Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rethinking the Upper Level

Ok, one good thing about doing things in sections is that you can test running on the build portion while redesigning the part that's not yet built. After running my D51 around the base level, I realized that having a runaround track would be extremely useful if I am going to go with my plan of having this be an end-of-the-line mining town. I changed the upper level a little to provide a two-ended siding, and the industry track now runs off of that rather than the mainline heading down to the lower level. Now I can head up there to drop off full cars of ore, or to pick up freight that has been left on the siding, and I'll have more flexibility in terms of making up short trains.

If I were designing this again from scratch, I would definitely include a runaround in the small yard. But the track is down, and I'm going to stick with this for now. I am considering adding a small stream on the lower level, with culverts where it intersects the track rather than bridges, but I can't figure out a route that doesn't criss-cross the layout in too artificial a fashion.

Also - the two bridges have been shipped!

Monday, July 25, 2011

One Level of Track Down

Just finished laying down the track on the base level. I ended up gluing two layers of cardboard on top of the MDF base, since I didn't think the MDF would make a good working base for the track and structures. I used wood glue and let everything dry for 24 hours. The different layers (4 now) should prevent warping of the flat surface. Since neither the MDF nor the cardboard is suitable for traditional track spikes, I did a test with a small piece of cardboard and some extra Atlas 80 track, and just using PVA glue I found I could fix it to the base really well. In the future I can also pull up the track by pulling apart the cardboard. The two cardboard layers give an extra bonus: I can carve through them to add depressed areas on the layout as well.

Each section of track was glued to the cardboard with PVA, weighted down and allowed to dry for at least 12 hours. Our cat helped again, as pictured. I did learn an important lesson - even though it seems easier, do not fix the track in sections, because you might find out that the ends of those sections are slightly out of place. Although I transferred the key track end locations from the full-sized printout to the baseboard, the track and the glue conspired to introduce some kinks into the line. After each section was in place I ran the loco around a few times and it seemed fine, but it's the transitions between sections where the tangents are slightly off-center. It's nothing that should be a serious, track-ripping problem, but I will have to be more careful when I lay the upper level. I did figure out a good way to use the natural channels of the corrugated cardboard base to hold the feeder lines to the track. I probably added too many for such a small route, but I wanted to be sure that my locos have enough power no matter where on the layout they are.

Speaking of which, I went ahead and ordered Branchline's N Stoney Brook Bridge kit as well as a more modest N 75-153 Deck Girder Bridge from Micro Engineering. I wanted the bridge kit to have something "modelly" to work on, as well as to have a good-looking structure for the overpass, since it will be near the center of the action and an important detail on the layout. The girder bridge will be on the edge, near to where the line continues on to imaginary and distant locales, so a more simple structure seemed appropriate. Everything from Micro Engineering always looks very well-made as well; I thought about getting a classic Atlas or Model Power truss bridge, but the pictures just looked too toy-like for my tastes. Both of these bridges are well within the realm of possibility for a Japanese colonial-themed route.

After ordering the bridges, and with the main level track fixed, I realized that since the branchline bridge has an arched support structure, the track below would have to pass under the middle of the bridge in order to maintain its overhead clearance. Unfortunately the original plan had the lower track passing near one side. So I opened up XTrackCad and moved some things around. I think the result is even better than before, and I didn't have to modify any track that is already in place. The wooden kit bridge will have even more space, and the opening between the "bowl" and the main yard/station area is now wide enough to justify a dirt road or something leading in to it. I am thinking that a mine would be a good industry to stick in that narrow space, similar to the small mines on the Pingxi line in northern Taiwan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Laying out the Layout

I made a few additions to the plan, marking out the different levels more clearly and noting where I plan to have the feeder lines connect to the track, and I printed out a 1:1 scale plan. I've left out the center section for now, since I plan on laying down the flat track first before moving on to the upper level. Of course, any large flat space with things going on is a magnet for cats.
I have identified one possible trouble spot on the layout: on the upper left, where the track heading up to the upper level comes very close to the level track. Originally there was this snaking S curve in the plan, I believe intended to add distance for the 4% grade. I kept this, thinking that I could add a rock outcropping or other feature to justify the bend in the track. However, right now two tracks come within 1 1/3 inches of each other, which is a little tight for a curve (Armstrong 1998, 81), but more importantly the rising track is 0.81 inches off of the base at the point they are closest. This means that the track and whatever is supporting it will be intruding into the clearance space for any trains on the lower track. I will need to make a mock-up and see if anything needs to be changed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Back to Basics

After a lengthy hiatus I am back on the model railroading bandwagon. Planned out a small, 48 x 26 inch layout to work on as a starter project, the planning and research for the larger Taihoku project will go on but this will give me something to learn and practice on. I started by buying two sheets of 1/4" MDF, since one seemed to flimsy, and glued them together with woodglue, offset so that the total width is 26 inches. I will fill in the depression with foam or cardboard to bring it up to ground level. The baseboard is resting on a coffee table, but when not in use it will be propped up against the wall out of the way.

My track plan is a modified version of one on the excellent Mike's Small Trackplans Page. The dark polygon is raised, while the lighter one is a 4 percent grade up to the bridge. I found that the double track on the right didn't add anything, so I removed it and widened the main loop a little. I also removed the crossover since Peco Settrack doesn't have a ready piece for this angle, and I wanted to keep it simple. I still have two levels, three industries, and a decent-sized yard. The theme will be a small Japanese/Taiwanese end-of-line area with some farmhouses and maybe a small passenger station.

To make the upper level I was going to use 2" thick polystyrene foam, and I bought a foam cutter for £5. I have some foam packaging from a TV table that is exactly 2" thick, but it feels a little squishy for this; I really don't want the entire upper level to sag when a locomotive rolls on to it. Any suggestions? Also, do I need to be careful about the fumes from the hot wire cutter?

(Track plan made with XTrackCad)