Friday, June 25, 2010

Judgment Day

One ongoing mystery was solved today, at least as an initial test case. How would the pristine, groomed railroad and its ballast survive its first rain storm? I thought we would have a month or more without any wet stuff coming down, during which I could continue to live in my dreamland where the outdoors behaves like the indoors, albeit without a roof and occasional wild and domestic animals scurrying through. Two nights ago a skunk bumbled across the main line toward the fence after setting off the motion-detector flood lights. In any case, today was Judgment Day, as I later told Linda as we stood on the balcony overlooking the layout. According to a lady we saw later this evening, it had rained, and even hailed, for about five minutes, as some scattered showers moved through due to a late-season Pacific storm. Very rare in June. So we got a chance to see how the railroad would react.

I had read a forum post ( in which the author advised that rain on a garden railroad is not the "same" rain (I'm paraphrasing, probably poorly) that the typical outdoor environment expects to receive on a regular basis. The trains are still miniature in terms of scale, so the rain drops that actually strike the garden railroad are effectively much larger - perhaps 6-8 scale inches across. That's like having the impact of water balloons striking our homes and yards, since the particle size of our ballast is much smaller than that of prototype railroads. So the question remained in my head: How would the Ponderosa Lines react to veritable water balloons? At first, it looked like a mess, as I shook my head overlooking my hard labor for the past two months. Water had indeed splashed ballast particles up ONTO the rails themselves, which was perhaps the most annoying aspect. It also mildly pock-marked the roadbed and ballast beside and between the tracks, making it appear to have a rougher texture than how I laid it down. As I tested the track itself with my hands, it was clear that the railroad itself was still solidly embedded into the roadbed, so the rain hadn't actually dislodged the track. So, the most prominent concern was essentially how to clean the track. I took our trusted "Swiffer" tool, though the wet swiffer pad turned to mud pretty quickly. Finally, I took a dry swiffer pad, attached it to my 2-foot long level stick with a rubber band, and dragged that along the rails. Once satisfied that the bulk of the matter was now off the rails, I braved my LGB switcher with two gondola cars out ahead of it to hopefully "polish" the rails. This seemed to work ok, and the trackage is now somewhat back to normal. I don't know how the "track power" guys do it, as I can't imagine keeping the track clean enough to provide reliable power from the rails. But as Linda suggested, I might be too anal, striving too valiantly for the perfect track "interface" with my trains (even though the locos run on battery power). This latter notion is hard to refute.

So, we have a preview of our upcoming "Monsoon season," which Linda is convinced will be one of the wettest on record now that the railroad is partly installed. We then imagined how we look forward to seeing a White Pass passenger car floating down into the neighbors' yards and having to collect my trains when they finally make landfall. So, the railroad survived its first downpour. We'll see if I have to go further and build a Noah's Ark on rails to prepare for worse.

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