09 October 2008

Layout test #1

A layout test already? Surely some mistake!

Well, no, because I need to check that my planned alignment fits on the baseboard, and work out where the track beds will run, before I commit to chopping up lots of expensive plywood to make the complete frame.

So yesterday evening I got out all my old sectional track and assembled something approximating to the left-hand end of the station. Here is the result...

I laid out a few more ply sheets than I have built frames for yet, just to get a better sense of the station area. And I'm pleased to say that the layout does fit, the only problem being that the chimney breast sticks out a bit further than I had it doing in the plan, so the track for platform 3 (yes, they already have platform numbers in my head!) might need to be moved inwards a little, thereby narrowing the platform itself.

The train standing at platform 1 is none other than my very first ever train set, augmented by a couple of coaches from my brother-in-law who very kindly bequeathed me his old set of very similar vintage. It's good to confirm that the station will be able to accept a five-coach train - that is about the minimum length that I consider looks good on a model.

For the interested among you, here is a close-up of the alignment in the station throat. The diamond crossing in the middle of the picture will be replaced by a double-slip point in the final layout.

PS Karen has commented that the gap above the hardboard sheets on the back wall looks unsightly, and she is right. I will fix that when I next have the opportunity to make lots of noise in the loft.

Baseboards update

Here is the promised photo of progress on the baseboards so far...

As you can see, the baseboard frames are fairly rudimentary at the moment, but they will get more sturdy once I start adding height. As mentioned before, the main station (which will be on the boards shown in this photo) is going to be raised a little from the base level, which means cutting up the ply and supporting some of it on risers attached to the frame. I need to complete the entire set of basic frames before I can do that.

06 October 2008

Starting the baseboards

No photos to show (yet) but some progress nonetheless over the weekend. After a lot of deliberation and reading around since my last posts, I finally decided on a surface material for my baseboards. I have gone for 9mm plywood, supported on a nominal 2"x1" frame. The baseboard will be constructed in 4'x2' sections (or rather, 607mm x 1220mm, as that's what Wickes supply), each of which will be essentially independent with its own frame. Whether or not the layout eventually becomes portable, I feel it's better to make the board detachable in case I have to move it for any reason. The shape of my layout is neatly covered by ten rectangles the size of the ply sheets, with very little wastage.

I bought the first tranche of material on Saturday and spent a few hours on Saturday afternoon making a start on the baseboard frames. Because it's not entirely clear yet how the surface is going to work (i.e. whether it's flat or whether it's open) I am not fixing down any of the ply yet. I can still go ahead and make all the basic frames without having to worry about the surface just yet.

I have had a go at creating a track plan in XTrkCAD - it's by no means perfect and there's lots I need to learn how to do in the package. But you can see the draft here:

The draft uses Hornby sectional track for illustration but I intend eventually to use Peco flexible and Setrack if funds permit. Watch out for another post about my track dilemma soon. Some things don't quite join up - again, this is an artefact of using sectional track

I think - and I stress this is just an idea at the moment - that the main station will be slightly elevated from the base board level, and that the side sections - the areas with "vertical" track in the diagram - will have the surface at a lower elevation with the track crossing on bridges. Technically it's easy enough to do this, and there should be a nice height effect. Then the front sections will all be open frame to allow for lots of scenery and for the feeds to and from the fiddle yard (feeds to the fiddle yard are indicated with arrows on the diagram). The yard itself will, as hinted before, be under the station area.

The first task is to complete the five frames along the back wall so that I can put down some track and tweak the station layout. I have completed two and nearly finished the third of these frames, and have enough ply to cover them all. Once the station alignment is known I can finalise the plan for the complete layout and therefore the design of the open frame sections along the front.

More to come when I've tidied up enough to allow photographs! With the arrival of several plywood sheets, space has suddenly become an issue in the loft...

02 October 2008

RIP: the portable layout

Before I started on the loft project I had constructed a small(ish) portable baseboard for my birthday trainset. Combined with track and equipment from my previous foray into model railways, this had come along quite nicely within certain limits - there was no scenery, and some of the track was less than reliable (more on that in another post). But it was never more than a stopgap, and as I am about to start on the baseboards in the loft, yesterday I called time on the portable layout. I took up all the track, dismantled the board and carried the materials up to the loft for use there.

Before the dismantling, I gave the layout one final outing with some of my existing (pre-birthday) rolling stock...

In the above picture you can see the GWR Pullman set as well as my old faithful BR HST, a class 121 DMU and some freight stock.

RIP, portable layout. No flowers.

Completing the frame

After a couple of weeks of little progress, I have lots to report again. I took a day off yesterday and was up in the loft for about 7 hours. Here is the result...

With the exception of a couple of leg braces, the primary frame is now finished! The cross-bracing will help to support the baseboards and provide extra rigidity. About half of the bracing is reclaimed wood (stuff that was already up here when I started). There was just enough of this to save me a further trip to Wickes. The total cost of the frame is a little under £70, slightly over budget but allowing savings in other areas.

I put hardboard sheets along the back wall in order to provide a foundation for whatever backdrop eventually goes behind the model. For now, it will serve as a useful noticeboard!

Having done that (bar about half an hour to tidy everything up) I can turn my attention to the baseboards themselves. Before I can start building them I need to settle various questions that I still have.
  • Flat or open? Will the entire layout be built on a flat board, or will some sections be open-frame construction? At the moment I think the area along the back wall, which will contain the main station, will be flat board (possibly with the branch line platforms at a higher level along the back), but the through section at the front might include some open frame to allow interesting levels and more scope for scenery.
  • Where will I put my fiddle yard? The original plan has this as phase II, on a spur at the RH side in the above picture. But this may be impractical, because there is not that much space between the front of the layout and the loft hatch, and what space there is we need to retain for storage. So I have come up with a mad idea to try and place the fiddle yard UNDER the layout along the back wall. I would need to have feeder tracks running into tunnels and thence down under the frame. I have yet to work out whether this is possible without requiring alterations to the primary frame, which might get in the way of the feeder tracks.
  • What surface material will I use? I am still trying to decide whether to plump for plywood or MDF for the main running surface. Both have their pros and cons - MDF is cheaper and easier to fix track to, but ply is stronger and probably quieter. I have MDF left over from the portable layout, so I may use a mixture.

These are big issues and any advice or suggestions from out there would be welcome.


A big thank you to family and friends, especially Karen, for the shower of extremely useful birthday presents. I can run some serious trains now!