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Garden Railways:Construction of The Toenail Ridge Shortline
Construction of the Toenail Ridge Shortline.
This page revised September 15th, 2001


Toenail Ridge Short Line is a G-scale #1-gauge garden railway providing passenger and freight service to the small communities of Toenail Ridge, Fenster and Rowell in central Washington state in the late 1920's. It is currently incarnated in a backyard in Belair, South Australia. This is the fourth incarnation, previous representations having been in HO and N scales. The HO version lost its real estate when a new-born daughter claimed the room and the N-scale version disappeared from the workshop as the managing director's eyesight faded. The current version occupies an elevated area about 25 feet square.

The location had been built up as a vegetable garden by a previous owner of the property and was one of the major factors in purchasing the house. The MD's wife is very understanding on these matters and also was deeply enamoured of other features of the new abode.

Toenail Ridge before development

Construction began in June,1996. The first job was removal of a dead tree and poisoning of long-neglected weeds. The area had been ignored for so long that when the top-soil was turned over, a concrete garden path was discovered at a depth of six inches. Do you know how long it takes natural mulch to build up to the depth of half a foot? Needless to say, this path had to be broken up and removed, setting back the schedule by a number of weeks. Following initial cleanup, an underground watering system was laid and stakes driven in to give a level to fill to. A friend kindly donated a ton or more of medium sized rocks from an old wall and these were roughly located to form a backbone scenery divider.

Mountain goats grazing the Ridge

Then the hard work... barrowing load after load of sand and soil from outside the fence, up the slope, over the border and spread to its final location. All of this in the middle of our wettest winter in many years.

After leaving the new fill to settle for a few weeks stakes were driven at the centers of the proposed curves and using a tramel the trackplan was scraped into the dirt. Because of the fairly limited space a minimum four foot radius was chosen. This was small enough to permit a workable trackplan and large enough to give an impression of space rather than a spaghetti bowl appearance.

It was decided that all trackwork would be hand-laid rather than commercial due to the expense of bought track and its limited length and curve options. Additionally all ties would be hand-cut from a genuine red-gum sleeper. Ripping down a sleeper into half-inch square by four inch pieces is an interesting way to put your sanity to testing its outer limits. It is also a good way to test the sharpness of your table-saw. Rail was ordered in twelve foot lengths from a local source. Track spikes presented a problem but after much looking it was decided that blue tacks with their large heads were prototypical in appearance, easy to hold with 12 inches to the foot fingers, inexpensive as about 4000 would be needed and would probably rust, presenting the maintenance crew with reason for bad language in years to come. In the meantime, planting commenced with ground covers and miniature trees. Pinebark was spread over the complete area to prevent wind erosion and to hold moisture.
Hand Laid Track

Red-gum sleepers, 4 nails per tie

As each track section was completed on the work bench, it was laid on the prepared rail-bed and ballasted with more Dolomite, using a paint brush to force the tiny gravel pieces between each tie and shape the side contours. This was then watered heavily. Dolomite seems to have some type of natural cement powder in it, and after it dries it will hold its shape unless physically broken up, when it crumbles back to individuaì pieces. This makes correction of alignment and re-levelling very easy.

Toenail Ridge Sign, a Christmas gift from Kathy

Because Toenail Ridge is built in an elevated garden it was possible to lay some sections of track in situ, a procedure not usually possible with garden railways. It is situations such as these that leads one to bless the inventor of the cordless drill. Speaking of drills, any mathematician will tell you that a 1/16th. drill bit doesn't go into red gum very often so we are currently on the 20th. This is an average of one drill bit pet 7 ties or 28 holes and after the rail, is rapidly approaching the highest expenditure.

Ground covers are establishing nicely, enjoying the Mediterranean climate of this area. Various thymes, cotoneasters, hebe, alyssum and dwarf diosma share the greening of the Ridge with miniature junipers and conifers, also, a number of bonsai trees that have been collected over the years

Toenail Ridge after development

Structures are all scratch-built, mostly from Kraftwood and Western Red Cedar scraps. A local spa manufacturer kindly donated these off- cuts from the tub enclosures. So far, all buildings have full interiors and are lit by batteries. This system will change to buried 12 volt power eventually, preferably before the annual budget for running costs is absorbed by Messrs. Eveready and Co.

No provision has been made to track-power Toenail Ridge as the three locos on the roster are battery powered and radio controlled. Nos. 8 & 9 are Bachmann 10-wheelers, painted and super-detailed for the Ridge.

No.9 and No.5                                                         No.9 entering the canyon                                 No.8 entering Rowel

Rolling stock is mostly scratch-built,running on Bachmann or MDC trucks and using Kadee # 831 couplers.

Scratchbuilt roling-stock at Toenail Ridge Station

The passenger consist started life as three Bachmann combine kits. One was built stock and the other two were cut down the middle and like ends joined to produce a Railway Post Office and full passenger coach. The coach required considerable floor modification but looks the part. All are lit via the standard Bachmann method, using on-board batteries rather than track power.

Passenger consist at Rowel

The Toenail Ridge Shortline, like many garden railways, is primarily designed to be watched rather than prototypically operated. It is really a good excuse to stand in the back yard with a glass in the hand. Some scope for operation has been provided, with a passing siding and a couple of switching sidings servicing the area. Carloads are supplied by the diary farm at Fenster (which is located by the back fence) and mining and logging provisions are on-shipped as they appear over the horizon.

It is anticipated that maintenance of way will be the biggest user of the track as the crew struggles to keep the line clear of fallen leaves and twigs and tries to keep up with un-invited greenery in the form of weeds. This part of the world is cursed with an invasive weed called kikuyu grass which has roots so deep and tough that tilling the soil to six feet still won't eradicate it. Guess what is making its appearance through the pine-bark! Experiments are being made to try converting a Bachmann oil tanker to dispense Roundup on the right-of-way.

Mainline track-laying is now complete and about one third of the area is planted. Further greening is now the main order of business, with heavy hints going out to family and friends about what gift certificates from which nurseries would be most appreciated under the Xmas tree. More junipers and conifers are the major requirement, to capture the feel of the Pacific Northwest.

A family re-union in Tacoma Wa. in May offered the opportunity to gather local information on structures and flora in that part of the world and, having a sister-in-law in Mineral was the icing on the cake, as this little village is home to an operating Climax and Heisler which pull the tourist train.

Freight train to Fenster

The beauty of a garden railway is in the change of scenery with the change of seasons. The bonzai plum has changed from a stark outline to blossom to full leaved green in the six months since construction began. Snowflake and thyme carpet areas that only weeks ago were bare and dusty. Sagina is growing over the rocks to form mountain meadows in which G-scale cows will graze, and over the buildings are the streaks of dust and weathering left by rain and wind and passing birds. Eventually trees that are now a foot tall will dwarf the track and trains as they reach their mature three feet, and spreading ground covers will hide the mulch and spill over the retaining walls, and the garden and the track and the buildings and the trains will blend into one harmonious whole.

August, 1997 UPDATE:

Toenail Ridge is now over a year old and the track has been completed and operational for 6 months. Greening of the Ridge is at probably 80%, with most plants and trees establishing nicely. Dwarf diosma is into its second season with the approach of spring. Oblong pavers have been laid to form roads and also make dandy paths for full size feet for maintenance access.

Pavers in Toenail Ridge

One of the big fears has not been realised, that is the dreaded weeds didn't make the inroad that I feared, although later in Spring they could still make life miserable.

One of the ongoing and unexpected problems has been our canine daughter, Jessie. She has decided that the thyme smells so good that it needs complimenting and so she has declared the Ridge her personal ablution point. In every other way this dog is the most intelligent I have seen but on this one matter I just can't convince her that she is in a no-go zone! Woodie, the engineer of Old No.9 has a permanent look of horror on his face from the day when he rounded Canyon corner to be met by a pile of 12 inch to the foot dog drops!

Jessie selecting her next drop-zone!


Click Here for full list of plants on the Toenail Ridge

Click Here to read the story of the origins of the Toenail Ridge.

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