HO Scale Garden Railroad

I'm thinking about putting an HO Scale railroad in the garden when I plant it this spring. I'm posting here because I need advice on what I can lay track ON that would be sturdy and not harm my tomatoes, strawberries, watermelon, carrots, green beans (or whatever else I plant.)
At the moment, my main question is how to securely mount the track. I plan on soldering every joint so electric connectivity isn't a problem. The track is about 1" wide with plastic "ties" between the rails. Normally, track is mounted by putting a nail through the center of the tie in to a board or with glue. However, a 1/2" nail like I use wouldn't be sufficient to hold track in place on dirt/weed block.
Also, HO scale track is somewhat fragile. Any ideas on how to prevent having it stepped on? (I'm sure many gardeners have come across a similar problem.)
If there's a better newsgroup for this, I don't think my ISP carries it... There's no rec.models.railroads.garden like there is rec.models.railroads.ho
--- Short introduction to model railroad scales in general. (For the curious.) ---
Model railroads are railroads built to resemble the full scale railroads that I'm sure everyone has seen or at least crossed their tracks. They're built to different sizes (each with their advantages and disadvantages) called /scales/ and they usually have letter names. O scale (1:48 proportion) was one of the original so when trains came out that were roughly half of O scale (1:87) it was called HO for "Half O."
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Puckdropper wrote:

You might want to look at Garden Railways Magazine: http://www.trains.com/maghomepage/maghomepage.asp?idMagazine=5
Personally, I think that HO is far too small to be built on even firmly packed ground. I think you'll find that you'll never get the ground flat enough unless you pre-mount the track on some very wide pieces of plywood, and do a reasonably good job of grading an even wider path.
You'll find some people talk about G-scale or G-gauge, but there really is no such thing. Gauge refers to the distance between the rails, and scale refers to the ratio to full-size. These days garden railroads are often built on what was once the obsolete 1-gauge rails, but the scale of rolling stock varies. you'll find 1:20.3, 1:22.5, 1:24, 1:29 and 1:32 but not a big selection in any of them. If you're going for accuracy of full-size railroads, 1:32 would be correct, but there's more available in 1:29, which with 1-gauge track would be more like a narrow-gauge railroad in real life.
I just can't see HO as being practical for a real garden railroad. Possibly as part of a patio railroad, but not out on the actual earth. But maybe someone else out there has made it work.
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There is an alt.models.railroad.ho listed in my newsgroups (with Newsguy.com for a server). Although I didn't find a rec.models.railroads.ho, I'll have to ask them about that! I could have sworn there was a garden railroad group.
Here's a few links I found on a dogpile search:
http://www.railserve.com/Models/Retail /
http://www.trains.com/maghomepage/maghomepage.asp?idMagazine=5
http://www.btcomm.com/trains/primer/budget.htm
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of model railroad groups on Yahoo.
I have enough trouble getting good roadbed indoors in HO :-). I think you'll never get reliable operation outdoors. Although I do remember an article long ago in Model Railroader (IIRC) about someone who ran a track (not a loop) along his top fence stringer. That might be doable.
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Larry Blanchard wrote: *snip*

There's nothing wrong with rec.models.railroad. I just figured the people here would have a few ideas on what to use that would not affect the soil negatively. (I plan on eating what I grow, so it's not like a flower just dieing.) You're not supposed to use railroad ties for gardens because of the creosote, for example.

There's supposed to be a 1964 issue of MR that had an article about HO outside... However I don't have any MR's from that year. I will probably try it and see how it holds up. I've got plenty of brass track so I'm only out time if it doesn't work.
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most people use G scale for garden railroads for two reasons. it's big enough to actually see & it's not as fragile as HO. that said, i would use exterior plywood for your roadbed & post really big signs warning people about RR Crossings :) one other drawback to HO is no matter what you plant, it's going to be completely out of proportion to the trains. if that doesn't bother you, then go for it! lee

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Fun little thread!
Has anyone ever put a scaled down roller-coaster in their garden to give cats & terriers & hamsters scary rides?
-paghat the ratgirl
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At that scale, you will have to be an obsessive neat freak to keep it running. Unless it is completely enclosed, like in a greenhouse or something, you will have to contend with all kinds of flying and crawling mammals, birds, and insects as well as weather and the plants themselves. Even a stray blade of grass would have the potential to stall a train. I think most of the garden railroaders will tell you to go "O" or bigger.
But if you insist, you might want to look at some of the new vinyl products designed for outdoor deck and fence work that machine like wood but are mostly impervious to rot, mildew, etc. Maybe 1x4's half-lap jointed on a bed of compacted sand like you would do paving bricks and secured with gutter spikes. And I think I would be inclined to try tiny screws instead of nails as less likely to work loose. And if you insist on the "quiet track" thing, maybe try micro-mesh packing material instead of cork. Or maybe something rubbery like bicycle inner tubes. Outdoors, I think I would rule the noise factor irrelevant and go for solid mounting, but it's your call.
Mounted to a solid base, your track will take more abuse than you might think. It will probably support your full weight vertically in sneakers if you don't scooch around. You can protect it somewhat by building up the surroundings flush or slightly above the top of the rails, although that might detract from the esthetics of your layout, depending on your scenic plans.
And if you *really* want it to be sturdy, you can make your own "track" by embedding metal strips in the dielectric material of your choice, pour a reinforced concrete base, etc. From an engineering standpoint, just about anything can be made to work with sufficient investment of time and materials. As a hobby, it's up to you find a performance vs. difficulty tradeoff point that fits your comfort level.

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Ol' Duffer wrote:

I didn't really think of the flying and non flying animals... I don't normally see them when I'm outside.

I may give some of that a try. Thanks. I don't think I'll go for the "quiet track" thing as it really doesn't matter. I doubt anyone will hear it if they're not listening.
Using screws is a good idea. I'll have to visit a hardware store and see what they carry. (Maybe something with a shallow head and about 1/4" deep...)

Thanks for the suggestions. My scenic plans have been not to scenic ;-) I'm just going for having the train in the garden and look somewhat natural. (I know those 3' tomato plants scale up to about 500' in HO.)
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Attack of the killer tomatoes?
Puckdropper wrote:

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you crazy; it takes so little to disrupt models that small. You'll have dirt and corrosion interrupting the electrical pickup off the tracks, plus whatever weeds, runners, etc. manage to grow up/through/over the rails. At Morris Aboretum, not too far from me, they have a garden railway running in the warmer months. It's the "G" scale or whatever the big stuff is, but I note that quite a bit of it runs on elevated trestles so it's not all at ground level. The trestles are made of all sorts of interesting stuff -- like bamboo and other atypical model RR material. It's been several years since I visited, I guess they're still doing it. Even with that size, there was a bit of "right-o-way" maintenance going on when I was there.
You could probably elevate strips of Trex or other synthetic deck lumber on posts of plastic pipe or something along those lines. Is the garden fenced? You could run a strip of Trex around on shelf brackets.
I think you should consider doing a big garden and get more serious about the models: <http://www4.pbase.com/dw_thomas/pls
:-)
DaveT
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This is a new one on me but I don't hang out here a whole lot. I suppose you make a tunnel in the watermelon when it decides to set fruit on the track. :-) and tie up bad bugs and lay them across the tracks ah lah Snidley Whiplash. That should be fun too.

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IMHO HO is too small for outdoor work. I don't run any trains, but as I recall, the tracks are brass or some similar metal that will corrode if exposed to a lot of nasty weather. This makes electrical trouble for trains that don't have enough weight on the wheels to break through the corrosion layer on the tracks. You might be able to avoid this problem if you run a train with some internal power source (batteries in the drawn cars) and maybe radio control.
Just an estimate, to use the track as an electrical source you would do better with something with a gauge of around a foot rather than an inch. The weight would be enough to make better contact with the rails and the wheel size would be large enough to compete more effectively with weeds. (How *do* you weed between the tracks on HO gauge?) Most people don't run that sort of model and I suspect they would be pricey (but they're getting to the level that you can ride on them). Of course at that size you could run an internal gasoline engine or a car battery.
Out of curiosity I Googled garden railroad and found a several (~2 million) sites, including people who have them, people who sell them, magazines and e-zines, etc. e.g.:
http://www.railsusa.com/gardenrr.shtml http://www.largescale.com / http://www.tttrains.com/sjrp/ "radio control is essential for operation in the garden"
Much more, more than I wanted to go through.
Puckdropper wrote:

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dps wrote:

I didn't realize the weight of large scale engines would break through the corrosion. Nickel silver track is supposed to have a electrically conductive corrosion layer, but I'm not too sure.

Weed barrier. If I slice it in to strips larger than the roadbed it should handle most weeds. The others will have to be pulled up young... very young. (Just like most gardeners recommend.)

Thanks for the links... I googled before I posted and also searched the trains.com forums. (I saw a guy post here I knew from there.)

I've got HO scale stuff now (and an excess of sectional track due to past layouts) so to do something like this means I have to spend a little amount of money. My Bachmann standard series locomotives are going to be doing most the work... They're quite hard to destroy. My good stuff stays inside!
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HO? isn't that a little small for outdoors?
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