New Boston and Donnels Creek
The New Boston and Donnels Creek Railroad was built and is maintained by Paul Race, editor and principal author for the "Family Garden Trains(tm)" site, an online reference for garden railroaders and people who are thinking about being garden railroaders.
Note: I have put this site up to encourage other "ordinary" folks to take the plunge into Garden Railroading. I'm no carpenter, but I know how to move rocks and follow simple instructions. Basically, if I can do it, you can do it. If you spend some time on the site, you'll realize that I started with a very bare garden and a loop of track around a store-bought pond, and just kept adding plants and ideas until I got something fun to watch and operate in the back yard.
The first iteration was a loop of track on a bed of mulch in the side yard in the spring of 1998. But ground wasn't actually was broken until the summer of 1998, after the loss of two large trees opened up a space in the yard we didn't even "know we had."
I started with the pond, since I figured that it would be easier to build a railroad over a pond, than a pond under a railroad. The track wasn't really laid until it was too cold to play with the trains much.
Extensions and additions grew slowly, as did groundcovers at first. Now visitors seem impressed with my "green thumb," but in 1999, it looked like I was modeling the Mohave Desert. Along the way, I've made many mistakes that you won't have to make, and learned some relatively simple approaches that will make your life simpler and save you money besides. So take a tour of the past, present, and maybe future of my railroad. And when you tire of me talking about my well-planned projects that failed and my accidents that succeeded, you can go back to the Family Garden Trains(tm) site to see information of a less personal nature.
Best of luck; enjoy your look around,
June, 2013 Open Railroads - (June, 2013) In 2002, we hosted an open railroad in conjunction with the National Garden Railway Convention and had maybe 20 visitors. This year we had almost that many before the sign went up. Lots of visitors, lots of questions, lots of chances to encourage "newbies"! Thanks to all who attended. For an account of a fun and crazy day, click on the picture.
November, 2013 Christmas Train Day - (November, 2013) This year, the Dayton NMRA chapter train show wound up NOT sponsoring open RR tours (the reason we started having open RRs in November in the first place). But our little friends would have been heart-broken, if we hadn't gone ahead. So we did it anyway. The buildings were still in place, but there was other prep, as always. Fun was had by all. Click the photo to see more.
Prepping for an Early Winter Open RR - One good thing about open railroads is that they make you finish up a lot of stuff in a hurry. The bad thing about doing it in November is that you might have Mother Nature to contend with. Seriously. Temporary RRs staked out, lights on the trees, thyme cut back from the ROW. We're making progress. We'd make more if it wasn't for the leaves and the snow.
Click on the photo to see what we've done so far to get ready:
Christmas Train Day, 2014 - Report - We our seventh annual Christmas-themed open railroad on our own New Boston and Donnels Creek on November 23 this year. As always, there were many preparations. This year, we added another kids' railroad and attempted to make the kids' railroads we already have more reliable so the kids would be less frustrated. As it turned out, it's a good thing we did, since we got many more kids than adults this time, and the kids all had a blast.
Click on the photo to see our report, with lots of photos and tips.
Preparing for Christmas Train Day, 2015 - Right after our 2014 Christmas Train Day, came a huge snowfall that kept us from bringing our buildings and even many of our figures in for most of the winter. I wound up leaving some of the buildings out all summer, but the big cleanup started when we were preparing for the next big thing - Christmas Train Day 2015. Click on the photo for details.
Christmas Train Day, 2015 - Report - As it turned out, this was our last "Christmas Train Day" on the original New Boston and Donnels Creek. I did a lot of work prepping the buildings, etc., and we had a great time once it was happening. But after it was over, I took the buildings inside, in case of another early snow - like the snow that fell right after our Christmas Train Day in 2014 and didn't melt off until March, 2015. We didn't realize at the time that this was an "end of an era," but we are glad that we took lots of photos and saved some great memories for our readers to share indefinitely.
Click on the photo to see the report.
The Last Hurrah! - In 2016 we moved, in what turned out to be a very long process. I took all my trains and related paraphernalia(still in boxes) to the new place, but at our realtor's suggestion, I left my track and more realistic bird feeders on the ground during the showings, in case we'd find someone interested in owning a house with a garden railroad. We did, eventually. So the track that was on the ground went with the house. So did the bird feeders, but they weren't going to cost nearly as much to replace.
There was also a wedding in the family, and the bride (our oldest daughter) wanted to have the rehearsal dinner at our "old" house, with the trains running "for old time's sake." So I brought a bunch of buildings and figures and several trains back from the new house and my youngest two helped me get things ready for company. One more run, not advertised, not many children, but lots of fun for all who were there.
Families who remembered our "Christmas Train Days" from the past asked us if we were going to have one in 2016, but there was just too much other stuff going on. In the meantime, to read about our "last hurrah" on the original New Boston and Donnels Creek, click on the photo to the right above.
Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 1 - If you're subscribed to our newsletter, you know that we moved just after Thanksgiving in 2016, leaving behind most of the track, a few of the bird feeders, and one Bachmann train set for the new owners. We also left behind a high-maintenance garden that we do not intend to replicate at the new place. This is the first chapter of a new chapter in our lives, which we hope will include a lot of "lessons learned." But first, some serious landscaping had to take place.
Click on the photo to see what we were considering in March, 2017.
Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 2 - More plans. We've moved on from the 2"x6" roadbed-on-posts to a sort of "train-table-outside" plan. Our goals include low-maintenance, high interest, and high reliability. We're also trying to get around having a thousand dollars' worth of dirt hauled into the back yard. If you want to get some idea of what our planning process looks like, reading these through in sequence may help. Or it may drive you crazy.
Click on the photo to see what we were considering in early April, 2017.
Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 3 - We have still not broken ground. In part because we plan to rent a post-hole digger and dig the post holes for our raised vegetable garden and the first phase of the garden railroad at the same time, and we don't have enough lumber on hand yet. (If we didn't break it down into multiple trips, we'd be blowing out the shocks on our minivan.) In the meantime, we used a line level to see if the slope of the back yard was as bad as we thought it was (it's worse), and we did other site preparation, including planting a whole bunch of spruce tree seedlings to eventually give us some privacy in our side and back yard. Plus, I'm still wavering a little on the "where-to-start-first" issue.
Click on the photo to see what we were considering as of late April, 2017.
Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 4 - Well, the rented post-hole digger fell through, so we dug our vegetable garden with a manual post-hole digger (the scissors kind). In addition, I stake out where the railroad was going to be. Twice. And tweaked the plans again. Sorry about the redo's, but sometimes just walking around the yard trying to visualize things makes me reconsider something that seemed "settled" only a few days before.
Click on the photo to see what we were considering as of late May, 2017.
Breaking Ground on the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek - Okay, in case you wondered if we'd ever get started on the thing, we broke ground in July, using a manual post-hole digger. Well two manual post-hole diggers. But by the end of this article, we're ready for the posts to start going in.
Click on the photo to see our status as of the end of July, 2017.
Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 1 - Once I started dropping posts in the holes and screwing things together, I didn't want to stop before I had the basic frame built (for one thing, the wood warps less once it's fastened in place). Now the folks driving down the street past our house (we're on a corner lot) probably wonder if I'm building an elaborate chicken coop, but that's fine with me. I still need to make a few more lumber runs and do a lot more cutting and sawing, but having the basic frame in place should make the next bits a lot easier.
Click on the photo to see our status as of August 10, 2017
Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 2 - Once I started dropping posts in the holes and screwing things together, I didn't want to stop before I had the basic frame built (for one thing, the wood warps less once it's fastened in place). Now the folks driving down the street past our house (we're on a corner lot) probably wonder if I'm building an elaborate chicken coop, but that's fine with me. I still need to make a few more lumber runs and do a lot more cutting and sawing, but having the basic frame in place should make the next bits a lot easier.
Click on the photo to see our status as of September 7, 2017
Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 3 - With the basic frame in place, I framed out the top layer and started ordering parts for the waterfall and planning the decking layer. It still looks like an elaborate play fort or something, but it's getting there.
Click on the photo to see our status as of September 17, 2017
Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 4 - With the frame for the top layer finished, I added the 2"x6" decking, leaving some extra length where I thought I might need to make further adjustment. Then I set out a loop of track to test clearances and the placement of the bridge and waterfall weir.
Click on the photo to see our status as of September 26, 2017
Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part. 5 - Spreading the billboard-sourced vinyl underlayment on the top layer. Prepping used Aristo R2 track for (hopefully) many more years of service. Laying the first loop of track, attaching power wires with spade terminals, testing conductivity with a Bachmann streetcar, and more.
Click on the photo to see our status as of October, 10, 2017
Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 6 - Modifying and finishing the framing on the second layer, cantilevering, using R3 track versus all other pre-curved track formats, finalizing the track plan, why painting the track makes old and new track blend better, and more. This will be the last bit of "framing" in 2017, and it worked out well, considering.
Click on the photo to see our status as of October 15, 2017
Decking the NEW New Boston & Donnels Creek. - Decking the 'middle layer' of our proposed three-tier outdoor railroad. Prepping more track, laying out track and decking to make certain we have measurements correct, installing most of the remaining decking for this layer.
Click on the photo to see our status as of October 25, 2017
New Boston Goes On the Road - Well, the weather turned too cold too fast to get my railroad finished for my traditional mid-November Christmas-Themed open railroad. Which means all of my buildings were still in boxes when the Miami Valley Garden Railway Society set up a huge display at the Dayton Train Show and put out a call for more buildings.
Click on the photo to see our town "out on the town" so to speak.
Dirtscaping the NEW New Boston & Donnels Creek, Part 1 - Getting the existing layers ready to install gravel and dirt, including splitting and trimming fence boards to provide a little border around the edge of the layers, and beginning to dump the gravel. Also getting a few Taxus Hicksii very cheap to give me something green this winter, even if I have to move them later.
Click on the photo to see our status as of November 21, 2017
2018: Springing into Spring on the NEW New Boston & Donnels Creek RR. - Sorting out our priorities for the spring and summer of 2018. There a lot of little chores we really should get done before we start on the next big addition.
Click to see our plans as of February 27, 2018.
Adding Raised Roadbed to the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 1 - Our test runs established that the gravel we poured around the track tended to work its way under the track and make things uneven. Since these layers wouldn't be easy to reach from every angle, I decided to add a 2x6 lumber roadbed under the track to make the right-of-way as bullet-proof as possible. Unfortunately, we got stopped by a bunch of bad weather about a third of the way through that relatively simple project. Still, if you wonder what it takes to cut 2"x"6" lumber for your railroad, there are some nice photos.
Click on the photo to see our status as of March 30, 2018
Adding Raised Roadbed to the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek, Part 2 - Trimming the corners off the roadbed on the upper layer and cutting the pieces that will support the curves on the middle layer. We need to get the upper two tiers of the pond installed before we totally complete this step, so the article doesn't show the finished product. You'll see it later as part of other articles.
Click on the photo to see our status as of May 5, 2018
Dirtscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR, Part 2. - Adding barriers to keep the rocks, dirt, and plants where they're supposed to go, placing platforms and running wiring for buildings, adding rocks, dirt, and plants to the upper level of the railroad.
Click on the photo to see our status as of June 1, 2018.
Waterscaping the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek Part 1 - our article on getting the top two layers of the waterfall on solid footing and getting the third layer framed. After we finish decking and dirtscaping the third layer, we will probably add a washbasin or something for the water to flow into, then add a pump to get the waterfall flowing. No big pond until next year at least - too many other projects.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of June 13, 2018.
Adding a Train Shed Part 1 - What started out as a simple addition of a deck to stand on when putting trains on the track got a little more ambitious when I realized that JUST installing the deck this year would require more work next year. So we framed out what we planned to be a train shed attached to the railroad, so I can easily put trains on the track at a moment's notice instead of schlepping them out from the garage.
Click on the photo to see our status as of July 9, 2018.
Adding a Train Shed Part 2 - Adding rafters to the frame of the in-progress train shed. Now it's starting to look like it might actually be a structure and not just a crazy collection of posts.
The way we got the rafters and ridge board up wouldn't work for everybody, but it worked for us, and hopefully will help other folks to "think outside the box" - literally in this case.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of July 14, 2018.
Waterscaping Part 2 - Getting this year's waterscaping project done (for now at least). Installing and dirtscaping the third level of the waterfall. Installing pump and filter, adding an extra container and modifying the ones we already had installed to keep the water running smoothly. And lots of other tweaking. Includes tips about introducing fish and plants, as well as other information about water features in general that you may find helpful.
Click on the photo to see our status as of August 5, 2018.
Adding a Train Shed Part 3 - Adding fascia, sheathing, and end trim to the in-progress train shed.
I thought about bringing in helpers for this part, but a reader commented on how helpful it was to see how one person could do this sort of thing by himself, so I just kept plugging away.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of September 13, 2018
Adding a Train Shed, Part 4 - Getting underlayment and drip edging on the roof. Now there's some protection from the rain, as long as it isn't coming sideways, as it tends do do this time of year.
Click on the photo to see our status in late September, 2018
Adding a Train Shed Part 5 - Planning the doors, walls, and windows of our garden train shed.
Includes installing the door, painting the windowframes, and adding crosspieces to support the vertical siding boards.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of mid-October, 2018.
Adding a Train Shed Part 6 - Installing the board and batten siding on our train shed, installing the windows, installing the trim, testing the "tunnel entrances," and more.
By the way, going over lumber receipts in early 2019, I couldn't believe I was still siding the train shed in late October, and managed to have an open railroad in mid-November. It is a little crazy how fast things can go together if you have a deadline and a lot of gift cards.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of late October, 2018.
Christmas Train Day, 2018 - After two years without our traditional Christmas Train Day (something we did from 2008 through 2015), we were anxious to get started again, even without a huge right of way to show off. The kids' trains, the extra Thomas railroad, the popcorn popper and two Bachmann Christmas trains got a big workout. And the visiting kids all loved it!
Why don't we do it closer to Christmas? Because we sync it with the Dayton Train Show, whose NMRA participants used to have a tradition of open railroads the following weekend. Also, when we've tried to host it even a week later, we ran into much worse weather. So I tell people it's to "kick-start" their holiday season, and nobody really complains.
Click on the photo to see a lot of last-minute preparations and some photos of the November 10, 2018 event itself.
Waterscaping, Part 3 - After seven months of crazy long work hours, I finally got some free time to continue working on the railroad. Weather permitting, I often worked all the live-long day. This article describes installing two posts that will eventually support the last connecting pool, then digging the big hole for the in-ground pond. Breaking the soil was complicated by a three-month drought that turned the ground to something like concrete.
Click on the photo to see our progress as of mid-September, 2019.
Waterscaping Part 4. - Installing the last connecting pool, so the whole planned waterfall is complete except for dirtscaping and planting.
The process included checking the pump, extending the hoses, rescuing toads, building the platform, trimming the platform, testing the pool's location, etc.
Click the photo to go to the article.
Planning the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Part 5 - Once the major components of the water feature were installed and tested, we decided to add one more bit of railroad proper before our "Christmas Train Day," this November. The addition, about 5'x11', will allow us to put a small train and some scenery closer to eye level for youngsters. Eventually it will be part of the larger plan that will allow us to run our bigger cars and locomotives.
Click on the photo to see our plans for the next addition, as of late September, 2019.
Framing the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Part 7 - Installing posts, joists, framing, and decking for the eastern expansion of the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek. Although this installation was complicated by having to fit into an existing framework, the methods used could work for any raised-platform railroad.
Click on the photo to see our progress of early October, 2019.
Decking the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek Part 2 - Getting the next part of the railroad ready to install trains. Includes installing 2"x6" decking, vinyl sheeting, edges to hold back the gravel, and corrugated steel panels. It's not done, but it will give us another place to set up trains for our next Christmas-themed open railroad.
Click on the photo to see our status as of late October, 2019.
Preparing for Christmas Train Day 2019 - Wrapping up construction projects for 2019 and getting ready for our annual Christmas-themed open railroad. Includes new lighting and other features, providing a temporary home for a Hogwarts Express train, weather issues, and more. Click to go to article.
Click on the photo to see our progress of mid-November, 2019.
Christmas Train Day, 2019 - Three years after starting a garden railroad in our new home, we host another Christmas-themed open railroad, giving many families a jump start on Christmas celebrations and sharing the experience of running trains with lots of kids.
Click on the photo to see a brief record of our busiest weekend in November, 2019.
Winter Preparation, 2019 - After the big open railroad event, we try to prepare the railroad for the cold months, including populating the railroad with North States bird feeders so it doesn't look empty, adding an air pump and bubblers to the pond, and more.
Click on the photo to see our status as of early December, 2019.
Expansion Planning, 2020 - Three years after starting a garden railroad in our new home, we are trying to figure out the best way to finish the last loop of our raised platform railroad. How to make room for 10'-diameter curves and more towns and industries, but still keeping things manageable requires some thinking and rethinking.
Click on the photo to see the options we are reviewing for the next and last expansion.
Train Storage Solutions, 2020 - Using periods of cold weather to get things sorted in the garage, including shelf building and tips for schlepping trains from storage to the tracks.
Click on the photo to see our status as of late January, 2020.
Westward Expansion, 2020, Part 1 - With a lumber shortage and warm weather running out, we revised our plans for the next addition, bought what decent lumber we could find, dug holes, installed posts, and attached joists. Hopefully we'll be able to get the lumber we need to finish the platform before cold weather sets in.
Click on the photo to see our status as of late September, 2020.
Westward Expansion, 2020, Part 2 - We had to be careful leveling the last joists so the frame, decking, and right-of-way would be as level as possible. Fortunately we were able to get enough lumber to get a good start on the frame. We also added one last tweak to the frame design to make it easier to extend this platform to its originally planned size, if and when we get a chance to do so.
Click on the photo to see our status as of late October, 2020.
Westward Expansion, 2020, Part 3 - Thanks to a spate of unusually warm weather in early November, I was able to get the new platform finished, lined with vinyl, and bordered with trim boards to keep the dirt and gravel in place.
The next "permanent" improvements will wait for now. In the meantime, we will set out buildings and a temporary loop or to entertain visitors between now and Christmas.
Click on the picture to see our status as of mid-November, 2020.
Garage to Train Station, Part 1 - fixing up one end of my garage to resemble a Victorian train station interior. The initial steps included demolition, patching the ceiling and walls, moving electrical outlets, adding wainscotting and baseboard, and planning for windowframes with painted backgrounds.
Click on the picture to see our status as of early December, 2020.
Christmas Preparations and Operations - Usually we have a single big Christmas-themed open railroad, and we prepare for it much of the fall. But for safety's sake this year, we decided to scale things back and spread them out. Thanks to the new platform, we were able to have five running trains for visitors to watch, including actual model trains and Thomas and Friends trains. We also had three trains for kids to run, including a Hogwarts Express circling a castle where a dragon is pursuing Harry Potter and his friends.
Click on the picture to see our status as of late December, 2020.
Garage to Train Station, Part 2 - continuing to fix up one end of my garage to resemble a Victorian train station interior. I used a digital projector to outline vintage coach details for my windowframes. Then I painted the backgrounds, attached the windowframes, and installed them on the wall. A repro Regulator clock and other details are added.
Click on the picture to see our status as of late December, 2020.
Creating a Railroad Timetable - No train station would be complete without a timetable showing arrivals and departures (as well as expected arrivals and departures). We made one with a big piece of underlayment, framed it with scrap lumber, cut lettering for it with a craftcutter, and lined it with striping tape. This one is hinged to a shallow shelving unit that is holding the dvds we sometimes watch while working on projects in our workshop.
Click on the picture to see our status as of January, 2021.
New Right-of-Ways on the New Boston and Donnels Creek RR - Adding a loop based on 10'-diameter curves. Includes cutting and installing 2x6 roadbed, bridging the waterfall, and cutting a third passage through the train shed, as well as installing roadbed for two smaller loops.
Click on the picture to see our status as of late March, 2021.
Keep in Touch
In the meantime, please poke around the site, enjoy yourself and imagine what you could do with a shovel and some rocks yourself if you had half a chance. And leave me a note if something gives you an idea. Also, if you're heading toward the Dayton/Springfield Ohio area, and you want to see a garden railroad that will make you feel better about your attempts, drop me a line.
P.S. In case you wondered, the New Boston and Donnels Creek railroad is named after a pioneer village that used to be here and a creek that I used to wade in. The town of New Boston was built on the site of the "Battle of Piqua," a Revolutionary War battle in which George Rogers Clark attacked a Shawnee village on the assumption that they were British sympathizers. Ironically the same Shawnee village was the birthplace of Tecumseh, who a generation later did everything he could to pay back the "Americans" for the assault. The creek, in turn, was named after one of the founders of Donnelsville, Ohio, a tiny hamlet just west of Springfield on Route 40 and an early toll stop on the National Road. For a look at the area's history, click here.
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