Another Simple Garden Railway

Discussion in 'Layout Progress' started by Steve Cook, 30 October 2015.

  1. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    Following the demise of my previous garden line, I've spent most of this summer and autumn replacing fences and starting on the build of another garden railway. The big difference is that this new one is a continuous circuit to exploit the use of my live steam engines - something my end to end line didn't do very well. Whilst there is often the option of running on other peoples lines close by, funnily enough, as the weather gets worse, the opportunities diminish as the owners would rather be inside :) The problem for me is the visual effects actually get better as the weather gets colder, and I haven't got to experience that yet.

    If I'm honest, I've been kicking about the idea for changing the old line for a couple of years - at one point I had worked out a way of using the existing line, but felt unhappy about how much it dominated the garden. It would also have been a little low - the old line was on average 18" - 20" off the ground which is fine for electric locos and the odd bit of gas powered steam engines - but its way too low for coal fired engines, especially with my back. I did briefly consider digging a hole and sticking a bath in it to create a sunken pit for firing...only very briefly though :))

    I suppose its probably a good time to talk about what I want the new line to achieve as that drives all the decisions from here on in.:
    Above all else it needs to be a continuous circuit to support live steam running.
    It needs to be of the largest radius I can physically squeeze in the garden to give me the widest available running options.
    It must have both 45mm and 32mm circuits (dual gauge trackwork).
    It will be really nice if I can squeeze in 63.5mm too (triple gauge trackwork :confused: ).
    It needs to be ready at the drop of a hat and be comfortable to build and work on.

    And thats it. After scribbling down lots of ideas, various dream scenarios etc, I've gone back to basics and boiled it down to the absolute minimum - a single loop with a one siding to act as a firing up area. To start with, given the time of year I'm actually building the thing in, just getting a single line of track in will do - I can go back and add other running rails to create the extra gauges later.

    The big question, having decided what I was doing, was what would it allow me to do. The gap between the rear of the garage wall and the fence posts is 13'7' so I'm physically constrained in terms of overhang.

    GRC1 Garage to fence.jpg

    The maximum radius I can get in is a function of clearance (stock to immovable objects), overhang of stock and the track radius itself. One of the reasons for keeping the rear of the shed in the photo above is that it makes a good temporary track test board. I decided that 100mm clearance between the outer rail and the wall would hopefully be enough, so I put down some track at a radius of 1960mm, 10mm smaller than I could get in.

    GRC2 Track Radius mock up 1.jpg

    The first engine to be tested was the Great Central D9 - with the bogie pivot where it is, its actually quite a long wheelbase and I was very keen to see I'd be able to get some standard G1 locos round :) Its definitely a bit 'train set' with the radius that tight, but with the extra given width from Cliff Barkers gauge widened track (45.5mm) I was able to lift one side of the board and have the loco free wheel round the track to the other - there is even a little slack left so the wheels aren't fighting the track the whole time.

    GRC3 Track Radius Mock Up 2.jpg

    Suitably encouraged, the Castle came out for a test. Aster states that the Castle will cope with a 2m radius, so was 1960mm going to prove too tight? Nope, that gauge widening again helping out and she free wheeled round the curve with some slack still available :)

    GRC4 Track Radius Mock Up 3.jpg

    Looking down from above, there was actually very little overhang so the 100mm clearance I had chosen was looking a bit generous.

    GRC5 Track Radius Mock Up 4.jpg

    Time to try on the narrow gauge stock then which is significantly wider. The worst case engine I have is a TME Vale of Rheidol engine - a short wheelbase 0-6-0 with long front and rear over hangs. The top down view shows that the worst case scenario is nearly 70mm...

    GRC6 Track Radius Mock Up 5.jpg

    That still leaves 30mm though so I figure I'm alright :) The tests have proved that a track radius of 1970mm is going to be acceptable and in all likelihood, that will allow quite a lot of my friends G1 engines to run. I'm not kidding myself, they aren't exactly going to look great, but they will run and that makes a world of difference to me.

  2. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    The next stage of the investigation was nothing to do with railways, but fence colour :rolleyes: Having spent years looking at brown fences I wanted to see what green looked like instead, especially I was going to be running the track right up against it and the brown never looks good.

    GRC7 Brown Fence.jpg

    GRC8 Green Fence.jpg

    Its never going to pass for countryside, but it is softer in terms of 'garden limits' so I figured that was the way forward.

    At this stage in the project, I'm still planning on replanting all of the Lonicera that surrounded the existing line, hence the reason I had let grow - it was going to need some extra height to work under the new line. Alas, once I started ripping out the top border in order to replace the fence, the flaw in my plan became rather obvious. Whilst Lonicera can create lovely hedges, its doesn't exactly grown in a nice defined space - it rather spreads out and different plants all mingle together. This is no problem, until you want to pull one bit out and move it!

    These two specimens were actually next to each other and formed the very left of the hedge at the top of the photo.

    GRC9 Gappy Plants.jpg

    No amount of jiggery pokery on my side was ever going to get them to look like a nice bush again so with some reluctance, I started to fill the wheelie bin. As it turned out, I filled a lot of wheelie bins - the worst day was three in a single day, luckily I get on with my neighbours :) That left me with a problem - in my minds eye I'd been planning a sort of scenic test track, but in reality, I was getting just a test track.

    This is one of the reasons I wrote down what my targets were - you'll note in the previous post that I hadn't mentioned aesthetics once which acted as good reminder that what I wanted was a circuit - not a pretty circuit, just a circuit. Instead of getting a bit of project creep, going back to the targets firmed up my ideas and I resolved just to do a neat job on what I was doing.

    That didn't stop me having temporary nurseries though, it was interesting seeing what plants could cope with moves and those which couldn't. The box was much more suited to moving as individual plants did not spread about too much - alas it didn't enjoy moving a great deal.

    GRC10 Temporary Nursery.jpg

    The next jobs involved dismantling (after emptying) the planter, lots of running on other peoples railways, Larkrail and lots of waiting for the wind to die down - holding onto 6' fence panels when you are as vertically challenged as I am is a bit of a suicide mission. In the end, it was the hottest day of the year that saw me put new posts and panels in across the end of the garden, the ones round the corner having been completed the weekend before.

    GRC11 New Fences.jpg

    There are two little plants left because they were the first two I actually planted under the old railway and despite being trimmed down to just a trunk ready for removal, they seemed pretty keen to come back to life. As I could work around them when doing the fence, I did so, and so they still survive although for how long I have no idea.

    All of this is really prep work and brings us up to the last week in August which is when I could start the railway proper.

  3. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    I was fortunate in that I had the week off work and a mate decided to come up for a few days - having an extra pair of hands for the digging was a real bonus. We started off by moving the drainpipe from one corner of the garage to other on the back wall, changing the slope of the guttering at the same time. This gave valuable extra clearance for squeezing out the biggest possible radius.

    GRC12 Guttering moved.jpg

    One of ebays el-cheapo Gazebo's arrived in the post and we put that up to give us somewhere to dry to work.

    GRC13 Gazebo up.jpg

    The paving slabs were then lifted and piled on the driveway out of the way. The gravel was spread out which meant even if things got a bit damp, we wouldn't be traipsing dirt and muck around the place.

    GRC14 Slabs out and gravel spread around.jpg

    Having sorted out the actual space to play with, we had another measure up and worked out where all the posts were to go.

    GRC15 Working out the post spacing.jpg

    Originally, I had thought about going for a full Filcris construction. Having read about the subject though, I found stories of the 2" square stakes going banana shaped in the sun, then straightening when back in the shade. That put me off, and to be fair, they aren't really designed to support a track some 30" off the ground. Post wise then, I thought I would just use treated fence posts instead - whilst the plastic / concrete components used on the last line worked very well, I had to make inserts to allow the side runners to be screwed to them and I thought I'd avoid that job this time round. I would have used the Filcris runners though to make the side supports, but when some of the chaps in my G1 group found out I was building a railway, I was inundated with offers of wood :) Apparently I have saved a lot of wood going up to the tip! That sort of changed things a bit, with the end result that I will use Filcris on the top surface only to see how its affected by the sun on terms of flatness and colour.

    Having decided that the posts would be put in at 30degree intervals which was the maximum distance that could be spanned by the free wood, a stake was driven into the ground to mark the centre of the end curve and a length of timber was marked out to the outer rail diameter of 1970mm. The end of this piece of wood was used to determine the location of each hole.

    GRC16 Digging holes.jpg

    A bit of digging, a bit of tea :)

    GRC17 Have a brew.jpg

    With the holes dug to a depth of around 14", the post is put in, tamped down and measured for the required height. The top was cut off and it was then put back in place, using the marking out timber to ensure that it was square to the intended curve.

    GRC18 Getting the post angle right.jpg

    Bracing timbers were then applied, they themselves being clamped to stakes into the ground so everything could be adjusted to keep it square in all three planes.

    GRC19 Bracing.jpg

    With the marking timber pulled out the way, the hole is filled with water and the postcrete chucked in over the top.

    GRC20 Postcrete in.jpg

    The process was then repeated for the next post, this time the height being taken by marking off using a spirit level.

    GRC21 Repeat.jpg

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  4. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    All you have to do is keep repeating at that point, stopping for tea and food along the way. Before too long, visible progress is made

    GRC22 Keep going.jpg

    With the posts in for one end of the circuit it was time to move to the other end - necessitating the moving of the mud monster / temporary nursery.

    GRC23 Moving the mud monster.jpg

    That ended up on the driveway against the fence

    GRC26 Driveway Nursery.jpg

    We marked the centre of the circle out again and used the same piece of timber to sort out the post locations.

    GRC24 Marking out the second centre.jpg

    Then it was just more digging. Tools of the trade were a ground claw,something designed to help you turn borders over without bending down but which turns out to bore beautiful holes in clay soil, and a big, heavy duty cold chisel. Any stone that stopped the claw from working was beaten into submission with the cold chisel, which also does a great job of removing great clumps of clay soil.

    GRC25 Dig more holes.jpg

    With all of the holes dug, the next job was to put the brackets on the garage wall that allowed us to get the line over the new drainpipe.

    GRC27 Brackets on the wall.jpg

    As we work round, you can see the enthusiasm of my helper :))

    GRC28 Smile for the camera Danny!.jpg

    I think you get the idea now - more posts, more wood, more postcrete

    GRC29 More posts.jpg

    Its probably worth pointing out at this point that the plan was not to go as far as the fences on the RHS of the garden. The curve will be around 30" or so away from the fence which is enough to walk past, giving a bit of a different viewing option than if the line went right out to the boundaries. It also means I can put the steps into the back corner allowing easy access over the railway and making use of what would otherwise be dead space. I really didn't want the steps to be on the front of line as you look down the garden as they are not going to be that nice to look at.

    GRC30 Looking down the garden.jpg

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  5. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    Hi Steve,
    Hope you won't mind the hijack, but many years ago I purchased a lovely Tolhurst coal fired loco and had to expand my lines radius.
    The only way I could then squeeze the line in to my garden was to construct a spiral, which also involved a lengthy cutting. Seeing you digging out and planting the posts brought it all back!!
    Here's s few pics during the re-build...
    (The line coming under the spiral can just be seen in the final pic at the very bottom right)
    Nice to see someone else doing the hard graft ;)

    Devonbelle, jonte, Pugsley and 5 others like this.
  6. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    Excellent work there Mr G, looks great :) Nice to see a bridge and retaining wall, I am going to miss the scenic elements I think - certainly when the trains aren't running anyway!

    My mate departed after three days so I finished putting the posts in the ground and gave them all a coat of green fence paint.

    GRC31 A coat of green.jpg

    The bracing off the garage wall was cut, levelled and clamped before being screwed to the posts.

    GRC32 Bracing off the garage wall.jpg

    With them acting as the reference point for all the other cross braces I could start to add the stringers to complete the basic framework.

    GRC33 Framing Starts.jpg

    The stringers themselves are actually decent quality door jamb material, not as good as a hardwood, but better then the usual softwood found at Wickes etc. If it has a downside, its that there is a machined recess on one side. However, that turned out to be a blessing because it was very easy to notch the stringers down to that size, making it easier to screw them to the cross braces.

    GRC34 Notching the timbers.jpg

    Because the stringers mounted on the cross braces on the garage wall where much further apart than the rest of the line, the cross braces were all notched to provide some lateral location.

    GRC35 Notching the supports.jpg

    A good bit of progress saw the framework for the circuit and the firing up lane in place.

    GRC36 Circuit and Fire up lane supports.jpg

    I've more or less got a straight edge across the front and will probably create an section of track where it is just two rails either side of a hole in the baseboard structure. This should make it easier to see if meths wicks are alight, as well as giving an area to fire up coal locos - they can melt plastic track if you are not careful. I will need to just add a removable shelf in underneath to support both aims.

    It takes about an hour to get a pair of stringers trimmed to length, notched and the cross braces screwed in - meaning its a relatively easy task after work, if not a little repetitive.

    GRC37 It starts to grow.jpg

    When it comes to doing the curves, I used a post at the centre of the curve, braced to the existing posts. I could then use the marked up piece of timber used for getting the holes in the right place to check that I was supporting the proposed track properly. One advantage of building the supports in this way is that its easy to compensate to errors in post location, the only requirement is that the post is vertical. To be fair, its possible to compensate for that issue too, but I'd tried to avoid it and used the cross brace to give just a bit of camber to the top surface.

    GRC38 Marking out again.jpg

    After a while I had all the stringers cut and the cross braces screwed into position. As well as using a spirit level, I made a water level with some clear tubing which helped to minimise any errors as I worked round.

    GRC39 All cross brace in water level.jpg

    In order to make planting things under the line easier, I made sure I dug the relevant holes before the stringers went in - it would have been a right royal pain otherwise. The box plants from the old station end moved up to sit next to the garage whilst the salvageable conifers filled in another gap. Touch wood, both types of plant have survived the move although the conifers had a shaky moment and dropped quite a few brown leaves - hopefully they will perk up a bit next spring.

    GRC40 Plant relocation.jpg
  7. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    The right hand border was then absolutely decimated - I did look at trying to save the 'trees' to go in the corners but it just didn't work out :( That 18' of scenery was rammed into three wheelie bins as mentioned earlier and was about the most disappointing aspect of getting rid of the old line all in all.

    GRC41 Plant Decimation.jpg

    Clutching at straws a bit, it doesn't half make the garden feel wider - at its widest the bushes were four feet deep:)
    Having discovered there were no more plants to be saved, I could start the final fit and fettle of the stringers. Given it had been a couple of rainy weeks in between the original marking and cutting and the final fit, it was amazing, and slightly concerning how much things had moved. It became imperative at that point to get it tied together as quickly as possible.

    GRC42 Fitting and painting stringers.jpg

    Hitting about the half way mark

    GRC43 More stringers.jpg

    And completing the circuit, thus making getting in and out awkward.

    GRC44 Circuit completed.jpg

    I found some shallower bends for the drainpipe whilst picking some gravel up in Wickes, so came back and relocated it again as I was a bit concerned about how close it had been to the stringers.

    GRC45 Drainpipe moved again.jpg

    The weather was starting to turn at this point, the ground was getting muddier and it was getting carried into the garage and over the existing gravel. I figured the best thing to do was to put in the paths required to make the line useable all year round now, thus saving me the frustration of working in the mud. The paths were marked out using the roofing lathe donated by another friend - his was just about to go to the tip as the result of a garage tidy up. I shot round to pick it - there wasn't enough to do the top surface which he had done, but it certainly didn't go to waste.

    GRC46 Marking out for the internal paths.jpg

    All the edging is just the roof lathe, screwed to stakes made from the same and hammered into the ground .

    GRC47 Staking out.jpg

    The same job was done outside the circuit to join up with the existing path

    GRC48 Outside path.jpg

    The turf was stripped off the inside and temporarily located to the inside of the circuit just to cover up the mud where the gravel had been

    GRC49 Stripping turf and levelling.jpg

    With it all edged up and the first 250kg of gravel down

    GRC50 Edged and gravel down.jpg
    Last edited: 31 October 2015
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  8. john lewsey

    john lewsey Western Thunderer

    Steve I'm a bit puzzled why the down pipe isn't at the other end of the guttering and goes across the building
  9. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    It used to just run down John on the left hand side of the garage, but I moved it to the right to create space. If I had left it, I would not have been able to run the track so close the garage wall - moving it to the other side of the garage where it is now means it doesn't interfere with the line as the track will have curved away from the wall at that point. It was the easiest way I could think of of generating an extra 4" of space.

    The path on the other side was finished in short order, following another 300kg of gravel

    GRC51 Other side done.jpg

    To give an updated view from upstairs

    GRC52 View from upstairs.jpg

    To get rid of some more wood, and to provide a useful function for when people visit, a shelf was installed underneath the fire up area. The basic frame was from an old picnic bench - it certainly was a random collection of wood I was given :)

    GRC53 Framing for Shelf.jpg

    The timbers were given a good sand down and painted green to spruce them up a bit. I had intended to use some of the roofing lathe again as the shelf surface but then I had another phone call from the chap who provided the stringers - he had found another 12 lengths up in the roof of the garage and was I interested? Too right I was, I popped round, picked them up and then they were then trimmed to size to fit the new supports.

    GRC54 Slats cut and placed.jpg

    With them all cut to size, they were inverted and a couple of coats on fence paint stuck on the edges and the underneath

    GRC55 Painting the undersides.jpg

    Simon arrived at this point for the G1MRA AGM and we spent the following Sunday fixing the shelf components in place

    GRC56 Simon lends a hand.jpg

    Another couple of pieces were cut to add to the front edge in an effort to tidy it up - Simon meanwhile prepped another length if timber to go at the back of the shelf and stop stock boxes and bags being rammed into the drainpipe. The remaining stringers were fitted into place too and a minor tweaking of the levels on the old stringers took place.

    GRC57 Shelf done frame levelled.jpg

    With it all cleaned up, we stood back to check it out and then had lunch.

    GRC58 Stop for lunch.jpg

    It was given a couple of coats of green that afternoon and at that point I think its fair to say the basic frame is now completed.

    GRC59 Green jollop.jpg

    It has certainly reached the state that the local cat population has decided its a worthy seat :)

    GRC60 Christened.jpg

    And that brings us up to date :) It took nine weeks to get it to that state, but to be fair I have spent a fair bit of time running steam engines elsewhere and socialising - it certainly hasn't been an all out effort. In some respects, given the weather and short evenings I think I am going to regret that but hey, its certainly getting there.

    The Filcris planks have been ordered for the top surface and should arrive next week. I've stripped about 3/4 of the turf from inside the layout today, I'll get the last bit out tomorrow and can then use the mud down the right hand side of the garden to create a level lawn - its the right time of year to sow some grass seed and the paths mean I can work around it all.

    After that its new fence panels and posts down the side of the garden, steps, finishing off the paths and then track building and laying. We've been fortunate with the weather in October, I'm hoping it holds out a bit in November too :)

  10. Dikitriki

    Dikitriki Flying Squad

    Hi Steve,

    That's a lovely series of posts. Interesting and inspiring. You have done a fantastic neat job very quickly, and it gives me much encouragement that a properly planned approach with labour assistance can lead to a speedy infrastructure build. :thumbs:

  11. jamiepage

    jamiepage Western Thunderer

    'That's a lovely series of posts.'

    Pun intended? Either way, it is indeed a most excellent job.
    Devonbelle, Jordan and David Varley like this.
  12. JimG

    JimG Western Thunderer


    Nice one . I'm taking notes for my venture onto the lawn next year which will finish up with an oval not too much bigger than your one. I'll stick with my plastic pipe and concrete posts, but I'm looking to copy your support and stringer methods.

  13. 40126

    40126 Western Thunderer

    Hi Steve :thumbs:

    Loving this build / thread.

    Can I just ask ?, Was keeping the stretch of boards from the house to the bottom of the garden, down the side of the fence not an option to use as well ?. :oops:

    Steve :cool:
  14. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    Thanks for your kind comments chaps :)

    Richard - You'll have no problems with your willing band of helpers! As long as you have collected materials up front then it goes together pretty well in my experience. The trick is to buy / collect materials when you have small windows of time, so the big windows are spent building and fabricating and not running around.

    Not really Steve, it would have had to have been cut short anyway to remove the bottom curve, and to create the room to walk past it would have ended up at only 18' long. Given that I hadn't used the line for DCC running for a couple of years, and there would have been no power supply I thought it wasn't worth the effort. I couldn't see a way of making it look like a reasonable garden ornament either so it all went and I have photos to remember it by, and a new line to play with :)

    40126 likes this.
  15. ceejaydee

    ceejaydee Western Thunderer

    Great stuff Steve... and helpers ;)
    I think that your line will go some way towards showing that a G1 continuous run can be achieved in a small garden with a little ingenuity and compromise :thumbs:
  16. JohnFla

    JohnFla Western Thunderer

    I have to disagree with your thread title Steve, It's anything but 'simple'. Brilliant thread and cracking workmanship, please keep the updates coming.
  17. Jordan

    Jordan Mid-Western Thunderer

    Tight radius curves remind me of my loft layout! At least trains look better from the inside of the curve, a view you can get too.
  18. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    Cheers Christopher
    There have been plenty of people with smaller G1 layouts than mine - I think a four foot diameter circle is the smallest I know of :) I'm sure I remember reading in the G1 Newsletter about someone who had got a complete circuit in a really small garden - I remember them gauging the wall out to create enough clearance, blowed if I can find it now though.
    Thanks John, but I beg to differ, it is definitely simple. I'm pleased that you think its done well, but compared to layouts like Simons, mine is simple really :) Plenty of fun to be had with it though!
    An excuse for short stock too which doesn't exaggerate the issue :)

    Nothing too exciting today, I finished stripping the turf from the centre of the line...

    GRC62 Turf Stripped.jpg

    ...and then moved all the stuff down the side of the garage to create a small walkway which enables me to get into the garage now without walking on the lawn.

    GRC63 Narrow Path.jpg

    Unfortunately, I tweaked my back moving the bench so called it quits on lifting stuff. Bit of a pity really, it was a lovely day and a good time to start sifting the earth piled up down the right hand side of the garden and getting it into the centre of the circuit. Still the silver lining was I went round to a friends for a steam up instead.

    OG3 Fire and Steam Pressure.jpg

    I can't wait to do this at home :)
    Last edited: 1 November 2015
  19. unklian

    unklian Western Thunderer

    Now have a nice lie down and give your back a rest :)
  20. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    The Filcris planks turned up today

    GRC64 Filcris Planks Arrive.jpg

    and I started sifting the earth for the new lawn

    GRC65 Sieved Soil1.jpg

    Alas, a combination of rain and early sunset limited me to about 30 minutes in the garden. Ah well, fingers crossed for decent weather this weekend (and by decent, I mean I'd settle for dry :) ).