The Pinestead Tree Farms large scale or G-guage model railroad is a place to visit for anyone who loves trains. It's history dates back to 2005.
We started when the Gift Shop was was only half it's current size (20' x 40', now 40' x 40'). We started with a 5' x 9' plywood table and a simple figure 8 layout. Each of the circles in the figure 8 contained a tabletop Christmas tree with ornaments for sale. At one end a "tunnel" was made with empty Christmas paper wrapped boxes.
Two immediate problems made us start "thinking high" (some have commented "thinking big" is a better description). First, it took up too much space, and, second, it was way to easy for small kids to reach out and grab the passing train.
For 2006 we expanded the gift shop from 20'x40' to 40'x40' by removing the center wall and expanding into what was then the equipment shed. Even with the additional space, we decided to adopt the "think high" strategy.
After the expansion was complete. Helen painted the background sky and clouds while Phil worked on the bridges for above the doors.
Phil then build framing all the way around and began to construct the rail bed out of plywood and foam. After the framework was complete he used plaster paper to construct the terrain, painted it, and then added the scenic details such as trees and shrubs.
The new layout was a huge hit during the 2006 Christmas season so Phil was all psyched up to make additions for the 2007 season (one young kid asked “what are you going to do for next year?” and that’s all the excuse he needed). Looking around he spotted the wall behind the sales counter. Blank! Can’t have that! He started by laying out a prototype on the floor to determine which 2”x4” studs he could avoid and which he would have to cut and reframe.
Then came the holes in the wall. Needless to say the gals were all apprehensive about the “damage” to their area and also the prospect of a noisy train passing overhead every 3-4 minutes. But work continued undaunted as temporary framing went into place to hold the ¾” plywood base. The frame was set lower then the tunnels and Phil built timber trestles to a (purchased) covered bridge in the center.
Fortunately, our son Dave is a cabinetmaker (He owns Lake Country Cabinets and Trim in Annandale, Minn. www.lakecountrycabinets.com --highly recommended, of course). He built these cabinets to match the sales counter he built the previous year and slipped them into place underneath the plywood base. That's Phil on the very right hand side of the photo in his role of "son's Helper"--another torch has been passed.
Phil then added the mountains, waterfall, scratch-built wooden trestle and other scenic effects.
The waterfall started out with a pump and water, however, the splashing started to warp the surrounding areas and the water would become stagnant and was very difficult to drain and clean. It turned out to be a good idea gone bad and now the storyline is that there has been a drought and the river has dried up!
The light in the lighthouse on the right rotates and a sound card will play sounds of waves hitting the beach, seagulls crying (singing is too strong a word), and a foghorn blowing. Another great idea not really appreciated by the gals.
Finally the layout extensions created an inside corner in which Phil added a farm scene. Another sound card adds barnyard noises—chickens, cows… Another under-appreciated improvement.
In the 2007 finished photo you can see the end of the beam that runs from the courtyard doors all the way to the closet behind the counter. Humm, wonder if we could suspend something off it?
Once again Phil started with a mock up. The result is a two level 16' point to point design for two Santa cars that go to one end, rest, and then reverse to the other end, rest, reverse again, repeat, repeat… The layout is suspended from the center beam using dowels.
The two under/over tracks also use tunnels to alternate sides in the center portion of the layout so the Santa cars can start on one side, disappear to the other side and reappear again before reaching the end.
Next came one of Phil’s most ambitious undertakings—building a model of the Minneapolis skyline framed by the famous Great Northern Stone Arch Bridge.
The train platform above Helen’s wreath making area was suspended from the ceiling because there is a 10 foot equipment door behind the wooden wall. Once we decided we wouldn’t be using the door again, we made the wall permanent and that opened the way to build a much larger platform anchored to the wall.
Work began by building rough mockups of the various buildings checking for size and fit—the track takes priority and everything else must live in the remaining space. Then came the key scratch-built landmarks—the Metrodome, the IDS Tower, and the Foshay Tower. Also added were selected kits for apartment buildings, parking ramps, the grain elevators, and more. All the buildings have lighting and a city traffic sound card adds additional realism. In addition, the background panarama is set ahead of the wall and hidden red christmas lights behind simulate a sunset.
The highlight is the eight foot replica of the Great Northern Stone Arch Bridge which curves around the front of the entire diorama. It's hard to see in the above left photo but there is a cave under the bridge with several hobos and a bango (another sound card) sitting around a flickering campfire.
We have always had a propane heater in the gift shop, but it was a utility mode that, while effective, really didn't do much for the ambiance. (It was so non-descript we couldn’t find a photo of it.)
We wanted to put in a nicer warming area, but had to address how to continue the train above it. A rear exit gas fireplace was part of the solution, and Phil just happened to have an eight foot double arc bridge that he had purchased on ebay as a solution looking for an opportunity.
To make it all come together we had to once again rely on Dave’s cabinetmaking skills. Dave made the surround such that piers could be mounted on it for the bridge to rest on. While the front track is on the bridge, there are two additional tracks behind it as the bridge is set flush with the wall mounted platform.
Phil just loves to find an inside corner (he’s running out of them). As you can see in the below photo, this one was underutilized. It just called for something more, say a ski slope.
Phil started by widening the platform. Since the track was fixed (the large diesel locomotives require an eight foot radius on all curves), the ski slope would have to go over the top and create tunnel number four. Other challenges included how to make the slope wind around so that it maintained a realistic grade and also have a sufficient flat area for a chalet on top and a hotel at the bottom.
You can see the mockup in the below left photo and the finished ski slope on the right. The rocky cliffs create an “out west” wilderness feeling and an opportunity for some cross-country skiers and mountain climbers. So far Phil hasn’t found a “wind in the trees” sound card! He gave up trying to find one of snow falling!
Another addition is a German style restaurant and ski lift on the opposite wall. The gondolas are not operational as the system is not industrial strength enough to withstand continue usage. However, they help create the perception of a distant ski slope.
Phil had several engines and cars on display on a couple of tracks next to the wood stove. But this didn't really utilize this display space to its fullest extent. Because the space is underneath the layout and can't be connected to the operational track, this display would have to be a static one, he come up with an idea for a Polar Express diorama.
The first step was to remove the two display racks and build a platform to hold the diorama. Everything is painted black to represent a night scene as the Polar Express climbs into the mountains on its way to the North Pole.
Plans (by Phil) are being drawn up.
Funding (to Greg) has been requested.
Permits (to the Gals) have been submitted
Check back in the Fall.
[Fall has come and gone and the Christmas season is now here and everything is being held up by red tape. Phil should have constructed first and asked for permission second. Sure there would be protests and sit-ins, but it's always hard to get the track removed once it's down.]