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An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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  • #16
    you may also enjoy:

    again, toss out whatever doesn't interest you and focus on the rest. it's not as fast-moving as some of the other forums, and some might argue Gn15 has run its course, but just like finding a 1949 MRR magazine, all information is new if you haven't seen it.


    • #17
      Hi Guys,

      Thanks again for your suggestions and comments, especially the one from BurleyJim.

      One of my favorite prototypes was a mere 4,400 feet long. It was the standard gauge coal delivery railway at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC. During a newspaper interview from many years ago, the engineer commented that while he enjoyed every run, they do get kind of same-ish. That prototype combination of same-ish and enjoyable is what I am aiming for with the layout.

      Rob's suggested Pentawan Railway, while an excellent design, is the type that I am trying to move away from. As with so many things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In my humble opinion, this modeling tour de force has too much track and too many structures per square foot of area and no opportunity for continuous running.

      For example, on my layout, the everyday needs of the railway are quite modest. As everything is owned and managed by a frugal company, a covered factory unloading track doubles as a the engine house.

      The rest of the modeled engine facility occupies a space of seven and a half inches wide by three inches deep, yet it would be adequate if blown up to full size. Furthermore, it will sit adjacent to the "main" track, instead of on a spur of its own. (See my previous topic: A Kit Bashed Engine Facility With A Twist.)

      The petite facility also has a practical purpose. It conceals a DCC accessory decoder and a turnout motor. The operational concept of the layout is equally small and practical. It only needs an oval of track, one turnout, one spur, two cuts of cars (loads and empties) and a locomotive. Structures are also minimal, a factory building (a Walthers Cornerstone Sur-Sweet-Feeds kit - now out of production) and some ancillary items, ranging from the engine facility to a whitewashed outhouse.

      The in/out operation is accomplished by using a push/pull train configuration. At the start, the loads are left in the Factory spur, accessed through the turnout at the rear of the layout, with the engine and the empties sitting on the oval. The train then leaves the factory spur heading for the Quarry spur with the engine shoving the empties. It proceeds around the oval as many times as desired.

      When it arrives at the Quarry spur (which is the Factory spur, but approached from the other direction), the empties are swapped out with the loads. The train then leaves the Quarry spur going in the opposite direction, with the engine pulling the loads and heads back to the Factory spur.

      The train will approach and depart the Quarry spur through "railroad rural" scenery on the left third of the layout. It will approach and depart the Factory spur through "industrial urban" scenery on the right third of the layout. Instead of using a scenic divider as on the Pentawan Railway, the middle third will have a detailed, but neutral scene that provides a visual transition.


      • #18
        Can I offer you some more trackplans


        • #19
          Thanks shortliner,

          There seems to be no end of small size layout designs, but I will stick with "unpretentious, but fulfilling." Upsizing an HO or N design often does not work.

          While On30, in theory, uses HO track, the width of the equipment may require wider track centers in yards and on curves and there will be different clearance points for the turnouts. The large size of O-scale buildings may require the adjustment of spurs, sidings and yards. Just something to consider.

          All the best,



          • #20
            As the layout is relatively small, train operations will soon become, as stated previously, "kind of same-ish." To forestall ennui, parts of the scenery and some of the rolling stock can be changed prototypically to provide variety. Unless otherwise noted, all locos and rolling stock are supplied by Bachmann. Storage space for the scenery items and the extra rolling stock is conveniently provided by the under the layout shelves of the pedestal.

            The nameless narrow gauge railway transports raw materials from local sources to the Factory building, which takes up a good part of the right third of the layout. The Factory loading dock forms the border between the "industrial urban" right third of the layout and the neutral middle third. The border between the "railroad rural" left third of the layout and the middle third is much less defined.

            A brick paved shipping and receiving yard, which abuts the Factory loading dock, forms the bulk of the layout's middle third. A grade crossing intersects the yard's driveway at the front edge of the layout, thereby providing a good opportunity to hone one's whistle blowing skills. It also conceals an under the track magnetic uncoupler.

            Right behind the brick paved yard is space for a vignette that reflects the type of business that is being conducted at the generic Factory building. The details of the vignette and those in the yard provide the visual transition between the left and right thirds of the layout. Visible in the distance is the never changing engine facility.

            As the vignettes are pretty far back from the front edge of the layout, a wheelchair user may need some help with them. Lowering the layout height a couple of inches may provide a solution.

            Like many industrial railways, this one does not connect to the standard gauge railroad network. Nevertheless, a station and a team track (out of sight and not modeled) are both available nearby.

            Here is the back-story for the layout:

            A little past the turn of the last century, some might call it the Edwardian Era, Owen Cerberus MacArthur Thurdy created a small industrial empire. It was built around firebrick and plywood. As was common at the time, these modestly successful operations relied on narrow gauge railways. His empire started with the manufacturing of building and paving bricks from local clay deposits. For that he acquired a hand-me-down, thirty inch gauge locomotive. It was a tiny Porter 0-4-0, wood burning saddle tanker.

            Layout Operations Phase 1:

            To fire the bricks, Thurdy built a pair of wood burning kilns (these were commercially made O-scale plaster castings, but I do not believe that they are still available). The two kilns, their unique square chimney (salvaged from a Walthers HO factory kit), stacks of cordwood and some ancillary items comprise a convincing vignette for Phase 1.

            Eventually, the local clay pits were exhausted, as was the tiny Porter, so plans were put into motion to change the operation to making refractory firebricks. Business projections were good and to augment the old kilns a set of larger, coal fired kilns were built behind the factory (as they are hidden from view the coal fired kilns are not modeled, but their imagined presence does play a role).

            Firebricks are made from a particular type of sandstone, known as ganister rock. A workable deposit was secured a couple of miles from the Factory and a railway line was built. As the run was too long for the original locomotive, a larger Porter saddle tanker was acquired; this time it was a coal burning 0-4-2. It was to haul back and forth, several small side dump cars between the new quarry and the Factory and this is the operation that is modeled. (Commercially made cast plaster inserts are used to model the ganister rock in the dump cars.)

            Because the ganister rock deposit is located in an isolated area, it became necessary to provide transportation for the quarry workers. An obsolete, city transit horse car body was acquired and converted to railway use (this is a bashed O-scale Hawk cable car kit -- see my previous topic: A Unique On30 Passenger Car).

            As the passenger car is only needed on the first and last runs of the day, it spends much of its time sitting on a yard track at the Factory, where it serves as a lunchroom for the workers. Its on-again/off-again daily usage creates variety in what is normally an Alpha to Omega and back again process.

            The coal for the new locomotive and the new kilns is delivered in carload lots to the unseen team track and then transported to the Factory by horse drawn wagons and, later, trucks. Wagons and trucks are also used to transport the firebricks made at the Factory to the standard gauge station. This is indicated by posing appropriate transportation models in the brick paved Factory yard.

            Layout Operations Phase 2:

            This represents the second part of the Owen Thurdy empire, the manufacturing of plywood. Plywood had been around since the Civil War and it had found niche markets in construction a boat building.

            The great potential that plywood had in the new and expanding field of aeronautics prompted Thurdy to diversify. This venture also allowed the frugal businessman to reuse the rails and the locomotive from the firebrick operation, which were made redundant by the construction of a new and longer railway (Layout Operations Phase 3).

            At the time, plywood was a custom, small batch industry, with each batch requiring an assortment of hard and soft woods. For the manufacturing process, the logs need to be within a range of diameters and also of a specified length. This is reflected in the modeled loads (the "logs" are courtesy of an old forsythia bush the once occupied my front yard).

            Train operations are often casual, depending on the demand at the Factory. The logs are ordered, as needed, from the owner of several second growth woodlots (which are not modeled). They are delivered to the end of the line (the spur behind the Factory building) and loaded on waiting bunk type cars (originally marketed by AHM, but now out of production).

            When the order is complete, the recycled 0-4-2 and a set of empties venture forth over the line. The logs are hauled to the Factory where most of them are immediately put to use; however, same are temporarily stored. The resulting log piles, a Jill Poke unloader and a small crane make up a convincing Phase 2 vignette.

            Miscellaneous logs are also delivered to the Factory by wagons and trucks and then dumped for sorting in the brick paved yard, giving that scene a quite different look. As with the firebricks, wagons and trucks are also used to ship out the plywood.

            Layout Operations Phase 3 and Phase 4 are to come.


            • #21

              and of course you could always interject a bit of levity:


              • #22
                Thanks southpier,

                The first site was first rate. A nice layout and a good tutorial.

                As for the second video, all I can say is YIKES!!


                • #23
                  The shelving unit has arrived!

                  In order to get the desired pedestal footprint, a five shelf unit needed to be purchased. Some of the shelving units are made to metric system dimensions and come out annoyingly small when measured in actual inches, despite what is advertised or stamped on the box. However, this unit is essentially right on the money.

                  The model number is SHE24365B and it is being offered by Seville Classics, Inc. ( It is one of the few units that comes equipped with industrial style swiveling wheels. Their diameter is three inches, assuring ease of rolling on both bare and carpeted floors.

                  This unit is available, on-line, from Home Depot and it presently qualifies for free shipping to one's home. As the weight of the boxed unit is about seventy pounds, the free shipping adds up to appreciable savings, plus it saves the drudgery of transporting the unit home from the store.

                  Construction of the pedestal is relatively easy. Read and follow the instructions that come with the unit and build just the bottom half, using three of the shelves. As the natural tendency is to move the pedestal by tugging on its top shelf, which may cause it to pop off, a minor modification is recommended.

                  Once everything is put together at the right height, drill a small hole, diagonally, through each outside corner of the top shelf, the underlying plastic inserts and the side of the stanchions. Inserting a bolt or a self-tapping screw, a number four or six will do, through each of these corner holes will keep the top shelf in place.

                  A great thing about these units is how the shelves and, therefore, the height of the layout can be adjusted in one inch increments. Out of the box, the stanchions are thirty-six inches long, to which the wheel assemblies add another four inches. The layout itself adds two more inches for a combined height of forty-two inches. If this it too high, the pre-marked stanchions can be trimmed with a hacksaw.

                  As the four corners and the front and rear edges of the shelves are slightly raised, a standard sheet of foam core board, the white stuff from the craft store (about $3), twenty inches by thirty inches by three sixteenths of an inch, glued to middle of the underside of the layout will act as a lightweight shim.

                  Perhaps this is a good time to discuss project costs. In round numbers, the delivered shelving unit was $150, which breaks down to $30 a shelf. Three of the shelves and half of the stanchions will be used for the wheeled pedestal, which brings the project cost to some $90.

                  For the basic layout, a four by eight sheet of two inch foamboard plus a tube of adhesive, will run about $35, but not all of it will be used up. Masonite for the fascia boards, plus attaching hardware, will be about another $15. Therefore, the total cost for the basic layout and pedestal assembly should be around $150.

                  By employing the domestic equivalent of creative accounting, the remaining $60 of the shelf unit cost can be amortized by using the remaining two shelves and the leftover stanchions to build a sturdy, standalone unit, three feet wide by two feet deep and three feet high, which will be suitable for any number of applications around the home.


                  • #24
                    While waiting for my LHS to restock scenery supplies, let us take a look at layout operations. Along with running trains in circles, I also like to do switching. By that I do not mean those frustrating puzzle switching scenarios, such as the classic Timesaver. I am talking about prototypical road switching, employing the momentum and braking features found on many present day DCC controllers.

                    A lot of model railroaders seem to be skittish about doing layout switching in this manner. I get the impression that many would be happy using the Timesaver's primitive and very low-tech, center off reversing switch.

                    For example, the recently introduced SoundTraxx Tsunami2 added a new "switching" function (F14) that not only halves the running speed, it also discombobulates any momentum settings that have been programmed in. It provides the operator with the DCC equivalent of the "Direct Drive" setting found on many old DC analog momentum throttles. Nevertheless, I will stick with using momentum and braking effects.

                    In the real world, when setting off or picking up cars, a crewman climbs down to ground level and throws the turnouts, couples and uncouples the cars, applied and releases the handbrakes and tends to the various parts of the airbrake system to make it functional. After completing his various tasks, he then walks back to the engine and climbs on. As a result, it takes about five to fifteen minutes to complete each switching move.

                    With model railroading almost everything is, in some way, shape or form, remotely controlled or semi-automatic in its operation, so each switching move takes about a minute to complete. Therefore, when conducting momentum modified running and switching the following times apply.

                    It takes about twenty minutes to complete the moves required for a freight only trip from the factory to the quarry, swapping the waiting loads for the arriving empties, running back to the factory, swapping the waiting empties for the arriving loads, and then spotting the locomotive at the engine facility for servicing before the next trip. Add an extra ten minutes for mixed train operations, with a passenger car attached to the read of the freight. These times depend on the running speed of the train and do not include any extra laps made around the oval.

                    It should take about two hours to complete the manifold moves required for a full, Phase 1 operating session (see previous posting), with a passenger car joining the freight cars on only the first and last trips, plus two, freight only trips in between. Once again, the time depends on the running speed of the train and does not include any extra laps made around the oval.

                    As two hours of operation is getting close to the current limit of my attention span, the Phase 1 operating session works out well. On the other hand, if one wants a pleasant diversion to while away some idle moments, just run the train around the oval - unpretentious, but fulfilling.


                    • #25
                      As the layout is already small and may even get smaller, the basic Bachmann Dynamis System (Model 36505) made a good choice for DCC control. The system has been around for a while and the one for the layout was purchased, new in the box, for $99.99.

                      As the Dynamis System uses a "wall wart" power supply, it lacks a master on/off switch, which means the layout AC supply not only needs surge suppression, it needs to be conveniently turned on and off by a physically compromised person. A number of suitable, multiple outlet, corded power strips are available that are remotely controlled by RF or IR wireless links as well as tethered switches.

                      Since a suitable, always on, corded power strip is on hand, a remote control AC outlet, marketed for use with outdoor holiday decorations, provides an unusual way to turn the power strip on and off. As it operates by radio signals from a key chain transmitter, the RC unit can be plugged into an indoor wall outlet located almost anywhere, even behind furniture, while the layout power strip plugs into it, either directly or through an extension cord.

                      However, unlike the encoded remote for your automobile, this simple unit will be affected if a duplicate transmitter is used within "earshot" of this setup. Nevertheless, the price is right for experimenting (about $10 at Home Depot).

                      Since the layout will be operated from a stationary, sitting position, the IR wireless controller link, a hallmark of the Dynamis System, works quite well. As the Dynamis Command Station has its IR module mounted externally to its top, the Command Station will be positioned so it is hanging upside down from the pedestal's top shelf, directly in front of the operator's position, thereby ensuring a very short, line-of-sight link with the wireless handheld controller.

                      The somewhat quirky controller that comes with the Dynamis System is equipped with a small joystick in place of a throttle knob, as well as soft-touch pushbuttons, which prompted a simple modification for both present and future use.

                      Small, self sticking, soft plastic feet are installed on the bottom of the controller so it stays stationary when placed on a smooth surfaced lapboard. This temporarily converts the handheld controller to "hands free" operation. When the controller is ergonomically positioned so both hands rest naturally on the lapboard, the operator's fingertips can actuate the functions that are applicable to running the layout.

                      Your questions and comments are always welcome.


                      • #26
                        In 2005 I visited a narrow-gauge steam-hauled 'clay to the brick works' operation in China. Their unloading operations were faster than you propose, but not in a way that's practical to model: Without stopping (a switchman handled the turnout), they flying switched their whole train of side dump cars into the unloading spur while the loco escaped down the main track 30 or so yards. By the time the little 0-8-0 tender engine had reversed back to the turnout, the unloading gang had already tripped the levers of at least 6 of the dozen or so cars. IIRC, in 10 minutes the train was ready to start back to the pits.


                        • #27
                          I believe I saw a video of the operation on YouTube. Great stuff! If only DCC could give a cut of cars the momentum it provides our engines, we could do flying switches too.

                          All the best,



                          • #28
                            It is now time to make and make and fit the fascia boards.

                            As the front of the layout will protrude rather far into the proposed living space, a modification was made. Eight inches was measured back from the two projecting corners along the front and sides. The corners were then trimmed off at the resulting angle, thereby easing the intrusion, while leaving adequate space for trackside scenery. While almost ant cutting tool will do the job, a ten inch, flush cut pull saw (Harbor Freight No. 94722) was used for all of the foamboard cuts on this project.

                            The XPS foamboard is one of the more bizarre materials that I have worked with. It has sufficient strength to hold itself together in a specific shape, but not much more than that, hence the need for protective fascia boards around the edges of the layout. However, as the layout is made entirely of two inch thick foamboard, there are no solid surfaces for attaching them.

                            Gluing on the fascia boards with PL300 adhesive is one solution, but this will require some means of temporary mechanical attachment until the blue goo cures, which can take several days. As it is only a surface adhesive when used with the foamboard and the attached fascia boards will be subjected to dynamic stresses and strains whenever the layout is moved, it was decided to devise a permanent attachment method, with the adhesive optional.

                            After a search of the internet, it appears that there are no recommended practices for doing what needs to be done, so some experimenting was carried out. It seems the foamboard does possess a limited amount of compression strength, which could be exploited in attaching the fascia boards.

                            At first, ordinary toggle bolts, buried deep in the foamboard, were considered. However, in the end, "E-Z Ancor" brand products provided a surface mounting solution. They are available at many chain hardware stores and their website is While the website refers to product by the name STUD SOLVER, the store packaging simply says Drywall and Stud Anchor. The item numbers are 29503 for the four pack and 25216 for the coast saving twenty pack.

                            The selected anchors use sturdy, one-piece zinc die-cast inserts. They have a deep and aggressive outside thread that screws into the foamboard and an internal hole that accepts the sheet metal screws included with the anchors. Do not use the cheaper, but similar looking plastics anchors. They are designed to split apart in use, which may cause catastrophic damage to the weak foamboard.

                            While the following step is not necessary for their intended drywall use, it is imperative for using the anchors with foamboard because the internal hole is not initially threaded. If the step is omitted, the insert will keep screwing itself ever deeper into the layout side when the sheet metal screw is used to attach the fascia. When the step is correctly done, the turning force needed to mount the fascia will be less than the force needed to break through the foamboard's compression strength. This strength can be judged when the turning of the inserts becomes noticeably tight (snug is more like it) as they are fully screwed into the edge of the layout.

                            ATTENTION! Before screwing each insert into the layout, hold on to the insert with a pair of slip-joint pliers. Thread the sheet metal screw into the insert until about a quarter inch of thread is still showing and then back the screw out. If the screw goes in too far, it will deform the end of the insert, which will then not screw straight into the layout edge.

                            The edge of the layout consists of two layers of foamboard, with a layer of blue goo in between. When cured, the adhesive acquires the consistency of chewed bubble gum, which is physically stronger than the adjoining foamboard. As this makes it nearly impossible to accurately install the anchors on the joint line between the layers, the inserts are installed in the middle of each layer. In theory, as six to eight anchors are used with each major section (the anchors cost about forty cents each and thirty were used in total), the attached fascia boards should resist whatever shear and tensile forces that are likely to be encountered, despite the inherent weakness of the foamboard.

                            Using a simple cardboard template for uniformity, the mounting holes were first located on the fascia boards and then pre-drilled. By aligning the fascia to the edge of the layout and holding it briefly in place, the hole locations were transferred by sticking something pointy, such as a sharpened No. 2 pencil, through the fascia holes, leaving a dimple in the foamboard. After the locations were transferred, the fascia holes were reamed out to make a loose fit for the anchor sheet metal screws.

                            Originally, single sided Masonite was considered for the layout fascia. However, the final choice was the double sided, 3/16 inch thick white marker board (926-009), available at Home Depot in handy two foot by four foot sheets.

                            Using a table saw set up with a rip fence, the marker board was cut into uniform four foot long, four inch wide strips. Due to the width of the saw blade cut, this makes five identical strips and a narrower leftover piece. The same table saw, using its miter gauge set to ninety degrees, was also used to cut the strips to their proper length. The modest, home shop table saw and a handheld electric drill were the only power tools used on the project.

                            The layout requires a full, four foot long fascia strip for the back, a thirty-two inch strip for the front, twenty-eight inch pieces for the two sides and eleven inch fitter pieces for the angled front corners (they use only two anchors each). These dimensions are only approximate and the individual layout pieces were cut to fit.

                            Devising a lightweight means for mounting the backdrop is the next part of the layout building process.


                            • #29
                              Dan, Your information is priceless.



                              • #30
                                Thanks ed.

                                There is an addition to mounting the fascia boards. After the initial fitting of the fascia boards to the layout, they were removed for painting. While they were off, I unscrewed the anchor inserts and put a dab of leftover PL300 into each hole and screwed the inserts back in. The adhesive squeezed around the inserts and filled any gaps in the foamboard holes. It took about two weeks for the blue goo to cure in this oddball application, but now that it has the inserts are held solidly in place.