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Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 09/07/2019 :  11:39:50 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
This thread tracks the progress of the Mud Bay & Western layout build.

The MB&W is a two-level, operation centric, N scale railroad that uses some less common techniques in its construction.

I hope folks find the thread interesting and helpful.

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 858

Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 09/07/2019 :  11:43:41 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Well folks it’s been a while. Feels like it has been years since my last post. Oh, wait, it has.

My last post was four years ago. Yikes, time flies when you are not paying attention.

Some life changes (leaving a job after 25 years, going back to school, and rebooting my career) have kept me away from modeling. I have been at my new job for a year and a half now and life is returning to normal.

So that means it is time to get back to the bench and I am going all in.


This all started innocently. A couple summers ago a good friend asked me help him put a railroad in his garage. He lives in the Seattle area during the summer and winters in Arizona.

We would spend a few weekends each summer working in his garage and managed to get benchwork built and most of the track laid for an N scale layout that could easily host 4 operators.

This past year he and his wife have decided that within the next two years, they are going to sell the Seattle house and move to AZ full time. Along with this decision, we have decided to relocate the railroad to my house and I will take over ownership.

This is how, after 20+ years in my own house and spending most of my modeling time working on other people’s projects, I am finally going to build my own layout. This thread will track the progress and share ideas.

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 858 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 09/08/2019 :  12:30:50 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Introduction to the Mud Bay & Western

The MB&W is a fictional branch line set in the Puget Sound region in the late 60’s. The original design goal was to maximize operation potential in the space available.

The space was one stall in a two car garage. It was roughly 14’ long by 9’ wide. We decided to go with a double deck design to have more space and given that it was in a garage, we used a modular approach so it could be taken down and stored on shelves so that the second car could still fit in the garage if needed.

We got to the point where we had most of the track laid and could run a train from one end of the layout to the other last summer.

This Spring when my friend returned to Seattle we had the discussion about his decision to sell the house within the next two years and decided that the goal for this summer would be to relocate the railroad to my house.

A couple factors led us to believe that this would not be as hard as one would expect. First, our design was already modular to facilitate taking it down in the garage. Second, the train room in my house is located above my garage and is the size of one car. This is essentially the same size of space we were using in his garage (actually my room is slightly bigger).

Given the space and storage constraints in his garage, the original layout ran down one wall of the garage, then crossed a roughly 4’ bridge module to a peninsula that ran parallel to the wall. The track ran up one side of the peninsula and then back down the other. Now make two levels of this and you have the general idea.

The benchwork along the wall was 13” deep and mounted on shelf brackets. The peninsula consisted of modules that were 10” deep and 4’ long with an 18” x 38” module across the end.

Here’s a shot of the section down the wall and one of the peninsula (before track) to give you an idea.

A couple other design choices are visible in the pictures.

First, we had lighting built in. For the section along the wall we had small fluorescent lights mounted behind the facia. This provides a lot of even light.

Second, we wanted to avoid the headache of needing to work underneath the layout any time we had to work on wiring so the facia was hollow and the main wiring bus and all connections to it are located along the front of the layout. Once the work is done the front facia panel is attached and all the wiring is hidden. Remove a couple screws and you have full access to the wiring without the need to crawl under anything.

In the photo of the peninsula you get an idea of what the modules look like. They are 10” deep and 48” long. They are framed from ½” cabinet grade plywood and have a two inch foam insert for the deck.

The skyboard is part of the frame and is made of door skin plywood (1/8”) and is 11” tall. The modules are strong and light. Very easy to handle.

This is what we had at the end of last summer and served as the starting point for the relocation effort this summer.

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 858 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 09/08/2019 :  06:12:07 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Dave, great to have you back.
I will follow along with your progress for sure.

Country: USA | Posts: 22792 Go to Top of Page

Michael Hohn

Posted - 09/08/2019 :  08:19:43 AM  Show Profile  Visit Michael Hohn's Homepage  Reply with Quote

Everything looks well thought out. Building a layout in sections or modules makes a lot of sense and should probably be done more often. The wiring up front is also a smart idea.


Country: USA | Posts: 5172 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Posted - 09/09/2019 :  9:00:44 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Welcome back Dave. Good to have another N gauger here. Looks like you've got a good start.


Country: USA | Posts: 596 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 09/14/2019 :  09:28:04 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Good morning all, hope everyone had a good week. Thanks for the welcoming comments. It's good to be back.

My last post was meant to introduce the topic and provide a brief history of the project so far. Today I want to start with the real meat of the project, the work being done at the new location.

I am fortunate to have a train room in my house. When we purchased this house I managed to secure land rights to the “bonus room” which is located above the garage, right across the hall from the master bedroom. It is rectangular with only a couple minor anomalies to deal with. Just inside the door there is a roughly 2’ x 13” section of wall that sticks out into the room (it contains vent pipes that run up to the roof) that we have to work around. Also, one corner of the room has a mitered corner to facilitate the entryway downstairs.
Here’s the room’s floor plan:

In the lower right you can see the angled corner and vent wall we need to build around. Also, a bit unfortunate is that the single largest window in the house is located in the center of the far wall (across from the door). This is a southern facing window that gets full sun each day. Steps will need to be taken to reduce its impact on the room. It can get quite hot with the doors closed (a necessity when the railroad is built because I have two cats). Also, direct sun on the layout will be hard on the scenery. Lastly, my true passion is around model building and I want to control the lighting of each scene. Tough to do in full sunlight.

The window also adds a couple constraints to the plan.
First, I need to maintain access to it. The section of benchwork that will cross the window will need to be removable.
Second, this room has been mostly closed and used for storage for the past few years while I wasn’t doing any modeling. Now that I am working in there again, I have discovered a couple weather related problems with the window. We can have some fairly extreme wind and rain out where I live and it appears that the frame has leaked a little. The sill needs to be replaced. That being said, in a year or two there is a good chance we will be installing new windows throughout the whole house (just replaced the roof this year and my annual maintenance budget only goes so far) so for the time being I am leaving this alone. I just need to be certain that enough access is left that the window can be replaced without the need to remove any benchwork when the time comes.

The current plan is to build benchwork around the walls and then a two sided peninsula into the middle of the room. All of this will be double decked and there will be a helix in one corner to traverse levels.

A number of years ago I heard about someone who had come up with a rather clever (I think) idea for doing fast and easy benchwork, the Nirvana for all model railroaders. The idea was to use shelf brackets mounted to the walls to support the benchwork and then use hollow core door slabs as the benchwork itself. This idea has a lot of appeal to me and we decided to use this method here.

The type of bracket we are using can be found at The Container Store http://www.containerstore.com if you have access to one. Home Depot sells some that are very similar. There is a slotted rail you mount to the wall and shelf brackets you fit into the slots at the desired height.

One advantage of using this method is you can adjust the height a bit if needed. It allows you to test drive heights and see what is most comfortable for you. Granted, you can only adjust in 2” increments but that is still better than nothing. Also, if you install longer rails that extend below the layout (or above), you can easily add storage shelves as needed.

When using shelf brackets you need to be aware of a couple things. First, don’t assume that the brackets are square (will mount perfectly perpendicular to the wall). Based on the type and manufacturer, most brackets I found are NOT square, either by design or due to poor quality control.

These particular brackets are very well made and very consistent (you don’t need to worry about significant variance from bracket to bracket). That being said, this particular bracket does have a deliberate cant built in. I use the 14” brackets and each bracket is made such that point A is ¼” lower than point B in order to put a slight backward cant to the shelves.

It’s not a huge issue but something to be aware of. I will deal with this when I mount the door slabs.

Speaking of which, we use these doors from Home Depot:

The upper deck on this layout will be 19” deep and the lower deck will be 15” deep. The lower deck is shallower because it is too hard to reach (and see) to the back of the lower level if it is too deep. The 15” depth works well and standing a “normal” distance from the layout and casually looking at the lower level, your sightline just reaches the back edge before you need to bend down in order to see under the upper deck facia.

Granted, this is all a function of how high you decide to build everything. We were fortunate that we had the work in the garage prior to this so we were confident about the heights we liked. If you are considering building a double deck layout I recommend you mock up some test benchwork and make sure the heights and depths work for you.
Here is a cross section of what our benchwork will look like and some dimensions to give you the idea:

The door slab provides the foundation and then the plan is to add a 1” layer of foam on top of that. This will deaden the sound of running trains and provide the ability to do a little bit of scenery “below track level”. Given this is N scale 1” will provide enough for our needs.

One thing about using shelf brackets and making the layout double decked, you really need to think about heights and clearances. In our case our goal is to build a layout that is fun to operate. We are really focusing on ease of access for operation and maintenance. There are constant compromises being made to balance height from the floor, depth of the layout (front to back), sight lines, and the thickness of the layers (benchwork needs to be strong enough to support everything but light enough you don’t need a 6” facia to hide it).

This is one of the main reasons the door slabs are ideal. They are strong, light, and provide a perfectly uniform flat surface as a foundation. Some people might question the cost. In the pic above you see the online price. I walk in to my local Home Depot and buy them off the shelf. For the upper deck (19” deep) I buy the 36” bi-fold doors. For the Lower deck (15” deep) I buy the 30” bi-folds. Each package consists of two slabs. I pay slightly more than the online price. I paid $54 for the last 30” and that gets me two slabs that are 79” tall. Each package basically gives you 158” (13’) of ready to mount benchwork that is perfectly smooth, square, and true.

We ended up mounting shelf brackets on 32” centers. This guaranteed at least 2 brackets per door slab.

In the cross-section view earlier you can also see something labeled “skybox” on the lower level. This is a simple 3” inch deep box framed in plywood and faced with 1/8” Masonite. It serves two purposes. First, it provides a 3” spacer so the front edges of the 15” lower deck door slabs align with the front edges of the 18” door slabs on the upper deck. Second, it provides a nice flat uniform surface for the lower deck skyboards that will not warp.

That's it for now. In the next post I'll start talking about mounting the door slabs to the shelf brackets.

Dave K in NB

Edited by - rrkreitler on 09/14/2019 09:38:02 AM

Country: USA | Posts: 858 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 09/14/2019 :  10:03:27 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Very interesting Dave. I'll follow along for sure and nice to have you back with us,


"And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln

Country: USA | Posts: 11487 Go to Top of Page

Michael Hohn

Posted - 09/14/2019 :  1:48:12 PM  Show Profile  Visit Michael Hohn's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Thanks for the detailed update. I’m looking forward to watching developments.


Country: USA | Posts: 5172 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 09/14/2019 :  2:31:46 PM  Show Profile  Visit Nelson458's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Wow, Dave, looks like you have thought this one through pretty well. I've clicked the subscribe button so I'll be able to keep up. I don't model N scale, nut it sounds interesting just the same.

Tony Burgess
Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty.~ Brian Greene

Country: USA | Posts: 3067 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 09/15/2019 :  12:43:06 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hey Jerry and Tony, welcome on board. Hope you enjoy the ride.

So, the next step is the leveling process. As I mentioned earlier, the brackets I am using have a built-in cant that results in the front edge being ¼” higher than the back. In larger scales you may not even need to worry about this but a ¼” in N scale is significant. Also, when I discuss the corners you will see why you really want everything as level as possible an both the X and Y axes

While the slotted rails allow the shelf brackets to be adjustable, all you get is a coarse adjustment +/- 2” at a time. What we need is a fine adjustment. Additionally, I need some way to fasten the door slabs to the brackets. I solved both these problems by adding what I call a “shoe” to each bracket. This provides the fine adjustment to height, allows me to level out the cant, and provide a flat surface to attach the slab to the bracket.

The brackets are made of stamped steel and are light and strong. They are also essentially hollow. I cut some small filler blocks that get inserted into the brackets, then I drill a hole through the bracket (and block) so I can bolt the shoe to the bracket. You can see this in the upper bracket in this photo. The block is needed when it comes time to tighten down the bolt while attaching the shoe. Without the block the hollow bracket just crushes closed.

Each shoe is just a pieces of 3/4” pine board I have ripped into 1” strips and cut to 14” lengths. In the picture you get the idea of how it goes together. My process is this:
1. Insert the filler blocks into the bracket at the bolt locations.
2. Drill holes through the bracket and blocks.
3. Temporarily clamp the shoe to the bracket in the approximate position it will be mounted.
4. Measuring from the floor to the top surface of the shoe, ensure that the front and back of the shoe are precisely at the height you want and level. Adjust and re-clamp as needed.
5. While clamped, use the holes in the bracket as pilots and drill through the shoe.
6. Add nut/bolt/washer.
7. Rinse and repeat until every bracket is done.

A couple notes about this process:

First, the amount of adjustment that will be needed here really depends on two factors: A) The amount of slope your shelf brackets have built in (or any variance due to inconsistent quality in manufacturing) that you are trying to correct, and B) how precise your were when you mounted the rails on the wall (making sure the rails were all at the same height). My shoes are 1” tall which means I can only really deal with a max variance of +/- ½” across all the brackets. I have a design requirement to keep the shoes at 1” so I had to make sure my rails and brackets were fairly precise. Before I started mounting shoes I measured all the brackets to ensure that none were too far out of whack. Glad I did. Out of 14 rails, two required remounting to the wall to get them within tolerance.

The second thing here is the width of the shoe. I would assume that some folks looking at this would be doing some math in their heads and arrive at the opinion that only ¾” wide for support and attaching to a door skin is asking for trouble in the long term. Well, it turns out I accidently did a long term test on how strong these doors really are.

I first encountered this idea of using door slabs about 10 years ago. I got excited about it and immediately picked up two doors, mounted some shelf brackets to my wall and tested the doors – then promptly got side tracked by life and stopped railroading for a while. So, for the past 10 years I have had two doors sitting on the bare metal shelf brackets (which are only about a ½” wide) with stuff piled on them (acting as shelves rather than benchwork). After 10 years, the doors are still true (they did not warp) and the narrow metal brackets did not poke through (or even dent) the door skins they were supporting. This tells me that a ¾” wide strip of board should be even better. If I was really concerned about weigh distribution I could add a second shoe on the other side of each bracket but I don’t think it is needed. Plus I am trying to maximize space between the support brackets to facilitate lower level lighting.

So after leveling and attaching shoes to all the brackets, I now have a level surface at a precise height from the floor to mount the door slabs. I set the slabs in place to see how it looks.

This is a view of the left wall looking back towards the door. The slabs aren’t attached, just sitting in place to test the fit. You can see that they are all sitting evenly on the shoes and there is no daylight indicating any gaps. Ultimately I will glue them to the shoes but I am not yet ready to fasten them down. I want to get the skyboxes built first and there is some prep work for attaching the facia that needs to be done before the slabs will be ready to fasten down.

Next, I’ll discuss framing up the peninsula, which is another animal entirely.

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 858 Go to Top of Page
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