Bob’s Christmas G scale layout

“This time of year my thoughts turn to my outdoor G scale Christmas display that I set up for 35 years. It all started about 40 years ago.

My son Keith was about 14; he worked in TrainWorld Brooklyn. My wife and I went next door for a Christmas Eve toast. When we got home, Keith had an LGB starter set running around the living room and dining room.

He said Merry Christmas Dad, the set is yours! That Christmas we set the set up in the back yard. It wasn’t much, just the track. We lived in a row house that didn’t have a basement; which is why the 0 Gauge was packed away. The front garden was a rock garden. The following Christmas I negotiated to use the front garden.

I purchased used LGB track and proceeded to construct a railway snaking between the rocks and plants in an oval at basically the outer edge of the garden.

The garden was bordered by the house, a wrought iron fence at the sidewalk, a wrought iron fence and my neighbors stoop on one side; and a very low brick wall on the other side. (A “stoop” is a Brooklyn term for a set of brick steps at the front of a home.)

I used the brick wall as my roadbed for one side.

I bought a church and a house at a show; they were very light and had to be wedged between rocks to keep them from blowing away.

A few years later a friend was breaking down his layout and offered all of the buildings to me. They were all the premium heavier buildings; including the church, station, water tank, hotel, and saloon.

I started mounting the track on 1x3s and then only had to make track connections at the corners. The next year another friend came upon a deal of LGB engines. He passed on the savings to me and I picked up the Colorado Southern, and a smaller American engine that also had a powered tender as well as a trolley.

I set up a track that ran up the middle of the garden and then curved to meet the “Main Line” at the station. I purchased a reversing circuit, so the trolley travelled back and forth laying over at each end for a few minutes.

I picked up some American passenger cars and began favoring the little #2 and 2 passenger cars less and less. Then one day my Dad stopped over and when He saw the number 2; he told me that he rode on that engine as a boy. He said that his Grandfather was the engineer in a factory in Germany. That’s when I knew that #2 would be part of the Christmas display for a long time.

I had picked up some American style passenger cars to run with the Colorado Southern. I soon learned that the tight turns and slight grade from the front of the garden up to the house was too much and the engine was slipping. I eventually traded the passenger cars.

I started the routine of trying to find a different 4 wheeled passenger car every time I went to York.

One year I decided to create a Christmas train. I got a deal on 5 Lionel large scale flat cars. I made a Lionel large scale box car the conversion from hook and loop to knuckle couplers. The Colorado Southern was on the point.

Other cars that were added along the way included; a high sided gondola which I stood Christmas trees in, an REA heavyweight combination car, a gondola with Santa in his sleigh, a work caboose with gifts, and a Christmas caboose. Of course the weight issue returned so the little #2 was added on the end as a pusher.

The CS had a bell/whistle feature that was activated by magnets in the track. My wife objected to this because she thought it would annoy the neighbors. I took apart a floor toy that had a nice sounding sound system.

I mounted the small circuit in a plastic box that screws came in and attached it to the wrought iron fence at the walk. I connected it to mini speakers from a tape player. When people came by I told them to ring the bell and blow the whistle. I had quite a lot of traffic in front of our home during the Christmas season.

I settled into a routine from year to year. I reached an agreement with my Wife that I could have the garden starting the last weekend in November or first frost which ever came first; and my wife wouldn’t plant any perennials in my right of way.

So starting a few weeks before Christmas I would run the #2 passenger train, which grew into an 11 car train, until a few days before Christmas. Then the Christmas train ran until New Years; followed by a logging train headed up by a Bachmann Shay.

The Christmas train flatcars became log cars. One year I had a business trip at the end of January. The trains were in; but the track was still down. There was a snow & ice storm that froze the track to the ground until late March. This resulted in an amendment to the agreement. The track would be removed by January 6.

Most times the trains ran in the evening till 11 PM during the week, and 12 -14 hours a day on the W/E. The last 3 years of my work were at home except when I was travelling. So the trains would run from lunchtime till 11 PM.

My home office was in a rear BR; so I had a camera positioned at the front BR window looking down on the garden. It was hooked up to a 5” TV on my desk.

It took about a minute for the train to make a full circuit; so I would glance at the TV every so often. If I saw the train I was good, if I didn’t I’d wait the minute for it to appear. When it didn’t I would go down and check it out.

It amazed me that some days it would run 12 hours without a fault and others were a disaster. I soon learned that the LGB hook and loop couplers were very finicky. Depending on the strength of the plastic centering spring it made a difference which hook was on the left and which was on the right. Set up the wrong way and one car would derail the other on a curve.

Squirrels, blowing leaves and small braches were also causes for derailments.

The trains ran in all kinds of weather; although there would be changes in the consist depending on the weather. A really windy day would sometimes reduce service to a lone trolley car running on the mainline. Snow wasn’t a problem unless it was wet and heavy. I would add an engine to keep them running.

Sometimes it would be a lashup of 3 engines just to keep the line open; all the while hoping that the snow would stop before 11 PM.

Freezing rain was a killer; a glaze would stick to the track and that halted everything. There were times I would try to fight it by using an alcohol sprayer. Sometimes I won.

The snow would take over when I shut down for the night; I had a wedge snow plow mounted on a gondola. I put a brick in the gondola so it wouldn’t derail when it hit a drift.

It all came to an end a year or two before we moved to NJ. There was snow an ice in the garden and there was a derailment at about 9PM. I gingerly tiptoed around the rocks and got it cleared; all the while thinking, if I fall how will I ever get up.

When I got back inside and settled in my chair; I texted the kids and told them that they had to pick up the G scale after Christmas or it would be sold. End of an era.

Three days after we moved into our new home; I was invited to join a group that was forming to put a Christmas layout in the community clubhouse. But that’s a story for another day.

Regards,

Bob in Colt’s Neck Crossing, NJ”

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A huge thanks to Bob for taking the time to write this with the pics and video.

The Christmas posts really do show how much this hobby spreads to the rest of the family. Suppose it has to when it’s taking up the garden or the front room…

Please do leave a comment below if you want to share some Christmas cheer.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide is here, if you want to stop dreaming, and start doing.

Best

Al

PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

36 Responses to Bob’s Christmas G scale layout

  1. Quite the tale…
    I hope your children continue the tradition.

  2. Norman Geuder says:

    How grand!
    Wonderful Christmas cheer!
    I’ll bet the local kids love the layout?
    The snow looks so real.
    Is it cotton?

  3. This is a great layout. So neat how it was gently snowing as You filmed the video. A little hint: If You run Your trains and trolley a little slower it will make the layout look larger. Great stuff! A good friend of mine gave me his whole collection of G gauge trains. Presently they run a track that goes around the top of my HO layout room, about a foot from the ceiling. Someday I hope to do an outdoor layout. I would like to see Your Shay running. Thanks for sharing, and a blessed Christmas!

  4. Franco428 says:

    Thank you!

  5. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    Just wow! Happy Christmas everybody.

  6. Robert Brady says:

    YO Norman The snow is real, Cotton doesn’t fall out of the sky, Geeshe!

  7. Charles Eyster says:

    Wow! What a great concept to have an outdoor seasonal, domestically agreed upon, layout. You were a very lucky person, to have such a terrific spouse. One theme that runs through this site is to “just get over the start of a build stage”. The most difficult is the “get the approval for a space” phase in my life!
    It would be so nice to share a display throughout my front yard in the snow! I wish that you still ran one. I’m not far away from you – Trenton, NJ

  8. Cary B says:

    Another incredible post, that’s one beautiful garden railroad and the history story is touching happy memories. Love the trains running in the snow.
    Happy Holidays to all
    Cary from Maryland

  9. Richard Schoenewolf says:

    Absolutely super. Very enjoyable. I wish my G scale was as good.

  10. Chris Sylvester says:

    That’s a great story behind your layout and it’s a great job on it can see why it’s special especially when you little room to work with thank you for sharing!!!

  11. Bob Amling says:

    Thanks for the replies! Norman, Robert said it best, it was the real thing. Yes the kids loved it, and some came back with their kids. There were some adults without kids that watched for a while every day. John, my second Grandson picked up the baton for a few years; but not lately. I asked for some of the Christmas cars back a few years ago when we installed G scale on the layout in the community clubhouse. Charles you’re welcome to see the Equestra layout; but not this year. Dominic, you are right; but any slower there would not be enough momentum for the grade. I could have split the power.
    Bob in Colts Neck Crossing NJ

  12. george zaky says:

    Bob
    Your story was fabulous, your family is fabulous, the trains and layout were fabulous and you, who I notice respond often and insightfully, must be a great guy. One thought I may offer is the deadrail group made many of the outdoor problems go away. I know conversions are pricey but dirty track, bird poop, water and snow problems are lessened by battery power and DCC control. I hear that it brings a new dimension to outdoor G scale. Set up time is reduced considerably.
    Us old guys have to muster up courage to do things so I say to you:
    Spend your kids inheritance
    Give everything your all until the end.
    The aches and pains go away when asleep
    Make another outdoor layout for your pleasure
    And God Bless
    Merry Christmas and be safe and well
    George from LI, NY

  13. Very nice layout
    MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY
    Enjoy your family and your trains
    bob from kissimmee florida

  14. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Very nice, all you need now is a cold beer!

  15. Mike Balog says:

    Amazing Outdoor Garden G Scale Christmas Layout! Great Photos and Video. It made a lot of Memories to share with your grandchildren and your neighbors. Did you ever take photos of the Squirrels Reactions or a neighborhood Cat’s reactions to your layout? Wishing you ALL a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a MASKLESS NEW YEAR TOO… From Mid Northern, New Hampshire, USA ~ Mike.

  16. Ruben Simon says:

    Bob – great story. Looking forward to reading your account about joining a group that was forming to put a Christmas layout in the community clubhouse.

  17. Erick says:

    I always wanted to put a trains outside but you think of elements outside would messed up or damage by rain & other factors. What do you do for all of that.

  18. TOO COOL!!

  19. Dan Hulitt says:

    Very nice story and video ,Bob. Thanks so much for sharing. Loved the 3 engine consist. My oldest son set up his grandfathers Lionel Blue Comet this year. Really great to see it run. I never got to the York train show, but my dad and brother often went.

    Thanks again. Bob.
    Mn Dan

  20. Joseph A Bagnell says:

    Great, I love the story. Best wishes.

  21. Terry Price says:

    I loved it when Santa was leaving the Saloon. Hope didn’t get drunk and fall from roof

    Merry Christmas Pappy in Afton,TN

  22. Great layout and story. I just wonder why you chose Colorado Southern instead of “SANTA” Fe.

  23. Jim Sinkowski says:

    This is a great story and inspiration for us all. I have always loved trains and a few years back supplied all the G scale for a ceiling layout in the Muddy Waters cafe in New London, CT. My friends there recently retired and the layout is gone. I am setting up my childhood Lionel 1952 set and the memories are flooding in, warming my outlook and speeding the time until we can get back to seeing my friends at the big York, PA train meets. God Speed

  24. Dienzel Dennis says:

    Real snow with a real snow plow. Love it. Also, you had two of my favorite things. 1. Santa and his sleigh over the roof top.
    2. and the most important, the Nativity Scene. That is what Christmas is all about. JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON. Then comes family and finally trains!

  25. Salvatore Robert Petoia says:

    Nice train layout! Christmas wouldn’t seem like Christmas without a train set. 83 years old and have always had trains either around the tree or on a separate layout. When growing up, my dad and I built a 5’ x 11’ platform that took up the entire sun parlor. It had multiple levels and the trains were pulled by a Lionel NYC diesel and a 2026 steam engine. Dad, a machinist by trade, decided to install a lake with real water. He installed a water tank and pump under the platform that was to provide water to a fountain he made and positioned in the middle of the lake. Mom and I watched as he turned the pump on. A stream of water shot up and hit the ceiling! That ended the water fountain! Nowadays, the “layout” consists of a simple oval of Lionel Fastrack around the Christmas tree with a couple of streamline cars pulled by my venerable 70-year-old NYC diesel. Merry Christmas to all!! And enjoy those trains!

  26. Hats off to the snow crew! Where do they get the little shovels from? Merry Christmas!

  27. Kenneth Gall says:

    Super kewl!
    I keep debating on where to set up my vintage Lionel set, although I think the track would rust if i put it outside, it is very tempting.
    Great work!!

  28. Steve Ruple says:

    What an awesome “G” scale garden layout, especially at Christmas time. Great job!!!!!

  29. Michael J Kosztyu says:

    The snow plow car is my favorite because is in a real setting — plowing the tracks. Great job !!

  30. Mike Matejka says:

    What a neat way to share with the neighborhood! I bet you brought a lot of smiles and many families had to walk by nightly so the kids (or the parents) could enjoy it all. It sure speaks to the rugged dependability of those German made LGB trains!

  31. Nancy Schweitzer, Sequim, WA says:

    To Al, Bob and all model train lovers,
    This is one of the BEST parts of Christmas!! Thank you for the time you spent, Bob, and the fun YOU had preparing a very fine Greeting for us all. Our hearts are warmed by the story and details of your setup, especially the Nativity! Get going you other lads and put out your trains! Christmas is coming and we all need a bit of childhood in our lives. Blessings all.
    Wise men still seek him.

  32. Nancy Schweitzer says:

    Thank you for the work on this site! It is the light of my days!

  33. Ralph Isaacs says:

    As a G scale modeler I loved your story The video of the snow plow is amazing.

  34. Bob Amling says:

    Thanks again for all the comments. Erick, LGB TRAINS are made for garden railways. The track is brass, you should use LGB grease in the rail joints. It’s conductive and keeps the moisture at bay. Thomas the only American road name
    In the package was Colorado Southern. Amen Dienzel!
    , ..Sorry there weren’t any shots of the Shay any log train. I’m still.looking or them.

  35. markus muetschard says:

    more genuine than it starts with the very first scene it cannot get: not just – fake / sprayed – snow on the ground, houses, rolling stock and engines – no, real snow AND it is snowing! – I’m living opposite the continent… otherwise, I]m sure, I would have visited your place as young adult, as parent with my kids, and now with my grand kids… excellent show!

  36. Edd says:

    Hello, and Happy new year 2021, (I guest that -no matter how worst it’s coming, nothing worst will compare with 2020) excellent layout and a good inspiration for my next project in my backyard, thanks for posting.
    From Valencia Spain

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