You Too Can Be A Railroad Baron!

It’s likely that among our readers are more than a few who hold an affection for trains. Whether you call them railroads or railways they’re the original tech fascination, and it’s no accident that the word Hacker was coined at MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club. So some of you like us watch locomotive YouTube videos, others maybe have an OO layout tucked away somewhere, and still more cast an eye at passing trains wishing they were aboard. Having a proper railway of one’s own remains a pipe-dream, but perhaps a hardcore rail enthusiast might like to take a look at [Way Out West Blow-in blog’s] video series on building a farm railway.

On a smallholding there is always a lot to be moved around, and frequently not the machinery with which to do it. Using a wheelbarrow or handcart on rough ground is as we can attest,  back-breaking, so there’s a real gap in the market for anything to ease the task. So a railway becomes an attractive solution, assuming that its construction cost isn’t prohibitive.

The videos below the break are the first two of what will no doubt become a lengthy series, and deals with the construction of the rails themselves including the sleepers cut with a glorious home-made band saw, and then fishplates and a set of rudimentary points. The rails themselves are off-the-shelf flat steel strip laid upon its edge, and secured to the sleepers by short lengths of galvanized tube. It’s clear this isn’t a railroad in the sense that we might understand it, indeed though it uses edge rail it has more in common for its application with some early mining plateways But assuming that the flat strip rail doesn’t twist we can see that it should be perfectly adequate for hand-driven carts, removing the backbreaking aspect of their moving. It will be interesting to follow this project down the line.

Farm railways haven’t featured on Hackaday before, but your inner rail enthusiast might be sated by the world’s first preserved line.

40 thoughts on “You Too Can Be A Railroad Baron!

  1. Building small scale railways used to be a particularly eccentric passtime hobby of British hobby machinists all around the countryside (or at least many years reading Model Engineer’s Workshop magazine has led me to believe this, as there seems to be an entire niche industry based on supplying parts specifically for these purposes there)

    Every proper eccentric should have their own scale railway I say.

    1. I agree, though finding the space to build it and ‘test’ it is hard work… Even in T gauge…I’ve got in the custom built shipping crates some T gauge layout in progress… But no progress has been made on it in years…

        1. Well I hope your eye sight is good if you are going to give T gauge a go, Its even tinier and more impressive in person than a photo can ever really show.. I got lots of my collection of T gauges from the lovely local model railway shop owners personal collection – he found it too small for him.

          Seriously for small spaces N and Z gauges would be my suggestion, longer established, still remarkably small, so can fit a great deal in a small space, but big enough to easily work on for anybody I’d think.

          But I do love T, and the pace of progress it has, when I got started there were no commercially available British trains, let alone steam engine form factors at all, now there’s a powered 0-4-0 tank engine. At some point I really need to be able to get the layout out to finish it off.. Perhaps once the other rather larger projects are out the way…

          1. So I looked up T and thought “That’s crazy small, why do you need to go smaller than Z???” … then I saw some of the layouts on youtube and got it… you can have “large scale” scale landscapes on a dining table of the sort that would take the ground floor of the average house in OO/HO and only give you one loop of track. I was actually amazed how realistic they looked. In contrast, OO/HO layouts, unless they’re built in a goodly sized warehouse, tend to be a tight cram of dioramas, with condensed track layout that while it’s real-ish, isn’t realistic, compared to how spread the tracks are in the real world.

            I feel kind of committed to HO though for if I get back to it, got a lot of it in storage. Got about the equivalent of 3 large sets worth, plus a shoebox full of random rolling stock, and an extra 100ft or so of track, half a dozen buildings, kits to make more. I’ve been kind of lukewarm on model trains since my twenties, accumulated all that at yard sales when my wife expressed an interest, but has not really had hobby time while she was studying.

          2. Yeah I decided as soon as a I saw T gauge that I had to build some real properly scaled railway engineering – a real river crossing bridge. So far all I’ve done is create the geography from an OS map from the target era (plus modern to fill in and improve the elevation change accuracies)… And print quite a heap of buildings in card as my own kits.. Then just at the interesting fast progress bits of painting and grass etc when it had to go into its case and hasn’t come out again yet…

            To give some sense of scale the bridge I’m going for in T gauge still needs two base boards with an elbow shape join around 1/4pi radians as the bridge is on a curve, each board is around 1M deep (ones bigger as it contains the entire town) and 2 meters long… But in the space OO or HO would get a realistic looking fiddle yard I’ve got two stations, a proper bridge over another railway and navigable river, one complete town half under the bridge.. If (when I hope) I ever get round to finishing it will look rather impressive..

    2. Agree entirely with that sentiment. I used to subscribe to Model Engineer a long time ago when I was in high school.
      Even started building LBSC’s ‘Tich’ a 3-1/2″ gauge 0-4-0 tank loco suitable for beginners from his book ‘Simple Model Locomotive Building’. Yep, simple if you were ‘LBSC’ of course.
      I made a few parts like the lever quadrant and so on but decided it would be better as a retirement project, even back then. Nowadays I wouldn’t dream of making the frame rails by hand but have them zapped out. The real problem I would be worrying about would be the boiler and the certification rigmarole that apparently goes with it.

  2. Creosote? ….real Creosote? Geez that stuff is banned where I am, and a a search tells me also in most countries, and has been for quite a while. When I was a kid I helped paint foundation stumps for a farm shack with it, with no PE in sight.
    You can get a Creosote-like anti-termite stuff now which I have used but it doesn’t seem to have the same nastiness, so I wonder if it’s as good :)

    1. Creosote! It’s important to preserve your health for attending to things like mixing lead oxide with linseed oil to seal valve box lids, packing steam seals around piston rods with asbestos rope, handling sooty components and coal dust

      1. Old machines were just NASTY!!! I’m glad we can at least contain most of the worst of it now to the inside of the chip fabs and we don’t still have to use all this old clunky steam stuff.

        It’s really bizzare, the old analog tech with the strongest emotional appeal is also just disgusting at the same time.

    2. Came here to say the same! I really jumped when I heard creosote mentioned. Knowing about the nasty cancerogenic properties of creosote really it destroys the cosy diy organic feeling of this video, especially as he seems to handle it without any special care. Here in Sweden it’s use is regulated and you have to be a professional to handle it, and creosote treated timber (old railway sleepers etc) is not allowed to be sold on the second hand market.

      But, apart from that I love everything about this video, from the ambition to build a railway to the home made band saw cutting his own beams from local timber to the mule(?) walking in and out of frame. And the narrator! Wonderful! He should go professional as a narrator!

      1. The Wikipedia page on Creosote suggests that the evidence of it as a carcinogen is weak. (No excess deaths in long-term creosote plant workers) . Some problems if you shave rats and paint them daily.

    3. My grandpa would use engine oil, not the new stuff either… the oldest, nastiest, greasiest stuff that he could get from a local mechanic. Slathered on thick until the wood wouldn’t absorb any more, he had quite a few bits of wood sitting on the ground that had been on his farm almost as long as he had.

      Undoubtedly bad for the soil, but it sure worked to preserve the wood from and kind of rot or pest.

    4. If it’s “environmentally friendly” then it probably won’t keep out the termites or things that make it rot. Like the pressurized lumber you can buy today. It’s generally not rated for direct contact with the ground, unlike the old arsenic based stuff that would last forever.

  3. Damn, I was lucky when I was young as we had access to a real narrow gauge railway at my grand parent house.
    Nothing really big: 50m of tracks (with a single 90 degree bend), two little wagon and a turn plate. That was more than enough for endless fun.
    Now everything has been sent to scrap, what a pity…

  4. One of my favorite “construct something with it” material is ridgid conduit, available in sizes ranging from 1/2″ up and you can buy great benders for reasonable prices. But I’m guessing it would eventually get bends/sags in it from a rail car riding over it, I’m wondering if a train with enough wheels would reduce the sags.

    1. Why not fill it with very pure water or vegetable oil, add some magnesium rods or active galvanic protection inside if you use water, and weld it shut?

      In other news, I still *really* want to try building with conduit, but large scale building is super hard without a car. It looks so awesome!

  5. Check out on YouTube Larry Gessman and his ride on garden railroad for adults and children, making pvc track, and ride on backyard trains. With hackaday reader adding to this this really could be a thing!!

  6. the youtube channel is gone, I wonder if he got hacked or banned :(
    anyone have contact info? I didn’t download the vids and had been thinking of replicating or using it as a starting point for my own property

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