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By Byron Fenton, October, 2011

Method one

1. Get a general idea of what you would like to do.
A.   A rough sketch or just well thought out.

2. Check the elevations in your yard.
A.   Use the liquid level gauge method.
B.   Use Level and yard sticks
C.   Use transit

3. Lay out your plan on paper to scale and check your grades.
A.   Use largest radius possible.  Try for at least a 4' radius (LGB 1600 curve). A larger radius (possibly 10' or larger) will be required for many live steam locos and some of the larger loco's and rolling stock (check before you build or buy). All LGB standard production equipment will work on 2'radius.
B.   Make sure all track is accessible for cleaning and maintenance.
C.   Tunnels: you must have access to remove derailed cars.
D.   I do not recommend putting track under low bushes or shrubs, maintenance is very difficult.
E.   Maximum track grade should be 4% or less, 4" per 100' track or prox. ½” per foot. 1/8” per foot approximates a 1% grade.

Method Two

1. Get a general idea of what you would like to do.
A.   A rough sketch or just well thought out.
2. Use ¾” PVC pipe with stakes to lay out your track plan in place.
A.    This will give you smooth curves and works well when using flex track.
B.    You can directly check your grades.
C.    It is easy to visualize your track and how it fits into your yard.
D.    It is harder to lay out and visualize areas where it is necessary to remove dirt and /or create a tunnel without actually creating the effect as you go. One way to do this may be to raise this portion of the pipe up a uniform amount that will keep it above the ground for this portion of the track (raise it 12 or 18” above actual track height).
3. Build up the ground or plan on bridges to bring the grade up to the bottom of the PVC pipe.
A. We used a combination of methods one and two to design and layout the railroad for Hudson Gardens.

Method Three

1. Just get some track put it on the ground and get it running.
A.   This is great if you’re not sure what you want to do right know and you can get something running right away. It is very easy to get it running quickly and is great for a temporary setup and to get the feel of what you may want to do later.
B.   For this you need to use sectional track.
C.   You need to be very careful not to get grades too steep for the trains.
D.   You can always pick it up and move it or change it.

Getting on with the rest of it

1. Decide on a power supply and control system.  
A.   DO NOT use a 110-volt power pack outside unless it has a ground fault interrupter in the power circuit. Do not leave your power pack out in the weather.
B.   Preferably, use a power supply that you can have the transformer inside and safely grounded with the low voltage only outside.
C.   You will probably want at least a 4-amp power supply, plus power for         accessories.
D.   A ground fault interrupter is recommended for all power supplies.

2. Plan for your wiring needs now.
A.   How and where are you going to run your wires?
        1. In plastic or metal conduit?
        2. And/or direct buried wires.
           a. Use quality stranded copper weatherproof wires. I used trailer wire available with 3, 4, and 6 conductors in 14 and 16 gauge and single conductor automotive wire. LGB also has some very good flexible wire available in limited sizes and colors. Tinned copper wire is much stiffer and harder to work with; it also is difficult to keep straight in the ground.
           b. Single strand primary automotive wire is available in 50 to 250’ spools and gauges from 18 to 10 gauge. Single strand wire is more subject to breakage than multi-strand wire and is less flexible.
           c. Above wire(except the LGB)is available from J.C. Whitney, P.O. box 8410, Chicago, Ill. 60680. Phone (312) 431-6102, Call or write for catalog.
        3. A combination of both.
        4. Plan for more wires than you think you'll need.
        5. Typical number of wires needed.
           a. Track power: 2 wires
           b. Reverse loop: 2 wires, at each end, plus 2 power wires. Also required is a means of switching the reverse loop, possibly automatic triggers and more conductors required
           c. Switch machines: 1 ground plus one additional for each switch machine; i.e. 3 machines need 4 wires. If using a radio control for switches you will need two separate wires for each switch machine.
           d. Lighting and accessories: 2 wires for each lighting circuit.

3. What kind of track are you going to use?
A.   Stainless steel is very good and more expensive, requires less track cleaning than the others
B.   Brass: good electrical characteristics for track power, higher cost,
   better operation.
B.   I recommend LGB 5' brass flex track. It conducts well and turns a dark bronze after a year or so outside.  
C.   Aristo Craft also has a pretty good brass track and is coming out with a flex track. It is anodized and is harder and stays a fairly bright brass color.
C.   Aluminum: good appearance, poor electrical, higher expansion rates, lower cost. Good for steam and battery power.
D.   Nickel Silver: this is a very good track and is more expensive than brass.
E.   Steel: this is good for steam and battery power. It is cheaper and rusts out in the weather. NOT recommended for track power.
F.   Pre-formed track, such as LGB or Aristo sectional track.  Disadvantage is many more track joints with related problems. Also limited flexibility for curves.
G.   Long lengths of flex track bent to fit your needs with a rail bender. Definitely my recommendation and use a good quality rail bender.
H.   You can use plastic tie strip or you can hand spike it down. I used LGB plastic tie strip, except for bridges and trestles, where I hand spiked the rail onto redwood ties.

4. Rail joining method; both electric and mechanical.
     A. For track power you must have a good electric connection at rail
        joints. Use a conductive grease in all rail joints when using track power.
        1. Solder jumper wires to each rail and connect with wire nuts and a
latex sealant or screw jumper wires to each rail. This is what I started with and it works well.   
        2. Use S.S. screws through the rail joiner into the rail. I am currently using this method and it is much faster and easier than soldering the wires onto the rail. This also provides a good mechanical joint, but track must be installed so that it can move. The screws can be added later. If you make sure your rail joiners are tight to the rail and you conductive grease in them, they usually will work for about two years before your start having problems.
        3. Use a commercial type of mechanical squeeze joint (rail clamps). These are much more costly and tend to need re-tightened periodically and may not be as good as the above items.
     B. For all types of operation (steam, battery, or electric) you must have a joiner that provides good rail alignment. I used all LGB brass rail joiners. Squeeze rail joiners to fit very tight on the rail before installing.
     C. File bevel on all sides of rail ends to ease installation of rail joiners and prevent wheels from picking the track joint.

5. Track support and ballast.
     A. Remember temperatures on your rail will go as low as the lowest temperature in the winter (20 to 30 below zero) to a blistering 150+ degrees in direct sun with no breeze.
        1. This requires room for expansion.  If you solidly anchor both ends of a rail it will buckle or bend and break loose from the ties.  
B. Lay track loose in ballast.
        1. I recommend laying track in a ballast of crushed rock, do not use rounded          river rock or Squeegee.  I use crusher fines or something that has a large variety of size and is sharp edged so it will pack and stay in place. Under the crusher fines I recommend 2 to 5" of tamped “road base” material, this is from fines up to 3/4" rock and packs well.
        2. Switches must be supported for their length plus at least 6” beyond for good operation. I do not recommend any kind of wood product. One item that appears to work well is a 1/2” thick cement backer board used for shower walls. Cement or some type of plastic (UV protected) is recommended.
        3. Long straight runs or hand spiked rail on bridges or trestles in excess of 5' may require expansion joints to avoid track bowing sideways. Use 3/32" to 1/8" per 5' of track.
     C. Mount track solidly on boards, supports, or concrete.
        1. You must provide for expansion at all rail joints. Approx 3/32" for each 5' length.
D.   Check your grade as you lay the track. Maximum 4% (4” vertical change per 100”).
6. Bridges and trestles.
     A. Make sure you have ample clearance if trains are to run under any
        bridges, I use a bare minimum of 8-1/2" ht. and prefer to have 9 or 10" from railhead to bottom of structure and 3.5" from side of track centerline, more on curves (these will need to be increased for 1:20 scale equipment).
     B. You can put in a redwood, cedar, or treated lumber plank for temporary bridges until you decide what type you want, or until you can build it.  Bridges can be
        purchased or you can build your own.    
  1. For building your own I recommend using redwood or Cedar 2x4 lumber and sawing it to the proper size.

7Remember to build it so it suits you!! Most garden railroaders go by the 10’ rule. If it looks good at 10’ its good enough!

If you have questions, ask at your local dealer or call me. 
Byron Fenton at 303-936-0920