How to Build Strong Model Railroad Benchwork

Blog and Photos by Dale Parsons

Your dream of a beautiful model railroad will ultimately be no better than the benchwork holding it in place. Any model railroad worth building is worth the time and effort it takes to build unshakable benchwork.

My first permanent HO layout was built on open-grid, I-girder and truss benchwork. I followed Lynn Wescott’s old book detailing how to build, step-by-step, open grid benchwork. His drawings, lists of materials, measurements, and photos made the work easy. I have to admit, however, I was disappointed with the way my benchwork turned out. I found the open grid design made scenery building far more difficult.

How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork, by Lynn Westcott, who was a master in model railroading and everything that goes with it, is a terrific manual for building a great layout.

Since my plywood sub-roadbed was only about a 1/4 inch wider on either side of my cork roadbed, it didn’t leave enough room for attaching the strips of cardboard for the foundation of my ground and rock scenery. I made it work, but I wished I had built it differently. I have not used open grid since then.

In my opinion, no model railroad is ever finished. At least not for me. There is always something more to do. I find that scenery and detail is just as fun as running trains. On this my third layout, I plan to use more detail than I ever have before.

Model railroading is a great learning experience. I have already made several mistakes on my third layout, but I’m not starting over. The most important mistake I made is the narrowest part of my benchwork is 36 inches. The ends are 54 inches. My original braces weren’t long enough so I had to attach additional 1×3 pieces to both sides so the brace arms to extend them to the edge of the bench. Leveling everything was a challenge. The two sides of the arm had to be level, and the brace itself had to be level with the next brace arm, and so on.

My new train room is twenty-one feet long, and I’m using every inch of it for my layout. The room has the same shape as the train room in our last house, which is kind of cool. This room is longer, but more narrow. The opposite side of the room is lined with shelves with mostly stuff we don’t need. Just as long as I have room to get from one end of the layout to the other, it’s fine with me. One great thing about shelf layouts is the room it creates underneath. Lots more storage area.

Attaching the braces to the cement block wall was tough. But they’re not going anywhere. I used an impact driver and 1/4 inch cement screws that are 3 1/2 inches long. I went through several drill bits. I drilled through the 2×2 inch leg brace with a wood bit that made a mark on the white cement block. I then used the cement drill bit to make the hole. The impact driver fastened the legs to the wall very easily.

To accommodate my choice of 26 inch radius curves on each end of the layout, the benchwork is 54 inches deep. I am pleased with my progress so far, but the benchwork really is too deep. Reaching across to work on scenery is going to be difficult, but I will manage.

When I was satisfied with the benchwork framing, it was time to put on the plywood sub-roadbed. I had some plywood pieces from my previous layout so I used them, plus some additional new 3/8 inch plywood. I measured and cut the plywood so the ends come together between the two sides of the 1×3 inch brace arms. I then drew lines on the plywood indicating the brace arms. After drilling counter-sink pilot holes I used 1 1/2 inch screws to fasten the plywood to the brace arms.

These are photos from my first shelf layout. It was only 24 inches wide in the middle, and just wide enough on the ends to hold a 22 inch radius curve. I run parallel mainlines so I can operate two trains simultaneously.

My next post will include details about applying sheets of foam to the plywood.

Thanks for reading.

Dale

Grateful! Discovery Prompts Day 30!

Well, I’ve reached the end of the Discover Prompts provided by WordPress. They do this every April, but since I wasn’t blogging like a fiend in April, I started using the prompts thirty days ago. So, does that mean I have nothing else to write about because no one is giving me a topic? Oh, no, my friends. I have sooo much to expound upon in literary prose that I will keep busy for a very long time.

The final prompt is grateful. There are so many things for which to be grateful, it is not difficult to begin. It will actually be difficult to end. Just when I think I’ve exhausted the list, more thoughts arise. So, here goes.

I’m thankful to have a neck. If it weren’t for my neck, my head would be attached directly to my shoulders, making it very difficult to turn when someone calls my name. Obviously, I could turn my whole body around, which I would have to do if I didn’t have a neck, but then I might trip over something that was previously in front of me but is now behind me.

I’m thankful my name is not Sigmund. I have never liked the name Dale, but I dislike the name Sigmund even more. I would have grown up being called Sig, (no one would have ever called me Mund), and that would have been very annoying. I have been called all kinds of things, many of which can’t be listed here. But I would prefer being called Dork, or almost anything else to being called Sigmund.

I’m grateful for knees. Stick figures illustrate how important it is to have knees. We should all be thankful. If it weren’t for knees, our walking would be stilted. Falling would be particularly dangerous and landing on our faces would be more frequent.

I’m thankful for tortilla chips. They are the perfect snack when I want something but I don’t know what. Chocolate? No. Milk? No. Spaghetti? No. Egg Plant? No. Tortilla chips are the go-to every time I just need something to chew. Crunchy.

I’m grateful for doorknobs. I’ve have been locked out of the house, by my own doing, and getting back into the house would be far more difficult if there were no doorknobs.

I’m grateful for paint stir sticks. When I forget to have paint stirred at the store, I have to mix it myself. I would have to use my hand if there were no stir sticks. I take so many things for granted, it’s good to remind myself about all the things I am grateful for.

I’m grate for toothbrush handles. If it weren’t for the handles, I would have to hold the bristles between my fingers. It would be so much more tedious to brush my teeth without a toothbrush handle.

I’m grateful for spoons. I do occasionally eat ice cream with a fork if I’m eating it right out of the carton. My wife prefers that I not do this, but when she’s not around, she doesn’t know. I get our ice cream at night when we’re watching our new Netflix or Amazon Prime series, so she doesn’t see the little fork marks in the ice cream. Ice cream inevitably melts as you’re eating it. So eating it with a fork would be difficult. It would also be hard to put a bite of ice cream in your mouth and take it out while smoothing the top, like everyone does, with a fork. I’m grateful ice cream is the only food we put into our mouths and then take it out.

I’m grateful for plastic milk bottles. Drinking out of a carton with the triangle opening at the top is difficult. Most often the milk pours out the sides and runs down my cheeks and onto my shirt. Drinking out of a plastic milk bottle is much easier. Not that I actually do that anymore.

I’m grateful for toast and frosted mini-wheats. One piece of toast and about ten frosted mini-wheats with a cup of hot tea is an incredible snack late at night while we’re watching TV. Of course I have to give at least one to Maggie as she loves mini-wheats. I usually take out a few extra to share because I’m not will to have less than ten. I try to chew them quietly. They can be noisy if I’m not careful.

Extension cords deserve more gratitude. If it weren’t for extension cords, our walls would be far more crowded with things that have to be plugged in. All of our furniture would have to be the height that anything electric placed on top would have a cord long enough to reach the plug. Electric items would have to take turns because there probably wouldn’t be enough wall plugs for everything.

I’m grateful for radio stations. When I’m turning the dial on the radio trying to find something to listen to, its gratifying to hear plenty of choices vying for attention before I finally decide to listen to Pandora.

I’m definitely grateful for bubble wrap. The joy of sitting and popping the bubbles in bubble wrap is hard to beat.

I’m grateful my childhood dentist was wrong. He said I wouldn’t have any teeth by the time I was sixty. I’m way over sixty and I still have my own teeth. Most of them have been repaired, capped, crowned, drilled, filled, ground and polished, but they’re mine and I’m proud to have them.

I’m grateful for taste, smells, food, drinks, coffee, mochas, water, tea, jokes, tears, yawns, sneezes, kleenex, napkins, egg cartons, Tupperware, refrigerators, ice cream, bread, butter, jam, cheese, frying pans, cinnamon rolls, deep-fried pieces of cinnamon rolls with powdered sugar icing on them, extra powdered sugar icing, sidewalks, tires, trees, flowers, ants, bees, (not wasps), wood, grass, lawnmowers, birds, squirrels, dogs, movies, music, Netflix, computers, iPads, tin cans and string, sticks, dirt, stones, asphalt, highways, dirt roads, pathways, wooden docks, donuts, candy, M&Ms, almonds, Oreos, chocolate chips, Oatmeal, Cocoa-Puffs, gum, turn signals, stop signs, “Signs” the movie, instruments, those who play instruments, teachers, doctors, nurses, neighbors, friends, police officers, store owners, gas stations, jobs, paychecks, careers, laughter, hunger, thirst, fishing poles, bobbers, empty fields, tractors, hay, tomatoes, lettuce, bacon, pepper, avocado, plastic, rubber, glass, blankets, t-shirts, dishwashers, clothes dryers, two-by-fours, nails, glasses, suspenders, pants, hats, and pancakes.

It’s impossible to list all we are grateful for. When we try, it is a powerful reminder.

There is nothing for which I am
more grateful than our family.



Dale Parsons