How to Build a Backyard Train: An 8 Step Guide

Bill Taylor
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8 Steps to Build a Backyard Train

Step 1 – Choose your train.

Trying to find a toy train that is battery operated can be both difficult and time consuming. The model trains that are battery operated tend to be quite expensive as well, although they are also more realistic than they were 20 years ago.

The battery operated trains are ideal to have as a display piece since they are easier to keep clean (and the mechanisms are generally more protected by being encased). They are also preferred by children who simply want to play with toy trains but don't want to spend hours on a model railway set.

Step 2 – Check backyard train set reviews.

There are many different websites and blogs that have reviewed every train set that is currently available. You can find a lot of useful information here about the different brands and compare them in terms of the prices and most importantly the quality. There are also some great videos that demonstrate each of the different train sets.

Step 3 – Consider buying a transformer for the train.

If you are looking for a battery operated train then you will need to buy a transformer also. The transformer converts the direct current (DC) produced by the batteries into the alternating current (AC) needed to run your train. Using the battery operated train with a transformer is a lot easier than it used to be. You will not need to change the power source every time you change the batteries.

Step One: Gather Your Supplies

Gather your supplies, including the following:

  • lumber (2 x 4, 2 x 6, 2 x 8, and 2 x 10)
  • metal brackets
  • bolts
  • bolts for the handrails
  • lumber for the benches
  • metal corner brackets

Step Two: Create the Track

Decide the length and gauge of your train track, then calculate how much lumber you need.

Indoors, a distance of 24 feet is the minimum. 48 feet is typical. The track length is determined by several things, including the size of your room, the feel of the layout, the size of the train, the scale of the train, and the level of realism you want.

Outdoors, your track can be as long as you want (within reason). Many kids love to ride trains longer than 100 feet in length.

To calculate the number of board feet of lumber needed, you can use the following formula:

Number of track pieces multiplied by the length of the pieces multiplied by the depth of the pieces.

Add about 25% to this number to allow for scrap.

The 2x material (2 inches by 2 inches) gives the track its shape.

The 2x material (2 inches by 2 inches) gives the track its shape. The 2x material (2 inches by 2 inches) is used on the curves

Step Two: Paint Your Barrels

Adding some paint to the barrels will make them look less like trash cans and more like train cars.

Dump your paint into a plastic container with some water in it. Stir until the paint is thin and well-mixed.

The amount of water you will need to add is proportional to the type and thickness of the paint. You may need to add more water or you may need to add more paint. As you add water or paint, stir until it is well mixed.

Sometimes I use a 3:2 ratio, three parts paint to two parts water. Some paints, like latex, may need more paint than water. It is difficult to say exactly how much water or paint is needed. You will need to mix it up and see what you get. It may be possible to add too much water and then you will need to add more paint. When that happens, it is best to start over and mix in a new batch.

If you add too much paint, you may need a paint dilution. You can use water, if you want or you can pick up a paint dilution spray from your local hardware. They usually have a wide range of dilution levels. You can even buy the thinners and make your final mixture thinner than it comes out of the spray can.

Step Three: Barrels

Now comes the fun part! After you have purchased the chassis, you are going to need somewhere to load it. You can use old barrels for this.

You’re going to want to use something that has some weight to it. I generally use 55 gallon plastic drums with the tops and bottoms removed.

The first thing you want to do is take the tops off of the barrels…cut them off if you can, if not simply pry them off with a crowbar.

Next fill them a few inches with gravel. The gravel will help keep things in place, and give the child something to climb on.

Make sure that you do not over fill your barrels though, you want them to be light enough to move.

Step Four: Frames

Step four is to expand your plan from simple "railroad ties" to full frames. The concept is to have a frame around every piece of wood so that you can screw your rails down. This will keep them from moving as you work. Now, once you have your plan, you can take the wood to the hardware store where they have a router that will cut you all the angles necessary for your track. Take all of that wood and string it on the guide and start shaping away.

Once you get the entire frame cut, you'll need to go back home and put shims under the frame in between each piece because the frame will bow up when you start to screw it down. If you went ahead and cut all of your plywood with the rounded edge, you can now trim the rounded edge to the perfect angle for your curve. Although you want to be careful to make sure you have the right angle if you are getting very detailed in your curves. Once you have all your pieces cut to the right shape, you can screw them down to the frame. Keep in mind that you will still have to put dime sized shims in between every two pieces to keep them even.

Step Five: Wheels

These days, most anything that rolls can have wheels. If you are looking for the perfect set of wheels to go with your treehouse, you have a lot of choices. The most commonly used wheel for a backyard railroad is an old fashioned, rubber bicycle wheel. These wheels are nearly a century old now, basically as long as there have been bicycles. Lottawheeltrail- wheels that have a shear pin or a simple metal ring set into a rim like the old style bicycle wheel…can be used. The newer wheels that you find on modern bicycles and in new wagon wheels are not ideal for treehouse tracks because the wheel flanges can get caught in the cracks between the railroad ties.

Look around for a rim that is lightweight, has a simple design, and is in decent shape. There is no easier way to build a rolling railroad than with an old bicycle wheel. If you want to keep things simple, look for a rim that is close to the right size. The inner diameter of the rim needs to be no bit bigger than the outside of the treehouse post. Find a rim that is close to 4 inches wide, the inside diameter will have to be measured in order to electrically insulate the wheel from the track. This is best accomplished with a wire brush, a wire wheel, or emery paper.

Step Six: Seats

Add seats First, cut out the seat parts. Using the plans as a guide, cut out the two curved back, the two oval front edges, and four corners.

Place the back seats upside down and mark the holes from your hinge setup onto the boards. Insert nails into the boards on the corners about 1". You can place nails around the oval board as well, if you choose to add them.

Next, drill the holes with the 1/4" drill bit. Make sure to place them in the exact place you marked them.

Add plates If you want to add plates, now is the time to do it. The plates should be placed below where the flat front frame will go.

Assemble The next steps are to assemble the seats. Start with the backboards. Attach the corner boards and the back of the oval piece to the edges.

Add the front Flat boards in placing them between the oval piece and the edge of the back piece. Secure the flat piece on with nails.

Add the L shape Add the L plate that will serve as the flat support piece for the seat. Secure it with nails. You also have the option of adding plates below the flat piece to add more character.

Add the Flat edges Add the plain edges to the seat. It will help form the final look. Nail into place.

Add the front flat boards in place. Secure them with nails.

Step Seven: Connect The Carts

Now you are going to connect the carts so that they can roll down the ramp. To do this, slide each cart onto a hook that has been cut and bent so that it is facing out from the center of the track.

Attach both carts to the same platform or extend the middle of the train out to work with two carts. Having an odd number of carts will help the cart with the best grip stay in place.

Step Eight: Enjoy Your New Backyard Train

It’s time to enjoy your new backyard train! Your family and friends will love it!

You will be amazed at just how much attention and smiles your new backyard train brings. Children will enjoy it for hours! It is a special added bonus that a backyard train won’t cost you an arm and a leg to buy.

Did you know there are more than 400,000,000+ happy Diy backyard train owners in the US?

Can you imagine how many smiles and hours of playtime a single backyard train can bring to others?

As a matter of fact, adding a backyard train is almost guaranteed to almost definitely boost the value of your home!


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