Building "Detling"

This article first appeared in the November/December 2002 issue of AMRA's 'Journal'.
By Stephen J Chapman.

In my article Designing Detling I discussed how I went about designing my current model railway. I will now go on to cover just how I have started to turn that design into a model railway. There are lots of other ways of building a model railway but this is how I am going about it.

The Baseboards

Frame of one end board The baseboards for "Detling" consist of a 2x1 inch timber open top frame with 9mm ply covering the area where the tracks were to be laid. Each of the five foot six boards has two crossmembers dividing the frame into three sections. The two end boards have the section nearest to the end 30 inches wide, the section nearest the centre 20 inches wide (just like the centre board), with the centre section of each of these boards angled to adjust between the widths.

Leg frame The board at the left hand end has four legs permanently attached to it consisting of two pairs, one pair at each end of the board. Each pair of legs are hinged to the underneath of the frame and have one horizontal cross brace at the bottom and one diagonal cross brace above that. The diagonal cross braces are arranged such that the brace on one pair of legs goes the opposite way to the brace on the other. The rear leg at the right hand end of this board is set forward a couple of inches to allow the legs at this end to fold inside of the legs at the other end.

The other two boards each have one pair of legs similarly braced and hinged at the right hand end of the board.

An additional section of 2x1 attached to the underside of the frame to form an "L" at the right hand end of two of the boards provides support for the left hand end of the two boards that only have one pair of legs. I also cut two lengths of timber that can be attached between the bottom cross brace of two of the pairs of legs and the cross member of the frame nearest the other end of the board. These timbers are arranged to be attached using hinges from which the pin has been replaced with a removable piece of coat hanger wire. With the two end boards just fitting the length of the shed these additional braces are not required when the layout is assembled there but they are needed for stability when the layout is assembled elsewhere.

Finally, each pair of boards is held together by two bolts with wing nuts. The bolt holes have been drilled in the same place on each board to allow for both the two board and three board configurations to be assembled.

The Track

The track on the layout is all Peco N scale code 80 and corresponding medium radius turnouts.

I began tracklaying at both ends of the board by laying the inside track through a 180 degree twelve inch curve. To get the curve right I first drew it onto the board using a pencil attached to a nail by 12 inches of string. I then laid the track using a 12 inch radius tracksetta pinning the track as I went. Where it was necessary to join two lengths of track together on the curve, I made sure that the joins were staggered and also soldered a panel pin to the outside of each rail (while holding the rails in gauge using two track gauges) to ensure that the track would stay in gauge at the join. I then tested this track with both bogie and short wheel based wagons to ensure that I could get smooth running. The second track at each end was then laid in using a Peco gauge to ensure that the correct distance between the two tracks was maintained throughout.

Once the end curves were laid and checked, I then started laying the rest of the track. Each turnout was placed in position and the location of the point motor was marked on the board. The turnout was then moved out of the way and a hole cut into the ply to allow the point motors to be attached directly to the underside of each turnout.

In order to get the alignment of the track right across the board joins, I assembled all three boards outside and laid the tracks directly across the join between the left and centre boards. I then nailed panel pins into the board at the outside of the rail either side of the board join and soldered the rails to the pins before cutting the rails through. I then removed the centre board and laid the tracks on the right board to line up with the pinned tracks on the left board pinning it similarly after testing that rolling stock could be rolled across without derailing. Finally, I put the centre board back in and laid the tracks at the right hand end to line up with the pinned tracks on the right board. This ensures that the tracks will line up correctly with the layout assembled in both the two board and tree board formations.

The Wiring

When laying the track, insulating rail joiners were placed in both rails at each section break. Once I was ready to start wiring, I drilled a small hole next to the outside of each rail where the power was to be applied and soldered wires to the outside of the rail and passed the wires down the hole and through similar but larger holes drilled in the frames until the point under the board nearest to the proposed control panel location was reached. In most cases these holes through the frame had been drilled earlier before the ply top had been put onto the frames. I had considered attaching the wires to the underside of the track as I was laying the track but decided to take the easy way out.

The ends of all of the wires from the inside rail were then attached together via a tag strip and similarly for all wires from the outside rail. Power was supplied directly from the controller so that I could test that my trains could be run successfully on all tracks on the layout. The outside rail wires were permanently wired together because I prefer to use common return wiring on my layouts. This means that I only have to wire the track feeds through the control panel which halves the complexity of the panel wiring. I can do this because I run each train from a separate transformer.

Of course this hookup only allowed one train at a time to be run so the next step was to build the control panel. I actually wired the entire control panel (both track and points circuits) all in one go. Each of the ten track sections has a six way rotary switch to select which controller it is attached to (the layout isn't complicated enough for that many trains but I already had the rotary switches so I am allowing for future expansion). There is also an on/off switch to allow each section to be isolated. With the turnouts, I placed a push button switch on the panel for each path through a group of turnouts. The wires to bring the power from the controllers to the switches go to a tag strip while the wires to the track were wired directly to a fifty pin plug.

The next step was to wire from the tag strip on the board nearest the panel to the corresponding fifty pin socket. The wires from this socket that needed to go to one of the other two boards were then passed to another fifty pin plug and the corresponding socket attached to the tag strip on the other end board. At this stage only the two end boards have been wired but the wiring design takes into account the changing wiring requirements of adding the centre board and the necessary wires attached to a third matching plug and socket ready to be attached to either end of the centre board.

With the two main controllers feeding power into the tag strip on the control panel this gives me the ability to run two trains at any one time on any of the ten track sections. Once I get the hand held controller wired in, I will be able to run three trains.

Wiring up the point motors was the next step. The first thing to do was to assemble the diode matrices that I needed in order to convert the single wire per path coming from the control panel into the two feeds needed by each point motor. These were then wired up to the appropriate motors. The wires from the feed side of these matrices run back to the tag strips at the end of the board and I am currently in the process of figuring out which wire needs to be connected to which terminal on the socket. To test which wire does what, I have been touching each wire in turn to the AC output of one of my transformers and then checking to see which turnouts are set which way. I have been having some problems with some wires where four sets of points need to throw simultaneously so I may need to get the capacitor discharge unit wired in before I can finish wiring the points.

The Scenery

A lot of the scenery on my previous layout consisted of a raised town scene running along the back edge of the board and covering the curve at the ends. I wanted similar scenery on the new layout so a lot of the scenery was transferred straight across. The end sections above the curves are built on thin ply and designed to be lifted off so all that I needed to do was to build some supports for this ply out of 2x1 off cuts and they could be sat in place. This was done as soon as I finished laying tracks around the curve. I waited that long so that I could make sure that the supports didn't get in the way of the track.

View toward the left of the layout

The scenery along the back edge of the prior layout was built up on strips of polystyrene covered in plaster. It was a relatively simple matter to break these off from the old board by cutting them through as close as possible to the frame where they were glued on without doing too much damage. The damage along the bottom edge was then repaired by attaching them to the new boards and plastering them in. This was actually done before most of the track was laid because doing it that way around makes it easier to avoid getting plaster near the track.

Because the previous layout was on four foot six boards and the new layout is five foot six boards, the scenic section placement left a one foot gap at the end of each board. This gap was filled with additional polystyrene sheets and then scenicked to match in with the adjacent scenery (this section of the centre board has the polystyrene in place but is yet to be scenicked - the centre board is far enough advanced that I know that both two and three board arrangements will work but I am mostly concentrating on the two end boards first).

The platforms and most of the other scenic structures were also rescued from the previous layout and most have been placed into their new locations on the new layout. The platforms themselves fill most of the front area alongside the tracks on the centre board. There was not quite enough platform rescued from the prior layout to meet my needs for this one so there is still a gap waiting to be filled at one end of one of the platforms. The platforms are made of balsa (it was the simplest way I could think of to get the right height and with an overhang along the top edge).

The buildings on the layout are a mixture of kits and scratch built structures most of which had already been assembled for the previous layout. There are a number of Kestrel kits which I have in some cases redesigned to suit my requirements. A number of blocks of units were constructed on a mix and match basis - ie. I had kits for four blocks but didn't build any of them exactly to the kit plan but instead used parts from one block to make another block larger. Many of the shops are Graham Farish card on plastic block construction and some of the shops have had the front replaced by different shop fronts cut from low relief card kits.

The only buildings so far to be constructed specifically for the new layout are some scratch built shops that fill the extra one foot at the end of the left board. These are built from plasticard with shop fronts cut from low relief card kits so that they have a similar appearance to the Graham Farish kits. Some other buildings at the other end of the layout were under construction at the time that I decided to scrap the previous layout to build this one and in most cases they are still waiting to be finished off. A number of buildings were also relocated from the scenic section that has been attached to the back of the centre board onto the scenic section on the right board - these weren't fixed down yet on the prior layout so it was easy to do. Very few buildings now remain on the centre board so this board will be the one that requires the most scenic work although there is still quite some work to do on the right board as well. I do have all of the buildings that I need to scenic this section so its mostly a matter of finding the time to finish them off and fix them in place.

View toward the right of the layout

One item of interest at the right of the layout is the gas tank. This is actually an HO kit that I have modified by replacing all of the ladders and fencing. For HO scale this tank would have been big enough to supply gas to perhaps a short street of houses. I think the tank size is far more suited to N scale where it is closer to the correct scale.

Transplanting the scenery from the previous layout gave me the basic scenery for the sections of the layout away from the track with very little effort. Once the tracks were all laid, wired, and tested, I was able to ballast the track on the two end boards which hides the remainder of the baseboard from view and once the signal box, goods shed, and abandoned tracks were added, this completes the basic scenery on these boards.

Where Now

The wiring of the points is still incomplete. When I next decide to get serious about doing some wiring I will probably finish that off.

A number of scenic items on the two end boards need to be finished off and there is a lot of additional details, street lamps, vehicles, people, petrol pumps etc to be added. Working on the scenery is one of my favourite aspects of model railways so I will probably get a lot more done here before finishing the wiring.

Once I get these things done then there's the centre board to wire and scenic.

Oh, and just occasionally I might feel like actually running some trains although my preference is building layouts rather than operating them (although I still design my track plans with operation in mind).

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Copyright Stephen Chapman