2018 Ballasting in progress

2017 was a great start to the Woodlark Central.  The core railroad was built and operated three times.  2018 on the other hand has been a disappointment.  As of Thanksgiving the railroad has not yet been run and most of the year the railroad was not even operable due to poor ballast conditions.  Why the railroad was so neglected is another story, but the ballast problems started in 2017.  Basically, when the railroad was built, I did not add sufficient ballast.  I have enough ballast for the track to lay on, but I did not put ballast between the ties nor built it up on the sides of the ties.  Then in 2018, the spring rains began to wash the ballast away and out from under the ties, making the railroad unstable for operations.

Last Friday, I order I had 2 cubic yards of 1/2″ chipped gravel with dust delivered to the house.  The idea being to refurbish the grade and possibly run trains the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Ballasting has begun and hopefully I can run trains on Sunday.


A fresh 20′ of ballast on the grade. The foreground track was refurbished this summer using left over ballast from last year. In the distance is track that requires refurbishing.


Looking the other direction, the foreground track is one of the worst sections. Notice how the rain washed away the gravel between the ties. The ballast is 8-10″ deep in this section, but did not have sufficient ballast on the sides to keep the rain from washing it away.

I knew I’d have to ballast from time to time, just like the real railroads.  But this year is significantly more than I think future years will require.  I’m hopeful that in future years I can pull 1-2 wheel barrow loads from a pile of ballast and keep the grade in good operating shape.

One things I’m wondering is how thick to make the ballast around the ties.  Should I fill it to the top or only go up 50% or so on the ties, so that the ties can try out?

Before I started ballasting, I was reminded of a story about the SR&RL 2-Foot gauge railroad in main (actually, the Franklin and Megantic one of it’s predecessors).  The story goes, that the roadbed got so bad, that superintendent invited the brass from Boston to come up and inspect the railroad.  The crews made the inspection train up with the worst caboose on the end, one with stiff trucks.  Then they gave the brass an accelerated trip up to Kingfield.  When they came to a stop, no one came out of the caboose.  When they opened the doors, the brass were lying on the floor white knuckled and still holding on with all they had.  The F&M soon got the money required to re-grade the line.  So while I may not have the story 100% correct, as the brass of the Woodlark Central, I’m sure glad I never had to ride the like with it in such bad shape.

Hopefully, I can complete the grading and get in a run for 2018.  I built it to run it!

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Success! Woodlark Central’s first run is a party…

On August 18th 2017, the Woodlark Central ran for the first time!  My 50th birthday reunion celebration was a success.  My son, nephew and others all ran the trains and made trips around the track on the hand car.  There were no trial runs, the engine had not even been down on the tracks.


Six months of work on the railroad has culminated in a successful lap around the track. Now time to Explain the throttle to Nick and Justin.

Obtaining success was not easy.  For the prior 4-6 weeks my 84 year old father worked 6-8 hour days refurbishing track and building the two turnouts.  In the last 1-2 weeks, he and I installed the remaining 120 (of 230) feet of track.  I took Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off work to prepare for the celebrations and complete the track.  Here are some key activities in the final week (photos follow the list)

  • Wednesday Aug 16th – Installed all the track and got all rail connections completed.  The loop was in.
  • Thursday Aug 17 – Dad came over again,
    • We put the screws in for all the rails (He did most of this work)
    • Completed the cart to a level of completeness
    • Got the cart stands started and tested, identified a few problems
    • 1am – Hung the hoist in the ceiling of the garage.  Family was sleeping had I fallen off the ladder it’s quite likely no one would have found me.  This was no small achievement, holding 6′ long steel tube over my head and screwing it in within lag bolts.  I did go to bed happy that was over.
  • Friday Aug 18th
    • Honey do list – My wife was planning the “party” and she had a honey do list for me.  She is a planner and not a procrastinator.  No having something done stresses her out, where as it motivates me.  We are opposites.  Needless to say in her frustration, on Thursday she set the following mandate “You can not play with trains until all of your part tasks are complete”.  It was this mandate that motivated me to hang the hoist on Thursday night.  Here is my party list
      • Edge Driveway and all side walks (normally she would help by sweeping, but do to my procrastination, I had to do it myself)
      • Mow the lawn (I rushed through the back yard on Thursday evening…).  I helped my son do the front yard
      • Setup and ice the coolers
      • Setup the tables in the backyard
      • Setup the tent (Dad helped with this)
      • Put table cloths on the tables (Dad did this too)
      • Mulch the mound – This was my idea, I wanted the back yard to look good and the mound behind the sitting wall was weed covered and terrible.  I went to home depot at 8am to get the mulch (and to get a few things required to complete the locomotive cart/stands
      • Setup concrete bench – This request had been dropped, but my wife had asked for month or two before.  The bench was from the house she grew up in and reminded her of her mom (passed).  So, wanting to gain back a few bonus points, I decided to set it up.  It is in front of the mound, another reason to mulch the mound.  The top of the bench weighs over 150lb’s.  It was a good 20 minute struggle between the bench, me, and the wheelbarrow.  In the end, I won the wheelbarrow survived, the bench was setup, and my back only hurt a bit more.
      • Added two flower pots (purchased during the Home Depot run) to spruce
    • Whiffle Ball Field – Months prior, I promised my son we’d have a home run contest during the party.  Both he and Nick like baseball, so it seemed like a good part activity.  Add to that my Bothers and Cousins always play sports when were younger, we all like hard healthy competition.  So a home run derby seemed like a good idea.
      • My son mowed the lawn
      • I then mowed base paths and infield even lower
      • We put up/built the fence (orange construction fence from Lowes, garden stakes and zip ties).  Charlie had drilled the holes in the garden stakes two days earlier.  I good way for a 12 year old to learn how to use a drill press.
      • FYI:  The fence was about 70 feet from the home plate and in our neighbors yard (I have good neighbors)
    • Trains
      • Dad arrived around 2:00 (one hour before the guests were due)
      • He helped with table cloth and such
      • He enlarged the holes in the stand from 1/2″ to 3/4″ using a drill I’d purchased while making the morning mulch run to Home Depot (the bit was the real reason I had to go to home depot.  Mulch and other things were just a decoy)
      • People started arriving at 3pm as we worked on the stands
      • 4:30pm raised the cart into the stand
      • Rolled the #91 from it’s stand to the cart (smiles from my dad an I)
      • Lowered the cart with #91 on it to the ground (smiling bigger)
      • Rolled cart with #91 out of the garage (big smiles…this is going to work)
      • Maneuvered cart into the side yard and down to the back yard
      • Maneuvered the cart over the track
      • Propped up one end and connected the spanner track from the cart to the rails
      • 5pm  rolled #91 down the spanner track and forcibly onto the rails
      • 5:30pm I took the first ride around the track
      • Dad took the second ride around the track
      • Success!
      • Time to take my shower….It was 90 degrees I had been working hard all day, time to clean up as I was the one being honored.
      • For the next few hours the kids rode the trains around the track.
      • 8:30pm #91 made back onto the cart and into the garage!  Complete success!

Charlie and Nick looped the railroad on the handcar until #91 made its appearance


Close up of Charlie and Nick.  The lack of a second track shows we did not complete the passing siding for the event.


#91 the RS3 is on the cart and in the stand. It is fastened to the board and ready to be lowered. Hoist is overhead and needs to be moved into position. A 1/2″ rod goes through the stand and the cart (the hoisting is inspired by what Jim Sabin did. Search youtube for his name to see video of his hoist setup)


The hoist is being used to lower the front end of the loco from 30″ to 15″. The hoist cable is tight as I have yet to slip in the 1/2″ rod that will hold the front end at 15″. It’s a 3 step process to lower the loco all the way to the ground.


A side view of the engine being lowered. As a short cut, we clamped #91’s travel board to the cart as it has tie downs. In the future I hope to add rails and tie downs to the cart so that clamps will not be required.  But as it is now, anyone that has a locomotive board with tie downs could probably visit.


#91 rolling out into the sun. At this point, I was all smiles as I new we had succeeded, we were going to run trains for my birthday party.


A parade! that’s what the first trip around the track seemed to be, what fun.


Dad made the second trip around. It was festive to have so many spectators.


We missed the tightening of 10 feet of screws. A pause for maintenance was required. Paul spectating, has an honorable mention in the Woodlark Central’s history. Some 30 years earlier he helped dad bring all of the track and railroad equipment from California to Cincinnati when my dad salvaged his fathers live steam equipment, shop, and track. Without uncle Paul there might not be a Woodlark Central.


Andrew speeding up the 2% grade behind #91


Andrew Charlie and the twins parade around the backyard. Dad with a watchful eye.


The parade continues


Josh and Justin at the controls

I must confess, the railroad was not flawless.  We have a few derailments and had to walk around the track.  But for a trial run infront of a crowd it was a great success.  Nothing like completing a significant accomplishment to make one 50th birthday.  Who is over the hill.

SPECIAL THANKS:  Clearly this railroad does not exist without my dad.  But my wife gets a “Big thanks honey”.   She took a leap of faith in letting me build the railroad in the backyard of our home.  I do not think she had any idea what it would be like.  Also, I know there were times this summer when she thought she’d lost me to the railroad.  At times I thought I’d lost myself….was I becoming Harrison Ford’s character in the Mosquito Coast?  Obsessed by a railroad that may never run?  Thankfully, I do not think that is me.  Instead I have a railroad that will cause me to do more Gardening (something my wife loves) and do more socialization (something my wife believes in).  So rather than become isolated I’d like to think I’m becoming more engaged.  Thanks!

My wife also gets credit for putting on a wonderful party.  Food, drink, music and great socializing for my family.  Thanks again…

If anyone cares, Pete won the home run derby.  He smashed all of us by creaming home runs high into the trees….We each got 10 outs to hit as many hope runs as we good.  The fence was 75 feet from the plate.  Sorry, no pictures.  Here are the participants and winners….

  • Pete – 7 (The champion)
  • Dave, Bill – 5
  • Mike V, Hank – 4
  • Rob, Tim, Charlie, Mitch – 2
  • Mike, Nick – 1
  • Kathy, Justin, Josh, Andrew, Sophie – 0
  • Thanks to all who participated.

A parting shot…The smiles tell it all. This is why we built the railroad in a suburban home setting, so that we could enjoy and so that kids could enjoy.

FYI:  Some photos were taken by me using my smart phone, but the best photos were taken by Terri.  Thanks Terri!

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WCRR – Ballast Complete

In July we completed the basic ballast on the Woodlark Central


A small fill is seen on entering the backyard.


Turning right, the grade is 1.5% up in this direction, until the second tree where it heads down again


The bricks in the in the roadbed are every 10 feet. The railroad is graded brick to brick. The 2% down grade starts at the first brick.


Heading down grade, toward the great fill and past the vegetable garden.

Approaching the yard, on the fill, an passing the garden

The double track railroad yard. Full size railroad ties on right are being placed to hold the ballast.

Exiting the yard. The 1.5% grad starts here. The wall at left is for sitting on while watching the trains in the yard.

The 1.5 % grade out of the yard.

Completed the loop. The 1.5% grade heads toward the house and the loop is completed on the small fill. Stacks of track wait to be installed.

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Woodlark Central – Latest track plan

Dad made an accurate plan so that he could manufacture the track for the Woodlark Central.  This is what he is building to.

I’ve sketched the location of the shed and track to it.  The site of the shed is not 100% established.  I need to design the shed and then work with dad on the track.  The shed is to be multi-purpose.  One side for live steam and the other for garden stuff (pots, bug sprays, etc…)


May 2017 Woodlark Central track plan

I’ve been working grade the WC.  At this point, I’m 90% complete, so know the grades.  The clockwise ruling grade is 2% and the counter-clockwise ruling grade is 1.5%  I feel pretty good about these grades.  I think a steamer should be able to pull 1-2 additional passengers counter clockwise and the diesel should be able to pull 2-3 passenger clockwise (assumption is that a passenger is 150lbs…as an average weight….)

Note that the bottom part of the track plan is not 100% accurate to the graded ballast.  Dad drew the 28′ and 24′ radius curves being connected by a straight track.  Instead they are connected by some gentle curve, some 34′ radius, and some straight.  Connecting them straight would have brought the track too close to a tree truck, resulting in unacceptable grades.  Instead the track has been laid in the shallows between the house (which is at bottom) and the trees.



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Walnut Creek 30th Anniversary

Last fall Dad and I got to attend the 30th Anniversary of the Walnut Creek Railroad.  We had a wonderful time running the #778 on Stan Helper’s railroad and meeting other 4-3/4″ enthusiasts.  I’ve been wanting to write a really great post about the event, to emphasize the wonder time I has just not happened.  So I want to complete this post as a complement to the article written by Stan himself in the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of Live Steam.

In addition to thanking Stan, I’d like to thank his neighbor George Fish’s whose Walnut Creek and Southern connects to Stan’s railroad.  Together these men provided a fine venue for running trains and hosted a wonder event with family and friends.  Congratulations to the two of them and hopefully, I can attend the 40th.

Thanks to Lou Lockwood for providing the following photos.

House & Trestle

A general view of Stan’s home and the pleasant setting for the Walnut Creek Railroad.

Kids Run Too

The Walnut Creek Railroad is for kids too!

Firing 778

Dad and I fired up the #778. I made several trips around the track. On the step grades, the 778 could only pull one full sized adult

NZ Diesel

One of the stars of the day, a 1.6″ scale meter gauge NZ diesel built by Dale Gauwitz.

NZ Diesel Insides

Dale showed off the insides of his NZ loco.


Jim Schmidt ran his ten wheeler.

High Trestle

The high trestle on Georges property was exciting to steam across


The 1″ scale hand car shed is one of several structures around the right of way


Stan’s 4-3/4″ gauge clishay outside the shop building

Stan on right

The host is at right, talking with one Tim, one of the guests who brought his RS-3

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Can’t Stop Now…Grading Begins

I turn 50 this year, which means a big family celebration.  30+ people will be here in my home town, and what better to do than have a picnic and train rides in the backyard.  I proposed the idea to my dad and he bit in.  He has been working on his own backyard railroad for 15 years, and now that he is 83 it does not seem he’ll reach all of dreams.  We both agree it would be better to have the track at my house:  It’s a flatter yard and has a greater potential for sharing Ride on Railroading due to my neighbor hood, friends, and my 12 year old son (not that he likes trains).  So dad an I agreed we should try to get the Woodlark Central running in time for the party in August.  Seems aggressive, but obtainable.

Dad and I agreed to split up the work.  He would focus on making track panels and I’d focus on grading.  Then we’d target to join forces in May for the final installation…Dad started on track work last month so I felt it was time to start on grading.  To get started, ordered 4 cubic yards of Chipped Limestone with Dust.  The goal being to install the sub-roadbed of about 3″ deep.  Today was to be the first day of grading, and I must admit I had no idea what to do.  I’m sort of feeling this out.  How many times does one put a railroad in the backyard?

Anyway, I got started today and there’s no turning back now.  Two of my best model railroading buddies pitched in for 4+ hours too put down 50′ of ballast.  Take a look at the photos below to see what happened.


Chris and Phil leveling out the grade. The flags mark the roadbed location . Where Chris and Phil are standing will be the double track parallel to the back fence. The near flags mark the single track curving from left to right as the tracks make an arc toward the house.


This picture shows the basic process we followed. Mark the bounds of the roadbed with flags, laydown plastic weed fabric (for weeds and to minimize roadbed sinking into the soil), Add pipes where drainage is required, Set down wood formers, dump wheelbarrows of ballast and rack, tamp, repeat.


Here is the end of day finishing point. About 50 linear feet of ballast. The orange cones are right are covering the rebar being used to make the center of each major curve. The minimum radius is 24 feet.


Phil and I thought it would be fun to see what it might look like with track on it. These tracks come from a set of portable 3.5/4.75″ dual gauge track I have. It will not be the final track, but it did give me a good feel of how the track might look when we lay it in place!

I can’t believe I’m actually doing this….Having two friends join in made it easy work.  Actually, they kept doing the hard manual labor moving loads of ballast and dragging parking stops across the yard to form retaining walls.  It’s great to have good friends….I look forward to paying them back and to having them run steam with me!

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Inspirational Backyard Railroad Video

This backyard railroad of Jim Sabin is on the same scale of what I dream about….

Take a look for yourself…


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