Dirt and more...

The CarstenGartenBahn

Part 1:  No garage, no basement, no problem!

The year is 2002.  An unexpected layoff and six months of joblessness leaves the Ramckes in a precarious financial position.  The solution?  Downsizing to a smaller house in a manufactured home subdivision in the quiet bedroom community of Saline, Michigan. 

The move works, and we are quickly back on our feet.  The downside?  Carstenbahn One, my 1-scale layout, in planning since 2001, must now be put on hold indefinitely.  In an attempt to give myself something to play with, I build the CarZtenbahn in 2005, but I discover Z-scale doesn't hold the same magic.  The layout is sold. 

Fast forward to 2007. 

After spending the better part of a year hemming and hawing over whether I want to build a garden railroad (really my only large-scale option), I decide to take the plunge.  Now, as I endure the trials and relish the successes and milestones, I invite you, fellow train enthusiast, to join me as I work my way through my latest creation, the


Thanks to a generous wife, I have a decent amount of real estate to work with.  The layout space I have available is roughly 30 feet long and 6 feet wide.  Although the length is fine, the width isn't nearly enough for anything even remotely resembling a realistic curve radius.  Luckily it is a manufactured home after all, meaning there is a large crawl space under the house, which allows me to cut into the skirting on the side of the house and run trains underneath the house as well.  But we'll get to the track plan in a minute.  First, let's look at the space.

The space available is between the walkway to the front door and the side of the house.  It is the area with the torn-up grass and landscape timbers in the picture.  I decided early on that I did not want the trains to be at "floor level". Even a modest elevation of the pike was necessary, I thought, and decided that I wanted to raise the layout to at least a foot off the walkway.  I decided to use landscape timbers for the edging because a) the natural wood seemed a nice compliment to the landscaping I would be putting in and b) the wood was on sale cheap. 

Here is a shot from the other direction.  The landscape timbers are resting on the concrete walkway, but would soon be moved next to it after I filled the trench (visible in photo) with pea gravel, both for drainage and to provide a nice, solid, level foundation for the wooden retaining wall. 

Once again another view of the prepared area, with the trench more clearly visible.

I built a retaining wall both in the "front" (next to the sidewalk) and also in the "back" (next to the house).  I didn't want a ton of dirt pushing in the skirting on the house, so I built a second retaining wall along the side of the house.  I also added some cross-members which would (in theory) hold the whole shebang together.  The black cloth you see is landscaping material, presumably useful in keeping anything growing up "from below".  We'll see.

The two drills in the photo give some indication of the size of the space.  It is quite a large size, and will require a lot of dirt to fill.

... about 250 cubic feet of dirt, to be exact!  I filled up the available space most of the way, then watered down the topsoil to compact it a little. 

Notice in the picture above that there is a small stack of landscaping timer pieces against the house.  This is for the upper level of the CarstenGartenBahn, namely where the station will be.  The train track ascends (and descends) under the house, so no unsightly grade will be visible.  What is visible in the background of the picture above is a funny looking black thing near the far end of the layout.  One thing I was bound and determined to add to the CarstenGartenBahn was a water feature.  The plan was (well, is) to have a "mountain" in front of the deck in the rear of the picture above.  A stream would (will) run down into a pond at the base.  At least one railroad bridge would cross said pond.

That's the pond before dirt is added. 

You know, maybe it will be easier to visualize the whole thing if I show you the track plan...

Is that better?  Let's hope it's not as hard to read when I publish the webpage as it is now!  To give you some bearings, the walkway from the driveway to the front door / deck is just below the brown "Edge of Layout Space" line at the bottom of the diagram above, the wood deck is to the left of the layout as shown, while the picture of me watering my dirt is taken from the bottom right corner.  The red line reflects the edge of the house.  Let's follow the track plan, shall we?  Starting at the station on the upper level and working ourselves to the right, the trains move as follows:  From the station, the trains turn to the left, entering the crawlspace through a cleverly concealed gap in the forest (I plan to use dwarf Alberta Spruces here).  Over a 10' diameter curve, the trains run around to the left and descend on the long straight-away under the house, re-emerging to the right of the pond through a tunnel portal, now on the lower level.  the line passes under the upper approach to the station and proceeds in a parade route along the front edge of the layout, disappearing under the upper level and back under the house in a long left curve.  The track then gains altitude under the house, re-emerging behind the mountain (which sits directly to the left of the water feature), and makes a broad curve around the mountain, crossing the lake and lower track on a long bridge, and then entering the station.  So it's basically a two-level double oval, with a passing siding in the station to allow me to have two trains going in opposite directions. 

Was that confusing enough?

Okay, well that's where we are as of today, May 22, 2007.  With memorial Day Weekend coming up, I hope to track down (pun intended) some fieldstones and build up the dirt for the second level.  After that I'll lay some track so everyone can have an easier time visualizing the final product.

Next:  More dirt, and we add trains (temporarily)