Monday, February 11, 2013

Back to basics

      While tooling around my multitudes of saved photos on my laptop this weekend, I came across some photos of my layout when I first started it in 2002. Now, if I had religiously worked on the layout like I have over the last year and a half, it would have been "done" oh, say about 5 years ago, and not just now reaching a level of "completion" where it can be called an operating layout (though some of my so-called pals would beg to differ!). I am a natural procrastinator, as some of those "pals" of mine will tell you, such as the previously referenced Sheriff of Bloggingham, aka Ted DiIorio ( Regardless of my drive to complete things (boy, deadlines are a WONDERFUL motivator!), and the endless ribbing of my cirlce of friends, I am happy where I am now with the layout, and without the help of those friends, I STILL wouldn't be this far along with the layout. I owe them a lot, and am lucky to have them around to motivate in whatever fashion they choose to motivate me, which usually happens to be at the end of a pointy stick!

      So anyways, when I found these photos, I thought a couple of things. One, that I have learned a LOT of things (construction wise) since I started this, in terms of both method and material. That's one of the great things about the hobby and the internet in general. The sharing of experiences among others has given me a lot of ideas that I wish I could go back and re-do (no way am I going to do major surgery after getting this far!), and there have also been other instances where my helper crew have said things need re-doing, but were quick and relatively painless to fix. I tend to take shortcuts, and the guys are good at yelling at me about it, and then fixing it for me (could be a worse arrangement!). And second, I thought that by sharing some of these pictures here, that those of you who might be reading this blog and are right now working on your own layout and are at a point where I was 11 years ago, might just pick up and idea or two (or conversely, see what NOT to do!). So without any further ado, here are few select "vintage" photos.

      Almost immediately after we moved in, I began laying out the footprint of the layout. In this photo, the walls and floor were already painted (a requirement by the VP of Real Estate, aka my girlfriend), and the stuff that came with us all piled up to the left. The sale of the house came with a bunch of lumber which I used to my advantage, plus some more free left overs from a job at work, so initially, I had a head start. The 2x3's along the wall where how I cantilevered the main yard off the wall. I didn't want to drill into the block wall, so I tied the 2x3's into the floor joists, and then ran a footer along the floor, which you'll see better in the following photos. Now since I knew WHAT I was going to build in the basement as soon as I got things under control, I began guestimating space requirments for things like yard lengths/widths and pier placement (as seen above). I did draw up a to scale benchwork plan on graph paper, but a track plan to scale was never made, instead using Sanborn Insurance and Port Series maps to guide me visually. Many people will say that this was a no-no, but it has worked well for me, since I was never trying to replicate the area's trackwork exactly (which has become more evident during this year's aditional track installations), and by using commercial trackwork made to fit, it wasn't going to happen anyway. I didn't want the time and effort (and the skillset) it would take to handlay, so I was OK with soemtimes being 'forced' to do what the Atlas, Peco or Micro Engineering track let me do in the space I had. 9 times out of 10, I got my way, though!

      Here's another view, looking the other way towards the back corner of the basement. Where the step stool is is where the small West Yard is today, and the backdrop separates it from view from where this photo was taken. The black shape is cloth we hung to the open cieling to keep stuff from raining down on the floor when we were painting it. To this day, the cieling is open to the joists, and I have no plans on instaling a drop cieling or sheetrock. I have no issues of stuff raining down on the layout or floor, and I don't even notice it anymore myself.

      A few (OK, probably a lot) months later, the basic benchwork framing is up for the LV and CNJ. The framing above is for the over head cabinets/valances that actually set the heights for the benchwork and the "open space" part of the layout. I have 8 1/2 ft. from floor to joist, and I knew I needed - A) Room to store things UNDER the layout, so I set that at 4ft., B) Room to store cars and kits OVER the layout, so I set that at 2ft., and C) whatever was left, became "open space" for the layout (2 1/2 ft.). In a few photos, you'll see the doors in place. They provide storage all around the layout, with the ones straight ahead in this photo, open from the front and back.

      This is looking the same direction, but to the right of the photo above. In this photo you can also see how I used the basement's lolly columns to support the benchwork, using zip ties to secure it. Works great, and is damn near solid. This benchwork seen here will eventually be covered in 1/4 in Luan, and then topped with 2 in insulation foam. Depending, I may have eventually added extra brancing across the gap to prevent sagging. This section will also be subdivided with a backdrop to spearate the CNJ (left) from the LV (right). These benchwork frames were originally meant to be sectional, in case things needed to be removed. Alas, they are not, especially after I installed other cross members and the mid-benchwork backdrop that got extensively tied into the the benchwork seen here, and the overhead valance above it. The open area under the benchwork can really be seen here, and as I said, it was an important design "given" from the get go.

      Ah, finally some backdrop and some foam (lot and lots of foam)! This is that same piece of benchwork as above, just looking at the left, or CNJ side. The "bump out" above later got added on to slightly to curve it and flow better with the benchwork, while also getting a tiny bit of extra roomadded on in process. Sadly, this is the state this layout stayed in for the better part of a year and a half. 

      So before I spent time any money on turnouts (last time I counted, this yars alone has over 50 of them), I used templates made from photocopies of the turnouts I did have, so I could get an idea of what I'd need, and how much room I had to place them all. It was tough to do at first, because for over seven years, I had no float bridge models, nor the dimentions to even plan the room for them. That made planing the outter or riover end of the layout difficult at best, so I started at the west end where the wye is. I also didn't have the drawing that is seen at the top of the photo, which is an ICC Valuation map of the yard. Of course, once I got that, a LOT of what I had put down had to come back up, because I couldn't live with knowing what I had down was nowheres near like the way the tracks actually flowed in real life, or in the pictures I did have. I was able to get eveything pretty darn close in the end, and I think that if somebody came a visited the layout that had actually worked here, they'd say I got it pretty darn close, if I say so myself. This yard saw almost constant tweeks from the time I began laying track in 2008, until just this time last year when we discoved we needed another double slip switch to be installed to better operate the yard. The real yard didn't have it, but sometime you need to compromise to make the model operate better due to the compressions involved.

      Last but not least, the piers. These were some of the last major benchwork construction, aside from the staging yard rebuild on and off over the last year. Framing was minimal (1/2 plywood and 1x2's), and 1/2 foam base. These were built to fit the space, and not to any kind of scale. Even though I had plenty of photos (and thus the reason why they are shaped the way they are), not until a few years later did I have actually aquire dimentions of these piers from an Army Corps of Engineers manual. Then, my friend and professional model builder Jim Harr took those dimentions, the photos and the dimentions of the pier foot prints seen here, and built appropriate scaled pier sheds out of corrugated carboard. The other interesting thing I did here was to build the outter legs out of left over PVC pipe (1/2 in if I recall correctly). I took two fittings for each end - a drain cap, which had holes that I could screw thru, and also serve as a foot, which provided a flat stable footing, and then the reduction piece that allowed me to put the 1/2 in pipe into it snuggly. The best thing about this set up is that you can kick the crap out of the leg, and it won't hurt anything because it's not secured to the floor (though it is a tight fit), and the base of the pier where it meets the benchwork is rock solid. I used this same leg construction on the Grand St. LCL Yard extension, and the staging yard. It was my Dad's idea, one they used on his Hi-rail modular layout. If he had suggested it sooner, I might have used it more, but it probably wouldn't have been too cost effective, unless the layout was truly modular from the get-go.
      The templates seen in the above photo are also gone, in preparation for the painting of the yard, which is why there are a field of push pins marking the placement of said templates. And as I said eariler, you can see the overhead doors installed on the cabinets. The half of the door straight ahead and to the right is painted black, while the rest are not (and still aren't, though I plan to recitfy that this week!) which really makes them dissapear, or at least draw your eyes to the layout. I made the doors slightly longer than the open area they needed to cover, so as to serve as a valance for the under cabinet lighting strips over the yard (which only got installed last November!). The intrusive shop fluorescent hanging down in the photo has also since been moved elsewhere.

      So that is about it, because as always, I've run on and on as I tend to do. I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as I did, and again, I hope I've inspired you to take a different approach to your construction, or at the very least helped steer you away from making a big design mistake before it was too late to go back and fix it! And as always, I invite your questions, and will gladly comment on all your puzzled reactions to things I've done along the way!