Newbie - Power ?s

12 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    January 2006
  • From: Florida
  • 2,200 posts
Newbie - Power ?s
Posted by traindaddy1 on Saturday, December 9, 2017 6:42 AM


This Spring, we are considering venturing outside and thinking about a Garden Railroad. The anticipated run will be small, about 200 feet to start.


What transformer should we consider?

On our indoor Lionel layouts, the power to the tracks gets a boost about every 10 feet or so. Will the garden track run have to be boosted also and about how many feet between the power connections?

Lastly, your suggestion for the best basic (simple for this "older" guy to understand) publication on  the "nuts and "bolts" of Garden Railroading.

As always, many thanks.


  • Member since
    February 2015
  • From: Ormond Beach, FL
  • 383 posts
Posted by chocho willy on Saturday, December 9, 2017 8:52 AM

   Well to start with I would have to say 200' isn't small, sounds like a pretty good start to me.  I used mostly MRC transformers, which was what was popular several years ago and I'm sure others on the forum can offer more current suggestions. Of course it depends on amperage of needed by the engines. I currently use a home built one with a 15 amp/24vdc output controlled by a 2 LGB 52121 remote controller protected by 15 amp circuit breakers. The hi voltage transformer is kept inside and the low voltage remote controllers receive power via 14  gauge wire, remember electricity doesn't get along well with water. Each block is supplied with connections at about every 15 feet. I have found this to work pretty good, the biggest problem coming from the rail joints, the fewer the better ( longer track pieces ) securing with clamp on joiners and using a dielectric grease available at hardware and big box stores, you can also solder jumper wires at the joints and this seems to work the best. Enjoy your new hobby it is a lot of fun and give you years of enjoyment. Good luck, Bill   Coquina Falls

  • Member since
    October 2013
  • 28 posts
Posted by JJ33 on Saturday, December 9, 2017 12:28 PM
I started with a Piko 4 foot circle starter set back in 2013 and now have 456 ft double main line with a 6 track 40 ft yard, I use a couple Bridgwerk's controllers and 20 amp power supplies, all my rail joiners are brass and two jumper cables in the middle of the RR. Lots of fun with my 7 year old daughter, here a link to my RR and a new link with my daughter Jose Silva
  • Member since
    September 2003
  • From: YYC, CANADA
  • 53 posts
Posted by rbrr on Saturday, December 9, 2017 2:49 PM

When I started off into MR (1999)  I accessed and acquired quite a few hard copy references. Also utilized Geroge S. website;   for quite a bit of insight into our hobby !


BTW,   I  acquired  a MRC G transformer,  in case the PHHobby Gpower did die off a few yrs back when the meter died, but it still pushing out over 22v max.   

I've heard of peoples acquiring the Bridgewerks power units. I mihgt have but they were not available locally at the time.

good luck,

doug c


"G-gauge may not Rule, But it GROWS on Ya !! " djc'99
  • Member since
    February 2004
  • From: North, San Diego Co., CA
  • 3,092 posts
Posted by ttrigg on Saturday, December 9, 2017 6:41 PM

My advice to new to the garden, ALWAYS buy bigger. As a self admitted "analog dinosaur" I've been pushimg electrons down the rails since 1995. My empire has grown in pre-planned stages, and one not planned when "She Who Must Be Obeyed" said "I want to send a train off into the distance and it not come back for a while." That one ran along the back fence weaving through her roses (180 ft) and turned to weave amoung her fruit trees.

Transformer: Learn from my fail. As time went along each exoansion created a need for more power. My storage shed holds 5 working transformers that were not big enough to handle the expansions. Guesstimate your power requirements five years from now, find a transformer to fill that need, then buy the model two sizes bigger. You will save money in the long run. 

Switches (Turnouts): Buy more than you need for you beginning plans. Position them as 'stub end sidings' that can become expansion points for later construction. In my case initial construction was a basic oval around the Koi pond. Switches were installed for future track yard, future bridge to the Chateau atop the waterfall, etc. When installing switches remove the 'slip joint' rail joiners and repalce with rail clamps. Domestic and nondomestic wildlife have a tendancy to leave "gifts" on the switches, and dirt and small rocks also collect there. Rail clamps allow you to lift out the switch without disturbing any of the rails so you can easily take the switch to a work bench for complete cleaning, or repairs if needed.

Rail joints: As the ground shifts under our empires the standard slip joint connectors will become mis-aligned giving the oportunity for derailment. Use short setional track where you must, but longer 'flex' rails when ever possible. For my longer runs I soldered two 10 foot sections together for 20 ft pieces and joined them with rail clamps to the next section. The fewer joints you have makes for less oportunity for wheels to 'pick a joint' and derail.

Feeder wires for rail power: Every fourth rail joint has worked for me. forty feet for the 10ft rail sections, MUCH shorter for the areas with sectional track.

Reference books: It has been a long time since I looked at any, but, in my opinion, these pages give a lot more information than any book. A good book will give the writers opinion on any issue, this forum will give many different ideas how we all solved the issue. Pick a couple books and then research the issue on these pages for other ways to solve.

Word of advice, never ask "what is best . . . " on these pages. Best has many built in problems; your local microclimate, your soil type, wildlife issues, and many more. What is best for me may well be the worst possible choice for you. Over the years that question has caused a few heated discussions.

Having said all of that it is time for you to get outside and play in the dirt.

Tom Trigg

  • Member since
    January 2006
  • From: Florida
  • 2,200 posts
Posted by traindaddy1 on Saturday, December 9, 2017 7:17 PM

ChoCho Willy: Doug C: Tom Trigg:

Thanks, so much, for your replies.  We are looking foward to the adventure. As things develope, we will post updates. Have a great holiday and thanks, again.

  • Member since
    August 2005
  • From: North Coastal San Diego
  • 934 posts
Posted by Greg Elmassian on Saturday, December 9, 2017 8:23 PM

The biggest factors are the rail material and the joiners used. Different recommendations for aluminum vs. brass vs. stainless steel rail.

Might I suggest you read this page, and the 10 pages linked at the bottom.

This will get you a start!



Visit my site: - lots of tips on locos, rolling stock and more.

 Click here for Greg's web site


  • Member since
    February 2013
  • 794 posts
Posted by PVT Kanaka on Saturday, December 9, 2017 8:33 PM

As a newbie myself, I echo the advice given on this page.  These folks gave me much the same when the Triple O went from idea to railroad a couple years ago.  It paid off in terms of where to place limited dollars as well as mistakes avoided!

I might add one observation of my own, and that is on the control side of the transformer.  Consider the the demographic of the crew.  I was about to throw down for DCC, but that would've added capability beyond the very young crew's ability to operate  and, due to its cost and relative complexity, this would've detratcted from my ability to enjoy them operating the trains relatively stress free! 

As Tom said, start digging.  No regrets from this clan in the Aloha State beyond we wish we had broken ground earlier!


  • Member since
    January 2006
  • From: Florida
  • 2,200 posts
Posted by traindaddy1 on Sunday, December 10, 2017 8:32 AM
Greg...Eric....THANK YOU.
  • Member since
    January 2006
  • From: Florida
  • 2,200 posts
Posted by traindaddy1 on Sunday, January 7, 2018 7:48 AM

To all:

It's been a little too cold to venture outside but the "dream" still exits.

Thanks, again, for your posts.

  • Member since
    January 2010
  • 14 posts
Posted by homo_habilis on Sunday, January 7, 2018 9:03 AM

I would recommend Kevin Strong's book Garden Railway Basics as a place to start your journey.


There is also the Mark Found 15 part British video series The Garden Railway.  It's pretty basic and glosses over quite a few of the details but you might find it entertaining and informative.

  • Member since
    February 2007
  • From: Arizona (high country 7k ft) USA
  • 659 posts
Posted by Rex in Pinetop on Sunday, June 17, 2018 10:14 PM

I'm late replying to this post but have you considered battery power versus growing multiple transformers each time you expand?  I switched some years ago and havn't regretted the move.  I don't have to polish track and I can add or change track on a whim.  Growth of track is not a problem nor is a change of rail material and I can do reversing loops without a ton of circuitry.  The down side is that it costs about $200 for a decoder and battery for each new engine I convert.   

  • Member since
    November 2012
  • From: Kokomo, Indiana
  • 1,266 posts
Posted by emdmike on Sunday, June 24, 2018 8:18 AM

I will also chime in and second the motion that you investigate onboard battery RC with either Revolution or Airewire control system, or even the new bluetooth control to allow your smart phone to control the train(it is harder to see outdoors depending if your in bright sunlight or under shade trees however).  I went with onboard battery power after close to 10 years running track power, I grew tired of dealing with rail joiner issues, having to clean track and I was diving into live steam engines, of which most do not play well with track powered trains. I have never looked back.   My indoor loop can have track power, I keep that option for testing new models and fixing ones for others.  I am picky on what locomotives I puchase as I dislike having the batteries in a trailing car unless its the steam locomotive's own tender.  I have engines from LGB, Kalamazoo and Lionel Large Scale(the older line, not the new all plastic crap) that have onboard battery power installed in them.      Mike the Aspie

Silly NT's, I have Asperger's Syndrome

Search the Community


Get the Garden Railways newsletter delivered to your inbox twice a month

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Garden Railways magazine. Please view our privacy policy