footprint.

Smaller version of layout

As Jay and our son, Jonathan, began to calculate how to accommodate the larger track pattern, the project began to grow…

Laying out the boundaries

and grow.

Close-up aerial view

I hated geometry in school, but fortunately the guys didn’t need me to help figure out the engine’s wheel base, the overall width of a track piece and myriad dilemmas related to scale and track curve radius with questions like, “what happens if I run two trains side by side?”

The track is only sold in specific lengths and shapes, and it was incredible watching the guys solve dozens of very complex design dilemmas.

Then what about ballast? Something has to hold that track in place. And power…electric or remote control?  You need charge to the track no matter what you choose to move the engine.

Looking back, it was an incredibly complex project. And once the layout was established, Jay and my father got on their hands and knees to screw in hundreds (thousands?) of individual teeny-tiny screws to set the track. It was back-breaking work indeed!

When the mathematicians began to figure out the combo double track with side-by-side large engines were going to require a more significant purchase of land, my promised water feature grew right along with the track expenditure.

You see, I had been doing my own research, scouring magazines, going to home shows, and often following my  curiosity into other people’s yards, peering over fences if I heard the faintest sound of moving water.

With the water features, we definitely needed help. We arranged for my stepson, an experienced waterfall designer and builder, to come all the way from Hawaii to work with me on the waterfall.

Then there were more questions.

What about pump sizes? Which liner will we use? Will we or won’t we have fish? What about algae? How much electricity is this going to use?

We were very happy with the end result.

We’re not the only ones to enjoy the cascading water sounds.


Almost immediately we had opossums and raccoons enjoying the refreshing water, and searching for fish. We stock from time to time, but they never last too long, and I struggle with that.

Of course, someone else likes to get up there and enjoy the view from time to time, too.

Darwin on the tracks

I hope we never have to find out if he can swim!

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59 thoughts on “All Aboard Part Deux!

  1. You and Jay and MTM are going to love talking about the pond he designed and dug for his mom. This project is so impressive. I love the progress photos, especially after having watched the finished product.

  2. I love this project and it must have been fun with all the planning, building, construction and all that goes with it… I have a friend who built a train layout in his double garage, it is lifted and lowered from the ceiling by electric motors and a very sophisticated pulley system… he sits in the middle and has this panel for controlling all the different trains and switch gear.. I think it measures 6 x 7 metres (20 x 23 ft) I just love sitting and watching him play with this,,

    1. Wow, Rob. Your friend has a very sophisticated system. But isn’t it fun to watch grown men turn into little boys with their trains. My doctor is a train enthusiast and I get so amused when he wants to sit and talk trains with me! He’s a doctor. He will back up the entire waiting room wanting to hear about the train. It’s a hobby that allows Jay to stay home. That works for me. 🙂

    1. The water was my concession, Cathy! I wasn’t so sure about this project, but it’s turned out to be quite enjoyable. It’s an enjoyable hobby for my husband and now that we have grandchildren, it really is even more fun for us. 🙂

    1. I really do wish Darwin didn’t climb up on the tracks! Those tracks are very close to the pond, and it frightens me that he could get hurt, but corralling that crazy guy is impossible! I’ve tried. 🙂

    1. When I look at the photos of the early stages of the project I can hardly imagine how they got it done. At the time we didn’t question it, but now I’m wondering how they did it. Creative inspiration is a great motivator! I have really enjoyed sharing the photos, Colleen. Thank you so much for your ind comments. 🙂

  3. It does sound like the biggest undertaking and certainly not something I could tackle. I do love how it’s all coming along and it’s great that your husband and son were able to work on it together xx

    1. It took us about six full months to get it built, Charlie. You’ll notice I say “us,” but in truth I didn’t do much. I was the cheerleader! 🙂 We do enjoy it very much. It’s been fun to share. Thank you!

  4. Impressive to have two able engineers to the planning, problem solving, and the work … and then hire Darwin as supervisor was the most brilliant move! 🙂 … How long did the construction phase take?

    1. The planning took years, Frank, but the execution six months. I asked Jay to be sure and that’s what he recalls. I think it felt like much longer. 🙂 It was a full family affair, however, and I’m sure that helped speed things along. 🙂

  5. That really is a complicated feature! I loved those trains, we had a set in our basement and come to think of it it did take up a lot of space, lol! Great to see your photos and an explanation of the process and steps or you’d never guess! I love seeing people take their passion and create something on such a grand scale! xx

    1. The train just grew and grew! LOL! It’s a very relaxing hobby for me, and a lot of work for Jay! But we do enjoy it and when we entertain it is always a focal point for our guests. Everyone is always so interested. Thank you for taking the time to stop by, Barb. 🙂

  6. As I read this, I was thinking of what a multi-generational project this is; from your offspring to their father and mother, the railroad and pond, human and animal, nature. It covers so many integral parts of not only life, but, history as well. I’m sure there is upkeep involved, but, with that, evenings sitting out on the deck, listening to the falling waters, hearing the chugging of the trains.
    Do you and Jay belong to any garden railway group?

    1. It is true, Penny, that the building of the railroad has been a a multigenerational project! I was looking at photos of my dad working alongside Jay and I am very glad I have those photos. Frankly, neither my dad nor Jay could really do that backbreaking work today. I’m so glad we have the memories of the guys problem-solving all those tricky questions and now they all can take pride in the final result. 🙂 And now the little girls have their hands on helping Papa set the trains out on the track. We haven’t joined any garden railway groups at this point. It’s something we talk about, maybe after he retires. 🙂

  7. AirportsMadeSimple

    That’s quite a project! Not for the faint of heart, but also looks fun. Will be great when it’s done. 🙂 Have a great weekend.

    1. I’m so glad you shared about the trains at the Living Desert. We have been planning to go to the Living Desert ourselves. My daughter and family went last spring and told us all about it. I hear it’s a fascinating place!

  8. What an undertaking! And what impressive results. Love, love, love the incorporated water feature. No wonder it attracted raccoons and possum to the yard. It sounded lovely in the video . . . as did the Choo Choo!

    Thanks for pulling together the slide show for us.

    1. I have really enjoyed sharing about our project, Nancy. When I finally pulled all the photos I realized I had forgotten many of the steps! After recalling how much work went into this I have a renewed appreciation myself!:-) And I do really find the sound of the water very relaxing. Thank you for taking the time to enjoy the video.

  9. WOW, how startling. Trains in the garden, i have never heard of such a thing. .. Incredible. I love your waterfall, running water in the garden is the most beautiful thing, I would love that. I love your turtle too, he is so big, he won’t lie down in font of a train will he?.. c

    1. Darwin is an African Sulcata Tortoise and will be about 200 pounds–he will outlive me if he’s a good boy! I try to keep him off the tracks. The trains aren’t running all the time but that water is right there. And that is a big concern. We are always problem-solving his behaviors. I think of you with your incredible menagerie, and here I am with a few pets quite stymied from time to time. 🙂

  10. What an undertaking! I’ve been so wow-ed by the finished product, Debra, that I gave little thought to its construction. Seeing these photos and the progress they charted really gave some perspective to the size and scope of the project. It really is fantastic. I can only imagine what your yard would look like if Jay were an amateur Egyptologist. 😉

    1. Even I had really forgotten how much went into the building of the railroad, John. I absolutely know that we wouldn’t have the energy to do this now. I really believe that adrenaline propelled Jay through much of the excavating, and although no Egyptologist, he was really focused during this time. Too bad he didn’t have detailed map for buried treasure. 🙂

  11. I am so in love with this project! How do the trains and tracks hold up in weather? If there repair work to be done in the spring? And did you choose plants that would be proportional to the trains?

    1. I am so glad you’re impressed with the backyard railroad, Kevin. The weather is mild enough that we don’t really need to winterize anything. There is a railroad car that cleans the track, with friction, I think, and Jay runs that from time to time. He has to keep the weeds from growing in between the track and if it sits too long without the trains running the track corrodes. We have plans to do some “scene setting” with little buildings-we want to follow up with some of the retro-Route 66 themes, but that takes time, too, and we just haven’t had it. The plants are mostly just succulents in the part of the layout we refer to as “the canyon.” We plant them very small, and simply transplant them and start with new cuttings when they get too big. We do have other goals to do more, but time is our problem. I’ll definitely post more when we begin to put some little buildings and outposts to complete the effect. I am so glad you’ve enjoyed this, Kevin. It inspires us to get with it a little bit and move forward. 🙂

  12. So, since you are in CA and you are into backyard railroads, have you ever seen these two?

    She’s passed now but they are famous for their El Cajon backyard railroad.

  13. Dear Debra, I’m so glad you followed up your first railroad posting with this one. I never, ever, realized how much work went into all of this. The final effect is stunning, but I’m wondering if when you look at it now you have a sudden flash–like a hot flash!!!!–of memory of the various stages this project went through. Wow! and Double Wow! Peace.

    1. Yes, Dee! I think you are really correct! When we were in the middle of the project I think we took the many steps in stride. All of our time went into the detail and it was simply a lot of hard work preceded by years of planning. We talked about this for years before we jumped in. But when I looked back at the photos I found I had forgotten many of the steps and I was also glad we were about ten years younger than we are today. 🙂 I don’t think we could do it today, quite frankly. 🙂

    1. We do have to run a cleaning car quite frequently–is that the RHTT? We have a lot of heavy morning mist and the track does corrode without frequent cleaning. The pond brings raccoons and other small animals to the water’s edge and they sometimes disturb the track, but any hobby has maintenance. This time of year the worst problem is heavy acorn dropping! 🙂

  14. I hate, hate, hate planning projects. I’m having headaches alraedy reading the post. 😀 If I like think of how uch I need to do, it kind of drains my motivation. Sometimes, i feel we plan more than we execute on our projects that it drives me nuts. I guess your project is different as it rooted from personal desires. Still, I hate the part of planning process. 😀
    I love those rocks altogether and the streaming water. My sister in the Philippines bought a water fountain which surprised me much because houses there don’t usually have those.
    So are we going to see photos of the trains in close-up.

    1. I know that plans definitely cut down on opportunities to be spontaneous! And sometimes it’s possible to go a long way on creativity alone. I’m glad we completed our train project when we did. Somehow I feel we had more time back then…I don’t think we could do it today! 🙂

  15. Gosh, I reckon Jay could act as consultant to some really big projects with all that experience, Debra. I would never have guessed just how much planning and work would be required to construct his railway. Such fun. 🙂

    1. I’d honestly forgotten how much work went into it myself, Perpetua! I look back and wonder how we sustained the effort for as long as we did. Jay really did a wonderful job with all the problem-solving! Thank you!

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