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Old 07-24-2014, 11:46 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Building the Pacific Inland Express

Hi everyone, I'm starting a g railway build thread mostly due to the encouragement and questions asked by BigRedOne and SD90WLMT in the thread "What got you started in large scale?".

To recap what I said there: I'm 32 now and have been wanting to build a garden railway since I was a kid. I starting receiving Garden Railways Magazine in 1991, attended the 9th NGRC in 1993, and have been slowly collecting trains ever since.

We started planning our railroad in 2010 before we closed escrow on our first house by drawing potential track plans over scaled satellite views of each house we considered. When we bought our house here's what it looked like:

By July 2011 we'd completed a retaining wall to raise the layout and vegetable garden and an initial 150 foot loop of track:

More from July 2011:

By February 2012 we were working on the concrete mountain and planning our water feature. Our friend, neighbor, and fellow Sacramento Valley Garden Railway Society member Bob Dean has helped us a lot throughout the progress of building our garden railway. As those who have seen his railroad (and others he has helped with) know, he loves concrete and taught us a lot about different products and techniques!

More from Feb 2012:

By June 2012 we got the water feature running.

More from June 2012:

In August 2012 we hosted our first open house, with the SVGRS. We'd just barely "finished" our mountains and installed custom bridges from Mainline Bridges!

In 2013 we didn't accomplish as much without having a deadline, but did install a new grape arbor, paint the water feature using Behr solid color concrete stain (I also use blue pond colorant:, and started planting some succulents and ground colors. The railroad is slowly starting to mature:

More from September 2013:

To be continued...
- Ben -
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Old 07-24-2014, 11:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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In July 2013, when the SVGRS decided to host the 2014 West Coast Regional Meet I started working really hard again. We hosted a club open house in April 2014 as an additional deadline, and just barely completed our long-planned 500 foot mainline with 20' diameter curves, wrapping around the back of the house to the front yard.

Here's the full set of photos from April 2014, but the next set of photos is similar:

On June 22, 2014, we were open for the West Coast Regional Meet. Two of the major things we did between April and June were:

1) I FINALLY got our trains running reliably. We started in 2011 with an underpowered HO scale power pack. In 2012 we switched to an old 75 MHz Aristo-Craft Train Engineer which had no antenna range (and I mean like 1 inch of range). In late 2012 and much of 2013 I used a homemade DC throttle using Bluetooth from my phone (see specs: I also had a brief experience with a OpenLCB and an lo:duino as a DCC command station, but the software was in flux too much with no end in sight. Finally I got some MERG DCC kits and was successful with them for awhile, until the day of our April open house and I couldn't get it to work! I ended up running trains that day via my QSI Programmer! It turns out it was my fault the MERG kits failed: I had missed the note about terminating resistors on the bus. What's amazing is that it worked perfectly for the first few months. But that wasn't the only problem. When I suddenly expanded from a 150 ft mainline to a 500 ft mainline I started having mysterious problems with DCC. I could only run a short train, and just one train. Otherwise the trains would either go very slowly or just stop. It turns out I had also not read up on how to properly wire a layout for DCC (see I had a 100 foot of 10 gauge bus just to get out to the layout. I knew about voltage drop, but not about inductance. Again, I'm lucky (or unlucky!) that DCC worked so well at first despite my poor wiring design. I now have three DCC boosters out near the track, so my bus runs are much shorter and the longer ones are twisted to reduce inductance. I have yet to find the limits of this new wiring scheme. I've run up to five locomotives on a single booster district, and I ran continuously for nine hours on June 22! (I now also have a backup MERG DCC system, just in case!)

2) I finally got my USA Trains Big Boy running reliably. The short story is that I bought this engine at the ECLSTS in 2013 via the organizer of the USAT G Scale Group. UPS dropped it in shipping, and rather than buy expensive parts from Charles Ro I fixed it myself. I've written about this extensively at and I was literally up past midnight the night trying to get it to stop derailing when I found the tender was resting too low on the front trucks. I'd forgotten a washer when I put it back together, and couple extra washers helped it balance even better. It ran perfectly all day for the meet!

So here are some photos of how my layout looks today:

As the train exits the more established area, it's on pretty crude concrete and pressure treated roadbed which I haven't yet turned into a rugged mountain cliff:

We have additional raised garden area (eventually another track will go behind the garden, and there will be a mountain facade there too creating the illusion of a tunnel):

There's another form of temporary roadbed as the track goes around some redwoods (eventually there will be a lot more concrete mountains here including a volcano and another water feature, and a concrete viaduct for the upper track):

The track goes behind a large hedge and comes out in a side corner of our front yard, where we just installed a new footbridge, pathway, and dry river:

BEFORE (April 2014):

AFTER (June 2014):

Here is the train as it comes out from behind the hedge (this area is sure a pain to work in, but the hedge provides such great privacy I didn't want to remove it):

On the return here's the 6 foot long temporary bridge, built with aluminum angle screwed to a big piece of scrap steel. Eventually I want to order a laced arch bridge from Mainline Bridges. You can also see the switch where the lower track will go behind the raised garden (this is probably one of my next projects: I have the concrete, track, and rail joiners; I just need to do it!):

And here are a few more shots:

- Ben -
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Old 07-25-2014, 12:14 AM   #3 (permalink)
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There's one more thing we did just before the 2014 West Coast Regional Meet: We named our layout! The name Pacific Inland Express (P.I.E.) pays an obvious homage to the Pacific Fruit Express (which we also honor with a full-sized agricultural theme), but beyond that we settled on this name to describe our location and type of railroad. We're in California so that's Pacific--sort of--but we're in Sacramento so that's Inland, and even more localize our house in uniquely located in the middle of a block behind other houses, so we're inland from the street too! And then the Express part... well, we don't stop for any stations or yards, we just keep running in circles!

Here's the logo I designed and printed on host t-shirts for our event:

When I took all the pictures above I also took videos, which are now hosted by the USAT G Scale Group channel as a "thank you" for buying the Big Boy on my behalf at the ECLSTS:

Big Boy Run-bys:

Big Boy Layout Tour:

Pacing the Big Boy (with a GoPro):

So that brings us to today. I haven't done much since last month! But perhaps with this build thread as motivation I'll find time to get back out there and keep going. I plan to be open before or after the 2016 NGRC in the Bay Area, and I have a lot more I'd like to accomplish!
- Ben -
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Old 07-25-2014, 10:46 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Very nice, It looks great. Certainly an inspiration for those of us just starting out.

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Old 07-25-2014, 11:03 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Ben, how do u make your water look so blue? Great looking layout!
livin' la vida loco
Centennial, Colorado
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Old 07-25-2014, 11:48 AM   #6 (permalink)
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You mentioned QSI. You using a Titan decoder in the Big Boy? If you are, are you using the new ET steam files? If so, how's the sound?
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Old 07-25-2014, 12:50 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Cool photos. I love your track plan -- lots of room to run, with wide-area views of looooong consists. Very nice! The name PIE is great too!
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Old 07-25-2014, 01:21 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Jim..he answered that?

Look above again..till you find the grape arbor the section above that pic...


Pond water dye...

2 items working together

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Old 07-25-2014, 01:53 PM   #9 (permalink)
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A long, long, time ago I did some work for Pacific Intermountain Express, usually known as PIE. I got a tiny bit nostalgic when I saw the name.
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Old 07-25-2014, 02:24 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Very nice layout.. Like to know some stuff on your Mt. build maybe some time if around Rio Linda for a chat or to. Great looking layout.
Oh.. you said something about your R.R. name and like Homo H. said " P I E." Had to laf.. Here is my early day with them and with no power steering either is what I did on week ends..

Ya.. we know... It's not trains. Noel & Jane

Rio feather says... One leave train running here and takes a coffee break may find Koi fishies checking out how deep an Engine can swim when Swing Bridge is left open. It happen to Big Feather Tweedledum.... Burnt fingers nbr. SA#49
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