Bay Area Garden Railway Society

Roving Garden Railway Blog

  • 09/21/2013 6:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Here is David Mease's story about his recent conversion to outdoor large scale.

    A Simple Engine Battery Conversion for the Roving Railway at Ardenwood
    As a new member of BAGRS and new to large scale railroads this summer, I've been looking for any opportunity to learn more about the hobby. Many years ago my father was deeply involved in HO modeling and had a very large layout. Unfortunately, he passed away about a year ago and left me with a lot of HO equipment, scenery and parts. Going through all of those items reignited my interest in the hobby but I found I really didn't have the room to build a layout like I wanted.

    A few times a week I go for a walk in my neighborhood and I usually pass by Bob Ferguson's house in Martinez where he has a garden layout that circles his entire property. I caught up with Bob a couple of times and drilled him on all that I could think of to learn enough to make a move into G scale. Bob mentioned the BAGRS organization so I checked it out online.

    After signing up for BAGRS in July I spent time looking through the information on the BAGRS website and discovered the Roving Railway. I also noticed that Nancy Norris was looking for some help readying the display for Ardenwood in September. I contacted Nancy and attended a workday at her house to learn what was going on and get a look at only the second garden layout I had ever seen. Nancy had no problem with me jumping right in and doing whatever I could to get things in order for the next show.

    I decided to dedicate a day to attending the Ardenwood event to learn more and see how people reacted to the display. Nancy said they were in need of a battery operated train to run on one level of the layout. Over the past couple of months I had been selling off the HO items I had and purchasing a few G scale engines and cars. All the engines were track powered and I told Nancy I had planned to convert them to battery but didn't have anything right now. She then told me about an article she had up on the Roving Railway section of the BAGRS site discussing a simple and cheap way to convert to battery power. [See the 12/06/10 blog item]

    The article showed a simple car remote type key fob that operated a small relay switch up to 12 volts. I looked around at a few sites and found a couple of units on Amazon for less than $10 so decided to take the plunge and give it a shot since we'd need something to run in just a few days. I had attended a technical high school for electronics 30 years ago and felt comfortable modifying the engine. One of my past hobbies was R/C airplanes and I had some 8.4v and 9.6v battery packs laying around.

    The unit I selected was actually advertised as a remote dimmer for strings of LED lights. The fob had an on/off button and two buttons that controlled the voltage up and down. I figured that was perfect as I didn't know how fast the train would run under battery power. The engine I selected to modify was an Aristo-Craft FA-1 Napa Valley Wine Train. I had purchased it for about $75 and it already contained a R/C receiver and sound card but came with no transmitter or battery. This unit had a section of the top already cut open for easy access to the components so it was a no brainer for this project.

    The FA-1 also had both A frames completely broken and the powered trucks just hung by their wires. I'm a DIY guy and found that Aristo-Craft still has a decent catalog of parts for their products. I had searched their site before purchasing the engine and saw the frames were in stock for around $4 each so I ordered a couple. Replacing them was very easy after removing a dozen or so screws and clipping the leads to the motor blocks.

    This was the perfect time to hook up the receiver for battery operation. I simply spliced two common leads from the motor blocks and connected them to the spring loaded terminals on the receiver. I had found an article about this type of conversion on another site that recommended adding a diode across the output terminals to avoid some type of reverse power surge the motors can generate. They also suggested adding a 1-3 amp fuse between the battery and the receiver. I picked up these common items at Radio Shack and installation was completed in a few minutes for a total cost of under $20.

    The unit was tested on the oval of track on my patio and I found that it operated at the same top speed as another track powered FA-1. The range of the remote was very sporadic sometimes requiring that you be a foot from the unit and at other times would operate from 20' away. It's rated as having a 100' foot range. The site suggested adding an antenna by opening the receiver box and soldering a wire onto the existing circuit board antennae. I got lazy and didn't do this at that time. I figured it was all that was needed for Ardenwood and was pleased with the results so far.

    next installment: part 2 - Roving Railway Setup and Running Trains!
  • 04/19/2013 6:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
      Because of the mine on the tailgate (far right),  a couple of mom-and-pop mine portals cropped up on the wilderness side of the trailer to enhance Daniel Smith's gorgeous cribbing and finish that scenery on the 10' side gate. The Ken Aslet Crassula plant pots slide into holes during the show.

    To the right of the cribbing a metal bridge, only 4" wide extends from the cribbing to the tailgate. Most medium size trains don't fit through here, so we'll need to widen both rear bridges. Anyone who would like to help can contact Nancy Norris for our next work party.
  • 04/19/2013 6:15 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    BAGRS members (l to r): Glen Simpson, Larry Silverman, Richard Johnson, Jerry Fogel, Nancy Norris.

                                                                        We set up the Roving Garden Railroad for a two day show at the PCR convention in Dublin April 5 and6.
  • 04/08/2013 2:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Plant List for the Roving Garden Railroad

    San Francisco Bay Area, California, USDA Hardiness Zone 9


    Sweet alyssum (seedlings crop up near town)

             Lobularia maritima ‘Easter Basket’


    Short-needled cedar (leaning tree on mountain pointing to town)

             Cedrus atlantica var. (Zones 7-9)

    Pygmy deodara cedar (growing out of mountain featherrock)

    Cedrus deodara ‘Pygmy’ (Zones 6-9)

    Green Globe false cypress (street row behind town and left of portal)

             Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Green Globe’ (Zones 5-10)

    Kosteri dwarf false cypress (right of waterfall)

    Chamaecyparis obtusa (Zones 4-9)

    Dwarf false cypress (shading old boxcar)

    Chamaecyparis var. (Zones 6-9)

    Japanese cedar (behind the doctor’s garden)

    Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tenzan Yatsubusa’ (Zones 5-9)

    Swane’s Golden Italian cypress (flanking grandfather’s fancy mansion)

             Cupressus sempervirens ‘Swane’s Golden’ (Zones 7-9)

    Shimpaku juniper (leaning over old boxcar)

    Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku’ (Zones 3-9)

    Dwarf Alberta spruce (behind old boxcar camp)

             Picea glauca ‘Conica’ (Zones 4-8)

    Lacebark pine (park tree right of grandfather’s mansion)

             Pinus bungeana (Zones 4-9)

    Dwarf Japanese yew (base of mountain behind old boxcar)

             Taxus cuspidata ‘Nana’ (Zones 4-7)


    Rupturewort (behind town on lower hill)

             Herniaria glabra (Zones 5-10)

    Mother Lode creeping juniper (mountaintop)

             Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ (Zones 3-10)

    Dwarf mondo grass (behind old boxcar and under rosemary tree)

             Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’ (Zones 6-10)

    Stonecrop (left of newly painted boxcar)

             Sedum sp. (Zones 3-10)

    California blue-eyed grass (left of waterfall)

             Sisyrinchium bellum (Zones 9-11)

    Elfin thyme (park grass and mountain meadow)

             Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’ (Zones 4-10)

    Page 2. Plant List for the Roving Garden Railroad

    SHRUBS and TREES (non-conifer)

    Trost’s Dwarf birch (deciduous tree center of town)

             Betula pendula ‘Trost’s Dwarf’ (Zones 3-9)

    Kingsville Dwarf boxwood (low shrubs in front of mansion)

             Buxus microphylla ‘Kingsville Dwarf’ (Zones 5-9)

    Dwarf English boxwood (right of post office)

             Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ (Zones 6-8)

    Korean hornbeam (deciduous tree right of train passenger shelter)

    Carpinus coreana (Zones 5-9)

    Ken Aslet crassula (in pots sunk into side gates)

             Crassula sarcocaulus ‘Ken Aslet’ (Zones 9-11)

    Miniature pine tree (succulent by portal near fancy house)

    Crassula tetragona (Zones 10-11)

    Littleleaf rockspray (apple trees near greenhouse)

    Cotoneaster microphyllus ‘Thymifolius’ (Zones 5-9)

    Japanese euonymus (yellow-tipped shrub behind town)

    Euonymus japonicus ’Ovatus Aureus’ (Zones 7-11)

    Prince Rupert lemon-scented geranium (right of portal below greenhouse)

             Pelargonium crispum ‘French Lace’, (Zones 9-11)

    Contorted Japanese cherry (deciduous tree next to greenhouse)

    Prunus incise ‘Kojo-no-mai’   (Zones 5-9)

    Dwarf pomegranate (deciduous tree corner left of newly painted boxcar)

    Punica granatum ‘Nana Emperor’ (Zones 7-11)

    Si miniature rose (front of newly painted boxcar)

             Rosa sp. ‘Si’ (Zones 5-10)

    Tom Thumb miniature rose (left of newly painted boxcar)

             Rosa sp. ‘Tom Thumb’ (Zones 5-10)

    Prostrate rosemary (corner above mine)

    Rosmarinus prostrata (Zones 7-11)

    Snowrose (behind Grandfather’s mansion)

    Serissa foetida (Zones 8-10)

    Seiju elm (deciduous tree lining street behind town)

             Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju’ (Zones 5-9)


    White appleberry (on front post right of town)

    Billardia longiflora ‘Alba’ (Zones 7-10)

    Needlepoint ivy (front post left of town and on back lattice)

    Hedera helix ‘Needlepoint’ (Zones 4-10)

  • 01/25/2013 3:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Using an idea pictured in an O-gauge magazine, George Downs, a member of the San
    Leandro Historical Railway Society, recently fabricated two special hinges for the upper loop's front bridge. Now when the bridge is lowered the tracks will align without having to use a hex-driver wrench because the hinge point is higher than the rails. Rails snap into "bridge joiners". 
  • 12/23/2012 7:32 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    The photo (lower right area) shows where the left-side gate needs a bit more scenery, maybe mine portals. The suspension bridge has lights you could install on the other side. Little signs are made and need posts. Figures need nails in their legs to hold them up.

    During the month of January, we will meet at the home of Nancy Norris and Ron Gies to fine tune some areas of the traveling trailer. We will meet every Wednesday, January 9, 16, 23, 30 and, if necessary, on February 6, starting at 10AM. Our goal would be to make repairs and improvements plus modifications to make the trailer easier and faster to set up and take down. There’s a new tarp to be installed on the front gate. Some scenery needs touch ups. The skirts need paint. One of the buildings needs its roof repaired – you know -- normal garden railway maintenance. Please consider helping one day or more. Moe’s building an electrical panel and it would be great for somebody to install a few animated scenes with kits we already have on hand. If you’d like to be on the email list, call Nancy at 925-408-9402 or email to get the address. And yes, there is a free lunch. Let's get it ready for the annual meeting and two big conventions this spring.
  • 06/04/2012 4:55 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    The ROVING GARDEN RAILWAY had a wonderful experience at KidFest in Concord this past weekend. Organizers estimated 20,000 tickets were collected. People drove from over 2 hours away to attend an event just for kids. Many local organizations set up bean-toss and similar booths to entertain kids and inform the public about their non-profit cause. The stage had non-stop children groups performing dance, music and martial arts. When I walked around the booths I almost choked up a bit to see all the wholesome activities set up for children to experience and especially to participate in.
    It was not uncommon to have thirty people at a time watching the trains and chatting with our volunteers around the railroad. Thanks to Seth Abraham we had stanchions around the layout so we could relax a bit. Like clockwork, our three trains ran constantly,except while batteries were being replaced, which was an attraction in itself. We estimate handing out 200 BAGRS postcards after chatting with the prospects about our club. Many thought it was a good deal to become members in order to bring their families on the monthly tours. On Friday, my husband Ron and I set up the trailer. All day Saturday we had new member, Gerry Fogle, and "old" members, Terry Hurley, Ron Gies and I along with my sister Barbara. On Sunday, Joe Barker, Terry, and I along with new member, Jack Reichert held down the fort. We didn't have enough volunteers to show on Monday. Maybe next year.
    (Upper left photo) Ron Gies' gift of a Ragtime bellows whistle on top of our sign attracted fair goers and our poster had helpful info.
    (Upper right photo) Stanchions helped keep the kids back but we had our share of leaners!

  • 02/13/2012 5:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Wouldn't it be delightful if everyone sent a drawing with their thank you notes? Well, that's what we received from the third graders in Linda Herbert's class in Montara. These beautifully illustrated expressions of gratitude show us just what part of the Roving Garden Railroad each child focused on - at least for their picture.

    It was hard to narrow down the pile to just five letters to share here. I'll start with my favorite - Lillian's simply stated, "I liked the tunnel" made me feel our efforts in that department have been appreciated. Ava and Turner especially liked  the "wod r fol", but also colored in many other elements of the layout. I think Ava really captured the mountains, as well as her fellow students smiling beside the railroad. Or do they represent the four boxcar children?
     Many kids made reference to the book, The Boxcar Children, which they read prior to our displaying the Roving Garden Railroad with its miniature scenes from their book. Turner drew a picture of the youngest boxcar sibling, Benny, sitting by the waterfall (wod r fol) that helped the children survive in their boxcar home.

    Cammie seems to understand the scale nature of the railway, as she drew herself much bigger than the trees - with a big smile, too.  Most of the kids represented the tracks in their pictures. After all, railroads and their importance in moving freight and passengers across our country were the focus of their classroom for Continents Day, the big event that BAGRS helped to celebrate. Daniel's primary concern was a detailed black and red locomotive driven by a happy engineer. He liked the book, too - and thanked us. Well done, BAGRS! Kids, we appreciate your lovely thank yous!
  • 11/21/2011 11:13 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    On November 19, four BAGRS members ran trains on the Roving Garden Railway for Montara's Farralone View Elementary School, less than a mile from the ocean. BAGRS member, Linda Herbert, organized our participation in the event through her school, as she is one of the teachers in this beautiful seaside community.  Every year Farralone View hosts "Continent Day", a semi-public event in which parents are invited to participate. All morning the children take their home-made "passports" from room to room and get them stamped while they visit each display and take part in hands-on activities teaching about  the continent of the year: this year was North America. To celebrate the railroads' history of connecting North Americans, Linda Herbert's classroom was decorated with memorabilia about trains and  kids could operate trains on the floor.  Just outside her room a chalked-in track led to BAGRS' display in the school's courtyard. In the above photo, Linda Herbert and Frank Lucas watch children watch trains.
        In preparation for the Roving Garden Railway, grades 1, 2 and 3 read the book, The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner, a story about orphaned siblings living on their own in an abandoned boxcar. It's also told in 3-D on the train layout. Numbered signs and a scavenger-hunt styled handout gave kids the fun of finding the story among the buildings, rolling stock and live scenery. One girl, left, points at Watch, the runaway dog, which she spies in the doctor's garden where cherry trees grow. Most kids just wanted to watch the trains go around or run alongside.
       When it came time to set up or take down the trailer, parents and custodians helped make the job easier. Recent alterations by Joe Barker and Bill Mead made at a work party were immensely helpful, too. Every little bit helps. Thanks for all your help, BAGRS members. Not shown, but helping with answering questions from children were Edward van Pelt and Terry Hurley. Nancy Norris is about to back up her truck to the buttoned-up trailer, shown ready for hook up.

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