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Author Previous Topic: N Scale Midland & Dorchester Railroad Topic Next Topic: All Scale Rails  Issue #23  2019
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Michael Hohn

Posted - 09/23/2019 :  09:42:25 AM  Show Profile  Visit Michael Hohn's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Indeed, an interesting approach. We had a modeler here in WV who used doors for a layout and I don’t recall he had any problems. Of course he had an air conditioned basement but summers are very humid here.


Country: USA | Posts: 6635 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 10/01/2019 :  7:22:51 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Here’s this week’s installment. Sorry it’s a couple days late. I wasn’t quite far enough along to post the update.
This week’s installment is:

The Problem Child

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the train room is rectangular with a door at one end and in the opposite wall, there is a window. The largest window in the house and it faces the street – and incidentally, south which means it gets full sun most of the day.

The plan is to build across it in such a way that we still have full access to the window – hopefully without destroying the railroad while in the process. To retain access, the railroad pretty much needs to be removeable in this area so the decision we have made is to use modules to fill this space. Given it is a two deck layout, this may involve some interesting planning.

To mitigate the sun I installed some pull-down blackout shades. I got them at Home Depot and we have used these elsewhere in the house. We have two cats who like to sit in the windows and do not let silly things like blinds get in their way. We learned early on it's not really worth it to spend a fortune on window dressing. These blinds are cheap, easy to install, you can get them cut to length, and they hold up surprisingly well. A number of years ago we put them into a couple windows that the cats occupy almost daily. They are still working fine, and are not showing any damage from the cats pushing into the sides to enter/exit the windows. For this window I figured they will be perfect and it took me about 10 minutes to install them.

This window presents a couple challenges. Mainly we need to have full access for maintenance but we also need to plan for a future remodel job. If you look closely in the above picture at the window sill, about a third of the way in from the right side there is a noticeable hump in the sill. This room has been mostly closed and used for storage for the past few years and it turns out when the weather gets extreme (where I live we have plenty of rain and due to our proximity to the mountains we can get a lot of wind too) the window leaks a little. Some water sat on the sill and managed to seep between the frame and sill (which is particle board) and it has swollen. This is going to need to be replaced but I don’t want to do it now because it is likely we will be replacing the whole window in the next year or two anyway. This means I need to leave enough access we can replace the whole window without needing to destroy any of the layout.

To the left of the window we need to attach to the doors coming out of the corner. To the right we need to connect to the helix. While technically the helix is removeable, that’s problematic to do so we treat it as if it is fixed in place. The design goal is to leave a 6” buffer zone around the window free of any attached benchwork (or skyboards, or lighting). The modules will be free standing and attached at each end.

Something important to keep in mind when attaching modules to fixed in place benchwork, if you have fixed benchwork at both ends, you need to think about how you will slide the modules into and out of place without damaging any scenery, while building them tight enough that there are no gaps between them. In a typical modular layout, modules have square ends but this isn’t a problem because when you go to install the last one, the entire layout can flex enough that you can slide it into place and then clamp the ends together and eliminate any gaps. When the ends are already fixed to a wall you can’t really do that so easily. With that in mind we decided to build one module with angled ends so it can easily be inserted and removed without the edges sliding against the adjoining module/benchwork.

Given that this module was already specialized, I also decided that this would be a good place give us some space to build below track level. Maybe a canyon/gorge or riverbed of some kind. With that in mind this module is framed so that it is 12” deep so we have plenty of vertical space to play with when it comes time to do scenery.

If you look down from the top at this module it is trapezoid shaped. The front is 24” wide, the back is just over 11” and it is 14 ¾” front to back to match the door slabs used on the lower level. The trapezoid shape allows the module to slide straight into its space in the layout without the scenery sliding against the adjacent section of railroad. It provides a nice butt joint that allows the module to be inserted/removed from the front.

The legs were mounted so that the tops were 1 ¼” from the top edge.

That is the thickness of a door slab which when installed can sit directly on top of the legs to support the joint. Also, you can see the L brackets bolted to the legs. Once the module is ready for final installation screws will be driven up though those brackets into the joining door slabs and thereafter, to remove the module you will simply undo the bolts leaving the brackets permanently attached to the door.

Following the design of the peninsula legs, the canyon module also has adjustable feet for fine tuning as everything comes together.

Next to the canyon module will be another module made from a door slab. While it will be shortened a bit so that it is not a full length door slab, it is still roughly 60”. That is a pretty big module and bit unwieldly to move around. So I decided this one would be on wheel to make it easier and safer to move. And, can be moved by one person if need be.

A number of years ago I purchased a laser cutter for my modeling work. While I was waiting for it to arrive I built a cart that I could use to roll it around my shop.

Well after it arrived I decided that with an investment like that, it would probably be better NOT to keep it in the garage so I found a place for it in my office. Since then I have had this cart doing service in my shop. While it has come in handy a few times, mostly it really just takes up space. Seemed like this would be an ideal starting point for the base of the roll around door module.

I partially disassembled it, put on larger wheels, cut it down to be narrower and added adjustable risers on the ends to support the door slab. Incidentally they are 32” apart – the same spacing as the shelf brackets under the doors along the walls. This was a happy accident as the original cart was 32” long. Cart Version 2.0 now looks like this:

This will have a door slab mounted to the top and will attach to the canyon module on one end the helix on the other. I haven’t yet cut the slab to fit but here it is roughly in place to give you an idea of where this is headed.

Now that we have a plan for how these window modules will be built, I need to make some modifications to the frame under the helix to support the mounting points for the window modules. It is likely that will be the topic of the next post.

That’s it for this week, thanks for following!

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 873 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 10/01/2019 :  10:06:27 PM  Show Profile  Visit jbvb's Homepage  Reply with Quote
My two NMRA-style HO modules spend most of their time installed into my layout. I made fixed shelves to support each joint, and use a 3/4" wide strip of soft open-cell foam with scenery materials applied to the top as a filler at one end.

Country: USA | Posts: 6556 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 10/06/2019 :  1:22:12 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
James, any chance you have a photo or two? I would be interested to see the shelf. I have been debating with myself on how best to support the left side of the upper window module and the two ideas I have been considering are a shelf or another shelf bracket. Be good to see how someone else approached it.

For this week, I spent a little more time on the window modules and then spent some time on the backdrops.

Before I can cut the doors to fit in front of the window, I need to know exactly how they will connect at each end. On the right side I attached a couple lengths of 1” square aluminum tube to the helix support frame to act as anchor points for that side. I predrilled holes along the tube so when I set the door slabs down I will be able to drive screws up through the tube into the bottom of the slabs to anchor them.

I need to do a little more planning work on how to properly support the upper level across the window so I decided to switch gears and work on some of the backdrops.

Skyboards and Skyboxes

For the backdrops, I want a smooth and stable surface that will stay that way over time. Given how my two levels are designed, my skyboards do more than just provide a foundation for the backdrops, they also act as the spacer on the lower level that brings the 15” door slabs out from the wall so the front edge lines up with the front edge of the 18” slabs on the upper level. Here’s a cross section of the left wall and the peninsula so you get the idea.

I refer to these spacers as skyboxes because they are really just a skyboard that is made from a plywood box frame that is 3” deep with a sheet of Masonite glued across the front. The box structure provides a strong, rigid frame that won’t warp. It allows me to glue all four edges of the Masonite down so I know it will never warp. Also, as a hollow box it is pretty light. The 3” depth provides the spacer needed to make the front edges of the two levels even.

In the photo the red arrow shows the skybox used along the walls. The green arrow shows the peninsula version. The peninsula version uses the same concept but is only 1” deep. I was planning on using plywood here as well but decided that simply gluing a backing of 1” foam board onto the back would probably provide as much (or more) stability than trying to build a 1” deep plywood box. So I picked up some glue made especially for fastening down foam insulation and glued the skyboards to the foam.

All these door slabs provide a nice smooth work surface. I then framed up one of the wall skyboxes as well and used it as a weight on top of the foam while the glue cured.

Here you get a view of the assembly line in action. At the far end are two peninsula skyboxes curing under one of the wall skyboxes. At the near end are a couple of the shorter wall units laid out for gluing.

I use ¾” plywood for the box frames. Some may question the choice. The main reason I am using that is to save a bit of money. For the past 10 years or so, my train room was used as my modeling workshop. I had built two large rolling work tables (4’ x 4’). They were made of 3/4 “ plywood and had storage shelves underneath. The first thing I had to do when we started moving the railroad was to disassemble the work tables. Needles to say I have a bit of extra ¾” plywood laying around. This is a chance for me to recycle some of it.

So after the glue dries, I can slip the skyboxes in behind the door slabs and voila, I have my skyboards for the lower level and the doors are now properly spaced out from the wall.

So next week, I need to keep thinking through the upper level of the window modules and it looks like I am getting close to starting work on the upper lighting valance.

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 873 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 10/06/2019 :  2:05:34 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
This is great stuff. And I mean 'really great'. Keep it coming.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

Country: USA | Posts: 7237 Go to Top of Page

George D

Premium Member

Posted - 10/06/2019 :  3:20:28 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Dave, I'm just getting caught up on your interesting benchwork construction. Thanks for providing such a nice detailed description of how it's all going together.


Country: USA | Posts: 16288 Go to Top of Page

Michael Hohn

Posted - 10/06/2019 :  3:46:05 PM  Show Profile  Visit Michael Hohn's Homepage  Reply with Quote

I’m in the process of cleaning out my garage and trying to figure out what to do with miscellaneous items, including deconstructed cabinets and unused lumber. You’ve given me some ideas.

You’re making great progress.


Country: USA | Posts: 6635 Go to Top of Page

New Hire

Posted - 10/15/2019 :  06:46:34 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
This is going to be extremely interesting to follow. I have som thoughts about shelf systems myself, so it's perfect in time for me.

What heights have you choosen for the two decks and how tall are you? What made you choose the height you did? Any tall buildings that require a special distance or other regards?


Country: Sweden | Posts: 3 Go to Top of Page

Tyson Rayles

Premium Member

Posted - 10/15/2019 :  06:55:45 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Dave how old were you when you decided you wanted to be a civil engineer?

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Premium Member

Posted - 10/15/2019 :  07:52:25 AM  Show Profile  Visit jbvb's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I had a chance to look through my photos but don't find any pictures of the shelves. I'll shoot them from under the layout but the modules aren't traveling again till almost Thanksgiving.

Country: USA | Posts: 6556 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 10/15/2019 :  9:59:41 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
No worries James. Feel free to post anytime once you have the photos on hand. We’ll be working on this for a little while yet.

Tyson, sometimes I think I missed my calling… It’s one of my favorite aspects of model railroading.

Olle, the lower level is 40” to the top surface (“ground level”) and the upper level is 54”. When the facias are installed there will be ~10 ½” of open space between the levels. This sounds tight but we already had it up and running in the garage so we know it will be fine.

Here are some of our considerations regarding height:

1. I am a little over 5’ 9” and my partner in this venture is closer to 6’. We wanted the height to be comfortable for both so we tried to strike a happy medium.

2. The upper deck is 18” deep (front to back) and the lower is 15”. Shallower on the lower level because at that height and depth, you cannot see any further back in without bending over. Also, reaching any further back isn’t practical either.

3. The plan is to use most of the extra depth for scenery and keep the railroad (especially the sidings) near the front where operators can easily access them. We are going to try to run the mainline farther back in sections where we need to have industries near the front.

4. We also had to pick increments that worked with the shelf brackets. The brackets I used adjust 2” at a time so if we were to change the next increment up would be 42”/56” or down 38”/52”. For shorter operators 56” is too high to be able to reach the back and 38” is too low for taller guys and they have to stoop too much.

5. Given that we are N scale, the 10 ½” opening is plenty big. We aren’t planning on needing too many building that scale out at 130’ tall (although a couple might come close – more on that later).

6. We also realize that this might not be great for kids. A number of local operators solve that problem by keeping some light step stools on hand that are easy to move around for kids (or adults who need them as well).

I can go into more depth on these calculations if you want, just let me know. The size of the facia, and the type and placement of lights all came into play while we were figuring that out.

As for this week...

Running a few days late this week. Was sick a couple days last week and had some long days at work. Bottom line is not a lot of progress on the layout. Not a lot, but some…

I got the rest of the sky boxes made and set in place. Then this weekend we walked through and cleaned things up a bit so we had more space to work. Working on the skyboxes has got me thinking about the backdrops and I have realized that I need some kind of plan to make sure that I can get them installed without too much trouble.

Given how integrated the backboards are with the layout structure and that fact that both levels will be fully covered, I am going to need a plan. So, this week was spent starting to plan the backdrops and how they will be installed… and when, relative to installing the lights and upper valance.

Now that the benchwork is (mostly) cleared off, here is a walkthrough of the train room so you can see it all at once. Also you can see the lower skyboards in place.

Here you are standing at the door looking in. On the right you see the beginning of the peninsula. There is a bit more benchwork to add right here on the right that extends this side of the peninsula out to the door (it will only be about 10" deep out here):

Walking in to the back wall where the window is:

Then turning to the right you see the helix:

Continue around the end of the peninsula:

And continue walking down the other side of the peninsula:

And finally, reach the other end.

This gives you some idea of the whole thing.

Thinking about the backdrops means I also need to start thinking about the scenery and how it will flow throughout. Given that our focus is on operations, industries will be a large part of the scenery.

Before we moved the layout from the garage we had already laid out the industries. Given that the layout is roughly the same shape here, we decided to lay them out again on the new benchwork to get a feel for the difference. The new benchwork is considerably deeper than the old so it will feel less crowded. The old was 13" deep along the wall and 10" deep on the peninsula and the same on both levels. Here we are 18" deep on the upper level around the walls, and 15" deep on the lower lever around the walls and 15" on both levels of the peninsula.

Also, in the garage we only had the benchwork down one wall and on the peninsula. Here we have the additional run along the wall when you come in the door (left on your left in the first photo) and across the window so there is considerably more railroad here.

You may have noticed a bunch of yellow sticky notes in the photos above, this was the placement of the industries from the old railroad laid out in the current room. We haven't really started planning industries for the new section yet but already the additional space makes the railroad feel much better.

Even though I have worked on a number of railroads over time, I am still surprised by some of the space related factors. Such as, how many trees it takes to really cover a given area. It amazes me at how many it takes to really look good. Another factor is industries. In the photos above, in the area where you see the yellow notes, those notes represent 50 industrial locations. We didn’t even have to work at it. We just placed buildings and talked about what we wanted. In the garage location we had track laid and could run trains from one end to the other so we knew how well everything fit (and that it DID fit). When we stopped and counted everything up we had 50 locations on the layout.

This railroad is bigger and will allow us to add some more. That being said, we aren’t going to go crazy. We like the additional space and the opportunities it gives us for longer running and more scenery.

So, that’s about it for this week. Our next couple work sessions are focusing on backdrops and getting started on lighting. We have a couple lighting tests we want to run and I’ll share the details as we go. We had some really promising results with LEDs in the garage and want to expand on that here. Talk to you next week.

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 873 Go to Top of Page

New Hire

Posted - 10/16/2019 :  02:59:51 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thank you very much. I later found part of the answer in your thread, but this was helpful. It seems like 40" is almost good for an office chair on wheels. One reason for asking is that I have a steel mill and that requires some thinking. It needs to separate the levels quite much. Fortunately I will probably spend much time alone in my hobby room, so I can optimize for myself. We have tried loose steps at some time for my nephew when he was younger and that works really good (you just need to be focused).

"I can go into more depth on these calculations if you want, just let me know. The size of the facia, and the type and placement of lights all came into play while we were figuring that out."

I will follow your thread and I'll ask if I need clarification. I try not to "litter" your thread (I hate when that happens :)).

Thanks for now!!


Edited by - Bull on 10/16/2019 10:16:39 AM

Country: Sweden | Posts: 3 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Posted - 10/16/2019 :  2:30:55 PM  Show Profile  Visit spyder62's Homepage  Reply with Quote
well done will be following progress for sure.

In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame,
two is a law firm and three or more is a congress.
--John Adams

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Premium Member

Posted - 10/16/2019 :  10:06:25 PM  Show Profile  Visit jbvb's Homepage  Reply with Quote
This is my module supporting rail with the 3/4" extra clearance so the module can slide:

The module's bearing surface is the two triangular gussets around the leg holes, so the 1" width of the aluminum angle isn't an issue.

Country: USA | Posts: 6556 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 10/17/2019 :  05:14:49 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Dave, thanks for the detailed updates.
The woodworking and metal work you've shown is top notch.
Thanks for sharing with us and I will continue to follow along with your progress.

Country: USA | Posts: 23961 Go to Top of Page
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