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In the planning stage


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Hello Mick

I have viewed most of your videos on YouTube and I am greatly impressed by what you have done; I suppose viewing your videos and others of other oo gauge garden railways; together with retirement has finally prompted me to take the plunge yet again.

To give you some history I first got into model railways as a young boy in the late 50’s, then whilst still at home with my parents I had a layout in a railway room. In the early 80’s when my two sons were young a layout was built in the garage and this moved outside into the garden. I am afraid to say the bug has never gone away; so as my first grandson has the ‘Thomas’ bug, it’s an excuse for granddad to play trains again.

I have a 16 foot by 8 foot garden shed which I can house storage roads but I plan that the bulk of the railways will be outside. The basis concept is to have a four track main line out from the shed this will then split into two after about 30 foot and then continue on in a two track main line forming a loop of about 40 foot in length. It might sound ambitious but this is something I have to do before it is too late as I fast approach sixty.

So now to the point of this e-mail. I would like to pick your brains please!

I see that you use roofing felt over plywood. This gives the appearance of ballast. Does the roofing felt hold up to any expansion with the sun?

I have considered painting plywood with GRP gelcoat to make it waterproof, but no ballast appearance! I have a test track bed in the garden at the moment and all seems well. I may try this method for girder bridge construction; 4mm ply, jigsaw cut and assembled before a covering of grey gelcoat. Do you know of anyone who has used this method before?

I intend to use Peco track with a spacing of 50mm to 60 mm between centres. My minimum radius will be 6 feet. Do you think I will get away with the same track spacing as on the straight?

As the track bed is going to be constructed of plywood I intend not to bridge solder across the fishplates, but only use the fishplate to join track. My idea is to solder bond each section of track to a 1.5mm slave cable under the plywood. This would mean the same number of soldered joints; 4 on each 1m section. Am I over engineering this or do I need this to prevent voltage drop over this distance?

How do you fix the track?

I would very much appreciate your views and comments. I am still in the planning stage before I commence work later this year.

Kind Regards


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Hello Chas

Firstly, I hope that you don't mind me posting your e-mail here and responding to your questions in this manner. It gives others a chance to add their own opinions and advice too rather than just accepting what I have to say. You've clearly got some previous experience with model railways so much of what I have to say you'll probably already be aware of. I still consider myself as something of a beginner and I still make silly mistakes :oops:

Sounds like you've got a nice space available and the shed will make things a lot easier for you. It's good to have an indoor storage area as it makes operating sessions so much more straightforward. It certainly doesn't sound overly ambitious and if you're determined enough then you should go for it. We all get only one chance in life so do what you want to do while you're still fit enough to do it. Anyway, to answer some of your questions:

The roofing felt does give the impression of ballast to a point but ballast looks far more realistic. I've not experienced any problems with expansion of the felt in the sun, certainly nothing I have noticed.

As for Gelcoat, I have to admit that I've never heard of it before - will have to take a look. I'm also not aware of anyone else who uses it but perhaps someone here has some previous experience...?

I believe that the same track spacing will suffice for 6 feet curves and wouldn't think you'll have any probems. Check it with two of your longest vehicles on adjacent tracks to make sure. My inside curves are rather tight at 36 inch minimum but I've not had to space the tracks much further apart - in fact I think I over compensated in places.

I have found that a slave cable isn't really required but maybe you'll find differently. So long as all the rail joins are bonded there doesn't seem to be any voltage drop of note. I guess that bonding every join or instead, soldering each section of rail to a cable or busbar is much the same, so if you're happy with running the cable then go with that. I wouldn't think you could over engineer - getting power to every section of track is what it's all about.

I've fixed my track with small pins - not pretty in some places but perfectly secure. I started off just whacking them in to the centre sleepers but later started pre-drilling pilot holes and tapping them in to the sleeper ends. Brass pins would be better than the standard track pins.

Hope that's answered some of your questions - I'm sure other members will be along to offer their tips and advice.

Looking forward to seeing how things develop.


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Hello Chas,

The gelcoat idea sounds good but I too haven't heard of anyone using it, it would probably be quite a messy job though.

You should be ok just bonding your rail joints but if you feel you want to use a slave cable then why not, nothing wrong with a bit of over engineering!

I use fine brass pins, available from model boat suppliers, in the ends of the sleepers. I put them in with a pin push.

Good luck,


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Thanks Mick and Ian

In the early 80's the track that was laid outside from the garage was on 3/4 inch ply on a 2x1 inch base the wood was given two coats of Cuprinol fence treatment prior to track laying and then the whole given a third coat after the soldered bridge wires were in place at the rails joints. The rails tops were wiped clean and this third coat gave the rail side a tarnished look. This lasted for five years until it was dismantled. The only problems I had was the standard Peco track pins either rusting or being pulled out when the track base moved with expansion.

The GRP dark grey “Gelcoat” idea would give a totally waterproof covering both to the top and side of the plywood; for it’s the side of the plywood where it is cut that the delaminating of the glue starts. I would agree with you Ian that it could be messier than a wood treatment or bitumen and if you have not worked with fibreglass and the associated safety precautions to be taken then it’s popularly not to be done.

Although I have built a “Gelcoat” covered trial track base I have not discounted other methods; I have not yet worked out the cost for materials to be used for different methods. I call it “Gelcoat” but I suppose Roofing topcoat would be more appropriate.

If I use this method could I use some method to ballast the track and would any loose ballast stick to the “Gelcoat” and sleepers to survive water frost damage? So much to consider before I make a start I would like the track to look realistic to a degree but it has to be durable as I don’t intend to cover during bad weather.

The more I think about the other applications for “Gelcoat” the more I want to give it a go; for example I had considered welding together out of small gauge mild steel some kind of impressive girder birdcage bridge, permanent but time consuming. The thoughts now are to use 4mm plywood cut with a jigsaw and assembled to the finished state before being totally coated in a dark grey Roofing topcoat, this would provide the plywood total protection from the elements and be of an acceptable colour.

As for rolling stock I still intend to use DC as I still have some old Triang stock that I want to run for nostalgic reasons; the wheels were re-profiled in the 80’s to run on Peco track and points. The plan is a double track main line where we can watch the trains go by, so there will be no modelling of scenery in the shed; this will be for storage sidings only. Having recently looked at the price of the new stock that comes from Hornby and Bachmann what a shock!! I remember visiting the Palitoy factory shop in Coalville Leicestershire in the 80’s and buying Mainline stock for pence compared with today. Oh I wish I had bought a car boot full!!

So any advice that I can get in the planning stage would be much appreciated, but the most important advice I seek is how do you all clear this with your other half’s, I am already thinking of excuse’s why the garden has to be changed and why it would look better!!

Regards Chas

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I still like the gelcoat idea, in fact I wish I'd thought of it myself, although I haven't had any trouble with delaminating......... yet!

I'm not sure about ballasting sticking to the gelcoat, my method of using real granite ballast and floor polish is proving to be quite durable but I don't know how it would perform a on gelcoat surface, but I'd certainly give it a try on a small section.

I suppose you could stick roofing felt to the gelcoat first or roughen the gelcoat surface with coarse abrasive to give the ballast adhesive a key.

I'm afraid I can't answer your last question, you just have to make it sound like life can't go on without a model railway in the garden and make it sound as though every purchase was the bargain of the century! :)

Strange creatures women, they have different priorities, they seem to think that things like food and holidays are more important than locos and rolling stock!! :D

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Several years ago our flat roof garage and extension was recovered with GRP resin and matt and a dark grey topcoat, this was over 18mm OSB boards. The company guaranteed this for 100 years against water ingress. So why not an outside railway track base using the same method; but I suppose like the flat roof I don’t think I’ll get a 100 years use!

I am planning that part of the railway will take the form of a multi arch viaduct similar to the Glenfinnan viaduct. As this will be two tracks it will only need to be at maximum 12cm wide. The radius will be around 2m and the track bed will be about 45cm off the ground. I had initially thought about using concrete but again I could use GRP. My thoughts are to build the track base in 18mm ply and the rest of the viaduct in either 4mm or 6mm ply; which ever gives abetter curve. Once it’s all constructed then totally cover with GRP resin and a surface tissue if required, this will make it totally waterproof. Then spread car body filler over the sides before moulding this as stone work. The whole thing could then have a coat of a suitable coloured GRP topcoat or garage floor paint. Using this type of construction may create a sound box for trains travelling over the viaduct so I could fill the inside of the viaduct with expanding foam.

I have noticed that after a couple of winters the GRP topcoat weathers so this might enable any ballast to stick better to it. Where do you get the real granite ballast from?

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Your ideas sound good to me but you'll have to work fast with car body filler wont you?

I used Gaugemaster granite ballast available from most model railway shops. I mixed 50/50 OO and N gauge.

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The viaduct construction sounds interesting and although proposed to a better spec than I eventually adhered to with mine, your ideas are similar to those I envisaged at the time. Plywood construction with an exterior coating to make it waterproof was what I had in mind but I ended up with a simple plastic sheet covering to keep the rain off. The wooden construction should be easy enough, even on a curved section with thin sheets, but I'm not familiar with the use of GRP resin as a covering so I'm not able to comment on that. With the whole structure covered and waterproofed, damp and water ingress would I suspect be from the ground upwards so this may require some thought.

If it's going to be a model based on Glenfinnin viaduct then would it require stonework? I've never taken a look at it close up but assumed it was just flat concrete.

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