Strong Model Railroad Benchwork – More Helpful Details

Photos and Blog by Dale Parsons

In this post I’m adding some additional details and photos that will be helpful to those who read the original post, “How to Build Strong Model Railroad Benchwork.”

This is a close-up of the braces I made for my first shelf-style layout. These are the same braces but I had to adapt them a little bit for my current layout which is quite a bit larger than my first shelf.

The leg and arm brace are both 2×2 pine. The gusset size depends on how long your arm brace is going to be. I like things flush (OCD), so the bottom of the arm is flush with the bottom angle of the gusset. There are three #8 x 1 inch screws on one side, and two screws on the opposite side of the gusset holding the arm brace. There are three screws on either side of the leg into the gusset. The bottom of the leg rests on the floor.

You can’t see them in this photo, but there are two concrete screws anchoring the leg to the wall. One is just below the gusset, and one about half way between the top of the brace and the gusset.

The concrete screws anchoring the leg to the wall are visible in this photo. Just two screws hold the leg firmly. It’s not going anywhere!

Bosch 3/16 inch concrete impact drill bits are necessary for making screw holes in the wall. I used 1/4 x 3-1/4 inch concrete anchor screws. With these screws it is NOT necessary to put anchors in the wall before placing the screws. These are fantastic for a quick, rock-solid hold on the brace leg.

I have one brace on each of the outside walls. The braces are about 50 inches from the back wall and are perpendicular to the remaining braces. I left 4 inches of overhang across the entire front of the layout. In this photo it’s clear that I used two 1×3 inch joists on either side of the arm brace. My first shelf layout was only 24 inches deep in the middle, 48 inches on the ends. To use these braces again I had to add additional pieces of 1×3.

As I said in my previous post, this layout is 54 inches deep on the ends, 36 inches across the middle. I wouldn’t recommend building a shelf layout this wide, but I’m tall so reaching across won’t be that difficult. Using a step stool to work on scenery at the ends will work fine.

My train room is 21 feet long. My layout braces are approximately 32 inches apart. The last braces on either end are just 12 inches from the outside wall. I measured the distance between each of the braces, then cut a 2×2 inch piece to length and fastened it to the wall using the same concrete screws I used on the legs. With the braces 32 inches apart, I was concerned there might be some “give” in the surface of the layout between the braces. I used 3/8 inch plywood for the bench surface, which is not super sturdy. My bracing makes up for it.

In this photo, the original 24 inch joist pieces are visible, plus the additional 1×3 pieces I added to extend the length of the joists to hold my 36 inch bench. The horizontal 2×2 pieces I attached to the wall are also visible.

After I was satisfied with the placement of the braces, I added facia across the front of the braces to make a solid foundation for the edge of the plywood surface. I will probably attach a piece of thin material across plywood edge for a finished look.

**Mistake alert! Be sure to use a square to assure a 90 degree angle at each of the braces before attaching the facia! This is experience speaking. It’s never fun to have to re-do something.

When I added the 3/8 inch plywood deck, I measured from the center of the brace to the next brace center, and cut the plywood accordingly. By doing that, the edges of the plywood came together in the middle of the joists, creating a solid connection.

When all of the plywood surface pieces were firmly in place, it was time to begin laying down the extruded foam. I almost decided against using foam. It was actually my wife who talked me into it because of the versatility it provides with scenery and track placement. I had also decided not to use elevated track, which meant no mountain areas, no trestles, no inclines and declines. Again, my wife helped me see the light.

I decided to use 1 1/2 inch foam rather than 2 inch. It was a minor cost savings, and I didn’t think the extra 1/2 inch would make that much difference. I measured and cut the foam to fit and made sure I was happy before I started applying glue. I used Liquid Nails to apply the foam, then, as you can see, I weighted the foam and left it overnight. It worked great. I’m very satisfied with my progress so far.

While I am working on my layout I always have music playing and a hot cup of coffee close by. There should be a coffee flavor called HO Railroad. Hey, wait a minute! That’s a good idea!

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

Discover Prompts Day 23: Notes

Obviously, that’s not me. When I’m sleeping I look rather hideous, so I chose to use this guy. He didn’t care. The prompt for today is Notes. I’m supposed to start a diary, which I’ve started many times and have never kept for more than two or three days.

Something else I’ve never done is keep a note about dreams. Usually, I can’t remember anything but bits and pieces, but last night I had a vivid dream and I remember it.

My wife and I were going to catch a flight to Amsterdam. I was driving us through the terminal on a green golf cart. At the gate area she got off the cart and went with a ticket agent to get a boarding pass. In the mean time, I was following instructions and driving the cart up a short ramp to the jetway. I went down into a musty dark basement to get my boarding pass. My wife wasn’t there. I went back up to the gate area and the plane was gone. I assumed I missed the flight and my wife didn’t. I found some other Amsterdam passengers and discovered I was looking at the wrong plane. I was still looking for my wife when I woke up.

I imagine some important reason we were going to Amsterdam. I was going to speak at a major conference on model railroading. Crowds of people were waiting to hear me share my notes about building benchwork strong enough to sit on. Sitting on the benchwork makes it possible to do detail work on the other side of the layout when you discover the bench is too wide to just reach across.

Another possibility for the trip is that I was going to demonstrate the fine radio controlled airplane skills I have gained in seven years of flying. No concerns about the fact I can’t fly anymore because of essential tremors. I can’t control the radio sticks well enough to keep the plane from crashing. That probably wasn’t it.

Maybe I was invited to come to Amsterdam to talk about the fine art of blogging. People want to know how to build a huge number of followers. Someone said, “You’re not a leader if you turn around and no one is following.” I wouldn’t think it would be necessary to fly to Amsterdam to talk about the vast number of followers when, at this moment, I have around one hundred. (I’m really thankful for each reader and follower. This really is a lot of fun.)

I have lots and lots of notes about all kinds of things. Now, since I can’t write with a pen or pencil anymore, I do all my writing on a tablet or laptop. So, taking notes about something and then printing it is a pain. So usually, my notes are only two or three words. More like thought prompts to remind myself of something. For example, “Dr 10:00”.

I had no idea how much I have taken hand-writing for granted. It was always there, hiding in the shadows, ready to use at any moment. For thirty years, all my sermon notes were written by hand. I knew all my scratches, arrows, underlining, explosion marks, exclamations, question marks, and doodles. They all meant something important. Not any more. When I retired I threw files and files of my notes away. When I was a pastor I never used sermon notes more than once. Certainly the same topics, but not the same notes.

Notes are important. If we keep notes we might be able to keep ourselves out of trouble. If we look back over our notes when trouble comes, we can read about what we did last time and not make the same mistakes again. Someone said, “If we don’t learn from history we’re doomed to repeat it.” That is not just true for a country, it’s true for individuals.

Ah, here’s a note I wrote to myself earlier today. “Drink another cup of coffee.” Good idea. I think I will.

Adventures in Model Railroading

My first HO scale train was a Tyco blue and yellow Santa Fe F-7 with a few freight cars, and an 18 inch radius circle of track I received for Christmas when I was fifteen.  My love of trains, however, began on Christmas morning in 1956 when my brother received an American Flyer S scale train set.  My fascination with trains has been life long.

Sadly, my new F-7 didn’t work right.  It ran backwards pretty well, but wouldn’t go forward. The small town we lived in had a model railroader’s paradise, a hobby shop where I spent a lot of time.  The shop was a small garage but it was loaded with HO treasure.  The owner loved trains as much as I did and was always willing to help.  I traded my Santa Fe engine for an old metal 2-6-0 switcher that squeeked, but it ran.  I also purchased two small boxes of track so my layout became a larger oval instead of a circle.

For those unfamiliar with model trains, HO actually stands for “Half-O.”  O gauge is the size of the familiar Lionel-type, three-rail trains.  HO trains are half that size.  I have always preferred HO.  The two-rail track and detail is more realistic.

The little hobby shop quickly became my favorite place, and the owner taught me everything he could about model railroading.  He also sold me Pere Marquette Berkshire 2-8-4 and Southern Pacific 4-8-8-2 Cab Forward steam locomotives for $10 with a trade and $25, respectively.  Unbelievable!  Those engines now are twenty times that much! The only thing I still own from the little hobby shop is a twenty-five foot fiber tie strip for hand laying and spiking rails.  I’ve never tried that.

The photos above are of my first full layout I built thirty years ago.  As you can see, it had open-grid benchwork and it was also my first experience with cork roadbed and ballast. I learned a great deal about what not to do with future layouts.  The biggest mistake I made was not planning for taking it apart.  When we moved I had to chose the best spots to cut it apart and it was not easy putting it back together.

The unpainted wood stand with the white tank structure was scratch-built forty-two years ago.  At one point it was crushed by a basketball, but since has been rebuilt and painted.

In upcoming posts I will include details about benchwork, scenery, and model railroading in general.  I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.

 

 

 

 

Building An HO Scale Layout

These are some track-level photos of my most recent HO scale train layout.  It was a “shelf-style” layout, which simply means the room I was using was too small to have a free standing layout supported by its own benchwork legs.  I used a model railroading magazine specifically for benchwork and just followed sketches to build the shelf supports along the wall.

My first obstacle was trying to figure out how much room I had for the loops on each end of the layout.  I didn’t want to build a “down and back” type of track plan.  I wanted to allow the trains to run continually, and wanted to be able to run two trains at the same time.  So, I ended up with a detailed two-line track plan with several sidings and a couple freight yards to choose from.  What I ended up with was a 22 inch outer line radius, and an 18 inch radius on the inner curve.  One mistake I made was not allowing enough room through the entire curve for two trains to run side-by-side.  I had to make sure the two trains did not run through the curves together.  I won’t make that mistake again.

I don’t run passenger trains, so the entire layout was built for freight operation.  Most of my buildings are manufacturing style, as a few can be seen in the photos.  Although I enjoy operating the trains, my main focus is scenery.  As you can see in the photos, the layout was not finished, as there were plenty of bare spots where there were neither roads, grass, or weeds.  But, that’s just part of the hobby.  The work is never finished.

I used “flex-track” which comes in 3′ sections.  I used code 100 rail, which has to do with the fine detail of the rails.  For my use, this code works great and it is less expensive.  I only use nickle-silver track as it does not corrode as quickly as brass.  I don’t know of anyone who uses brass track for serious layout construction.  The flex-track works great for my layouts.  I have never tried scratch-building track, either with a tie-strip and rails, or by hand laying ties.  It’s too much work.

Model railroading is a great hobby.  There is just something about trains that have captured my attention my entire life.  I take every chance I can get to watch trains. Unfortunately, I don’t live close enough to any operational lines to allow me to watch every day.  I am really looking forward to starting my next layout.

Working on trains always makes me think of coffee.  Speaking of which, it’s time for more.  Coffee, that is.

– Dale Parsons