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Peter's Model Railroading | Articles | Layouts | Layout #8
Layout Expansion

The empty space in the closet was just too good to pass up. So, I built this 4' x 8' module, with the intent of making it removable so that I could use as part of the Houston S Gauger's club layout when we do local train shows. It was built out of 3/4" plywood, which I stained and applied a lacquer to. The surface was made out of a sheet of 1/2" insulation foam, to keep the overall weight as light as possible. I built some "shelves" into the closet upon which this module rests. I had to construct two L-girders to span the closet's 55-inch width. There is also a 4-foot fluorescent light fixture mounted to the bottom of the closet's shelf.

I built a two-foot long, removable bridge to span the distance between the end of the left-side of the layout and the module in the closet. I used a headphone jack to transfer the DCC bus connection from the layout to the module, which was attached to the back side of the bridge, so hidden from view in normal use.

To expand the layout, I had to cut a gap in the side panel fascia board that is part of the overhead lighting system. I made some oak blocks to hold the bridge up. The smaller blocks were glued on their sides to prevent the bridge from sliding off of the blocks.

Here's the method I used to get the blocks mounted into the correct position such that the bridge's rail will match up with the rail on the module.

And, here's a view of the expanded layout.

The layout expansion into the closet didn't quite pan out the way I had planned, and so it wound up going through several iterations. The first one was to simply make it a longer extension of the mainline. By this time I had abandoned the idea of pulling this module out and using it at the three or four local train shows that the Houston S Gauger did locally.

That would be a nice idea for some scenery, it did not help my situation of the expanding rolling stock roster. So, re-thinking this valuable space, I came up with the idea of making a set of "cassettes" that could hold two or three pieces of equipment, and I could just swap out the ones that I wanted to use. Two pieces of quarter-round oak were attached to the module to make sure the cassette-in-use was positioned correctly to match up with the bridge, and I could then run cars on and off the cassette.

I built 6 of these cassettes. I eventually mounted Kadee couplers to one end of them, to keep the cars in place during movement.

When I decided to permanently disconnect my Digitrax DCC system from my layout, and truly go "dead rail", I needed a section of track to charge the batteries in my engines. This cassette approach was the solution. I connected a 13.8 volt Radio Shack power supply to the rails and solved that issue.

The cassette idea was somewhat usable, until one day when I needed to get something off of the top shelf in the closet and didn't realize something loose and heavy was placed on top of the box I wanted. The item crashed down on top of my storage cassettes. All but one of them had their track knocked loose and one of my freight cars was returned into a semi-kit state. That made me realize that it just wasn't going to work. I toyed with the idea of putting a sheet of plywood over the cars and then decorating the top of the plywood with a town scene. However, after doing some measurements, I realized that it wasn't going to fit. I abandoned that idea, as well. However, the idea of making a town scene lingered in the back of my mind. Finally, a few days before this photo was taken, I decided, "Why not!". Many model railroaders wouldn't dream of dedicating precious space to a town scene when track could be placed there. I have always liked the idea of modeling such a scene. I am a big fan of George Selios' layout and the way he models city scenes. When we were at the NASG Convention in August in Scranton, PA, I bought a couple of Pine Canyon Models kits, and they were a big part of the motivation behind dedicating some space to modeling a small town scene in 1950. So, to make this long story longer, I decided to remove everything off of this module and start fresh. I still wanted to have the two feet of track I had on it, which I use for charging the batteries for my engines. After clearing the module, I found some cork in the garage and decided to use that to build the sub-roadbed out of. I glued several layers of cork and then the wooden ties until they reached the height of the ties of the bridge. The one lone Pine Canyon structure is under construction. The charging track power supply will be moved to under the module.

After installing the rails, I ballasted everything. You can see the 13.8-volt power supply wires dangling under the module.

I was also experimenting with the new LED strips that were coming to the market at an affordable price. I bought a 16-foot strip, cut a 4+ foot strip of wooden corner trim, and glued a section of the LED strip to it. You can see the wires hanging off to the left.

The scenery work on the module was getting started. The idea was to have the left side be a downtown area of a small town, and the right-hand side be going into the mountains. I built a track crossing, and in the photo I am building the scenery base for the foot of the mountain. The closet walls were taped off to prevent any damage to them. I cut several pieces of 0.010" styrene sheet to form the roadway. I then fabricated some leftover pieces of styrene to act as supports for the sheets. I had originally built the module to be exactly 2' x 4' (i.e. the size of a standard module). The closet is actually about 7 inches wider. To add some scenery space to the module, and to prevent anything from falling in the gap, I cut some strips of cardboard and glued them to the module. They are not glued to the walls.

While I was digging out my materials for the next step in the scenery base construction, I stumbled across these sections of plaster castings (bridge abutments?) that I had left-over from my N-scale days. I cut away the plastercloth at the front edge of the module, and glued the castings in place using hot glue. I also had a handful of pieces left-over from the last time I used a small container to make some plaster-of-paris castings. I just let the plaster dry in the container, thinking that the next day I'd clean out the container. When I started breaking up the left-overs in the container, I realized that they would make some really neat scenery items. Well, I found a use for them right here! Next, I mixed up several batches of my ground goop, and applied it on top of the plaster cloth (I had let the plaster cloth dry overnight). The next day I used a brush to apply watered-down white glue over the ground goop surface (rather than spray it all over the walls), and then sprinkled Woodland Scenics' ground foam blend over the glue. This is just to have something "green" in the area. This photo was taken shortly after I completed the work, so the area has not yet been cleaned up.

After cleaning everything up, I painted and weathered the rocks and the side walls.

I have decided to call this area the town of Washington, PA, and I am laying out a downtown intersection. All of the white is styrene, glued down to the module's surface.

The styrene strips act as guides for the plaster that I poured in them to form the sidewalks.

The styrene strips act as guides for the plaster that I poured in them to form the sidewalks.

Many years ago I had bought a package of Arizona Rock & Minerals' "Concrete Paving Powder" (part #1290). I had never found a use for it. However, the main street through my downtown scene needed a concrete/asphalt look to it. I decided to try an experiment. If it didn't work out, I would get out the chisel blade and scrape it all up. What I did was cover the whole street area with diluted white glue, and then sprinkled the extremely fine paving powder on to it. I used a fine-mesh strainer to actually do the sprinkling, because the powder cakes up a bit when scooped up. I just liberally sprinkled it all over the glue.

As things change, I realized that the module in the closet wasn't really going to work. It was taking up valuable space. However, I still needed a bit more track at the end of the left-hand side of the layout, to be able to do the switching work there. I had designed that are such that I assumed that there would be some sort of extension there. So, I bought some heavy-dute metal chain, hung them off of some stud-mounted screws in the back side of the closet wall, and mounted them to screws into the wooden subframe of the bridge. It was actually quite solid.