Caught you. You were looking again weren’t you? Don’t try to deny it – I can see your mind working overtime. You see long, sweeping curves with a train hauling 20 goods wagons behind it, snaking around your garden passing a steam-powered passenger express chuffing in the opposite direction. Is that a suspension bridge over a pond in the corner? A beautifully detailed viaduct crossing the main lawn? Impressive stuff. No, don’t be silly. It’s not impossible, you just need to plan it properly! Let me help you by covering some of the basics… and the best way to do that is by answering some questions, so grab a pen and paper!
What sort of track layout do I want?
Have a good long hard think on this one. It’s possibly the most important question you can answer. I’m not talking about a specific track plan here, just a rough idea on what you want to accomplish. Are looking for a looping layout that once up and running will require no intervention, so you can just sit back with a beer and enjoy the fruits of your labour? Or an end-to-end railway which requires interaction at all times to prevent a locomotive-shaped inferno? Maybe a prototypical re-creation of a section of your favourite real-life line, complete with bad excuses for delays? Think hard about it, make some notes, and once you’ve settled on what you want to model, move along to…
How big is my garden?
So now you’ve decided you’re going to recreate the entire West Coast Main Line from Bristol to Land’s End in your garden, you’ll want to be checking how big your garden really is and then fine tune your plans. Yes I know you don’t have a tape measure that long, but fear not – firstly, it doesn’t have to be a precise measurement, you just need to know roughly what space you’re working with; and secondly, you can just count the fence panels. It’s a highly technical and scientific process for guesstimating the length and width of the garden. The average fence panel is 6 foot (1.8m), so just multiply the number of fence panels by 6 to get your length. See – scientific and technical. Now you have a rough idea on the size of the ‘layout’ space you have, it’s time to consider…
What Gauge do I want?
Now I know this one sounds easy, surely it’s just big, bigger or bigger still (gauge O, 1 or G) ? Depending on the size of the garden and the level of the detail (or scale length of track) you want to fit in, you may want to consider the alternatives. While O, 1 and G and common garden scales, you should not rule out OO gauge or maybe one of the bespoke larger scales. if you’re lucky enough to own a couple of flat acres of land, why not a nice sit-on railway? At the opposite end of the scale, even a 20 foot garden can comfortably accommodate an OO gauge layout with lots of interest and detail. Think outside the box, however… a 400 foot garden would be ideally suited to one of the larger gauges, but the sheer scale length you could model in OO would be nothing short of epic! Now you’ve sorted that out, there’s one last basic question to think about…
Am I going to build a Model Railway in the Garden, or a Garden Railway?
There goes that doubting voice in your head again. You really should stop that. No, they’re not the same thing. A “model railway in the garden” is exactly that – a model railway layout that just happens to be outdoors to take advantage of the space the garden offers. You’ve got wood baseboards running round the garden supporting the tracks, the odd bit of scenery here and there, just like the real, model, thing. The more ambitious, and what immediately springs to mind when you think of it, is the “garden railway” – a railway that has been integrated as much as possible into the natural landscape, taking advantage of walls, water features, trees, etc to provide real scenic interest instead of artificial. As with gardens, the latter type of railway requires more maintenance as you’ll have to think about planting, shrubs, etc.
Once you’ve given careful thought to all of the above, you’re ready to start thinking about building the railway. Answer carefully, then take the plunge… and most importantly, enjoy!