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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)
Rick Posted - 01/18/2021 : 07:18:06 AM
Dan, thanks for the update and nice water tank and explanation on how it works.
Dan Posted - 01/18/2021 : 05:48:24 AM
Pyramid - Part 2

The box illustration indicates that the main tank supports are to be placed parallel to the tracks. However, as Bachmann's wide 2-6-0 and Whitcomb diesel, along with their portly passenger cars, are occasionally run on the layout, and the water tank is positioned on the inside of a tight curve, adequate trackside clearances need to be addressed. Therefore, the main tank supports are now positioned at right angles to the track, presenting the narrower side of the base to the passing trains, with the tank assembly being rotated ninety degrees in the process.

Some extra kit parts were used to make a small ground level platform for supporting an added on, laser cut wood ladder, that reaches to the top of the tank. Filling out the water tank scene is a small yellow shed. In the real world, the outhouse sized shed is too small to be a functional pump house, so it is used for storing supplies at the quarry end of the line.

So how does the water in this middle of nowhere tank get replenished? A hydraulic ram pump would have been used. When this unattended and maintenance free pump is placed in a nearby free flowing stream, a factor in selecting the lineside locations of prototype water tanks, the pump will slowly and relentlessly replace the 1,500 gallons a day used by the layout locomotives.

The prototype pumps kept working even on days when no trains were running, with any overflow being drained back into the stream - simple and environmentally friendly. It is gratifying when old-time, real world railroad engineering affirms what is being depicted on the layout.

Dan Posted - 01/18/2021 : 05:17:47 AM
Reinterpreting A Frustum Of A Rectangular Pyramid

The scenery on the left side of the layout is to be a pastoral tableau consisting mostly of trees and shrubs. As the sightlines dictate that something of a railroad nature needs to be placed at the point where the curving track approaches close to the scenic backdrop, what could be better for the eye to focus on than a diminutive, locomotive water tank that appears to be located in the middle of nowhere. Operationally, it is located near the quarry end of the railroad, so locos can top off their water supply before making the trek back to the factory with a train of loaded cars.

Suitable, shake-the-box plastic kits for HO water tanks have been around for a long time. The actual tank assembly, which will hold 2,300 O-scale gallons, never seems to change, but the supporting bases vary from time to time, as in the case here. As they are about eight feet tall, the bases place the bottoms of the water tanks at the right height for servicing the smaller On30 steamers.

A Model Power No. 428 HO Water Tank was selected as the illustration on the box appeared interesting as well as potentially suitable for an On30 scene. However, as things turned out, the illustration shown on the box was not exactly what was inside. When the kit parts were separated from the casting sprues, it became apparent that the base was to be a rather odd shape.

Geometrically, it was a frustum of a rectangular pyramid, which required three hands to successfully put together; two to hold the parts in alignment and the third to apply the glue. As I am now down to one and a half functional hands, I decided to bash the thing together using my trusty razor saw and a bit of sandpaper.

As the parts were originally molded to fit together at odd angles, the tops and bottoms of the main tank supports were sanded down so they would now fit at right angles, but the tapered ends of the base, that were supplied with the kit, were no longer usable. The needed transverse tank support, combined with sway bracing, came from my box of old HO parts.

A pair of plastic trestle bents from an over and under, figure eight set were just about right, The molded on footers and caps were sawed off and discarded, with the remains fitted in between the modified uprights of the main tank supports. The protruding tops of these bents fit between the joists that support the tank assembly, so everything needed, structurally, for a base that is now a rectangular prism is visually there.

Dan Posted - 01/16/2021 : 3:34:35 PM
Here are two photos of the display track turnout situation. The first one shows the snap track turnout and the road crossing, while the second shows the kick switch replacement, which misses the road crossing.

BigLars Posted - 01/12/2021 : 07:47:25 AM
There is still lots of slashing and bashing done in ON30. Unfortunately not a lot here. There are a few groups on Facebook devoted to it with frequent posts.
Dan Posted - 01/12/2021 : 06:21:20 AM
I tend to do considerable research before I start hacking things to pieces with my trusty razor saw and I found your comprehensive posting in the forum archives.

I find it interesting that not much has been done in the years since. Have we reached the end of the critter bashing era?

All the best to everyone.
BigLars Posted - 01/11/2021 : 5:59:55 PM
Dan, I hope this old post of mine gives you some ideas. http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=36138
Dan Posted - 01/11/2021 : 5:52:56 PM
Silk purse (part 2)

Without inspecting and test running, such buys are often a pig in a poke. It is at times like this that I really miss attending the local train shows, where I could wander around seeking what I needed and then, if my quests were successful, I could take stuff home with me. I have reconciled with myself that the price of shipping on any given item is usually the same or even less than the price of admission to a show. It is the time lag, due to shipping, that still gets to me.

When I opened up the Bachmann loco, I found that the original owner (it was a third party eBay sale) had installed a Digitrax DZ143 DCC decoder, so it was, unexpectedly, ready to run on the layout and it runs very well. As it crawls around the track at a prototypical walking speed, it moves very quietly, and it negotiates the Peco turnout as well as the factory spur without any problems.

While I am enamored with the performance of the mechanism, I have never been a fan of the MDT body style, but in bashing you go with what you got - unless something better comes along. On the AHM and Model Power versions of the MDT, the cab and body are oversized to the extent that they can be used, as is, for On30. Although the Bachmann model is slightly smaller, it is also usable. I was hoping to substitute the cab off of the On30 Davenport for the stock cab, but this did not work out and scratch building a new cab is currently not an option.

There are, basically, three cab heights for On30 diesels. As they are independent of the hood heights, some of the critters look a might strange. Some cabs are tall enough to allow an average size driver to stand up inside. Others appear to be freakishly short, so the driver has to squat (when seated, his butt is below the level of his knees) and this is the current size of the Bachmann cab.

I much prefer the look of a cab where the driver can comfortably sit, but not stand up, so the bottom of the Bachmann cab needs to be raised above the frame by about nine scale inches. Serendipitously, the Bachmann cab is easily removable and new ones are available as spare parts, in case I should screw things up.

Dan Posted - 01/11/2021 : 5:09:23 PM
A potential sow's ear turns out to be a silk purse.

With the layout scenery material delayed in the mail, I resurrected an old project out of boredom. Recently I stated that I now had all of the locomotives that I needed; however, I don't have all of the locomotives that I want. What I want is a pygmy version of Bachmann's hulking On30 Whitcomb (side rods are optional). It very much needs to be the operational opposite of the disappointing as well as chronically problematic Bachmann On30 Davenport.

As selections in the On30 critter market are currently sparse, a search of the internet and eBay provide a suitable HO donor for making a bash. What is wanted is a two or three axle, ridged frame loco, with the couplers mounted close to the outer axles to facilitate coupling. The frame of the venerable Athearn Hustler is physically correct, but who needs a supersonic narrow gauge switcher?

In the foggy recesses of my aging brain are memories of similar models that have gear drives. Ernst made a mechanical drive that replaced the Athearn rubber bands, but it is now long out of production and in hindsight, it appears that it had some problems. There were also Hustler clones as well as look-alikes that featured worm gear drives, which were made and marketed for the HO toy train market, but none of them were quite right, operationally.

In HO, Bachmann made a three axle variation of the Plymouth MDT industrial locomotive for the model railroad market, that physically and mechanically meets my needs. Unlike the AHM and Model Power versions, which have only the rear axle powered, the Bachmann MDT has two powered outer axles along with an unpowered center axle, thus there are six wheels for power pickup. Also, as on the Hustler, the couplers are attached to the side frame assembly, instead of being mounted to a separate body.

Technically, the three axle underframe makes it a model of a Plymouth WDT, but in bashing On30, such discrepancies are not a concern. The Chinese made versions (prior to about 1990 they were from Yugoslavia) did not share the widespread problems created by Bachmann's Great Gear Debacle, so I bought a "pre-owned" one off of eBay. Although it is now out of production, Bachmann stocks a good supply of replacement parts.

Dan Posted - 01/06/2021 : 4:14:15 PM
While the layout scenery supplies slowly work their way through Xmas package purgatory, courtesy of the United States Postal Service, I took another look at the snap switch turnout installation on the layout display track and there were two problems.

First, while it looked good, it took up a lot of room and, second, the points occupied the road crossing and that would require some pretty fancy cutting and fitting of the road surface, which my currently compromised hands are not in favor of.

I first though of just putting up a couple of barriers to make it seem as if the crossing was ripped out and under repair, but for some reason, O scale barriers are a bit on the pricey side and my clumsy meat hooks would soon reduce them to plastic shards.

I settled on making another fake kick switch that is similar to the one at the mainline end of the display track. On that one, there was a straight track blending into the mainline curve, which was a bit tricky. On the new one, it is a straight track blending into another straight track, which is much easier.

Armed with my trusty razor saw and aided with a dash of serendipity, the diverting angle of the new kick switch is close to the angle of the snap track frog and it is almost in the same position on the layout as that frog, so the diverting tracks stayed about in the same position. As it is a lot shorter than the snap track turnout, it clears the road crossing, while looking prototypical.

Rick Posted - 12/25/2020 : 09:22:48 AM
Merry Christmas Dan and hopefully your scenery package will show up soon.
Dan Posted - 12/25/2020 : 08:47:16 AM
Santa didn't stop at my house last night.

I ordered some scenery material off of eBay. It left California via USPS on December the sixteenth and promptly disappeared, with talk of Valentine's Day or even St. Patrick's Day as possible delivery times.

As I am anxious to get started and I have been good all year long, I was hoping that Santa Claus would make things right, but he passed up my house. As a railfan, even a token bag of coal would have been appreciated.

Well...he didn't just pass by. When I saw him fly over I let loose a string of epithets that would have made a sailor blush. In return, he responded with an obscene gesture.

After I calmed down, I chalked it all up to a learning experience and a sign of the times. Before last night, I never realizer that one could pilot a reindeer powered flying sleigh while giving the finger to someone on the ground.

May your holidays be merry and bright!

Dan Posted - 12/24/2020 : 06:29:32 AM
The Butterfly Effect

My layout, frustratingly, continues to be a working model of the, so called, Butterfly Effect. In the effect, a very small change in initial conditions creates a significantly different outcome and on the layout this small, some of the outcomes are not so good.

In getting the track just right, I have been dealing with this effect since the beginning of the project, but it has now reared its head, or should I say it flapped its wings, when it comes to scenery. Nature can be a heartless mother when one is trying to be a recovering perfectionist.

Perhaps I should be more like the railfan photographers of old, the ones with the Hasselflexes and the Rollieblads. In their commodious camera bags they not only carried film, they also carried lopping and pruning shears (at least one even carried a saw) to remove any unwanted vegetation that intruded into their viewfinder images. While I cannot fault their results, I always felt that this was cheating.

In adding scenery to the layout, emulating their deceitful ways may turn out to be a workable method. Now where did I put those tiny scissors and those old fashioned eyebrow tweezers?

Dan Posted - 12/21/2020 : 07:35:17 AM
By George, I Think He's Got It!

For a while, I have been ruminating on adding a turnout and some track to the existing layout, which is, operationally, already first-rate. As things recently turned out, this continuous cranial itch was finally scratched when space and purpose were created as a part of adding scenery to the layout.

When I started building the layout, I was planning to use an Atlas code 83 snap track turnout for the factory spur, but after I realized how bad they were when used with DCC, I changed it out for a trouble-free Peco turnout.

While developing sight lines for adding scenery, the non-operating, disconnected display track at the front of the layout did not seem to be all that railroad like. To address this situation and to stop the ruminating, the old snap track turnout was installed in the middle of the display track at the road crossing, thereby adding a short spur to the layout. It runs to the left at an angle behind the vignettes, toward the low rocky ridge. When the useful and unique, track cleaning snowplow bash is parked at the far end of this spur, the display track begins to have a prototypical railroad look, cluttered but functional.

The repair shed and the passenger station remain in their original roles as changeable vignettes on the far left end of the display track. However, the former MOW vignette became a permanent part of the layout at the center of the display track, after juggling around some of its details, thus providing a home base for the maintenance railcar bash and its trailer.

Another rolling stock bash that is worthy of full time display is the railbus and trailer. When not a part of the station vignette, it shares this duty with Bachmann twenty-six foot freight cars, it is parked beyond the right side of the road crossing, close to the factory, making the display track railroad like from one end to the other.
Dan Posted - 12/16/2020 : 05:47:36 AM
The date on the calendar and my ambition finally coincided and this years iteration of last years Christmas tree and garden are now up. As planned, they look very much the same and a new world speed record was set - thirty minutes start to finish.

It used to take me that long just to horse the bare tree (we use an artificial one) and boxes of decorations down from the freezing cold attic and several hours more putting it all together, after I thawed out.

With the new tree and garden already assembled and decorated and kept in the heated storage room, all I had to do was open a door and move two plastic tubs into the next room. Life is good!

With the local dollar store selling 100 watt equivalent LED light bulbs (14 watts actual consumption) for a buck each, there is now a spotlight on the tree and garden. If the spotlight works out, maybe I can arrange one or two over the layout?

Gentlemen and ladies, if any are present, to all a Happy Holidays.

Speaking of presents...Christmas is a comin' and my goose is getting cooked, so its off to do some shopping. It will be another "gift card" Christmas, but with the pandemic, they may not be handed out until next Easter.

All the best to everyone and stay well.

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