Ever-shrinking layout space

Ever-shrinking layout space.  The bane of any model railroader’s plans.

It’s over 10 years ago now that I started building a version of the Yosemite Valley Railroad in a 3 car garage at a house out in the Central Valley of California.  That layout didn’t get terribly far, though trains ran in Merced.

Last year, in a bout of optimism, I launched plans to build a good sized layout in our garage based on an Iian Rice layout optimized for coal hauling. When the physical construction fell apart there, we once again returned to plans, through sever iterations, to build in that same space, in the garage.

In hindsight, we probably should have changed that plan immediately because of some of the reasons that the physical construction started to fail, but the fact that the concrete floor was sweating in the summer heat didn’t really register as ‘much’ of an issue at that point, nor did the invasion of mosquitos any time the garage door was open.  A swamp cooler, maybe some removable netting, and things would maybe be OK.


Then, Illinois decided this last week and into the coming week to remind us that we live in Northern Illinois which is, I think, forecast to be as cold as the North Pole for a few days, with wind, blowing snow, and other ick.  Then there’s all the stuff that falls off the car that anything in the garage has to share with in the form of slop, muck, dirt, and when all the dries, this extremely fine dust full of corrosive salt and snow/ice fighting chemicals and general grime.  If you’re ever wondering how stuff gets grimy on a railroad, look at a car in the winter.  The same thing hits trains.

Several things do NOT fare well in that environment.  Wires, track, electronics, locomotives, scenery…. All the stuff that goes into building a model railroad…. benchwork…. It’s just not an environment that is in the least bit friendly to a layout.

I should have known better from the get-go.

When we both looked at each other one afternoon and started to say the same thing about needing to move the layout inside, the plans for even the scaled down 4.5 x16 layout we were getting close to sharing a plan for went away.  There isn’t room for that in the house.  

The search for layout space in the house has been conducted before.  It’s not ever been extremely fruitful.  There are limited spaces to house anything inside with a family of growing teenagers, even in 1800 or so square feet.  The options really come down to storing a layout in the master bedroom, where nobody visiting would ever see it or operate it, the laundry room, which is upstairs but already is string with the airbrush and painting equipment, or finding a way to fit the layout into the closet we refer to as the “office” where our workshop currently is stored.

Ok, that’s workable.  Storage can be shuffled in the house to find room for the workshop, and if carefully planned, a layout can be built in sections that ca be moved in and out of that closet with some care.  The living space of our house is big enough to house a set-up layout for operating or work that also fits in that closet.  Can you feel the ideas forming?

So, we’re on now to a layout, inside the house, temperature controlled, space decided but still needing to be completely sorted out as we Spring Clean the rest of the house, and track plans, gotta have those.

What style of layout?  It’s going to have to be more “European” than “American”.  Many layouts in the US are larger affairs like what I’ve been planning.  I took this week and looked at more space-space-conscious layout builders and the fact that they tend to build layouts with big operations that run from staging solution, through a modeled scene, to staging solution. 

As one friend put it to me this week, it’s a good idea to build in the house. Maintenance and access will beat size of layout, especially when it comes to the fact that a layout in the garage will really only be useable or accessible here for about 4 out of 12 months due to weather.

I think he’s right. Time to finalize the new plans.


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