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Best Choices for Beginning Garden RailroadersGarden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Best Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders: a short list of things you're most likely to need when starting out
Large Scale Starter Sets: Begin with a train you'll be proud to run Bachmann Garden Trains: Narrow Gauge models designed to run well in your Garden Railroad
Large Scale Track order Form Buildings and accessories for outdoor railroading
Large Scale Christmas Trains: Trains with a holiday theme for garden or professional display railroads.Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs
Garden Railroading Books, Magazines, and Videos: Where to go to learn even more
Collectible Trains and Villages: On30 Trains and accessories designed by Thomas Kinkade and others

Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm) and Garden Train Store(tm)

This page lists products that are especially useful to beginning Garden Railroaders. If you don't know what Garden Railroading is, my article "Go Outside and Run Your Trains," on the Family Garden Trains Primer page will give you some idea.

Another helpful Primer article is "Building a Garden Railroad on a Budget." That article gives you some idea of the sort of expenses you may incur as you begin to move your trains outside. That article argues in favor of taking "baby steps" when you're starting out. But if you work your way through the sample budget sheets in that article, you'll soon realize that:

  • You can put a "test track" on level ground for little more than the cost of a starter set and an extra loop of track.
  • Building a nicely landscaped small-to-medium garden railroad with a pond and buildings will cost you several times that much - not because the train will cost you more, but because everything else will.
  • At first, you will probably spend more for gardening and landscaping stuff than you will for track and trains put together. This shouldn't scare anyone who's used to spending time (and money) at the garden store each spring.
  • At first you should expect to spend more for track than you do for your trains. (If you "chintz" on trains and structures at first, you can always fix that with another trip to the store, but if you chintz on track, your railroad will never be what it ought to be.)

I can't help you order bolders and mulch online, or even with Dwarf Alberta Spruces, but I can help you make the most useful initial investments in track, trains, and structures. The goal of this page is to save you time and money by helping you locate the most useful (and generally the most affordable) products for when you're first starting out.

Update for 2015 - Every year we rework our "short list" of products folks should consider starting out with. Some years the list gets shorter; some it gets longer, depending on the state of the economy three years ago - yes, it takes 18-36 months for global economic changes to affect our market. Thank goodness, we've had a few good years in a row, so stuff that was hard to find in 2010-2013 is starting to reappear again.

The other thing that has happened is that several vendors who used to do their online business through sites we could link to directly are now doing most of that business through Amazon. So most of our train links just go there these days. Once you get to an Amazon page, though, you can often find multiple vendors selling the same thing. So you can do "competitive shopping" (more-or-less) directly from the Amazon page.

Also, certain train products tend to come online late in the season. So once you get to a product's Amazon page, look at the "other people have bought" and "other people have looked at" lists to see if something's come online since I most recently updated this page.

For information about why model trains and related products seem to "come and go" even in good years, please see our article "About Pricing and Availability." Please contact us if you have questions about availability, quality, or, suitability of any product listed on this page.

A Note about "Buyer's Guides" We post these descriptions to help you make informed decisions and to learn what is available, even if the suppliers we usually recommend have a short supply. In some cases, we will allow a description to remain online, even without a supplier link, if we have reason to believe that the product will become available again later. If you want a particular product, but we have no supplier button or the supplier's page says they are sold out, let us know, and we'll try to help you find one elsewhere. We apologize if this causes you any inconvenience or confusion.

Note about Suppliers: While we try to help you get the products you want by recommending suppliers with a good record of customer service, all transactions between you and the supplier you chose to provide your trains or other purchases are governed by the published policies on the supplier's web site. So please print off any order confirmation screens and save copies of invoices, etc., so you can contact the appropriate supplier should any problems occur. (They almost never do, but you want to be on the safe side.)

Stuff You'll Need at First

Chances are your initial purchases will be along the following lines:
  • Large Scale Starter set - a complete train with a little power pack to get your started. Probable cost range: $150-400
  • Extra track - one or two large loops of track, as well as any other straight pieces or turnouts (switches) you need to complete a small but functional railroad outside. Probable cost range: $150-400.
  • Buildings - A few attractive, sturdy structures that go together easily, so your trains have a "community" to serve.
  • Groundcovers - a few plants you should try to get started early so you gain experience and "starters" you can spread around as your railroad grows.
  • Trees - a few miniature trees to consider.

Starter Sets

If you haven't already picked up a Large Scale starter set, you're in for a treat. Large Scale manufacturers such as those represented on this page have been making detailed, reliable trains for decades, and each year the products get better. A few samples that have a reputation for quality and which should be widely available are shown on this page. These sets come with track that is most suitable for indoor use in tight quarters, say around a Christmas tree or on a test track, but you'll want to use wider curves outside. The AristoCraft set also comes with a very handy remote control that you can use outside if your railroad doesn't get too big. Note: For more sets and for more details on the sets listed here, please check out the Garden Train Starter Set page.

Bachmann Industries North Woods Logger Bachmann Logging Train Set When Bachmann first started making garden trains, their industrial-style Mogul 2-6-0 was a favorite. They have reintroduced it with much-improved engineering, smoke, and chuff sound. It is hauling a 20' flat car with logs and a logging caboose. the train comes with a 5'4" x 4'3" oval of track that you can use indoors, as well as a power pack with speed controller, illustrated "Bach Man" instruction manual, and DVD-format video instructions.
Bachmann Industries Union Pacific freight train set. Click to see on Amazon.Midwestern Freight Train - This train set represents the great railroads' contribution to western expansion. The ten-wheeler pulling this train has a "diamond" smoke stack to catch cinders that would otherwise start prairie fires. It has smoke and synchronized "chuff" sound. By the way, Bachmann's first Large Scale locomotive was a ten-wheeler, but this one is the product of several upgrades and reengineering efforts. There is also a caboose, a stock car for hauling cattle to the big city, and a large oval of track for use indoors, as well as a power supply and instructional DVD. Midwestern Freight Train -
Bachmann Industries Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey G Scale Ready to Run Electric Train Set. Click to see on Amazon.Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus Train - This is another favorite Bachmann train set of the past. Based on real trains that used to bring the circus to town. (In fact, when my father was a boy in the 1930s, he used to earn a pass to the circus by helping them set up tents - true story.) In a year when the big circuses are announcing that they will be closing down soon, here's a way to keep the magic alive.

Bachmann has reengineered this locomotive several times so it's more reliable than ever. It has operating headlight, smoke, speed-synchronized sound, and a coal tender. It pulls a coach with a lighted interior and two classic parade coaches. There's even a lion and a tiger in the box.

LGB Big Train - LGB's very first locomotive was a model of a small Austrian locomotive called the Stainz. This set combines a version of the famous Stainz with two "shorty" cars that will run and look great. Click this button to check stock on AmazonOwn a classic!

Note: LGB and its parent companies have had some difficulties over the past several years. LGB used to make hundreds of products and hopefully will again. However the most recent new owners said they were going to start rebuilding LGB's line from the student sets up. So that is the only one we expect to see in wide availability this fall. Once again, if you click on the Amazon link, look at the "other people ordered" and "other people looked at" links to see if anything else has become available in recent days.

Piko SF Freight Starter Set - This locomotive is based on real 0-6-0 "docksider" locomotives that were built by Porter and Baldwin to serve industries and small Click this button to check stock on Amazonswitchyards where a big, heavy switcher wasn't required.

Note: PIKO's US importers began ordering these trains when they couldn't get LGB trains. Right now most people seem to be out of stock, but these sets are worth considering, and several other PIKO sets have been available in recent months. If you click through to Amazon, please be sure to look at the "other people ordered" and "other people looked at" links to see if something else has become available in recent days.

Track for Outside

When you move your trains outdoors, you'll want to give them room to run. Trains look better and run better on wider curves. You will never regret choosing good track at the outset and installing it properly.

LGB invented the track that most garden trains run on. Track from AristoCraft/GeneratioNext and USA Trains is totally compatible with LGB, but it has better connectors. Bachmann's brass track (not the stuff that comes with their trains) is also compatible with the other brands shown here.

Note: Piko's larger curves aren't always exactly the same as the other brands, so if you have to mix and match curves, consider sticking with the other three brands on this page. Otherwise read the product discriptions carefully.

Because of the uneven availability of track in 2014, you might wind up using track from more than one manufacturer. That's why we have a cross-reference list of the most popular pieces. The pieces that I've found most useful are shown in bold. For more details on the track options listed here, as well as many other choices, please check out the Garden Railroad Track Options page.

STRAIGHT Track with Solid Brass Rail AristoCraft/
GeneratioNext Std. Gauge
(US) #
GeneratioNext Narrow Gauge
(Euro) #
(Euro) #
Bachmann ) # Piko # USA Trains #
1' Straight Track (usually comes in a box of 12 pieces) 30030 11000 10000 (300mm)
94651 35200 (320mm) R81000
2' Straight Track (usually comes in a box of 12 pieces) 30060 11060 10600   35208 R81060

CURVED Track with Solid Brass Rail AristoCraft/
GeneratioNext Std. Gauge
(US) #
GeneratioNext Narrow Gauge
(Euro) #
(Euro) #
Bachmann # Piko # USA Trains #
4'-Diameter Curve Track (12 pieces make a circle. LGB calls this "RI".) 30100 11100 11000 (R1) 94653 35211 R81100
5'-Diameter Curve Track (12 pieces make a circle. LGB calls this "R2".) 30110 11500 15000 (R2) 94654   R81500
8'-Diameter Curve Track (16 pieces make a circle. LGB calls this "R3".) 30115 11600 16000 (R3) 94655A   R81600
10'-Diameter Curve Track (12 pieces make a circle.) 30120 11800       R81700
15'-Diameter Curve Track (24 pieces make a circle.)     1800      


When I first put this page online, several nice pre-built buildings were available. But most of the buildings available today are kits. That's okay; I always recommend painting buildings before you put them out, and it's a lot easier to paint a kit than a finished structure.

About "Beginning" Piko Structures The first several Piko structures listed below use essentially the same basic components and construction, so if you start, say with the smallest "Gingerbread" house, then move on to the schoolhouse or stores, you'll be able to apply any "lessons learned" as you progress. For maximum results, follow our detailed instructions on painting and assembling these.

Piko Gingerbread Houses
Piko Gingerbread Houses - These little houses are great for setting up a small town without a lot of space. They look tiny in the photo (taken from the package's cover art), but they're large enough to look fine with any garden train. In addition, I have a whole The Lewis Gingerbread House, repainted blue and white.  Click to go to article.article on how to paint and assemble these so that they'll last for many years outdoors. I started with the yellow one because I liked the trim the best. (Yes, it's blue now.) I've had this outside for four years, year-round, and it still looks as good as when I set it out.

In fact, starting with a "Gingerbread" series house is a pretty good idea. It's one of the simplest sets to paint and assemble, but it uses the same walls and basic construction as many of Piko's US-style buildings, including the Schoolhouse and the Church below.

King's Gingerbread House (gray)
Adam's Gingerbread House (blue)
Lewis' Gingerbread House (yellow)
Piko Little Red Schoolhouse
Piko Old West Storefronts
Sample Pico Western Storefronts
Piko Old West Storefronts - This is one of Piko's best-known line of buildings. It uses many of the same components as the "Gingerbread" series, so if you started with that one, this is the next logical step. Or vice versa.

I don't have detailed instructions on painting and assembling these from the ground up, but you'll get a lot of good tips from our articles on painting a Piko Gingerbread House or on painting plastic structures in general. The buildings in the photo to the right are examples of a few of the dozens of Western storefronts Piko has produced.

In fact, I still have one of these new in a box, so when I get around to painting it up, I'll try to put a specific article together. In the meantime, the main differences between one building in the series and the next are:

  • The shape of the cornice
  • The number of windows
  • The colors
  • The included graphics

Since we recommend painting anyway, and we have plenty of free downloadable graphics you can substitute, don't be too nervous if you don't like the color scheme or business name of one you come across.

Piko has also made special versions of these for Christmas, to go with the (now discontinued) LGB Toy Train sets, to commemorate specific companies like Harley Davidson, and so on. The photo above is just from one collection of these. We'll list the ones we can find available online, but once you click on any of these links, chances are you see others we don't have listed yet. They all go together about the same, so don't be afraid of trying one we don't show.

Shown above, left to right:

Piko Hardware Store

Piko Leather Goods and Boot Store
Piko Acme Liquor Store
Piko General Store

Not Shown

Piko Saloon

Piko Sheriff's Office

Piko Red River Station - This is Piko's smallest station kit, so it fits on even tiny railroads. On big railroads, it still looks good as a way station or serving small towns on your railroad. I don't have detailed instructions on painting and assembling these from the ground up, but I have embedded some painting suggestions in our Painting Plastic Structures article.

For this station, I used a color scheme similar to the original Red River colors, but added protective paint and detailing. Click for a bigger photo. For this station, I used a rust primer for the 'bricks,' then used a 'wash' of acrylic white paint to flow into the mortar lines. Click for a bigger photo.

In addition, I have made my own graphics for both stations (in case you want more variety than what comes in the box). If you want to take a look, go to our Large Scale Sticker Sheets page and look at the second sheet.

Red River Station
Piko Red River Station

Note: As of July, 2014, no one is selling this building through Amazon; however many vendors still have them available, and it's one of Piko's most popular structures, so I'm leaving the photo up as a reference.

Ground Covers

My Primer article Click to see our article about groundcovers."Groundcover 101" gives you many hints about kinds of groundcovers to use in various situations. One thing worth knowing from the start is that the sooner you get some ground covers going the better. If you have early success with a groundcover, you can save money by transplanting starts elsewhere on your railroad. Coversely, if something doesn't work for you, better you spend a few dollars finding out early than many dollars finding out later.

Springhill Nurseries, a reputable sponsor, offers several which you may find useful. Simply click on the button on the right, then use the following plant names as search terms to get started early. Note: Some groundcovers that are sold for general use are too invasive to use on garden railways. If you have a question about any particular plant, and I haven't discussed it in my "Groundcover 101" article, please contact me and I'll tell you what I know about it.

  • Creeping Thyme - This describes a range of low-growing Thymes, including Magic Carpet Thyme. They are often sold for planting in between stepping stones. They are very handy for filling in "brushy" areas on your railroad. Thyme thrives in full or partial sun, especially on elevated, fairly dry areas such as "hillsides." See my article on "Inexpensive and Low-Maintenance Plants for Garden Railroads" for more tips about using creeping thyme.
  • Irish Moss - Another Garden Railroading favorite. Beautiful, low-lying clumps of very tiny leaves, full sun or partial shade, zones 4-7
  • Purple Ice Plant, also Golden Ice Plant - I haven't used these but some of my friends have used them with success. They have small leaves and bright flowers; fine in dry areas, zones 5-9

Dwarf and Miniature Trees

My Primer article Click to go to article."Trees for your trains" lists a few trees that are relatively low-maintenance, and tells you how to get them started off right in your garden railroad. Here are three I have had good luck with.
  • Dwarf Alberta Spruce - This is the most popular garden railroad tree throughout most of North America. It isn't hard to keep trimmed to a conical shape and to keep relatively small. It's also become a popular landscaping plant, so it's not hard to pick up cheap. If it's croweded, though, the branches on that side will die, so be careful about letting things grow up against it.
  • Hetz Midget - A little arborvita that usually comes with a dozen trunks in a single pot. Cut off all but the thickest, and you'll find it fairly easy to keep in a "deciduous" shape.
  • Boulevard Cypress - These grow slowly and can be kept in a nice deciduous shape with minimum trimming.

Many more conifers are useful if you don't mind training them a bit, or at least being judicious with the trimmers. I like conifers because they can represent all kinds of trees, and they stay green all winter long, looking cheerful.

A few non-confers can be useful, such as laceleaf Japanese maple. Just know that the ones you buy are all grafts - the laceleaf branches are grafted onto a "generic" Japanese maple trunk. The branches tend to grow out, not up, so you'll have to trim the lower branches for a few years to force upward growtn.

Again our article on "Trees for your trains" has lots of information on trimming.

Click to see exclusive, licensed train collections in your favorite sports team colors!

Visit related pages and affiliated sites:
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Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads
Visit Lionel Trains. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages. Big Christmas Train Primer: Choosing and using model trains with holiday themes Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.
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Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page Click to sign up for Maria Cudequest's craft and collectibles blog.
Click to visit Fred's Noel-Kat store.
Visit the largest and most complete cardboard Christmas 'Putz' house resource on the Internet.
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Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories. Traditional Home-Made Ornaments
- Music -
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Learn important guitar chords quickly, to jump start your ability to play along on any song. With a few tools and an hour or two of work, you can make your guitar, banjo, or mandolin much more responsive.  Instruments with movable bridges can have better-than-new intonation as well. Resources for learning Folk Music and instruments quickly Check out our article on finding good used guitars.
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs. X and Y-generation Christians take Contemporary Christian music, including worship, for granted, but the first generation of Contemporary Christian musicians faced strong, and often bitter resistance. Different kinds of music call for different kinds of banjos.  Just trying to steer you in the right direction. New, used, or vintage - tips for whatever your needs and preferences. Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album. Explains the various kinds of acoustic guitar and what to look for in each.
Look to Riverboat Music buyers' guide for descriptions of musical instruments by people who play musical instruments. Learn 5-string banjo at your own speed, with many examples and user-friendly explanations. Explains the various kinds of banjos and what each is good for. Learn more about our newsletter for roots-based and acoustic music. Folks with Bb or Eb instruments can contribute to worship services, but the WAY they do depends on the way the worship leader approaches the music. A page devoted to some of Paul's own music endeavors.