Some Answers to Questions and Comments

How many hours of work have you put into the layout?

No records were kept. Animated things were made for this layout beginning in 1990.  The layout’s benchwork began in the Fall of 1994.  And the work continues since a layout is often a “work in progress.”  Weeks, perhaps even months, go by without any work being done on (or even operating) the layout, and there may be times when I will work into the wee hours of the morning. To offer some explanation of a time frame, the benchwork was built in just a few days working about 4 or 5 hours a day.  Other things, like plastering the HO track (for the O scale vehicles) took months to complete.  Never measured how many feet of track or wire is used.  The initial wiring of many of the house lights, and some lampposts, was done in about 3 hours, surprisingly. In many respects, the layout is also a laboratory of sorts where ideas are developed and brought to completion.  Animation projects can take a lot of time!

What’s the deal with Snoopy?

I always liked the Charles Schulz characters, and Snoopy was my favorite since I discovered the comic strip in grammar school.  When I came across a PVC collectible Snoopy figure in a VW back in 1990, I noticed that there was a cavity inside, and decided to try to fit an HO mechanism inside the cavity.  Only could fit in HO wheelsets, made a trailer to conceal an HO diesel switcher’s mechanism to push the VW, and then had a moving car with trailer for the layout.  The idea hit me to make an HO/O27 crossing, and then it was a natural progression to have other O scale automobiles with the O gauge trains.  Then I decided to buy the Lionel Snoopy and Woodstock handcar.  I wanted to do some sort of a rollercoaster theme with the handcar, and thought to make an elevator since I didn’t think the handcar could climb a grade.  The elevator made it possible.  (The handcar will climb a grade, however, if a little weight is added to the front end where the driven wheels, with one traction tire, are located.)  Then other Snoopy figures were brainstormed into animated projects.  But Snoopy is only visible in one place at one time on the layout, and every Snoopy project is out of sight when not in operation.  Snoopy’s headlights were a turning point for getting me deeper into the hobby electronics since HF AC is used on the HO rails for his VW’s headlights when the vehicle is stopped.  An HF AC generator was built using a modified Peter J. Thorne design.  So aside from all the pleasure the Schulz characters have provided, Snoopy played a major role in the evolution of the layout.  I consider him a good friend, and I am sure Charlie Brown doesn’t mind sharing Snoopy.  And Snoopy is an excellent driver!

What is a Christmas Garden?

In Baltimore, Maryland, a temporary Christmas train layout in your home or in a public building was called a “Christmas Garden.” From the early 1900’s through the 1950’s, most native Baltimoreans knew the term, and the Christmas layout often contained a nativity scene, the layout sometimes being under a tree, or free-standing on a low platform, or at about table height on legs.  The charm of the “Christmas Garden” was in the folk art appeal of things not always being in scale or realistic.  Christmas themed items, like lead skating figures from the five and dime, were a staple.  Every year families would add a few things here and there, sometimes spending only pennies per object.  A lead figure on a sleigh would cost about 19 cents in the late 50’s, early 60’s.  So just substitute the word “layout’ for “garden”  and it should make sense.

When shopping the toy isles of the discount stores, how do I know what is the correct scale or size of something I buy for my layout?

Some of the automobiles have the scale marked on the underside expressed in a ratio, 1:43 or 1:48, which would be approximately O scale.  You'll learn to judge when you figure that a 6 foot tall person would be about 1 1/2 inches tall in O scale.  I have learned to recognize animals that are about O scale since I have several O scale animals, but as long as something is close enough to scale, it usually works on your layout.  If you find a car, house, or animal that is a little oversized or under sized, just place it in a area with similar sized objects, and it will usually look good.  Some people will use HO scale people and objects in the distance to force perspective in an O scale layout.  Keep a little note and ruler in your wallet that 1.5 inches = 6 ft. in O scale, and that should be a good way to figure sizes of doorways, animals, etc.  A horse, for example, might measure 1 3/4 inches tall from the tip of the ear to the front foot, a cow about 1 1/4 inches.  An O scale automobile would measure about 4 1/2 inches long for a '57 Chevy or similar sized car.  Suitable cars would be anywhere from 1:36 to 1:50 scale for use on an O scale/gauge layout in my opinion, but let your eye tell you what works on your layout.  Some "scale" houses are often a little bigger or smaller than they should be to be true to scale.  Best to judge houses by the height of the doorways.

Where do you buy your motors?

Do a Google search for low rpm (revolutions per minute), low voltage gearhead motors, and you should find many suppliers of these motors.  Try adding either AC or DC in the search.  Best to use low voltage motors, under 24V, not those using full household current.  Many suppliers will quickly sell out of the best 4 to 8 rpm 12-24 volt DC motors, so you have to search for them as things change.  A DC (direct current) motor is often reversible and you can control the rpms by how much voltage you give it.  Power supplies for these motors can be a power pack supplying variable DC for DC motors, or fixed voltage “wall transformers.”  In any case, be sure to have an additional fuse on the circuit, and follow all the proper safety precautions to avoid electrical shock and fire.  Most toy train transformers deliver AC (alternating current) which would power an AC motor.  I am fond of the Hankscraft DC gearhead motors. Be sure to check my "motor page" for more information.

Doesn’t the computer interface take the fun out of the operating the trains?

The computer interface is a hobby in itself.  But the automation it provides gives me a chance to view my layout as a visitor and just sit back and relax, watching the glorified version of daily life that is an outgrowth of my family’s Christmas tradition.

What kits do you use for your animation projects?

The projects are mostly homemade, but you can now buy affordable animated accessories from all the toy train manufactures.  Lionel’s Playtime Playground is an exceptional, very affordable item.  The homemade projects are well documented on this site.

Why so much animation?

Animation on a Christmas layout is a tradition in many circles, especially in Baltimore, Maryland.  The animation is added little by little, like much of what is on the layout.  Be prepared to do a lot of tinkering when you make your own animations.

The hobby is too expensive!

No, it doesn’t have to be expensive.  In fact, some projects cost just a couple dollars, and some O27 trains sets can be purchased for $170 - $200, including track and transformer.  You only need one train to have a layout, and O27 sets up in less space than HO typically.  Just check the isles of you favorite dollar or “mart” store, and you’ll find many affordable things, like die-cast cars in the toy sections, to complete your layout on a shoestring budget.

I wish I had the space for a layout.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way!  Under the bed, on a shelf, on a coffee table or even the dining room table, there is a way to have a layout.  An O27 oval of track takes up only a little more than 27 inches in depth.  Smaller scales, like HO, can be used in small spaces provided the locos and rollingstock will navigate a tight curve.  Certain HO diesel and steam locos will handle curves as small as 24 inches in diameter. Some O27 equipment can be run on 3 rail O gauge flexible track bent into O24 curves (24" diameter curves, measured like O27 track curves), to fit on a 24" deep board or table top.

How often do you dust your layout?

About twice a year I will dust the rooftops and ground surfaces with a cheap electrostatic duster, and vacuum certain surfaces with a crevice tool attachment without removing houses and figures every time.  Always check the vacuum bag for casualties to see if a figure, or part, has been mistakenly sucked up.  As needed, any visible dust is picked up quickly here and there, and sometimes a quick blast of air from my lungs does the trick to remove the dust around the difficult to dust smaller areas.  An old paint brush makes a nice dusting tool for your trains and layout.  Keeping lint and dust producing activities, like laundry and woodworking, elsewhere in the home really helps to keep layout housekeeping to a minimum.  When cleaning the floor, be sure the vacuum doesn't kick up dust from the floor.  A dehumidifier is a must, especially during abnormally wet weather, to help prevent mold and rusting of metal equipment.  The dust that collects in the gold mining area adds to the realism with the Old West theme, or at least I try to convince myself of that when I don't want to clean.

I would make a layout, but I don’t have the time.

You don’t need a lot of time, just work on it little by little, and it will get done.  The hobby is such a good stress reliever that you’ll be healthier and happier when you spend a few minutes a week on your projects.  Make time!

My spouse won’t let me have a layout.

If it is important to you, work it out with your spouse explaining how important it is to you.  Compromise on something. Work out some deal. Or get your spouse interested in the hobby, too.

What’s that train worth now?

I am not a collector, and I have actually ruined the collectible value of many of my things by modifying them.  The value is all sentimental, and priceless to me.  Check the price guides that usually have the information you’ll need regarding price and value as a starting point.  Things are often worth whatever someone will pay.

What size wiring did you use?

I always use wiring and components rated well above the load actually placed on them, putting safety first.  It is best to check with a qualified professional for the correct ratings and procedures for everything you use.  Remember, safety first, always!

Are those Plasticville buildings valuable?

I have altered, glued, and repainted most of my old Plasticville buildings, so they have little value since collectors want them in original condition with the original box.  To the best of my knowledge, almost all of the Plasticville buildings made in the 50’s and 60’s are available today, new, perhaps made from similar or the original molds, and they are very affordable.  The vintage buildings, dating back to the 50’s, are priced as collectibles.

Why don’t you make realistic scenery?

I like to keep the folk art flavor of the old time “Christmas Garden,” which was a little naive and unsophisticated.  While the model railroader endeavors to make things mirror reality, the toy train railroader follows his (or her) own heart, that is why the third rail, large wheel flanges, and other not-to-scale details don’t trouble us.

What’s that supposed to be?

Well, if too many people ask, I didn’t do a good job!  The carbonation tank of my Coca-Cola factory often confuses people if I don’t get the characteristic cola color just right.  Red and green food coloring in the water, aerated by an aquarium air stone, lighted from below, can resemble the perfect giant glass of soda.  Sometimes just a little thing like the wrong color can be the difference between success and failure.

What kind of paint do you use?

Mostly craft acrylic, and flat latex wall paint from the home improvement center mixed to the desired color.  Some solvent based spray paints are used, mostly as a primer.  Recently, an automotive touch-up spray paint was used on a homemade trailer.

Why don't you use ground foam instead of green paint?

I really like the look of ground foam, especially when the colors are blended into a realistic appearance. For my purposes, I like the ability to dust and vacuum the layout as needed, and ground foam doesn't withstand the brushing and vacuuming as well as the green painted surface.  And ground foam does trap a certain amount of dust.  But most importantly for me is that I wish to preserved the toy train look of my layout in some part.  But I did ballast the track with crushed granite (chicken grit) glued into place with white glue, which is really a model railroading scenic technique.  It is important to do what you like on your layout.

What kind of transformers do you use?

I use toy train transformers and wall transformers for my power supplies. But it is important to never overload the power supplies, and be sure to use some type of fuse on the line to your motors, lights, track, etc., to help prevent electric shock and fire.  Every situation needs to be considered carefully depending on the unique circumstances of your equipment and layout, so consult a professional or an electrician regarding the safe use of your power supplies and homemade circuits. Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected electrical outlet for all your transformers and everything on your layout.

Why don't you have your stuff published?

I have and I am pleased to say that I have had 8 articles published so far. In "O Gauge Railroading," February/March 2008 (making a cowcatcher and tender for the O27 K-Line Porter locomotive), April 2000 (animating an O scale die cast automobile/SUV on HO rails ), August 1998 (animation of a Snoopy skateboarding figure on HO rails), and June 1997 (animation of an elephant figure). In "Classic Toy Trains," November 2004 (magnetic reed switch and relay circuit), October 2005 (adding a reversing unit to an O27 Lionel handcar, "Halt Handcar Hang-Ups!"), March 2007 (using a large electrolytic capacitor as an electronic flywheel in an O27 motorized railcar), and July 2007 (making a dual gauge {"S" and "O" gauge} crossover in GarGraves track). This published information is not repeated on this site. More are coming soon.

What does the "J.M.J." stand for in your railroad's name?

Many hobbyists name their railroads something clever or of particular importance to them, and for years I struggled to come up with a name. Because I never want to forget the origins of the layout (Christmas Garden) being an out-growth of a nativity scene, I decided the only name befitting my layout was the J.M.J. Railroad. The "J.M.J." stands for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And Saint Joseph is my Patron Saint. And without the help of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, my layout wouldn't exist!!!

Where can I buy a Rudolph and Hermey handcar?

Well I guess many visitors to my site only scan through the text and captions. I do the same thing at times while surfing. I made the handcar from existing figures and a Lionel handcar. I suggest that spending a couple minutes on the Rudolph and Hermey handcar page will answer many questions. I realize that many hobbyists don't have the time for doing this sort of thing, so that is why I suggest that a manufacturer offer one. So many beloved cartoon and storybook characters are great on a handcar. I would like to see Bullwinkle & Rocky, and Yogi Bear & Boo Boo on a handcar, among others. I have said it now a few times, but I don't mind repeating that I feel that handcars are a great way to bring new people into the O27 hobby, especially women. Rudolph and Hermey are great for Christmas and many very well done figures from the Rudolph special are available and affordable. The handcar and figures are a great-looking display under a tree or on a table. I think Charlie Brown and the gang are also great teamed up with a Snoopy handcar.

I can't find some circuits you used to have on your site. Where are they?

Well, I removed certain information when I discovered that these pages were being frequented by people with possible nefarious intentions.

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