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 An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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T O P I C    R E V I E W
Dan Posted - 08/09/2017 : 3:40:42 PM
Over the years, I had become complacent about the scenery streaming past the Pullman windows on the train ride of life. I hardly noticed being switched down the Old Fart Branch until the train slowed for a flag-stop station that had an unusual name. Its sign board read "Superannuate." What really got my attention was when I checked the schedule and the next station stop would be "Elderly" followed by the one at "Geriatric." For all intents and purposes, the latter will be the end of the line.

This prompted me to take a look at where I am now and where I will most likely be in the near future. I am currently living in a house with space for building a layout. However, all too soon, i will be downsized into a modest senior's apartment or, in a worst case scenario, into a care facility.

Therefore, if I am going to build a layout, I had better start now, but I do not want it to be a major project. I think "unpretentious, but fulfilling" would be an apt description. I envision a small, semi-permanent layout, one with graceful curves and prototype operations, that can easily be relocated whenever the need arises.

While dreamers of big layouts yearn for homes with suitable basements, I am hoping for a senior's apartment with a walk-in closet that can accommodate the proposed layout. If that does not work out, the layout is going to occupy prime living space.

To be ready for either situation, it should emulate a piece of furniture. Actually, a real piece of furniture, a suitable "bar height" or "pub height" table, is a layout option. However ADA compliant doorways, which are thirty-two inches wide, can limit the size of a table-top layout.

Layout height and ADA doorways are both mentioned because, as one gets older, debilitating medical conditions can occur at any time. Therefore, to compliment the interior of the new apartment, the layout should also be handicapped accessible, for the lack of a better term.

Ideally, the layout should follow most of the ADA recommendations for wheelchair use. This means that it can be operated, without assistance, from a sitting position using a seat height of nineteen inches. In addition, it should have a clear access path, thirty-six inches wide, to the operating position.

The average wheelchair eye level is forty-seven inches. According to the recommendations of the NMRA, our layouts tend to look better when viewed from near eye level, so an appropriate layout height would be about forty inches. This height also allows a comfortable forward reach from a wheelchair, thereby providing easy access to the front of the layout.

Having been around full sized trains for most of my life, the urge to build a large layout never materialized. My previous attempt to build an On30 layout was four feet wide by two feet deep, with nine inch radius curves. While the layout itself could not be considered a success, it was a learning experience and a test bed for different types of layout construction.

The layout sat on a pedestal made from the bottom three shelves of a plastic storage unit that was approximately thirty-six inches wide by eighteen inches deep. It was fitted with furniture casters for ease of moving it around. The lightweight, but sturdy pedestal proved so successful that current plans are to adapt it to the new layout.

Diminutive Davenport gas-mechanicals, manufactured by Bachmann, were the motive power on the old layout. However, work on the layout ground to a halt, literally, due to the "Great Gear Debacle." Quite frankly, Bachmann's attitude toward the problem and their products put me off the hobby for a while.

Over the years, Bachmann attempted to make amends with a new Whitcomb double truck, diesel-electric locomotive plus re-engineered versions of two of its smaller steamers; the 0-4-2 and the 2-6-0. They are all good runners and, so far, there are no reported signs of mechanical vicissitudes. While under-the-layout sound and pulse-power DC was used before, the decision was made to switch over to DCC and on-board sound for the new layout.

To accommodate the 2-6-0, which requires curves of fifteen inch radius, the size of the layout will be increased to four feet wide by three feet deep. This will require a somewhat larger pedestal, three feet wide by two feet deep. The lower shelves of a steel wire shelf unit, factory equipped with wheels, will provide an acceptable, living space substitute for the previous plastic shelf pedestal.

The heart of the new layout will be a single, two inch thick slab of FOAMULAR XPS rigid foam insulation - aka the pink stuff. An extra thickness will be glued around the edges, forming a socket that will hold the top of the pedestal. As the layout and the pedestal will need to be moved separately, the two will be held together by just the force of gravity.

Although XPS is not rated as structural, the six inches of foamboard overhanging the pedestal on each side should not pose a problem. What may be a problem is, while most foamboard glues will attach fascia boards and backdrop supports to the laminated edges of the layout, these decorative attachments will be subjected to mechanical stress when moving the layout. Therefore, a more secure mounting method needs to be devised.

The scenery will also need to be secured so the separated layout can be turned vertically to avoid running afoul of ADA doorways. With track, scenery and attachments, the layout itself will weigh about twenty-five pounds; light enough to be easily handled by an old codger and a codgette.

To facilitate moving, the layout wiring should be easily disconnected from the DCC supply mounted on the pedestal. The wiring should also be suitably modified to facilitate operating from a wheelchair. For example, a rare but annoying problem is when a locomotive enters the frog end of a turnout with the points set against it, thereby causing a short circuit that brings operations to a halt.

If the turnout motor is DCC controlled and powered from the DCC track supply, the loco must be physically moved beyond the turnout to clear the short, something that cannot always be done from a wheelchair. However, by putting the track power and the turnout controller power on separate feeds and providing a convenient means for disconnecting the track, the power can be restored to the turnout controller and the points reset. As the tracks will be electrically isolated from the DCC supply, a DC power supply can be connected and used to run the trains.

An unintended bonus for senior citizens is a part of the layout construction. If an episode of unsteadiness (you know the type - "I've fallen and I can't get up!") occurs in the presence of the layout, it may result in some serious scenery damage. However, the forgiving nature of the foam insulation and its loose mounting to a movable pedestal should minimize the damage to the senior citizen.

Speaking of unsteadiness, an unintentional quirk is also a part of the layout construction. When using the pedestal, the Rock of Gibraltar stability of a traditional layout will be replaced with the equivalent of San Andreas quaking. While initially disconcerting, the lack of rigidity will not affect layout operations.

If running trains is desired in a care facility, one must keep one's options open. Speaking from experience, a layout without a working locomotive is a diorama and a boring one at that. However, a locomotive without a layout can provide both sound and motion stimulation to an active imagination.

Perhaps a test stand thing-a-ma-jig, with roller assemblies for under the drivers, complete with scenery and a bit of backdrop, would make a minimalist layout for the above situation. One that is about fourteen inches wide and four inches deep will accommodate the 2-6-0 and its tender. In anticipating future needs, the scenic thing-a-ma-jig can be built concurrent with the layout. In the interim, it can serve as a picturesque programming track.

15   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
Philip Posted - 10/04/2020 : 10:30:43 AM
You just described my affliction Dan.. "hence my sudden and steady progress to the bottom of the forum page". lol!

Don't give up!

Dan Posted - 10/04/2020 : 04:24:40 AM
Actually I have already started.

Due to the miniscule size of the present layout, I have standardized on the Bachmann eighteen foot freight cars for double truck equipment. However, while the larger, twenty-six foot Bachmann cars are too big to accompany the short cars running on the layout, they are the right size for stationary use as part of the vignettes at the front of the layout.

While bouts of forgetfulness tend to be the bane of being elderly, they also lead to moments of pleasant rediscovery. While pawing through more boxes, I found a long forgotten relic. Years ago, when I bought that early Bachmann On30 gondola, the one that is now the rail storage car in the MOW vignette, it seems that I also bought one of the boxcars.

When used in place of the stationary, smallish railbus in the passenger vignette, the large, hulking freight car, ostensibly sitting on an abutting team track, visually reduces the size of the station to flag stop status, especially when running the largish Bachmann passenger cars on the main line.

Rick Posted - 10/02/2020 : 07:17:15 AM
Dan, all the best to you.
Let us know if you get back to the layout.
Dan Posted - 09/30/2020 : 05:52:21 AM
After a typically hot and humid summer, the fall of the year is normally full of great things to do that are often train related. That is until the pandemic hit. One by one, each was cancelled until there were only one or two left and these were so compromised, mere shadows of their former selves, they were no longer worth doing.

For those of us where "getting old" has long ago disappeared in the rearview mirror of life, there is often an inner voice. Whenever doing pleasurable things, it repeats a dour, but optimistic phrase, "This may be the final time for doing this."

This year, however, when searching the empty calendar for former things to do, the voice has changed its spiel to something quite bleak, "Last fall was the final time for doing this." To get out of this purple funk, to use an antiquated term, I spent the last few weeks distancing myself from such things, hence my sudden and steady progress to the bottom of the forum page.

There is another outdated term, "Time heals all wounds." and the sight of the unfinished layout is once again stirring creative thoughts, thereby adding a bit of joy to my seemingly moribund life...although getting my act together and actually getting something done is another matter. Nevertheless, creative thoughts are a step in the right direction.

All the best to everyone.
Dan Posted - 09/04/2020 : 10:35:03 AM
By George, I think he's got it!

Thanks Mike.

Michael Hohn Posted - 09/04/2020 : 09:19:33 AM

If you “Reply to Topic” to bring up a text box, there are smilies on the left. You’ll have to hit “Show entire smile list” to see them all. When you hit one it’s inserted on the text box for you.

That’s the way I know how.

You could also type in the character string that corresponds with that smilie. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

Dan Posted - 09/04/2020 : 08:12:42 AM
Thanks Rick,

Could employing the thumbs up icon be the answer to the problem of readers showing appreciation for a posting without having to put it into words, which for some, can be intimidating?

Personally, I like the idea, it is simple as well as universally understood, but how does one put the icon, by itself, into a reply? I ain't not figured that out yet.

All the best

Rick Posted - 08/30/2020 : 08:36:40 AM
Dan Posted - 08/30/2020 : 07:01:40 AM
Thanks Michael

You don't have to worry about waving guy. He comes from a long line of railroad workers, so he knows his stuff.

Here is a photo of the current clan. His shy older brother is on the left and sitting in the railcar, turning it into a kiddie ride for an amusement park, is his cousin.

All the best to everyone.
Michael Hohn Posted - 08/28/2020 : 6:26:05 PM
Nice. Waving Guy wants to be careful playing with the link and pin couplers or he'll be waving with fewer fingers.


Dan Posted - 08/28/2020 : 5:42:06 PM
A Tool Car Bash For The MOW Vignette

One of the packs of Woodland Scenics figures came with a pump type handcar for O-gauge track that left a lot to be desired. By removing the ugly pump handle gizmo, pulling off the wobbly wheels and sanding down the glued on plastic axles to make the underside flat, the deck for a possible tool car bash was the result. In theory, all it needed was HO gauge wheels to make it work in On30, but as things turned out, that would not be easy.

The cast plastic deck measures 1 5/8" long by 1" wide, but it is a rather chunky 3/16" thick and therein lies a problem. Because of its thickness, standard O-scale 16" diameter handcar wheels make the car ride abnormally high and lowering the deck by gouging out holes to clear the upper parts of the wheels was deemed to be impractical. However, as the deck is just wide enough to cover the side frames of many HO freight trucks, an outside bearing bash, making it similar to the rest of the layout's four-wheel fleet, was decided on.

An old Roundhose brand, Fox stamped steel truck that was on hand was recruited, mostly because, unlike an archbar truck, it was nearly flat across the side frame tops, but just about everything else was a problem. The traditional mounting method of using a screw or bolt through the truck bolster hole was also deemed to be impractical. In addition, the truck is made from Delrin plastic, which means that it cannot be glued, except by using some pretty exotic stuff. ACC and tacky glue are used for just about everything, so a way had to be found to employ the old reliable ones on this bash.

As the tool car will be stationary on the layout, two sets of plastic, wheel and axle assemblies, ones that can be glued, were substituted for the Fox truck originals and the flanges were clipped from corresponding sides of each wheelset. Mounted in the inverted truck side frames, with the flangeless sides pointing down, the assembly was carefully sanded until the tops of the journal box mounting slots were ready to be removed, which is a good place to stop.

The sanded off plastic wheels, mounted in the Delrin side frames, were carefully positioned on the bottom of the tool car deck and glued in place, simultaneously addressing the truck mounting, excessive height and adhesive problems. Serendipitously, the coupler mountings for the tool car and the railcar not only match each other, but they also match the Kadee HO height gauge (it certainly wasn't planned that way). Link and pin couplers (diecast metal ones by Model Engineering Works, more old friends from my very early days of working in On30) were fitted to both.

As the photo indicates, waving guy is of the opinion that, while each may be an oddity that was separately bashed, the tool car and railcar appear to make a functional pair (he also likes playing with the link and pin couplers). Together, they are four inches long and when combined with the MOW flatcar, they make a linear vignette that is about a foot in length, the same as for the station and repair shed ones. Except for adding extra details and a coat of paint, this should end assembling the MOW vignette.


Michael Hohn Posted - 08/28/2020 : 08:53:00 AM
I enjoy watching your burgeoning collection of vignettes as it grows in number. They all have personalities, particularly your latest.

Dan Posted - 08/28/2020 : 07:55:41 AM
Thanks Rick,

There is more to come...
Rick Posted - 08/26/2020 : 06:25:28 AM
Very cool.
Dan Posted - 08/25/2020 : 6:49:15 PM
A Railcar Bash For The MOW Vignette

When positioning the large Bachmann flat car with the rail load for the proposed MOW vignette, the glaring need for more stuff made itself evident; something that wasn't the typical kits for handcar/speeder motive power along with a push cart or two. What was needed is a non-operating industrial railcar bash, an early auto that was modified to run on railroad track.

After perusing the internet in search of prototype ideas, I used the side frames salvaged from under an old HO bobber caboose (I think it was made by AHM). They were originally going to be used under the kiln cart, but the wheelbase was too long. While, from time to time, it may be stymied, serendipity never sleeps and they turned out to be right for this bash. As the railcar will be moved to and from the layout when changing vignettes, the side frames and wheels were glued into a strong, monolithic underframe, to counteract my occasional Godzilla moments.

The body is also nearly indestructible. It is the remains of a Lesney "Models of Yesteryear" Y-14, a 1911 Maxwell Roadster (there are far too many Model T conversions). I bashed it years ago into a small pickup truck. A piece of thin styrene sheet was glued to the top of the underframe as a base to receive the somewhat modified one piece, diecast metal body, which is conveniently flat on the bottom. The Maxwell fuel tank was also modified and glued behind the body to cover up the gaping hole that used to be hidden by the old pickup truck body.

The photos show the railcar bash in its test fit stage, after the usual trial and error missteps. As a bonus, prototypically, it can be used top up or top down.


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