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Garden Railroading Primer Articles Structures for your garden railroad. Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
Best Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders: a short list of things you're most likely to need when starting outLarge Scale Starter Sets: Begin with a train you'll be proud to run
Large Scale Track order Form Bachmann Garden Trains: Narrow Gauge models designed to run well in 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 Trains(tm)

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:
Click to see our Planning articles.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.

Click to see our Construction articles.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 here.

Garden Train Rolling Stock

Though we are currently working on more articles, these are the articles we currently have that address the trains themselves.

  • Bachmann Couplers - Suggestions for making them work better for you.
  • Buying Passenger Cars (Old Timey) - "Pros and Cons" of the "old-timey" passenger cars produced by each of the major garden train manufacturers
  • Freight Car Measurements - How do the various boxcars, reefers, and stock cars from different brands "stack up"? I started this list in the 1980s, when it was hard to get product of any kind, and folks were "mixing and matching" products from different brands, scales, and periods just to make up their trains. Which, of course, caused all sorts of arguments about what was "close enough." I thought at least folks should have facts in hand when considering their next purchase.
  • Fallen Flags of Garden Railroading - A description of garden train suppliers who have gone out of business, including Kalamazoo, Delton Locomotive Works, and Lionel's track-powered 45mm trains.
  • Railbuses, Doodlebugs, and RDCs - Describes the various self-propelled gas, diesel, or diesel-electric rail vehicles that carried passengers or sight-seers over routes too small to justify locomotive-drawn trains, as well as past product lines that replicate those vehicles in Large Scale.
  • Thomas the Tank Shootout - A side-by-side comparison of Bachmann's Thomas the Tank set versus Lionel's. Yes, both have been discontinued, but folks are still trying to track these down for their kids or display railroads.
  • Bachmann's G Gauge Christmas Trains - An unofficial catalog of Bachmann's seasonal Large Scale offerings. Hopefully it will help you know which sets are worth tracking down.

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:

Click to go to plant article index.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.
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. 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
  • One-Day Waterfall - I recently had the chance to help a neighbor install a 70's-era fiberglass waterfall fixture that had been her mother's. Once the plants fill in, it should look great. New August, 2013

  • Paver Choices - Guide to the most common materials for making sidewalks and patios, with links to "how-to" articles. October, 2013

  • Pool2Patio - Dry-Setting a Patio With Antique Bricks - Why waste that great pad of compressed sand left over when the above-ground swimming pool came down? A really big patio made from used bricks is more fun than more lawn any day. New October, 2013

Click to go to list of Electrical and Lighting ArticlesElectrical 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. 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. 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. May, 2010
  • External Structure Lights - Wil Davis' article on adding industrial-style lights to your buildings. 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.

Click to see our Garden Railroad Structure articles.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.
Garden Railroading on a Shoe-String: An introduction to low-cost outdoor railroading.  Click to go to article.Garden Railroading on a Shoe String - Yes, you can have an outdoor railroad that doesn't "break the bank," as long as you have patience, ingenuity, and willingness to learn. In fact, some folks take it as a personal challenge. This is our lead article on "Shoe-String Garden Railroads," with many ideas and links to helpful articles. Other articles include:
Click to see O Gauge Outside Index Page.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 - 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

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:
Reference Information and Things to Think AboutVisit our Garden Train Store? Buyer's Guide Pages - Miscellaneous topics that are important to most garden railroaders.
Other Articles about Garden Railroading and Large Scale
  • Basic Weathering with Powders - a "primer" for someone who wants their equipment to look more realistically "grungy" but who is nervous about getting started. April, 2010
  • Mixing and Matching Large Scale Cars/ Sample Car Measurements - Updated, May, 2017
  • 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:
    Dave Smith
    Dick Friedman
    Ray Turner
    Walter Sheldon
    Peter Stremic
    James R. Avery
    Ric Golding
    Noel F. Widdifield
    David J. Smith
    Lewis Polk
    Earl J. Chevalier, Jr.
    David Buffington
    George Shreyer
    Vance Bass
    Tony Walsham
    Marc Horovitz
    Scot Osterweil
    Wil Davis
    Peter Wine
    TATE (Whoever you are)
    Fred Mills

  • 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 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
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    Click to see trains that commemorate your team!

    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.