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Builder 2010
30 Apr 12,, 21:51
Well... dear readers,

As agreed, I'm starting a new thread on the building of my model railroad. Since I have more than five pictures, I'll make this a multi-post thread for today's session. These initial posts are lengthy ones since I'm laying the groundwork for the story that follows so please bear with me.

This railroad has a history. I was into trains as a kid (like many of you) and had a collection of Lionel trains and equipment. My dad built the platform with me and then it was up to me to go on from there. Here's the layout circa 1958. I made the mountain out of screen wire and paper maché and it stunk the house up for a week. My mom was a good sport and liked that I was doing creative stuff and staying out of trouble.

I bought all my stuff used or at after-holiday closeouts. I made some of the buildings from scratch. The trestle in the back was the start of a second level, but it never got finished. It was fun to build though.

The kid at the controls was not me... it was a cousin. As usual, upon turning 16 and getting my drivers license, my Fender guitar, and then girls (in that order), the trains took a back seat and we're dismantled prior to my going off to college.


They stayed in boxes through my kids' childhood since we lived in a townhouse without a basement and a one-car garage. I built lots of models in that garage, but the trains stayed in their boxes. My son was into Legos and computing big time and didn't show the interest that I had at his age. My grandkids are a completely different story and are very excited about rebuilding the trains.

In 1992, I sold all the trains to a local train store feeling that "I would never get back into trains!" Famous last words... that's like my daughter writing in her diary (we didn't read it...she told us about it) that she would "never get into a serious relationship again with a man" the day before she met the man she's been married to for 12 years.

In 1995, I cleared out the basement in our single home in Newtown, PA and found there was enough room to build trains, and my son and I had started an n-gauge train layout just before he was off to college. We built the L-girders and legs and designed the track plan, and then he was gone and the frame sat there for 6 years gathering spiders. So, I foolishly thought that I would get n-gauge trains, only to find out that I really couldn't see them. The day my son was taking his M-Cat tests, I decided to go to a large train store in Broomall, PA while waiting for him to finish. I was thinking about going into HO, but then I saw them... "Them" being what happened to O'gauge trains in the intervening years from 1958 to 1995.

Computers had come to trains. Model O'gauge locomotives have the equivalent of an Intel x-86 series computer in them and reproduce sounds and actions that are amazing. And, I can see them! O'gauge engines have heft, they're not too fragile, and the kids like them too. So I started all over again.

I convinced my wife to let me have a budget so I didn't need to hold a justification hearing for every purchase. That worked well!

I bought several locomotives and cars, plus a couple pieces of track and had them sitting on shelves as I was designing the railroad of my dreams, and then I was asked by my company to move to Germany. These were my first two engines, a Pennsy GG1 electric and the very large and strong, Pennsy J1-a. From the get go, I was pushing myself to a design with the largest curves I could swing. Most of the engines I buy are large ones.


That was it for the trains, or so I thought. But the house in Germany had a nice, bright, heated basement with a room that was 13 X 29 feet. I asked and got approval about moving the trains back to the USA if I were to build a layout there. I had the floor plan of the Newtown basement. Did I mention that I was allowed to keep my US house vacant during my German stay. So I designed the German layout to fit in both places.

Once in Germany, I started buying American train stuff and getting it to Germany. I bought one locomotive and had it shipped, but the duty was 30%. I wasn't going to resell any of it and in a little over three years was bringing it all back, so why was I paying duty? I became a smuggler, sneaking in contraband train stuff in dufflebags full of the stuff. I could do this because of how Germany handled customs for international flights. We would fly through Munich, and then take a local Deutsche BA flight to Düsseldorf. They didn't make you take you bags off the international flight for customs before getting on the connecting flight, like we do in the USA. Instead, it would be loaded onto the local flight without passing through customs. And once it arrived in D'dorf, as a local flight, there was no customs officials waiting for it. As a result, I brought in tons of track and cars.

The layout was 21 X 13 feet. I designed it to be disassembled and re-built. All joints between Ply subroadbed panels were doweled as well as screwed so they would realign perfectly. Wire joints between panels were all of quick disconnect, European-style terminal strips.


The shippers wrapped and crated everything, including some raw plywood pieces. These guys would even pack trashcans with the trash still in it!

When I reassembled in Pennsy, I had more room, especially if I turned the layout on an angle (thinking outside the box). Therefore, I added 6 feet of length to it making it 27 X 13 feet. In this picture you can see all of the layout parts wrapped in bubblewrap. And you can see the Lally columns in the middle of the room. The room was about 25 feet square, but there was a lot of stuff in it.


As planned it dropped right into the spot missing the two Lally columns. This is a panoramic picture so please ignore the distortion. I had just completed putting on the fascia boards around the perimeter when I got laid off and we had to consider moving.


I papered the ceiling with Tyvek. The reverse side has no DuPont printing on it and it helped keep the dust off and brightened up the space. It's a "poor man's dropped ceiling". I'm not sure I'm going to do it in the new space.

When we decided to move to Louisville, KY, I knew that the new house was going to have a much bigger and better space with no columns. I also knew that I was going to be able to enlarge and change the layout to both grow into the space AND to eliminate some trouble spots in its design.

As a result, I decided to scrap the subroadbed ply and the foam rubber roadbed under the track. It was glued with Liquid Nails and removing it was a pain in the butt. It also saved some moving money at $50 per 100 pounds. But I also knew that it was going to cost $$$ to rebuild in the new space and got agreement from my wife that I was going to incur this cost.

So today, the lumber arrived and I moved all the dimensional material into the basement. I will start another thread for this part.

30 Apr 12,, 21:52
Woot, woot... happy times ahead.

01 May 12,, 00:15
This is gonna be cool!

Builder 2010
01 May 12,, 03:49
Well... I hope I disappoint any of you guys. My previous thread sort of set the bar kinda high...

So to quote Scriptures and I hope I don't offend anyone, "In the beginning there was heaven and Earth and then light, etc.

So here's the "void" Please note, this is another panoramic shot and my basement walls are not actually bent...


So look at that gorgeous space. Forty five feet and not a pole in sight. All my life I wanted a house with a basement like this. And what's even a better, the rest of the house is pretty cool too.

And here's what we have now.

A pile of lumber in the garage:


A bigger pile of wood in the basement: Some of this, the dimensional lumber, appeared in the garage pic.


And in a few months, this will turn into a 39 X 15, living, breathing, model railroad that will allow the operation of O'gauge trains with at least 20 cars behind a big engine.

I'm using a process called L-girder. It was developed specifically for model railroad construction by Lynn Westwood about 40 years ago. It's advantages are:

Little lumber use vs. strength
Long spans between legs making it easier to get underneath to do stuff
Easy to change design and/or elevation after framing is complete
Use lower quantity of fasteners for a given size
Lightweight, can be moved if desired. It employs smaller cross-section lumber which does the work of heavier. For example, 2 X 2 for the legs instead of larger. This size can take large loads straight down as long as it's braced deeply.

The L-girder is a 1 X 4 web with a 1 X 2 glued on top with 1 inch hanging over. This accomplishes two things: it makes the 1 X 4 much stronger, actually a structural member, and it provides a convenient flange to attach the joists with lie across the tops of the girders.

Here's a drawing I made to show how the pieces go together.


And lastly, he's another drawing I concocted showing how I'm going to mount the girders to the entire back wall. Instead of the leg assemblies shown above, it uses a cantilevered bracket. The brackets are held to the wall with Tapcon concrete screws, and I've include a sway brace for at least the pieces at the ends. With the legs, there are long diagonals going width and long ways that make the assembly very stiff, like an aircraft structure rather than furniture. On the wall brackets, the live load will be well covered, but it could be push sideways. The sway brace will protect this until the plywood roadbed is in place. The span for the 1 X 4 L-girder will be 8 feet. It could actually be longer.


The joists are held to the girders with one 2.5" screw at each end. If you have to move them, you can even when the ply wood is one top of them. Sometimes you need to reposition the joists to make room for some modification. Another feature, is that all screws are inserted from underneath. Even when covered in scenery you can still reach all the screws. That's also why you glue the flange to the web instead of screwing it. Invariably, you will try to fasten something and run into a buried screw. With glue that can't happen. You put the glue on the edge of the 1 X 4 and place the 1 X 2 on top. Clamp it temporarily, and use screws every foot or so to hold it all nice and tight. When the glue dries, remove the screws. They're not needed any more. The whole assembly is quite strong and can hold me, a full-grown, maybe a little overly-grown, person.

Next post, I'll talk about the design and how I'm making the ply roadbed panels.

Builder 2010
02 May 12,, 02:30
Let's take a look at the design. This diagram shows all the components making up the framework. The lower right corner will be the entry point to the inside of layout which will be kept open as much as possible. One of the tenets of model RR design is don't put track further away than you can reach. For n-gauge you can put a lot of track in a two-foot wide space. For O'gauge two feet is nothing. Very quickly the width of working area exceeds my arm's length. Also, the layout mean height is 42" above the floor. For little kids this is over their heads, so for them you provide stools and steps to stand on. But for us older folks it makes it possible to get underneath and work, and the trains look better and better the closer they get to eye level. The rear track in the back goes up 5 inches higher.

Here's the track plan:


And here's the structural plan.


This is what it could look like. I've been toying with the idea of having the town on a higher level than the track and have the train station underground like it is in many cities. While this opens it up for some neat modeling ideas... like building the underground platforms, lighting, etc., it make for some operating difficulties since there would be many switches hidden from view.


And here's all the ply pieces laid out on 4 X 8 patterns. It took some time to get them fit.


As you can see, each of these ply pieces is unique and fits to each other like a puzzle.

Here's one set enlarged.


The way I did this in Germany was to develop a set of X-Y coordinate locations from one corner of the sheet for every intersection, arc, etc., and then lay them out on the wood by hand. Then I cut them out with a saber saw. I was alone in Germany at the time, and couldn't handle a 4X8 sheet down the cellar steps, so I did all this is the large foyer in the house. My wife was back in the States at the time. If she were there, I'm sure I would have been doing this outside... it was Winter.

This time, I wanted to try a more high-tech solution. I have a computer projector and my artist nephew suggested projecting the images full-size directly on the ply, tracing the edges, and then cutting it out. This seemed like a genius idea! That is until we tried it tonight.

Between the sheet of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) being bowed, and the projected image not being square, the distortion looked too much to make an accurate representation. I am unable to haul the sheets into the basement since we have 90º bend in an enclosed stairway so this work has to take place in the garage.

My friend helped me move the wood around and suggested that I project on large sheets of paper taped on the basement wall, making sure that all was flat and square, trace the image, and then paste the paper on the ply to use as a template. I'm going to look into this method. If that doesn't work, I can always go to plan C which is create all those X-Y coordinates on the computer and lay it all out by hand. Needless to say, this was a bit disappointing.

So we were able to stack all the sheets up against the garage wall with enough room for my wife can get her car in and open the doors.

I need to find a place to get wide sheets of paper, cheap.


Builder 2010
03 May 12,, 19:15
I decided that going with Plan C (laying out each piece the old fashioned way) would be the most practical way to proceed and it would incur no more additional expense. I'm going to do the layout and cutting off the garage floor on sawhorses. Here's what the fully dimensioned part looks like.


Even though there are three or more pieces to be cut out of each 4 X 8 panel, for the purposes of the drawing, I've isolate each piece. All pieces are laid out in x-y coordinates with the origin in the bottom left corner.

I began to worry about the curve centers that fell off the edge of the sheet since it would mean that I'd need to lay another piece of ply next to the one being laid out in order to have a place to put the center of the Rototape. So I got material to build a second set of sawhorses. Then I realized that some of the distances would be too far to reach so I'd have to crawl on top of the wood which got me back to doing the whole thing on the garage floor.

Then last night I got another idea. Since all my curves are either parts of 80", 88" or 104" circles resulting from using 88" and 96" track circle diameters, all I need to do is cut out some circle arc templates to use for all the curves and wouldn't have to worry about the off-sheet center points. Since I'm marking the X-Y coordinates for the start and end of each arc, I just have to rest the arc between those to points and scribe it. In this way I won't need another sheet on the second set of sawhorses, or have to crawl around on top of the sheets.

I'll let you know how this works out.

I also bought the Tapcon screws to fasten the angle brackets to the basement wall. I will start construction in the back, and get those platform pieces in place. They will serve as a construction bench for the parts that follow.

Builder 2010
15 May 12,, 02:43
Since it was suggested to paint the walls a nice sky blue before putting a railroad in front of them, I decided to prepare the basement walls. There were lots... and I mean lots of holes in the poured concrete. I bought concrete patch and went to town. It took two work sessions to do them all and two tubs of patch. I only patched as far down as I plan to paint, and I only am going to paint as far down as the layout is going to be. It will be 47" high at the back wall. This saves labor and paint. No one will care what it looks like below the layout. The whole thing is an illusion anyway.

Next step will be to prime it with concrete primer, then Home Depot Behr concrete paint including primer.


The patches are actually in relief of the surface so instead of holes, I now have lumps. But the lumps will be easier to paint.

I marked the floor for the tripod so I'll be taking a series of construction pictures that could become a nice time-lapse series.

Builder 2010
17 May 12,, 00:38
Nothing much to report today other than using concrete primer on the above walls. On Friday I'll put on the sky blue. I trying to find cloud painting templates. I know they exist since another RR acquaintance used them on his layout. I also am finishing the design of the swing-out section for inner-layout access. This is an alternative to a lift-up panel. I will be cheaper to build (I think... less hardware, more wood). I'll post the new design after I finish it tonight.

Gun Grape
17 May 12,, 01:10
Really like your well thought out plywood cut plan. Min waste, max value for the buck.

I don't like tapcon screws for holding anything. They pull out pretty easily and will loosen due to weather changes. Wedge anchors are my choice of fasteners. They are a bit more expensive. But a few years from now you won't go to the basement and find the layout on the floor.

Builder 2010
17 May 12,, 01:33
Hmmm... I haven't used them and can return them to Home Depot. Do they sell the "wedge anchors"? I have a serious hammer drill so I'll be able to put anything in. I really don't want the layout on the floor, ever... or at least until I'm dead and my widow is selling it all off or selling the house. I'll look into it.

As to the ply design... thanks! It's not easy to do but it's a lot easier to do than cutting the ply wrong. It's all dependent on managing the scale settings on the imaging programs. It starts will RR Track layout software. I save the layout as a bitmap, which then needs to be cropped in Corel Photopaint. When I bring the image into CorelDraw I know exactly the size of the layout image and stretch it on the page to be that exact size in scale. I can then draw the ply pieces with the layout directly underneath. I limit the size of each piece to the 8 foot sheet width, and then play around with the best fit. The problem comes when I want to make a change. For example, in one of the iterations I added a second switch on the top siding and caused a significant change in a big piece which now changed what other pieces could be fit on that sheet. This caused a cascade that involved adding an 11th sheet and changing five other ones. Domino effect in action.

17 May 12,, 21:14
a couple ideas/questions

Rolls of paper might solve your large sheet needs - I used to get rolls from a local web printer with a small amount left on them - from when they changed rolls. They have rolls of paper for other purposes too, like masking and wrapping. A large print shop is also a good resource for small quantities of large high quality sheets - they often have a little left over, that isn't enough to use for their purposes and will sell it or even give it away.

How are you going to change the flourescent lights near the wall when they burn out? You may want to consider moving them or coming up with a way to change them before you get the layout fixed under them.

Builder 2010
18 May 12,, 03:07
That's a terrific idea. I probably don't need it now, with the layout idea pretty well settled, but it's really good to know for the future. The inside of the layout will be open so all the lights will be reachable in one way or the other.

I was finished at work early today so I painted the walls sky blue. The patches do show up, but the viewing distance will be more than 10 feet and I'm going to paint some clouds (bought masks yesterday that work nicely with spray can paint.)

Here's the latest shot.


I'm not working tomorrow either or Monday for that matter so I'm going to start laying out and cutting wood.

18 May 12,, 04:48
Really like your well thought out plywood cut plan. Min waste, max value for the buck.

I don't like tapcon screws for holding anything. They pull out pretty easily and will loosen due to weather changes. Wedge anchors are my choice of fasteners. They are a bit more expensive. But a few years from now you won't go to the basement and find the layout on the floor.

Second grape on the use of Tapcons. Good for shear force, but don't hold well when leveraged. Wedge anchors a good choice, or you could use 1/2" all-thread imbedded in sleeves and epoxy. Look for specs on attaching deck ledger boards to concrete walls.

Super pro design work. What cad program are you using, or did I miss that in your description? Anyway, you're gonna have fun. Hell of a basement. You should have painted the wall gray before you painted it blue. Still looks good.

Builder 2010
18 May 12,, 20:02
I took your advice and took the Tapcons back and bought 1/2" wedge anchors. The house will fall down before the trains come out of the wall. I also had to buy a carbide hammer-drll bit. The bolts cost less, but the drill pushed it higher. I use CorelDraw X5. It's a vector drawing program like Adobe Illustrator. It has precision features that let it do mechanical drawings, but without the specificity of a CAD program. I'm also learning to do precision 3D work with Google SketchUp.

Builder 2010
19 May 12,, 00:50
Well... I bit the bullet and got into the garage to start cutting out the OSB roadbed pieces. I built another set of sawhorses just to hold a second 4 X 8 next to the one I'm laying out. Many of the curves have centers that fall off the primary sheet. I clamped two pieces together so I could locate the off-sheet center point with my Rotape compass rule.

Doubling up the sheet's a bit of a pain since I can't reach all the way to the center, but if all goes according to plan, I will only have to double up the sheets this one time since the pieces I cut have the radii that I'm using for all the rest of the curved pieces and will serve as templates. I just have to locate the starting and ending points of the curve, hold the correct radius piece up to those points and then trace the curve without having to use the Rotape. In fact, I'm going to hammer in some brads at these end points so I just push the curve up to the brads and trace away. It should speed things up since it took longer to lay out the piece than to cut it.

I laid out and cut all the pieces of sheet A. That was five pieces including two large sweeping curves. My computer locations came out very close to the real world and that was a relief. I used the circular saw to do the straight cuts and my 30 year-old Sear Craftsman saber saw for all the curves. That saw is USA made with an all aluminum housing, variable speed trigger and build like a truck. It just keeps going and going. My circular saw is new and is a Skil with the laser alignment thingy (that's a technical term).

I was glad to see how clean cut sheet edges are. I was worried about using OSB instead of plywood, but so far so good. My original layout used plywood (sperrholz) that I bought in Germany. Their standard lumber is a higher quality than standard US lumber. The ply was 7 layer instead of 5, and was completely knot free.

Funny story here: When I built the first layout in Germany, I laid all of the pieces out based on what I thought a metric-sized plywood sheet would be. I just assumed that they would have something equivalent to a 4 X 8, which I figured was a 1 X 2 meter sheet. I get to the builder's supply store and show the associate the plan, and he claims, "Falsch, falsch!" meaning, "wrong, wrong!", and I ask "Warum?" (why?) so he takes me over to a piece of ply, pulls out his tape and measures it. Guess what? It's a 4 X 8, it just measured in metric. So it comes out to 1.22 X 2.44 meters. So it was "back to the drawing board", literally! It killed another whole week since I was working full-time, and they closed early like all other German businesses with very truncated Saturday hours and no Sunday sales. I had to re-draw all the cutting templates since the sheet size was so different than my assumption. But none of their other dimensional lumber was an English measure shown in metric; they were all true metric sizes. But not the plywood.

It's a bit of a challenge to throw a 4 X 8, 19/32 piece of OSB onto those horses all by myself, but I persisted. It's not that it's so heavy (64 pounds), but it's so unwieldy. My first attempts would have been great on "America's Funniest Home Videos". The saw horse fell over towards me and almost smashed my toe, but almost doesn't count.


I'm keeping all the scrap of a usable size and proportion. There's going to be all sorts of opportunities to use all sorts of pieces of OSB during the construction.

It will get easier going forward since it's always the planning and worrying that seems to take all the mental energy. Once you get into action it becomes easier with each piece. I've spent almost 3 years thinking about this rebuild, and at some point it almost seems like an impossibility.

Also, sheet A was one of the more complicated with 5 pieces. And none of the pieces will have trouble getting down the cellar steps.

19 May 12,, 05:24
So, how are you transferring the shapes from a small piece of paper to full size on the osb?

BTW, you can get 3/4" 7-ply plywood in the US. We use it for high-end cabinets...called stain grade ply.

Builder 2010
19 May 12,, 14:32
Each apex of every point is identified by an X-Y measurement from the origin at the lower-left corner of the OSB. I just use a tape measure to set out each point and connect the dots. For the curves, I use a Rotape, a specialized tape measure with a steel pin that comes out of the center and a pencil lead holder on the end of the tape. You just pull the tape out to the radius you're needing and scribe a big circle. The tape is calibrated from the center pin, so you don't have to worry about the thickness of the case (unlike a standard tape measure).

Because the centers of these curves lie off the sheet in most cases, I had to butt a second sheet up to the one I'm laying out so there was a place for the center point. I'm going to use these first curve pieces as templates going forward so I won't have to use two sheets. Here's what a Rotape looks like.


The hardest part about using this thing was keeping the center point in the OSB while I was drawing the curve 50" away. I finally resorted to lightly hammering the center pin in a little deeper so it would stay put. It would have been much easier with a helper.

As you may recall if you've read this from the first post, I was originally going to project the images onto the OSB using my InFocus PC projector and then just hand-draw around the image, but the results were very disappointing. The images were too distorted to produce an accurate replica and would defeat the whole purpose.

As it is, even if my drawings are perfect, I'm still having to execute those longs cuts with the saber saw. My first curved pieces weren't my best effort. Before using them as templates, I'm going to touch them up with the belt sander. For the templates I'm going to hammer in some brads at the curve start and end points and just bump the template up to the brads and trace. This will be much easier than trying to hold the curve in place over the points which can be many inches apart.

Builder 2010
22 May 12,, 04:50
3 down and only 8 more to go... OSB sheets that is. I got three sheets laid out and cut today. I tried the improved method of using a previously cut piece as a curve template for the next sheet thus avoiding the off-sheet center-point problem. To make it more stable, I hammered in some small nails at the apexes and just bumped the template against them to make the curve. It worked nicely and made it easy for me to do the curves without a helper.


In addition, it was gratifying to see how closely the actual layout conforms to the computer design. Here's a close up of the template after being bumped up against the pins, and how close the curve comes to the sheet edge. Above it is the drawing with the coordinates. Note that the edge of the piece in the drawing touches the edge of the sheet, just as the real one does. It's within a 1/4". The sharpie that I'm using makes a line over and 1/8" wide so being within a quarter inch is quite acceptable.


Here's the third sheet completely laid out prior to cutting. It's a relief to know that I'm not making fine furniture. Any blemishes, or not-so-hot cutting will ultimately be concealed under layers of track, roadbed, ballast, paint, ground cover, foliage, etc.


And here's a closer look.


Now for some fun... I'm working with the grandkids to build a large jigsaw puzzle on the floor of all the sub-roadbed pieces to get an idea of how it all fits in the room compared to all the plans. My 10 year-old said it more "sawing than jigging".

As the time goes on this picture will fill up. Then all I have to do is build the trusses that will hold it all up. The frame construction is more fun than cutting out all these slices.


I have work tomorrow. Will get back to cuttery on Wednesday. At the rate I'm working all the pieces will be cut by the end of next week.

It's kind of funny to go from the battleship with its infinitesimal details and precision, and go to cutting out large chunks of OSB with it's forgiving nature. There was nothing forgiving building that ship.

Builder 2010
24 May 12,, 14:56
I had a very productive day yesterday cutting the layout shapes from 7 sheets of OSB and piling them all up on the garage floor.


I also created quite a bit of scrap, much of it usable. I tossed any pointy pieces, but kept those that were the largest which will be useful in creating splice plates to joint the pieces together.


When I was cutting all this I wore hearing protection, a cheap dust mask and safety goggles. It all worked and was very wise. The only thing I had to keep an I on was where the sawhorses were. I set the circular saw depth to just nick the sawhorse so I could just cut through the OSB without worrying. With the saber saw, I'd cut just up to the sawhorse, then lift the sheet to place the blade on the other side and then continue cutting.

So there's one sheet left.


I finished this much faster than I thought and that's real good since it was my biggest concern. I will need help getting the larger pieces down the basement. Even though I can carry them, there's some tricky curves to negotiate without wrecking the house. My wife has volunteered to help steer.

I'm getting a "Google Malware Error" every time I enter this site over the last couple of days. Anyone else having this problem? What do we do about it?

Builder 2010
26 May 12,, 04:45
I got every cut. The last piece was cut yesterday, then I made many, many trips to the cellar carrying as many pieces as I could myself. I laid them out on floor to see the fit and compared it my Visio drawing. It seems to fit very closely to plan. Here's the layout as it stands now. There are five big pieces missing that my son in law is going to help me carry down tomorrow.


It looks a little foreshortened in this picture. I took it with the iPhone since my "real" camera was left in my daughter's mini-van yesterday. The fit was generally good with all these puzzle pieces except for a few minor problems. All of these problems were the result of my decision to change the intersection angles on the curved pieces. I got the bright idea to make the ends reflect the angle as projected from the center of the arcs they inscribe. This worked okay, except where it didn't. Case in point: see this picture.


The "spider" piece in the middle is the most complex layout of the bunch. The angle on the right side was originally supposed to be vertical just like the large adjacent piece. I neglected this relationship, and enscribed it with the radial line. Unfortunately, the adjacent piece is constrained because it's 8 feet wide and ran edge to edge on the sheet and couldn't be angled outward to conform to the spider. The result is this wedge shaped opening. I will fix it when I go to mount the panels on the framework. I'll scribe the line 2" wide of the right hand piece and cut off the angular part of the spider and put in a splice piece. No problem.

Here's another example of a slight mismatch that I'll fix as I go along.


I checked clearances for the swinging door on the back curve that's going to provide easy access to the inside, and nicely, it clears the Lally column and will give good access to the interior.

Then I woke up this morning at 6:00 a.m. thinking about building the layout. I solved several problems including improving the way I'm going to attach the diagonal braces on the wall brackets, reintroduced my brain to using the water-level to set the level from one extreme part of the layout to another, and lastly, while I wasn't going to put Tyvek on the ceiling like I did in the old house, but reconsidered.

Here's what this looked like.


This is the "poor man's dropped ceiling" and was the idea of my old friend who was the lead vocalist and keyboardist in my 60's rock band, and is an electrical engineer in Oklahoma City. I was looking for a way to stop dust and spiders from invading the layout. Both would raise havoc on models. While the public side of DuPont Tyvek has huge graphics on it, the reverse side is pure white. It's tough and water-resistant. It's easy to install. After stapling to the joists, I use the Tyvek tape to seal the seams. No spiders can get directly in.

So today I went to Home Depot and bought two rolls. Each covers almost 500 sq ft and I have about 750 sq ft to cover. Tomorrow I start the installation.

Here's another tidbit. When the railroad was built in Germany, it had two characteristics. It was "cab control" and was built to be disassembled and put back together easily. The former works like this. My transformer has two separate throttles, right and left. I wanted to be able to run two trains simultaneously anywhere on the layout. This is done by breaking the layout into a series of blocks (in my case 30 or so), and having a single-pole, double-throw toggle for each block. Flip the switch to one side and the right throttle would power that portion of the layout. Switch the toggle to the other side and the left throttle would power that block. Put the switch in the center and that block would be off. This creates a lot of wires, but did give some decent operational flexibility short of full digital control.

Now to the second condition. To make the railroad come apart and go back together again with this cab control feature meant that I installed separating terminal strips at every junction. You can see how many junctions there were, and each had 8 wires on both sides. Not only was this a slow and complex process since every wire entering and leaving each connector had to be tagged, but it introduced more risk in the design AND probably added electrical resistance that wasn't needed. Here's what the underside of one panel on the old layout looked like. This was typical.


If you've ever seen the inside of a pinball machine (the old style) this is what it looked like. It did go back together. If you looked at the other side of this panel, the track and roadbed was attached and completely wired.

On the new layout neither condition will be present. I am going to use modified cab control and won't have to use all those connectors. This layout isn't coming apart until we move (not likely) or I die (hopefully not likely soon), so the wiring can go all the way from the source to the terminus without intermediate connections. This will speed up the building process greatly. I'm also using completely out-and-back wiring to make it ready for Mike's Train House Digital Control System and also Lionel's Trainmaster Control. This allows you to run any number of engines at the same time since they are each addressed individually.

Builder 2010
28 May 12,, 22:20
Just in case you guys ever think I'm a "perfect" hobbyist, here's an example of how I'm not so perfect. Somehow, I laid this piece of roadbed out backwards. As I was bringing in downstairs with my son in law, it seemed wrong somehow. As soon as I got it over the layout I realized what I had done. But it's not completely backwards...only the curved end is on the wrong side. In order to get it to fit...somewhat...I had to turn it over to the rough side. OSB has a smooth side and a rough one. I'm not worried about this part since it's going to be covered, but when I reversed to make the curve fit, the other end was now backwards. I don't have any scrap big enough to remake this piece, but I do have enough to refit the back end and get to mate properly with the large rectangular piece next to it.


This shot shows the right-hand piece overlapping the left. I'll draw a line down the left about two inches off the edge and put in a filler piece. Notice the right edge going down towards the right


Here's the piece in the drawing showing that edge goes down to the left.


The drawing is correct since it was simply copy/pasted directly from this roadbed assembly drawing where everything fit perfectly. I was working on the top side of the board away from the origin, and had the drawing in such a way that I measured in the wrong direction... at least that's how I figured it happened.

I picked up all the roadbed pieces on one end of the layout and put them against the wall to clear the decks for action so I could get the Tyvek up on the ceiling. I got three strips up which is about 1/3 of the job. It's already proving its worth since just stapling it up dropped dust on me and into my eyes. Next session I'm wearing goggles. I didn't use a chalk line to get the rows straight, I just winged it, ergo, I have some fill-in to do. Again, no one's going to notice the ceiling and the Tyvek tape will hide a multitude of sins. Should have this all done by next week and then it's onto building the structure to support all that OSB.


29 May 12,, 00:23
Don't let the explosives tempt you:tongue:

We all have a faith in you. You will find a way to fix this.

Builder 2010
30 May 12,, 01:37
I know this aspect of the project is... well... boring. I also know that prep work is boring in any project, but essential. I almost finished one half of the Tyveking (new word) job with the additional of two more strips tonight. I have one more half strip and then I'll move into the other half of the layout room. Then I'll go back and use Tyvek tape to close all the seams and then it's goodbye spiders. There will still be areas around the periphery where they'll be, but they won't be directly over the platform. Without this covering it is an impossibility to keep them out of the ceiling joists. When they're in the joists they throw down lines to the lights and everything else. Should have this done in a couple more work sessions.

BTW: I probably have enough scrap of big enough sizes to remake that errant piece if I'm willing to split it down the middle and make it out of two pieces. That's not a problem since I'm going to be splicing plates on their ends and long axis anyway just to put the regular pieces together.



I have my real camera back so the quality is greatly improved over the iPhone camera. The iPhone's may be decent, but I just can't hold it stead enough. My Canon has image-stabilized lenses which is perfect for me.

Builder 2010
04 Jun 12,, 15:38
I've been playing around on the laptop to work on some of scenery ideas. I loaded a new version of my track design program, RR Track Ver. 5.0. I've been using this product since version 1.0 over 12 years ago. Version 5.0 is very easy to use and has a simulator where you can run a train over your design. This lets you see first hand what clearances are, how switches need to be aligned, how long of a train can fit in each siding, and the length of time that trains take to travel from place to place. Besides, it's entertaining since the layout won't have trains running on it for months. It also has a feature that it had from the beginning, a 3D viewer that really helps you understand how things, especially building placement, will look on the finished product. While you can create your own 3D images using the "extrude" function, I don't understand how to make inclined surfaces. So for those, I export the image as a bitmap to CorelDraw and create the remaining illustrations in that program.

Right now I have my main village area elevated to give me more land area, but I have the station and industrial zone at base level. I need to get a way to get vehicular traffic down the 20' (scale) elevation. Here's some pictures showing my crude way of doing it. I'm not married to the elevated town, and since it's all done in the computer, changing anything is no big deal.



One of the reasons I'm re-thinking this design is this;


This picture was taken yesterday in LaGrange, KY. It's one of the few remaining towns in the USA that has a mainline RR running down Main Street...literally. That's actually "Main Street"! It's the CSX RR's mainline from Cincinnati, OH to Louisville, KY. It's very busy. In the hour we were there three trains came by. I'd like to make my trains pass through town like that. We were at the Arts Fair held each year on the Courthouse lawn.

Builder 2010
05 Jun 12,, 03:36
As noted yesterday, I've decided to scrap the "elevated town" scenario. It was a remnant of the RR when it was 11 feet shorter and was the only real estate that was big enough to hold a town. When I reset my thinking, I realized that I have a lot of real estate on the "east end" of the layout and could build a nice main street, and still leave a big space for entering the inside the layout to reach mostly everything. Here's what all this looks like. RR Track crashed on me several times, and of course it was after I'd done a lot of things and lost all of them. I started saving after doing anything. I don't believe it's RR Track's problem. I think it's my laptop's. Here's what it looks like now.





Where the town was is now either a quarry or a nice lake. The quarry idea gives me the opportunity to use some nice 1:48 construction equipment. Also notice I've move some light industry to the fore side of the layout and installed a chemical plant. There's room for another spur or two on that side to service that plant and that will definitely be a Phase II project.

Builder 2010
12 Jun 12,, 00:30
The right side room is fully Tyveked, but not taped.


I've now started on the Left side room. This job is complicated by the heating duct and the PVC intake and exhaust lines from our high-efficiency furnace. I had to use narrower strips and the results aren't pretty, but after taping they'll be passable. Besides, no one's going to be looking at the ceiling.


We took a nice three-day trip to Chicago in the mid-part of last week. We played tourists and even went to the top of the Willis Tower and walked out into one of the glass boxes that is cantilevered 1,300 feet above ground. The first step into the box is a bit disconcerting, but not as bad as if I were skydiving... which I won't do.


I've also been working with #1 grandson on his 1/32nd Super Hornet. If you may remember, I took some pictures of this last year when were installing the jet engines into the model. The engines would be completely out of sight so Alex had me do a cut-away and I removed a vent area over part of one engine. We also opened up the nose cone to show the electronically scanned phased-array radar. The unfinished looking area on the nose is where the refueling probe is to be installed.


It's a big, detailed model, but had some fit problems. Many Trumpeter models have those problems. They include many parts and details, but lack some of the fine engineering of Tamiya and Hasegawa. But the Chinese companies learn fast and they're getting better and better. Next we're going to coat the model with gloss Future Floor Wax to prepare the surface for decals. Then Tamiya flat spray goes on to seal the decals and restore more-scale matte finish. Future has become a standard technique with plastic model guys. It's cheap, dries perfectly clear, and dries fast. It's even used restore finish to clear parts like canopies.

A few more days of work and the ceilings will be done. But first I'm taking Alex to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, next to the Wright-Patterson AFB. It's only 2.5 hours from Louisville. Moving here has presented some interesting opportunities. We've been to Chicago twice (5 hour drive), two weeks ago I went to the Indy 500, and now the Air Force Museum. The last two are places I would not have gone to if I were still living in the Philly area. You have to make your own opportunities.

Gun Grape
12 Jun 12,, 15:34
I see those pictures and my whole body starts to itch.

All I can think of is back 10 yrs ago when I use to put vinyl siding on houses. Summertime,wearing shorts and a nail pouch, trying to wrap a house with Tyvek. Wind blowing. Its almost as fun as putting up fiberglass insulation :biggrin:

I like you showing the thought process with your layout. Train guys have always fascinated me. We get a lot of stuff from you guys. There would be no Dios or photoetch in the scale model world if not for what you are doing here.

But instead of going big, you could do something like this. Its a japanese model show. But watching the build doesn't require language skill.





Builder 2010
13 Jun 12,, 03:36
I watched all four of them. The Japanese craftsman are marvelous. It's no wonder that Tamiya and others make such terrific model projects.

My grandson and I spent five hours at the Air Force museum today. It should be on all WAB folks' bucket list. It exceeded all of our expectations. Walking into the cavernous bomb bays of the B-52 and B-36, examining the landing gear of the SR-75, hanging in the wheel wells of the B-1 bomber, standing next to the X-15 and examining at closeup distance the mechanism the hydraulics that move the F-22's variable exhaust nozzle is worth the price of admission. And the admission is free. Every plane that the Air Force ever flew is there. Amazing. It was nice just having Alex since he loves this stuff as much as I do and didn't get bored. We took hundreds of pictures, which I must triage to see what is worth keeping.

Gun Grape
13 Jun 12,, 04:31
I feel the same way about the Naval Aviation Museum. Which is about 1.5 hours from my home (4 hours during the summer)

Builder 2010
13 Jun 12,, 14:38
I suppose he and I will have to make a trek to Pensacola. I suspect that it may not be quite as awe inspiring than the USAF one since the Navy never had planes the likes of the B-1, 2, 36, 58 or 70. Actually, in my modeling life, I've been partial to Navy planes. I like their rugged landing gear. I did a nice job on both a 1/32nd Tamiya Tomcat, and a 1/48th Hassegawa Corsair II, but they're both in model heaven now. Pensacola is a lot farther from L'ville than Dayton.

Gun Grape
13 Jun 12,, 18:41
if you go on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you can watch the Blue Angels practice. They sign autographs on Wed.

Thats pretty awesome :biggrin:

But your right about big planes. They don't have them. About the biggest will be the PB4y (B-24) But they have historic planes like the Jenny.

National Naval Aviation Museum - Aircraft On Display (http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/explore/exhibits-and-collections/aircraft-on-display)

And the ship models are mind numbing

Builder 2010
15 Jun 12,, 19:03
Here's some interesting pictures from the NM of the USAF. It's neat to stand near, next to or inside things you don't normally see. It will really jack up the model detailing skills. Picture 1 is the 10+ feet of main landing gear that holds up the B1-b Lancer bomber. A very impressive aircraft. Picture 2 and 3 are from the B-36 Peacemaker. The bomb bay is vast and designed to carry 84,000 lbs of bombs including the massive Mark 17 hydrogen bomb which I'll post next. Pics 4 & 5 are of the B-2 Spirit. I would have never believed that one of these would be here, but there it is. It looks like it was produced by an alien race. There are no seams, no rivets, no reflections, no nothing. I had to increase brightness on post-processing this picture almost 100% to create a usable image. It's quiet too. One flew by at the Thunder Over Louisville this year and if you didn't know it was coming, you almost wouldn't have heard it. Can't say the same for the F-22 of which one of those was on display too. And the plane it competed with, the YF-23 is also there.






Builder 2010
15 Jun 12,, 19:20
Here's some more interesting pictures.

This is the thrust augmentation mechanism at the tail end of the F-119 engine in the F-22 Raptor. It changes the exit geometry in the exhaust stream to help the Raptor do unbelievable things.

Here's oldest grandson Alex standing right next to the fastest manned aircraft in history, the X-15. The skin was entirely Inconel. I've machined this stuff and it's not fun.

This is the nose and canard wing of the XB-70 triple mach bomber that was built in the 1960s. It's the only one of two left. The other one had crashed after being hit in the tail by a chase plane with an unqualified pilot. It was a hush-hush story for many years. This one flew for five more years as a test plane for NASA.

For all you detail hounds out there, try this one on for size. This is the main gear operating machinery in the B-52. You can see all of this clearly since it's exposed when the weapons bay doors are open. The 52's weapons bay is most impressive being huge, clean, and flexible. Many weapons are loaded on special racks first and then inserted into the plane. God only knows what those cables and pulleys are for. Perhaps one of our readers will explain.

Here's me standing next to the aforementioned, MARK 17 Thermonuclear Bomb. It was the first H-bomb that was portable using a solid lithium compound to supply the fusionable deuterium/tritium instead of cryogenic liquids. It weighed 43,000 lbs and would only fit in the B-36 until the B-52 came on the scene. B-36 pilots would claim that the plane would suddenly elevate hundreds of feet when this thing was released since it weighed so much. Very shortly, bombs began to be shrunk. Warheads are now in the hundreds instead of thousands of pounds. It's sobering to think about it.

Builder 2010
19 Jun 12,, 01:42
I put one more strip of Tyvek. I can only do about 1 strip at a time. It's a lot of trips up and down the ladder and it wears me out. I'll finish in a couple of days anyway. I will have to tape all the joints with Tyvek tape. It will seal the fate of any spider trying to come straight down on the layout.


I've also been thinking about the backdrop painting. I found a website just dedicated to clouds: Cloud Photos | The Cloud Appreciation Society (http://cloudappreciationsociety.org/find-a-cloud/#p=13&t=cloud71&i=0). They have thousands of pictures of clouds and cloud types from all over the world. I bought the cloud templates for use with a spray can, but am contemplating actually hand painting them. I downloaded a bunch of pictures of the kinds of clouds I want to include and found "How to Paint Clouds" vignettes on YouTube. I was actually a fine arts major my first two years of college, so who knows...

Builder 2010
21 Jun 12,, 01:46
Finished putting Tyvek on the 2nd half of the train room. Put two full strips of today to finish the job. Here's that half of the room.


Then I was ready to tape all the seams and edges. I opened the first of three roles of Tyvek Tape only to find that it has "Tyvek House Wrap" text written all over it. This wouldn't work! So it was back to Home Depot. I had the original receipt and they took back all three roles including the unwrapped one. I then bought 3M White Duct Tape, which I then remembered I also used at the old house. It was much cheaper! I saved $33. So after that interruption I was back in the basement and taped one half of the train room before dinner. Taping goes much faster than putting up the sheeting.

Here's that half of the room:


It's a bit wrinkly, but it works. It's bright and clean, and keeps dust and unwanted visitors off the trains. I chose not to entire cover the duct work. I did this in the old house and it was not worth the effort. Here, I just bring the Tyvek down a bit and tape across the edge. It dresses it up a bit and looks semi-finished. Those cellar spiders are going to have their work cut out for them when they want to drop down on my new layout.

Builder 2010
14 Jul 12,, 15:37
I'm still here!

Summer travel kept me out of the basement, but I did do some stuff. I finished the taping of the entire ceiling so that's done. Yesterday I decided to add some lighter color at the bottom of the wall mural to make the sky look a bit more "natural". I could have even done more of this. I'm now ready to lay in the clouds and then onto constructing the platform itself. It's getting time to make some sawdust. Here's the wall with the added shading.


Next work session will have more interesting things to show. I realize that all this prep work is terminally boring.

Builder 2010
16 Jul 12,, 17:33
I took the plunge yesterday and started painting the clouds on the wall. They're tougher to paint than they look. Here's the first attempts (I'm about 1/5th done).


The lower clouds have a bit of sunset tinge to them.

Then I decided to get cute and represent a thunderhead. I'm not so sure about this one and it's nothing that a swipe of sky blue paint won't cure. I'll see what my blog readers say about it before making changes. My wife thinks it looks just fine, but then she thinks this whole "cloud thing is silly and I'm wasting time that I could be using building a train layout". I explained that building a train layout is ALL these things, not just putting down track. I'm still not convincing her.



So... I need feedback. Lots of feedback.

16 Jul 12,, 18:11
It is very nice - I love the texture and the colors you are using - the sunlit portions really add a lot, as does the dark could texture.:cool: I am a little confused by the sunlight on the clouds - it seems to be a bit inconsistent about the direction its coming from - I wonder about the rain too, it does add interest, but it might be hard to fit in with theme on the rest of the sky. Still it makes me think, and that's a good thing, it would be fine the way it is - just offering a few random ideas. It makes me want to paint some clouds too. :biggrin:

16 Jul 12,, 19:10
I like the clouds on the right. A lot.

Not so sure about the on the left, looks like atomic mushroom, or a pin.

Builder 2010
16 Jul 12,, 22:22
I think I'm going to eliminate the one on the left and redo it. It is a bit weird and doesn't really look like a real thundercloud, just as it looks in my head. I'm an impressionist.

16 Jul 12,, 22:38
Dali would've been proud of that cloud ;)

Do it as you feel it is right, after all, it is YOUR project.

Builder 2010
17 Jul 12,, 14:54
You're way too kind.

I too am concerned about the sun angle. For the cloud to have a golden halo, the sun would be coming from behind which means the entire cloud is some shade of gray. If it's coming from the from or side, the halo isn't there and the puffs are bright white with gray shadows. I have both! It is a bit ambiguous. And that's because I didn't think about the sun angle at all since I was "just painting clouds". I may go back and adjust. Sun coming from the front is better.

17 Jul 12,, 15:01
There is of course another way to do it :biggrin:

Buy some cotton wool, glue it on the canvas, and you will get a texture as well as shadows (from the lights) ;)

17 Jul 12,, 20:31
I took the plunge yesterday and started painting the clouds on the wall. They're tougher to paint than they look.

But Bob Ross makes it look so easy.:red::scared:


18 Jul 12,, 22:53
Here's some interesting pictures from the NM of the USAF. It's neat to stand near, next to or inside things you don't normally see. It will really jack up the model detailing skills. Picture 1 is the 10+ feet of main landing gear that holds up the B1-b Lancer bomber. A very impressive aircraft. Picture 2 and 3 are from the B-36 Peacemaker. The bomb bay is vast and designed to carry 84,000 lbs of bombs including the massive Mark 17 hydrogen bomb which I'll post next. Pics 4 & 5 are of the B-2 Spirit. I would have never believed that one of these would be here, but there it is. It looks like it was produced by an alien race. There are no seams, no rivets, no reflections, no nothing. I had to increase brightness on post-processing this picture almost 100% to create a usable image. It's quiet too. One flew by at the Thunder Over Louisville this year and if you didn't know it was coming, you almost wouldn't have heard it. Can't say the same for the F-22 of which one of those was on display too. And the plane it competed with, the YF-23 is also there.






I thought I read in some magazine that the B-2 on display at the USAF museum is one of the static test airframes that never flew.

Builder 2010
25 Jul 12,, 00:20
That's certainly possible. It looks like it's never been used. Still remarkable.

The clouds are now finished, at least as finished as I want to make them. From the "revised" thunderhead to the right are the clouds from last session. The ones to the left of that are all today's work. I perfected my technique a bit with Bob Ross' help. He does make it look easy. It's really not. I also toned down the first ones that I did since they looked a bit "extreme" to me. The biggest challenge was figuring out how many of them looked good versus how many I felt like painting. I really want to build a railroad, not be a mural painter. My wife thinks the whole "cloud thing" is silly.

This a horizontal panoramic shot which photo-stitched pretty well.


I made the thunderhead fatter and took away the "atomic mushroom cloud" look a bit. It's still weird, but my grandson and some of the readers liked it so I didn't paint it out of existence.

Here's another shot of the room.


Starting tomorrow, I'm going to start building. I'm also helping my now 11 year-old grandson (birthday yesterday) finish up the super hornet. It had a massive amount of decals and some very large which were beyond his skill set to handle.

Builder 2010
28 Jul 12,, 03:23
Today is momentous day, The Olympics started. Besides that! I began actual construction on the layout. I cut the wood for the four brackets that will be mounted on the back wall to support the rear part of the layout. The brackets are supported by a 2 X 2, with two 2 X 3 arms and a 2 X 2 angle brace. The main components are fastened together with 1/4" carriage bolts. The angle bracket to upright connection will be with Spax wood screws and gussets.

The end brackets will also have a horizontal sway brace facing outwards that will make the whole think more rigid. Once all the ply pieces are in place, that will also stiffen any horizontal motion. It's nice to have a good chop saw and I just added a big, DeWalt 18 Volt Li-ion, 1/2" hammer drill. This thing is a bruiser and has three modes and three speed settings. I needed to up the horsepower to handle the concrete drilling tasks AND handle the fastening of thousands of screws. That's a fact, it's over 1,000 fasteners to hold this thing together.


The bottom of each upright has large diameter carriage bolt feet. I epoxied "t" nuts into the bottom and then screw in the bolts with a lock nut halfway in. This gives me a lot of adjustment for uneven floors. This is the same scheme I used in building the existing part of the layout.


Here's the bracket fitted with the diagonal brace. Even though it's only a 2 X 2, when properly braced and having the load directly into the length, it's very strong. Kind of like building an airplane rather than a barn.


In the next couple of days I'll finish the assembly, break them apart to more easily mount the upright to the wall and then reassemble them in place. The uprights will be held on top with a 1/2" wedge bolt, and the bottom with a smaller (lighter) Tapcon. With a cantilevered bracket, the main load is on top, and through the angle bracket to the foot.

Builder 2010
29 Jul 12,, 01:17
Finished building all four brackets and then decided to attack mounting one on the wall. Needless to say, I'm out of shape. Hopefully, as I keep working at this I will be less worn out. The back is quick tender from crawling around on the floor on my knees and boring that 1/2" hole in concrete. That was hard!

I also built the first sway brace and mounted it too. The result is a very strong assembly that easily supported my 185 pound weight without deflection. They will work as designed.

Here's a completed bracket:


The top of the vertical is held to the wall with a massive 1/2" wedge bolt. To mount this you drill a 1/2" hole 3.5" deep into the concrete, hammer the stud into the wall, put the wood over it, and tighten with a deep socket wrench and finally tighten to 55 ft. lbs. with a torque wrench. Since I was fastening it into wood, it was difficult to get to that tension since the wood was crushing. It's actually at about 45 ft. lbs. and is very tight to the wall. The tension on the top bolt is almost all pull-out. It was why I went with wedge bolts since their pull-out is very high. I was told to not trust Tapcons for pull out. They're better in sheer. I first drilled a clearance hole through the wood and marked the center onto the cement. I then used the smaller Tapcon carbide drill to start a hole to secure the location. I double-checked its alignment with the hole in the wood, and then removed the wood and went at it with the 1/2". The DeWalt hammer drill performed well and battery life was terrific.


The bottom is held to the wall with a long Tapcon. In the bottom location, the stress is much lower so a lighter (and easier to install) fastener works well. In this picture you can also see the gussets holding the diagonal brace firmly to the base of the vertical. This method is used throughout building leg sets when creating an L-girder model RR. I figured 8 screws are sufficient to hold the both side of the gussets. To do all the drilling I had to disassemble the bracket. I may use a washer under the Tapcon to enable it to support more. Also note that I'm using 1/4" ply for the gussets. That's actually a sheet of German plywood that was unused and moved back with me from Germany in 2002. Never throw out good wood!


While the bracket appeared to be very strong in a straight vertical load, it was very unstable side to side so the sway braces that I decided would be needed, were in fact, needed. I used the left-over ends of the 8', 1 X 3s that I used for the horizontal member. I cut 45º angles on the end for neatness, and made a 2 X 4 mounting block that would serve as a backing for the lug that was to hold the sway brace. The mounting block is held to the wall with two long Tapcons. While there is some pull-out loading, at least half of it is sheer. There's also no dead load on it like there is with the top wall bracket bolt. Once the ply is in place, there will almost be no lateral loading unless someone falls into the layout. After I mounted the block, I cut a chunk of 2 X 2 for the lug and mounted it will some long deck screws. I always drill pilot holes when fastening anything. It ensures that the upper piece pulls down tight and makes it much easier to drive screws. I use three power drivers which makes for less drill bit swapping.


And here's the other end. Four 2" cabinet screws hold this end of the sway brace in place.


Just three more to mount and then it's onto building some new L-girders for the rear of the layout. The large stud will be hidden because there's a lot more stuff that goes onto the bracket that will raise the height of the layout to the finished 42", so I probably won't have to paint the vertical sky blue.

30 Jul 12,, 06:52
Happy Birthday Myles!

Builder 2010
30 Jul 12,, 13:00
Thanks Jay! Now I can tell people I'm actually 67. Since my wife is a couple of months older than me, I keep taking on her age when it's her birthday, when I'm really YOUNGER!

Builder 2010
31 Jul 12,, 03:15
As a birthday wish... I worked on the railroad today. I started with the first trip to Home Depot to buy the wrong length Tapcons, some new Titebond Glue, a better 5/16" nut driver that won't round out when driving Tapcons, and some shorter deck screws.

I then began work. To make it easier, I moved my temporary work table—an actual park of the train layout that was used to build the B-17 that will be returned back to its initial purpose—into the middle of the room where I could assemble and drill the brackets without crawling around on the floor so much.

When I tried to chuck my long, fancy 1/2" Bosch (made in Germany) hammer drill bit it wouldn't center and wobbled all over the place. it was actually doing that when I drilled the hole for the first bracket, but it didn't dawn on me why. So I looked at what was going on and realized that the Bosch bit was designed for their heavy duty hammer drill and it had four milled grooves on the shank to lock into the Bosch unit. But four doesn't go into three and the three-jaw chuck couldn't center the bit so it ran horribly off-center.

So it was back to Home Depot before I could go any further. They took both the wrong Tapcons and the lightly used Bosch bit. I then bought a hammer-drill bit that had a straight shank. It also didn't have to be so long. I had originally thought that I'd have to drill through the 2 X 2 and then the wall for more than 3 inches with this bit. But that's not how I'm doing it. I'm pre-drilling the clearance hole in the 2 X 2, marking the hole with a sharpie, moving the wood aside, pilot-drilling a little hole with the Tapcon drill, and then using the big drill to make the 3.5" hole.

As a result of experience being a great teacher, I got two more brackets mounted, and started preparing for the brace that's going into the inside corner on the back wall.


I then noticed a slight problem. On the existing layout pieces, the L-girder's bottom is 34" above the floor, but on my brackets it was only 29". I don't know where the error crept in, but it's not serious. For the first two I mounted, I will simply mount the L-girders onto a 2 X 2 bolted vertically in between the two horizontal braces high enough to match the height of the other girders. For the back two brackets, I just raised them off the floor so the horizontal braces are 34" off the floor. All of the load is handled by that massive wedge bolt and the Tapcon. Very little load is transmitted to the floor anyway (I hope).


For the setback wall, I was going to simply Tapcon a 2 X 4 to the wall that would stick out the same distance as the brackets, but I didn't have a 58" piece of 2 X 4 so I decided to make a short L-girder and use that. The line on the wall is at the 34" level.


L-girders are very strong and when properly braced have very little flex. I first clamp the 1x2 to the edge of a 1x4. I used enough clamps to try and eliminate as much warp as possible. I then install wood screws about every 8 inches. These will be removed eventually. After the screws are in I removed the clamps, remove the screws and take the two pieces apart.

Then you put on a layer of Titebond (or other carpenter glue) and resinstall the screws to hold it all together and aligned. When the glue dries the next day, remove the screws since they're no longer needed. You could leave the screws in, but a) they cost money, and b) when you're drilling and fastening the joists you will invariably hit one of those now-not-needed screws, so I take them out and reuse them.

Here's the newly built L-girder before I remove the screws.


I'll document this corner wall brace next work session.

31 Jul 12,, 17:10
I love the "being outside" feel the cloud and sky wall provides (I really like that grey cloud "chasing" two little white clouds under the big white one - to the left of the shop vac). This is an awesome project - so nice to get to watch it come together.

Builder 2010
01 Aug 12,, 01:33
Thanks Jay, you're my biggest fan...

"Picture's worth a 1,000 words..." I described how the corner brace was going to work. I had an hour after I got back from work today and installed it.

With the additional bracing it's very strong. I was going to use three 1/4 X 2-1/4 Tapcons, but you only see two. It appears that my super DeWalt drill can break them off when over torquing. I'm also using washer under the heads to spread the load onto the wood.

So... 4 down and one to go.


I love how structures get stronger and stronger as you add diagonal members. It's a great lesson in geometry.

Here's one view showing the L-girder attachment points. Even with two Tapcons, that beam isn't going anywhere. It also shows the mounting block on the wall for the diagonal support brace. It's held with two Tapcons.


Here's the other side showing the sway brace. I was able to have the bracket sway brace mounting block perform double duty. The brace is held with some 2" drywall screws on both ends. The small mounting block on the right end is held with the long deck screws. I like the deck screws because they use the Torx held slot which is very hard to cam out. You don't need a lot of vertical pressure on the power driver like you do on a Phillips head screw.


Just for the pictures, I laid one of the old L-girders from the previous railroad across the corner bracket and the right-most bracket, and then measured how level it was across. Taking care to measure the mounting height produced a perfectly level line from those two.



While this attention to detail may be a bit anal, I find that the more carefully all this infrastructure is laid in, the easier it is to level the subroadbed when it's time to install all of that. Plus, it makes for a very tight and light construction that will last for years and years. The nice thing about L-girder is there are almost no parts that must be cut to a specific length since all members lie across one another and there are no butt joints.

Builder 2010
03 Aug 12,, 01:40
Back to train layouts... This will be 2-part post since I have more than 5 pictures.

Installed the last wall bracket today so all the concrete drilling is now complete...gladly.

I did some checking. The pull out and sheer strength of the 1/2" wedge bolts is both 4.600 pounds. The weight of the entire railroad won't be anything like that, so I have no worries at all that the brackets can't do their job effectively. The wood itself will shatter before the bolts leave that wall.


Here's all five wall brackets now in position.


Builder 2010
03 Aug 12,, 01:48
With the brackets in position, I was ready to start making L-girders. I don't have a work table available for an 8 foot girder-making job, so I put the brackets into good use already.

I'm supporting the 1X4 on its edge by inserting a 2X2 between the horizontal bracket rails held with a c-clamp, and then clamped the girder web to this.


With the web stabilized, I was able to clamp the 1 X 2 flange on top in prep for screws and glue. This process goes pretty fast and I was able to glue up four girders that will stretch the entire length along the wall across all brackets in a little over an hour.


Here are four girders waiting for the glue to dry. I offset the flange by 3 cm so the flange and web don't fall directly in line with each other. The longest run which goes across the back wall from one end to the other will use 3.9 girders spliced together so these four represent 1 long girder.


While they were drying, and before I remove the screws, I decided to start figuring out how to mount them onto the brackets. As noted earlier, the first brackets I installed are about five inches lower than they should be, so I need to put a riser in place to end up with a level girder. Here's the riser in place that levels the girder with the corner bracket (which is at the correct height).


Notice how neatly the 2 X 2 sandwiches between the bracket horizontals. I'm going to use one or two carriage bolts to fasten the riser to the brackets and the girders to the risers.

Here's a riser at the other end. Each riser is 10.5 inches long and the flange rests on the top when level so putting it together will be a snap.


Nothing's in its proper place here, but the theory is now proven. Next session, I'll remove the clamping screws from the flanges and start mounting the girders AND splicing them together. In Kalmbach's Benchwork book, they talk about using a piece of web that 2X its width in length to bridge between to girders to make a splice. When I built the layout in Germany, this is how I did it, but when I enlarged it in Pennsy, I used Simpson Strong-tie metal hardware to make the splice. It worked well and was easier to work. Splice plates are used on both sides of the web with lots of fasteners.

I will also make some more girders for the forward girder that traverses the wall brackets.

Gun Grape
03 Aug 12,, 04:07
Your workspace is way to clean. Please tell me you spent a few hours cleaning up before snapping those pictures.

Builder 2010
03 Aug 12,, 14:23
Thanks for the compliment, but it's misplaced. You see that's not the workshop...that's the project. I don't want to show you the workshop. Also, I was vacuuming up the concrete dust from all the wall drilling as I went along. I didn't want to breathe it or track it around the house. The work table cum layout part behind this picture is not neat, and I haven't vacuumed sawdust around the chop saw or the drill press in the next room since I started. So, as you know, pictures can be deceiving.

Builder 2010
04 Aug 12,, 03:26
It's amazing what you can accomplish when you have three solid hours to work on the project. I got the two rear-most L-girders in place, leveled and tied in. This required building two more 8' lengths and installing them. I used two different means of tying the girders to the support structure: deck screws or their equivalent, and 1/4" carriage bolts. For the rail that butt up against the bracket vertical support I used the deck screws since there was no effective way to get behind the bracket for the other side of the bolt. But on the free-standing connections I used carriage bolts which are immensely strong and really lock the structure together. The long 32 foot girder is not dead straight when sighting down its length, but it doesn't have to be. The joists that go on top, just lie across the girders and are fixed at each end with one screw. The amount their ends stick out doesn't matter.

Here's today's progress looking from both directions.



Here's some details of the joinery involved.

In the first instance, I used carriage bolts to hold the riser to the beam since I could see both sides.


This next one is a full, free-standing support. You can't help noticing that the carriage bolts are wayyyyy long. I'll trim them with the Dremel and a cut-off disc in the next work session. I was getting tired and didn't want to tackle a step that could easily get a little out of hand. I didn't want to rush it.


The last example is using deck screws into the bracket upright. You can see that it's sitting above the bracket due to leveling requirements. Note also, the relief cut I made so it would clear the sway brace. When I chose to install the sway braces on top of the brackets, I realized immediately that I needed to add relief. I used the saber saw to make the cut. The other choice was to mount them on the bottom of the bracket, but I didn't relish the thought of putting in the screws upside down.


While the straightness of these long girders isn't critical, it is important to make sure that they are square. I trued up the free-standing with a machinist angle block. Even perfect level isn't critical at this stage because the T-blocks and their risers are individually leveled and cross-leveled before the sub-roadbed is laid on top. I just like stuff level as I go along since it ultimately makes everything a little easier.

I used Simpson Strong-tie splice plates to hold the girders together. The plates are on both sides with 8, hex-head, self-drilling sheet metal screws holding them in place. They hold the girders very securely. I've used up my stash from the previous layout and I'll have to buy more. I have phillips head screws that are designed to fit the holes in these plates, but they're too long and leave sharp points sticking out whenever I use them.

Builder 2010
05 Aug 12,, 00:09
Did some work today, but nothing photo worthy. But I do need some input from forum readers.

I've drawn two designs on RRTrack...one with the outside loop elevated in the back with a shallow grade going up and down, not exceeding 2%. The other has the layout flat all around. I split the subroadbed piece in the back to accommodate the grade if I chose to build it.

I need to decide very soon if I'm going to do this because in one more work session, all the girders for the back 1/3 of the RR are going to be finished and I'm going to start laying down joists and risers. It's those risers that will determine which way I go.

An elevated section adds more work! It's going to run for almost 40 feet. That's a lot of embankments that will need landscaping, retaining walls, viaduct arches, etc. But, without it, the trains in the back will be out of site when two trains pass each other. It will also make the layout more boring. In the old house, the layout was open all the way around so you could stand on that side and watch trains. Now I have a wall, which has it's own advantages, but makes the rear track less visible.

So...what should I do? All responses will be carefully weighed.

I did fabricate three more 8 ft. girders that when spliced will produce the last girder that runs across the back of the layout. I'm getting very fast at building these. In Germany, where I produced the original girders, they sold me longer pieces so I didn't need as many splices.

Speaking of splices... I then went to Home Depot to buy more Simpson Strong-tie splice plates to replace those I've consumed. I bought large ones for the girders and medium sized ones to splice subroadbed pieces if I don't want to use OSB plates underneath. I also bought more Deck Mate screws since I love that star drive. They don't cam out and you don't have to put much downward pressure on the cordless drill to drive the screws. Phillips heads, which is what was used before, require more attention to keep the bit seated. I don't even want to talk about slotted screws. Slotted screws? What the heck are those?

And I bought the correct length carriage bolts...25 of them, so I won't have to cut off the excess with the Dremel. Speaking of which, I used it with the flexi-shaft and a 2" reinforced fiber cut-off wheel to remove the extra lengths on those bolts. I wore goggles and had to grind a lot, but got them all. My skin still smells from iron fillings.

05 Aug 12,, 15:01
Since you'll be looking at it for years to come, the nicer design should not be discarded as an option right away.

Maybe you could do repetitive features with a mold to ease the amount of extra amount of work?

You could also try to make the elevation as small as possible (if you can get away with it) to reduce the amount of work.

For retaining walls you could print out a wall section and stick it to a vertical surface, but I'm not sure it would look nice.

Builder 2010
05 Aug 12,, 16:27
Good advice, and I do hope I will be looking at it for years so it should be as interesting as possible. There are companies that make molded retaining walls in different stone configurations including those used by the Pennsylvania RR (of which I have lots of engines), but it's expensive when you consider almost 30 feet of the stuff. It may get me to mold my own...You're going to be viewing it from 10 or more feet away, so an artistic rendition might work. The elevation will be five inches which is high enough to allow roads to pass beneath. No matter what method I choose, the materials will cost $$$. It's one of the hidden disadvantages from building a big layout.

Builder 2010
06 Aug 12,, 00:39
Finished putting up the three girders that line the back of the layout. It was a very productive day. On the right end of the third girder it's sticking out into space so it needed an auxiliary leg. I thought about how I wanted to extend the wall bracket another 24" to capture the leg and came up with a simple approach that was facilitated by have the double horizontal pieces. I simply inserted a 2 X 2 in between the horizontals with 5 inches captivated and five extending outwards. This was clamped with two carriage bolts. I then added the two 24" extension horizontals and bolted them the same way. This made it easy to capture the vertical 2 X 2 which was going to be the leg.

Before cutting the leg, I wanted to have a leveling foot. Unfortunately, I used up the last T-nut on the wall brackets, but on the last two wall brackets, the ends weren't even resting on the floor so the T-nuts were superfluous. "Ah..." I thought. All I have to do is get it out now that it's epoxied in. With some prying with a screwdriver and sheer determination, I got it out and glued it into the end of the new leg. In this case I used Gorilla Glue instead of epoxy.

Here's the detail shot of the extender in place. No comments about the clean shop please... I just vacuumed the entire place. My wife hates the shop vac. I actually tossed the one I had at the old house because it screamed so much. I bought a new Craftsman that was supposedly quieter. It is, but now it's only 100db instead of 120.


To brace the leg in the width direction I added another 2 X 2 angle brace that was also sandwiched in the now-added horizontals with a single carriage bolt just like I did with the wall bracket diagonals. For the other end I used the gusset method. I needed to cut more gussets and I knocked them out with the circular saw this time, which was more consistent than the saber saw for this purpose.


Even more critical with legs than the wall brackets, the legs need another brace in the longitudinal direction. Here I used the same process as in all the other legs previously built; a gusset at the leg end with 6 screws and three screws at the top end directly into the L-girder.

Here's the detail of the upper end.


And here's the detail of the connectors on the other end of this assembly where I had to make up for that 5" drop as explained earlier. Two carriage bolts in each direction make this structure solid as a rock. (Sorry about the focus on this one)


So here's the entire rear array. I've decided to go with the elevated rear track to keep the railroad less boring. Next step will be to start designing the joists and risers to support the sub-roadbed planks on the backside of the layout.


I hope you can start to see the elegance of L-girder construction. It looks frail, but it's quite strong. Most people using 2 X 4s in an egg-crate arrangement way overbuild model railroads. They often have horizontal members bracing the bottoms of the legs which makes it impossible to easily pass under the layout with a creeper to do wiring. It's also more expensive, heavier, and unnecessary. As I noted earlier, it's more like building an aircraft than building a barn.

I'm not going show any more joinery details since they're all going to be slight variations on what's been shown already. I'll only highlight them if there's something unique going on... and there will be some of those.

Builder 2010
08 Aug 12,, 04:24
By appearances, yesterday's work session didn't accomplish anything resembling Saturday's marathon session, but looks can be deceiving. I unpacked all of the old L-girders that will comprise the rest of the framework. They were all duct-taped in bundles from when we moved. I have most of the girder lengths noted on the master print and if they're missing I get them from the computer drawings. My original plan had the new girders and old all mixed up since I was attempting to use the old girders in their actual length. I was going to use new girders to fill in the missing pieces. But as Clauswitz said, "Strategy ends when the first shot is fired". Once I started building the wall supports I decided to build all the new girders for the back wall and use the existing ones to build the rest. As it stands now, I probably have enough old ones to complete the layout. I have materials for three more 8 footers if needed.

Tomorrow my grandson's coming over to finish up his Super Hornet. He and his family just got back from London where they watched the Olympics. It was quite a trip and the kids should have a lot to tell their class when they answer the perennial question, "So what did you do with your Summer?" While he's working on the plane, I'm going to work on the railroad.


I then started laying out all the girders based on length in their respective locations. After that I'll set them up at their correct separation distance and compare that to the leg sets that are already constructed. To save labor, I'd like to use as many intact sets as possible. If I have to adjust their separation distance, I'll reset the cross-braces to the needed width.


I have to keep reminding myself that the work table in the middle of the room is actually part of the new layout. As I mentioned before, I cobbled it together as a work table to build the wings of the 1:16 scale RC B-17 that I built in 2010. Right now I need that table for plans, tools and screws.

The goal is to get OSB onto the back girders ASAP so that it can be enlisted as the new work surface. Then I'll dismantle the existing table and incorporate it into the layout.

Builder 2010
09 Aug 12,, 01:04
I finished laying out all of the girders on the floor, and went back to the computer to determine some reference points as the erection process begins. I measured from the back walls to the extremes of the front girder and marked that distance on the floor. I also measured off where the leg sets would go (5 of them) at 8 ft. intervals. Eight feet seems like a reasonable span for the girders. When all braced up, there's no downward deflection at that spacing.

The front main girder set has a girder face to girder face distance of 40". My old legs sets are somewhere about 24" apart, so they needed to be reconstructed to work in the new design. Here's the "before" girder picture. I wanted to use the old legs since they already have the elevating screws and t-nuts installed so why reinvent them.


I removed the X-bracing, saving the 5-50 Spax metric screws (these go back to when the layout was originally constructed in Germany), and the lumber which will be put to good use making joists that lie across the girders. I then cut a 48" piece of 1 X 3 that served as a spacing beam. The legs were made of German metric-sized lumber. Their 2 X 2 is 44mm square, and is more substantial than our 1.5" dimensional lumber (38.1mm). I fasten one screw on one corner of the spacing beam, and square that corner up. When square I drive another screw to lock the geometry. I again used #8 X 2" Deck Mate screws with star drive. I can remove them and re-drive them over and over without destroying the star drive socket. When the first side is tight and square I did the same with the other leg.


When I first starting doing this task, I was doing it on the concrete floor with my rubber knee pads. My back was letting me know that this was not the best approach, so I got a piece of OSB, threw it on the back installed girders over a few 1 X 3s and did the work standing up. Much better!

I cut the X-braces from fresh 1 X 3s since they're pretty long. There is no worry about losing square since the two screws on the spacing beam were tight so it was just the repetitive task of lining up the X-brace, clamping the near end so I could position the far end, screw far end tight and go back to the near end, put it one screw, remove the clamp and then put in the other screw. Turn the entire assembly over and put on the opposite X-brace the same way. The ends are beveled and I'm careful to not let it extend past the leg as shown here. The reason for this is to not foul the gusset plate that's going to be installed at the bottom for the longitudinal braces, and to not interfere with installing the girders on the top of the legs.


Here's the two braces installed.


Once the X-braces are in place the spacing beam is removed since the legs can no longer change geometry. I used the spacing beam for the next set of legs ensuring that all the leg sets for this part of the layout would have the same spacing. All five sets took a couple of hours to reconstruct. Here's four of the completed legs.


When I finished the legs sets I turned my attention back to the girders. I used the wooden splice blocks from the old RR to tie together the separate pieces of girders making up the system. I re-used the 5X50mm screws on these plates, but they are a tad long leaving a nasty sharp point sticking out the back side. I don't like sharp pointy things sticking out of the wood so I again brought the Dremel out with its cut-off wheel and ground them flush with the surrounding wood.

With the legs for the front part of the layout complete, I started messing around with setting it up. Using clamps you can actually put this together with one person. You lift a girder and clamp it to one side of the leg. While keeping the leg from collapsing, grab the other girder and clamp it to the other side. Go to the other end, and do the same thing with the second leg set. If all goes well so far, you have a very rickety structure that's just barely hanging together. From that point, you have to set the girder height and then temporarily clamp a longitudinal diagonal brace to start squaring it up. I was all set to make new diagonals and then I remembered that all the previous diagonals were sitting in the other part of the basement with the gusset plates still attached. I was careful when taking this apart for the move so much can be re-installed.

It was getting late and I was getting worn out. I was attempting to run a level from the newly installed rear girder to these old girders to set their height. My foot bumped one of the legs and the whole shebang came crashing down. That was a sign! Quite while you're ahead and I stopped work for the day and went up for dinner. Next time, I'll use the big C-clamps since they have more grip than the quick clamps I was using.

This part of the work goes very fast. It will slow down again when I start installing all those joists and their risers.

Builder 2010
10 Aug 12,, 01:33
With a little help of the grandkids to keep the first part of the 2nd module from collapsing before I get real fasteners in place, I got the far end of the 2nd (main) module started. As I was looking at it, it didn't seem right. It was too wide! It was supposed to be 40" from inside girder to inside girder and it was 48". 48" inches is not good! It puts the ends of the joists right on the girders if I want to get two joists out of every 8 ft. 1 X 3. But supporting a beam right at the ends is the weakest method of supporting it and will promote sagging in the center. It wasn't too late to fix this problem. Only two out of five legs sets were incorporated in this part. Since I had put the longitudinal diagonal braces in place, the legs were stable, so I removed the X bracing, took my original spacing beam and marked a 40" line, and with the help of grandson #1 clamped the legs at the new distance. I put the X-Brace in place and marked off the new (shorter) angles and cut them down to size. It worked well and I then restarted the production line to modify the other three leg sets with the correct distance.

With that out of way, work progressed quickly. This main module makes a modest 23" offset about a 1/3 of the way along as the railroad widens towards the left end to compensate for the 24" step out in the back wall. In my previous design the main girder also had a similar bend so I had Simpson Strong-tie splice plates that already had a bend in them.

I was now working alone so I need to develop a nice way to erect the rest of the module without yesterday's collapse. I screwed the splice place to the end of one girder and using a nice c-clamp to temporarily fasten the mating girder to it with the other end of the mating girder laying on the floor. Then I moved about halfway down the girder (this was a long segment) and using a hefty c-clamp, tied a leg set to the girder at an approximate level with the leg close to vertical.

I left this leg alone for a while since it was not in its true position, but it was just adding stability. I then went to the true location and attached another leg set with quick clamps. The leg sets are spaced about 8 ft. apart. At this point I did fine leveling of the girder and cross-leveled with the opposite girder. If a hit with the soft-headed hammer was sufficient, that was good, but often I had to release the clamp and hold it all together with the level lying on the girder and try to get it close.

I then put it one carriage bolt and tightened it to enable me to get the quick clamp out of the way. I put the level on the leg's side and plumbed the leg and then drilled the second hole for the other carriage bolt. With both tight, the leg was reasonably stable and didn't need further clamping until the longitudinal braces are installed.

Speaking of longitudinal braces, here's a pile of them ready to unpacked and re-used. It's neat that a lot of this layout was first created 13 years ago in Germany. Many of the pieces still have the German bar code stickers on them. All of the carriage bolts I'm using for these leg sets are 6mm sets from the original layout. Each rebuild is incorporating pieces of the old and besides being a nostalgia trip, it's saving me a bunch of moo-la.


After the legs are tied in and every thing is ship shape, I went back and added fasteners to the splice plates and removed the small c-clamps. There will be a second splice plate on the backside of each girder which will make the splice complete. Here's the splice plates in use.


I repeated the above steps for the left hand part of the main module. I then un-clamped the leg in the temporary position and moved it further left into its final location. It was going to lie in the left hand bend, which wasn't there at the time I used the leg to support the mid-section. That leg will be fastened tomorrow. I did a lot of stooping, and bending today and my back let me know that I did enough today.

Notice on these pictures the wooden splice plates I originally used to join girders. They were clunky and used a lot of screws, but they were strong. Using the metal plates is entirely sufficient.

Here's several views of this module. It's big! The final amount of offset will be determined by the connecting it to various cross girders that tie both sides of the layout together. After I get the final deviation, I'll install the second layer of splice plates which will help lock in the angles.




When all the legs are complete, I'm going back with the saber saw and trimming off the tops of the diagonal braces so they won't be in the way. I seem to be mounting the gusset a little higher up on the leg this time resulting in all the diagonals sticking up about the girder. This layout's been assembled and disassembled three times so there's markings on the girders from its previous incarnations.

Tomorrow I'll finish that one leg and start working on the end modules. Once all the girders are in place, I'll start laying out where all the joists will go based on what they're supporting. And I have to order the foam roadbed, lots extra track, plus about 500 feet of wire.

Builder 2010
11 Aug 12,, 01:13
You can tell I'm on a roll, I've posted for three straight days. Having this being the 3rd rebuild (and enlargement), I'm getting very good at it. I don't have to think a whole lot about how to joint part A to part B, or what's the best way to join girders meeting at 90º, I just do it.

I remeasured and reset the positioning on the 2nd (main) module on the floor using the back wall as a datum and double-checking against a chalk line (without the chalk). The offset was supposed to be about 23" and it's within the margin of error for that. Once I got the offset where I wanted, I went back and added the 2nd set of splice plates to lock those bends in that position. While doing this, I got the saber saw and sliced off the offending diagonal braces that were sticking up above the girders.

I then set up the longitudinal positioning by taking a reference point from the left end of the wall girder and the end point of the main module's left end. The main module is to extend past the wall girder by 2'-6". I used a 1 X 3 with line at that distance clamped to the wall girder and the inner girder of the end unit (3rd module). Again used the chalk line to get the distance right. The layout is still light enough so with a good tug I could pull the entire main module towards the left without assistance.

Now it was time to build the 3rd module which comprises the layout's left end. I needed two leg sets that had a 2'-6" separation distance (it's a coincidence that it's the same dimensional as the left end offset), so I took another set of legs from the previous layout and adjusted them. Since this distance wasn't so much larger than the previous version, I was able to simply remove screws from the diagonal braces—2 from one side and 1 from the other—swing the diagonal to a new position to meet the other leg, and then screw them down in the new position. I still use a spacing brace to hold the position as before.

The inner girder was already clamped into position on the end of the main module, so it was a snap to position the outer (and shorter) girder on the legs sets that I just built. The outer girder was to extend rearward from the inner girder by 3". I measured and marked this off on the outer girder and clamped the leg on that spot.

Here's the clamping scheme.


While I could have fastened the inner girder to the ends of the main module's girders by screwing into the end of these girders' 1X4, I don't like putting screws into end-grain unless I absolutely have to. It's just not as secure. Instead, I like to install a mounting block which is screwed into cross-grain and then use carriages bolts for added strength.


This was the outer edge. The inner girder connection is done the same way.

So here's the end module completed. I'm now working on the corners. The front left corner is going to have two small L-girders that will be interconnected on the bias. The rear left corner is much more complicated. It will have the girders drop down about 10". This will be the location of the layout's main bridges and the deep channel will be where the waterway will be. Of course I'll document this is agonizing detail.

Here's the whole deal as it appears so far.


Today was also a good day for my grandson, Alex. He officially finished his F-18E Super Hornet. It was an eight month project and it wasn't easy. It was completed over a lot of interruptions including school, camp and family vacations, but he didn't give up. He asked for help and got it when he needed it, but did almost all the assembly himself. He relied on me to manage the airbrush and to scratchbuild two missing parts. He was very proud of the accomplishment.


11 Aug 12,, 02:32
Good work. Both of you!

Builder 2010
11 Aug 12,, 04:15

Builder 2010
13 Aug 12,, 03:01
To keep the momentum going I actually got some RR work on both weekend days. These session included finishing the left-end module, fitting up and completing an auxiliary module, and getting started on sorting out all the joists and beginning the process of attaching the sub-roadbed panels.

Here's the auxiliary module all clamped together to get the geometry right. I clamped a false leg in the corner to set the height, and clamped a 1 X 3 across the top from the existing girder to set the width. I notched the flanges on the girders so they nested together and then clamped the ends, and then was able to get the leg fashioned. On the original layout, I didn't want to keep building girders so I made a really long joist and then made it into a simple truss with a diagonal that ran back to the bottom of the girder. It worked, but it was touchy. With additional width I have now I was able to fit a respectable girder into the space to better support the inside circle.


And here it is fully fastened in. Again, I made good use of the Simpson Splice Plates for the non-square corners. For the square corner at the end, I again use the separate block screwed to one member and carriage bolts in the other direction.


Then there was how to fasten the leg to the odd-angled member. I made a block that brought the angle back to square. The first time I did this, I didn't spend the time to drill pilot holes and the screws promptly split the block in two. My second attempt was much better and the pilot holes prevented splitting.


Here's the block:


And here's what it looked like after I blew it up.


In addition to the railroad work, my grandson and I started another model in the inventory: a beautiful Hasegawa 1:48, F-22 Raptor. The model is spectacular with beautiful cockpit, tailpipe and weapons bay details. It also has add-on photoetched for the weapons bay doors and the titanium sides of the variable exhaust nozzles. Alex did a real nice job on the pilot and the photoetched seat belts. His skills and patience keep improving. I'm reliving my childhood through him (again...my son was a pretty neat kid too, and a wonderful eye surgeon now).

Builder 2010
13 Aug 12,, 03:49
Something else comical happened. You'll notice that block at the right-angle corner, well... I put it on, quickly, and was tightening down the carriage bolts but noticed the girder was still floppy. Then I saw it. I had put both sets of screws into the same beam instead of being 90º from each other. In other words, the girder wasn't connected yet. After smacking myself in the head for rushing. I disassembled the mistake, drilled clearance holes on the correct face for the 9 X 2-1/5 Deck Screws and then reattached it correctly. Now the girder was solid.


In the picture you can see the wrong holes too.

I also build some other auxiliary girders to fill the corners. Again, in the original version I used elongated joist cantilevered out into the curve. Since I've gotten so good at making girders, and have the extra material to do so, I just knocked a few out. Here they are:



When I disassemble the back table and incorporate it into the layout, I'll make some more small girders to fill in the back right corner.

And then finally I started working on joist placement, and figuring out how best to use the old joists. After reviewing their status, I'm going to have to redo the placement of the risers and how their fastened. In the 2nd iteration I resorted to using furring strips for the 1 X 3 joists, but they're not milled and the edges are not square so they don't make such terrific joists. Furthermore, I used a Simpson wide-head, phillips screw that was quite long enough. This resulted in a sub-par assembly. I'm going to redo all of them. The riser shoe top should be 42-1/2" off the floor. I'm going to set them up using a water-level so they'll be at the same height over the entire room. It takes time, but it's not particularly hard...mostly production line stuff.


Builder 2010
21 Aug 12,, 01:25
Over the last several days, two things took place; I redesigned the trackwork a bit to give me a longer straight section at the upper left corner to permit using commercial bridges by Mike's Train House, and rearranged the yard track to make it a "through yard" instead of a stub yard. Through yards are more prototypical and more flexible. It has less tracks than the one it replaces, but there's room for expansion. Here's a snippet of the new versus old arrangement. I also realigned some switches to give smoother tracking. unfortunately, this upped the price of the conversion about $200.


It's easy to see that trains can enter one end of the through yard and leave by the other. It's easier to store engines. There's plenty of room for additional yard tracks which I'll add in the out-years since the budget is busting for this year.

And I started a side project to engage the younger grandson which turned into a more major project which had me working for four days. This project is a 1940s gas station kit by Berkshire Valley. It's primarily a cast polyurethane resin kit with pewter and resin accessories. I've had it in the model inventory since 2005. It's the Sinclair Oil version with the added interior kit and a miniature florescent light for it. I had to mix the green to get close to the Sinclair green. Mobil oil would have been easier since it's red. The kit has gobs of details in 1:48 scale including welding set, air compressor, oil cans, tire testing tank, etc., etc.

While the entire structure is only 8 pieces (base, roof, front back, 2-sides and 2 interior walls), it was anything but easy, and instead of being a kit my 8-year-old grandson could tackle, it became a major project that got me off of layout building. Walls had to be cut, roof had to be cut. The painting was complicated and I spent 4 hours today masking and painting. The kids started school today, so they'll be spending less time in the workshop with me.


The resin window frames were warped and too large for their openings. As I was trying to sand them to size they broke which meant I had to scratch-build two window frames. I had styrene strip of the right size in the inventory, so it just took time. The checkered tile floor is a computer drawing I made for the Saulena's Tavern model. In that instance, it was a black and white pattern. For this one I picked colors more appropriate to a gas station. I printed it on photo paper at hi-res.


The detail painting and decals are not done yet, but these pictures give and idea of how nice this station will look on the layout with my 1950s collection of die-cast cars.

Here's a couple interior shots. The stuff is just thrown in for the pictures. Making the work bench out of wood was fun. And the acetylene outfit consisted of a main pewter casting with the tanks and base. The wheels were CA'd on a brass axle where holes needed to be drilled, as did the regulators on top. Then you drill holes for the handle and CA it to the rest. It needs more paint, but you get the idea.


There's a belt and pulley casting that goes on the compressor, plus a old-fashioned bench grinder with a separate motor and grinder stand to be mounted on the work bench. I'll have to miniaturize a racy calender for the wall. I put a train calendar on the wall of the signal tower I made. It's amazing what you can do with a computer. I need to find a 50s vintage Playboy picture. They weren't as risque as they are now.

I could have just put this back in the box and worked on it later, but I have trouble not finishing something I've started.

I also have a very elaborate Victorian station that's 3/4ths finished, that's going to wait until the trains are running. It's a beauty that I scaled up from HO-scale drawings and have scratch-built entirely out of styrene. There's many hours in creating the English Tudor look.


Fitting the roofs has been a significant challenge that's not quite finished yet. There's also large awnings on both sides that will be a standing-seam room. I have Evergreen Scale Models standing seam roofing that looks very authentic. It consists of a slotted piece of flat styrene, with 0.010" X 0.030" styrene slats that get glued into the slots. It's very tedious, but very cool.

Builder 2010
23 Aug 12,, 01:58
Still working on the gas station. Here's the acetylene set, the workbench and bench grinder, and the air compressor which I finished today. I also decided to make the roof removable using the tiny 1/4" rare-earth magnets that I used in holding the B-17s access hatch on. I thought of this when waking this morning. I used the two magnets stacked together to get the proper spacing of the roof when closed. I made little triangular braces out of styrene and epoxied the whole thing together. After gluing the magnets to the building I realized I hadn't paid attention to the "north-south" configuration, and of course 4 out of 5 magnets were in the wrong polarity. I had to pry them off the roof and install them so they attracted instead of repelled. This time I used CA to speed up the process. Later when I tried the roof out, two of the magnets held each other more strongly than to the surface they were mounted, and they pulled off. I re-glue them next session.

That took some time, but the most time was spend doing all the little details. For example, (and you can't really see it in this picture), I used the stretchy rigging material to make a belt from the motor to the grinding wheels mounted on the workbench. "Crazy!", you say? Yes! It is crazy, but it was fun to do it.


I'm fix'n to make the track, roadbed, ballast and wire orders. I'm going to spread it out over a couple of months since it comes to about 2 grand and I don't want to break the bank. I'm not surprised and my wife is okay with it too since it was a path that was determined the minute that I decided to scrap the old layout's plywood and roadbed, and decided to enlarge the layout 50% to fit the new basement.

I'm getting near the end of the gas station project and will soon be back to building macro assemblies instead of all this micro-stuff.

Builder 2010
24 Aug 12,, 02:46
I mentioned in yesterday's post that I installed small, rare-earth magnets to hold the roof and make it removable. Here's some pictures of the finished product. I reinstalled the two magnets that pulled loose this morning using Gorilla Glue. Since it's polyurethane glue that dries with some flexibility, I figured the magnets would not break loose as quickly as they did with the epoxy. I let it cure all day and tested it tonight and the glue is holding.

I used N-scale ballast for the gravel on the roof (a built-up roof so I'm told). I spread acrylic matte medium around and sprinkled the gravel on the wet material. Next I'll wet it down with Isopropyl alcohol and impregnate it with dilute matte medium to firmly lock it in place. Once that's fully cured, I'm going to airbrush it with weathered black. That should make it look roof-like. Here's the roof on.


And here's the roof off.


The center wall's just sitting there. I'll epoxy that in after I do some weathering on the base plate. Now it's just pristine concrete.

The corner magnet location was harder than it looks. I thought the angle brackets would align nicely with the roof support rails. But when I loaded the magnet onto the roof—while the building was upside down—the angular support came out just at the very bottom of the rail giving very little gluing surface for the CA to hold on to. I was going to epoxy everything anyway, but it was so tenuous that I didn't think they'd stay put long enough even to get the epoxy on. But it did hold and with the epoxy completely filling the underneath areas, they're not going anywhere.


Lastly, here's the center wall's magnet. This location worked out more easily.


With the magnets in place, I finish up some more details. One tricky little one is fastening the gas hose to the nozzle for the gas pumps. The nozzle casting is a thing of beauty having all the details of a real one in 1/48th. It has a little lug on the back end that's supposed to insert into a piece of what looks like 20 or 22 gauge wire. Only problem is that the stranded conductor is still in the wire and you can get the lug into the vinyl tubing. Now I have to figure a way of removing some of the conductor to make room for the nozzle. Little things always made big challenges. I'm going t slice the vinyl, clip out the conductor and then glue the vinyl (now with a slice down the side) onto the nozzle and hope that the CA keeps it all together.

Builder 2010
30 Aug 12,, 04:30
Continued working on the finer details of the gas station. Since the Missouri, every model I build compels me to be a masterpiece. And it's a bit annoying.

I've been doing more weathering on the garage floor and all the apparatus. It's got to be a bit more grungy since it's a gas station, not a beauty salon. I glazed all the windows using the acetate provided and RC-56 canopy cement. It's water-based, dries clear, doesn't craze and remains flexible. I didn't glue the frames in yet. I'll do that after our labor day break.

I also took the kit lamppost that was a two-part pewter casting and modified it with a real lamp. I cut of the 3/32nd post at the base, drilled the base out 3/32 (which also consumed the bottom lug) and then replaced it with a piece of aluminum tube of the same diameter. I then CA'd a grain of rice bulb on top running both wires down the tube. For the lamp top, I milled some slots in the boss that held the old post to let more light out and then CA's the top directly on the top of the light bulb. It's looks the same as before except now it lights when you apply 12 volts. This is convenient since it's the same voltage as the florescent tube that's going inside (the florescent is 12v DC). I'm targeting my layout to the early to mid-1950s so having florescent lighting inside and incandescent outside would be perfectly natural.


I took another staged shot to show progress. Nothing's glued down. The tool box, battery charger, shop vac etc. are all part of a set of garage accessories. It's all "Snap On" and was very shiny. I just dunked them all in the India Ink/alcohol mixture and let it do its work. I made them look well worn and beat up. Perfect!. I do realize that the shop vac probably wasn't around in the mid-50s.


The weathering isn't done yet, but it's getting closer. The oil spills is the India Ink mixture over-layed with Tamiya gloss clear. Looks effective. Notice there's a Coke bottle on the workbench... I want to add the valve assembly for the lift that will be fastened to the back wall. I also built and mounted a wood shelf for various cans and things on the back wall. I also am going to put the vent pipes that go up the back outside wall. I took some pictures of these today at a local gas station. In the 50s, there would only be two tanks; regular and hi-test, so only two vents.

Builder 2010
07 Sep 12,, 01:31
Still going ahead on finishing this engaging and at times, tedious little project. I installed all the windows after preparing the side windows. I made the inner-panel of the rear-most window in an open position. This required installing a brass rod to act as a hinge pin and provide something to glue the inner piece to. I then sprayed the garage door and the side windows with flat spray since these windows in a gas station are not usually clean and are more to let light in than to view the interior from the outside. I left the office windows and door clean since these would be more "public" facing.



I used "Formula 560" a PVA-based canopy cement, to hold all the glazing acetate and windows. It holds well and doesn't craze the "glass" like CA or styrene cements can.

As you can also see in the first pic, I've been busy putting on the decals. And of course, I ran out of the green stripping decals from Microscale. I was sure there would be enough, but there wasn't. I not sure what I'm going to do at this point. I could mask and paint, but my color match isn't so hot. I'll see how I feel.

Here's the front of the station showing the decals in the office windows.


Then I spent some time building the main street sign. It was a challenging little affair involving drilling a 0.032" hole 6.5" from the bottom, inserting and then gluing a brass cross-bar, and finally gluing those little fillagreed brackets into the joints. There's also a little round pewter ball glued into the top of the staff. The sign is a piece of styrene that came with the kit, shaped by a template that was part of the instructions. I cut some saw kerfs into the sheet to mount the stems of some eyebolts. These came from my ship building supplies since the ones included in the kit were way too large. I sanded the CA flat and then used some decal setting solution to snuggle the decals down over the grooves left by the gluing operation.


Next up, complete the foam core base and start mounting everything all together. Should be done in a couple more sessions and then it's back to the railroad. I'm fix'n to order all the track in the next couple of days along with the foam roadbed. I'm also ordering a couple of truss bridge kits that I found in Plastruct's catalog. They're the least expensive way to go for a scale-looking bridge, but I'll have to build them. Oh well... more blogging.

07 Sep 12,, 01:54
You've made a lot of progress since you began posting. Nice work. I like the way you solve problems. Reminds me of my company's home remodeling work.

Builder 2010
11 Sep 12,, 01:33
Thanks! I guess one of the major reasons I like this kind of hobby is the continuous thinking that's required to get it right. I often put myself to sleep at night or just when awaking in the morning solving problems or working on the next steps in my head. It's amazing how the morning thinking is so creative. For example: yesterday I woke up thinking how I was going to get the green in the decals to match the green I had mixed up. My green was too yellow and too brown. Thought that I could scan both colors, but them into Corel PhotoPaint and analyze them to see where they each fell on the color engine. I could then slide the mixed color to match the decal color and see what hues were being added (or subtracted) to match the colors. As it worked out, my grandson was playing on my laptop so I didn't apply my idea, but it should have work. I continued mixing them the old fashioned way and did get a color that was close, which I used to retouch the decals stripes that were missing or damaged.

While removing the masking tape for the stripe fix, I pulled off part of the "Sinclair" decal right smack in the middle of the front. My older grandson admonished me not to try and repaint it, but offered that I used the big "Tires, Tires, Tires" decal that came with the set. I took his advice (he's a good problem solver too) and put the banner over the half-missing Sinclair sign.

Today I made a big step... I prepared the base and glued the building to it. I scribed around the inside and outside of the walls and then scraped the paint off the resin base between the scribed lines. I found that when I glued the shelf to the back wall that the glue would stick to the paint, but the paint wasn't sticking so well to the resin substrate and the whole thing was very easy to knock off, so I didn't want to take any chances with this major assembly.

I used the Formula 560 adhesive to do this. It's supposedly good for joining dissimilar materials, dries somewhat flexible, so it seemed like a possibility. Gorilla Glue, while very strong, foams when it cures and seeps out of the joint area. Epoxy seemed like overkill. CA is too unforgiving, brittle and doesn't facilitate moving things once they're in place. I clamped and weighted the two parts. When I unclamped after an hour, the joint was not yet set. I'm now letting it sit overnight. The label says "3 hour set time and 24 hour full cure". I also glued the soda machine on the sidewalk which served as my test to see if the glue was holding.


I you look closely you can see that I scraped off the paint at the door sill to the Ladies room. I'll touch that up later. You can also see the "Coke" bottle sitting on top of the Coke machine. The kit came with two bottles along with a half-filled case of Coke. I painted the bare pewter with Tamiya clear green which produces a very believable green glass bottle. The other bottle is glued to the workbench.

I also glued the stuff for the gas island; pumps, trash can and oil can locker.

Next I turned my attention to the office shelf unit, gluing all the little bits and pieces in there. I'm going to paint them once the glue sets firmly. I also used the F-560 cement for these parts.


Next session I'll touch up the base, and start preparing another base that all this stuff goes on. I've been using foam core as bases for the building. It will need to be painted asphalt color and have a sidewalk built. Since foam core is a paper covered, I can't use water-based paints directly on it. I'm going to prepare the surface first with an oil-based primer. I'll probably go with the Krylon I used for the building. I may install a concrete pad with the tank filler plates, but I'm not sure if this it the way gas stations did it in the 50s.

Builder 2010
12 Sep 12,, 02:48
Just one picture today... I'm now building the baseboard to hold the entire diorama. I also glued in all the detail pieces including the tire air regulator using Walthers' Goo. It's a very versatile contact adhesive that's good for sticking details into buildings. The garage looks very busy.

I'm keeping about 10 scale feet on each side, 15 scale feet in the rear and enough space for 2 cars, the gas island and a 4-foot sidewalk with a 9" curb. I cut a piece of thin styrene sheet that will be the sidewalk. I'll scribe the expansion joints in it and then paint it concrete gray. I also have to figure a way to make believable curb cuts where the driveways will go leading into the gas station. It's on 3/8" foam core so making the slopes is not a straight forward activity. It my be best to cut out the foam core entirely and carve a piece of balsa or use some other moldable material to shape the entries. I have a couple of options here including Sculpy and Sculpt-a-mold. The latter works like modeling clay and then you bake it in an oven for 15 minutes which makes it almost as hard as ceramic. As I'm writing this (and thinking out loud), Sculpt-a-Mold might be the best way to go. It could also be carved plaster of paris.

I took this picture using the focus stacking software to give a very deep depth of field, but since I took it without flash, the brightness from one exposure to the other varied a lot. The software got the focus correct, but it messed up the lighting so some of the pieces ended up looking awful. I then when back and picked parts of each individual exposure and cut them out and pasted them to the composite. This worked pretty well—took a lot of time too—and gives a close approximation of the station as it is at this stage.

The baseboard was painted with Krylon Gray primer to make it water-proof and then airbrushed the base with Model Tech "Grimy Black" water-based paint. Model Tech is great stuff, but very hard to find. I airbrushes with no odor at all and dries quickly. I'm going to use some weathering powders next session to age the asphalt a bit. I'm also going to glue some styrene circles to simulate the gas tank filler locations (Regular and Hi-test). There was no "un-leaded" in 1955.

I also selectively brightened up the interior by masking it (digitally) and lightening that area. Here's a before and after look without editing and with it. You can particularly see the distortion in the gas pumps, the lamppost, the left shadow side of the building, and the halos around some objects. These are all artifacts of the focus stacking software.



The white strip in the front is the beginnings of the sidewalk. You can also just see the edge of the foam core. The curb will cover this edge.

And one more thing: the chimneys are almost done. Today I added some "tar" flashing around their bases (and the waste stack) using a mixture of Aleen's Tacky glue (a high viscosity white glue) and Tamiya flat black acrylic paint. They blend together nicely and formed a thick, black caulking that looks very real. Next I'm going to paint the stacks a "galvanized steel" looking mixture of gray and silver, then using some rust powders to age them.

12 Sep 12,, 10:27
I thought we gonna see the rail first, maybe a station then the businesses would pop up later.

Guess this is the easier way, when you have planned it all.

Or maybe I missed something?

Builder 2010
14 Sep 12,, 01:57
Nope, you didn't miss anything. As I explained earlier, the gas station was a project that was supposed to occupy my 8 year-old grandson with something to build while I worked with his older brother on a neat F-35 Raptor. However, the station turned out to be much more complex and difficult than I thought and—being the obsessive model builder that I am—I took over the project to drive it to completion. Meanwhile, I did buy nearly $1,700 in track and roadbed today which will arrive some time next week. This should have the effect of getting me back to the railroad post haste.

Today I continued work on the gas station base trying to build a decent set of curb cuts to allow cars to enter and leave the premises.

I decided on the Sculpey method. Sculpey is a modelling clay like material that hardens to ceramic-like hardness after you back it at 275ºF for 15 minutes. Some of you may recall my use of this product to carve the flight crew for the B-17. I made a mold box based on dimensions that I estimated would work for the height of the curb (9 scale inches) and the thickness of the foam core. This mold box picture doesn't show the front dam that I added to set the front edge thickness.


After stuffing the Sculpey into the box I attempted to shape it to resemble a concrete curb cut that one finds leading into everything that enters off of a paved road with a sidewalk. This station's going to sit in an urban environment with streets, curbs, and sidewalks.

Here's what the raw sculpted pieces looked like


After firing, I didn't like how lumpy it was, so I used some trusty DAP filler—the kind that goes on pink and turns white when it dries—to level the curb cuts. I traced the pieces and cut the foam core to accept them. After using CA to hold them firm, I noted that they didn't match the heights after all—so much for the mold box idea—and I put another layer of DAP to give a nice slope right up to the pavement. Next session, I'll sand it smooth and get ready to paint. I also added the sidewalk (a scale 4' wide) and engraved expansion joints every 4 scale feet. I'll use the same "aged concrete" color as I did for the gas station base. I'm spraying the dried curb cuts with Dulcoat lacquer before painting. The paint I'm using is water-based and it could soften the filler without this barrier. Also, you'll note there's no paint where the station and the gas island sit. I masked this off so I'll be gluing to native foam core surface rather than paint, just to be more secure.


Here are the cuts installed with the added filler and the pavement in place. Once painted it should look pretty believable. What's not believable is the 90º sharp turn that cars will have to make after leaving the gas island in order to leave the station. The base should have been 6" wider to give a realistic curve. But I didn't want it to take up that much real estate so foreshortening is allowed.


I'm going to glue some curbing on the front edge to hide the foam core's interior and finish it off. When I mount the piece into the layout, the street surface will come up higher on the edge and hopefully will set the the 9 scale inch actual curb height.

While all this was drying, I installed the florescent light and it's starter into the station. Both the lamppost and the florescent light require 12 volts. The florescent needs DC, the incandescent light can use either AC or DC. So I'm going to buy a cheap HO power pack to provide the DC. I could also use a AC Adapter that generates 12 volts with enough amps to drive this building AND the Parkway Diner. This is another project waiting in the wings that is a completely photoetched product of a nice modern stainless steel diner with a full interior and both florescent lights and a Electro Luminescent panel that lights up and says "Diner". I'm not starting that kit until the trains are running, but it will also need 12 volt DC.


Builder 2010
16 Sep 12,, 04:58
Gas station is finished. My young grandson painted the sidewalk 2 coats of Model Tech acrylic "Concrete Gray", but it didn't look good enough so we masked it off and airbrushed a 3rd coat. We then glued all the pieces down to the base. When this set, I took the "builder's photo" and put it on the shelf to wait for the layout to be capable of handling it. I used some weathering powders on the new concrete to age it a bit. Those curb cuts look reasonably believable.


I got back to the railroad and mounted the first two official joists and their risers. The joists are laid out 16" on centers, just like a stick-built home.

I already made a mistake... not a big one, but one that was good to catch this early. I re-checked my railroad schematic and realized that the difference in height between the lower level and upper is 5.00", not 5.50". So I'll remount those two risers and get back on track. 5.5" would have created a grade steeper than I would have like given the length of run back to base level. The grade ends one track length before switches at each end. I didn't want the grade to continue through the switch. The base level riser is 42.50" off the floor which matches the existing riser height. This will produce a table height a little over 43". The riser heads are cross-level, and then each riser head is leveled to the one next to it. There's one long screw holding each end of the joist to the girders. That's all that's needed since the load is straight down with no side forces. You actually wouldn't even have to screw the joist to the girder once the risers are all screwed into the OSB sheet above it. The screws just keep everything in place until the OSB is in place. I'll establish a riser at the lower end of the grade just before it hits the curve. Then I'll run a string line to the upper most riser and use that to set the heights of all the intermediate risers so the grade will be nice and smooth. I can also use the string method around the curve, but I'll need to install pins to hold the string around the curve.

Once I get underway, this part will go pretty fast.



16 Sep 12,, 11:26
I like it how the Citroen CV2 fits perfectly in the garage. :whome:

Builder 2010
16 Sep 12,, 15:23
I like it how the Citroen CV2 fits perfectly in the garage. :whome:

That deux ce ve is a great little model. The problem is this. Model diecast cars are 1:43 scale, which is British O-scale. American O-scale is 1:48. The garage is 1:48 so the diecast cars, while looking okay when on the street, stuck out of the garage door. The Citroen fit perfectly.

16 Sep 12,, 15:31
I knew there is a good explanation for this.

Keep the good work.

Builder 2010
16 Sep 12,, 22:44
I had a rare Sunday work session today and got more work done on that first part of the back layout. I set the grade with a series of risers based on the dimensions that were called out in the RR Track design program. I made that plan into a GIF file so I could import into the CorelDraw image of all the infrastructure. For the uninitiated, GIF (and PNG) files allow to save files with a transparent background. In this way, the layout can sit above all the plywood in the drawing, but you can still see what's beneath. This diagram gives me good reference points for the location of grade start and stop, and critical check points. Here's a slice of that drawing showing the track grade heights. The heights are shown from the track section's end. An important reference point is the L-girder that extends from the jog in the back wall. The entire layout is being keyed to this point.


This next shot shows how I use a level to align risers of equal heights. Again, you can't have enough quick clamps. They make working alone very easy. All you do is bring the next riser up to the level, clamp it, put one screw it it, and check cross-level, unclamp and put the second screw in and re-torque them to ensure their tight. All the other joists along this part of the layout are all screwed down. I did them all while sitting on the scooter so I didn't have to keep getting on and off of it.


This last series shows how I ran a chalk line (without the chalk) from the last riser at the 5.0" elevation to the riser at the start of the left end curve. Beyond that riser you run into the area where the bridges are going. I'm not doing anything there until the work along the entire back is roughed in. Once that end is closed in, the only other way into the middle without using my scooter... or being 8 years old... is at the opening on the front right end where the swing-out section is going. It's a long railroad and walking about the entire perimeter each time I need to get in or out, is a lot of walking. Once the back is done with it's track and roadbed, I'll close the left end in and create the bridges. This also goes for the track that crosses in the middle which will also be a bridge.


I really don't care about the heights of all those intermediate risers. Once I establish the start and finish points, the chalk line ensures that all the intermediates are at the correct elevation.


This is a very accurate way to set up grades. When I sighted down across all the risers, I noticed that the last one I put in was slightly lower than the others. I fixed it. The quality of the OSB fit is directly related to how smoothly and evenly the risers are installed.

Builder 2010
18 Sep 12,, 04:09
As I stated last night, once the girders are up, construction moves along quickly. You get into a rhythm. I finished all of the risers for the middle OSB sheets and started bolting them into place. This started with the elevated portion and moved down to the base level pieces. As you can see, I added extenders to several joists that didn't extend far enough out to support the edges of the panels.


In the picture, the continuing pieces of the elevated section are just clamped in place to see how it looks. By not having the panel seam at the crest of the slope, leaves a nice smooth transition from grade to level. This was not planned. It just happily came out that way.


The portion to the right of the panel shown below has risers exposed. I'm probably going to add some surplus OSB going forward to support landscaping and buildings. The track is not going out that far as it stands now.


I'm including a closeup pic of the DeWalt bruiser that I'm using along with the flexible drive. I'm using the flexdrive almost exclusively working underneath since it can work around obstructions. It's a bit difficult to handle when you try and put the final torque on the screw since it wants to wrap up the flexidrive into a pretzel. It's a huge drill motor, and probably weighs about as much as it could before I really couldn't handle it well. It has an all steel chuck, has a quick locking feature which clamps bits and drills very tightly. It also has terrific battery life. I get a full day's work between charges. One battery is always on the charger. Compared to this machine, all the other cordless drills I had were toys.


One annoying problem that I have to correct is when using a screw that's too long. The riser heads are of two different kinds of stock (and thickness); the original German pieces (thin) and the ones created for the second iteration (thicker). Even when I use the correct length, they still penetrate enough to be a safety hazard if you happen to lean on the layout in the wrong place. What I do is take the Dremel with the big cutoff wheel and cut them flush with the OSB. It's not hard, just a pain in the butt and you need to wear serious eye protection.


Got the word from Hobby Innovations that they got my check and my roadbed is on it's way. So I have to keep cracking to get enough OSB down that can receive track. I also want to paint all the Ross track running rails. I bought this cute little paint roller at York some years ago that I'm itching to try out. On the old rail, I'll have to clean it pretty well. Shouldn't be too hard on the new rail.


Gun Grape
21 Sep 12,, 02:16
Dewalt Hammer Drills. Nothing beats them

Gun Grape
21 Sep 12,, 02:22
Like Jadd mentioned, As a builder I am really enjoying seeing how you tackle this project. See lots of things you do that doesn't make me want to go "Ooh, he should have done this" or "Thats all wrong". What I am seeing is things that make me think "Cool, Never thought of doing it that way".

And the gas station build was pretty cool too.

Builder 2010
21 Sep 12,, 03:02
Thanks Grape! I'm glad I'm helping folks see new things.

I could swear I posted this last night, but it didn't show up so here it is again. Had a good long session (now yesterday) and got more done. I completed the left side of the rear layout high line, then mounted the lower base level that runs sort of parallel. I also screwed down the middle piece that I fitted yesterday. I used Simpson Strong-tie plates to join OSB panel edges to stabilize the edges.


Now that the OSB is screwed tight, this part of the layout is becoming rock solid. It is enormously strong. I frankly don't know why folks use 2 X 4s in an egg-crate arrangement, when L-girder gives such a strong, light and uses much less resources to make it so.


After this session, I got the Dremel out, put on the goggles and the dust mask and cut all those dangerous screw points that were protruding from the surface. I used the dust mask as well as the goggles since the last time I did this without the mask I was blowing my nose and getting steel dust in the results. I didn't like that.

I cleared all the junk off of the panels that were just lying on the left rear end and moved them out of the way. I then started laying in the joists and building the high-line in that portion. This portion is a constant 5.0" above the base. Again, joists are 16" on center. I'm using joist stock from the previous iteration of the layout. I've stripped the previous risers and heads from them, re-cut the joists to a new length and will reattach the risers. I'm replacing all the phillips head screws with the Star drive ones since they're so much easier to torque properly especially when working underneath. Notice my scooter... I'm getting back in shape getting my butt up and down onto it by using the girders to hoist myself up. The layout's getting stronger as more members are in place so it's a firm thing to hold onto when getting up and down.


Here's the right end high-line being fitted.


USS Wisconsin suggested that I set the camera up in the same spot and take pictures as it progresses so we can edit into a time-lapse movie. So here's a long shot showing progress so far. Once the rear panels are all in place, I will clean off the table in the back of this picture and reconfigure it to be installed at the right end. Should be there in a couple of days.


I'm getting quite a pile of old joists that are too short for this new design. I have new lumber (1 X 3s) for this purpose, but I want to conserve it so I don't have to buy more. Therefore, I may simply splice short ones together to make longer ones. If the overlap is enough, they're very strong. The screws I'm using have a 350 pound sheer strength. Three screws = over 1,000 pounds. Plenty strong for joists on a model railroad.

Builder 2010
22 Sep 12,, 00:15
Today's session, while very important, doesn't photograph so well. First let me say that the additional track arrived from Ross Custom Switches. Once the vinyl roadbed arrives we'll be able to start laying track.

I fastened the right rear high-line and spliced it to the existing piece.


Then I started preparing more risers... lots and lots of risers... using the old risers and some new stock. I have almost 60 of them now, but will probably need more. Here's the pile of joists without their risers from the old layouts. As I noted in last post, I will probably splice these together to make longer ones so I don't consume precious resources.


And here's the riser pile. When possible I'm using the torx screws instead of the old Phillips. Many of the old screws already are suffering from cam-out problems. I opened up all the screw holes in the riser piece to 11/64ths clearance for the #8 Spax torx head screws. While you don't even need a pilot hole for this brand of screw, I find that having a clearance hole on one piece makes drawing the parts tight much easier. If you don't use a clearance hole, and if the parts are not tightly clamped together, it is possible for the screw to be tight without the parts being drawn together. If you try to torque it tighter, you actually have to strip the threads out on the riser, which is hard to do and it may also strip the threads out of the joist.


Next session will be more interesting since I'll be actually mounting stuff on the railroad.

Builder 2010
23 Sep 12,, 01:45
Got three panel pieces permanently fastened which almost completes the right end. There are two more high-line pieces in that corner and they'll be installed in the next session. This session fixed a big piece (one of the largest). Instead of putting in all the risers then flopping the piece over them like I did when doing the original build in Germany, I attached a splice plate on one end and clamped the panel to it, then with the level sitting on top, shimmed up the other end with a riser and clamped it when it was close to level. I then went to the middle of the panel and clamped a riser there until it was exactly level. Once I got a few risers positioned so it was level and cross-level, I screwed the splice-end tight and went back and started to fasten the risers permanently also. In this way, I worked my way back to the free end and made sure everything was tight.


I started using wooden splice plates since the Simpson Strong-tie sheet metal plates were flexing too much. I also replaced the Simpson plates on the high line since there as a small dip in the grade area at the splice. It's still not perfect and I think that one of the risers is a bit low and needs adjusting. It may not matter operationally.


I will say this, my back and hands are sore! It's a lot of moves that I'm not used to making to get under the layout and position yourself to reach all the screws. And one more thing: I've already put in hundreds of screws. Without power drivers I can't imagine doing a project like this.

On the high line I also fixed another small problem that occurred when I installed the wood splice. There was a small difference in thickness between the two pieces of OSB. This little bump may have replicated itself when the track was laid. To correct, I put a cardboard shim under the thinner piece which brought it up to an exact match with the thicker one. All the other panel-to-panel joints were on the same plane.

Here's a shot showing how long this railroad's becoming. Sorry about the focus. Next time I'll set the camera on the tripod, take multiple exposures and then use the focus stacking software for an infinite depth-of-field.


Here's an underneath shot showing all of those risers! Another nice thing about L-girder; if the girders aren't level, it doesn't matter since each riser cleat is individually leveled. This cancels out any irregularities in the girder system. If it was an egg-grate frame, the frame itself would have to be level and even throughout.


This is a good time to assess where we are are and how much more we have to go. I estimate that we're at the 25% completion point (for the platform only). Best to show a diagram to explain this.


Nine pieces have been installed so far (piece 1 and 2 were split since the rearmost portions on both are on the high line). The upper left end will be the second to last area to be finished since I like having the opening there to get to the chop saw. The last part to be finished will be the swing-out session at the lower right. I want the railroad to be stiff and stable before building that. With the pieces installed today, I'll be able to clear off the end table and make the modifications needed to match the new design. That shouldn't take long. Then I turn my attention to the front side of the layout. There's a lot of work to do there, but there is access from both sides. The table height of 43" makes a great stand-up workbench for doing all sorts of assembly operations. It's very convenient.

Builder 2010
26 Sep 12,, 03:07
Put the last pieces of OSB in place today and started rebuilding the right end. The downslope of the grade starts right at the end of this elevated section.


In this case I fastened the splice plates to the OSB BEFORE I hoisted it up onto the risers. I also added a brace to one of the base level pieces when I found a "soft" corner that needed reinforcement. You see a tube of "caulk on the table. It's Loctite Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive that I'm going to use to glue down the vinyl roadbed to the OSB and the track to the vinyl. While it would be faster to fasten the track down with screws, it makes the railroad noisier. O-gauge trains are noisy. If you put the screws through the vinyl, it completely defeats the roadbed's sound-absorbing properties and the screws carry the sound directly down to the OSB. Acts like the bridge on a guitar. Once this glue sets, you won't easily move anything so you better get stuff located right the first time.

With the back OSB in place, I cleaned of the right end table. I removed the ply sheeting which was used as the B-17 building table. This is going to be re-purposed as an elevated work surface for the workbench (future project). At first I thought I could use the right end table almost as it was with just changing one of the girders. I was wrong. I'm really rebuilding it completely. The only thing that's not changing is the width.

Here's the before picture.


In order to get the dimensions correct I jerry-rigged the outer curved OSB by clamping to to the high line end, building a temporary support leg held with a c-clamp and laying the free end onto the right end framework. The plan's dimensions called for 29" from the end of the curved piece to the right hand leg. This leg is going to ultimately support the piano hinge for the swing-out section. I move the table rearward so it equaled this dimension. I then measured from the outer rear girder to the same leg set which gave me the length of a new girder that I need to make. The right-most girder was also replaced with a longer one. I also pushed out the leg spacing about 2 feet to make it a little more stable and facilitate getting underneath.


I temporarily held everything together with a couple of bolts and lots of clamps and then it was time to quit. Tomorrow, I finish off the right end.

Builder 2010
27 Sep 12,, 04:51
Worked on trains today too.

Right end is shaping up. Using the RR Track drawing that spells out the track elevations. It gives the elevation at the center of each piece of sectional track. My risers don't necessarily match up 1 for 1 to those track pieces so I had to interpolate the elevations which fell at other locations. Again, like the straight run, I set up a lower riser, an intermediate one and then used the string line to establish the position of all the rest.

Before I did this, I had to finish up the foundation work. I tied the right end girders at two points with right angles using attachment blocks and carriage bolts like I did with the angular girder way down at the other end. I had to extend one of the rear girders so it reached he right end's girder. I also attached a diagonal girder across the angle which gives me a strong point to attach as set of radial joists which support the curves.

Here's a shot that shows the radial joists. When I build this layout before, I didn't do it this way. I just ran joists diagonally across the corners and mounted the risers edge-wise to them. This was not very secure, but it avoided making more girders. This new method allows risers to be mounted conventionally to each.


To be sure about how far out the elevated curve OSB had to hang out over the end structure, I broke out some actual railroad track. This was a major event since it was the first time this track saw the light of day in 3.5 years. I put together the corner curve and the little bit of straight section that runs across the back and—with the curve OSB temporarily clamped into position—aligned the track with the center of the OSB and moved the OSB outwards until the curve looked right. Here's the track.


After positioning the OSB curve I started to fasten the risers to the piece. In a couple of instances, I had mounted the risers too far in, so I removed them, repositioned them and re-fastened them.

With the top piece down tight, I started to attach the inner, base-elevated OSB curve. This piece was easier to position since all I had to do was make sure it was level with the existing parts of the layout. I mounted the end splice blocks onto these pieces before putting them on the layout since it's easier to screw them when face down, instead of underneath the layout facing up. I still have to do that for the mating piece, but that's only one instead of two. In this picture, it's just sitting there. I will be fastened in tomorrow.



I have one correction to make. As I mentioned a while ago, I had changed the way I was drawing the tangent line to draw the ends of the curved pieces. I thought I was doing it better, trying to draw a line from the imaginary center of the arc inscribing the curve, but I was wrong. I will make a small filler piece to fill this gap. I will have to do this a few more times since the curves at the other end also have the same errors. Not a big deal, just a bit of a pain.


As you readers know, I don't just show you the good stuff, I show you all the stuff. The good, the bad, and the really ugly. Speaking of readers. It's been pretty quiet, is anyone besides Gun Grape following all this?

I now know the reason to maybe NOT use OSB for model RR construction. It's an "instant splinter driver". If I just look at it the wrong way, I get a splinter somewhere. Whenever I handle it, I wear serious leather work gloves, but as soon as I take them off to pick up a screw or something. BAM! I get another (&#%_)%T splinter. It's no wonder... the entire board is made of nothing but splinters! It is very strong! It's also very rigid and will ultimately make a great layout once it's all covered with scenery so no one can ever touch it again.

Builder 2010
28 Sep 12,, 01:15
Today's work consisted of finishing up OSB installation on the right end. The down grade piece consisted of two pieces that I made from leftover scrap. I had originally wanted to put bridges in this location, but reconsidered and had to put in solid planks. Since the down grade angle was already well established, I was able to clamp a straight edge (my 48" level) on both the fixed end and the new unfixed part. I pushed up the end so the run was completely straight and clamped a riser at that point. With the line nice and straight, I removed the plank and put in all the intermediate risers. I also level them cross-wise before putting in the second screw.



Both curves on this end come to a sudden, square end. This is the hinge end of the swing out section. I'm still not done all the engineering on this part, but I'm leaving it for last so I know exactly what's going to be happening at each fixed end.


With this work out of the way, I went back and filled in that ugly gap I wrote about yesterday. When I use either my circular saw or saber saw, I use the layout as a sawhorse and clamp the pieces to be cut to the joists. I'm careful to evaluate the cutting path to ensure that I don't cut through something that would be bad it I cut it in half. I also trimmed up the corner near this point that was clearly mismatched. I still have to grind off the screw points that protrude here and there. It's very difficult to get screws that exactly match all of the different thicknesses of material I'm using.


Lastly, a couple of the screws that hold the cleats to the underside of the OSB were even too cramped to use the flexible extension shown at the bottom of this picture. So I resorted to the right-angle head that I bought when building this layout in Germany. It works! There's a little adjustable thumb rest that helps stabilize the head when using it. I've got to tell you, this DeWalt is the best cordless driver I've ever used. It's very heavy, but I'm getting used to it and building up forearm strength.


The flexible shaft actually makes putting in overhead screws easier since I don't have to support the weight of the driver over my head, but can hold in at chest level and used the flexible shaft in my left hand to drive the screws. This really works well when using star-drive screws which need very little inward pressure to develop lots of torque. With Phillips heads, you've got to press inwards heavily to keep the bit set in the screw.

At the end of today's session I started planning how I'm going to proceed. There are differences in the "as-built" versus the "as-drawn" structure and I'm not sure why. For example, I thought the right end would be 2'- 7" from the right end wall. It turns out to actually be 4'. This isn't bad since more space at that end is a benefit. But, I wonder what's the cause. I also noted that the middle crossing bridge pieces is about 9" too rightward. This doesn't make sense. If I mounted the wall pieces off by some amount, the distance to the wall would be less, not more. This makes me worried so I'm going to proceed cautiously. I think I'm going to start in the middle with the spider piece and work in both directions. That's a critical piece and ensuring that it's in the right place is important. I've got to actually work tomorrow so the next session will be on the weekend or Monday.

Builder 2010
30 Sep 12,, 04:27
Today, I started building the front side of the layout. First thing I did was take one of the large right front curved pieces...the outer one, clamp some stock on the end so it could hang onto the existing right-end piece, and then test to see where the curve actually intersects the front assembly. As I suspected, the entire front assembly was about 9" inches too far to the left (facing the layout). Since nothing was mounted on this assembly other than the spindly girders, I was able to slide the whole after rightward. I was also a little bit too forward so I moved it back towards the middle of the layout. This move was sufficient to put that bridge piece directly over the girder it was supposed to be over based on my drawings. So the drawings were correct.

I checked on more thing. I swung the curve in an arc that would be the same when the swing out portion is installed. It clears the column by about an inch. I was very pleased. Swinging this out will give nice access to the insides of the layout.


With that out of the way, I checked all the dimensions and decided that the front side joists had to be 65" long. I decided to consume all of the old joists before cutting any more new 1X3s.

Since none were even close to that length, I spliced two together in various ways to give me the correct length. I made some marks on the existing platform as a guide and just got to work.


Pretty soon they were all gone.


I laid them out on the girders and did some final fitting. Then I went and checked the clearances to the other columns. As I foresaw, the clearance is a tight 19", but passable. Any closer and we'd have a problem. There's adequate access to the furnace as planned.


Then the grandsons came over and I put Jack to work. I have that small power screw driver from Black and Decker and it's perfect for a kid. So Jack and I went to work clamping the joists, drilling the holes and driving the #8 X 1.5" SPAX Star-head screws. I clamped and drilled and Jack drove the screws home. He likes that and he got a chance to roll all over the place with the scooter and I didn't have to get up and down. We're on schedule to get trains running by Thanksgiving (or thereabouts).

Gun Grape
30 Sep 12,, 05:16
Just a comment. A few questions with one suggestion.

It is really sickening that with all this work going on the place is so clean. :biggrin:

With that out of the way, why did you decide to use OSB?

I know it cost less, and that has to be considered but in my experience its not a good product at all.

As you are finding out, the thickness consistency isn't there. To much variation between sheets compared to plywood or MDF/MDO.

One of the big reasons that I don't use it, is because I'm allergic to something (formaldehyde) in the glue/resin. Causes a rash and shortness of breath. So I may be a bit biased against it;)

Question #2 Why are you screwing from the bottom up into the OSB instead of from the OSB into the joist? You would get more holding power the other way. And it would be much easier on the back and knees. You also wouldn't need to use the dremel tool to cut screw tips off. Does it have something to do with transmitting sound? I know you mentioned that in an earlier post.

Question #3 I see you have a builders 4' level. With all the mixed elevations have you thought of using a inclinometer?

Now the suggestion.

You will get a stronger joint if you stick another piece on the other side of your joist. Sandwich the joist. A filler piece, from your scraps, in the void would make it even stronger. This way, a few years down the line you will still have a nice flat surface.

Builder 2010
30 Sep 12,, 16:17
1. I just swept the place out. I'm trying to keep ahead of the mess so it doesn't get ahead of me. It makes it easier to move around on the scooter when the floor is cleaner and it makes it easier to find the spiders.

2. I did some research and found that OSB had the same structural performance as plywood, and on my other forum on O'Gauge Railroading folks seemed split on which to use. So the decision was then based on price and OSB was much cheaper. I didn't know about the thickness variation at the time, although I've only encountered one instance so far. If I did it again, I might take a different tack since the splinter problem is a pain in the butt. I don't seem to be allergic to it (so far).

3. Everything is screwed from the bottom so no fasteners are subsequently buried under layers of scenery of buildings. It's an advantage of L-girder that all fasteners are accessible so changes can be made any time. For example: I may want to put an access hatch somewhere. I just have to remove the risers-to-OSB screws and the two screws at the joist ends, and I can move it anywhere I want. Re-fastening is just as easy. Besides, since all loading is static and top down, there is very little pull-out force to worry about. My heaviest engine is 11 pounds. Compared to the loading on a floor it's like a feather to the structure. Periodically the structure may have to hold my weight, but again, I'm not break-dancing on it.

4. I bought an inclinometer, but didn't use it. It's calibrated in degrees and model rr grades (like real ones) are in percent. My train software gives actual inch dimensions for the grade heights at each track in the grade, therefore, I don't need any tools other than a tape measure and a string line. The as-built grade came out within 1/8" from plan which was very gratifying.

Today, I will not be working. My wife is insisting that she (and me) get out of the house. I'd spend my whole life down there and even move my bed down there if it was entirely up to me. I'd turn into a Morlock—the under-Earth creatures described in H.G. Wells "Time Machine"—never to see the light of day. My wife says, "I'm obsessed!" I'm not obsessed, I'm committed. At times she thinks "I should be committed" too.

Builder 2010
01 Oct 12,, 17:37
I know there's plenty of engineering talent out there so I'm asking for help. Here are two designs to lock the swing-out portion shut so the track stays in gauge when closed. I've looked at latches in Home Depot and they were much too sloppy for this purpose. Any help and ideas would be appreciated.


Builder 2010
02 Oct 12,, 01:16
I finished putting all the joists on the front module. This included making some longer ones to span the widest part of the layout. At first I tried to make since pieces, but an 8-foot piece of 1X3 was not long enough to overhang properly on both ends. So I split the joists and had them overlap in the middle. I'm on the scooter the entire time doing this. I clamp and end, square it up, drill the pilot hole in the L-girder flange, put the screw in, then scoot across to the other end, clamp, drill and screw. The whole thing takes a little over a minute.


I clamped some scrap onto both ends of the bridge piece that carries rail across the middle of the layout to the "spider panel". I threw the spider panel onto the joists and aligning its mating end with the bridge piece. When positioned, I clamped a temporary risers to elevate the spider panel to a height of 43.25" off the floor which is the height of the OSB on the opposite side of the gulf. Finally, I clamped the bridge panel to the spider to stabilize it a bit.


With the position correct, I started clamping real risers to various joists that lie under this panel, each time bringing it up to 43-1/4". Usually a hit or two from my rubber-headed hammer nudges them to the correct height.


Once all the risers were clamped, the panel leveled and the height correct, I put one screw into each riser holding it to the joist and letting me take off the clamps. I removed the bridge piece and the spider panel setting it aside. With the risers now exposed, I use the head of a combination square which has a little level to level each head independently and then put in the second screw that holds everything in that position.

Before I removed the spider I marked the location of some strategic risers underneath so I could replace it in the same spot with having the re-clamp the bridge piece. I put the spider back on aligned on these marks and clamped it in a couple of places. I drove the 2" screws to hold the riser cleat to the OSB. Once all the screws were in it was solid and level. This piece will set the relationship of all the pieces on the front module as the layout construction expands out in both directions.


I'm not going to describe this process any more since it becomes repetitive. I detailed this one since this piece needed to be positioned in relationship to the bridge with set up the relationship between the front and the back modules.

Here's another process schematic shot showing how I'm doing.


Gun Grape
03 Oct 12,, 01:26
1. I just swept the place out. I'm trying to keep ahead of the mess so it doesn't get ahead of me. It makes it easier to move around on the scooter when the floor is cleaner and it makes it easier to find the spiders.

I must be doing something wrong. If I'm working on a project the workshop is never that clean. And there are tools and open boxes of screws laying about.

3. Everything is screwed from the bottom so no fasteners are subsequently buried under layers of scenery of buildings. It's an advantage of L-girder that all fasteners are accessible so changes can be made any time. For example: I may want to put an access hatch somewhere. I just have to remove the risers-to-OSB screws and the two screws at the joist ends, and I can move it anywhere I want. Re-fastening is just as easy. Besides, since all loading is static and top down, there is very little pull-out force to worry about. My heaviest engine is 11 pounds. Compared to the loading on a floor it's like a feather to the structure. Periodically the structure may have to hold my weight, but again, I'm not break-dancing on it.

Knew there had to be good answer. Well thought out design.
Never thought of that. I get stuck in "Structure" mode. I would have glued and screwed it down. Then when I wanted to make a change, It would have been time to break out the Sawzall

4. I bought an inclinometer, but didn't use it. It's calibrated in degrees and model rr grades (like real ones) are in percent. My train software gives actual inch dimensions for the grade heights at each track in the grade, therefore, I don't need any tools other than a tape measure and a string line. The as-built grade came out within 1/8" from plan which was very gratifying.

Nice job. But if you ever want to put the inclinometer to use
Slope Percent to Angle Degrees Conversion Calculator (http://www.calcunation.com/calculators/general%20math/geometry/slope-percent-conversion.php)

My wife says, "I'm obsessed!" I'm not obsessed, I'm committed. At times she thinks "I should be committed" too.

I think I'm married to the Korean version of your wife :biggrin:

Builder 2010
04 Oct 12,, 02:41
Yesterday, I threw (literally) all of the OSB onto the joists to get an idea of how it all fits. Some of the panels look very warped. While there is some warp, it's exaggerated by some of the legs sticking up beyond the joists. Once the risers are in place they pull the panels down nicely.


As I noted way back in the beginning, so of my layout changes caused some poor panel fits, but I now had a panel permanently fastened in place which set up the relationship of all the others. While most was predicted by the plans, there was one surprise... the last piece on the right extended about 10" further out than it should be. So much that the right hand curve (the swing-out door curve) overlapped this panel by a bunch. I don't know where this error comes from since all the panels leading to this one were tightly butted up to each other. If I pushed the end panel back, I would push all of them 10" and put them out of alignment. So what to do? I'm going to actually lay down the track to that point and see how close the actual track follows the build plan. Once I see that I'll be able to decide if the track plan needs adjustment or simply hack off some of the OSB. I am reluctant to cut that OSB until I understand the impact of that decision.

On the other hand, some of the more predicted poor fits were easy to identify and fix. Here's an example of one such adjustment.


The reason for these defects was a change I made in laying out the curved pieces. I changed the end cuts from a line that was parallel to the side of the layout to one that was radial to an imaginary center point of the circle of track it was inscribing. Unfortunately, this change wasn't made accurately and I missed changing both sides of the joint. So instead of a clean joint, I have some joints with some triangular spaces between them.

Here's the O-88 circle that involves the cross-over and the one of the reverse loops. I was concerned about making repairs to the joints that could change the diameter and cause a poor fit for the track. So I broke out the O-88 track and stuck them together to see if they fit. They did.


Here was one of those joints that I trimmed to get the fit right.


Next step will to elevate all those pieces and put risers under them. For the smaller panels I can put the risers directly under the panels, but on the bigger panels which are quick heavy, I'll move them out of the way and put the risers in, then flop them back on. I'm still waiting for the roadbed. Once that arrives I'll start laying track.

Builder 2010
07 Oct 12,, 05:01
Gun... what are the symptoms of your OSB allergy. I've been funky all week with a shallow cough, low-grade fever periodically that seems like the flu trying to get me. I had a flu shot and pneumonia shot so if it's flu, it's being held in check.

Didn't have much time to work today and got one more sub-roadbed piece tied in, plus positioned another one. It was time to break out the "water-tube level'.

Besides using the carpenter's level, I periodically take a measure with a tape from the floor to the top of the OSB. It's supposed to be 43-1/4". This is just a check since I have no idea how level the floor actually is. When I put this piece in I noticed that the floor-OSB measure was over 43-1/2". I don't want any errors to start stacking up since the layout is so big it could be a couple of inches off at the other end, so it was time to break out the water-tube level. I used this originally in the layout's German iteration. If you've never used one, it's a great way to capture a level reference point and replicate it over a large area.

It works on the principle that water in a curved tube will always seek the same level at each end. You fill the tube with water and make sure there's no entrained air. Hold the two ends together and bring them to the reference level point. Find a way to affix one end of the tube next to this reference point and use a sharpie to mark the water level in the free end of the tube.


Carry the free end to the point you want to measure, making sure there are no kinks so the water can move in the tube.


There's a little stopper you put in the free end so it won't spill when moving. At the working end, align the water level with the Sharpie reference mark and hold it up the piece you want to level. Use a clamp or tape to hold the tube there so you can clamp the riser at this location. The two points are now at the same point regardless of what the floor is doing.


I won't have to use it everywhere, but will use it every so often just to make sure there's no systematic error creeping in.

Here's an interesting before and after showing how all the old layouts have now been subsumed into the new one.



Gun Grape
08 Oct 12,, 04:18
My throat swells up, face get puffy, eyes get red and irritated. Can't catch my breath. Wherever the OSB touches me, I get a red puffy rash. And a headache that almost reaches migraine level

But aside from that, No problems.

Water levels are the best thing in the world when hanging rolling doors. Though they had gone out of style with the DIY crowd though.

On a different note, seeing the clutter on that back table, makes me feel much better. You are human after all :biggrin:

Builder 2010
08 Oct 12,, 20:55
I'm heading back to the basement for another work session. I'll take a picture of the workshop end of the room and then you'll see that your fears of my superiority (human-wise) were unfounded...completely. I'm actually a pretty sloppy worker. I'll put all my tools away at the end of a project, and within a week they're all out all over the place. I need a scrub nurse standing by giving and taking the tools as I need them. I just have a light case of bronchitis that's gradually, very gradually getting better.

Builder 2010
10 Oct 12,, 20:11
Here's the "sloppy shop" pic that proves that I am indeed no better than any other model builder, it's just that for the trains, I've been working harder (than normal) in keeping things neater, partly due to protecting myself from stuff falling on my head, and to make for less confusing pictures.


With that out of the way, I continued building up the inner loop on the left end. As I'm laying in each OSB panel, I'm making any filler pieces to fill any gaps due to my change in cutting strategy. The O-88 inch loop is finished, and I'm getting ready to put in the O-96 loop on the outside.


The pieces fit pretty well and I filled the wedged-shaped openings with some scrap OSB. Here's one that's waiting to be fixed.


On the last piece, I had to alter the riser/cleat arrangement since the joist was running parallel with the OSB piece, so the cleats needed to be reset so they're perpendicular to the riser. No big deal.


One last piece. I've talked about using the Dremel tool with a 2" cutoff wheel to remove the points of screws that protrude above the OSB. Here's the rig. I bought the pole support for the Dremel and then added a wide base to support it. To add further support, I use a clamp to hold it to the layout.


As I noted before, I use goggles, dust mask, and the ear muffs when doing this. I wish I had screws that were just the right height.

11 Oct 12,, 15:13
Thank God for that first picture. You are a human after all.

Builder 2010
13 Oct 12,, 01:31
I've been working on the railroad almost the entire week and have made significant progress on the benchwork. I've have six pieces of conventional benchwork left to install with the rest being the swing-out portion and the area for the bridges. I've got a lot of pictures today so I'll do two posts.

After I measured and laid down the left end elevated curve (actually its a grade that returns to base level) I was getting suspicious that all was not right. So I clamped up some pieces to better visualize what was happening and here's what I saw.


You can clearly see that both ends leading up to the gorge do not meet. I'm not sure why since I measure from the center of the inside circle to the center of the outside and used this dimension to position the outer curve relative to the rest of the installed road bed. So I removed all the screws holding the OSB to the risers and pulled the whole curve assembly out about five inches. I basically just sighted over the corner and stopped pulling when they lined up. It took less than a half hour to make the adjustment.

Here's the after picture. While it's still not perfect, I can work with it.


With that fixed, I glued filler pieces into the v-shaped gaps that showed up as I "bent" the curved piece to conform to the new pattern needed for the bridges; which BTW have been ordered and are in transit. They're kits by Plastruct and look pretty real. I may have to shorten their 30 inch length since I still don't have enough straight track leading into the bridges. My long steam engines have some significant overhang on the outside of corners and they may hit the bridge. Beings kits of a bunch of structural steel replicas, I may invert the bridges and make a truss deck bridge. With all the structure under the tracks, the engines won't have anything to hit. I will have to make the gorge deep enough to give realistic clearance under the bridge.

Working around the curve, I tackled the big piece that I laid out backwards. It required a "radical" fix, squaring up the angular end that was backwards, and pulling in a filler piece that matched up to both pieces.


And here's the splice plates underneath that stiffen up the whole assembly.


I'm using ply and OSB for splice plates instead of the Simpson Strong-tie plates, partly because I have too many screws sticking through that I need to grind off when I use the thin sheet metal plates. They're also stiffer. I'm making sure that I put the splice plates on each piece before it's onto the risers. It's easier to put them on at least one side when I can flip the OSB upside down and work standing up. Once the piece is one, I still have to put the screws into the other half working over my head, but it's only one side.

I then moved on from sheet to sheet. I'm now having to handle some pieces that are almost a half sheet of OSB and they're heavy; too heavy to push up in the air with a riser in my left hand and a quick clamp in my right. I needed a tool to help me out. This morning I realized I could make a simple jig that would support the sheet at the proper height making it easier to fit the remaining risers underneath. Remember; one end is already resting on the splice plates of the previously installed OSB panel, so I just have to raise the other end under it's level. The sheets are bowed in both directions, so I put the level between the high spots and push a riser into the middle until there's no gap under the middle of the level. Here's the jig.


I just life the sheet, slide the jig under it and supported across a joist. It works. It greatly sped up the installation of the big pieces with less wear and tear on me. I don't place all the risers under the sheet. I Just install one at each joist with one screw. I then take the OSB off, level the riser cleat and put the 2nd screw in to fix it. Then I clamp the level to the top of the installed risers and clamp the other riser on the joist so it's pressing up against the level. I fasten this one with one screw also, level the cleat and then put in the second screw. This insures that all the risers are dead flat and at base reference. When I put the OSB back on top and start screwing the cleats to the OSB from underneath, it pulls out all of the warp and the sheet is dead flat. Neat!

Builder 2010
13 Oct 12,, 02:31
Here's what it looks like when the OSB is pulled off and all the risers are in place.


Here's the progress shot showing the sheet that was just being installed in the above picture.


The next piece went in cleanly. The piece after that needed a little trimming to align perfectly to its neighbor. Here's a shot showing the edge that I needed to trim with the saber saw. It's getting easier to saw stuff since I have a lot of study tables all over the place to clamp a work piece to use the saber or circular saw. Speaking of saws, I think something's going wrong with my Craftsman Power Miter saw. After cutting a lot of pieces in succession, the auto-brake is not working or working intermittently. It just started doing this. It's not to scary since the saw has an effective blade guard, but I have to be careful when bringing the saw down to align another cut.

I've photoshopped this picture to highlight the area.


And here's the schematic showing where we are now.


The gray OSB panels are added since the original design. When I added the run-through rail yard, I needed to put some wood into the gap. I'm also adding some rectangular OSB to fill in what would be just open joists. There are buildings and structures that are going into these spaces. All of the OSB will be done by the end of the month. We're taking a trip back East and my wife and I are attending the Eastern Division Train Collectors Association semi-annual expo in York, PA. It's the largest toy train show in the country getting 30,000 people each Spring and Fall. I used to attend them religiously even when I was living in Germany, I got the York show. Since we moved to Louisville, it became a bigger deal to get there. This will be my first visit in 3 years. Unfortunately, I've dropped so much cash on the rebuild so far that I may not be able to buy anything.

The target is still to get trains running by Thanksgiving when my son and his family come to visit. My oldest granddaughter, Anna, is tech savvy and the trains.

13 Oct 12,, 04:12
Awesome railroad you're building. Have you given any thought to having a train hauling battleship gun barrels?

Its a wonderful build presentation too - I am enjoying it - sorry I've been too busy to say much.

Builder 2010
13 Oct 12,, 15:39
Thanks Jay!

Sure! Why not! 16" rifles are about 15 scale inches in 1:48. It would work except the curve overhangs could be a problem. Would have to route them where clearances permit... kind of like real life. My grandson would love to build a 1/4" scale Iowa turret with all the insides... so would I. I probably won't work today. The only thing that really feels my age is the hands... I've put in a thousand screws already, and even with the superb tools I have, it's a lot of hand work that they're not used to.

Builder 2010
15 Oct 12,, 02:07
Here's a picture of a 16" Army rifle being moved by rail in the early part of the 20th Century. It's on a short flat car and spans two others. The Missouri rifles are 68' long so that's a scale 17". I found another site that talks about a real Missouri surplus rifle being moved by rail to Cape Henlopen in DE for a permanent display and it sits on one, long, 4- truck, high capacity flatcar. (See inset pic on below) It needs to be... the gun weighs 120 tons. I don't have a lathe big enough to turn a 17" long object. My lathe isn't big enough to turn any of the model. I could make it out of telescoping plastic tubes. The straight sections aren't a problem, but the tapered sections require special care.


It should make my curves since I have engines that are that long and they make it. I have a four-truck drop center flat, and MTH makes a 4-truck straight flat car so the train part should be easy(ier) to do.

Today's session involved some young helpers. My grandsons actually helped. Jack (8) did some fastening of splice plates using the small B&D cordless driver, and Alex (11) did some serious work using the big DeWalt. He put in all of the underneath screws holding on three panels. We actually got more done with the two of us. I was pleasantly surprised. He really wanted to get to work on the railroad and today we were able to.

Here's a progress schematic of project status. Notice there are only a few pieces left. I need to hit Home Depot tomorrow for some more lumber (1 X 4, 1 X 3, and 1 X 2); not much just a few pieces. If I didn't have to scrap those old furring strips, I would have been fine. Alex also drilled splice plates and assembled a bunch of risers. I did a count today and I have 12 more, but need 30, so I have to build 18 more. There could even be more needed since I don't know how many are going to be consumed on the swing-gate or the bridge end. I haven't done a final tally, but I'd bet that there are 100 plus risers holding up this system.


Here're some shots from today's work. Everything is nice and level. There is some slight height differences between some pieces of OSB, but I think I'm just going to fair them in with the belt sander. The kids really like the progress so far, and Alex is constantly commenting on how much bigger it is than he thought it would be. Funny... my wife keeps saying the same thing. The nice thing about the size is there will lots of clear space around the tracks so it won't feel all cluttered.



In the above pic you can clearly see the splice plates waiting for the next adjacent piece to be installed. I'm making them out of OSB now since it's very stiff in short sections like this, and I've got lots of scraps to consume. I used 6, 1-1/4", #9 Grip Tite star-drive, Deck Screws on each side of the plate. They're not going anywhere, ever!


It's getting harder to see progress in these overview pics since it's all taking place at the other end. I've been building a PowerPoint presentation showing the time-lapse evolution of the layout. It's pretty neat, although, my positioning and lens settings varied slightly between some of them. I'll share it with those interested when the layout is further along (read... having some track with trains on it).

16 Oct 12,, 00:12
Here's a picture of a 16" Army rifle being moved by rail in the early part of the 20th Century. It's on a short flat car and spans two others. The Missouri rifles are 68' long so that's a scale 17". I found another site that talks about a real Missouri surplus rifle being moved by rail to Cape Henlopen in DE for a permanent display and it sits on one, long, 4- truck, high capacity flatcar. (See inset pic on below) It needs to be... the gun weighs 120 tons. I don't have a lathe big enough to turn a 17" long object. My lathe isn't big enough to turn any of the model. I could make it out of telescoping plastic tubes. The straight sections aren't a problem, but the tapered sections require special care.

It would be a neat way to tie the two projects together - the Missouri and the train layout. Thanks for sharing those pictures, I'd never seen them before.

Builder 2010
03 Nov 12,, 05:10
We got back from our 11 day trip back East on Sunday. We drove the entire trip in one gulp (11.5 hours) to stay ahead of Superstorm Sandy. It was a good decision since West Virginia, where we would have stopped for the night was experiencing some pretty weird weather themselves. Finally got back to building the layout today with the piecing together of various sizes of scrap to fill in the final areas of the main platform.

The reason for this "jigsaw puzzle construction" was this. I originally didn't have any OSB on the section near the swing-out door. After I was designing the place for the town, I realized that all that real estate needed to be paved over. But I didn't have any large pieces of OSB left so I used up some of the saved scrap and pieced it together.

Before doing that I had to make a fix. The last big piece I put on didn't have enough risers/cleats under it and it was pretty badly bowed in both length and width. The bow was down in the center as seen in this not-so-good picture.


It's not so easy to see in the picture, but the dip was about 3/16" in the center. I tried to put additional risers in the middle and push them up to remove the bow, but it didn't work. At first I said, "what difference does it really make?", and then my perfectionism kicked in and I decided to make a permanent fix. I figured it would be easier to pull the bow down instead of trying to push it up. So I removed a zillion screws and removed the sheet. I then went back and added a full set of risers in the center of the sheet and made sure they were dead level. I turned the sheet upside down so the bow was up, and fastened it all down again. The result: Bow is gone and sheet in dead flat in both directions.


With that out of the way, I started piecing together the "jig saw" which is what I'm calling the multi-piece assembly of scrap to make a large flat section. I fastened the various pieces together using splice plates, and then set up the riser field. Here's the splice plates holding a couple of pieces together.


And here're the risers in place


Here's all the pieces laid in place.


Only one problem... it seems that I've been getting some height stack up. The new pieces are somehow 1/4" higher than the big piece they're abutting to. While it seems like a simple thing to just lower the risers a quarter inch, but the last piece next to the jig saw is leveled perfectly with them AND the pieces down the front side. If I lower the jig saw risers, they won't be level with the front panels. So... I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet.

When all these pieces are in place, it will be time to construct the swing out gate. I've got the structural designs pretty close and I'm still working on the latching scheme. I bought a bale type case latch which should work.

I'm also designing the interlocking circuit so the power is shut off when the gate is opened. My grandson suggested tying the microswitch directly to the latch bale. This way as soon as the latch is moved, the power would shut off, even before the gate started to move. I believe I can do this. I've been researching some relay schemes with or without timing circuits so the trains would activate with some delay to let you get away from the gate. I'm also researching whether to use digital control (or not). I've read the manual and have decided I am going ahead with it. It will require using twisted pair 14 gauge wire for the best signal propagation.

Builder 2010
10 Nov 12,, 01:23
I finished fastening all the pieces of the Jigsaw. I had to raise the panel next to it so they met correctly. I then turned my attention to making the swing-out gate. I did some re-design to make it deeper. It came to me that scenery could be installed on the gate so the space could be used effectively. Here's the final plan. When opened it gives almost two feet of clearance to access the inner parts of the layout.


Two fixed casters are shown. I'm also installing a smaller caster under the yellow piece to support the other end of the hinge line. I didn't want to have any torque stress on the piano hinge. The fixed hinges will be mounted on the radius line from the hinge so there will be no scuffing when the door is opened. Here's a sketch showing some more construction details.


For the sake of brevity and time, I didn't add any thickness to the members, but I wanted to understand the geometry. Here you can see the small fixed wheel on the hinge side. Just before I finished this afternoon I decided to check the level between the far right end on the curve and the platform that I just finished on the other side of the gap. As I feared, there had been some "level creep" so the right end which was completed months ago, was about 1/2" lower than the part I just finished. Rather than mess with a zillion risers, I'm going to adjust the leveling screws on the bottom of the legs. A 1/4" down on the left side and a 1/4" up on the right. I can change the value over a broad area so there won't be any grade inserted in what should be level track.

I used a temporary fence and the circular saw and sliced of the edge of the new OSB so it was all even AND on the same line as the structure below it. Then I fastened a 1 X 4 below that will act as a "door jam". I then built the first part of the gate itself, the front L-girder beam. Each piece was mitered at 22.5º and held together with wide Simpson Strong-tie splice plates on both sides. I finally bought screws that won't poke through to the other side. Lowe's had a good selection of Lath Screws which work nicely with Simpson plates. I dropped a line directly down from the jam area on the left and the hinge point on the right and made marks on the floor. I then measured and cut leftover old L-girder material for the beam. The back beam is a single piece and won't need any splice plates.


The last thing I did today was to start working on the hinge post. The problem with L-girder (if there are any) is that the structural members are few and inset from the edges so I had to create a hinge point. My first attempt wasn't good enough. I want the post to fall as close to the corner of the roadbed as possible. My first attempt used the wrong thickness of wood to space the post in the fore and aft direction. I also neglected to leave space for the movable part to butt up against the post so the hinge can be assembled.


I removed this first attempt, used the correct sized packing pieces and realigned the mounting holes so there's a space for the mating part to the hinge. This space may still be too small. I find out next work session.


The broom will not be part of the final assembly. I'm going to add a sway brace running 45º back from the hinge post to the girder behind it. This should add some rigidity. If not, I'll have to add some more boxing on the other side of the post.

Builder 2010
13 Nov 12,, 00:21
Based on feedback from a reader of this thread that I'm also posting on a Model RR forum I revised the hinge post...again. This time I ran the supports across the entire face of the legs. I then ran a diagonal from the back. Between these two changes, the hinge post is quite rigid and I think it will work okay. It's also nicely in line with the corner of the outer OSB end point. I wanted the hinge point to start exactly there since I know everything clears the lally column. The spacers under the horizontal braces are there to pack it out to the same point as the ends of the OSB.


Here's the diagonal brace. As before, I like to fasten these kinds of assemblies to cross-grain wood, not end grain so I added the block under the brace to capture the screws properly. If this brace isn't sufficient, I can add another one deeper down the leg. It will join at a funny angle on both ends so I would fasten it with Simpson Strong-tie straps bent to conform to the various angles.


With the hinge post in place I was able to get back to building the upper framework. The piece I cut yesterday on the left side was too short so I to cut another one. Of course I had to make the 22.5º miter again. And of course if there a least four ways to cut the miter either in the wrong direction or the wrong end, I made three of them. I was still using left-over L-girder from the older layouts and didn't want to use new stock which I'm saving for building the structure under all the bridges.


I going to finish the framework, position and clamp it in position and then build downwards towards the wheel assemblies. Won't be able to work tomorrow or Tuesday, but may get some work in on Wednesday. My consulting "semi-retirement" just got busier with the addition of another project. I'm finishing up one and starting another. It helps the cash flow, big time, but more "real" work time means less train building time.

I tried adjusting the 1/2" difference between the two sections of the layout, but was unable to shorten the leveling screws on the high end very much since they were already near the end of the inner travel. I should have paid attention to their position when I was initialing putting the legs into position, but it was a detail that I missed. I did raise the low end a bit by lengthening their screws, but didn't want to add too much to that side since it would "unlevel" this part of the layout. It's not going to affect the grade portion since it's already unlevel. The ground level portion will require some adjustment.

Builder 2010
13 Nov 12,, 00:28
Believe or not, I actually had a little over an hour today to do some work between a dentist appointment (hooray...not cavities again) and a work related meeting. I finished the top works frame for the swing-gate and reinforced all the joints with double Simpson splice plates. Then I put the whole thing into position and leveled it. I added a temporary leg in the front and made measurements for the middle support that's going to have the casters. I cut the OSB plank that's going to hold the wheels and support the legs.


To get the correct radius to mount the fixed casters I used the Rotape with the center point being close to the hinge line and extending it out so it intersected the OSB base somewhere in the middle. The Rotape has a drafting pencil lead in the other end and I scribed the arc darkly on the OSB. I will use nuts and bolts to mount the wheels. The holes are 5/16". I'm also going to reset the radius to move the wheels a bit more to the right giving me more clearance for the caster fasteners.


This is sort of how they'll look mounted, but I just realized something looking at this picture. I best make sure that I mount the wheels from underneath since the arc is not symetrical with the board since it is struck from a offset center point. If I were to screw them on in this orientation, and then turned the board over to mount the legs, the wheels would no longer be correctly aligned with the center of rotation. Believe it or not, this is actually a benefit to me in blogging this build in such detail. As I write, I'm thinking about what's been done and what needs to be done.


I'm going to frame the top side with either 1 X 3 or 1 X 4 as a mounting point for the legs. I will screw these parts on from the underside of the OSB into the regular grain of the dimensional lumber. I don't trust OSB with screws into the side. I can't twist the board since the legs must mount square to main rail. The legs will be fastened with carriage bolts and nuts. Then I'll add sufficient diagonal bracing to stiffen up the whole deal.

13 Nov 12,, 04:19
I feel like I am hanging out in your basement and watching this come together. Thanks for the wonderful photojournalism - it really shares the experience nicely. Its so much more interesting to watch it being built, instead of just seeing it all done.

Builder 2010
14 Nov 12,, 04:09
Jay... you are my biggest fan!

I got done work early today and my wife had a night out with the 'girls', so I worked before AND after dinner on the Swing Gate and it's getting near done. I got the wheels mounted, built the center pillar and braced it. And then built the hinge structure on the door. When it was all done, I realize the the hinge plank was not plumb and will have to be adjusted. I speak more on this later.

I did change the wheel path just a little bit to ensure that their hardware cleared the side planks. I screwed it all together and again used carriage bolts to hold the vertical posts to the L-girders. This makes a very rigid structure. The other holes you see in the L-girders are left over from their previous life when they held up part of the older versions.


I installed cross-bracing that will stiffer the fore and aft movement using 1 X 3s. and then I installed a diagonal brace on the left. This was a weird angle so I used Simpson Strong-tie straps that could be deformed to conform to the angles. It only has to support the short end and it will work.


Braces on the right side and back were easier since they were in line with parts on their upper and lower regions. With this, the pedestal is secure.


Now it was time to build the hinge post structure. It too had to be rigid in both planes. I used a 1 X 3 for the post itself, and then made a box structure with the left end terminating in a 2 X 2 in the left corner, and a 1 x 6 across the bottom. I then ran a diagonal from the lower right to the upper left to stiffen the side to side direction. For the fore and aft direction I made an angle block to give a plane surface to mount to.


However, when I pushed everything back in place I noticed I have some adjustments to make. The hinge post is not plumb. I will have to remove most of the screws holding the hinge framework in place, pull it into square and then replace the screws in new locations. It just reinserted them in the same places there's a good chance that it would wrack it again. Once the hinge plane is correct it's time to put the piano hinge on permanently.


It's proof that the hinge assembly is rigid since I couldn't budge it at all to move it. BTW: the wheels work perfectly and the radius is dead on.

Builder 2010
17 Nov 12,, 01:45
Realigned the hinge post and then was able to install the piano hinge. It works!

With that out of the way, I was able to lay the curved subroadbed sections over the gate and trim them so they fit exactly in the space when the gate is clamped in the closed position. I then clamped some temporary supports to the fixed portions at both ends and clamped the curved piece to this. I used the outside curved piece for this part. I then installed the joists that would support everything. I wanted the joists to end in line with the curvature of the roadbed piece. I was running out of 1 X 3... AGAIN... so I used whatever was left laying around the shop. I will have to go to Home Depot for more since I'm going to need it for the bridge sections on the other end of the layout, but I didn't want to stop work today since I was on a roll.

I cut and installed the joists, and then working from the inside to the outside, again laid in the inside curved piece clamped at both ends and added the risers underneath until it was level and flat. BTW: I had to create another 10 risers and cleat assemblies... After the inner curve's risers were all settled in, I did the same for the outside curve. The curves are now ready to be permanently fixed. Once this is done, I'll finish up the engineering on the jamb end and install the latch. Here's a photo sequence showing a working swing gate which easily clears the lally column and gives a nice opening to access the insides of the layout. Sweet!






One more work session should finish up the swing gate and it will time to move onto the bridges. Rather than wait until I build the bridge kits which will be a significant effort, I think I'll install a temporary "gap filler" so I run trains while I'm building the bridges and it's associated terrain. It could be several months before the bridges are actually complete.

Builder 2010
19 Nov 12,, 04:29
Most of the dramatic work on the swing gate was posted last session, but I did some important finishing things.

I added the outer loop on the gate and then installed the latch. Before installing I beefed up the mounting point by gluing some plywood blocks under the OSB. There's a lot of stress on this point and it's right at the edge of the sheet. I didn't want to risk any pull-out later on. The screws protruded below the ply so I cut them flush with the Dremel and cut-off wheel. They were in a very dangerous spot which could have easily injured someone. The latch is mounted at an angle. I first installed it square to the face, but the mating end has a tab that was having trouble entering the latch since the door swings in laterally. I remounted it on an angle and the two mate up perfectly. It draws the gate tightly shut.


I added some landing blocks on the jamb and hinge ends to add some additional support under the movable parts since, unlike all the other OSB on the layout, the pieces are not firmly screwed together with splice plates. There was some give to them which could allow them to drop a bit when and 11 pound locomotive runs over the junction. The landing blocks prevent that from happening. I sanded a slight taper on the blocks so the mating parts would slide together nicely.

The only problem with this arrangement is the latch location. When you're inside the layout you can't reach the latch. It would take two people if you want to run the trains from the inside using a hand-held controller. One solution would be to add an inside latch in addition the outside. When inside you'd use that latch, and vice versa. I'll think about it.

Jamb End

Hinge End

I used the belt sander to level some of the joint areas and ground off some protruding screws that were missed in previous work sessions. I then cleaned off all the tools and material and moved it to the other end of the layout in preparation for building the bridge area. This is the last piece of the puzzle to be built and then it's onto laying track.


It's a great feeling to draw all this stuff out in plan and then have it come out exactly as it was envisioned. Pretty neat.

19 Nov 12,, 21:37
You've got some lucky grandsons Myles. Wow!

20 Nov 12,, 00:34
Well done Builder. Well done. This is one of my favourite threads to follow.

Builder 2010
20 Nov 12,, 01:52
As always, Thanks! It's fun to write too.

I made a minor adjustment to another OSB panel that wasn't on the same level as an adjacent panel. I tried the belt sander routine to reduce the height of the higher panel, but there was too much stock to remove so I went to my tried and true, Plan B which was to shim the thinner panel's splice plates under the panel to raise the low piece enough to make it flush. I had to put in about 1/16" of cardboard and it worked. It was flush and I didn't need to generate any more sawdust.

With that, work formally began on the bridge end. Here's two views of what I'm attempting to do here. First is the plan view of the final structure design, based on what I actually installed today. The light blue L-girders are 23" below the main girder level and are 31.5" long. For the inner one, this spanned the entire distance between the adjacent girders, whereas on the outer one, I had to build some connecting girders that tied into the existing structure at approximately a 45º angle. The original OSB pieces for this corner no longer conform to the new design so I'm going to cut some new ones out of the scrap I have left. It's the light green pieces in the plan drawing.


And this is the elevation of what the deck truss bridge will look like. There are two options shown. No. 1 is using additional box trusses are lead-ins to the main span, and No. 2 is using earth works leading to an abutment. All of the earth work will be carved pink Styrofoam. I have a hot-carving unit that eliminates all of the plastic from flying around. The bridge is accurately scaled from the kit that I bought.


And here's the structure itself. For the inner structure I had to drop 1 X 3s directly from the existing girders and then using Simpson splice plates, join it all together. For the outer, I made some small 16" L-girders to extend to the existing structure, and then used 2 X 2s for the drops. Across the bottom is the other L-girder. In this case I went with the carriage bolt fastening scheme. Tying the L-girders together will be a grouping of 1 X 3 and 1 X 2 joists. The bridge abutments and scenery will be supported with these joists and it will tie everything together as a network.

Looking from the inside to the outside

Looking outside in

As I was screwing the screws into the Simpson plates, the lumber started splitting so I had to resort drilling pilot holes for all the rest of the screws. This solved the problem.

Builder 2010
21 Nov 12,, 00:36
I didn't build today since I was at work, but had a nice experience that will directly support the layout's progress. I may have mentioned that I'm currently working with a new client; a company that buys and sells commercial aircraft parts. The owner is a very nice fellow! They had received an entire pallet piled high with spools of cable that was surplussed by Airbus. I had shown him a picture of my B-17 so he knew that I was a model maker. I was then looking at the pallet and there were large spools of wire that looked pretty good. He asked if I was interested in it due to my RC building, and I told him that I was looking for wire for the new train layout and, since it was going to carry a digital signal, it needed to be twisted pair.

This wire has three twisted conductors, but looked like it would work if the gauge was right. Since all the specs were in French, it said it was 1.39 mm to 1.53 mm. He said I could have a spool for free, but I needed to find out what gauge that would be. The digital control system calls for 14–16 AWG. I went on the web and researched this size and it turns about to be about 15 gauge. Talk about luck!

When I came into the workplace today he had the spool in his hand and asked where I would like him to put it. It quickly went in my trunk. Santa has arrived early...

The spool says for quantity, "739". I think it's listed in meters which would put it at more than 2,000 feet of wire. I'm figuring that I'll need several hundred feet, so this should be way more than I need.


With the cable having three conductors, I'm inquiring on my other blog if I can use the 3rd conductor to carry current for other applications such as signal, switch or lighting power. MTH's digital control system (DCS) sends out 18 VAC in hot lead and brings it back on the common. It then superimposes a digital pulse train onto this current that addresses a specific engine. The engine responds with a handshake. It is a full, bi-directional system where the engine can report on it's actual speed in scale MPH, report on the number of hours it's been running, and measure signal strength as the engine moves around the layout. This is the reason why the hot and common must be the same length and why they're twisted pair rejects noise better than parallel conductors.

If I can't run additional power on the 3rd conductor, it's not a problem. It will just be along for the ride. So now I have absolutely no excuse about getting the trains up and running as soon as I finish the bench work. I've got the track, the switches, the rubber roadbed, and now I have the wire.

Builder 2010
22 Nov 12,, 03:55
My initial euphoria was misplaced. The wire is actually somewhere between 20 and 22 gauge. It's very sophisticated with a copper foil and full shield around the conductors and then another copper-like foil surrounding the individual conductors. I had a good look at the wire and tried some ferrules on the ends. I'm disappointed since the wire must not only carry a digital signal, but it also carries 18 volts with fairly high amperage and should be 14–16 gauge. This actually powers the trains and some of these can have four motors plus lots of light bulbs lighting passenger cars. The current load goes high. I can still use this wire for auxiliary stuff and powering the many turnouts, but not for the main power source. Darn!


Builder 2010
26 Nov 12,, 04:32
After some deliberation, I might be able to use all three conductors tied together to give me the 14 gauge current carrying capacity that I need. Since I have some much of it, doubling up is not a problem. It's not easy wire to strip.

Today, my oldest grandson and I did some more work on the bridge area. We got the joists in place with him doing the real low work, while I did the cutting. I then built 7 more riser/cleat assemblies, and started getting the subroadbed in place. I had to make some adjustment cuts to the mating edges to bring the roadbed into alignment across the bridge area.


The left side of the assembly was a little springy since the rear girder was pretty far away from the wall bracket. My grandson suggested just putting a support under the bottom. It was a simple solution that made the unit very solid. As the subroadbed is added the construction gets more stable. It doesn't get in the way since this part is way too low to ever have to get under... unless you're really, really small.


For the temporary bridge I cut and fit a piece of OSB into the gap. I then installed an edge-mounted 1 X 3 on the bottom to act as a stiffener since the span will be more than 31 inches. It makes a nice flat piece.


I set the risers for the outer track first. This installation is complicated in that it's part of the down slope of the high line. I temporarily fixed the risers with clamps until the total grade was smooth without any abrupt changes in elevation. I then put in one screw in each riser and went back and leveled the heads before putting in the other screw. That's where we ended today. Tomorrow, I'll finish up the bridge area with the inner track. The last piece will be another temporary bridge across the middle. That piece of OSB already exists and it too will need an underneath stiffened. With that addition the bench work will be finished... or at least finished enough to start laying track.

The temporary gap filler is just that... temporary. As so as I build the bridges and start landscaping the gorge, the temps will be discarded and the real bridge will take over. There won't be any rush since the trains will be running, but I can't get too complacent since I've already bought them.

Builder 2010
27 Nov 12,, 02:25
Moving right along, I finished the bridge end with the temporary bridges. I found another springy portion and added another drop-leg to ensure that if I learn on it, it doesn't move downwards. I also took care of a punch list item. Some of the joist ends were sticking out beyond the OSB on the layout's long front. I kept catching stuff on it and today it almost pulled the camera out of my hand when the strap caught on one of the longer joists. I used a square to draw a vertical line on each joist that extended out past the sheeting and then carefully used the saber saw to hack them off. I'll mount the skirting to these ends (and also some glued blocks that will have cross-grain facing out for a better grip on the little screws.



While the center sections are temporary, they're strong, flat and will hold up anything I run across them. I will have to keep my momentum or they could easily become "permanent" bridges. With the 23" drop, it should be a decent looking ravine. The pile of boxes in the background is all the trains sitting quietly in their boxes. Hopefully, they will be extracted sooner rather than later. I must keep my momentum up or else those temporary bridges could become permanent.

With this out of the way, I started on the final structure piece before I can actually lay track. It's been five months so far and it's almost done... the bench work that is. If the railroad was the size it used to be, it would have been built months ago, a point which I am regularly reminded about.

The middle bridge area has an OSB piece that was cut before I decided how I was going to bridge the ravine in this area, so I am using this piece as the temporary bridge. I braced the bottom using the last pieces of the old layouts laying around. This piece was actually two reinforced pieces that used to hold up a bridge in old design. BTW: any areas of open joists like that in the background, will be eventually covered with pink foam. I intend on doing most of the landscaping with pink foam and I have a foam carving set to do it.


I ran a string line to set a reference for the structure that's going to support this whole affair when all the landscaping is in ... some time in the distant future.


And here's my "artist's" impression of the structure. Perspective's a bit off, but it gives the general idea. As before, I imported the photo into CorelDraw and hand drew the structure on top of it. It's tricky (in real life that is) because all these members intersect the rear girders at angle requiring Simpson Strong-tie plates to provide attachment. Right now the temporary bridge piece extends all the way to the main piece on the right, but the actual bridge section will start above the place where the L-girders are dropped. I'll make that cut after it's finally fitted.


I'm going to have to buy a couple more pieces of 1 X 3. I seem to run through that stuff much faster than I thought. My original estimate didn't take into consideration all the wood consumed in the swing door and the bridge areas.

I have to work the next three days so I'll finish the middle bridge area on Friday. Once all this is finished, I'll get into the track laying. This is a four step process.

Step 1: Lay all of the track into its final position. I use pieces of 1 X 2 across the track with a screw through it to clamp the track firmly in place.

Step 2: Trace all of the track with a Sharpie.

Step 3: Remove track and replace it with the foam roadbed which will be glued to the subroadbed with Liquid nails

Step 4: Reassemble the track and fasten it to the roadbed with Liquid nails. I don't screw the track down since screws convey the sound directly to the OSB negating the sound deadening qualities of the foam, like the bridge on a guitar or violin.

My track still has the lead wires from the previous layouts soldered to it. I have to find out if that wire can stay and that I can tie the new wire to it. Or, having an extra splice would deteriorate the digital signal. I hope the former, not the latter is the case.

Builder 2010
01 Dec 12,, 04:58
Did some more work today on the middle bridge area. I got all the pieces cut and assembled the right hand frames. I decided to continue the vertical supports all the way to the floor since the nature of the these jogged frames seem to be springy. I had the stock so I decided to consume it. I was able to salvage a couple more chunks of old L-girder, so I only had to fabricate two new girders for the middle spans on the right and left frames. I even scavenged the last of my square stock. One leg is an American 2 x 2, another is a German 50mm X 50mm, and two more are old 2 x 3s from the very oldest iteration of this layout when I was building an N-gauge pike before my son went to college in 1989. I had some metric carriage bolts left, but they were too short to properly pass through all this wood and have enough threads on the outside for the nut and washer, so I used a Forstener bit to counterbore the bolt holes. On the Metric-sized lumber I had to counterbore both pieces, since the Metric is quite a bit thicker than it's American counterpart. Next session I'll finish these up and the benchwork is complete!


I still have to fasten this structure onto the existing girders. I'm going to use Simpson Plates again for this. There's really not much stress on this part of the layout since it's main purpose is to support scenery, but I am concerned to maintain the precise alignment between the two parts of the layout. These two bridge areas are the only things keeping the entire front part of the layout from pulling away from the back... plate tectonics and all that...

On a totally different subject, I decided to get some nice Keil-Line bridge shoes for the bridges that are eventually going to close these gaps over "dead man's ravine". Valley Model Trains had them in stock and I got three pairs. I actually will need five since the middle bridge is going to consist of three deck bridges to accommodate the curve and each will need shoes on one end.


From the ads in the magazines, I thought these were plastic, but was happily surprised to find that they're cast metal. The bridges have to support a lot of weight, such as large 3rd rail steamers. Being metal I'm no longer worried about this.

For the non-techies (my wife, for example), bridge shoes are those interesting steel structures that actually transfer the weight of the bridge to the piers and abutments. One end is fixed with a pin and the other end is either a slide plate or roller box which allows the bridge to expand and contract with temperature changes without interfering with it's ability to support the load. Since I'm spending time to build near scale bridges, they just had to have bridge shoes.


Builder 2010
02 Dec 12,, 04:23
My grandson and I continued working today on the middle bridge area. I got the two support structures built and then he helped me by doing the low work. It thought I measured the legs correctly along with all the other parts, but when I aligned the tops of the L-girder extensions with the tops of the main girders, the legs sort of no longer were on the floor. I don't actually need them to touch since the whole thing will get stiffer and stiffer as I add the sub-roadbed, track, and all the scenery elements, but I may just screw some ply extensions to the legs that touch the floor to add some more stability.


On the front right leg in this picture, I had to drill the holes three times. First I found out that the girders made with German lumber are bigger in all dimensions that those with US lumber. The legs on the left side are almost a half inch longer than on the right side. I didn't know this until I constructed the frame and fit it in place and found the girder extension was much higher than the mating girder. I took it apart, cut off the excess leg length and then re-measured and drilled the holes for the girder, but I inadvertently put the counter-bores on the wrong side so I turned it over and did it one the other side. The only reason for the counter-bores is because my carriage bolts are too short and I didn't feel like buying any more. Then I found out that I positioned the main girder wrong so I had to take it apart AGAIN, and put in another set of holes. I began to look like Swiss cheese. Even after getting it all installed, they're still cockeyed. Luckily they're not being asked to do very much, just hold up some scenery and stay put. They'll do both jobs just fine.


I cut the 24" out of the center of the existing bridge piece that represents the actual bridge gap. The two end pieces—shown here outlined in red—will be permanently fastened to the approaches and will both have a riser and cleat under them. The middle section will get a bottom rib to stiffen it. This piece will be temporary. Once I construct the ravine and river bed, then add the abutments and piers, this piece will give way to three, segmented deck bridges.

A point of information. All cabling that has to go from the control panel in front to the entire rear of the layout will be passing under and around this middle bridge area or the left end bridge area (in the background of this shot). It can go around the right side because the swing-gate cuts it off. It's one of the reasons that I'm going to need so much wire. If I'm using DCS, I may run just the power leads to a Track Interface Unit (TIU) positioned in the rear section, then run all the power block runs from that position. It will reduce the wiring that needs to go under the mid-bridge, and reduce the length of digital signal lines which is helpful also. I probably will have four power blocks fed by two TIUs. I will still have to run the switch machine wiring from the panel, but this is smaller gauge. You can also operate track switches remotely with the DCS, but I'm more comfortable with switch control on a real control panel with real indicator likes. I'm old-fashioned that way.

Also, I am not going to scenic the entire ravine from the left to mid bridge areas. I'm going to let folks use their imagination to fill in the missing area. I want that are open for access to the rear trackage.

Builder 2010
03 Dec 12,, 01:16
Well... the benchwork is officially done. I completed building the temporary bridge for the middle-bridge section. When I'm ready to add the real bridges, I just have to remove the three temporary fillers and then build the abutments, etc. and install the new ones.


You can see the stiffening rib under the temporary filler. This thing is rigid enough for me to stand on.


Here's a shot taken from the top of a step ladder showing all the benchwork. I cleared off all the tools, trash, etc. in preparation for this shot.


And here's my MTH Veranda which couldn't wait to try out the high line. Big layouts make O'gauge, scale-length engines look good. The white stuff around the engine is the foam packing material. I took this out of its box as a request from the grandsons who missed seeing them. Patience young skywalker...


Here's a reverse angle view. Looks like an empty 'artist's canvas' just waiting for something creative to happen...


I have more than 5 pictures I'm making this a 2-part post.

Builder 2010
03 Dec 12,, 01:36
I've been doing research on how the Plastruct Truss Bridges should be configured now that I'm turning them upside down and converting them from a through truss to a deck truss. The bridge doesn't have to be as high or as wide since a train with over-height freight cars doesn't have to pass inside. So I took the scale drawing of the original design, narrowed it and reduced the height. In the Kalmbach "Bridges and Trestles" book I found some drawings of single tracked deck bridges and it looks like the trusses are centered about where the loading gauge of the engine is, and was stated at 9'-6", roughly double the track gauge. The "loading gauge" is the overall width of the engine, not just the wheel spacing. It's as wide as 11 feet.

Here, I hung the new plan under the temporary span to see how it looks and fits. It works well and the proportions seem right. Since all the components of the bridge kit are "cut your own", I should end up with extra material which can be used to build the plate deck bridges that are going to span the middle bridge gap.


Here's the newly proportioned bridge on the previous plan. The height of the truss looks about right. The previous version was too deep for the length of the span. The shorter the truss members, the greater their compression carrying capacity, however the longer the tension members are the greater tension they can carry.


I found some screw points sticking through some OSB on the far end that I had missed. I'll grind them off next session. Then, I'll vacuum the entire surface (and the floor) in preparation for track laying. I'm actually going to be building a model railroad not just the world's most complicated work bench. So... the benchwork phase (Phase II) took a little over 6 months. I would hate to think how long it would have taken if I worked a full-time job like I used to. Track laying is much less physically demanding so it will give my hands a rest. It should also take much less than 6 months, but I'm not going to make any predictions until I get started. After that comes wiring. If I can use the pigtails already soldered to the tracks it will greatly speed up the process.

Gun Grape
03 Dec 12,, 01:37
Way to cool.

I have enjoyed watching you build this bench as much as I enjoyed your Mo build.

Can't wait to watch you "Fill in the blanks" and build the scenery.

Builder 2010
03 Dec 12,, 01:46
Thanks, as usual, Gun!

It certainly was different than the Mo... And my hands didn't hurt as much doing that one. It's been fun to write about too. Once you get intoa the groove, I look forward to the journal entry after every session.

After the track work, I'll probably take a break and do some more scale modelling. I've got a bunch on the shelf that are begging to be built and I'm itching to buy a 1:350 scale USS Wasp LDH-1 Amphibious Assault ships. There's some spectacular new models of these available with photo-etched included, plus a complement of tanks, Ospreys, and air cushion landing craft. So much to do and so little time.

10 Dec 12,, 01:20
its like a beautifully framed and prepared canvas - I am excited by the possibilities and look forward to the next steps...

Builder 2010
10 Dec 12,, 15:01
You're right! I've even considered throwing a coat of Gesso onto it.... Here's the layout with the earth tone acrylic base coat. It does help manage the splinters and makes it easy to put the track layout marking on the platform. I took this picture from a 6ft. step ladder with my tripod taped on top of that. It gives a better view of the whole deal. I'm leaving this setup in place so I can shoot more time lapse status pictures.


Right now I'm preparing track...lots of track! Some of the old track has adhesive and old foam roadbed on the back which I have to remove so the track lies nice and flat.

Here's what I'm talking about.


The old roadbed was made out of granulated vinyl. I used two different adhesive. In Germany I used a clear urethane adhesive which worked real well, but it a pain to remove once cured. In the US expansion, I used Liquid Nails. It's easier to remove since it's a bit more brittle. At first I tried removing it with a razor blade scraper. It worked, but was difficult to control. Then I used the special chisel I have for removing detail from plastic models. It worked better, but it's very slow. Today, I'm going to try to use the Dremel with a coarse sanding drum on a slow speed. If that works, it will be much faster.

I also make a little fixture to hold a Sharpie the correct distance from the track's ties to mark the outside of the new vinyl roadbed. I also bought a laser level to shoot straight lines. This part should be fun!

Builder 2010
25 Dec 12,, 00:22
I finished removing all the old roadbed vinyl from the tracks using the Dremel tool with a coarse sanding drum. This made fast work of the process, but it still took almost four work sessions to complete it. Today, I officially started laying track.

I'm just locating the track correctly so I can mark its position and then glue down the Flexibed roadbed. I'm using two diagrams: one has the actual track dimensions on it with the lengths of cut pieces of straight track and the computed length of cut curves, and the other shows where the insulated blocks go and where the feeder tracks will have to be. In some places I'm using hot glue to temporarily hold track in position. When the roadbed goes down, I'm going to use Liquid Nails which is much tackier and stronger.

RR Track track laying software gives cut curves in degrees when you print out the layout showing track labels. I went back and captured the actual track lengths using the PROPERTIES detail box. I wrote these on the drawing. For the most part things are coming out as they should, but there are some areas, especially around the bridges on the left end, where the track configuration on the drawing is not fitting on the OSB as it should. I'm using field measurements to correct this.

Here's a progress shot. I'm about 25% done. The high-line is in and it definitely shows a dip on the up slope that I'm going to get out by putting some upward pressure on the riser below the dip and, if necessary, shimming the roadbed in that area. Even though the total slope is less than 2º, a dip can increase the slope at that point and also cause traction problems if some of the drivers bridge the dip and you don't have as many wheels in contact with the rail.


This will be the last work until after the holidays. We're heading back East to be with family and old friends.

So here's wishing everyone at the World Affairs Board Forums a very Merry Christmas and Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year. I'll be back documenting every gory detail of this project next year.

Builder 2010
04 Jan 13,, 19:49
Back from a motor trip back East to visit family and friends. Timed it perfectly so we drove both ways with perfectly dry weather and no surprises. Got back to the layout yesterday and continued doing the track assembly. I found some trouble areas.



And here:
where the track is too close for comfort to the edge of the subroadbed (SRB).

There's two ways to tackle solving this. The first, and maybe the easiest, is to unfasten the SRB pieces and swing them this way or that to center the track on the OSB. It's one of the virtues of L-girder that you can move things around. The other idea would be to splice some extensions onto the OSB to give more meat under the track. That would require making more sawdust and I thought that I was finished with that. These errors are still caused, in part, with my changing the way I laid out the curved SRBs in CorelDraw. I attempted to make the joints radiate from an imaginary center, but after the first version, changed the center point. When the pieces mated, the actual radius changed inward.

Here's the overview shot. I don't mind that the track on the left meanders a bit across the SRB, since it adds interest, but I do mind it coming right up to the edge. Following the RRTrack diagram, the track is fitting together nicely. I'm trying to use as many of the previous short-cut pieces as possible. In some cases I'm soldering their pins together to keep the track joint count as low as possible so it doesn't affect DCS signal strength.


At this point, I'm about 1/2 way done the track fitting process.

I've been given the green light to buy the American Beauty Resistance Soldering unit. That will greatly enhance the speed and quality of making track joints and soldering leads to them.

05 Jan 13,, 15:51
If I look closely at the photo of the tracks, then it should be possible to make a small filler piece of track by cutting with a dremel through the rails.

The problem with that solution is getting the ties spaced regularly.


Builder 2010
05 Jan 13,, 17:26
Yes, I could remove a small section which would reduce the circle diameter. While that would work, I'm sensitive to changing diameters to a smaller curve since this could cause a spot for derailment. Today I'm going to take a look at how hard it would be to loosen the OSB pieces and move them to better accommodate the track, knowing that actually cutting the track is also an option.

05 Jan 13,, 17:52
This is so wonderful! I am curious about the resistance soldering rig you're getting - which model have you decided on?

I found this link

So I get the impression that you use this by running a current across the joint, and then adding solder like you would with a soldering iron.
Is that how it works?

Builder 2010
05 Jan 13,, 18:34
Jay, I've decided on the American Beauty 250W unit with the tweezesr (to start). I can imagine times when probe tip would be better like when soldering a small part to a large mass. It works as you describe with one more important detail. There's a footswitch that turns the current on and off. So the process goes like this:

1. Clamp the tweezers between the two parts
2. Turn on the current with the foot switch
3. Joints heats almost instantly so you can apply the solder quickly without heat-soaking the surrounding area
4. Turn off current with the foot switch WHILE still clamping the tweezers
5. Release the tweezers

It's step 3 that really makes this neat since it allows the solder to cool without letting go of the pressure on the joint. If you were doing this with a traditional iron, you'd need a 3rd hand, to reapply pressure to the joint while you removed the heat source. (one hand for the iron, one for the solder and one more for the restraint). The tweezers serves as both the heat source and the restraining force.

Furthermore, you can dial the current from zero to maximum, so even when you're applying the heat you can control how hot it's going to get. For doing any scratch building with brass, this is the only way to go.

05 Jan 13,, 20:14
I noticed one for model builders sc-250, it looks like a good deal. I was thinking that two different handpeices (micro and light tweezers) would be ideal (but expensive). Those small carbon tip pliers types are neat, but I would be concerned they might break pretty easily - the tweezer tips seem much more durable.

Its a really cool system - and the applications listed are impressive - they build aircraft and fix submarines with these...


05 Jan 13,, 20:50
I noticed one for model builders sc-250, it looks like a good deal. I was thinking that two different handpeices (micro and light tweezers) would be ideal (but expensive). Those small carbon tip pliers types are neat, but I would be concerned they might break pretty easily - the tweezer tips seem much more durable.

Its a really cool system - and the applications listed are impressive - they build aircraft and fix submarines with these...


Has anyone experience using solder paste and a hot air soldering iron?

You might evenn shield the heat of other parts by shielding it wil aluminium foil.

Builder 2010
08 Jan 13,, 02:31
Track laying continued, but mostly doing problem solving. I suppose the upside of using Gargraves flex track is that you can simply bend the curves to conform to the roadbed regardless of minor changes in radius, and conversely, the downside of using Ross sectional track is that this flexibility is lost. When you design a layout with sectional track in the precise way that it appears in RRTrack software, you get a very accurate layout, but when you transfer it to the real world strange things start to happen. Between making changes in the layout process in CorelDraw, cutting the panels a bit off, and not having the layout exactly sized when overlaying the OSB plan, there have been several close calls, all of which are now fixed except for one.

Yesterday and today I did just that. In two cases, I was able to unattached the OSB from the cleats and splice plates and pull them out a bit so the track wasn't hanging over the edge. In this first comparison, the 1.5" that I was able to slide the big piece out was subsequently cut off with the saber saw leaving a gap that I will partially fill.


In this AFTER picture using the saber saw, I cut the chunks of the filler pieces that were sticking out after the glue dried.


In another I cut a filler-piece to close up on of the two holes in the layout (the other's going to have to be closed up also). None of this trackage is fastened down, but I did roll a train across the gap to see if it tracked properly... and it did.


and today, I added a mild "S" curve to bring the track further into the layout and get off the front edge. I generally try to avoid "S" curves especially with what they do with long equipment. I put 10" of straight track in the middle. This brought the two tracks into a 4.5" C-to-C distance and gave me over an inch to the edge. It's still scary, but it's better than the alternative. The alternative was trying to cut a piece of OSB to extend the platform at that notch. The notch was not supposed to be there, but was the result of the complete screw-up I made in cutting the OSB piece in the foreground.


The last thing I did today was do more adjusting of the track union at the swing-out door. I had to reposition the latch closer to the layout front edge to enable the tracks to align properly.


I've got some more to post, so I'll continue in the thread

Builder 2010
08 Jan 13,, 02:40
Last night I redrew the panel graphics from the previous layout.

Here's the new panel with the blocks and switches identified. Each block switch lies directly over the track it controls. The switches are arranged in geographic groups corresponding to their place on the diagrams. Blocks are numbered, switches are letters and uncoupling tracks are Roman numerals. The "X"s in the orange circles show where the actual insulating portion of the track is located. Power feeders to each block will be approximately centered in each block so voltage drops are somewhat evened out.


What isn't shown on the panel are indicator lights showing the position of the track switches. These are noted on the switch controllers themselves. While it would be nice to have them also on the panel, I'm afraid that the complexity would rise quickly and be a distraction.

As the last time, the panel will be plexiglass with all the graphics applied on the reverse side. The upside: a smooth professional looking, surface that's quite durable. The downside: the panel is absolutely impossible to modify to add new or change track design. First I put down the numeral graphics, then apply masking strips for the tracks. I spray the back black, then pull up the masking tape and spray the strips yellow. It looks terrific when done this way. I may be adding tracks to both the front yard and the back passing siding so I have to figure out how to make this area modifiable. It would be easier to do front-mounted graphics which could be changed, but it wouldn't be as durable. Another way would be to make the graphics on a separate sheet that would be laminated to the underside of the acrylic. That could be modified by just replacing the graphic. I may try that.

The second challenge is to be able to drill the holes for all the penetrations. Using a standard 118º drill bit tends to grab the plastic just as it breaks through. Plexiglass drills are ground to a more acute included angle.

Here's the schematic for the pilot lights for each channel in the cab control set up. I may still wire this new layout in cab control and then convert to digital. I was able to work with cab very nicely in the old layout. The reason the lights are on the reverse side of where they're connected is so they light when the toggle switch is thrown in that direction. What's underneath is actually the reverse.


The panel looks pretty sweet with all the lights lit. It's very businesslike. This was shot during construction of the layout in Germany. The new layout has 10 more blocks and seven more switches, so it will look even cooler.


Builder 2010
09 Jan 13,, 02:24
Jay, I connected with that American Beauty URL you posted and guess what? They have a 250 watt, tweezer version designed for the hobbyist for $369 that none of the catalog people showed, and for 100 more you can add the probe-type electrode. So for 469 I bought both. MicroMark wanted $509 just for the tweezer-equipped unit. It will be here in a few days. It's been years that I've been looking at these things in the MicroMark catalog. It would have been a God send in doing all the precision work on the battleship as I lamented many times. I also have some scratch building to do on the railroad that's going to be much easier with resistance soldering instead of iron work.

I keep you all abreast of how it works and maybe take some crude videos.

I've never used paste solder or a hot air iron. I do foresee some applications where I'm going to need a paste, especially in non-electrical, structural applications. I don't foresee using a hot air system, especially after dropping 500 on this one.

09 Jan 13,, 02:56
I like solder paste for structural soldering, it comes in different melt points too - if you are building something up with lots of peices. I've tried for electrical and it wasn't very useful, but putting two heavy peices (still small parts) of brass together with it is nice, it frees up a hand. I used a conventional soldering iron. That American Beauty foot switch looks like it would be useful for regular irons too.

Builder 2010
09 Jan 13,, 03:49
I'm going to try the paste, but the foot switch for the iron probably wouldn't do the trick. There's too much heat capacity in the system so it wouldn't cool quickly enough. The resistance unit uses fairly small electrodes that don't heat very much. The heat is in the joint as a result of the high current passing through it. On the American Beauty site there's a link to a lot of videos that demonstrate resistance soldering in lots of applications. They sort of bridge the gap between conventional soldering and a spot welder. Just increase the current just a little bit more and...

Builder 2010
11 Jan 13,, 03:11
Track laying for positioning is almost complete. Tonight I started building the thru-yard which is the last section to be laid. But before I did this I decided to go back to the 'drawing board' and see if I could realign that front curve that was way too close to the edge. At first I tried moving the O-96 further up into the curve, but that put the branching track too close to the inside loop. Then I tried moving in to the right, further into the layout and this worked. I was able to get rid of that modified "S" curve and at the same time bring the track off the edge. While it's still not a lot, it will keep the engines from actually riding out over the table edge. This reduced the spacing between the 3rd and 2nd tracks, but that isn't a problem. I first worked it out on RRTrack and then in real life.

Here's the before picture:

Here's the realigned view. And a closer look at it. Tomorrow I'll have pictures of the yard construction.

Part of the change was using an O-80 curve piece instead of 0-96 which made the curve shorter. That combined with the switch's new position made the difference.

The slight bend in middle track as it enters the #8 switch is deliberate. There's a small piece of curve track in there to more precisely align the track's entry into the switch so there's no kink. Before I mark the platform for the roadbed, I'll go back and align everything again and then clamp the track into position for marking. That's what the bricks are doing, in case anyone noticed.

To cut Ross track I use the Dremel with the Flexi-shaft and a fiber-reinforced abrasive cut-off wheel. The hand piece on the Flexi-shaft lets you hold the wheel at a shallower angle making a more square cut. I use a diamond coated needle file to deburr the holes for the track pins and knock off the rough edges. I put a piece of fat masking tape across the track as a cutting guide and make shallow cuts on all three rails. I then remove the tape and finish up the cuts.

Builder 2010
14 Jan 13,, 04:00
As planned, I finished placing all the track today. Everything is fit and now waiting to be marked out for the roadbed installation. There's a whole lot of track. In some of the views, the front portion looks like a "sea of track". Since I've taken up more real estate with the new sidings, I've redesigned how I'm going to build the city. First, here's the layout with just track and no other clutter.


Here's a slightly different look from the left end.


And a reverse view looking down the main yard in front of the swing gate. There will be some landscaping on the gate, but that notch will remain so you can reach the latch from the inside of the layout as well as the outside.


And here's looking into the space from the far right corner. The wide angle setting accentuates the distance, but even with normal eyes, it's really long. There's that "sea of track" that I was referring to. From this angle, it looks like the front portion of the layout is all steel.


Here's the new city plan. While it may be a stretch to call it "realistic", it does solve several problems including, where to put all the buildings. In this view I've shown the streets supported by structure. It could also be solid retaining walls, but I think it would be neat to see the trains running underneath like they do under Manhattan or coming into downtown Chicago. Having the town back here also lends to doing some faux perspective mural painting on the back wall. But because of the swing gate access, people will still be able to get close to the structures, which in themselves are something that's very interesting and enjoyable to behold.


As it stands now, the train station's going to be in the front, but it could be above the tracks in the elevated section. Since I'm a long way from building this, I still have time to make the decision, and since I'm the owner and operator of the Pennsy & Pacific RR, I may have two train stations, one in the country and one in the city. The engine house shown is the Korber 3-bay, Car Barn. I don't have room in that space to house a 32" long, Pennsy S-1, 6-4-4-6 duplex so something smaller will have to do. I may scratch-build something that will work. Even with all this size, there's still a need for MORE SPACE. If I made it bigger, my wife would kill me. Of course if she did that, she'd have to figure out a way to get all this crap out of the basement...

14 Jan 13,, 08:41
Well done, Builder.

Builder 2010
14 Jan 13,, 14:32
Thanks! But of course the real test will be a month or so from now when TRAINS ACTUALLY RUN ON IT. Then I'll truly be happy.

Builder 2010
15 Jan 13,, 21:51
My American Beauty SC250 Resistance Soldering Unit arrived today. Everything is made in American. Even the foot switch controller is made in Connecticut. I will take it down to the shop tonight and give it a "road test". I'll take pictures and write a review when I've had a chance to learn how to use it. It produces only 2.5 volts at high current. It's also designed to not generate stray currents that can damage other electrical components.

Builder 2010
15 Jan 13,, 22:20
I just did the first test and it worked nicely. I soldered the rail joiners on the tracks leading into the open end of the swing gate. I wanted these tracks to be more secure than the pins would provide. The joints took about 8 seconds to complete. I had the control at 60%. At first I did 30% and it didn't bring the joint to heat in the maximum 20 second duty cycle recommendation. I could probably notch the power up a bit more since the rails have a lot of mass and you soldering to steel. I'm pleased with the workmanship and this things going to get a lot use.

Builder 2010
18 Jan 13,, 02:44
Started marking out and cutting Flexibed roadbed. I also installed the Ross Bed under the switches. I'm not gluing anything down yet... just getting everything in position. I don't want to separate the tracks any more than absolutely necessary so I'm just going to lift the track out of the way when I start gluing things down.

I realigned the 3rd track from the front. The problem with the kink was the connecting track between the #8 cross-over switches being too short AND the #8 being in the wrong place. Moving the switch more to the right and adding the longer connecting track worked and the track is nice and straight leaving the switch. Unfortunately, my Victorian station is too wide to go between track 2 and 3, and will either have to go above track 3 or go somewhere else and I'll use a smaller footprint station to go in the inner-track spot.

Here's the marking gauge in use.


The gauge allows me to mark the outside edge of the Flexibed so I can place the roadbed without consideration of the track's placement above it. The rough texture beats the heck out of the Sharpie's tip, but it's a cheap price to pay to get the lines nice and straight. Oh... and I have been using the laser level to strike straight lines. The only drawback is that the room light need to be off to see it reflected off the center rail. It's a cheap Harbor Freight Tools item, and it shows. The laser exits the nose at an angle that is not in line with the unit itself. I don't believe that's the way it should be.

Here's a couple of shots showing the Ross Bed under the switches, the Flexibed and the marked up OSB for the roadbed.


On the top #8 switch in the above picture , you'll see a lot of wires coming out of it. In the previous layout I was using Ross relays on these switches to activate or de-activate the various center rails so they would work well with engines with short roller base distance. It is a significant complication, but may be necessary again. Also, sitting on the track is not a boxcar... it's a brick. I'm using bricks to weigh down and stabilize the track after it's straightened and being marked. I'm doing this instead of screwing blocks down over the track because it's just easier.


Because I added the extra sidings, I was short some Ross Bed. I called Steve at Ross and ordered 1 each of a RH #100, a RH #4 and a RH O-96. I may also run out of the roadbed since my order was predicated on a slightly smaller design. I don't know the smallest quantity that Flexibed is offered, but I'll cross that bridge when and if I come to it.

I also found out that if you're going to ballast Ross Bed, you don't have to paint it. That's a huge relief. I wasn't looking forward to painting it especially since the fit is tight unpainted and painting could make it worse.

The only area that requires any particular care is fitting the roadbed to the angular rails in the long switches. You have to trim the roadbed pieces so they nest together correctly. With a new sharp blade in the utility knife, this stuff cuts very easily...much easier than their old Vinylbed product which was made with compressed vinyl particles.

I'm off again tomorrow and will continue working my way around the pike. I'm also going to redesign the control panel graphics to accommodate the new trackage. I was going to make the same size as before... 30", but I'm going to enlarge it to 36" wide to give more room for switch controls.

Builder 2010
19 Jan 13,, 04:30
I've completed about 75% of the roadbed fitting and I'm happy to report that I'm just going to make it with the Flexibed that I bought. Since it comes in quantities of 12 strips, I ended up with enough extra to do the whole job.

I also redid the artwork for the control panel. I now have 26 switches and therefore have used up all the letters in the alphabet, which obviously means I can never again buy any more switched. Yeah... right... like that's ever going to happen.

I've got one area that's bugging me. The crossing in the center of the layout has a slight kink on the track that goes north and south. If I rotate the crossing to straighten it, the East-West track gets the same kink. There's something amiss in the geometry and I can't seem to find out where it is. I think I'll power up just that section of track and run several different locos through the area to see if anything derails. If they track through it, I won't worry about it. If they have a problem, I'm going to have to trace back from this point to see where I can add or remove some track to straighten the approach.


The toggle switches still represent cab-control switches for each insulated block. Depending on when I purchase all the digital equipment, I may not need all those DPDT switches. I would just need them for the yard tracks that I'd want to isolate. Question: if you use Z4k tracks with the latest DCS, can you isolate sections with toggle switches?

By the end of the weekend I should be ready to start gluing roadbed and track in place. I can't wait to run trains on this thing.

Builder 2010
20 Jan 13,, 05:22
I finished fitting all of the roadbed and worked some more trying to de-kink that crossing. It's almost right, and it's about as good as I can get it without redoing a lot of track. My next step will be to glue it all down.

I aligned everything pretty good using eye and the laser level. I just can't imagine how much work it's going to be to paint all this steel and ballast the layout, but it's going to happen.

Here's the troublesome crossing from two views. Do you think the trains will have a problem going through it. I'm going to power up the segments and run some big iron through it and see what happens.


Looking this way the run is straight. If I bend the crossing to straighten the other direction, this one gets crooked. I removed about half of the kink by reducing the size of the straight track leading in from the left and realigning the curve.


Here's the overview showing all the track with roadbed underneath. Nothing is fastened down, but it looks ship shape.


And here's a reverse shot of the main line showing how the alignment is.


And lastly, here's a picture of the American Beauty SC250 Resistance Soldering Unit about which I've written this past week.


I don't know if I'll be in the train room tomorrow. If not, the next work session will be later in the week. After gluing down, all the rails will be painted rail brown to simulate the rust that coats all railroad rails except the running surface. The light colored material under all the switches is Ross Bed from Ross Custom Switches who also made all the track on the layout. It doesn't need paint as long as I ballast it. I really don't want to paint it if I don't have to.

Builder 2010
23 Jan 13,, 01:07
My grandson and I started gluing track yesterday. We ran into a problem that we didn't think would happen. After all the careful fitting and tracing of the track and roadbed, we must have started gluing a little too far the right (swing gate end) and the 25 ft. run of straight track came out a quarter inch short of the switch at the left end. We had already glued in the first 12 ft section and it had already cured too much to rip it up. So we had to relax the track pin joints enough so it mated correctly at the left end. I found out where the 1/4" went... it showed up at the mating track at the swing gate. The track is firmly glued so I'll have to take out the Dremel and trim back the now-excess track. We'll have to be more careful moving forward.

We were challenged getting the switches into their respective Ross Bed urethane pads. We were using a soft mallet to tap them in, but this afternoon I found a much better way: using as quick clamp with the thick rubber jaws to squeeze the switch into all the nooks and crannies of the roadbed. We then used super glue to permanently hold the two parts together. The clamp puts more generalized pressure and doesn't damage either the switch or the roadbed.

We're having to plan out the gluing routing so we don't create a situation where it's too hard to get the track reconnected when everything around a section is glued down.

We're using Loctite's general purpose structural adhesive. I'm not partial to this brand or Liquid Nails, but since Loctite is made by Henkel, and Henkel is paying my retirement, I try to give them as much business as I can.

Here's the no. 1 grandson spreading the adhesive before gluing down the Flexibed. That stuff goes down like a dream. Very easy to get it to conform to curves—especially the wide ones I'm using—and sets up in about 10 minutes. These are iPhone pics so the quality isn't up to my usual standard. I only have a regular iPhone 4. The camera in the 4s or 5 is supposedly better.


Here's our "sophisticated gravity-fortified ballast & track restraining system" at work helping the track cure evenly. The previous owner of the house was the original owner and the house was a custom build. She was nice enough to leave a pile of bricks in the garage which have come in handy more than once. They also served as weights while gluing on the wing skins of the B-17 RC plan that I built.


Yesterday we completed the swing bridge and the two mainline straight sections in the front of the layout. We also experimented with super-elevating the outer curve track on the swing bridge. We glued a 20 gauge insulated wire to the roadbed about a 1/4" inside the outside tie edge using hot melt glue, then glued the track down with the Loctite adhesive. It looks and works nicely, but my grandson feels it's too much effort for the effect it gives, so we may not do it elsewhere. We reduced the elevation to zero about 3 inches from each end so the track won't be tilted when it has to mate up with the stationary sections of each end.

I also just received the last three pieces of Ross Bed that I was missing so I went downstairs after dinner and joined them to their switches. So all the switches are ready to be reinserted into the layout. After spending 3 hours to glue just that small section, we both realized how much work it's going to be to glue the rest of it.

I may have a source for the roofer's gravel to use as an inexpensive substitute for expensive model RR ballast. The roofing company, where I'm consulting, has it and will share it with me. They've got white, black and gray, which would make a nice mixture of lighter for mainline and darker for sidings and yards.

My grandson has also weighed in on where the town should go. He wants to put a mountain in the far right corner and would rather have the town on the front left corner in the big circle made by the return loop. Here's the revised plan...AGAIN!. It's actually where I originally had it. I like the mountain against the backdrop too! I'll name the town, "Hilltown" or "Circleville" or something like that...


Builder 2010
28 Jan 13,, 14:10
I got the chance to do some more track gluing yesterday and today. It's going okay, but I still keep getting strange fit problems even after thinking that everything was in line. Unfortunately, I used too much Loctite structural adhesive in the first two tracks and ripping it up to change location is all but impossible. The track at the gate was therefore sticking out too far and fouling the track on the swing gate. At first I thought about trimming it back right at the gap, but quickly realized that the position of these switches had a ripple effect that would add that quarter inch back through many other tracks, so I trimmed the excess from the two tracks leading into the switches. This worked! It brought the tracks at the swing gate in perfect end-wise alignment.

For other tracks, I've been using less adhesive. The tracks won't be going anywhere. There is still a couple of places where there are some hitches in the track. It's especially challenging to get the alignment on the diagonal tracks between #8 cross-over switches. Here's a picture of the misalignment. I've tried rolling equipment through the switches and everything works fine. I'm pretty confident that engines won't derail here either.

The red line shows how it would look if it was straight.


The above picture clearly shows the Ross Bed under this switch. I finally figured out a good way to get the switch nestled into the roadbed... I used a large quick clamp with nice rubber jaws. The clamp could reach into the center of the switch thereby exerting equal pressure on both sides. Working from one end to the other, all the switches bedded down nicely. It worked much better than a rubber mallet. After insertion, super-glue in strategic locations keeps everything where it should be...forever.

Here are the four tracks that are now fastened down, so I'm about 25% through the gluing process. These are the most difficult to align tracks (except for the crossing), so after these, it will go faster.


One of the cars I'm using to test the track is this Lionel Santa-Fe 18" passenger car. These were some of the last train purchases before I was laid off in '09 and they look spectacular behind the A-B-B-A Santa Fe F3s pulling them. This picture shows the superelevation at the swing bridge. It looks so good my grandson and I decided to do it on some of the other outer high-speed mainline curves. The line illustrates the tilt.


Lastly, here's a closeup of that cars trucks. I am just blown away at having a fully equalized, sprung passenger truck under these cars. They make all my other passenger equipment look very toy-like. The cars have full, multi-colored interiors, flush windows and great end detail too. Lionel did a great job with these. (I just couldn't help taking this picture.)


28 Jan 13,, 19:19
It's got to be Murphy's law that once you get away from the simple oval or circular track, large setups like this never line up like you expect them to. When I was a youngster, I remember setting up my HO trains on a 4x8 board and once I got beyond the oval, alignment problems always cropped up!

Builder 2010
29 Jan 13,, 04:36
Didn't do any track gluing today... had to work at a real job... but did some design work on RR Track and CorelDraw PhotoPaint to update the landscaping/scenery some more. I realigned the Hilltown so there was bridges connecting it in a four directions. I extended the town's base towards the corner which accomplished two goals: it eliminated a bridge in at least one direction, and it provided more room for buildings. I am purposefully showing the gas and fire stations right up front. Both of them have (or will have) detailed interiors and or other things of interest. I have two other buildings with interiors that also need to be somewhere in town where they can be viewed. There's a lot more buildings in this picture than I currently own so there's room for expansion.

Both tunnels clear any switches. I don't want any switches to be out of sight.


Pretty cool how I got those cloud backdrops in there, don't you think. Before I pasted and warped the clouds, I masked and copied a portion of the mountain, laid the clouds in, and then pasted the mountain chunk back over the clouds.


I'm off tomorrow and will be gluing track again.

29 Jan 13,, 08:31
I love the tunnels. That red mountain looks like it has all kinds of possibilities for an interesting buildup of some kind. Perhaps a missile base or command center?

Builder 2010
29 Jan 13,, 12:50
Hmmm.... Missile base.... my grandsons would love it, my wife wouldn't like it one bit. I should probably think about it. Besides grades, tunnels are the best. Of course none of these tunnels are very mysterious; trains just go in and out quickly. I will have access to the tunnels from underneath since the landscaping will be hollow.

Builder 2010
31 Jan 13,, 00:10
I wasn't supposed to, but I did get some track glued today.

I glued on a 5 foot section on the elevated section in the half-hour between getting home from work and dinner. There was a small dip in the left-hand upgrade portion of track on the elevated section. I took some of it out by relocating a cleat upward, but didn't eliminate it. Instead of worrying about it, I'm just putting some cardboard shims under the track to smooth it out. The dip worries me since it makes the engine think that it's going up a more severe grade for a short bit, and with a heavy train, can stall the engine. If I go digital and can run pusher engines, this is no problem, but running singly it could be one. The shims eliminate the dip.

The roofing company where I'm consulting has some surplus 4 x 8 sheets of 4" Styrofoam that they want to give me for the layout. I have a hot wire Styrofoam cutter, but it isn't up to the task of carving up something that big, so today I bought a heavy-duty, hot knife foam cutter from MicroMark. With this tool I'll be able to cut the stuff down to size. I'd rather use plastic foam instead of the alternative. The alternative is cardboard strips held together with hot glue, then covered with plaster cloth or window screen soaked with polyurethane expanding foam.

As you guys know, Styrofoam cutting is very messy if you attack it with saws and normal cutting tools, but it cuts like butter when you use hot tools, and it doesn't generate a gazillion little static-seeking beads. Normally, model railroaders gravitate towards the green or pick foam that not made from beads since it cuts with less mess.

My first experience with Styrofoam bead board was carving a crocodile head for a float in Michigan State's float parade that ran through campus on the Red Cedar River. They really were FLOATS. This was in 1966. It made a complete mess of the dorm room! It was a great float depicting Peter Pan, Captain Hook, the Croc with the clock and a pirate ship. I don't know if they still do this every Spring. It was fun. Anyone out there know if it still goes on? Or if not, when did it stop? Unfortunately, this was long before the age of everyone walking around with a digital camera and I have very few pictures from that era considering I almost spent five years there.

The foam will make up the bulk of the bases for the mountain and the elevated city. I'll hollow it out wherever I have to gain access to hidden tracks in tunnels. There could still be some plaster work needed to make a realistic surface, but that's going to be a very small part of the total mass.

Builder 2010
04 Feb 13,, 04:36
Track gluing continues apace with lots of help from #1 grandson again. I worked a little on my own this week, but we really did some serious work both yesterday afternoon and today. Both kids slept over. His younger brother did a little, acted as a gofer and had some fun running my Veranda Turbine back and forth on the 10 feet of track to which we added some power to charge its battery. It hadn't run in 4 years and just started right up sweet as can be. He was just 4 when the engine last ran and could barely remember it. Because of all the insulated blocks, trains can't run anywhere. #1 grandson wanted to connect a bunch together just to run trains, but that's not as easy as it sounds and I dissuaded him from wasting time doing that.

He's also getting very excited about trying out the new resistance soldering unit when we solder some new jumpers to the track.

I made an iPhone movie of the the first engine being powered up after a 4 year hiatus. It's my MTH GE Veranda Turbine, and one of my favorites. But I always end up making movies with my iPhone that come out upside down and I don't know how to make them rightiside up. Any ideas of how to turn them around once they're in the camera. It was the "world's most boring movie" being an engine with it's blowers running and an occasional announcement between an imaginary engineer and control tower. But it did run, and ran well.

The outer and inner loops are completely done. All that remain is one short leg of the reverse loop re-entry and the yard tracks on the front side of the layout. There'll be easy since they're not as length critical.

Here's the "Gravity-assisted, track gluing augmentation system" (GATGAS) aka "bricks", helping the last part of the outer loop track and roadbed get adhered to the OSB. The tracks on both sides of the swing-gate are in place and align perfectly. That whole swing-gate deal exceeded my expectations.


I ran out of the Loctite hi-strength adhesive from The Home Depot, so I went to the local ACE Hardware to buy some more. They didn't have any low VOC Loctite products so I got some DAP. It didn't have the tack like the Loctite, and it seems to be less able to bond to the foam roadbed quickly, so today I went back and got some more Loctite. I also bought more lumber for another girder, some more risers and the new control panel housing along with a piece of clear acrylic for the panel face. The old panel just isn't large enough to house the new designs wiring.

There were a couple of stubborn spots that kept popping up when the bricks were removed. In one instance, the track ended up with a 3/4" gap at a switch on the back inner loop. Like in other places, now that the track is being final fitted, I've gotten some movement either too close or too far away. I cut another piece of track to properly filled the gap, but I cut it just a tad long so the track is under a little compressive stress. To ensure the glue cures solidly, I fabricated a scehme to hold everything overnight. Once the glue cures, it shouldn't move any longer.


I'm not working tomorrow and expect that the yard tracks will be finished by then. I may need more bricks and there are more to use in the garage, If the track has no stresses, the bricks can come off in about 10 minutes. The glue isn't cured, but it holds by then. The speed of the work is essentially limited by the number of bricks. Before running trains, I will vacuum up the brick dust.

I realized that with the mountain going in the far right back corner, there is now a great place to continue that new back siding to the base of the mountain where a coal mine can go. I've been itching to build one of BTS' great coal mines, but could never figure out where to put it. Being that the city is on the far other side, it now makes logical sense to have rural and urban environments.

Here's the artist impression of putting the BTS Miller Creek Tipple into that location. It fits, but it's pretty expensive. I may consider scratch building something. There's plenty of prototype photos on Google. I really like BTS' Cabin Creek Tipple but it's sold out. Anyone know if anyone has one that's not being built?


Next step is wiring followed by ballasting.

Gun Grape
06 Feb 13,, 01:22
I ran out of the Loctite hi-strength adhesive from The Home Depot, so I went to the local ACE Hardware to buy some more. They didn't have any low VOC Loctite products so I got some DAP. It didn't have the tack like the Loctite, and it seems to be less able to bond to the foam roadbed quickly, so today I went back and got some more Loctite.

Loctite Power Grab. One of my favorite things

I cannot imagine gluing all that track together. A piece or two that is less snug that the others or just a hair cockeyed can really mess your day up when it ties into other sections further on down the track.

Doesn't take long for that minuscule widening of a single joint to become a 1/8" major problem that's running off the plywood base.

Great job. Keep posting. I'm starting to like this train stuff :biggrin:

Builder 2010
06 Feb 13,, 03:50
I'm very pleased that it's getting you interested!

I put all the stuff away, found the bag of extra ties that I was unable to find for weeks, and took some final pictures of the track laying. I also stopped by the tracks of the Norfolk-Southern RR to take a picture of rail to get the right color for the rail painting, and picked up a few pieces of real railroad ballast to measure it and then scale it down to 1:48. I want to know just how big (or little) the ballast particle size should be to look right. A little obsessive you say? Yes!

I inserted some of the extra ties in gaps between cut rails. Sometimes the cut rails came out leaving a tie missing. Inserting them in afterwards closed up the gaps.

I got a suggestion to create the graphics for the control panel by having my drawing printed full size and then gluing it to the back of the acrylic panel. I could have it done at a place that prints banners since the finished size will be 24" X 32". I would have it printed on paper in reverse so I could stick it on the back and drill all the holes. Then remove this and, using spray glue, mount the correctly-oriented version for the graphic. It would be much easier, more accurate, and possibly something that could be modified in the future.

While this looks very similar to the last status portrait, everything is tied down and ship shape. Everything is as straight as I could get it. No perfect, but close enough for O'gauge. There's one track right in the center that's just touching the one opening in the platform, but instead of using more OSB I'm just going to fill it with Styrofoam since it's not going to be load bearing. I'm just tired of screwing in OSB, and having the screw points protrude through the top, and then have to grind them off with the Dremel. That phase of this project is over.


Here's a close up of hinge-side track joint for the swing-gate. The trains roll over the gap without a whimper.

The yard tracks came out nice and straight, but if you look closely, there seems to be a hump in the middle of the runs. It's a panel joint that didn't come out dead flat. It's only in the yard, is very slight and shouldn't cause any operational problems.

Here's the back side track. It came out nicely.

And here's another view of the yard from the left end. Can't wait to get this thing wired up and have some trains running.

06 Feb 13,, 05:11
It's a panel joint that didn't come out dead flat.

In this post, the center picture, the answer might be found - the death ray, right aft, on the MSS Sparko-Gavin.


After you've taken command of MSS Sparko-Gavin and stood out from the secret base. You'll need all 24 double ended large tube coal boilers on line - hundreds of soot encrusted stokers working at a fever pitch - thick black smoke bellowing from her four funnels. As you appoach the targeted yard, sharply bring her about and slew her over to bring the “Mighty Annihilating Death Beam Of Might” to bear “over the shoulder” - setting the power profile for a narrow shallow beam – aim using the special Black Opps grade GPS, throw open the big capacitor dumps for the full 500 milliwatts (its a very lossy system). Taking two passes, a rough cut and a finish atomic monolayer cut, your foundation should now hold the specified 0.0001 in tolerances, the proton hardening will make a difference!

Builder 2010
06 Feb 13,, 14:06
now you're sure that the weapon can work while the track is still glued down, because there's no way in hell I'm going to take up that track to try out some new fangled weapon our military has cooked up. And it may not work!

Builder 2010
07 Feb 13,, 04:21
Taking a blog reader's advice, I redesigned the graphic for the control panel specifically so it can be printed commercially. Since I wouldn't be using masking tape to lay it out, I didn't have to worry about having curves; therefore, I changed the display on RRTrack to a single line, made a screen capture of it, and then traced over the image in CorelDraw with a 4mm line. I thought about using a white background, but felt that the spray adhesive may leave a tint that would be objectionable. So I'm using a light yellow which would neutralize the tint (I hope).

I then changed the scheme to place the switch controllers somewhat near the switch images on the track plan. Here's what that now looks like. The dotted line is a future expansion leading to the coal mine tipple. There should be room on the panel for more stuff too.


I think using the exact track design will make it easier to visualize what's going on. There's some pretty complex switch alignments to move a train from the outer track to the inner

The image I give to Kinkos (or whomever) will not contain the images of the switch controllers, but the small black circles are going to stay. The larger, middle circle is the hole location and size for the DPDT switches for cab control, and the smaller flanking circles are for the lights that indicate which transformer throttle has the track. If I go digital, I will not need all these block switches since DCS doesn't like passing a signal through this many switches, but I will still need them for the yard tracks which need to be de-energized most of the time.

I've also been thinking about another way to get power to the swing gate without running leads all the way around the layout after crossing the middle bridge. I was thinking about getting a set of locomotive pickup rollers with the springs and all. Then mounting the roller on the door side and brass contact plates on the jamb side. When the gate rolls closed, the rollers will glide into position and make contact with the two brass power connectors. The microswitch which controls the power relay would also be in this area and would shut power off to the bridge and approaches to both sides far enough away so any train highballing to dead-man's gulch would be de-energized in time to stop the train. Using rollers would give a sliding contact that would be spring-loaded to maintain contact. Should work... right?

07 Feb 13,, 08:56
I always thought black control panels are kind of cool.

Builder 2010
07 Feb 13,, 13:54
I could probably go with black again. I just don't know what the spray adhesive interface will look like underneath the black. I suppose I could do a test. I have some left over plexi from building the battleship showcase. I could see what it looks like with different colors attached from the underneath. In fact, that's exactly what I'm going to do. I will make up a test piece with different color backgrounds and see which one produces the best results. Thanks for the input!

Builder 2010
07 Feb 13,, 14:09
Here's my graphics test piece. I see what looks best when glue to the back of the plexi and make the decision based on practicality.


Builder 2010
07 Feb 13,, 20:52
I printed out the test graphic, sprayed it with 3M 77 and stuck it to a piece of scrap plexi. Clearly, the black background...which—according to Gun Grape—is much cooler... looks the worse since the spray glue shows up. The lighter backgrounds look better and the tan with the blue is the best. I'm going to change the background color for the text because the spray glue discolor the white areas.


Now all I have to is change the scheme and send it off to Kinkos. I hope the adhesive doesn't let go with age... it probably will. Replacing it would be ridiculous since all the switches and lights would be wired ON TOP of the graphic...oh well.

Builder 2010
07 Feb 13,, 22:37
Here's the re-colored control panel design. Since I'm doing all the graphics on the computer I embellished it a bit like drop shadows under block numbers.


Notice that the pictorials of the switch controllers are gone. Only the crosshairs for the drill operation is on the graphics. The diameters are equal to the drill diameter so any evidence of the black circle should be covered by the lights or switches. This is the image that will be printed full-size.

07 Feb 13,, 23:32
Show this to your wife, if she is mum, you are OK, if she yells "You are crazy, who is gonna understand this?", you are still doing OK. But if she tries to "improve" the design... It means she thinks she got it and you are doing it wrong :biggrin:

08 Feb 13,, 00:08
now you're sure that the weapon can work while the track is still glued down, because there's no way in hell I'm going to take up that track to try out some new fangled weapon our military has cooked up. And it may not work!

We have it on the authority of Lt. Admiral/Captain-General/Latrine master Mike "Sparkie" Sparks - it will defeat the Soviets! :Dancing-Banana:

And it will ion mill the foundation without tearing up the tracks too! :biggrin:

Builder 2010
08 Feb 13,, 01:44
I don't know... it's sounds a little suspect to me...

I looked into buying drills that can drill acrylic without causing it to fracture. When I made the original panel in Germany, I drilled all the holes with a standard tip-angle and the drill grabs like crazy on exiting, often causing potential fractures. To drill plastic, the drill angle needs to be much sharper at 60º vs. 118º. The electrical components I'm using are European left over from the original build and are metric sized threads. To buy the three drills I needed would have cost almost $35. Since I'm an old ex-metal shop teacher, I can hand grind drills effectively so I took a 5mm drill and went at it. I tried it on my scrap acrylic and it worked perfectly, so I did the 6mm drill also. I now have the drill, the acrylic and the layout. It's time to make a control panel.

Builder 2010
08 Feb 13,, 03:38
I did some checking and to have the poster-sized graphics printed by Kinkos would cost upwards of a hundred bucks, so Plan B is now in effect. I printed the whole thing tiled over multiple pieces of paper which I will carefully cut and put together and then adhere the whole thing to the back of the acrylic. If I do this carefully, the seams should be unobtrusive (not invisible, just not to noticeable). All of the electrical hardware fastened through the panel will keep most of the sheets from delaminating. Tomorrow I'll give it a try. This way it cost the price of the ink in my printer.

Gun Grape
08 Feb 13,, 04:17
Clearly, the black background...which—according to Gun Grape—is much cooler... looks the worse since the spray glue shows up.

Gun Grape would never think black was the coolest.

Red background with Yellow layout.

What any self respecting Artilleryman would use

Builder 2010
09 Feb 13,, 16:04
Mia Culpa... Of course I meant "Doktor" thought black was cool, not Gun... My bad!

This is a lengthy post so it will be split in two to accommodate more than five pictures.

I built the panel graphic. I first tried paper cutting the reversed version just to see how difficult it would be to get the pieces to line up. It wasn't too bad so I immediately went to creating the "real" one. It was hard to see the very edge of the graphics when aligning them in the paper cutter. I came up with the idea to use the "flashlight" app on my iPhone, shining upwards at the edge which cast a clean shadow line and made the cutting much more accurate. It worked!

Here you can see the illuminated portion just at the edge of the paper cutter.


There was a couple of places where some white was still showing so I used a brand new #11 blade in a hobby knife and along with a steel straight edge, trimmed off the microscopic white strips.

I put the tape on the work surface and pressed the paper down on the tape. I placed the adjoining pieces as closely as possible to the matching piece. I didn't want to turn the pages upside since the work surface wasn't clean enough and I didn't want to damage the ink jet printing which is pretty fragile.

Here's the pieces laid out before taping, and the next pic with the paper adhered to the backside of the acrylic.


The protective mask is still on this side of the panel. I removed mask before drilling.


There's one trouble area where the pages aren't quite tight, but it's too late to rectify. I also think that when all the switches and lights are in and operating, you won't notice the page joints (I hope). This was the trade off in doing the job on my home printer instead of $$$ using a commercial large format printing service.


Here's another closeup showing how good it can come out.


After taping, I sprayed the taped side with Krylon workable fixative, and then after drying, sprayed the front side to seal the color and give a better surface for the adhesive. When dried, I sprayed it all with 3M 77 spray adhesive and got ready to stick the whole thing together. I left the mask on most of the acrylic while I positioned the whole graphic at one edge of the panel. I then rolled it into position while pulling out the mask. I used a small foam paint roller to roll the graphic down. There was a wrinkle at starting end so I carefully peeled the graphic away, fixed the wrinkle and then reattached it. It was a bit touchy since I was afraid I was going to tear the pages, which didn't happen.

Builder 2010
09 Feb 13,, 16:24
With that done, it was time to drill all those holes with my newly re-sharpened plastic drills.

Here's the drill bit showing the negative relief angle on the cutting lip and the 60º point angle.


After drilling I went back and lightly dressed each hole with a counter sink to dress the edge and de-burr. It prevents crack propagation.

Here's a weird shot showing all the holes in the panel. I put a light behind the panel. You can also see the tape holding the pages together. When viewed without the back light, the tape in not visible.


I used water to cool the drill and lubricate the holes so the plastic cut rather than melt. The holes came out nicely and I tried a toggle switch in one and it fit well. I wrapped the whole panel in bubble wrap so it would get scratched while I attacked the next part of the project... deconstructing the old panel and building the new housing. The previous panel was mounted almost horizontally. In this new installation it will be 30º off of vertical. I'm changing the angle so it doesn't project as far into the aisle-way, and make it easier to use since it's 20" wide.

I'm re-using all of the circuitry from the old panel and then adding more to accommodate the larger layout. Here's the panel before removing anything. It's a maze of wire, but actually very well laid out. There's two common busses, one one each side; a hot buss from the right throttle, and one from the left; a 10V buss and a 14V buss. I ran the pilot lights at 10V to ensure a long life since they were bought in Germany (and therefore hard to replace) and they're awkward to remove to fix them. This is on the input side. The output side is that long array of contact strips. The other side of the contact strip held the wires to the field. Remember, I built this in Germany with the understanding that it had to be taken off the layout and shipped back home without rewiring anything. In the new installation, I may not use the same concept. I may just splice the output side of the switch directly to the field wire. I didn't care about how many joints the power went through with cab control. With digital, I'm going to keep them to a minimum.


I'm removing the switches with the wires attached. There's a lot of solder joints I made here and I don't want to have to redo them all. When I soldered this together I wrote an article in Classic Toy Trains that was the cover story in the February 2002 issue. I use mil-spec soldering techniques, and don't have problems with joints causing difficulties.


The pilot lights have to be removed from the face of the panel so they have to be de-soldered from the DPDT switches. I heat the joint and pull the wire loose. After removing the switch I go back with the iron and a solder-sucker, and clean out the lugs so I can re-attach the lights on the new panel.

Here's how much I got done so far. Besides these switches I will also take apart a sub-panel that was added in the 2nd version. This panel opened from the top where I installed a piano hinge. To hold it open for servicing I had to use wooden sticks. They nested into those wooden blocks you see glued to the upper quadrant.


In the new design, the panel, being more vertical, will open at the bottom and I'll use some picture wire to suspend the panel when open. I'll finish the disassembly tomorrow.

As I looked at these images I realize that using the paper graphic adds a complication. I used a lot of RC Servo tape to hold the wires in place on the old panel. It held the clips and I made loops of it to hold wires directly. Since this panel was painted, there was sufficient surface strength to hold this tape (for 13 years). I doubt that the paper will be able to do this. In fact, the wire would probably pull the graphic off the acrylic. I will have to rethink how I'm going to hold all the cabling together. Since the panel will open downward, I may not have to attach the cables to the panel at all; just use sufficient cable ties to keep it all ship shape.

I have a drawing of the new panel housing, but it exceeds the five picture limit so will have to wait for another post.

09 Feb 13,, 17:15
What's the size of that panel? Or of 1 tile?

Builder 2010
09 Feb 13,, 17:32
The new panel is 32" X 20" (812mm X 508mm). The old was 30 X 18. I've rearranged the placement of the switch controllers so it should layout more easily. I'm also toying with eliminating the terminal strips and running wires from the toggle switches to the tracks without the intermediate connection. This panel is not being built to move somewhere else. If I ever do (like maybe sell the entire thing in 15 years or so) I'll just cut the wires from the field to the switches.

09 Feb 13,, 17:35
You could have ordered it printed in 1 tile. On cardboard, plexiglass... whatever.

Over here on plexi it would have costed you $20-30.

Builder 2010
11 Feb 13,, 04:19
It was strictly a monetary decision. I still have some big expenditures to get this thing running... notice I didn't say "done"... so I wanted to see if I could do a passable job with my own printer.

Had sort of a milestone today! After some more prodding by #1 grandson, we decided to fully power one loop, the outer one, and run a train. He promised that we'd be back to work once we did this. It meant running jumpers from one insulated block to another assuring that every block was captured. We did midway up the grade yesterday and I finished today. I pulled out another engine, the Lima Center Cab, since it was a two-truck engine with only two motors unlike the Veranda which is a pain in the butt to re-rail if something goes awry and it has four motors.

I put the power to it after making the last connection and got 11 volts, but a huge amperage, and then the overload light started blinking. I started troubleshooting and one hour later had a running engine. The problem was we switched which was hot and ground about halfway around. The transformer doesn't like that.

Now you ask, "How the heck does an experienced model railroader who's been around circuitry for 55 years make a bone-headed mistake like that?"

Let me explain. I was using cable that was from my German layout. Some of the cable was two conductor with blue and brown conductors. The other cable was a three-conductor with blue, brown and green/yellow striped. The first cable we attached was the three conductor and I used the blue for hot and the green as common. But shortly after we started we switched to a 2-conductor and the brown became hot and the blue ground. We even had one where the blue was ground on one end and the green at the other. In other words, it wasn't even conducting. I was using the black 2 position barrier strips with a buss bar on one side since we needed to pass the lines through each block while tying the block leads to each strip. It took every strip I had to make this run.


The longest leads I had are 8 foot. That's not a coincidence. I had to make a junction at every subroadbed panel in Germany so the railroad could be taken apart and moved stateside. So in addition to making a place to tie each block into the main, I had to splice together a whole lot of cables just to stretch around the room.

I videoed this maiden run. It's plenty boring! Just one engine and a passenger car going around in a circle... a great big circle. At 17 volts it took 45 seconds to complete a loop. Since nothing else is powered on layout (including all the switches) for the moment this is all the running that's going to happen. Here's links to the two videos.

1st Train on New Layout 1 - YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOKu0-4pwmE)
1st Train on New Layout 2 - YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeZAbnJ-3RQ)

On the second video I ran the engine at a slower speed and filmed it transitioning the swing gate. I'm a little concerned about one rail on the opening side that needs some J-B Weld to stabilize since the spikes are a bit loose and it needs to be a bit smoother on transition. But as you can see, it runs nicely through it. Next I'll bring out a big steamer and see how that works.

What was gratifying—beside having a hundred feet of track that didn't have any operational problems—was the way both my Veranda and the Lima Center-cab came out of their boxes after almost 4 years and ran like tops. I hope my 3rd Rail stuff does the same. I really missed seeing them around!

I also finished stripping all the old control panels, and started building the frame for the new one. Here's the two side frames showing the angle that the panel's going to sit.


I also mounted my old transformer stand. I needed to splice on some added length to the support bars since this layout is wider than the old one. It's tied into front and rear L-girders. That rats nest wiring IS NOT the way it's going to look when I'm done. The white 2X3 serves two purposes. It fills out that area where the track was perilously close to the edge and adds a attachment surface for the panel that's to come mounted on the near side of the transformer transformer stand.


This week between work assignments I'll finish up the control panel structure and start building the control system. I want to wire it for cab-control AND DCS/Legacy. I haven't quite figured out how to do this without creating parallel wiring systems and 2,000 feet of wire. As it is, to do star wired cab control will take close to 600 feet of two-conductor twisted pair wire. It's all part of making a layout BIGGER.

11 Feb 13,, 13:08
Congratulations. Very nice. Do you have any basement left?:) The angle in the sky panorama is a little disconcerting from a video standpoint. Maybe adding a curved piece of stiff material would eliminate it, but for now you seem to have plenty of fish to fry before worrying about cosmetics.

Builder 2010
11 Feb 13,, 14:02
The big mountain in the corner will help around that end. I might erect some curved backdrop around that corner too. And you're right... it will wait for a while.

The basement's pretty big. Here's a picture of the whole deal showing it's shape.


There's still room for a great workshop, a stores room and a nondescript space between the shop and the train room which will be upgraded at some point.

We were very lucky when we found this house. It has all the best stuff upstairs that met all of our needs and it had this great basement that met all of mine.

11 Feb 13,, 14:33
Yes, you have loads of space, but if you're like an old HO modeler I once knew, more space was an invitation to expand, and he did, because that's what modelers love to do aside from operating the equipment. :)

Builder 2010
11 Feb 13,, 15:00
I've heard that also... you can never have enough room. I won't tell "You-know-who" about those thoughts at this time. It would be bad.

11 Feb 13,, 19:01
This is wonderful. The video's take the presentation to another level. I spent an hour studying the last page - and enjoyed every minute.

Thanks Myles :wors:

How about another off the wall suggestion? An Armored Train? The Soviets built pretty some neat ones in WWII, with T34 turrets mounted on some of the cars. If I was building a layout of this magnitude, I'd probably endulge in some speculative engineering and use a couple KV-2 152mm turrets and also have some KV-85 turrets or even Stalin II turrets with 122/43's for AT duty. :biggrin:

But it would probably never be finished... Yours will be finished and in service, I'm sure - so don't let me lead you astray or permit me to create a long delay. ;)

11 Feb 13,, 22:59
Seems like it's possible to transport glasses of beer with the train set.


Builder 2010
12 Feb 13,, 02:16
Work was very short today since my client has just moved to a new location and didn't need a consultant hanging around. I just checked in to see if things were going as planned and left. That gave me some serious time to continue working on the control panel.

Here's the panel frame clamped onto the braces that are in turn assembled to the joists under the layout.


The top rail will be held with SPAX screws, but the lower section will be held to the braces with carriage bolts. All the braces are screwed AND glued with Titebond.

Here's the suspension structure. It's 1 X 3s with a 2 X 2 hanger. There will be two points of suspension.


The back, bottom and sides will be sheathed with 1/4" ply to which all the circuitry will be fastened.

Here's an artist rendering of the ply installed


and another artist impression of the final job with the panel in place. Aren't graphics programs cool?


I hope someone can help me understand how to power all the indicator lights with LEDs. I understand they're DC and that polarity is important and that you must limit the current to each one. But is there a way to feed all of them so that you don't need the resistor at each LED. I've got 74 of them on this panel. There's a green and red at each block and there are 37 blocks.

And just for those of you who think I work too cleanly, here's another shot of wood chips. I actually had to bring out my Stanley Jack Plane to bevel the bottom and top front rails so they line up with the bottom sheet and the panel face. I hadn't used a hand plane in years. I then took the belt sander to finish it up. It was one of the problems with making the slant front. I could have designed in as a box and just angled in the hangers on the layout. Oh well...


Builder 2010
13 Feb 13,, 03:04
Like yesterday, I got done with work early and finished up the control panel installation. So here's the finished unit. Compares very closely to yesterday's "artist's impression".



Here's a shot from the back showing the robust bolting that holding the lower section to the layout structure. The upper part is secured with five long screws into the white 2 X 3 that's secured to the layout edge. I can pick myself up from the scooter so it's pretty strong.


The last thing I did was drill the three holes on top to secure the plexi to the frame. I use a oval-head screws with dress-washers. I modified a small drill for plastics work as before, and the drilled the holes. I was rushing! I forgot to reduce the DeWalt's speed to the slowest and it drilled the holes very fast. So fast that on the 3rd hole the drill buried itself in the wood structure beneath the panel and enlarged it too big. When I put the screw in the hole, there was no wood left for any threads to grab.

After dinner I went down and filled the hole with J-B Weld and tomorrow I'll re-drill with a pilot-sized drill and thread the screw in again. I also took some of the epoxy and reinforced the one rail at the swing gate that was a bit shaky. J-B Weld is some powerful stuff. It's a steel-powder filled epoxy that is drillable after it cures. It cures very slowly (24 hours), but it's worth the wait.

Tomorrow I will fit the piano hinge that goes across the entire bottom of the plexi and will secure the lower portion. I haven't decided if I'm going to mount all the hardware and wiring with the panel on or off. I see advantages in doing it in either way. Since the panel screws on top will be taken in and out lots of times, I'm going to use thin Cyano-acrylate glue to harden the threads. This is a trick I leaned in building the B-17. You can harden threads in balsa wood with CA that makes the piece feel like a piece of Bakelite.

I have another opportunity which is to mount the MTH DCS TIUs (Track Interface Units) vertically on the back wall of the box. This would make running wires from the TIUs to the block toggles. I would have to drill vent holes in the top of the box's back so there would be convective air flow from bottom to top. I know that the DCS book says to minimize the length of wire runs from TIUs to track, but my toggles all reside here in the panel. I would rather have the TIUs here and accessible than buried under the layout tied to a leg or something. Since I'm also planning on adding Lionel Legacy, the power brick would have to go outside of the box, but it doesn't have the multitude of wires emanating from it.

MTH's system works by sending the digital pulse string out to the locomotives on the center power rail, and a handshake stream back from the loco on one of the outer "common" rails. This requires out and back wiring to be similar lengths to avoid timing conflicts. Lionel's system is a radio transmitted system that radiates the digital signal from the rails and picked up by antennas in the engines. It does not have two-way communication and therefore is simpler to wire. MTH can run the Lionel system, but Lionel's cannot run MTH. Therefore, since I have engines from both manufacturers, I will use MTH to drive the Lionel system so all the engines will operate. MTH ProtoSound 2.0 or later engines can tell the system how fast they're going in scale MPH, how strong the signal strength is, how many hours they been operating, etc.

I would like to paint the unit, but I haven't decided on what color. I was going to paint the fascia boards a hunter green, but that seems to dark for the panel box. I was also thinking about a UP Armour Yellow or gray, or maybe Pennsy Tuscan Red since both are roads that I feature. I will have to remove the box AGAIN if I'm going to spray paint it, which I prefer. Krylon has a water-based spray now that could be used in the basement without smelling up the house. Otherwise, I'll have to spray it outside AND IT"S WINTER.

I'm still researching the LED lighting question. I can get the LEDs themselves for very little money (80 of them for like 10 dollars), but it's the power supply and the current limiting resistors that may cost more money. I also have to find out when running a panel full of them if you need a resistor at EACH LED or can a resistor that feeds the bank of them. Help is always needed!

13 Feb 13,, 03:47
Not sure what voltage you will be using for the LED's. These 12v LED's don't require the resistor.

12 Vdc | AllElectronics.com (http://www.allelectronics.com/make-a-store/category/340600/LEDs/12-Vdc/1.html)

Builder 2010
13 Feb 13,, 04:03
Brilliant! Then all I would need would be a 12v DC source that doesn't require batteries and that shouldn't be so hard to cobble together. Price isn't bad either. I'm going to need 37 red and 37 green 5 mm bulbs. That looks like a good source. Thanks!

So... I ended up buying Boesch Built pre-wired 12v red and green LEDs from Amazon. The pre-wiring was the feature that got me. They were $0.59 each. I bought 40 of each, and then bought a 12vdc, 6a power supply. It has the computer plug jack on the end which I'll remove and hardwire into the circuit. The bulbs pull about 20ma which is 50 bulbs consuming 1 amp, so a 6 amp power source should be sufficient. So that takes care of the pilot lights. Now I have to bite the bullet for the digital controls. That's going to cost me almost $600.

I can always just replicate the cab control set up that I used to have. I can wire that one in my sleep. If I wire each toggle switch with sufficient leads that can be disconnected from the transformer buss and connected to the DCS distribution terminal block. If I do it right, there's no rush in getting the digital system. I can add MTH first and then next year or so add the Lionel Legacy stuff. All of these engines operate conventionally too... that is they will respond to changes in track voltage from the transformer.

Builder 2010
14 Feb 13,, 02:39
Here's my attempt at the schematic. I'm using an RC bellcrank to transfer the vertical motion of the plunger to horizontal motion to the microswitch. I'm doing this only because it will allow more flexibility in aligning all the parts. There are extra contacts in the relay so I'll be using most of them.


I'm using the normally open (NO) contacts for the track power. This way when the microswitch closes it energizes the relay coil and closes those contacts energizing the swing-gate blocks. Meanwhile the other set of NO contacts will energize the green signals at the dwarf block at the gate and the panel indicator green. When the gate latch is lifted sufficiently to release the microswitch, it de-energizes the relay coil and the contacts open breaking the circuit to the track blocks. It also opens the green indicator contacts turning the green off and the normally closed contacts make energizing the red signal indicating the gate is not locked and track power is off. This will be the first time I've ever designed and installed a relay circuit. I know some of the guys on the forum use them for all sorts of things. As I get more comfortable I may do that also.

Please critique. For example, I'm not sure if using the NO contacts for the track power is the best approach being that the relay coil is continuously energized in this mode. If I used the NC set, the coil would only energize when the gate opens (also by selecting the NC contacts on the microswitch which passes current when the switch is in the non-activated position). I've been told that the relay doesn't mind being energized all the time; they're designed to do this.

This graphic was produced on Microsoft Visio which is a great program for knocking stuff out quickly. I've been using it since version 1 in the early 90s.

Builder 2010
15 Feb 13,, 04:52
I was supposed to work today, but #1 grandson was off from school so I took the day off too. I finished up the Panel construction with the additional of the piano hinge at the bottom and some picture wire to support the panel face when it's open. I put a cap strip on top to prevent light from leaking in behind the plexi. Without it, you could see light shining through the paper and it didn't look good.


My grandson, meanwhile, was unpacking more locomotives and again, right out of a four-year hibernation, they all ran superbly. He got the coal turbine running which he claims is one of his 5 favorites. We even smoked the place up a bit with the engine smoke generators (2) all fired up. It was an engine that my wife selected at the train store in 2000. She saw it sitting on the shelf and thought it looked cool and said I should buy it. When your spouse says you should buy a huge locomotive, the only word you should then say is, "Yes!" Here's another YouTube video showing this monster in operation. The model has 4 motors (2 in the lead and 2 in the turbine) and draws about 5.0 amps on level. With the cars added and going up the grade it was pulling almost 9 amps.

2nd Train - YouTube (http://youtu.be/Gk0vnQrv3I4)

This locomotive was a one-off attempt by the Union Pacific to use their abundant coal resources to drive a gas turbine electric. They took the chassis of a monster Northern Pacific W-1 electric and installed an industrial gas turbine. They modified a large Big-Boy, pedestal-trucked, tender into a fuel handler and coal pulverizer. It was a good scheme, but they couldn't manage the erosion to the turbine blades caused by the pulverized coal. As a result of this maintenance headache, this was the one and only coal turbine. But it's a great looking model. Union Pacific had 50 or so gas turbine electrics built by GE. My Veranda engine was an example of these engines. They produced 4,500 hp and we extremely noisy. The lead engine in the coal turbine lash up was an Alco PA 1,500 hp passenger diesel that was used to move the machine around when it was not on the mainline.


We had the smoke units on for a while until my wife came down to complain that it was smelling up the house. I suspected it would since the heating system is not hermetically sealed and it was going to draw it in and spit it out upstairs. These units don't actually create smoke by burning anything. They use light mineral oil and more or less vaporize it.

In case anyone ever gets the idea to run this engine on anything smaller than O88, take a look at the overhang coming around this corner. You have to be very careful what scenery and signaling is put trackside.


We also ran my 3rd Rail Pennsy T-1 Demonstrator, which is one of my favorite engines. Most of the engines are my favorites since I bought all of them.

Grandson then suggested that I paint the new control in Union Pacific and Pennsy colors. So I took a nice Pennsy Bobber caboose and a UP caboose to The Home Depot and had them match the colors. They were able to get a good read off the UP caboose because it had nice smooth sides, but the bobber gave them some trouble but they found a very similar shade in their computer already.

I painted the yellow first. Tomorrow, I'll mask the yellow and paint some the unpainted external areas Tuscan red. Should look nice.


While out, I stopped at Radio Shack and ordered 10, 8 position barrier strips and buss bars to make the input section from the DCS TIU. I've got the wiring figured out. I'm going to be able to select whether I'm driving from the fixed voltage output from the TIU from the left channel on the Z4000 or from the right variable channel. This will be done with all those DPDT toggles on the panel. In this way any section of the layout can either be digital or analog by operators selection. This doesn't negate being able to use the Z4K DCS feature, but lets me run the railroad with cab control before I buy the digital equipment. I will have two terminal connections in the digital run... to the barrier strips in the control panel, and where the track pigtails join the run below the platform. I will directly splice the lead from the output of the toggles all the way to the track so I won't be using another barrier strip. When originally wired, all these leads went through a barrier strip so the panel could be removed and shipped. This layout's not going anywhere.

And I bit the bullet and ordered 250 feet each of 14 and 16 gauge twisted pair from OGRR. I will use that avionics wire to power all the switches and other power users on the layout, but not the track. It's only 20 gauge. It's also shielded with a very-difficult-to-remove insulation that I didn't want to mess with any more than I have to. I may need a bit more than this, but for the very short runs near the panel I can use other wire that I have.

I still have to drill the cooling holes on the box. Forgot to that before I painted it. Oh well...

So the LEDs are ordered along with a power supply, the terminal strips are ordered as is the wiring. I already have all the DPDT switches I need. All that's left to buy is the digital equipment.

Builder 2010
19 Feb 13,, 01:30
Put some final touches on the control cabinet. It's painted Tuscan Red and UP Armour Yellow. I cobbled together some logos from both roads and decorated the sides with them. Later this week, when the supplies arrive, I will start doing some actual wiring. I'm getting bored running trains only around the outer loop.





I pulled the 3rd Rail, J1-a out of it's long slumber. Oiled it up and it ran perfectly. I love this engine and like how it looks elevated at eye level. It's old technology, now 16 years old, but it works nicely. I suppose someday I'll upgrade its electronics so it will have more bells and whistles — after all, it's a steam engine... it already has SOME bells and whistles. I have the drawbar set on the closest hole. With my curves I think it could even be a bit closer.


This engine was one of Pennsy's biggest and most successful. It was a direct copy of the C&O T-1 and was one of the only Pennsy engines with a Wooten firebox and Baker Valve gear. Every other Pennsy engines had English-style Bellpaire fireboxes (straight sides) and Walshearts Valve gear. This was all to the fact that Pennsy was forbidden to design a "new" engine during WWII, but they were allowed to copy another road's. It was a 2-10-4 which classified it as "Super-power" meaning it had the steam capacity to run at full-horsepower even at its highest speeds. A dead giveaway is the 4-wheeled trailing truck supporting a very large fire box. Initially, the counter-balancing on the drivers was off and those huge side rods beat the heck out the rails, but eventually they got it right and the engine worked great. As usual with all big Pennsy steam, none survived the cutter's torch. No extant engines are around to see or touch. New York Central did the same. None of their best engines—Niagaras and Hudsons—made it past scrapping.

I made a computer drawing of this engine in 1998. I'll post it next since I'm at 5 images.

Builder 2010
19 Feb 13,, 01:47
I fell in love with engine way back in the 50s. I like it's front end; very massive, straight up and down, cast pilot. I saw a WWII poster with this engine pulling a train loaded with war materiel, and really liked it. It was the 2nd engine I bought, and I had it for 3 years sitting on a shelf before I had tracks to run it on. This picture was done in CorelDraw from scratch. I used photographic sources and measured the model with calipers. It took a long time to do it, but the results were worth it.


Builder 2010
20 Feb 13,, 03:27
Started putting in the toggle switches today. I'm still waiting on all the supplies, but I have the toggles and needed to get started. While I was doing this, this baby was running around the loop. It's an H-8 Allegheny by 3rd Rail. It was one of the first they produced. I took it out of the box and like all the others, ran perfectly. I just lubed the journals just to be sure. I love all my 3rd Rail engines, but I think I love this one most of all.



I didn't run it will all the hatches open. That was just done for this "builder's photo". This is one of the last Lima steam engines and is known as the heaviest steam locomotive ever built. While the Union Pacific Big Boy 4-8-8-4 was probably the longest, and the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range RR's "Yelllowstones" may have had the most tractive effort, the H-8 Allegheny was a monster. Two are still extant: one at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI and at the Baltimore & Ohio Museum in Baltimore, MD. And I have one too. It's the front end that so distinctive with platform fully a story up in the air and a large flat shield protecting the very large exhaust "Y" that carries exhaust from the front cylinders to the stack. Like many of the monster Pennsy engines, this one arrived in the 40s when diesel was already starting to take jobs away from steam. It was capable of 80 mph speeds, but ended up slowly pulling very long coal trains in the West Virginia mountains and never got the chance to really show what it can do. It's exhaust note was thrilling.

The engine was 16' tall, weighed over 770,000#, had the largest diameter boiler ever used in a mobile steam application. Its fire box had 121 sq. ft and required a 6-wheeled trailing truck to support it. And the boiler could produce 8,000 hp. The Pennsy Q2 had more indicated horsepower as measured on a fixed dynamometer, but the Allegheny's hp was measured pulling a train. It burned soft coal of which the C&O had great abundance. The engine was also very wide which necessitated mounting two of its four air tanks on the roof. As I showed early in this thread, even the model takes up lots of space. It has a significant overhang of the boiler front as it points straight as the front engine goes around the curve. It forced me to redesign the layout to increase the track spacing between inner and outer tracks so it won't impact anything on the other track.

Just to refresh your memory, here's what that clearance problem looked like.


The model is brass and weighs over 10 pounds. It has as much scale pulling power as it's full-size brother.

I labeled all the block locations on the back of the panel so I didn't have to keep flipping it up to see what's what. I putting all the switches in place with their pigtails hanging out. Some of these will be replaced when I start laying in the field wiring.


I know that DCS doesn't like going through too many terminal strips because of signal degradation. Does this also pertain to splicing wires together using Western-Union splicing with soldered joints? Seems to me that a properly executed splice would appear electrically as the same piece of wire. Is that not so?

Here's a close of the toggle.


The center of the three leads is the output to the track block. Of the two flanking it, one will be from the right and the other the left throttles from the Z4000 transformer. On the other side of the switch is the power lead that will feed the red and green LED indicators. I haven't yet decided if the the other side of the LEDs should be power and this center lead should go to ground. Since each LED has to have a limiting resistor, it might be easier to have that lead fed with separate power away from the switch and have their respective grounds go to the center lead.

Also, note the nature of mil-spec soldering. The wires are just bent 90º. There's enough solder to properly hold, but no more. The wire form is still visible through the solder and the solder forms smooth concave forms where it joins the connector.

Now of course I find some screw ups. I found that block 22 on the panel had the two LED holes drilled, but not the hole for the toggle. And for block number 9 I had drilled no holes at all. Luckily, the plastics bits that I ground worked well enough that I could drill the acrylic with nothing backing it up without wrecking anything. Whew!

I'm labeling all the output leads as I go along. While it looks like a major rat's nest right now, you just take it one wire at a time. I will have secure everything nicely so the panel will open and close with binding wires in the hinge area.

Builder 2010
21 Feb 13,, 03:01
Well... I have no more excuses... all the stuff came today; the wire from O'Gauge Railroading Magazine store, the LEDs and Resistors from Jameco, and the barrier strips and buss bars from Radio Shack. I didn't waste any time getting started. I'm in the process of soldering 76, 470 ohm resistors to 38 red and 38 green LEDs. These are just what the doctor ordered and were $0.09 ea for the red and $0.10 for the green which is much, much less expensive than I found in many other places. The wattage across the resistor is .20 watts (9.8 volts X 0.020 amps). I bought 1/4 watt resistors. Is that enough margin or have I made a mistake and should have gone with 1/2 watt? The resistors cost $0.04 each ($4.00 per 100). All of these LEDs will be installed in parallel to a 12 vdc power supply.

I thought I'd show some details of how I'm soldering these parts together since many folks don't really understanding electronic soldering and/or are anxious about it. So if you already know how to do this stuff, you can skip to the end. If not, please read on. And forgive my pedantic ponitification. I really get into this stuff.

First of all there's the tools. I have a Panavise with the wire loom attached to the back that supports wires when you're tinning them. And I have an Ideal Stripmaster which is still the finest wire stripping tool ever made. I got both of these tools in 1975 and their still good. Both were and still are made in the USA. They're not cheap Chinese stuff, but they're worth it.


This tool strips wire from very fine up to 18 gauge. I also have a Weller soldering station that I set on number 3, the middle of the scale. I use a damp sponge to clean the iron before going to the work.

I decided to wrap both the resistor leads and the ground extension wire around the LED's leads, rather than make mechanical loops. There's no strain on these leads and after soldering you would have to destroy the part to get the wires off.

Now a word about soldering. Solder doesn't form a mechanical joint. It forms a chemical one. When the two surfaces are clean, molten solder combines metalurgically with both joining surfaces. Under the microscope you can see the base metals, a layer of mixed metals (solder and base) and then solder. That's why you can't separate them. This only occurs when the substrates are chemically clean, this is, no oxidation on the surface, and brought to the same temperature as the molten solder.

Lastly, the joint must not be disturbed. Solder cools from liquid to solid by first going through a slushy, crystalline transition phase. If the joint is moved during this phase, it will remain in the crystalline state, which is no longer a good conductor. This is what's know as a "cold solder joint". The joint is not actually cold. It improperly solidified. There are two cures for this. Don't move the cooling joint, and/or use 63% tin/37% Lead Eutectic Solder. Eutectic refers to a metal alloy that transitions instantly from liquid to solid without passing through the "slushy" stage. The sell it at Radio Shack. When I taught a couple thousand people how to do this we used 63/37 and we specified it in production since it greatly reduced the chances of cold joints.

Chemical cleaning is the job of the Rosin Flux. When melted, rosin is a potent de-oxidizer that removes the microscopic film of oxide that covers all metallic surfaces (on Earth). It is NON-CORROSIVE, but it can be removed with isopropyl alcohol. Mil-spec soldering requires the removal of the flux. Commercial standards generally don't require this. Model railroading doesn't usually require it either.

Here's a shot of the wire wrapped around the LED Lead before soldering. The wire is held vertically by the Panavise's Wire Loom.


Here's the joint after soldering


Notice that you can still make out the wire strands, but this wire is now one with the LED. Mil-Spec requires that you can see the wire in the solder, but no bare metal. The solder joins the base metal in a convex fillet. There is no "glob" of solder that obscures the joint. Why is this so? You cannot get a convex surface if the two surfaces are not chemically bonded. If the joint is not bonded, the solder forms into a ball due to its own surface tension. Only when the joint is clean and hot can the new alloy, know as an amalgam, form. Amalgam is the same thing you get when you mix silver powder with mercury. It's tooth filling and I have a mouth full of it.

Here's the resistor joined to the LED. Again, notice the contours of the joint are still visible, but it is very, very strong.


Solder flows towards the heat source. If the heat source is on the other side of the joint, the solder flows completely through the joint to get to that heat. So the iron goes on one side of the joint and the solder on the other...ALWAYS! In order for the iron to get the joint hot in the first place, it needs wet solder on the tip. You can do this two ways. On small jobs like this one, I melt a very small amount on the solder tip before it touches the work. If the joint were a little larger, I'd touch the iron to the work, and then form a "heat bridge" between the iron and the work, then immediately move the solder to the other side of the work to flow the solder towards the iron. If I continued to put solder on the iron side, I may or may not get a successful joint.

One more point. Materials to be soldered can be defective due to age. If the oxide film is too heavy, the small quantity of rosin in the solder's core may not be enough to dissolve it and no matter how long you hold the iron on the work, or how much solder you apply, the joint just doesn't make. It usually gets worse the longer you try due in part to the heat actually oxidizing the metals further. Expensive wire is sometimes pre-tinned. It already has solder on it for easy soldering. Old wire can oxidize right through the insulating jacket. When you strip the wire it has a dull, brown cast, not shiny. You can buy rosin flux that you can use to supplement that which is in the solder when the joint is very big, and/or very dirty.

When I worked in a company that produced industrial instrumentation they didn't know about this effect and were getting materials from vendors that were way out of date and were horrible to solder. After training the thousands of people, including all the inspectors, the vendors got the message and no longer shipped junk. Solder defects went from abysmal to zero in two years.

So here's today's production. 30 down and 46 more to go. Luckily, I don't mind doing this stuff.


I'm putting shrink tubing on the positive lead. I will then attach a longer power lead to the other end of the resistor which will go to the 12v DC power source. The black ground lead will go to the one side or the other of the DPDT toggles, the center of which will go to ground. I've got work tomorrow, so I'll finish up the LED prep on Friday. I then get back to installing toggle switches and some serious railroad wiring. The layout should be wired and running in a couple of weeks.

I also think I have a very inexpensive source of ballast... roofing gravel. It looks like exactly the right size and is very much less expensive than specially prepared model railroad ballast.

Builder 2010
22 Feb 13,, 00:45
So I decided to find out for sure what the LED resistor value should be. I was not happy with how hot the resistor was getting so quickly. I called Jameco and they sent me to a nice site that supports LED technology and there was an LED resistance calculator that not only gives the value in ohms, but also the wattage requirement.

Here's the site: LED calculator for single LEDs (http://led.linear1.org/1led.wiz)

The new value is 330 ohms, 1 watt instead of 470 ohms, 1/4 watt. Big difference especially in power handling. No wonder they were getting hot. That would have been a mess if they started burning out (or worse) with 38 of them mounted on the panel board.

So I removed some of the shrink wrap (more waste) and cut off the old resistors. I ordered new ones from Amazon since Jameco doesn't stock a 1 watt resistor in this value.

Here's the pile without their resistors that I spent hours soldering on yesterday.


Lucky for me that I didn't solder all 78 of them. Also, based on what I was describing yesterday, the solder joints were so effective, I couldn't pull the resistors off even when holding a hot iron next to the joint. The amalgam is very strong. I'll just solder the new resistor onto the same spot. If I wasn't going to independently light each LED separately, I could have set up an array and used less resistors (there's a calculator for this also).

Ballast Question Answered:
I purchased a tub of roofing granules from a local roofing supplier. It costs a little over 50 cents a pound. Compare that to anything sold explicitly for model railroading. It was estimated that I need close to 100 pounds of this stuff to do my railroad. That came to almost $300 for commercial model RR stuff. Instead it will be less than fifty bucks. Here's what it looks like on my test piece.


The granules are light gray and even in size distribution. The size is very close to nominal for the size rocks on the Norfolk-Southern in O'scale, at about 2mm. I used an Alcohol/India Ink mixture as the wetting agent to see what it looked like, and then soaked it with diluted matte medium. When dry, I'm going to experiment with rail painting so this will become my training piece. When the Ross track is painted it's going to look very nice.

It's hard to get pricing on roofing granules. It's not a common stuff. I was lucky that I'm consulting for a commercial roofing company and they had some in their stock that I could see. They also got me better pricing.

The supply company's parking lot butts up against the Norfolk-Southern's Louisville mainline tracks so all I had to do was show a picture of my railroad on the iPhone and then point to the tracks and say "That's what I'm going to do with my track." They even took me back into the warehouse to examine some of the material on the floor so I could decide if I wanted it. Once I opened the container, I couldn't return it.

It's going to work very well.

22 Feb 13,, 00:55
I use the same site to calculate my resistor values, but a different calculator. Just in case you want more than one LED in the circuit.

LED series parallel array wizard (http://led.linear1.org/led.wiz)

I know All Electronics didn't have green 12v LED's.

There is this guy on eBay. Just look along the left side for specifics.

White, COMBO PACKS items in cece718 store on eBay! (http://stores.ebay.com/cece718)

Builder 2010
23 Feb 13,, 00:58
Most of the 12V LEDs I found were all high-intensity types for lighting or automotive use. For the panel, indicator level light is all that's needed.

After having a heart-stopping near miss this week when I turned on the Allegheny with THE SWING GATE OPEN, I quickly realized that the interlock needed to be the first thing I built, not the last. I was closer to it than the controls and raced in front of the speeding locomotive (Superman anyone?) and got the gate shut a foot in front of the engine. This was actually the second near miss. The other happened when I was running the trains with the grandkids.

So today I built the mechanical parts of the interlock. I went to the Hobby Shop and got some RC components to go with the microswitch that I bought at Radio Shack. It seemed like the best way was to mount the components on brass and then attach them to the layout. In these pictures, the wood block is not yet fastened down. I need to grind the trigger stem flat since the latch can ride off it and not engage the power.


I had to play with the spring location so it pulled up properly without binding. There's also a plastic sleeve (just visible) in the layout structure to provide a running surface for the trigger. This is also a model aircraft component. I felt that using the bell crank and having the microswitch at right angles to the trigger made it easier to adjust the travel and location. It also provided a convenient place to attach the return spring which is essential. The microswitch contact arm lacked the strength to provide a good, positive return. If the trigger hangs up, the power won't disengage defeating the purpose of the entire effort.

Here's the "closed" state:


When the latch is raised, the relay will cut the power to all the blocks butting up to the swing gate and switch the indicator LEDs on the panel from green to red.


When closed, a timing circuit will hold the power off for a period of time to give the operator(s) the opportunity to make sure everything is okay before energizing the circuit. I'm going to add a stop on the trigger shaft so it doesn't rise too high. This will also help keep the latch from overriding the trigger.

Just as a memory jogger; here's the design drawing I made.


While I could have made the engagement point the actual moving of the gate, my grandson suggested tying the trigger to the latch itself so even if the gate were physically closed, if the latch was open, the trains shouldn't run. I liked his idea and designed the system accordingly.

I will wire it up next session (maybe tonight...definitely tomorrow).

23 Feb 13,, 23:20
I use the same site to calculate my resistor values, but a different calculator. Just in case you want more than one LED in the circuit.
LED series parallel array wizard (http://led.linear1.org/led.wiz)
I know All Electronics didn't have green 12v LED's.
There is this guy on eBay. Just look along the left side for specifics.
White, COMBO PACKS items in cece718 store on eBay! (http://stores.ebay.com/cece718)

If you put 2 leds paralel and 1 led breaks (stops conducting), then the single remaining led will get the current for 2 leds.

Also, depending on the circuit, the 2nd led can momentarily stop conducting, while a switch is put in another position.

Also there's differences in the individual leds.

Why exactly can't a single resistor be used for many parallel LEDs? - Electrical Engineering (http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/22291/why-exactly-cant-a-single-resistor-be-used-for-many-parallel-leds)

Builder 2010
25 Feb 13,, 04:31
Ken, I don't think I'll have this problem since every LED is getting it's own current limiting resistor. So regardless of how many parallel LEDs there are, they each only receive 2ma. In the little test that I ran, the green and red shift as they should, but read on since it was more fun that a barrel of monkeys...

Late yesterday and today (while grandson #1 and friend were trying to create a Rube Goldberg "machine" for a science fair) I cobbled together the relay network that would control the track power and the LED indicators on the panel. I studied the relay diagram, thought I had it conceptually right in my head, but proceeded to hook up every connection wrong that could possibly be done before getting it right.

This included having the locations for the LED feeds backwards, and getting the leads that would interrupt track power wrong two different ways (out of three possible choices). It takes great skill to get things backwards this many times...

The problem seemed to be when I was trying to cipher out which contacts would be normally closed, i.e., conducting when the relay coil was de-energized. This was the set that would let the red LED illuminate when the gate was open and the coil was turned off. But when I ringed it out with a continuity tester, I was getting funny results and therefore hooked up the Red LED to the wrong set and it lit when the power was on and nothing lit when the coil was off.

I woke up at 6:00 am this morning thinking that I had it wrong. My subconscious was working on the problem when I wasn't and found the error. When I got to work this afternoon I corrected it.

Then it was time to hook up the leads for the main power cutoff, and sure enough, got this one backwards twice. I don't wrap wires all the way around solder lugs so it wasn't a big deal to de-solder the joint and move the wire, but it sure got annoying.

Here's the sub-panel I built out of spare acrylic. I used a new glue product from DAP which is a gel adhesive you stick to one piece, pull the other piece of backing paper and stick it to the surface AND IT'S ON, REALLY ON!

I used two relays since I have to break power from both the right throttle and left (or in the future one on a DCS TIU and other the analog channel). So I still have one Relay channel left since the other 3 are engaged in power switching and LED lighting. I'll have think of something to do with that channel.


Note that everything goes through barrier strips making it easier to remove a bad component without de-soldering. I'm still wondering how DCS will hold up through this network, and more importantly what engines under DCS do when you suddenly cut their power. Oh well... I'll find out someday.

Here's the DC busses that will power this network and all the panel LEDs. Speaking of which, I ordered the new 1 watt 330 ohm resistors and Amazon reports that they are shipped. Should have them tomorrow or Tuesday.


The DC is coming from a 6 amp, 12v DC adapter that was like $7.00. It's a replacement Laptop adapter. My total load is coming out at something like 3 amps so it should serve well. I was first going to feed this array with AC through a bridge rectifier, but this adapter simplified that problem. I'm feeding the DC through the wall of the box with a DC charging socket.


And here's the plug from outside. This is how I'll turn off the DC so far, just pull the plug. I may completely rethink this idea even as I'm writing this. I may put another toggle on the panel to turn the DC on and off and hardwire it into the panel. The plug still need the leads soldered on (obviously).


I'm going to start wiring in everything tomorrow and get a chance to make this interlock really work. I'm planning on breaking the circuit to these 6 blocks before the barrier distribution strip that will send power to these 6 toggles. This means that these six will be nested together in their own barrier away from the rest which will not be interlocked. The LED DC source is fed directly from the DC buss, but the relay coils will be fed from the buss through the interlock switch and then to the delay circuit. Set at it's lowest, the delay holds re-energizing the coils for 6 seconds. It can delay "on-time" for minutes if you so desire.

Here're the six blocks that will be acted on by the interlock. If I need to add more dead tracks before or after the swing gate, I can simply move their power leads to the buss that's controlled by this circuit.


Builder 2010
26 Feb 13,, 02:37
I didn't like the plug in DC main as a way to shut off the LEDs, so I scrounged around for a SPST switch and found an extra light switch in my parts box. I clipped off the plug from the DC adapter and hard-wired the power lead into the panels circuits. The results were much better having a positive shut-off of the DC feed to all the panel LEDs. I also spent a few minutes cleaning up this phase of the wiring so it looks more ship shape.




After the DC was tied in, I tried the interlock. The red light went on as it should when the latch was lifted, but when closed, after the delay, the green did not. I traced the problem to the latch. It wasn't pressing hard enough on the microswitch to activate it. I bent the switch's lever just a bit more and was rewarded with this.


Within 10 seconds after the timing circuit did its work, there was a nice steady green LED saying "The door is locked" "the trains can now proceed safely across the abyss". It was very gratifying!

The rest of the day, almost four hours, I spent labeling wires, drilling holes for said wire, and soldering pigtails for track blocks missing them. It also gave me a chance to do more soldering with my super-dooper resistance soldering unit (RSU). With the tweezer, it takes seconds to properly solder 16 gauge pigtails to the center and outside rails. The tweezer quickly heats the joint for tinning the rails (after abrading the black oxide on the center rail), and then holding the tinned lead to the rail until the solder melts, letting go of the foot switch until the joint cools and then releasing the tweezer. It's terrific.

I have a couple more hours work to finalize the wire prep and the I'll do another boring job of fastening junction blocks underneath next to each pigtail. Then it will time to run leads from the control panel to the field.

And one more thing. The new resistors arrived today and I will be installing them tomorrow also. A train friend from Cincinnati is visiting tomorrow. It will be my first official train visitor. He's a very experienced modeler and is one of the fellows tasked with keeping the monster Cinergy O'gauge Christmas layout running. It's been a Christmas feature in Cincinnati for over 50 years. It's now housed in the Cincinnati History Museum which is the re-purposed Cincinnati Union Terminal which is an Art Deco masterpiece. If you're unfamiliar with it, Google it. I've had fantasies of making a scaled-down version of this station for my layout, but decided it was folly.

Builder 2010
28 Feb 13,, 02:52
Today's work session was in two parts... some time with #2 grandson, then real work, and after dinner some more time in the train room.

Work today wasn't very ground breaking nor exciting, but it was essential. It consisted of marking and burying wires, double-checking switch action and rewiring, and preparing and putting the last 7 DPDT switches into the control panel.

So here's what you see when you now look at the layout. Actually, it's what you don't see that matters.



What you don't see is all those pigtails that were sticking up in previous images. Next, I will install a 2-position barrier strip under the layout near each of the submerged pigtails.

My grandson was a big help too. He, like his older brother, is very bright and catches on immediately. I found that some of the Ross switches weren't fully transitioning in one direction when the movable rails were pushed by the tie bar (not pulled). I realized that the RossBed urethane foam under the tie bar was interfering with the little metal spring wire that connects the bar to the switch motor. The fix entailed unscrewing the switch motor, removing the wire and then using a small-bladed screwdriver going under the bar and making some clearance room in the urethane. Once I showed him what to do he went around checking all the switches and correctly making the repairs. He was very proud of himself.

Then tonight I soldered four wires to each of 6 DPDTs and installed them in the panel. All of the switches are now in place and the panel looks like this. The remaining two wires will be the negative leads (with extensions) from the red and green indicating LEDs that will tell which throttle is powering the block. I use red and green which represents the right side of the Z4000 with the green power-on light and the left side which has the red overload light. I also arrange the wiring so when the switch is pushed to the right it is energized from the that throttle.


And, good graciousness! This is the rat's nest that lies behind this panel now.


It's not as bad as it looks. All of the track leads are numbered. Many of the wires are either too long or too short, but that's not a problem either. I will splice the short ones and cut the long ones. I designed the wiring schematic and it will just be a task of working through the one at a time. It will look great in a week.

I still have to install all of those new resistors, but again, it's a simple task repeated over and over.

Builder 2010
02 Mar 13,, 04:23
I got home from work at 3:30 so I had a couple of hours and got the power feed to the DPDT toggles for the 8 outer loop blocks. In this picture it's not pretty yet. I'm going to get them connected before dressing them with tie-wraps and fastening them to the base plate. I have to make sure that the array can facilitate closing the panel. 8 down and 30 more to go.


I'm labeling each wire end for troubleshooting purposes.

This closeup shows the wire identification and another question. When you do a Western-Union splice and solder the wire, does DCS see this as a junction like with a barrier strip or is it electrically transparent? I didn't unsolder all the switches prior to installing them so many had short wires based on where they were installed before. So all of these have splices to lengthen them to reach the terminal strips. I just didn't want to resolder more of them than I had too. The blue lead on the other side of the switch is the DC feed that will power the indicator LEDS. I'm going to install the current-limited resistor in that lead so one resistor with service two LEDs since they will never be on at the same time.


If you'd see the top of the panel, you'd notice that the green feed and red feeds are opposite to the position of the switch when flipped in the green or red direction. It's due to the mechanics of the switch. When the switch is flipped to the right, the contacts for that direction are on the left side underneath. The center lead goes to the track. It too will be spliced with the long wires that will come from each track block.

So the rat's nest is still...well...a rat's nest, but it's going to slowly get better one wire at a time.


A note about those white wires. That's German AC power wiring. It's what they use for Romex. It's very high quality (would you expect anything else?) and has blue and brown conductors. I have lots of it from previous layouts and it's good quality conductor and solders very nicely. I've designated that brown is from the green throttle and blue from the red. As long as I keep this straight all will be good. It's has a soft vinyl-like insulation that's very easy to remove.

I purchased larger spade terminals for the 14 gauge wiring, and USA-made Klein Multi-tool that's better suited to stripping and crimping this heavier gauge stuff. My Ideal Stripmasters won't handle 14 gauge without removing some of the copper along with the insulator. I also bought some white 3M electrical tape to better see my wire labeling, and some brush-on, liquid insulator to make it easier to insulate splices (especially 3-way) when the shrink tubing doesn't work. I found out the hard way that if I moved the shrink tubing over the splice too soon, the residual heat would start the shrinking before I could get it into position. I have to wait until the wire is just warm to the touch so the tubing doesn't start changing shape.

I'll be working this weekend on the layout and the weather is conducive to train work. Tomorrow, the grandson is coming with his schoolmate to continue working on the Rube Goldberg device.

Builder 2010
03 Mar 13,, 16:29
Quality session yesterday and got almost all of the toggles wired with their Red and Green Throttle feeds. Have two more to go and they're all done. Woke up this morning again with the thought that I did something wrong during the last session. As usual, my subconscious was right. I had wired all the outer loop toggles to their red and green sources, but I forgot that block 7 & 8 (along with 4 others on the right side) were to be wired into the interlock relay barrier strips since their power was to be interrupted when the gate latch was opened. So the first thing I did was relocate those two and then connect the other four while I was at it.

And since I was standing while doing some of this and bending at a weird angle, my back decided to go out. I then realized I could roll my desk chair up to the edge of the panel and do it sitting down. If I figured that out ahead of time, I would be a lot happier right now.

So it's not done. There's still a lot to go. I have to wire up all the indicator LEDs which will be soldered to the open terminal posts on the toggles, and then I have to run all 38 blocks of field wiring to the center lead on the other side of the toggle, but you can already see the order that's coming out of the Chaos. I have to be careful to arrange the wires in such a way to enable the panel to close up tightly.


I still have to dress the wires better and use more tie wraps to stabilize the whole thing.


And once again, my waking time was spent constructively with wiring questions (and answers) about how to handle putting in all the LEDs. I realized two things... first, I only need one current limiter resistor feeding each DPDT switch since only one LED can be illuminated at a time (red or green) and therefore only pulling current from the center wire. So the resistor will go between the DC source and the center tap on the switch, and second, I can handle getting the DC- back to that terminal strip in whatever way makes the least mess and minimal quantities of wire as long as I maintain the parallel alignment. I also started thinking about bringing in the field wiring to the DPDTs and wiring up 26 track switch controllers. In the German scheme, they ran to a long barrier strip so I could remove the control panel for shipment. Now, I don't need this additional step and can wire each switch controller to it's final destination. I will still use a small terminal strip under the platform so the switch can be removed for maintenance or whatever without cutting a wire. It just seems to make sense.

Builder 2010
05 Mar 13,, 04:24
Before going any further I decided I better check that I wired everything correctly. I'm glad I did. My digital multi-meter, like most of them, acts as continuity checker when you select the lowest Ohms setting. Out of 74 circuits, two were wired improperly. In one, I had mis-marked the leads themselves so the green throttle leads were marked as red and vice versa. In the other, I had just screwed the leads to the wrong buss. If I hadn't rung out each side, those track blocks would have been dead or a different voltage than their neighbors and would have been a pain in the butt to troubleshoot. Now they're all correct. I also checked those circuits that would be controlled by the interlock and they too were in good shape.

So with that out of the way, I started wiring the hot side to all the LED indicators. I'm installing the single current-limiting resistor in this line which feeds either the red or green LED. I then joined five of them with one other lead into a larger ferrule. This lead will ultimately be joined with a few more going into the DC+ distribution block. Since the block only has 17 positions so combining them is a good idea. The wire is 26 AWG which can handle 2.5 amps. The LEDs only draw .02 amps so there's no change of overloading anything.

Here's the latest wiring diagram modified from the incandescent version. I must say that LED did add a level of complexity. If I had enough of the incandescents, I would have used them. They worked on AC from the 10 volt tap on the transformer. But the LEDs are going to look very good once they're all installed. Not shown is the LED voltage = 12 fed through a Laptop power supply.


I had started bundling groups of wires with tie wraps, but when I ran into the first toggle's problem, I clipped all of them off. I'll wait until all the wires are correct and powered up before making everything pretty(ier).


I'm using heat shrink tubing as much as possible to insulate all the splices. In one of the first ones I did, I picked a size that was too small and had to resort to electrical tape.


In my last iterations, I took great pains to adhere the wiring to the panel so it would stay in place when the panel was open for service. In this case, the panel opened upwards. In this version, the panel opens downwards and the wire naturally lays in place. In this case, I'm more concerned about shaping the cables so they don't foul the hinge when the panel is raised.

Builder 2010
06 Mar 13,, 00:21
I continued installing resistors on the hot side of the LED circuit, and started running out of the correct-sized heat shrink tubing so I began to install some of the LEDs to see how that would go. I needed to glue the LEDs into their 5 mm holes since the red ones fit pretty loosely. The greens are a different manufacture and fit more tightly. I first tried CA, but it quickly soaked into the paper graphic and looks poorly from the front. This happened at the interlock LEDs so I'm going to put a finished plate on the front with the words "Interlock" which will cover up the blemish. Next I tried using RC Canopy Cement, but it didn't grip the epoxy that the LEDs are made of. Finally, I tried clear Gorilla Glue and this seems to be working well.

I applied DC to all the installed sets and they worked as prescribed.

Here's a shot showing the complexity of the wiring even when it's all installed correctly.


Great Depth of field thanks to the focus stacking software. It sometimes creates aberrations like the halo around the black wire in the foreground, but all in all it does make great closeups possible.

I almost blew it. Originally I was going to have the hot lines running individually to each LED. This was when I was soldering the wrong resistors to all those LEDs (several posts ago). And the black wire was on the LED's negative side. This was to be wired to the switch which would go to ground. But the other day I realize that I only need one resistor to each switch if wired to the + side. But I didn't revise my thinking about the black and red wires. I actually soldered the first LED backwards. I caught my mistake very quickly and hadn't applied any power to it. The circuit in the foreground was the one where this happened.

I ordered a bunch more heat shrink from Jameco. Since I made my first order with them, they gave me a free shipping coupon. They sell it in four foot lengths. I really don't want to go the electrical tape route. In a pinch it works, but it's a much better installation with shrink tubing.

So four toggles are done and only 33 to go.

06 Mar 13,, 01:12
Great Depth of field thanks to the focus stacking software. It sometimes creates aberrations like the halo around the black wire in the foreground, but all in all it does make great closeups possible.

Just another reason this presentation is so fantastic. These extra efforts you put into the work. Thank you, I know the trains would work just as well without the great presentation of the build, but with this level of documentation, the work is all the more impressive.

Builder 2010
11 Mar 13,, 02:11
Thanks, as always, Jay! As I've said many times before, documenting the build is almost as much fun as building it in the first place. I sometimes find myself re-reading the whole thing and being amazed that I've actually put it all together. It helps me plan what I'm doing next and actually improves the build. Having worked in an industrial instrumentation company where they assembled control panels for power plants etc., I'm compelled to try to make the wiring as professional looking as possible. There's a lot of wires in this panel!

All of heat-shrink arrived the other day and I'm back in production. I've now completed installing 17 LEDs and only 23 more to go...ugh! It's painstaking work since I want to make sure that every joint is perfect and every exposed area is covered with heat shrink tubing. I'm also having to glue in the red LEDs since they're slightly smaller than 5 mm so the Gorilla glue has to dry overnight to make a strong joint. I'm off tomorrow and will install some more. After the LEDs I'll start tying the hot and common feeds to the individual pigtails attached to each track block. There'll be a small junction block under the platform where the two will join and then it will run straight back to the center leads on each toggle for the hots and the common buss barrier strips. I found out today that having the hot a foot or so longer than the commons will not affect the DCS signal strength or data transfer. That's good because I didn't want to strip the twisted pair wire back two feet or so to expose the additional length of black wire to compensate for the extra red wires running to and from the toggle switches.

Builder 2010
12 Mar 13,, 01:09
I decided I didn't like how I was working with the LEDs using the laid-open control panel acrylic as a work surface. I also didn't like putting the leads on the LEDs one a time. It was slow and very inefficient. So I re-engineered my approach and made a fixture with 7, 5 mm holes for the LEDs and started a mini-assembly line. In this fashion I was able to produce the rest of them in one sitting. I ran out of the 1/16" heat shrink tubing... I didn't order enough... so I used the 3/32" of which I ordered 4, 40" packages.

Here's the bare LEDS in the fixture. The jig kept them nice and still while I soldered them. My hands shake enough where I don't need a lousy holding device to add to the fun.


Here's a gaggle of LEDs with the heat shrink applied, but before shrinking.


I also sped up the shrinking process. I was using the soldering iron's sleeve to heat the tubing to shrink it, but decided to use the heat gun since they were now so conveniently held in place. It took only a minute or so to shrink all 14 leads at one time. I held the board with a big spring clamp so I didn't risk burning myself.

And here's the result of about 3.5 hours of work. Lots of additional well-soldered and insulated red and green LEDs. I'm careful to use red leads for the LED's + side and black for the – side. This avoids problems when I go to solder the +s into the toggle and the –s to the ground leads. I sincerely hope that none of those LEDs are faulty since I have not individually tested them. I did power up the first batch that I installed in the panel and they were all okay. The Gorilla glue holds pretty tightly so removing them to put in a new one will not be that easy.


After dinner, I installed all 23 sets (46 LEDs) into the remaining holes next to the toggles. I again used Gorilla glue to hold them in place and they all have to dry overnight to be fully cured and strong. I'll solder them to the switches and hook up all the remaining ground leads next session. Then I'll get back to installing the remaining hot leads with the current limiting resistors.


It still isn't pretty, but's it's getting there. Should be done in a week or so.

I decided on a way to lift the mass of wires to facilitate closing the panel without smashing the wires between the panel and the wood that lies just above the hinge. I going to thread a piece of string or wire underneath the bundle, have the kids lift each side of the string so the wires are now suspended above the hinge area, and then fasten the panel. When it's right, pull the string out. It should work, it's simple and once this thing is fully wired, it will be very rare to reopen it unless I'm adding something or there's a problem.

As you're able to gather by this time, model railroading, if you build your own system, involves a vast amount of knowledge and skills, the least of which is making models. You've got design, layout planning, project management, carpentry and painting, circuitry, electronics, electrical assembly skills, scenery design and building (arts and crafts), and then there's the purchase and collecting of trains and engines, building structures and rolling stock, switch logic and systems integration, and finally, running model trains. It's a good hobby.

12 Mar 13,, 02:37
Would hot glue be a viable alternative to gorilla glue? Faster dry time, but perhaps it isn't strong enough?

Builder 2010
15 Mar 13,, 04:52
Hot Glue! Why didn't I think of that? I have a hot glue gun and the glue to go with it. But it just didn't register this time. Jay... keep coming up with the ideas. The problem is I'm writing about stuff AFTER I do it so the suggestions only work for the next time...and I really don't want to do this again for a long time.

All of the LEDs are wired. All of the feeder resistors are in place and all of the DC+ leads are now bunched, combined and terminated at the DC+ power strip. Tomorrow, I'll terminate all of the DC- leads and then we'll see if all 38 red and green LEDs actually light up. I tested the very first batch that I wired and they worked. I'm combining 5 individual LED+ feeds and a long lead to reach the power strip in a single crimped ferrule. I cover the exposed end of the ferrule with some heat shrink to avoid any shorts. At the power strip I then combined two DC+ into their own crimped ferrule which is then terminated at the power strip. I'm using 26AWG wire and it's a little fine to use in a ferrule singly so combined two ensures that the crimp is nice and tight.

Here's the Termination of the DC+ feeds.

And here's what the panel looks like now. It's still a mess, but it's actually a completely, in-control mess. The only wires that remain un-terminated are the 38 hot and common track block feed wires. That means only 76 terminations left to go. Well actually that's not quite right. I still have to attach and wire up 26 track switch controllers. Each has three wires so this will actually get worse... much worse. Once the panel is closed and checked out, we'll never see it again.

Once all are terminated I'll go back and try to tidy it up a bit with some more cable ties. In the previous iteration, I ran the cables around the panel and tied them to the panel with adhesive cable management devices. That panel was painted so there was a good surface for the adhesive to adhere. In the instance, the back of the panel is paper, so any stress on it imposed by the cables would delaminate the graphic. So I'm letting all the cables float free thus leading to the mayhem... or at least the mayhem-ness.

And today I bought a tool that I wished I had bought long ago. It's a small heat gun with a reflector specifically designed to shrink heat shrink tubing. It was sooo much more effective than using the soldering iron and did the job in seconds. I was able to add the resistors and terminate the DC hot wires on 13 circuits tonight which was about twice my normal speed.

I went into Radio Shack to find some smaller-than-#4 wood screws for the Euro style barrier strips that are going under the layout. Home Depot had nothing smaller than #4s and they won't fit in the holes. It was a new item at Radio Shack and the sales lady showed it to me after I complained that I was unable to buy heat shrink at a price or quantity at any local stores, and resorted to making multiple orders from Jameco in L.A. They sell four foot lengths for less than 2 bucks. She showed me their supply of tubing and then said that a new product arrived that I might be interested in. As it turns out, I was, and it's great!


I've used tons of heat shrink so far and will use quite a bit more. In the past this all would have been electrical tape which is a pain in the butt to apply and isn't the most secure either. But buying quantities of electrical tape has been much easier than finding the equivalent lengths of heat shrink tubing. But then there's always Jameco.

15 Mar 13,, 14:21
If you spliced or soldered wires and forgot to put the heat shrink tubing on, or if you want to protect something that is odd shaped, you can use liquid liquid electrical tape. I bought my bottle from Lowe's which was actually cheaper than the $7+ on Amazon. I'm using it to prevent water infiltration into wiring exposed to water in my Marlin.

Liquid tape that I bought from Lowe's: Gardner Bender LTB-400 4-Ounce Black Liquid Electrical Tape - Amazon.com (http://tinyurl.com/acwxmah)

Amazon liquid tape listing: Amazon.com: liquid tape (http://tinyurl.com/b8skb2n)

Builder 2010
15 Mar 13,, 14:48
I have it, and have used it in several places. It's not my first choice since it has to dry, it's a bit messy and often times needs a second coat. That being said, I've used it at least five times to solve those exact problems. It's also good for protecting T splices where you can't slide a piece of tubing on. I bought mine at Lowe's too.

Builder 2010
16 Mar 13,, 04:06
Tonight I hooked up the DC-. It went very fast and turned it all on. I found one entire switch where the lights weren't on, and after closer inspection, found that I missed putting a resistor on one feeder wire so it was receiving no power. A few minutes later that circuit was working. Then I found one red LED that wasn't lit. I checked voltages coming out of the switch and there was power on both sides. I pulled off the shrink tubing to see if the solder joints were okay. They were. I don't ever blow solder joints! So I pulled that LED. I attempted to put the ohmmeter across the LED, but the readings were ambiguous and I wouldn't know what they meant anyway. So I need to replace it. Unfortunately, I used every last one so I have to buy some more. Perhaps I'll get enough so I have spares and can use them for kid's projects. I have a ton of resistors left since I chose to put the resistor on the center tap of the DPDT switch so I only used 38 of them instead of 76 if I would have fed the power in the other way and having the switch go to ground.

Here are all the green ones lit:

And here's all the red ones lit. If you look really closely, you can see one of the tracks in the yard is not showing a red light. I can run the trains without that light. First of all it's a yard track so will spend most of its time in the "off" mode, and then the lights are not in series with the power to the track. They're powered separately and just serve to show which throttle is driving.

In hindsight, I should have set up a test rig and tested each LED before and after installation. But considering the number of connections and splices, missing one line and having one bum bulb isn't too bad.

With this out of the way, I started the real wiring... the power wires to each block. I started with Block 16, which is an inner track on the far end of the layout. I used the 14 gauge for this. I tied it all off, threw my 2500HP Center-cab engine on the track and tested it. It worked, but the green throttle was showing a short or a common problem. Since I had that before when I jerry-rigged the outer loop I quickly realized that the outer loop commons and the one I just put up weren't in agreement. I disconnected the temporary outer loop from the transformer and the power problem was fixed. This loop is coming down anyway since I need all the two-position barrier strips to connect the main lines to the track feeders. The grandkids will be a bit disappointed that no trains can run, but it's only a temporary inconvenience leading to a much bigger goal.

Since block 16 is also one of the interlock circuits I was able to test that too by lifting the latch on the swing gate. The engine instantly powered down. So the relays are doing their thing. Sweet!

So one down and 37 more blocks to wire. It will take some time, but in a couple of weeks, we should have a running layout. And that includes getting all the switch machines under power. Since they're such low power devices, I don't have to manhandle that 14 gauge stuff. It's a pain to strip.

Today, I also located a source for #2 wood screws that I need to fasten the Euro-style barrier strips. I have screws that I used when the RR was built in Germany, but since they been in and out a couple of times, the Phillips head slots are cammed out and they're shot. Since Radio Shack didn't have them, I tried the hobby shop thinking that servo screws might work. They're the right diameter, but a tad too short. They suggested Fastenal, an industrial supply house that specializes on screws. I had never heard of them. Believe or not, they have 16 locations around Louisville and one was a half mile from where I was working today. They don't stock the #2s x 5/8s, but they'll have them for me on Monday and I ordered 100 for six bucks. Details, Details.

Builder 2010
25 Mar 13,, 01:58
While I haven't been posting, I have been working on the railroad (all the whole day long, tra la). What I have been doing is attaching the field wiring to the control panel. It's slow, painstaking work that's not very photogenic, but essential none the same. The outer loop is completely wired except for block #2, which is directly adjacent to the control station. The inner loop is half wire and everything on the back side of the layout is now live also including the first powered spur.

As I was moving down the front side, I kept looking for the pigtail for block 18, but couldn't find it, meaning this block had no feeder between the insulated pins. So I had to get out the Dremel to polish off the oxide and then get out the resistance solderer to fasten a pigtail. I thought I was done this phase. I will have to drill another hole to pass the wires down below, and then another junction block to tie in the panel feed. All this occurred right at the end of the session today.

Here's the wiring progress so far. All completed runs are in Red and to-be-done are in blue.


I thought I bought enough O'Gauge Railroading twisted pair wire to finish the job. I bought 500 feet (250 of 14 AWG and 250 of 16 AWG), but I'm going to run out with a number of blocks yet to wire. I don't want to switch to untwisted wire at this point so I'm going to have to buy more. In RRTrack, you can measure the total length of each wire run, so I added them up and came to another 190 feet (yikes!) so I just ordered another 250 since I'll consume the leftover when wiring for the lights, etc. That's 750 feet of wire just for track power.

As you can see by the diagram, all of the the rear wiring passes under the bridge since the open spaces are remaining open. This has led to a fairly large mass of wiring passing under there. This picture only shows track power wiring. There's still some wiring from the three track switches on the back side that has yet to be run. And there will also be signal wiring and lighting wires for any structures on the back side.


Here's another view of the cables under the back platform.


Lastly, here's the wiring that feeds the swing-out door. It passes around the hinge line so it can flex without any strains. I made sure that I didn't pull the wiring too tight when stapling it to the platform. I use an Arrow staple gun with the wiring shoe and curved staples. While they work well, you still need to be careful not to shoot the staple through the wire which either severs it or makes an instant short that's often hard to find.


And my wife made it clear she doesn't want the house to be smelled up with melting styrofoam so I'm going to go back to more traditional hardshell with plaster, paper towels and cardboard strips.

26 Mar 13,, 20:04

I didn't know if you saw this, they were talking about steam trains in the naval tread (in conjuction/comparison with steam engines in ships).

Builder 2010
27 Mar 13,, 02:48
Of course I had to stick my two cents into the discussion. Thanks for steering me to it. I have a new bit of footage for the railroad which I'll post once I get it up on Facebook.

Builder 2010
28 Mar 13,, 03:17
No layout building occurred yesterday or today, but I did do some train stuff. Tonight I repaired the loose rear coupler pocket on my Allegheny's tender. I tried pulling a long passenger train up the grade and the coupler let go behind the engine. When I examined it I found that the solder connection was gone where the couple bracket joined to the tender frame. It looked like it was never really soldered well and the paint hid the defect. Big problem!

I had a chance to test the limits of my resistance soldering unit. It was NOT able to heat this large joint sufficiently to re-solder it. I started by using a rubber abrasive wheel on the Dremel to remove the paint throughout the joint so the solder would have new metal for adhesion and for electrical conductivity for the RSU. While it got hot, it just wasn't hot enough. So I brought out the big gun, my butane-powered pencil torch.

After what seemed like a very long time, the joint was hot enough and I got good solder flow on both sides. It isn't going to break again. I also didn't damage anything else. While I should probably repaint the area, you can't see it and I'm selling the engine anytime soon. I did remove the rosin flux I used.

To do the repair I had to remove the frame from the tender body which was complicated by the four handrails at the corners that are attached to both the tender frame and body. I also removed the speaker so it wouldn't get cooked.

On Sunday, I ran two trains at once for the first time on both main lines with full control from the panel. None of the switch machines are yet wired so it was a bit dicey scrambling around to make sure the little triggers that control switch direction were flipped the way I wanted. And a couple of times they weren't, but nothing more than a minor derailment ensued.

Here's videos of two trains running. This is starting to get exciting.
Two Live Tracks 1 - YouTube (http://youtu.be/SL5vMQym0Mc)

The middle track between the two mainlines on the front of the layout is also now under cab control as is the passing siding and spur on the back of the layout. So the engines that are parked there can be brought in and out under their own power.

Here's a track level shot showing the MTH Norfolk-Southern A-B-B-A F7s pulling a long passenger train made up of those beautiful Lionel El Capitan scale-like streamliners plus some cars from my MTH Rock Island passenger set. I have a lot of those cars including the super-dome, plus the E-8 A-B-A engine, most are still in their boxes. Trains pulling up the grade are only pulling a little over 3 amps. Each throttle has a 10 amp limit so I could pull every passenger car plus multiple engines are not exceed that limit. Keeping the grade at 2% or less works well and I'm not having any tracking or control problems.

Two Live Tracks 2 - YouTube (http://youtu.be/tQDMexrLh28)

I'm waiting for my additional cable to arrive from OGRR so I can finish up the power wiring. I'm also waiting for the #2 wood screws from Fastenal so I can attach all the Euro-style connectors which are going to support all the switch machine wiring.

Builder 2010
02 Apr 13,, 20:07
Continued wiring today for a little bit with the help of #2 grandson. Engine passing over crossing in the middle of the reverse-loop zone promptly stopped. I had that block ending one track section past the crossing. What I hadn't taken into account was that there is no power passing through Ross crossing. The center is isolated and stops power flow from either direction. This means I need feeders on both sides of the crossing to feed the tracks that pass over that section. I'll have to add some jumpers and hope that DCS doesn't mind to much.


The other thing I found is more serious. My J1-a doesn't like the "S" curve leading into the yards. I was worried about this, but didn't think it would be this bad. The engine only has flanges on the first and last driver, but they were binding going through this section when I pushed it by hand (it's not yet powered). This problem may also manifest itself with the Q2 and S1, but those are not out of their boxes yet. I went back to the RRTrack drawing board and came up with a realignment. It means some significant surgery of well-glued track.

Here's the culprit.


Here's the curve removed. By moving the #4 Left-hand switch that leads into the yard further around the bend, it eliminates the "S" curve completely. And, best of all, no new parts need to be purchased. I haven't wired or ballasted any of these tracks yet, so if I'm going to make a change, it should be done now.


Yard track loss is minimal, and it looks a whole lot better (to me). Too bad I didn't think of this when I designed it the first time. 20/20 hindsight. Removing and re-gluing the track and roadbed will not be easy, but the "S" curve is intolerable.

Builder 2010
21 Apr 13,, 18:03
It's been a while since I posted an update, but a lot has happened. Since posting the problem with the S curve, i found that the problem was associated with one engine only, the Pennsy J1-a. It was one of the first large steamers that Sunset 3rd Rail produced and they had installed axle springs that were too soft for the weight of this engine. Yes... this engine and all 3rd Rail steamers have sprung main driver axles. While this, like in the prototype, helps the engine maintain rail contact when there are irregularities, it also makes things more complicated for toy trains. I had a problem with this engine when it was first running on the tracks in Germany. When the engine came out of the 44" radius curve, it would derail. I traced the problem to the wheelbase, the weight and the soft springs. This engine is a 2-10-4. It has five driving axles with the middle three having wheels without flanges (blind) so they tires can slide across the tops of the rails without binding. It's the only way you can get a 10-coupled engine to negotiate these "small" radii. In fact, the real J1, when first fielded, had blind center drivers for exactly the same reason. It also had lateral motion devices; axles that could, under controlled motion, move sideways up to an inch and half to allow the engine to negotiate tighter curves.

When the engine was in the curve, the middle driver was actually hanging out over the inside edge of the rails. Normally this isn't a problem with toy trains since they usually aren't sprung, so they just slide back into line when the track straightens out. But in this case, the soft springs and engine weight allowed this center driver to drop below the edge of the rail since more weight was being carried by fewer axles. When it tried to realign in the straight portion it couldn't since the middle driver was below the rail. It would bind and then derail. I contacted 3rd Rail and they acknowledged that the springing was too soft and sent me some plastic buttons to replace the springs in the front driving axle. This removed the spring entirely and prevented the engine from drooping when the middle driver slid past the rail head and the PROBLEM WAS SOLVED.

I had never replaced springs in any other axle.

Now in this case, it was exactly the same problem all over again, but now it was the sprung rear axle that was drooping and letting the blind drivers get hung up off the rails. So I thought real hard and remembered where I had kept the extra plastic spring-replacers. I took the engine apart and replaced the rear springs and the problem was solved. Actually, the disassembly created another problem. I broke one of the power leads from the pickup rollers. It broke in such as way as to prevent me from resoldering it since I could get inside to strip the wire. I tried putting a jumper wire from the front roller to the rear, but when on the track I had a dead short. So I had to pull the boiler off the engine, retrieve the broken wire, solder on an extension and use shrink tubing to insulate the splice and then solder the wire to the roller.

With that completed I was back to tying in the rest of the tracks to their power source. I was checking each track as I went along and was moving engines in and out of the now-powered yard tracks. This worked until it didn't. As I moved trains into block 22, they abruptly stopped. When I checked voltages with the meter I found the yard tracks powered and block 22 dead. Why?

Then I saw that block 22 had no feeder wire from the track, no hole for the wire, no junction block below... in other words, I had completely missed 22. My grandson didn't when, after closer inspection, I found his note, "#22 needs a wire". Remember, I had him do an inventory of what tracks had pigtails and what didn't. So it was pull out the Dremel, the resistance welder and the drill to quickly get power to that block. In the control panel, I of course found #22's lead sitting there with nothing attached to it. I also found out that #22's red and green feeders were reversed. Quite a lot of mistakes for one block.

So now all tracks and all sidings are powered. Here are some pictures of motive power sitting around waiting for something to do.

The first picture is my Union Pacific U50C. This is one of my favorite Diesels since, as an MTH Protosound 2.0 engine, has the best diesel sound systems. It was a GE locomotive with two prime movers in it. It was one of the 50s/60s UP monster engines that were built to replace the pulling power of the turbines. In fact the first in the U series had four trucks just like the UP Veranda Turbine which I showed in an earlier post. It was negotiating the full inner tracks. Unfortunately, at this time, none of the switches were under remote control and it was a pain to align them by hand since it meant going into and out of middle of the layout through the gate.

Here's three Pennsy monsters, the Centipede diesel, the J1-a of which I wrote about above, and the largest single-frame steam engine ever built, the experimental Pennsy S-1. This was a Raymond Lowey design from the late '30s that epitomized both Art Deco styling and Pennsy's attempts to get more pulling power with less rotating mass and huge pistons. It's almost 36" long. The real one was displayed on a roller stand at the '39 World's Fair in NYC.

And lastly, here's a mismash of experimental, humdrum and the exceptional all in one place; the UP Coal Turbine which was an experiment to pulverize coal and burn it in a gas turbine to create electricity to run traction motors. There's the very large Pennsy Q2 which was a modestly successful single frame, duplex drive engine that was a 4-4-6-4. It produced over 8,000 hp on the dyno and was one of the most powerful steam engines ever built. There's the Lima, 2-engined transfer diesel that wasn't very successful. And finally, there's the ubiquitous GG-1, an engine that produced almost 5,000 hp, ran for over 50 years, was beautiful and flawless and powered the Northeast Corridor into the Amtrak age. Living in Philly as a kid, this is what I though all trains looked like. It would go by at 80 making almost no noise at all.

21 Apr 13,, 18:35
Its very refreshing to delve back into this - with the news this past week - trains and hobbies are most welcome discussion topics. I just rode the Amtrak Southwestern Chief to Colorado with my Daughter, we had a roomette in the sleeper car - what a wonderful experience, a precious lifetime memory for sure. I thought of your train layout while we were riding the real ones - this hobby makes lots of sense - I can appreciate it even more now. Looking out the train windows made me feel like a part of a rich and fascinating part of our history, this country looks very different from a train. :)



21 Apr 13,, 20:51
Trains are my favourite way to travel except for travel by rickshaw. Lookin out the windows and watching the scenery and sippin beer is the way to go.

21 Apr 13,, 21:31
Trains are my favourite way to travel except for travel by rickshaw. Lookin out the windows and watching the scenery and sippin beer is the way to go.

Same here. Tho, if it is very distant place, like 1500+km, I'd stick to a plane.

21 Apr 13,, 21:44
Fair enough Dok. But I have gone on rail trips of that distance in India and the plane just wouldn't be as much of an experience.

21 Apr 13,, 22:14
Well if the time is not a factor...

21 Apr 13,, 23:16
Trains are my favourite way to travel except for travel by rickshaw. Lookin out the windows and watching the scenery and sippin beer is the way to go.

When did rickshaws get windows :biggrin:

21 Apr 13,, 23:19
When did rickshaws get windows :biggrin:

They migrated from linux last year.

21 Apr 13,, 23:29
When did rickshaws get windows :biggrin:

Well I do have a smart phone.

Builder 2010
22 Apr 13,, 00:52
Well, I'm glad to see that post got a lot of interaction... Thanks to USS Wisonsin.

With the track power out of the way it was time to start wiring up the switch controllers so I could actually RUN the railroad. The first challenge was to lengthen the leads on all the z-1000 controllers. I had some from the previous layout that needed new leads and six from new switches. The old push-button controllers had clamping screws to hold the lead wires in place. The new controllers have 3" leads permanently soldered to a small circuit board in the controller. To these you must splice wires to make them long enough to reach the barrier strips.

So I spent several hours preparing the leads. Here are all the controllers waiting to be installed.


Besides using shrink tubing to insulate the spliced junction, I also used a bigger size to take the place of electrical tape that I used in the past to hold the three wires together.


The lead colors are Green for the R direction motion, yellow (or white) for the L direction and black for common. From the switches in the field (not shown) the colors are again: green = L, yellow = R and red = 14 VAC.

In the following picture, you can see the barrier strips I'm attaching to the back plane of the control cabinet. The brass buss bars to the left are for the common and 14 VAC power. The green and yellow leads tie to their respective terminals on the barrier strip. The commons are tied together 3 at a time in a ferrule and then clamped in the common buss bars. I'll do the same thing with the red 14 VAC leads when they come in from the field tying them into the hot buss bar. The buss bars will be repeated when necessary between busses as their added to make the distance for the commons and hot leads as short as possible from the yellow and green leads.


The cardboard under the barrier strips is serving double duty. It shims the strips above the thin plywood enough so the #2 screws I'm using don't penetrate to the other side, and they provide a convenient place to write the letter designation of the switch being served by that pair of wires. There are 26 switches and I'm getting 6 sets of leads in each Euro-style barrier strip so I'll need five of them across the back.

Here's what it looks like with these additional sets of leads draping themselves across the already crowded control panel. I'm starting to bunch them together and put some cable ties on them, but it's never going to be pretty. I'll be happy if and when I can close the panel.


It's very good that I'm taking the time to label all the wires and their terminations. It's already paid off in tracking problems. I'm leaving space on the left back side for the MTH DCS, if and when I buy it.

Here's the front panel with 12 switch controllers in place. The little tags on some of them was the way I showed which button directed the switch to the main direction versus the diverted direction. I'm going to have to show similar indications in this new installation.


I still have 14 more to go and then I have to bring in all those field wires. That means more junction blocks and more cutting and striping of long runs. But the end is in site to get the trains running and claim my 6-pack of beer from my son in law who bet me "no trains will run by Summer '13". He will lose that bet. The controllers are placed as near to the switches they control as I could get them. In the last iteration, I had them all lined up across the bottom, but it was not easy to use. This one is more intuitive...I hope. I suppose, if I'm truly a masochist, I could replace this panel with another of a different design if this one doesn't really work. Yeah! Right!

Builder 2010
23 Apr 13,, 23:49
Tonight, I was able to finish the control panel installation of all switch controllers and run the 14vac feeder from the fixed tap on the Z-4000 transformer. I then added some more cable ties to bunch the wires together and make it easier to lift them clear of the hinge line when I finally close and secure the panel front.

Here's the panel in final form with all it's wiring in place. There's over 380 leads with terminations on both ends. No wonder it looks ridiculous.


And here's the inside. I've added as many cable ties as makes sense. In my days working at the long-gone, Fischer and Porter Co., they made control panels for chemical, water-treatment, and power plants. The guys that built them were "artists" in the truest sense of the word. Even more impressive than the electronic instrument panel boards were the pneumatic ones. In them, every tube was bent perfectly, nested with others and it was amazing to see them go together. This panel is NOT one of them. But one of the challenges I had was having the front panel pull forward, and being rather thin Plexiglass. If I was wiring it from the back, I would have run the leads more uniformly and fastened them to the panel.


Here's the barrier strips fully loaded with all 26 switch leads. Now I'll bring the field wiring in. They will fasten on the other size of the barriers; green to green, yellow to yellow, but now there will be an additional red lead that will tie into the 14vac power buss. I bought some more wire today at The Home Depot, a decent, 4-conductor phone wire. It's round in cross-section so I bought a Klein radial stripper to make it a little easier taking the insulation off.


You can see the 14vac jumper running from buss to buss. The transformer also has a 10 VAC fixed output which I may use for house lighting and other scenery applications.

Next work session will methodically bring in the field wiring from all 26 switches and we'll be in the train running business. When that happens it will be almost a full year to bring the Pennsylvania and Pacific RR back to life. I thought I could do it faster, but this is about what it takes.

Builder 2010
23 Apr 13,, 23:51
Just a quick status report...I fastened all 26 of the 3-wire junction blocks under the platform and hooked up all the switch machine pigtails. You can plainly see the Euro Style junction block at work and how the wire ferrules integrate with it.


Then I was able to connect and test 7, 3-wire cables from the field and terminated them to the other side of the barrier strips. Here I decided to install the hot leads individually into the buss bars since it simplifies the task a bit by being able to connect all of the ferrules with the wires out of the control box. I just will double and triple up the hot leads in buss bar to accommodate all 26 of them.


It went very quickly since I'm getting so good at it. I predict that one or two more good working sessions will complete this project phase and there will be trains running.

Here's 6 of the switch controllers powered up. As I noted in the last post, the labels are from their previous life on the old layout. I will re-label them based on which direction of the switch would be considered the main line, or, as in the case of the reverse loops, I'll use some other indication showing the straight and diverging direction. The layout is simple, but has some complexity and will require rehearsal to run it correctly.


Builder 2010
26 Apr 13,, 04:51
I can now report that my railroad is operationally complete. I installed the last 6 lead wires from the last switch machines and checked it out. I had two that didn't work. The next two hours were spent trouble shooting what was happening. I replaced some pigtails, did voltage checks and modified an older style Z-1000 push button controller.

First, here's the final wiring configuration. It's ghastly! When you look at this mess you can't imagine that every wire has a purpose and it going somewhere. But it does and it's working. I ran out of wiring and resorted to soldering odd lengths together for every three and four conductor wiring I could find. But I did not buy any more wire!


Here's a detail of the switch wiring barrier strips. I not showing this to people to scare anyone, so I apologize ahead of time if anyone gets a bit squeamish.


I used a string under all the wires to lift all the cabling above the hinge line while simultaneously pushing the panel up with my body. It almost worked... I still had to sight down the hinge line from each side and reach in under all the wires and selectively lift them above the hinge and keep pushing the panel tighter. When it seemed right, I put the oval head screws and dress washers and fasten it down tight.

Here it is with all the equipment lit up as it should be.


It took a couple of exposures to get this right. I had the Canon Rebel on a tripod. It was about a 4 second exposure. But the camera just can't capture the intense red of the red LEDs.

The old style Z-stuff push button controllers have set screws that push the wire against a circuit board with a metallic pad. This is not the best way to secure wires for the long haul. If you tighten the set screws too tight it deforms the circuit board and doesn't hold any more firm. In this one case, one of the tiny screws that hold the circuit board in place was stripped so the board was deforming and the wires weren't holding.

On the new Z-1000 controllers, the units come with pigtails soldered directly on the circuit boards, thus avoiding the set screw problem completely. You do have to solder splices on to lengthen the wires to a usable length.

So instead of ordering a new controller, I decided to disassemble the unit, drill holes in the circuit board and soldered three wires myself. I discarded the set screws. This worked. But not before I had to troubleshoot the other end where wires were also soldered the circuit board in the switch machine. Now they're all working.

So I ran some trains in and out of the yard and realized, "Boy! Am I going to need practice running trains on this layout!" Having the switch controllers located in the vicinity of where the switches were helped, but not much. I also had to switch the red and green LEDs in the push buttons to conform to the switch alignment. That really helped.

I will post a video of all the trains running when I'm capable of doing it without completely screwing up.

Builder 2010
01 May 13,, 01:29
After a couple of days of trouble shooting some interesting problems dealing with tracks that appeared dead, and another that was pumping current back to the other throttle even though it was in the OFF position. Removing some jumpers and adding others solved those problems. Plus one pesky track that was intermittently on and off. It was a loose screw on one side of the green feed buss. These problems meant opening the panel twice and removing some cable ties to trace wires, but they were all found and solved.

So today, I moved to the first scenic phase, Painting the track a dark, dirty rusty brown color. Real rails are only shiny on their running surface and then, only when they're having trains on them regularly. Little used track is rusty all over.

I have buildings to build, but nothing can happen until ballasting is done, and that can't happen until the rails are painted. I have a chunk of track where I experimented with the ballast, so I used it to test the painting. I'm using rail brown from Joe's Model Trains. I bought the paint and one of his rollers at York a number of years ago. The roller was too skinny to handle O'gauge rails. Now I see on his website that he has a much wider roller to paint O'gauge. I first tried brush painting, but it was not successful. I then tried the air brush and the results were passable. I wiped the rails off when the paint was wet. Here's what it looked like. Pretty realistic looking rail...



One of the things I like about Ross rail is that it ends at the ties. Gargraves on the other hand, extends below the tie level and you can often see shiny tin plate showing. With Ross, that doesn't happen.

So with this good result, I went at the railroad, realizing that once I started, I would have to paint the WHOLE THING. Some of the track work will be in tunnels so I will mark off those areas and not waste the paint. As it is, I emptied a 2 oz. bottle after painting about 1/8 of the railroad (or less). With the exclusion of the tunnel tracks. I just ordered another 5 bottles of paint on line so rail painting will be stopped until the new paint arrives.

This is one of switches I painted and shows the place I stopped. I think the switches look terrific with the brown rails.


Here's a bunch of track painted. To me, it immediately looks like RR track with the polished running surface and the dark rails. A side benefit of painting is obscuring the soldered wire leads going into the rails. By spraying it all dark brown, it is nicely under-emphasized.


Here's the other end of the painted/unpainted line. That unpainted track will be in tunnel under the city so I'm glad I didn't start painting in that direction.


The airbrush worked well unless it didn't. It was plugging a lot and I spent a lot of time cleaning and recleaning it. I cut the paint with isopropyl alcohol at 2:1, paint to thinner. I don't know if that's the best thinner to use. I also have some Vallejo acrylic diluting agent that I could use. When it worked, it went very fast. When it didn't... well... it didn't. In most cases, it took two or more passes to properly cover the steel. When I first started, I was wiping the rails down with alcohol. After a while I realized this didn't make much of difference and just painted the rails.

Just wait until the ballast goes down...

For the yard tracks, I'm gong to fill in the areas between the tracks with inverted roadbed beveled on both sides. Yard tracks don't have nicely shaped ballast fields. Their tracks are buried in the dirt to the ties or higher. It also reduces the amount of ballast I'll need for that track and there's a lot of it.

It goes without saying I'm not building a Proto:48 railroad, but I am trying to make it as realistic as possible given that I'm using 3-rail track with a fairly high profile with ties that are not really scale-sized and are spiked with staples not spikes and without spike plates. It's a shame that Ross can't paint the track before they ship it. Even if it were an extra cost, it would be worth it since this is a pretty big job. As I'm constantly being reminded, over 300 feet of track makes every task a BIG JOB.

Gun Grape
01 May 13,, 05:37
The airbrush worked well unless it didn't. It was plugging a lot and I spent a lot of time cleaning and recleaning it. I cut the paint with isopropyl alcohol at 2:1, paint to thinner. I don't know if that's the best thinner to use. I also have some Vallejo acrylic diluting agent that I could use. When it worked, it went very fast. When it didn't... well... it didn't. In most cases, it took two or more passes to properly cover the steel. When I first started, I was wiping the rails down with alcohol. After a while I realized this didn't make much of difference and just painted the rails.

The alcohol is your problem. It accelerates the drying time of acrylic paints. So the paint dries at the tip of the airbrush. It can also cause the paint job to look grainy, just like when you hold the brush to far away from the surface. Some of the paint dries in midair and you end up sanding over and over again.

BTDT :biggrin:

I use bottled water. Some people will tell you to use distilled water because the minerals in tap water/bottled water will change the color. I've never had that problem. The Vallejo stuff works good but cost more. I also use Testors universal acrylic thinner. Depends on the weather. It works as good as any of the other brands, and is cheaper.

I'm not commenting much but I am following this thread. With all those wires I would be tempted to get a cheap line tester/tracer. Great job so far.

02 May 13,, 08:19
With all those wires I would be tempted to get a cheap line tester/tracer.
If I was with all those wires... I'd be tempted to get an expensive shrink :biggrin:

Great job so far.

02 May 13,, 21:29
The alcohol is your problem. It accelerates the drying time of acrylic paints. So the paint dries at the tip of the airbrush. It can also cause the paint job to look grainy, just like when you hold the brush to far away from the surface. Some of the paint dries in midair and you end up sanding over and over again.

BTDT :biggrin:

I use bottled water. Some people will tell you to use distilled water because the minerals in tap water/bottled water will change the color. I've never had that problem. The Vallejo stuff works good but cost more. I also use Testors universal acrylic thinner. Depends on the weather. It works as good as any of the other brands, and is cheaper.

I'm not commenting much but I am following this thread. With all those wires I would be tempted to get a cheap line tester/tracer. Great job so far.

There is such a thing as retarder for model paints, which slows down the drying time.

Auxiliary products (http://www.acrylicosvallejo.com/en_US/model-paints/auxiliary-products/3)

Drying Retarder
To delay drying time of Model Color, mix a few drops with the color, or dip brush into retarder on the palette.
Colors will not change their consistency. Useful for “wet on wet” techniques and reducing skin formation on the palette.

Gun Grape
03 May 13,, 03:36
There is such a thing as retarder for model paints, which slows down the drying time.

Those are great when brush painting to get a good smooth finish. I use them when brushing tamiya paints. Which are notorious for drying on the brush and are a general PITA to get a good coat when using a hairy stick painting. They work OK in a airbrush.

When I stopped building models 20 yrs ago they were the best thing out there. One of the first acrylic paints. Now I only use them when I have nothing else in the color needed.

This of course is only my opinion. Individual results may vary.

Builder 2010
04 May 13,, 05:05
As for a shrink... that what's working in the basement is for. My mind clears when I'm working on my projects. As frustrating as they are, I have pretty much total control on how they go and have experience that says "I'll figure it out eventually". I also have the iPod wailing with over 600 tunes from the 50s thru current, and I sing my head off.

The paint retarder seems like something I'm going to research. The paint maker says thin with warm water. He sold me a 1/4" roller contraption that he claims makes a better job of painting the rail than air brushing. I'm going to try it. I swear by Tamiya paints, but there's competition now that have much larger color selections. Tamiya thins nicely with Isopropyl Alcohol. The others use water-based thinning.

While waiting for the rest of the rail paint to arrive from Joe's Model Trains, the grandsons and I decided to try our hand at ballasting some track that was already painted. It worked pretty well although its going to take a looooonnnnng time. We did about 8 feet and it took an hour. There will be a learning curve, so I expect it will go a bit faster. But still, there's a lot of track to do even with discounting the area under the mountains and city.

Several things immediately became evident that I hadn't considered. First was the amount of stone that would be going overboard onto the floor. So we took a largish cardboard box and sealed the inside with masking tape so the tiny stones wouldn't get stuck in the flaps. Then, with my able assistants, we were able to follow the pouring operation with the box to catch the overflow. The second challenge was removing the excess that piles up between tracks. For that I made a little scoop out of cardboard, but we also realized that this excess could be pushed towards the other track and used to ballast that track.

As many of you know, the process is pour, shape, spray with alcohol and then, using a pipette, drip thinned Artist's Matte Medium as an adhesive. Many folks use thinned white glue. I made a shaping template based on a post from another forum member. I described this tool in the layout build thread on the Design forum, so I won't bore anyone with that detail.

One of the concerns I have after seeing the finished product is the ballast is a little to high up on the ties. We brushed it off level with the tie tops, but I'd like it a bit lower.

I didn't attempt at this time to mix in any different colors, but I'm thinking about ways to do it. Grandson #1 suggested going back with the airbrush and adding some more rail brown/rust to the ballast near the rails which is very prototypical. The rust runs down into the rock as soon as it rains.

Here's our result so far. It's not yet cured as of these pictures. For some reason this first picture doesn't want to display in the orientation of the thumb nail. I rotated it, but it doesn't display that way... Hmmmmm.






When the paint arrives next week, I'll stop ballasting and get back to painting. I may use some tinted alcohol/India Ink washes and/or weathering powers to kill that pristine "white" look. Also there should be some darkening in between as well since lots of dirt, lube, etc., bathes that area.

Builder 2010
05 May 13,, 04:21
The grandkids and I did some more serious ballasting today. The older one tried his hand at using some weathering powders to add some character to the ballast. At first he was a little heavy-handed, but got the hang of it and produced some interesting results. Meanwhile, the 8 year-old did some serious production. He fully understands what we're trying to do here and was able to be on the platform working on the track obscured by the control panel. I spent time ballasting two switches. 2 down and 24 to go. I was very careful to get no ballast in the area of the moving points. I'd rather have no ballast there then to have a stone foul the mechanism and cause a problem. I think the switches look terrific with ballast. It takes a good day for the Matte Medium to set up. We ran out of it and will be making a run tomorrow to replenish my supply. The paint should arrive early next week and we'll be back in the painting business.

Here are images of today's progress. The right-hand track is the weathering experiment.


Any suggestions on what type of landscaping should go in the between-track areas?



Both boys commented that the ballasting makes it no longer look like a toy train setup, rather it looks like you took real railroad track and hit it with a 1:48 shrink ray. That's just the reaction I'm looking for. Both these kids "Get it".

05 May 13,, 04:26
I can only imagine the extra dimension of sharing this with your grandsons. As fantastic as the train set up is, I'll bet sharing this with those boys makes that seem insignificant. :wors:

Builder 2010
05 May 13,, 05:24
It is essentially why I'm doing it. It's also why I get impatient with them sometimes when they rather play "Mindcraft" on the computer than go downstairs and work. I understand the allure of the digital world...

Builder 2010
23 May 13,, 04:33
Boy! It's been a while since I posted, way back on May 6th...

Track painting and ballasting continues. I lost a week due to a persistent sinus infection and cold, but got back to the RR this week. I'm going through ballast at an alarming rate I have less than 1/4 left of that pail, but only have 1/3 (or less) of the layout ballasted.


When full that pail weighs almost 50 pounds and I don't look forward to dragging another one out of the car and down to the basement since I pulled my back out getting this one there.

Here's a shot looking down the front main line showing all those stones. It's hard to tell by this picture, but the ballast covering between the tracks is just one stone thick, versus the piles that are covering the track and roadbed. I noticed that areas between double tracks are ballasted, but in the wider areas there will be ground cover, cinders, and some grasses.


Please note: once again, I was able to get all 30 feet in focus using CombineZP photo stitching software. It combined 7 exposures each focused further into the distance.

I got the swing gate ballasted today. I put masking tape on the ends to trap the ballast until it cures. I've also been very careful about ballasting around the Ross switches. No stones under the moving parts.



I've learned some things moving along. I solved the terrible air brush problem. The gun was just working awfully, stopping and starting and blocking up constantly. Apparently it was pulling thick paint off the bottom of the 1 oz. paint bottle which was gumming up the works. So I tried using the larger 2 oz. bottle, but still with the shorter pickup tube. In this way the paint was being pulled a 1/4" from the bottom. Besides being a bigger reservoir, the air brush worked perfectly letting me blast away at foot after foot of track.

I also found that Artist's Matte Medium mixed 50/50 with water works better than the pre-mixed Woodlands Scenics Scenery Cement. It's not cheap, running at $20+ per bottle, but it's holds like crazy once dry.

I've tried it both ways; pre-cleaning the rails before painting, or just blasting away. The jury's still out so I'm just blasting away.

I stopped using the template to shape the stones and just carefully spread and position it with a brush. The template was springy and just splattered stones all over the place. I can control it much better and it reduces the cleanup chores.

Ross track ties are pretty tall and it takes a lot of ballast to do each foot of track, but the results are worth it. The painted and ballasted track looks much better than bare.

I painted the track around the right-hand back curve and then woke up this morning remembering that there's supposed to be a mountain and tunnels in that area, ergo, no ballast or paint. So I made sure I marked the OSB where the tunnel will be so I knew where to stop ballasting. No use in wasting precious time or resources putting detail that will never be seen.

With all the trains on the tracks, I'm having to jockey them around so they don't get sprayed or stoned. Notice that I've been ballasting the "easy" to reach tracks first. There are some areas, that are going to more challenging.

I'm also getting teased by my wife about the size of the railroad and the quantity of materials it's going to consume to finish it. She's right!

Builder 2010
05 Jun 13,, 03:46
As before, this ballasting project is a slow mover thereby creating dead spots in my daily reporting schedule. Have no fear... progress is being made albeit slowly.

Before I give today's report, I want to give a shout out to the Cincinnati History Museum housed in the fabulously restored Art Deco masterpiece... the Cincinnati Union Terminal. This museum/Working Amtrak Station houses three museums; Science, History and Duke Energy Children's Museum. Plus there is an IMAX and the station structure itself. I've driven by this edifice many times in my trips to Cincy while working for Henkel and always wanted to see the insides. It exceeded my wife's and my expectations... by a lot. There's even a perfectly executed model of an NYC Niagara in 3/4" to foot scale; an oil-fired, live steam model. It was hidden in the lower-level elevator lobby. If we had chosen to take the stairs we would have missed it. The interactive model of the entire Cincy downtown is wonderful...sorry it's in HO. If it was O... well, they'd need a bigger station. Next, I want to get my grandkids there.

As of yesterday I've almost finished air brushing all of the exposed trackage. All that's left now is the main yard tracks. I'm continuing to ballast the rear portion of the layout working from right to left. I find everything works better if I give the acrylic track paint a full day to dry. When I rush it, the alcohol/water wetting agent tends to negatively affect the paint. I purchased another tub of roofing granules and may have to buy another. I also bought another two bottles of Woodland Scenics Scenery Cement and will definitely have to buy more of those too, I'm afraid. Lastly I added another shop light at the dark end of the layout and bought lumber to make some train shelves so I can get the remaining trains out of their boxes.

In order to do the entire back portion, I had to get all the trains and rolling stock to the front. This was facilitated by having cab control where I could move one train while keeping another quiet regardless of where they were on the layout. Here's a pile of rolling stock. I'm glad I put that intermediate passing siding in the front. This will help shunt trains past the passenger station that's going into this area.


Here's the extent of the track painting. As I noted in the last post, once I changed my bottle on the air brush from the one ounce to the two ounce with the siphon tube off the bottom I had no problems. I air brushed for a half hour without a single hiccup. It was actually fun!


I'm also spraying the light tan urethane Ross Bed switch bases so they're more hidden when the ballast goes on. Man! I really like those rusty rails! It also tones down the stark "fresh creosote" look of the Ross ties.


The ballast itself is about a quarter way across the back now. If I only could get those section gangs moving a little faster I could be building mountains now...


And finally, here's the new light fixture. There's still some darkness in that corner, but it's much better. It also provides much needed lighting to the chop saw. By mounting it a little beyond the layout edge, it helps illuminate the sides of the trains on the outer loop.


I spray-painted the rails on the tracks at the "future-bridges", but I'm not going to ballast them. Once tracks are ballasted, they really don't like being removed and these tracks are temporary. I also did not paint the tracks on the curves in the foreground in this picture since they are going to run under the city. You may see their edges or not. I'm not sure how I'm going to approach this.