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Part 2 - Into The Garden!

In the second part of the saga:

-          How not to design a garden railway

-          The way forward: LGB or not?

-          Motive Power - trials and tribulations

-          A family railway?


Please note that many more pictures of Ruritanian Railways are available in the “Albums” section of G Scale Central.  Enjoy!



How Not To Design A Garden Railway:


In April 1999, we returned to Cheshire, UK from France with two Stainz locos, an early MTS set with its Schoema diesel, a few bits of track and several pieces of LGB Toytrain rolling stock.  Mrs Whatlep had agreed that a garden layout would be acceptable, so I quickly drew up this plan (for the railway as finally laid out, skip forward):



Simple and elegant, I thought.  Yet it had major issues from the start.  Why?  Because I was still thinking in “indoor mode”.  In other words, I had not really considered what running a railway in the garden would be like.  Let me explain.  I envisaged a railway in the outdoors that would be operated like my numerous previous layouts indoors.  Get a train out, do a bit of shunting and, from time to time, let it run around the continuous loop.  Or, using the LGB MTS system, do some shunting with one loco while I ran another round and round to entertain the family.  Both expectations proved completely wrong!  More significantly, the design failed to take account of some practicalities, but more on those later.


Based on numerous magazine articles, I gathered that I needed a line somewhere between ground level and waist height, laid on gravel, limestone or sand (but never pea gravel) in a trench excavated to between 3 and 12 inches and/or a well-constructed brick and wood viaduct: possibly all at the same time.  In short, I was overloaded with data and desperately needed somebody more experienced.  Unfortunately, none of today's G Scaling websites had been invented.  Since I knew no better, I ploughed on anyway.


The final decision was for track laid at ground level on 6mm granite chippings.  Luckily this worked extremely well over the years, being very rigid after settling (or tamping down hard by hitting with a shovel!), yet easy to break up for track changes – and there were quite a few of those.  Chippings also drained well – useful in England’s Northwest.  


One tonne of soil was excavated and Travis Perkins emptied a similar amount of chippings onto the driveway, marooning Mrs Whatlep’s car.  Big mistake!  The end result looked like this:



The photo shows two basic errors I made at first.  Loops and sidings were much too short for the size of trackplan.  Similarly, though LGB R3 curves were used on the main line, all my points were R1s.  They looked terrible!  I had chosen them for cheapness and because I could not envisage the need for electric motors which R3s had as standard.  More “indoor thinking”!  Within six months, the points started to be replaced with R3s and I was wiring them up for remote operation in that rather nice looking shed.  It cost me a lot more than doing things right in the first place....


By contrast, the shed was a conspicuous success.  I deliberately chose one large enough (10 feet by 6 feet) to allow a loop of LGB R1 track inside and robust enough to be used as a workshop.  It was quickly fitted with electric light and plug points, so all the MTS gear and other controls could be permanently housed there.  Add a kettle, radio and electric heater and you have a perfect hideaway for the average harassed father.  I loved my shed!  


As envisaged on the trackplan, trains could access the shed directly (via the “train flap”!), meaning that some stock could stay on the rails at all times.  An idea definitely to be recommended if, like me at the time, you only find odd blocks of 10/15 minutes when you have time to run a train.  The ramp can be seen in the background in the next picture.  Note that in this late 1999 view the station points have already been replaced with R3s and space made for a platform.




The Way Forward:


Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that all the stock shown so far is LGB.  This was not a ‘done deal’ when I started building.  I thought long and hard about three possible options:

1.       Stick with LGB kit, with MTS control

2.       Change to Bachmann, whose superb Shay loco had just become available

3.       Move toward 16mm live steam and stock.


Bachmann had two clear advantages: price and their use of metal wheels as standard.  I also knew from indoor experience that bogie stock ran better than 2-axle vehicles, something made even more relevant given LGB’s ‘single-axle bogie’. That Shay made me drool too.  On the other hand, live steam had long been of interest, but I’d never considered it remotely affordable – until I started to compare live steamers with other G Scale loco prices!


At the time, my main supplier was Garden Railway Specialists (GRS) in Princes Risborough.  During 1999 I had many hours of earnest discussion with them about garden railways in general and received much good advice, most of which I foolishly ignored.  Whatever others’ experiences may be, GRS were helpful when I most needed assistance and I still shop with them from time to time.


The end result of much thought was that I would experiment with a live steam locomotive (a Roundhouse “Billy” via GRS) while retaining a mainstream LGB direction.  The “Billy” looked like a live steam Stainz, so it would fit in well. The deciding factor in favour of LGB was my existing stock and the availability of (relatively) cheap LGB Toytrain stock.  In the unlikely event that LGB’s heirs read this, please note, if a budget range of LGB stock hadn’t existed, I would have chosen Bachmann in 1999.  My choice today from scratch?  Hard to say honestly, but there isn’t any more Toytrain stuff, is there?



Motive Power – Trials & Tribulations:


The live steamie proved highly enjoyable and it has stood the test of time for a full 10 years without any repairs needed.  However, I soon found that even on a pretty flat layout (max grade 1 in 50 or 2%) it needed really to be driven at all times, rather than left to its own devices.  A fine challenge to the operator’s skills and there is nothing, repeat nothing, like the smell of warm steam oil on a balmy evening.  However, live steam is not really suitable  for a quick, relaxing quarter-hour’s operating.


Having decided on LGB, my loco stud (still two Stainzes and a Schoema diesel) needed expanding.  I was quickly (re-)learning that small locos perfomed badly unless track was level and, above all, clean.  Yet having to clean umpteen yards of track made quick bursts of operation unlikely.  On a ground-level track cleaning was also a back-aching chore – another thing I had failed to think through!


I went through a frustrating period of buying locomotives that simply would not perform adequately on my imperfect track.  An LGB ‘U’ class 0-6-2 tank arrived and stuttered round the line, also pulling less than I’d expected. 


A Rugen 0-8-0 arrived and could pull anything, but only if the track was clean.  Thirdly, a track cleaner came and worked well in multiple with the MTS Schoema, but with a noise like Concorde taking off! 

Finally, I got the message that I should have remembered from my ‘N’ scale days indoors: use multiple pickups over the longest distance possible.  The Stainzes had operated successfully in multiple for a while, with jumper wires between the two (MTS fitted) locos.  In August 2000,  I sold all my old ‘N’ scale indoor kit, took the plunge and bought an LGB Brohltal Mallet.  Fantastic!



Having finally found what I really needed, some rationalisation occurred.  The ‘U’ class and Rugen locos were traded in at that nice Mr Tim’s (Arcadia models in Oldham) for more stock and another Mallet.  After 18 months of rather expensive experimentation, the layout was running well and could be worked in comfort either sitting outside or snug in the shed.  In December 2000, even snow could not defeat the Stainzes. We were on a roll!




A Family Railway?

Now the railway’s fundamentals had settled down, the period 2001-2004 saw steady, but unspectacular development.  The rolling stock roster increased with most of the original Toytrain wagons being replaced by standard LGB items and more 307x coaches added to the Mallet’s “international express”.  


The MTS system expanded too as I braved full radio control for the locos – a significant cost, but an excellent investment.  After 3 years I could, after all, do the shunting I’d originally envisaged without trailing leads across the lines or running to and fro to the shed!  The funny thing was, I rarely did so.  Almost all my running was of unit trains, occasionally parked up in loops or the quarry siding, but usually making lazy circuits of the garden while I relaxed.  Garden railroading was proving very different to the indoor variety.


By 2001 scenery started to arrive in force, to huge initial approval from Mrs Whatlep who curiously considered this more of an enhancement to the garden than yet another brown goods van.  All the buildings were lit and much enjoyed on winter evenings by my daughter who would peer out of her bedroom window at the trains, rather than going to sleep.


It was at this point that the Ruritanian Railways name came into use, with a presumed location in the former Austro-Hungarian empire where today’s Czech and Slovak Republics and Poland bump up against each other.  The name was partly derived from a workplace prank relating to monthly reports from European countries to our parent company in the USA.  Suspecting these reports were rarely, if ever, read, I began inserting data for Ruritania.  It took 6 months before I was rumbled.  Luckily my US manager both had a sense of humour and got the point about superfluous statistics!


Incremental improvements included replacing plastic wheels with metal ones.  Initially LGB sets were used, but I quickly found that Bachmann provided equivalents more cheaply and switched to them – the first chink in my LGB empire.  I’ve had no issues with either manufacturer’s wheels over the years.



Encouraged by my wife’s compliments, I naturally grabbed some more garden for the line in 2003, cramming a return loop (automated using an MTS 55080 module) in the unused patch of dirt between shed and garden fence and doubling the line west of the main station to create a huge loop, sufficient for 4 metre long trains to pass each other.  Trains could now leave the shed, run along the line to the return loop and then retrace their steps in a lazy four minute long journey.  Very nice!


The ultimate trackplan is shown below:



It was all rather fun as far as I was concerned, but I noticed that the family’s enthusiasm had levelled off somewhat.  All the fragile buildings looked good, but inhibited my daughter’s ability to race around the garden as befits a primary schooler.  Balls kicked about onto £20 LGB lights were not applauded.  My wife also got rather tired of racing into the garden on dark and stormy nights to rescue the latest item blown over.  Getting the lawnmower from garage to grass was also “interesting” since I’d forgotten to leave an easy crossing place.


In short, while I’d built a pretty nice railway empire, I’d also rather appropriated the garden, which wasn’t the original game plan at all.  In another life at the same location, I would build raised beds to carry the tracks – enabling a ball to be kicked against them without any fear of damage and also making all trackwork less of a backaching chore.  I’d also probably make the line a dogbone around three sides of the garden with a gap between the station and oil depot for easy access to the lawn.


So much for theories.  By late 2004 something much more serious concerned Ruritanian Railways.  We had decided to move house!    More in Part 3 of the saga.....