Construction of the Lake Town and Shire

Initial Construction - 1999-2000

Lake Town & Shire Expansion - 2005

Mainline is finished! - September 10, 2005

Initial Construction

June 1999 - Here is the site before work began. There is a raised flower bed, then the site slopes away from a walk into a shade garden beneath pines on the right. The first load of sand has been dumped for use in setting the first course of the retaining wall.

July 1999 - Our site is about 41 feet long and about 27 feet wide at the widest point. It's an oddly shaped area because of the pine tree seen on the left side of the photo. Since there was about a 2 foot drop (5%), we built a retaining wall and back fill to make the site nearly level, then built a mountain in the middle and put the grades where we wanted them. We used a product from Home Depot called Windsor Stone for the wall. It's a good bit of work to get the bottom row of the wall level and straight, but the blocks stack very quickly once the first row is in place. 

July 1999 - Here the wall is nearly completed. A double layer of ground cloth was laid against the inside of the wall and draped over the next to top row so the top row of blocks holds it in place. Then the space was back filled with crushed granite up to within about 8" of its final height. This was covered with 8 cubic yards of manufactured top soil. The partial ring of stones shows the future location of the Misty Mountains. The flue liners will be used to construct the tunnels through the highest ridge in the mountains.

Mirkwood Forest occupies the area where the woody plants and the pile of crushed granite can be seen in the bottom left of the photograph. Hobbiton will be in the area to the right of the hose. The grade going up to Hobbiton will be between 3% and 3.5%. A curve of track with about a 3.5% grade will connect Hobbiton and the lowest level of the Misty Mountains.

July 1999 - The blue tarp covers Long Lake, a 250 gallon pool constructed using a rigid liner. The buildings are bird houses. They are in the future location of King's Hall. All structures in the layout will be in 1:20.3 scale. The bird houses are a bit small for humans in this scale, but about right for dwarves or hobbits.

Notice the plants in the background behind Long Lake. We've bought some genetic dwarfs and small ground covers when we could find some at a good price. They have now been planted in Mirkwood Forest and in a hill that arose recently behind King's Hall. The region seems to be in a geologically active phase right now.

Thanksgiving 1999 - The wall is now complete to Hobbiton where it then becomes a "curb" following the edge of the layout to the northern-most pine tree. Mirkwood Forest has been planted using lots of Alberta spruce and a wide range of dwarf arbor vitae, false cypress, boxwood, juniper, and Yaupon holly. Ground hugging juniper will be used on the ridge along with taller specimen plants and other ground covers. Here we see Mirkwood with the Misty Mountains in the background. The main ridge of the mountains were built with a concrete block foundation. Two flue tiles have been put in place for tunnels. This picture shows one of the tunnels and the construction of the end of the ridge with field stone. The rest of the ridge is covered with topsoil, but stones will be inserted into the soil in different locations to give the slope a more rugged look. Low growing junipers and a dwarf mugo pine sit in their pots on the ridge awaiting planting.

Here is a view of the Misty Mountains from across Long Lake. A trestle will exit the tunnel on the left, cross the stream in front of the waterfall, and meet the plateau on the right to serve the Mines of Moria. Then the track will enter another tunnel on the right to pass Frogmorton on its way back to Hobbiton. The waterfall and its stream have cut a gorge into the mountains. On the right a low ridge extends from the plateau where the Mines of Moria will be located all the way to Long Lake. It is (deliberately) difficult to see here, but there is a cut through this ridge. A reverse loop will circle the lake, serving King's Hall on the right of this photo and the sawmill at Lake Town in the foreground. It will cross an arm of the lake on the left, cross the stream, and then pass through the cut. So from this location, the trestle and two lower bridges will be visible.

The view across Long Lake is taken from about the same location as the second photograph on this page, the one showing the retaining wall at its highest point. The layout is raised about 2-1/2' above ground level here. Sitting on a bench at this end of the layout, everything over the ridge is out of sight. Plantings will also hide the logging camp from this location. Because the land slopes upward from this point, the concealment is not so good from the Hobbiton end of the layout. Sitting on a bench in that location, we are looking a bit downward at the layout and part of Long Lake is visible across the ridge. To hide it completely from a seated observer would require us to raise the ridge another couple of feet. This was impractical on a relatively small site. But we do plan to effectively raise the ridge a bit in strategic locations using plantings. At any rate, there should be enough to hold the attention in Hobbiton so that observers will forget that the other end of the layout can be seen over the mountains.

December  1999 - We got the waterfall built. The stream banks were raised using pavers and a rubber liner forms the stream leading from the waterfall to Long Lake. In this picture taken during an ice storm, the stream is to the right and the other large area of liner covered with water to the left will be trimmed. A 1" OD hose is in place, ready to hook up to a pump in the lake and to the waterfall. We have constructed a "bubbler" from PVC to slow the flow of water to the waterfall. We still need to finish the stream with rock and gravel, trim the liner, and back fill some areas with topsoil. Next will be the tunnel portals, trestle, bridges, and of course the track.

Late February 2000 -We had a beautiful day yesterday, sunny and temperatures in the seventies. While the weather was good, we finished the waterfall and and hooked up the filter and pump. The stream is a little too shallow and overflowed its banks. That's a bit of a problem with rigid pond liners. Also during this nice spell, four tunnel portals were constructed from HUGE blocks of stone by CON-Troll (a Shire construction company that uses "pacified" trolls to do the heavy lifting.) Three of these portals can be seen in the photos at right and below. The photo at left also shows some of the first track laid around Long Lake.

On Tuesday, March 7, we put down the first 65 feet of track and the first four switches. The new track can be seen in the photo at left taken from the future site of the lumber camp looking toward Long Lake. The stub in the foreground is for the lumber camp. The track curving out of sight on the right will continue on to the Shire and the Mines of Moria. The bend in the far distance is the future site of King's Hall. The switch at this location joins the two sides of the reverse loop that goes around the lake. At the farthest end of the stretch of track going up the wall on the left side of the photo are two switches. One is for the interchange track with the Middle Earth Railroad and the other is for the spur serving the future sawmill. The sawmill spur runs next to the lake and is in place. The MERR interchange will be a stub running along the back wall. Later this stub may be extended over the wall and carried via trestle to the rest of the garden. The mainline runs between these two spur tracks to complete the reverse loop. The loop is not closed at this point as the bridge has not been built to cross the stream leading from the waterfall to Long Lake. The road bed is too wide in  places and some ballast will be removed to narrow it.

On April 1, 2000, the passing siding and part of the yard at Hobbiton were laid. The Lake Town reverse loop was completed in mid-April, and the Misty Mountain reverse loop was completed May 3, 2000. Trains are running! 

Old Hobbiton Yard

November 1, 2000, the yard at Hobbiton was reconstructed by replacing three short switches with new AristoCraft extra-wide switches. Here are before and after pictures.

New Hobbiton Yard

New Hobbiton Yard from opposite end. The station will be just beyond the water tower. The two spurs in the lower part of this photo mark the future location of the rest of the engine servicing facilities (coaling facilities and engine shed.) The main street runs in front of the other structures in the photo. The spur at the other end of the yard will serve an industry, either the Hobbiton Grange or the Gandalf Fireworks Factory.

Lake Town & Shire Expansion

During 2005, we are expanding the Lake Town & Shire to approximately 4 times its original size. Go to the Track Plan page to see the new track plan for the expanded LT&S. We will be posting photos below as construction of the expansion proceeds.

April 2005 - We decided that since we had built a lake into the original layout, this would become Lake Town and Dale in the expanded layout. So we needed to build Hobbiton in the Shire as the other end of the line. Our experience with the original layout was that having a section raised well above ground level made it much easier to maintain and to put trains on the tracks and take them off again at the end of a session. So we decided that the other end of the layout would also be elevated for convenience.

We built the wall from the same material used in the original part of the layout. The first three photos on the left show the wall under construction. The pipe in the middle of this section was included to provide irrigation, but since we subsequently installed an irrigation system throughout the yard, this was not needed.

Late June 2005 - The next two photos show the track in place at Hobbiton. The entire railroad will remain a loop-to-loop design, and Hobbiton provides the loop at the "western" end. (Check your Middle Earth geography and you will see that the Lake Town & Shire runs west from Lake Town to Hobbiton in the Shire. In the first photo showing the Hobbiton trackwork, you are looking "east" toward the eventual sites of Bree, Rivendell, and Moria.) We placed a passing siding diagonally across the walled area, and the station buildings will go here. Two spurs will serve a granary, a pipeweed warehouse, a produce company, and a barrel company.

The mess in the middle will become the Hill, with Bilbo's Bag-End occupying a prominent site. The landscape cloth will be cut to make room for plants and buildings, including some stores and/or residences in front of the Hill. The hobbit hole installed in the original part of the layout will be moved to this area.

Friend and landscape architect Krista Gridley helped with everything from shoveling dirt to refining the track plan.

Early July 2005 - We staredt working on the track leading "west" away from Lake Town and Dale through Mirkwood Forest. We had to modify the western end of the yard at Dale (formerly Hobbiton on the original layout.) The photo on the left shows the yard looking west. Two tracks leave the yard in that direction. The one curving behind the engine shed goes to Lonely Mountain. The one heading straight out into the heavily ballasted area under construction is the main line. The Hobbiton depot buildings, water tower, and store fronts will be moved to the new Hobbiton site, leaving only the engine shed and the coaling station at Lake Town. The water tower has "Hobbiton" painted on it, and the depot and store buildings are a bit small for 1:20.3 scale humans, but about right for hobbits. New structures will be built for Lake Town to a more appropriate scale for humans.

Just west of Lake Town is Mirkwood Forest. The this and the next photo show the new Mirkwood siding looking "east" toward Dale from the dry stream bed where the first of three bridges was constructed. The first shows the track bed constructed from HDPE plastic wood using a method developed by Bill Logan, and the second shows the area after track has been laid. The dry stream bed represents a different river at each point where the railroad crosses it. At this point, it is the Enchanted River which the dwarves traveled down in barrels in The Hobbit. Some problems developed with the HDPE roadbed that are described at the end of this page.

The siding shown in this and the last photo will became the site of a lumber camp serving the Mirkwood Lumber Company in Lake Town.

Late July 2005 - 90' of elevated track will run from Hobbiton to Bree. Most of this track will be raised on trestles, but where the track crosses the dry stream bed (the Brandywine River,) it will be supported by a concrete viaduct with three 4' spans.

In the first picture on the left, we see the HDPE ladder road bed leaving Hobbiton on its raised platform. The road bed is supported on HDPE risers. These will be removed as the trestle is installed.

In the second photo on the right, we see the viaduct installed. Jim Hyatt, friend and fellow Athens garden railroader, built the forms and helped pour the concrete for the viaduct. Another landscaper friend, Peter Burke, helped place the 225 lb. sections in place. Peter built the dry stream bed for us, as well as two ponds connected by a waterfall that are outside the layout. The ladder road bed was taken apart during installation of the viaduct. A few adjustments will improve the approach to the viaduct at each end. Correcting problems with the HDPE road bed is easy. We may face the viaduct with small stone, or we may leave the concrete exposed and add some Middle Earth grafiti.


August 6, 2005 - Whoops! We had to change the location of the bridge across the Enchanted River to make the step from the foot bridge less awkward. The first photo on the left shows the road bed in place at the end of the foot bridge. The stepping stones and the steel girder bridge are also in place. But now Mirkwood Siding doesn't meet the steel girder bridge! We'll have to move Mirkwood Siding.

The second picture on the left shows the trestle from the foot bridge. Some of the bents and track have been installed.

The third picture on the left shows the central part of the layout. The gravel on the left side of the photo marks the site of Rivendell. Bree will occupy the right side of the photo. The piles of "featherstone" (pumice) and soil toward the back of the area mark the approximate future location of the new mine at Moria. Notice that the track bed runs onto the viaduct and that it is graded and raised on risers elsewhere. A 2" x 6" board to the left of the viaduct provides a temporary bridge across the dry stream bed (the River Loudwater at this point.) There will be a bit of trestle just at the end of the viaduct. We will back-fill up to track level elsewhere, leaving the HDPE risers in the ground to provide extra stability.

August 21, 2005 - We've relaid the track for Mirkwood siding (top photo right.) We changed the passing siding to a spur. Now the track is laid across the railroad bridge and in front of the pedestrian bridge.

In the second photo, you can see the track cross the bridge and continue on west from Lake Town and Dale. The LT&S is building a stone retaining wall to hold the fill for the mainline. All available stone has been used and construction on the wall has stopped until more stone is delivered. Gandy dancers Jane Nute and Krista Gridley survey the work from the shade. Temperatures in the high 90s have limited work to the mornings lately.

All of the trestle bents are in place now (second and third photos right.) We still need to run stringers between some of the bents out near the viaduct to tie them together. LT&S #5 sits at the end of the line after running out from Lake Town and Dale. You can see the end of the line running out from Hobbiton on top of the trestle. The Lake Town crew and the Shire crew are laying track toward each other now at a rapid pace, and they should meet somewhere near Rivendell. Construction Supervisor Don Nute just began teaching two classes at the University of Georgia and this will slow down progress on the track.

September 10, 2005 - The mainline is finished! At top left we see the line atop the trestle connecting Hobbiton and Bree, and the ground-level line between Mirkwood and Rivendell. The switch and piece of track on the ground-level line mark the location of Gridley, the human town that grew up around Rhosgobel, the home of Radagast the Brown. At bottom left is a view of the Rivendell/Bree area with Rivendell at the left of the area and Bree at the right. All the switches have been installed on the mainline, but the sidings and spurs still need to be installed. The reverse loop is also incomplete. A spur off the reverse loop with serve the mine at Moria. Moria will be located where the pile of soil and lava rock can be seen at the rear of the photo.
October 22, 2005 - We are nearly finished back-filling to bring the ground height up to track level in the locations where this was needed. We are using a tan, rectangular stone as a curb to hold back the new soil. The return loop and the passing siding at Bree are finished, the area inside the return loop is planted, and a farm house has been set up (right top.) Behind the farm house you can see the Misty Mountains. The picture botton right shows the mine at Moria. The return loop runs behind the mine and the farm is to the right. The stake in front of the mine shows the future location of an ore tipple. A spur line will run from the return loop to the ore tipple. The area in front of the mine will be built up with wooden cribbing to form a flat area in front of the mine. The initial soil placement and planting has been done on the mine, but further adjustments will be made to make the scene look more natural and to hold back the soil better.


October 20,2007 - After two years, the HDPE roadbed was raised above the ground in several places creating "humps" in the track. This section has 8-10" risers below the ground. The roadbed was built on the risers to set the grade, then the soil was added up to track level. We don't have frost heave in Georgia. I think the track expanded and pulled the roadbed out of the ground. Leaving expansion gaps in the HDPE ladder roadbed might have helped by allowing some lateral movement, but the risers left in place might have prevented this. I removed the track, cut and removed the HDPE, added ballast, and replaced the track on top of the ballast to fix these problem areas. The repair was not difficult since the track was already cut and bent to fit. This seems like a reasonable construction method even with these problems since it allowed us to set our grades and backfill. By the time the problems developed, the soil and ballast had settled well enough that I anticipate no further problems.

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