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  1. #1
    Senior Contributor Builder 2010's Avatar
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    Builder's Railroad Project: in the Beginning...

    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.

    Attachment 29041

    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.

    Attachment 29045

    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.

    Attachment 29046

    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.

    Attachment 29042

    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.

    Attachment 29043

    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.

  2. #2
    Senior Contributor Doktor's Avatar
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    Woot, woot... happy times ahead.
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    Rickshaw Professional Senior Contributor Pedicabby's Avatar
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    This is gonna be cool!

  4. #4
    Senior Contributor Builder 2010's Avatar
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    In the Beginning....

    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...

    Attachment 29055

    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:

    Attachment 29057

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

    Attachment 29056

    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.

    Attachment 29052

    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.

    Attachment 29054

    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.

  5. #5
    Senior Contributor Builder 2010's Avatar
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    In the Beginning Part 3

    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:

    Attachment 29064

    And here's the structural plan.

    Attachment 29060

    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.

    Attachment 29061

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

    Attachment 29063

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

    Here's one set enlarged.

    Attachment 29062

    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.





    Attachment 29058

  6. #6
    Senior Contributor Builder 2010's Avatar
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    Plan C

    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.

    Attachment 29068

    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.

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