How gar­den­ing and rail­road­ing are con­nected

The Palm Beach Post - Residences - - Front Page - Jef­fRugg

Gar­den­ing and build­ing model rail­roads have been pop­u­lar hob­bies for ages. But a re­cent trend com­bines th­ese two hob­bies: gar­den rail­road­ing.

Gar­den rail­road­ing can be as sim­ple as a rail­road track loop­ing around a flower bed, or as com­plex as a full model of a rail yard. Know­ing proper ter­mi­nol­ogy is im­por­tant for any hobby, so let’s start there.

An orig­i­nal full-sized re­al­life rail car is called the pro­to­type; the minia­ture model you carry around the back­yard is called a model. Many peo­ple de­sign their en­tire gar­den rail­road based on a pro­to­type. Oth­ers mix and match rail cars, build­ings and land­scap­ing ac­cord­ing to their per­sonal taste.

The pro­por­tions of rail car mod­els are scaled to the pro­to­type. For ex­am­ple, if one-half of an inch on the model is equal to 1 foot on the pro­to­type, the model is con­sid­ered half scale and the pro­por­tion is writ­ten as 1:24. There are nu­mer­ous rail­road mod­el­ing scale stan­dards; the G scale is used for gar­den rail­roads and is nearly the same as the half scale, at a pro­por­tion of 1:22.5.

The gauge of a rail­road is the dis­tance be­tween the rails. The stan­dard gauge on pro­to­type tracks is 4 feet 8.25 inches apart. Tracks that are closer to­gether are called nar­row gauge. Some pro­to­type rail­roads had their own par­tic­u­lar gauge to suit the ter­rain and lo­ca­tion, such as a cus­tom nar­row gauge to go up a moun­tain.

You can buy dif­fer­ent kits to build an en­tire model rail­road based on a spe­cific pro­to­type. If you want your rail­road tres­tle to span the length of your gar­den stream, you could also de­sign and build your own to make it look like an old wooden bridge from a Western movie. This is called scratch build­ing. Or, scratch build a whole city to sur­round your scratch built train. Scratch build­ing is more dif­fi­cult, but worth it.

A third op­tion is kit­bash­ing — cre­at­ing a new scale model by tak­ing pieces out of com­mer­cial kits to make it look like a scratch build. This gives you a per­son­al­ized look and a func­tional sub­struc­ture.

Whether build­ing a gar­den rail­road from scratch or in­stalling it into an ex­ist­ing land­scape, the train tracks need to be nearly level. It can slope for a max­i­mum of 3 inches for ev­ery 100 inches of hor­i­zon­tal dis­tance. Make wide curves in the track for the train to move right and work prop­erly. I rec­om­mend a ra­dius no smaller than 6 feet for gar­den scale trains.

Many model trains run on the same low-volt­age wiring as most gar­den light­ing, but some of them are de­signed to run on bat­tery packs. Steam trains, al­ter­na­tively, burn bu­tane or al­co­hol to cre­ate steam.

Some trains run on con­trol sys­tems, just like the old train we re­mem­ber from child­hood, run­ning around the Christ­mas tree. And there are ra­dio con­trollers that op­er­ate as many as ten trains at once with no wires at all. Re­mem­ber the sounds of those lit­tle trains chug­ging around the liv­ing room? Well, now there are sound sys­tems that re-cre­ate those sounds.

Many gar­den rail­road­ers use dwarf trees, shrubs, ground cov­ers and flow­ers to cre­ate a minia­ture land­scape in­spired by real life. Most of the gar­den­ing tech­niques are the same for any flower bed, but the real con­cern is keep­ing it all to scale.

If you’re fol­low­ing the half-scale model, you’ll need a 5-inch-tall model tree to de­pict a 10-foot­tall pro­to­type tree. Use moss to make model grass and a box­wood shrub for a model oak tree. You’ll want to buy plants that grow small — oth­er­wise, you’ll have to prune them of­ten. Plants used clos­est to the tracks need to look the most re­al­is­tic; plants far­ther away can be more generic-look­ing.

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