Thinking Things Out

Tony Koester’s recent first installment in Model Railroader about his Proto48 layout has inspired some interesting review and rethinking of my layout plans.  I find this kind of thing to be important in the Fall and Winter allowing me to improve my plans for “construction season” when the weather improves.

In March, I made the decision to change scale because of my vision.  I hope you can tell from what I have been building how much I’ve enjoyed that change.  Now, closing in on a year later, with the experience of building the section of layout that I worked on last summer under my belt, I’m evaluating and making sure that my plans are solid and that I’ll be able to enjoy this layout plan for years to come.

My plans last summer set the layout height at 56” high.  That’s roughly shoulder height for me, and puts the trains right at eye level when viewing them.  That’s not uncommon in model railroading these days.  This height implies that the operator or viewer of the layout needs to be standing, and likely needs to be about my height (roughly in the 5’6-5’8” range) to be comfortable viewing the layout.  Not really a terrible issue, but I’ll come to why I’m rethinking this.

Last summer I designed a leg system that provided strength, light weight, and stability.  The catch was I hadn’t sorted completely out how to get the layout section onto the legs without assistance.  Setting up without the help of our oldest son was difficult to impossible.  It brought back not so fond memories of the rolling layout section of the N&W I had built the summer before that required 4 people to get upright, and even then, needed some adjusting.  On a good note, the triangle formed when the legs were attached provided stability.

As the winter set in here (and it was winter early, we barely had a fall), I moved the layout section into the house and into the closet where the layout will live.  Moving the layout section alines not easy.  The 3/4” plywood of the supports and deck mean that instead of being the sturdy and light weight layout I had hoped to be creating, I find that I’ve created a sturdy, but heavy layout section.  The overall weight for 6’ by 18” of this section is close to 70 lbs.  Maneuvering that by myself is not super easy as the section can be awkward (it’s bigger than I am).  

I had figured out late in the summer that the section of layout was heavy as I was moving it around the garage for painting and testing the mud.  To address that, I ordered a layout section of the same rough dimensions from Model Railway Solutions Ltd in England.  (  The layout section is much lighter, and I’m looking forward to test-building this section soon.  It arrived just as my preparations for RPM were really ramping up and I didn’t get a chance to do the construction before that event.  

This brings me to the whole reason I’m thinking about these things.  Tony Koester’s article about his P48 layout includes some really interesting tidbits of information .  He discusses how he planned to build his layout to be light, which will be discussed in a future article (looks like the MR that arrives at the end of December) and built out of foam and aluminum channel.  That would create a very light weight layout section indeed.  Those sections would be manageable by one person for sure.  Additionally, near the end of the article, there is some discussion about layout height.  Tony had planned to make pieces of PVC to increase the layout height because his plan was to display it on folding tables at train shows and events that he attends, and getting the layout higher was, he thought desirable.  Then he had an experience with a differently able individual who appreciated the fact that the PVC had not been made and the layout was at table height.

Funny how things percolate up at opportune times.  We have recently been discussing in our house the fact that standing for long periods is not desirable for some ongoing medical issues, and that the ability to sit next to a layout is something that might be an improvement, either in a rolling task chair or on a rolling stool.  That would make it easier to have longer operating sessions without causing pain and discomfort.  It also would be good for displaying a layout at RPM’s and elsewhere.  In reality, displaying this layout at those kinds of venues is going to be important. 

About the same time, I was moving some modeling books around and chanced again on Lance Mindheim’s “How To Build A Switching Layout”.  In the opening chapters there is a discussion about using hollow core doors as the benchwork for smaller layouts.  This got me thinking about my plans and materials.

There is a lot swirling above, so let me try and coalesce a coherent line of thinking from that.

  1. My testbed layout section is perfect for using as a photography or static display, but the weight of the construction, the difficulty in moving it and setting it up with one person, makes it less desireable to me because my layout is going to nave to be able to move often and be set up by one person most of the time.
  2. My chosen layout height of 56” from the ground, while providing excellent viewing for the equipment, does not provide comfort for some operators and viewers who may need to sit through an operating session due to joint or back issues.
  3. Resolving the height issue and the setup issue is easily accomplished if folding tables are used to set the layout on, which also solves one person setup issue.
  4. Resolving the weight issue can be done by using lighter, imported, model railroad “baseboards” or by using hollow core door benchwork.

The fact that I’m likely to have to move this layout around often, take it to train shows and set it up, and do that with little assistance is weighing heavily on me at the moment.  Getting that sorted out this winter will make achieving progress in layout building come Spring and better weather much easier and faster.


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