Layout Construction

Step 1 – The Concept

” By Dave Warnica , layout designer/Vice President “

” The Barrie Allandale Railway Modellers are currently in the process of building a new permanent layout. We have spent a considerable amount of time coming up with a suitable track plan. Our objectives include having as many operators as possible on the layout and having a variety of activities taking place. Those who want to run day freights will be able to do so, and those who want to run long passenger cars or freight trains will also be able to do so. There will also be switching opportunities in the yards and in the industrial areas.

The main features will include five long span bridges, a river scene, a city scene, a small town scene and terrain reminiscent of the Muskokas/Northern Ontario with lots of trees and rock outcroppings. There will be several different industries to serve including mining, a lumber mill, an oil facility and several more to be decided. A special feature will be “Donald Trump’s Used Cars” (Yes, we have a club member whose real name is Donald Trump!!).

The layout is HO scale and it will use Digitrax DCC control and Atlas Code 83 track and #6 turnouts. The layout occupies a space of 20′ x 25′. There is a single track main line (blue) with four passing sidings. The main line is approximately 250′ in length. There is also approximately 200′ of secondary track including:

– a five track double ended yard with AD track, yard lead, runaround, and caboose track (black, AD track is green),
– a small double track yard (black),
– eight industrial spurs off the main line (the track arrangements in the industrial areas have not been decided upon just yet),
– a passenger track (brown) featuring the Allandale Station and waterfront as the destination,
– a large service facility designed for both steam and diesel (black),
– an ice house with dedicated track (light blue),
– helper locomotive tracks for the grades (orange).

There will be approximately 75 turnouts, some of which will be manual control and some will be remote control. Yard track turnout alignment will be automatic. There will be an operating signal system. Minimum radius is 32″. Most track is at a 2% grade or less. The lowest track will be 46.5″ above the floor and the highest track will be 57.5″ above the floor. Almost all turnouts will be accessible by reach.

Most of the benchwork will consist of 1″ x 4″ box framing with 3/4″ plywood on top. Elevated areas will use the “cookie cutter” method for forming 3/4″ plywood sub roadbed. The peninsula will use L girder construction. There will be 1/2″ of Homasote on top of the plywood with HO scale cork roadbed on that.



Step 2 – Construction Begins

Welcome to our journey to  a new layout , My name is Peter and I am a BARM member , that is the Barrie Allandale Model Railway Club . Our Vice President and layout planner has laid out the track design ” see  “the new layout” ” for the details and he made a master set of blue prints for the actual building of the wood frames .Sections are lettered A to G plus the peninsula piece .

 As you can see we will be working on section E first. Each piece has a prefix letter for the section it represents, in this case section E. The individual frame members are simply numbered. A BARM member will usually go into the club ahead of time and cut each wood piece according to the blueprint and write the appropriate letter/ numbers code on the piece. This is done so that on club meeting nights construction can begin on a section with all the necessary frame members ready to go.

I guess I am getting a little ahead of myself; I should like to say that the room was prepped with sky blue paint and clouds. The clouds are made using a stiff piece of card board where one edge has a wavy edge to it. Hold the card board a half inch or less from the wall or even touching it to the wall at a slight angle . Using any generic white paint in an aerosol can spray lightly over the edge of the cardboard  and on to the wall. Overlay the pattern as desired to achieve a 3D look .Using your imagination and a whole lot of restraint cover your walls as desired. With the wall painted and the clouds on we can proceed to the building and attaching of the layout to the walls .

As this was the first cut of wood on our new layout in our new club location. It was only fitting that the moment be caught on camera. Richard poses for the cameras and awaits our permission to make the inaugural cut. When he was done a quick count of all of his fingers revealed that he was successful.

We are using the tried and true method of gluing and screwing. The first thing we do is spread a little wood glue on the end to be fastened. A pilot hole of 1/8 of an inch is made when the two pieces are joined together and two , 2.5 inch Robertson screw is driven in to make a solid sturdy joint.

The completed frame was assembled and is seen laying on the floor. The crew for the night assembles in front of their masterpiece to have their picture immortalized in these pages.

I took this last picture of the frame leaning against the wall. Behind it you get a good idea of the cloud effects that we sprayed on to the wall.

Thus concludes a great night at the club with a big result to show for our work. “simul fortes ” Latin for “together we are stronger”. Everybody in our club is a valued member and each has a skill that they bring with them.

Step 3 – Construction Continues : Setting first Modules

The Barrie Allandale modellers have been busy building the club layout in sections. The complete layout is divided into these individual sections .  Although the layout is intended to be permanent we built the framing in sections so that the layout could be disassembled if we ever had to move.

Section E Finished

A module ready for mounting to the wall .

As you can see we have painted the wall blue and added clouds , We decided on the height of the layout as 46 inches . The layout committee decided on this height because it was easy to see and work on and it was relatively easy to get underneath. There was also some existing electrical conduit that we had to work around. That pushed the layout up by about 2″ above what we had originally planned.

A 2X6X10 ft and level are used to get a strait line around the room .

To get the right height of 46 inches and to make sure that we were level we took a 1″ x 6″ x 12′ and held it up  against the wall at 42 inches { with the addition of plywood , homasote , cork and track it will be the finished height of 46 inches}. It was leveled  and a line was drawn on the wall that we could follow when we attached the frame to the wall. Be careful here , measure from the floor up in one spot { such as your zero level on the layout }. Mark your walls so that they are level with regards to your first measurement. Remember that the floor is probably not perfectly level .

The completed section was attached to our walls. Two of the walls were solid concrete and required a hammer drill and several cement bits to make the holes that we used to mount the individual modules. Drilling into the concrete was very difficult. TapCon  concrete screws were used to go through pre drilled holes in the  frame and then into the wall.

The frame being attached to the wall .

To support the individual sections temporary legs where attached and the frame was leveled with the height on the wall. Minor adjustments were made to the legs to make them permanent. The legs are positioned about 12″ back from the fascia so that they will not interfere with standing at the layout.

Temporary legs are clamped into place 

That  first night of construction we were on fire and managed to put up two of the corner sections in rapid progression. Unfortunately we had been unsupervised and in our enthusiasm we managed to mount both corner pieces backwards and upside down. So we had to unmount and redrill the walls and flip the frames over to correct the problem.

The wood frame is attached to the wall 

From then on we have had our V.P. Dave Warnica acting as a construction foreman to supervise the work, and the President Henk Blom has been very active in that regard as well.  Both were very involved in the planning of the layout and know exactly what has to be done to complete the layout. They have been members of the ” layout committee ” which set the standards , planning and construction of our layout.

Here is the layout piece as it should be!

Except for our little two step dance with the corner sections all the pieces of the layout have fit  together perfectly as designed and planned. Our Vice President , Dave Warnica , has been instrumental in putting all aspects of planning and construction into blueprints that are easy to follow and read.

From now on our president Henk Blom studies the building diagrams very carefully !!!

Step 4 – Framework Continues

After the framed sections were anchored to the walls and levelled, we began to build the peninsula. It is rather large so it was designed to be cut into several sections should the need arise to move the layout. The construction is a bit different from the frames around the wall in that we used ‘L’ girders instead of just the plain flat frames. L girders provide a great deal of support over long distances with minimal material and legs. The peninsula is about 16′ long and the L girders support it very solidly with only six legs. Here are the L girders with some of the cross members installed

 

Once the benchwork framing was in place we began the task of cutting all of the 3/4″ plywood into the various shapes required. Some of the pieces in the flat areas like the main yard and the service area were fairly large. The rest of the plywood was cut “cookie cutter” style to follow the path of the railroad in the elevated sections. The cookie cutter pieces ranged in width from 4 1/2″ for single tracks to 6 1/2″ for double tracks. The extra width will provide space for ditches and signals.

Considerable time was spent planning the cutting to reduce waste and we did pretty well in that regard. There was less than 1/2 sheet leftover out of the 12 sheets we used. We used a model railroad CAD program called 3rd PlanIt to design the layout and to do the detailed drawings for all the cutting patterns. The program allowed us to fit all the various pieces closely together on each sheet. 

Below is a sample of one of the cutting diagrams. In this case, most of the sheet will be flat but part of the subroadbed will transition into a grade. The red lines indicate where the cuts will be made:

 

Every point was plotted starting for a 0″-0″ starting point, usually on one corner of each sheet. The measurements were plotted out latitudinally and longditudinally every six inches or so. We were able to draw complex curves fairly easily, although I will admit that there were a few goof ups along the way. Henk Blom did most of the plotting and Richard Spearing did most of the cutting, both with help from others of course.

The next step was to install the plywood pieces. Most of them fit exactly as planned, but a couple required some jury rigging. The flat sections of the subroadbed were glued and screwed into place. The cookie cutter sections were place on 1″ x 4″ risers every 16″ or so, and the risers were then adjusted to get the desired grade. We left the ends of the cookie cutter sections a bit longer than needed so that we could trim them to fit exactly at the joints. The joints were reinforced with 3/4″ splice plates.

We repeated the same plotting and cutting process with the 1/2″ Homasote roadbed. Homasote, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a paper based product that is fairly soft and easy to work with. It is used to reduce noise created by running trains, and it accepts and holds track nails quite well. The nails can be simply pushed in with a pair of pliers. The Homasote was screwed down but not glued. Leaving the glue out will make any future changes to the track position much easier.

Here is a view with the cookie cutter sections and the Homasote installed:

Here is a closeup picture with the Homasote mounted on top of the plywood sub roadbed. The edges of the Homasote will be beveled to a 45 degree angle to form one side of the ditches:

 

Once the Homasote was down we installed the cork roadbed. This reduces the noise further and it also provides a prototypical profile for placing the ballast when we start to do the scenery. The cork was glued down and we used copious quantities of push pins to hold it in place while the glue dried. Getting the cork properly aligned with where the track will be is essential. Some of it had to be done a couple of times. For the larger flat areas like the main yard we used sheet cork where there would not normally be ditches. You can see some of the pins in the picture above.

Here is Ron (center), Richard (right) and Dave (myself) working on the cork:

Step 5 – Track Work Begins….finally

We decided to use Atlas Code 83 flex track nailed in place with Atlas track nails. Brian S. led the track crew. Track laying started with the mainline along the west wall. It didn’t take long to get a fair portion of the mainline from the upper level of the peninsula to the north end of the main yard laid, about 70′. A test was made using a rather inexpensive passenger coach with plastic wheels to see how well the track was laid. It was given just a slight nudge at the top of the grade and then it rolled all the way to the other side of the layout without a hiccup. It would have gone further but it ran out of track.

Some of that track required a bit of adjustment to straighten it. The track had been laid straight initially so we suspect that humidity changes caused the benchwork to shrink a wee bit. Interestingly, that has been the only incident of track warping that we have had on the entire layout.

Brian has a rather unique method of joining flex track sections. The usual method is to remove a couple of ties and replace them later, but Brian’s method doesn’t require the removal of any ties. His method involves removing some of the tie plates and a bit of material under the rails, but the ties stay.

Here is a picture of how he has prepared the end of a section of flex track for joining:

The turnouts came next. After some debate we settled on using Atlas Code 83 #4 and #6 turnouts with a few Peco Electrofrog curved turnouts where they were needed. This was prior to Atlas releasing their curved turnouts, but the geometry of the Peco turnouts worked better for us regardless. All of the turnouts had jumpers installed between the point rails and the closure rails, and from the closure rails to the stock rails. Some would say that adding the jumpers was not necessary, but we wanted to ensure that the turnouts would operate reliably for years to come. The clubhouse environment isn’t the greatest and heaven knows how much dust we will generate finishing the layout. The jumpers eliminate any problems that dust and corrosion might cause over time. The turnout frogs are live and they are controlled by the Tortoise machines.

Here is a picture of the jumpers installed and the green wire that feeds the frog. Note that slots have to be cut into the cork roadbed to provide clearance for the jumpers to move or they will jam the point rails:

While all of the track and turnouts were being installed on the top of the layout, our Master Electrician, Dave, and several others were busy under the layout installing the myriad of wires needed to make the layout work. The first wires installed were the bus wires that feed the track. The bus wires are 12 ga. and 14 ga. twin wires that follow the track pattern under the layout. Track feeder wires are installed between the rails and the bus wires every three ft. or so. Care has to be taken to keep the polarities correct. We messed that up a couple of times. 😉

There are other bus wire systems as well. There is a system that provides communication to the track for controlling the locomotives, and there is a system supplying power to the Tortoise switch machines. Another system will provide power to all the accessories like street lights and building lighting, and eventually there will be a bus dedicated to providing power to the signal system.

To give you an idea of how complex the wiring is, each of the 100 or so Tortoise switch machines will have a minimum of five wires and as many as eight wires connected to them. That’s just to control the turnouts!