Welcome to Train Set Gazette 2010
Compiled by George Riley, Chris Lane and the RMC Staff/photos by George Riley unless noted
Model railroading is unique among scale model building since this leisure pursuit combines animation with detailed accurate model making. The model railroad layout is integral to the display and enjoyment of the hobby allowing the modeler to operate their rolling stock in a realistic environment. Train layouts do not have to be large, complicated or expensive to achieve realism and provide interesting operation of one’s models.
This edition of the Train Set Gazette spotlights two space saving, inexpensive and easy to construct layouts. Our hope is that whether you are looking to build your first layout or have been on the sidelines due to space, time or monetary limitations, our latest layout features will inspire you to consider joining the fraternity of model railroad layout builders.
Model Railroading on a Budget
"The Old Main Line" in N scale uses small and easy to construct T-Trak modules to assemble a table sized layout with dual track main lines that can easily be expanded into a larger format as time allows. This layout was inspired by the Baltimore & Ohio’s original west bound main line that originally entered service in 1828 and continues in service today with CSX.
"The Hazard County Short Line" in HO scale is highlighted on the pages of this Gazette with a full description of all the tips and techniques used in its construction shown on the Railroad Model Craftsman web site. This four by six foot layout was designed to feature modern railroad operation on a scale that can be accommodated by an easily built, small home sized layout that captures modern industrial operations.
Both projects utilize a basic train set as their starting points. The additional rolling stock, scenery, track and structures are value priced, readily available items sourced from local hobby shops. Like all layout projects, our two projects are designed to inspire the creative process that is a key component in all model railroads. While based on prototype locations and practices, they incorporate imagination and creativity to create a realistic world in miniature. Do not hesitate to add your favorite equipment, buildings or scenery to create a layout that is uniquely yours.
Along the Old Main Line
As North America’s railroads approach their two hundred year anniversary railroads have established a permanent place in the fabric of the nation. Baltimore & Ohio’s Old Main Line is arguably the oldest continuously operating section of right of way in the United States. This route running westward from Baltimore’s Mt. Clare Station to Point of Rocks, Maryland was constructed beginning in 1828 and continues in operation as a secondary line of the CSX system to this day. The line follows the Patapsco River that flows through central Maryland, passing picturesque little towns and farms that seem to have changed little in the past century.
While firmly rooted in the past, the Old Main Line is a current part of today’s railroad scene. This provides a perfect backdrop for modeling. When designing a model railroad, whether it is based on the prototype or freelanced, one should observe both the prototype railroads as well as the area in which they operate. This not only enhances our modeling but also adds believability to our layouts.
Getting Down to Business
Most of us begin with an idea of what we want our layout to represent. We started with two train sets: Kato’s P42 Amtrak Superliner set and Atlas’ Trainman® CSX Freight Set. The addition of a couple more locomotives and a few more freight cars provided all the rolling stock needed to populate the layout. Several Kato track sets provided most of the track needed for the main lines (one V5 set, and two V4 sets along with two pair of turnouts, a single turnout and an assortment of straight track). With this in hand the layout began to take shape.
Building the Bases
Our Old Main Line layout has been designed using the prototype as a guide. The finished layout, built in N scale, measures roughly 30" wide by 66" long. The project is constructed using T-Trak Modules for the bases. These small modules are flexible, easy and inexpensive to construct and take up a minimum of space. In addition once completed they open up a larger world to their builder since they can be added to other modules to assemble larger layouts and displays.
A total of ten modules are used; six straight and four corners. These can easily be built using basic hand tools (hammer, drill and saw) and assembled with nails and glue. Once the bases are complete it’s a good idea to prime and paint the fascias. We used a light blue gray; however any color you choose will work. Also, the decks should be painted using gray Fleck-Stone spray paint. This will provide a good scenic base for later and gives a finished look to the modules. For those wishing a more "permanent" layout a 30” wide hollow core door or an inexpensive folding conference table can be used.
Before going further it, this is a good time to consider adding back drops. While this feature is optional, back drops go a long way in visually expanding the modules. These are made using some of the " "scraps" left over from building the tops of the modules. These should be primed and then painted a sky blue. We found a "Sky Blue" and "Larkspur Blue" satin spray at the local craft store that worked well for this. Paint the lower section the lighter sky blue and the upper portion with the larkspur blue. Clouds were added with flat white spray paint applied over Model Railroading University’s Cloud stencils.
Laying the Right of Way
The track plan consists of a dual track mainline with two crossovers, a small yard on three of the straight modules on one side and an industrial area and station located on three modules on the other side of the completed layout.
T-Trak modules specify the use of Kato N scale Unitrack. This track system easily clicks together and has a molded and decorated base. These features eliminate much of the difficulty in laying reliable track work. In addition plug and play wiring is included with the track feeder sections and turnouts. No longer does one need any knowledge of electricity to assemble a working model railroad.
To attach the track, punch out the mounting holes located in each of the track sections using either a track nail or by drilling out with a pin vise. Once done, the track can be secured to the base with standard Atlas track nails using a small hammer and nail set. As a rule it is easier to lay out all of the track sections, checking for alignment and the offset between each module before securing the track. Add the insulated rail joiners between the crossover turnouts and isolate the yard and industrial areas as well with insulated joiners. Make sure that once isolated each area has a track feeder added. Once the track is nailed in place hook up a power supply and run your rolling stock to make certain that the track works properly.
To DCC or Not to DCC...
Probably the greatest advance in recent years has been the introduction of Digital Command Control. These systems minimize the need for complicated wiring and allow for more realistic operation. There are a number of entry level systems available to the beginner that are reasonably priced and easy to use. The only requirement is that each locomotive also has a decoder installed. In N scale a growing number of locomotives are available with decoders already installed as well as many custom fitted drop in decoders designed for a specific locomotive type. These reliable, plug and play decoders are manufactured for the North American modeler by Digitrax, NCE and TCS. Should you be uncomfortable taking your locomotives apart and adding DCC, most full service model railroad retailers offer an installation service.
The Old Mainline Layout is set up for DCC. Digitrax’s Zephyr is used for the main control and our train set power pack is wired into the command station’s Jump Port to act as an auxiliary throttle. The DC power pack is also used to power the electric turnouts.
If you decide to operate the layout with conventional DC all you need do is hook up a power pack to each of the main lines. Control the yard and industrial siding with the power pack used on the inner main. This will require the use of two packs. If you want to proceed further with cab control wiring we suggest that you pick up a copy of Electrical Handbook Vol. 1 by Paul Mallory available from you hobby retailer or direct from Carstens Publications.
Scenery, a Basic Primer
Bases are built, track is place and the wiring is complete. At this point the trains are busily running over the layout. This is the point were a lot of layouts stall, the point of adding the scenery. With the back drops already in place and the bases previously painted with texture paint the ground work is already laid to tie every thing together.
Scenery is fast and easy if you have a plan and follow these nine easy steps: Lay out and install the roads: For this we used quarter-inch plywood that we cut and beveled the edges. You can also use foam core for the roads. Prime with flat white and paint the roads, then glue in place. On a trip to the home improvement store I found spray cans of old iron spray texture paint that when over sprayed with flat lacquer (Testors Dull-Cote) gives a nice asphalt look. You can also lay out the lines in the road with 1⁄16" pin stripping tape before spraying on the final color coat. Gather up all the structures that you plan on using and place them on the layout.
Add side walks made from Evergreen Styrene painted with Polly Scale concrete paint.
Add the topography. This will include all of the hills. We were able to quickly add hills by using Woodland Scenics’ Small Rocky Ridge hill. By cutting the piece with scissors and then gluing the pieces down against the back drop we added two hills in about six minutes.
Cover the remaining areas with dirt or earth colored foam turf. Thin the scenic cement or glue with 25% water and add a few drops of detergent. This will slow down the drying time and allow the adhesive to flow more easily. Over spray with water, this will allow the glue to wick up and secure almost all of the ground cover. Once dry vacuum up the excess.
Now add the grasses. For well kept areas such as yards and parks, Woodland Scenics mixed turf foam was applied over a bed of our thinned glue. Fields and margins were flocked with a mixture of Woodland Scenics Medium Green, Harvest Gold and Light Green flock. Try not to get full coverage so that the earth shows through in different areas. Once dry the excess was vacuumed off. Add ballast in the yards and along the edges and between the tracks. Kato makes a ballast blend that matches their road bed. With a small paint brush apply glue in the areas that the ballast will be applied. Once the ballast is added over spray with water. This will help break up the hard edges along the ballast and gives a more realistic appearance.
Plant the trees and scrubs. Use full strength Tacky Glue from Aleene for this. It sets quickly and dries clear. Apply the finishing touches; vehicles, people, animals and junk. This last step will finish out the scenery and completes the story told by our layout.
Modules and the Future
Model railroads never remain static, they are always changing to meet the interests of the builder. By using a modular format for the Old Main Line project one can add additional modules or change out and redo old ones. This truly makes this project one with a future.
A Visit to Hazard County
Modern railroads are more efficient than ever. Their streamlined point to point operations move vast quantities of freight across the country in unending streams of unit trains powered by massive blocks of high horse power diesel locomotives. Capturing even one of these trains in miniature would easily overpower all but the very largest of model railroad layouts.
At the same time branch lines and less profitable mainlines have been either spun off to regional carriers or totally abandoned. Many industries that still require rail service find that they are now being served by one of these regional short line operators. Often times the short line will have only a couple of customers remaining on their rails.
With these conditions in mind we have set out to capture modern railroading in a small space on a limited budget. The Hazard County Short Line represents a modern day single customer railway that interchanges with the CSX. Our model layout space is limited to just four feet by six and we set a budget of $500.00 to build a model railroad layout that is not only believable but is also fun to build and operate while still fitting into the budget.
We began with a CSX Atlas Trainman® train set as the starting point. The next step was to design a track plan based around an industrial customer that would provide the revenue to keep our railroad in business. At the same time we wanted to operate the layout as a point to point system while still allowing for a continuous run should we want to just sit back and watch trains run for a while.
As the design for the track plan took shape we worked out an operating scheme that followed the design concept. Initially the main line coiled around with in itself and had a two track yard at either end. This allowed a run of nearly 18 feet in our 4' x 6' area. The yard within the coil would serve the yet to be determined industry while the outer yard would be our interchange with the larger mainline operator, in this case CSX Transportation. By adding a crossover between the inner coil and the outer track we were able to add a "junction" that allowed us a continuous run should this be desired. In practice CSX locals would use the continuous run while Hazard County Short Line operations would be run point to point.
To justify the railroad’s operation we needed to add a large industry. However, the available budget limited the number and size of the structures that we could allocate to this plant. With the large unoccupied area in the center of the layout that would need scenery it seemed to make perfect sense to dig out a hole and have an open pit mine in this area. Open pit mines are used to mine nearly every mineral from coal to iron ore. Most mines of this type however are massive and would be well out of proportion on our model so some research would be required to come up with an industry that was not on such a large scale. A search of the internet provided a number of options. One that was initially considered was phosphate mining in Florida. The down side of this industry is that it would require specialized rolling stock that would have to be purchased or scratch built and would strain the budget both time wise and monetarily.
The next interesting option was Kaolin mining in Georgia. Kaolin is white finely grained clay that is used in everything from porcelain manufacturing to pharmaceuticals. Its most common use is as a paper coating that adds the gloss to magazines and pamphlets. Kaolin is carried in a number of forms by the railroads; bagged in boxcars, as a fine powder in covered hoppers, as slurry in tank cars or even just dumped raw in to gondolas. So the kaolin pit mine and adjacent Georgia Kaolin Processing plant was born to provide a reason for the Hazard County Short Line's existence.
Now with the railroad located in central Georgia providing service to a processing facility and interchanging with the CSX we needed to build the bench work and get started on the actual construction. Turning to "no-saw" table construction the table for the layout was quickly assembled and a 2" layer of pink foam insulation was glued to its top.
The rest of the story will be featured on the Railroad Model Craftsman web site as the Hazard County Short Line is built step-by-step over the next few months. The story will include a number of tips and techniques that will not only fuel your imagination but also stretch your modeling budget.
What is T-Trak?
Over the last several decades a movement towards modular and sectional model railroad layouts has swept the hobby. At nearly every public show there is at least one if not several of this type of layout displayed. Some are massive and exhibit the collective skills of many modelers. These layouts have taken the hobby out of the basements and workshops and put model railroading in the public forum. Now people from across the nation or even the world are able to come together to assemble truly impressive layouts.
T-Trak offers the latest specifications for this concept. First put forward by Japanese enthusiasts, this set of modular specifications allows even the most space starved an avenue to enjoy the hobby. Normally placed on tables T-Trak modules do not require legs or the elaborate set up of other systems. Each module links to the next using interlocking rail joiners that attach the track sections between adjoining modules eliminating the need for clamps or bolts. Electrical connections are provided by the specified Kato Unitrack are completely plug and play with no complex or complicated wiring needed.
With the standard module measuring 12-1⁄8" long by 8" wide they are light in weight and easy to transport between venues. A further advantage of the size is that they are easy to construct and work on in any normal sized work area. Add the fact that modules can be built for less than $20.00 worth of lumber and you have a low cost alternative to most layout systems. For home use, T-Trak allows the builder the opportunity to construct a flexible layout that can be expanded as time and interest allows.
While the standards are based on metric measurements the needed materials for constructing a module are available at Lowes in their premium lumber section. To construct a normal straight module purchase the following:
4 feet of 1/2" x 3" poplar
1 piece of 2' square 1/4" birch plywood
1 foot of 2" x 2" Poplar
This will provide all the materials needed for a complete straight module with back drop. To build a standard corner module purchase an additional two-foot length of 1/2" x 3" poplar.
For a complete list of specifications see: www.t-trak.org
Note: Straight modules may be deeper than 8-1/4”, but no deeper than the size of corner modules used. Allow for skyboard thickness. The back can be open as shown, or can have a fourth side or a skyboard.