The term "scale" is really a misnomer, as the actual size of the engines and cars that run on it vary. G scale is more correctly called "G Gauge", as the gauge of the track i.e. the distance between the rails, of 45 mm or about 1.75 inches, is the one consistency. In North America, the commonly used narrow gauge is 3 feet; modeling this correctly with 45 mm track gauge gives a scale of 1:20.3, which is commonly used by the American manufacturers Accucraft and Bachmann. Standard gauge is 4 feet 81/2 inches between the rails which gives a scale of 1:32 used by MTH. However LGB is 1:22.5 or metre gauge in Europe, while Aristocraft and USA Trains scale their rolling stock to 1:29. All however run on the same 45 mm gauge track.



The following chart shows the different "scales"



How are they Powered


Locomotives can be either track powered (electric) or battery powered. Some modelers will also use catenary. Due to the large size of the locomotives it is also possible for them to be powered with live steam. The latter are usually fired by butane or alcohol. However, coal fired engines have become increasingly popular.



A garden railroad can be as simple as an oval of track on the deck/patio or around a feature such as a pond or it can be as elaborate as a full back yard layout with multiple tracks and dozens of buildings and bridges. Remember there is ongoing maintenance on any outdoor layout just like the full scale railroads, so the bigger the layout the more maintenance that will be required in ballasting track, pulling weeds, trimming trees and keeping the track clean to name just a few.


There are many ways to build a garden railroad but most people start with either of two common methods.


Ground Level Roadbed

The ground level railroad is built using a trench 5"wide by 3"to 5" deep, filling it with crushed gravel (which should be tamped into the trench), laying the track on top of this gravel layer and then finish ballasting by pouring and leveling a thin layer of finely crushed gravel between the ties.


Raised Roadbed

The raised roadbed is constructed by surrounding an area with a wall of pressure treated wood, Allen Blocks, natural rock or any other material which will hold back the dirt. Height is an individual decision but 24" to 30" is common. Next fill the area with dirt and rock to create a landscape which might include a pond or stream. Laying the track then follows the same basic procedure as for the ground level roadbed technique. This technique is more work but is easier for running the railroad and for maintenance as you do not have to get down on your hands and knees to work.


Most of the larger manufacturers produce their own brand of track. The most popular is track made of brass but it is also available in nickel silver as well as oxidation-resistant stainless steel, though the later two metals are more expensive. Track can also be obtained in less expensive aluminum. It can be purchased in pre cut lengths and curves (snap track) or as flex track where the modeler bends the track to their preferred design. Track also comes in various sizes or codes with code 332 (heavier and more damage resistant) and code 250 (lighter but more protypical) being the most popular. All brands can remain outside in all weathers.

In designing your track plan, use the widest-radius curves your space will allow as wider curves will give your railway a much more plausible look. Space is always a problem, so do what you must; but tailor your rolling stock to your curves. Very long engines and cars just don't look right negotiating very tight curves. Also, when planning grades, try not to make them steeper than about 3 percent (3" rise over 100" horizontal travel). Steep grades are unrealistic, and they will severely limit your train length.
There are many more aspects to G scale model railroading which are beyond the scope of this article: couplers for rolling stock, structures both readymade or scratch built, switch sizes, trestles and bridges, power systems (battery, steam or electric with DC or DCC or radio control), garden plants and trees, and so on. Therefore the nature of this article has intentionally been written only as a general overview of how to get started. It is hoped from the material presented, the interested reader will be encouraged to further research the hobby of G scale garden railroading; it can easily become a family activity enjoyed by all.
Many Links are provided on this site and there are two books devoted to the construction of a garden railroad. Both are available from Amazon .ca or your local hobby shop.


Garden Railroading: Getting Started in the Hobby  by Kent J. Johnson
How to Design and Build your Garden Railway  by Jack Verducci

The bi monthly magazine GardenRailways by Kalmbach is a source of current information.