Andrew’s garden experiment

“Dear Alastair,

Please find enclosed two pictures of my garden railway experiment.

This project was started when I lost the control of my “Train Room” small as it was.

So I decided to try the garden after watching the wonderfull series of Garden Railway’s by Mark found.

The idea is to construct several modular base boards place them on 40mm dia pvc drain pipe and bury them into the ground.

Hopefully I will be able to source plants which will grow under the base boards to give a nice green background for the trains to run through.





And now on to the main event. Every now and then a jaw dropping layout comes in. Like Mark’s. Here it is:

“Hi Al. Thanks for the kind words. Here is some more info. Feel free to edit it for size and reader interest.

The layout, physically located in the Las Vegas, NV area is a freelance fictional short line RR “Sweetwater & Thunder Mountain” which shares track rights with the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific and Western Pacific Railroads. The time frame is roughly from the 30’s & 40’s which allows Steam operation through approximately the late 70’s for medium Diesel Power (depending on what I feel like running at different times) The inspiration comes from the Sierra Nevada Mt. Ranges along with the Alaska RR. Lots of tunnels, bridges, granite rock, trees, vegetation, sheer cliffs etc. It has five major towns, Sweetwater, Eagle Mt., Sheridan Yards, Thunder Mt (which is the connecting point to Dunsmuir, CA) Boyd City (hidden) and several whistle stops – Red Rock Station and Camp Carroll. There is an operating turntable and roundhouse in the SW Yards.

The layout is in an area approximately 22’ x 20’ which includes the workshop area. The construction is open grid with risers starting at 4’ and rising to 5’ for track and just over 6.5’ total for scenery. It is basically an around the wall scheme with a free standing 4’ wide peninsula which allows operators to “walk the canyon”. The scenery is all done using plaster cloth over pillows of newspaper and using real rock from my back yard along with some molded and rubber rock. There is one elongated helix and one standard helix both hidden under mountains. Our favorite saying here is “What happens in the Helix, stays in the Helix”.  However, I do have emergency access. I have some guys over and we can actually run timetable operations with a full passenger service in about 6 hours Fast Clock Time or 1 hour real time.

Electrically, there are five control panels located in strategic areas so local switching can be accomplished along with mainline passenger and freight service. Nickel-silver, code 83 rail is used throughout with a minimum 18” radius (this fits the smaller wheel base equipment timeframe) All turnouts are electrically thrown using Tortoise machines and most coupling/uncoupling is done with under track magnets. Control is accomplished using North Coast Engineering, is all radio controlled DCC with hand held throttles. 98% of all motive power is DCC and Sound equipped.

One really cool feature is that the Sweetwater Yards are designed to not only function as an operating yard, but can also be used as a John Allen inspired “timesaver switching puzzle” You’d be amazed at how moving 4 boxcars around into proper locations with a stopwatch running and bring grown men to their knees with exhaustion! Model Railroading is FUN!



(1) Sweetwater Tower 1

(3) UP ERG Trestle Twilight

(4) Kylie Junction Tower Final

(5) ERG Trestle Final

(7) VT Final

(8) Tri-Tunnel Area Close Up

(9) Western Pacific Caboose 1

(11) Sheridan Tunnel 4 Final


Sheridan 1

Shop 1

Sweetwater 2

“Hi Al.

A little update.That wheel of 3mm diode’s.comes in 30 foot wheel I paid oh I think was $3 and free shipping.You see on the strip at the end is two copper tabs. you can solder positive and negative. You can see where to cut the strip.

I cut 3 and attached wires.I used a dead 9 volt battery to power them.The other side of the strip is very sticky if you peel off the paper.I recommend sanding the copper tabs before you solder wires to it.You can cut as many as you like from the strip and also each section has its own 12 volt resistor.You can also desolder each diode off the strip to use for car headlights or other uses.How about lighting for coaches.These wheels come in many colors.


pics 007

pics 006

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

37 Responses to Andrew’s garden experiment

  1. Cameron says:

    Mark that is one impressive layout. Definitely in the “layout of a lifetime” category. Would love to see a track plan or an overview shot if you get a chance. Thanks for posting.

  2. You have produced a first class layout there Mark , your work area looks very interesting as well , well done , one of the best ..

  3. Bill Fitzpatrick says:

    Andrew, Do you have much trouble with “critters” causing damage to your garden layout?

    Mark , That is a great layout ! Fine work!

  4. Mr.Tracy Brown says:

    You did a magnificent job,

  5. Paul Morris says:

    Did Kim by any chance say where he ordered the 3mm diodes rolls from? Thanks

  6. Honesto Magsalin says:

    I could swear these photos were from a real railroad system! Very realistically well done and fantastic photography too! Very commendable job, Mark!
    I’m a model train enthusiast, but have not started my own yet. One of these days…. Thank you, Alastair, for faithfully sending out these e-mails. I enjoy them very much.

  7. builder Kim says:

    sorry I got them from ebay bunch of colors. and are 12 volt.

  8. Mr George Albert Archer says:

    The diodes can be found on e-bay in a few different colors

  9. Duncan Galbraith says:

    Hi Andrew, please keep us updated on your garden rail project, as I am contemplating something similar on strips of UV/PVC. Your approach is very interesting. D/

  10. Ross Johnston says:

    Mark your layout looks amazing. I will be in Las Vegas late September amnd i would love to see it if possible. Cheers Rossco Adelaide South Australia

  11. Thomas says:

    Just outstanding Mark! Such nice details, work of art!


    Mark, VERY WELL DONE 👍

  13. Gregory Schaefer says:

    Mark, the Timesaver is not the only John Allen inspired feature. Are the canyons finished all the way to the floor? If not, that could be your next phase.

    All, if you are not familiar with John Allen, read up on him and prepare to see the Holy Grail of railroading. He lived in Monterrey California, USA. It is worth your time.

  14. Gerry says:


    I noticed you were using 2×4’s that look to be made of pine. If you’re going to lay them outside, on the ground or even near the ground, you should probably use pressure treated lumber

  15. Fred says:

    Please Kim be more specific about those diode strips. Is there a reference number, a company name, a specific size? I looked on E-bay and found a number of different strips but none that looked like the one Kim’s picture. This is a great idea and inexpensive, please share the details.

  16. Cary Price says:

    Hi Andrew, nice to see someone else trying a garden railroad, I’ve been working on my for sometime. You approach is unique, please keep us posted. Cary in KY

  17. Cary Price says:

    Hey Mark, after viewing your photos a 2nd time I noticed your backdrop includes painting the inside of your garage door- what a hoot! Amazing layout, thanks for sharing. Cary in KY

  18. Jim says:

    A truly great looking layout, Mark. Super detailing as well.

    Jim AZ

  19. Roger says:

    I have seen those light wheels for $3 on WISH.


    The lights are also available from Miro Mark.

  21. Cary B says:

    Al, Todays post was super. All the layouts and ideas were really great.

    Cary B

  22. Warren Ferguson says:

    Andrew, I would like very much to see more pics of your garden layout. I don’t think I understand your plan. Will you bury the pipe to the bottom of the wooden elements of your track? If so, I would also think pressure treated lumber would be called for.

    Mark, thank you for sharing the pics of your wonderful layout. I can see from your detailing you are a master of the craft! I would like to see a video of the Sweetwater & Thunder mountain railroad. Is that in the works?

    And last, but certainly not least, Thank You for all you do in keeping this great website running 24/7. What would we do without you?

  23. Chuck Young says:

    Mark, fantastic layout, would love to see in person, I’m in Boulder City. 661.275.8400 ext 56488, give me a ring, I’ll drop everything. Chuck

  24. Robert Brady says:

    Bravo, love the country/mountainous layout Mark! Love to see a video.

  25. Interesting projects today. Andrew, the comment about pressure treated wood or perhaps cedar or redwood is well noted, especially if dealing with dampness.

    Now we know where the picture of the Santa Fe caboose comes from (we see it every time we open one of Al’s wonderful emails). Stunning work, Mark.

    MN Dan

  26. Gary Manganiello says:

    Mark………..What an impressive layout. Really good looking.
    Can I ask you how long you have been working on your layout.

  27. Bob Davidson says:


  28. Stephen White says:

    Mark, I think you have started what some of us are NOT game enough to attempt. Someone has already mentioned timber and wildlife. What about keeping tracks clean? Nicol / Silver is good but still gets dirty inside. Not sure about outside? I assume you will have a safe engine shed and wagon hideouts somewhere. Good Luck.

  29. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Great Layout!! Very well done! God Bless America!

  30. Bill Crumrine says:

    I just wished I had this layout myself. It is the neatest thing, I have ever seen. Some day maybe I will. The only thing I would change is have more steam locomotives, especially the Berkshire, which is my favorite.

  31. Old Ben says:

    This is better than the real thing.. Some of the BEST modeling I have ever seen.

  32. Mark:
    All I can say is WOW! Is there any way to get more pictures of your layout, especially the main plan? I am a 75 year old semi retired Architect that my mom said I got my first train 6 months before I was born. Carried my trains everywhere I moved but never had time to really do a layout. Now I do.
    Thanks. BG

  33. David Schaffner says:

    Very nice layout..Always a pleasure to see someone use a little imagination when they take pics of there scenery and running trains….Love your station tower and some old lookin’ stuff, like your tunnel and coal shute with the work caboose nearby….Photography is an art in itself. Either you have it or you don’t..Dangerous Dave is about the best I’ve seen, but your getting there..Love your layout….

  34. Dave Karper says:

    John Allen was known as “The Wizard of Monterey.” Shortly after he died, his house and railroad were destroyed in a fire. his first railroad was 4’X8. For several years in the late 1940’s, Varney, a now defunct manufacturer, used John,’s pike in his ads, which were always on the back cover of Model Railroader Magazine.

  35. Mr. Ron says:

    Mark, The photography is superb as is the layout.

  36. Kevin in NC says:

    Andrew I like the sectional support idea. Is that MDF for the road bed and the 1x2s are spaced 40mm apart? I’ve been trying to visualize something similar for a seasonal track that is not laid on the ground but elevated 5 or 6 inches just to minimize problems with drainage, squirrels, and rabbits. Not to mention problems with bark and compost. It would run Halloween to Christmas when the butterfly garden is resting. How many pipe supports per section?

  37. Ed says:

    Absolutly a great layout, wonderful scenery, looks like you could walk in and ride the train.
    As usual I have only one complaint. With each project I would like to see a track plan, show the bench work and wiring.
    Love your work Andrew.

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