You Are Here.
Jump to other pages.
Planning a Christmas Open House, Part 4. The last 36 hours before the open house, including things that worked out and things that didn't. Click for a bigger photo. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running wellGarden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
Large Scale Starter Sets: Begin with a train you'll be proud to runBest Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders: a short list of things you're most likely to need when starting out
Large Scale Track order FormSturdy buildings for your garden railroad.
Large Scale Christmas Trains: Trains with a holiday theme for garden or professional display railroads.Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs
Garden Railroading Books, Magazines, and Videos: Where to go to learn even more
Collectible Trains and Villages: On30 Trains and accessories designed by Thomas Kinkade and others

Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden TrainsTM

Visit our Garden Train Store<sup><small>TM</small></sup> Buyer's Guide Pages

Planning a Christmas Open House, Part 4

This year (2008) I scheduled a "cold-weather" open house with a Christmas theme, my first ever. This is fourth in a series of notes on our progress.
  • To see Part 3, click here.
  • To see Part 2, click here.
  • To see Part 1, click here.
  • To learn about our Open House and additional open houses in our region click here

Part 3 includes some setup, some testing, and some rehabilitating of a downtown district that we wanted to include if possible.

Part 4 covers the last two days, including the last-minute preparations before the open house.

Work accomplished included:

  • Getting the leaves off the railroad
  • Raking the part of the yard closest to the railroad to slow down the leaves' incursions on the railroad
  • Getting the leaves off the railroad again
  • Adding "cosmetic" gravel to both the "big railroad" and Thomas' railroad
  • Setting out figures and accessories
  • Getting music ready to go

Preparations for the open house included:

  • Getting handouts ready
  • Get snacks ready
  • Getting power hooked up to track
  • Getting trains on track

For all of the things to get done in the last 36 hours before the open house, I needed help. Fortunately, Shelia was willing to bake cupcakes and mix up lemonade and iced tea. And all three children (two high school teachers and a high school senior) were "home" for the weekend to help out.


I took off work Friday to get the leaves cleaned off of the railroad and to get the other leaves in the yard raked away from the railroad. Initially my plan had been to do all of the raking Friday, but it kept raining, off and on.

Working on Handouts - Friday morning I did some raking, then stopped because of rain. So I worked on my handouts some. When it stopped raining, I raked some more. Then it started raining again, so I finished my handouts.

The current version of our handout about garden railroading is here.

Working on Leaves - Friday afternoon, when the rain picked up again, I made a run to town for some last-minute needs. By the time I got back the rain had almost stopped.

My next challenge was the leaves on the railroad. Most of them had blown in this summer and fall, but, truth be told, some had been caught in various hidden crevices for over a year. Last week when I was thinking about this part of the process, I imagined that I would de-leaf the railroad the same way I usually de-weed it - working my way around with a big container and pulling things up by hand. When I looked at the railroad Friday afternoon, though, I realized it would take me more hours than I could spare for that particular task. So I did what Tim Taylor would have done and went for the nearest power tool - in this case a small Shop Vac I usually use in the attic, garage, and basement.

The Shop Vac worked great, although I had to keep clearing jams in the hose and stopping to empty the container. It went far faster than picking them all up by hand would have, and it didn't disturb my groundcovers or miniature trees like using a hand rake would have done. In addition, the Shop Vac got leaves out of places I couldn't have done by hand, such as crevices between stacked stones, tight places under my trestle, etc. Of course I couldn't do this if there were little people all over the railroad, but they hadn't been set out yet.

The main "gotcha" was that I had to be careful around my ballast and other loose gravel. I probably sucked up a pound altogether, but the trade-off of finishing in a couple of hours what would have taken me four or more by hand was worth it.

The other "gotcha" was that the Shop Vac is top-heavy, and I had to be careful not to stretch the hose too tight - it could fall over on my buildings and cause damage that way. I bet someone makes a 12' or 15' hose for this thing so I could vacuum from a safe distance next time. That would make vacuuming out the minivan much easier, too.

Saturday Morning

Saturday morning, the whole Race family got busy and stayed busy.

Leaves, part 2 - Friday night we had a bit of a windstorm, so Saturday morning I had to revacuum part of the railroad before we could set out our little people. Our youngest two children - one a high school senior and the other a high school teacher in Indiana home for the weekend - gave me invaluable help by raking the part of the yard closest to the railroad.

Snacks and Housework - In the meantime, my oldest daughter, also a high school teacher, helped Shelia by icing cupcakes and helping with last-minute housecleaning.

Thomas with gravel, working waterfall, and lighting. Click for bigger photo.Cosmetic Gravel - Finally, I used the rest of my "pea gravel" making Thomas' railroad look a little more established and pouring "roads" and "driveways" for the communities and houses on the "big railroad." Again, this is a VERY temporary solution, but it was effective for this project. I also filled and started the waterfall fixture behind Thomas and plugged in the lighting circuit for Thomas' little village. Of course the lighting wasn't too obvious until later. . . .

People and Accessories - This photo was taken by MVGRS webmaster Jerry Humston.  Unfortunately the big version of the photo was deleted when the MVGRS web site was upgraded a few years ago.When the "big" leaf problems were dealt with "for now," Emily and Molly set out my little people and accessories, including many Christmas-themed accessories and figures that I don't use during the summer. Emily could remember certain LGB figures that weren't in the box with the others - so I dug them up, too. They were in the stuff I take around for clinics. My memory isn't that good - I'm not entirely sure I would have realized that those figures were "missing."

The photo to the right above was taken by Miami Valley Garden Railway Society webmaster Jerry Humston after the railroad was officially open, but I included this detail to show how diligent my helpers were setting out figures and accessories. Sadly, the link to Jerry's full-sized version of the photo has been taken down since.

Music - For music, Molly brought down her boom box and Shelia dug out several of our favorite Christmas CDs. I had hoped to put together something more "official," like an MP3 playlist and hidden speakers, but it did the job.

Final Preparations

Then Kristen and Molly made and put "parking" signs out on the mailbox post - pointing to the factory parking lot across the street, which is unused on Saturdays. I put out the "Open Layout" sign that the NMRA had given me, and started setting up and running the trains. If I had REALLy had my act together the trains would have been running before the sign went up, but we were cutting it too close and I didn't want anyone circling the block looking for our house (we have LONG blocks).

Thomas Rides Again - I started with Thomas, since he was easy to set up. Because it was sprinkling a bit, I started out with a .6 amp power supply that is weather resistant and runs small Bachmann and AristoCraft locomotives just fine. But Lionel Large Scale engines draw more wattage than you'd think, and Thomas seemed to be groaning his way around the track. So when the weather cleared up, I replaced that power supply with a 1.5-amp MRC supply built for HO (and therefore prone to rust if it gets damp). From that point on, Thomas was as happy as a clam (if clams are happy, that is). However, Annie - one of the coaches - wasn't altogether happy. She kept bumping up on a particular curve, although she never derailed. At first I thought some of the gravel was hitting her flanges. So I pulled out everything that protruded above the ties in that section. Finally I figured that that piece of track may be out of gauge, or else one of Annie's wheelsets or both. So fixing that problem might be more trouble than it was worth just then. I let her bump around for the next six hours.

Lionel's Thomas circling a little railroad I set up for the kids in 2008. Click for bigger photo.

Note: The Thomas RR photos above were taken about twilight, as visitors were thinning out. Unfortunately, we were too busy to take photos of the other trains running, once folks started showing up. Fortunately several visitors took photos, so we'll keep plugging them in as they become available. Thanks to Jerry Humston for the two we've been able to insert so far.

Engines on the Mainline A week or so earlier, I had tested my Aristo Mikado, Pacific, 0-4-0T, heavyweight coaches, and Sierra coaches on my railroad. I had determined that I could run my Mikado, but not the Pacific or heavyweights. Still the forces of nature (and my Shop Vac) may have releveled the track since then, so I planned to start out with smaller trains to test the trackage and work my way up.

I started out with my Christmas-colored 0-4-0T, powered by an Aristo 5-amp power supply and separate 5401 controller.

The 0-4-0T made a funny clicking sound, but ran smoothly all the way around my upper track.

To get something running on the lower track, I set out a Bachmann Christmas trolley, driven by a Bachmann Large Scale power supply that had come with one of my Big Hauler sets. My plan was to transfer the Christmas 0-4-0T down to the lower track, once I was sure the bigger trains were running safely on the upper track. The Bachmann trolley seemed very happy and pretty much "in place" with the Western-style buildings in that part of the railroad (although Santa kept pitching forward with both hands over the rail as though he was seasick).

I attached one of the unlit Christmas Sierra coaches to the 0-4-0T. It went fairly smoothly around the railroad, although it did rock like a tinplate (toy) coach on an old-fashioned Standard Gauge train. AristoCraft fans know that that's normal for those, unless the track is perfect. So so far, so good. When the coach had ALMOST completed its circle, it derailed violently, losing one of its sets of steps. I hypothesized that it had snagged on a Christmas light strand that went under the track at that point. So I re-worked that so that the wire and lights lay closer to the ground. The next time around, it just derailed, more like it had flown off the track from centrifugal force than anything else (the unlit version of this car is very lightweight). I figured that the track was too uneven on that part of the curve and added a bunch of ballast, forcing the track to bank inward slightly at that part of the curve. The car still derailed, but less violently this time.

A now-discontinued AristoCraft Christmas 'Sierra' combine.  Sorry, I dont have a bigger version of this photo.I hypothesized that a heavier car might handle that curve better, so I got out the one with lights, interiors, and metal wheels. While I was getting more cars out, my kids put it on AFTER the car that was derailing and, surprisingly, it helped the middle car stay on the track.

Then my friend Denny Lamusga (a longtime member of the Miami Valley Garden Railway Society) arrived. Denny took a look at my Pacific for me and came to the same conclusion I had - it needed internal repair of some sort. Time for a return trip to Aristo. It's probably 20 years old, and still in great shape otherwise, so I'm not complaining, you understand.

Jerry Humston took this photo of my Mikado stopped near New Boston station to take on some passenger cars. In case you wondered if these were actually as big as they look in the photos, they are.  Unfortunately the big version of the photo was deleted in a web site upgrade a few years ago.For a few minutes, we used the "big" upper loop as a test track for the Pacific. But when we decided it wasn't going to run for me, I got out the Aristo Mikado and set it on the track. I used the Pacific's tender, because the Sierra sound in the Mikado's tender is temporarily out of order. The sound in the Pacific's tender had sounded "iffy" early, but it sounded okay during the open house (I have to replace a rubber roller on one of the tender's wheelsets to get it completely functional again.)

I also got out my two lit PRR Sierra coaches and attached the lit Christmas Sierra coach behind them. I knew the lit coaches would look better after dark. And having three coaches instead of two would make the Mikado look slightly less "overkillish." Six lit coaches would have been better than three but I didn't have three more lit Sierra coaches, and my lightweight Bachmann coaches were still "iffy" on my trackage. (Later in the day, Jerry Humston took the photo below.)

This is a detail from a photo that Jerry Humston took after the open house technically began. Unfortunately the big version of the photo was deleted when the MVGRS web site was upgraded a few years ago.

Later I tried the Christmas-colored 0-4-0T on the lower track, and it didn't run very well. The clicking sound it made was worse and it would hang a tiny bit on every wheel cycle. I'm guessing that the 5-amp power supply gave it enough juice to power through whatever was hanging it up, but the 1-amp power supply didn't. Eventually I put the Bachmann streetcar back on the lower track and let it run the rest of the night. (I had other small locos, including the little green Lionel 0-4-0T, so I could have put out a short train of some sort, but by the time I thought about it, it was getting too late to fix something that wasn't broken.)

When I made a brief trip inside for some reason, I brought out the literature and set it out on a "bistro" table on our back porch. By now people I didn't know were coming into the back yard, so I hit the play button on Molly's boom box, and the open house had "officially" started.

Conclusion and Even More Best Wishes

By the time people started showing up, we were still getting trains on the track, but our earliest visitors spread out enough that we had time to keep things moving forward, so that most people saw working trains and lights from the moment they showed up.

Note: We'll put the "results" of the open house in our next blog-like article.

This is from a trial run I did before we set the figures out for the open RR, but it gives you an idea of what it looked like after dark.  Click for bigger photo.You may feel I've put too much pickayune detail in these articles, but I just want to provide a realistic and encouraging picture of what it takes to put something like this together, as well as how much fun it is when you're done.

Even closer to our hearts is the hope that this account helps you get ready for a Christmas season that encourages and restores you and those around you.

When I got my first strand of low-voltage garden lighting installed and my buildings all lit up at once, it was like having a "Christmas Village" bigger than my house. Since then, I've been thinking it would be nice if our whole railroad was a sort of 60'x15' Christmas card for all who could visit or read about it. So, if you're wondering what that photo of the Mikado dragging three mismatched coaches along the fence-row "means," it means "Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for the Coming Year."

Please have a blessed fall and winter, enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you have with your family this season.

Paul Race

Note: If you arrived at this article by clicking on the "Next" link in our New Boston and Donnels Creek series of chronological articles about our garden railroad, you can continue the series using the links below.

Next - Proceed to our next article "Planning a Christmas Open House, Part 5."

Previous - Return to our article "Planning a Christmas Open House, Part 3."

Return to our article "Planning a Christmas Open House, Part 2."

Return to our article "Planning a Christmas Open House, Part 1."

Return to our article "Refurbishing Garden Railroad Roadbed," which describes how we used cement roadbed to addressed the massive burrowing animal and weed growth problems caused by following the track-over-gravel-on-a-dirt-pile instructions of the desert-dwelling garden railroad experts and GR editors.

Return to our article "About the Owner/Author/Lead Editor," which describes Paul's circumstances and approach to garden railroading in the early 2000s

Return to our article "NB&DC Rolling Stock," which lists the sorts of cars I was running on my railroad in the early 2000s.

Return to our article "Motive Power, which was written in 2003, and updated in 2008. It describes the locomotive we were using most of the time to pull trains on the New Boston and Donnels Creek.

Return to our article "June, 2003 Photos, to see what our railroad looked like four years after we broke ground, and one year after the 2002 convention.

Return to our article "Layout So Far," which describes the track plan, plants, etc. of our garden railroad as of the early spring of 2003.

Return to our "January, 2003" article, which includes photo of our railroad caught in a 6"-8" snow right after running trains at Christmas.

Return to our "June, 2002 Photos article, which contains photos of our garden railroad as it was set up for the 2002 National Garden Railway Convention in Cincinnati.

Return to "What to Do When a Tree Eats Your Railroad."

To return to our article "Stress Testing on the NB&DC RR," click here.

To return to our NBDC 1998-2000 Pictures page, click here.

To return to Landscaping and Pond Construction, 1998-1999, click here,

To return to our page About New Boston and Donnels Creek" click here.

To return to the New Boston and Donnels Creek Index Page, click here

To return to the Family Garden Trains Home Page, click here

Click to sign up for the 'Trains-N-Towns<sup><small>TM</small></sup>' newsletter, with articles about display villages, indoor railroading, and much more

Click to see articles and resources for a joyful family Christmas.

Note: Family Garden Trains(tm), Garden Train Store(tm), Big Christmas Trains(tm), BIG Indoor Trains(tm), and BIG Train Store(tm) are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications(tm) ( 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, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 by Paul D. Race.
Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
Family Garden Trains is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

For more information, please contact us

Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains.
Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains

Visit related pages and affiliated sites:
- Trains and Hobbies -
Return to Family Garden Trains Home page
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page
Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads
Visit Lionel Trains. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages. Big Christmas Train Primer: Choosing and using model trains with holiday themes Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.
- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page Click to sign up for Maria Cudequest's craft and collectibles blog.
Click to visit Fred's Noel-Kat store.
Visit the largest and most complete cardboard Christmas 'Putz' house resource on the Internet.
- Family Activities and Crafts -
Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories. Traditional Home-Made Ornaments
- Music -
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Learn important guitar chords quickly, to jump start your ability to play along on any song. With a few tools and an hour or two of work, you can make your guitar, banjo, or mandolin much more responsive.  Instruments with movable bridges can have better-than-new intonation as well. Resources for learning Folk Music and instruments quickly Check out our article on finding good used guitars.
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs. X and Y-generation Christians take Contemporary Christian music, including worship, for granted, but the first generation of Contemporary Christian musicians faced strong, and often bitter resistance. Different kinds of music call for different kinds of banjos.  Just trying to steer you in the right direction. New, used, or vintage - tips for whatever your needs and preferences. Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album. Explains the various kinds of acoustic guitar and what to look for in each.
Look to Riverboat Music buyers' guide for descriptions of musical instruments by people who play musical instruments. Learn 5-string banjo at your own speed, with many examples and user-friendly explanations. Explains the various kinds of banjos and what each is good for. Learn more about our newsletter for roots-based and acoustic music. Folks with Bb or Eb instruments can contribute to worship services, but the WAY they do depends on the way the worship leader approaches the music. A page devoted to some of Paul's own music endeavors.