Last year we decided to upgrade our garden train. It’s technically my father’s train, but our house is the location for the train set so possession being the law and all that. In all seriousness, my parents live in the northern Midwestern US for most of the year, but the weather in Albuquerque is more suited for an outdoor train, so our house was chosen for the location of the track.
So my sister and I got it in our heads to spruce up the track to surprise Dad. Well, truthfully, I suggested it to my sister, she agreed it was a good idea, and then she did all the research in addition to the math and all the hard brain work. Very quickly, what we thought would be a no big deal project became a monster. We prevailed, turned off our perfectionist mode, and with the help of the kids came up with a fantastic result that my dad was pleased with.
The original setup was very respectable. As it was set on the ground, it was hard to mess with and none of us are getting any younger. Our knees were requesting raising the track.
Happily, free plans and advice are available online. They optimistically estimate three days for a task the size we were pondering. Lies. It took us a week. And even then, we had a lot of finish work. Luckily, in New Mexico, we have a rule that things don’t have to perfectly straight. Errors and crooked edges add character. So. We had that going for us.
The first step was to head off to procure lumber. This was more fun for the kids than the grownups.
We had to raise the old track, trying to keep markers in place to the new track would cover the same line. we accomplished this for the most part. Digging holes in our hard clay is, well, hard. But we did it. And handily we have a saw for quick post cutting.
This quickcrete stuff was miraculous. We threw it in the holes, added water, and prayed like crazy that the posts were level and straight. Spoiler alert, they weren’t. Close enough.
Once the posts were in, we had to figure out how to lay the surface for the track. This was 2 x 6 boards, cut so they joined to create curves. This was the point where we sent the kids away. They helped a ton up until this point and then our brains had to work really really hard. We were at the same time trying to make sure that curves weren’t too sharp for the train, but remember the posts were already set with concrete so we were also troubleshooting errors in spacing at this point.
We made our best guess for the lengths and angles of the boards and ventured onward.
Shims for the Oopses
As mentioned, we screwed up a lot, but thankfully for shims, we made modifications, adding a centimeter or two in order to get a level track. We also sawed pieces of track in half since somehow or another, while we had the track laid almost exactly where it had been, the curves were off. Crazy, I know, because we were really super precise in our measurements. That’s sarcasm, in case you weren’t sure.
Some of us were in heaven, playing with power tools and whatnot 🙂
Eventually, the deal came together. Learned a lot about laying train tracks, that’s for sure. And heavily rued the day I came up with the idea.
We had one part that was beyond hard. The track curved around an existing tree and somehow got way off at that point. Everytime we had a solution, the track shifted and we created an issue elsewhere. I’m not sure how it came together finally, but whatever magic was in place was what we needed.
We persevered and it looks gorgeous if you don’t look too closely.
Chief Engineer Surveying the Lay of the Land
The final test was the presentation to the Grand Master of the Track. He loves it 🙂