Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Art of Blending Two Layouts
Into One Space Part 2:

My column I'm writing for the Shortline Modelers On line Magazine
By Joseph Kreiss

This is the second installment of a new column that documents the creation, design, building and operation of my new model railroading project: A double deck, double scale and double theme model railroad that features a rebuilt HO scale Hawaiian-theme pike over a new On30 Louisiana swamp logger layout in the same basement space. Last time I gave an overview on how I came up with the whole crazy idea of committing to two separate layouts, stacked like a “traditional” two-level layout we see in many basements nowadays, but instead of a long grade or helix to join the lower level with the upper level, my two levels are not connected. They are two separate model railroads occupying the same basement space.
I'm not going to go out on a limb and claim I'm the first person to ever try this idea of a double deck, double scale and double theme pike, so I won't. But, the idea is new to me in several ways. One: It's my first attempt to build a double deck model railroad. Two: It's challenged my layout planning and design skills. Three: It will allow me to enjoy two different model railroad layouts with two layout “themes” and operations concepts all in one basement space.
Working The Room

To be honest, my first drafts of a track plan was a compromise within the space I had in my new basement. I tried drawing a re-creation of my Big Island Rail Hawaiian-theme shortline railroad, but the old bench work sections just didn't fit the new space. I tried working around the existing washer and dryer in the room along with the 15-foot-long section of dryer vent pipe running mid-wall, but flow around the proposed layout, the appliances plus the access issue of the attached basement bathroom was not right. Adding to the head scratching are two support posts located in the middle of the space and an old shelf unit in a corner. Some major reworking was in order to open up the basement for more layout and better flow.

Off and on during a six month period, I worked to get the basement ready for actual layout construction. First things to go were the washer and dryer. Plumbers were called in to move the washer and relocate water pipes. The electrician made several visits during that time to rewire the basement, add larger service to the home (which we planned on doing anyway), install new receptacles, switches and lighting to the layout room and relocate dryer. After these tasks were completed, I patched, sealed and painted walls and the floor, insulated where I could and added a DIY drop ceiling to create a comfortable and enjoyable place for my model railroad hobby.
Layout Plans, Layout Heights

Once rid of all the obstructions, I was able to start drawing up possible track plans for the layouts. Even with the newly-opened up space, I still faced one major drawback - not everything is going to fit in a smaller basement area no matter how many ways I tried to rearrange the HO-scale layout. Back to the drawing board. Using the three layout sections (2-feet-wide or less) that would work for the upper level, I sketched out a rough plan to connect the sections building new bench work to complete the around-the-room track plan I had in mind for the new HO layout. I couldn't bring myself to totally destroy the large leftover Hilo wharf section, with numerous spurs embedded into the “pavement” of the pier. I determined I would be able to save one half of the “V” shaped, two-section behemoth and design it into my lower level On30 layout.
One important planning consideration I kept in mind when drawing possible track arrangements was to not have the bottom layout “get in the way” of the upper level and vice-verse. I had to think ahead on how the two levels would interact and “live” in the same room. When I begin to lay track, add scenery, and operate the two layouts, I needed to make it easy to run trains, do switching and keep up with track cleaning and layout maintenance. Even though I don't foresee holding operating sessions on both layouts at the same time, I made sure that areas of higher operational activity on one level, such as a yard or industry, would not compete with the other level layout. Being able to easily reach into the layout to throw switches, uncouple cars and clean track, was also factored in as I combined the two track plans. I placed switches into industrial spurs on the upper deck at areas where the lower bench work was narrowest and aisles provide easy access. 

Another major consideration when planning the two levels is backdrop height. How much "sky" do I need (for ease of photography, working, viewing, etc.) to separate the two levels effectively without cramping the lower layout or making the upper level too high? Over the years, I have settled in at a 2-foot-tall backdrop, mainly because I get more bang for the buck with materials. I can buy one 4x8-foot sheet of 1/8-inch hardboard and rip it length-wise with a saw and get two, 2-foot-tall, 8-foot-long sections covering 16-feet of backdrop. It seemed to work out that 2-feet between levels would fit in my new basement and still allow for a fair amount of “headroom” for the lower On30 layout.

I'm also a tall guy – 6-foot-3-inches. I haven't had problems with building and operating my layouts at a taller height, although some visitors have to climb up on a platform to view or run trains. The track height on my former BIRR layout was around 55-inches and I'm mounting the restructured HO layout at around 63" above the floor, a few inches lower than actual eye-level for me. I have determined I should be able to see all the tracks, reach in and over rail cars and locomotives easily to throw manual ground-throws. Since the main focus of the new Big Island Rail HO layout is continuous running around the room with limited switching operations, I'm hoping the taller stature of the narrow shelf-style layout will work just fine. With the new drop ceiling in place in the layout room, the ceiling height is around 8-feet-tall. I installed 2-foot-high backdrop around the room for this upper level layout.

       Because of the taller upper layout, I will likely build some roller platforms for myself to stand on so I and any "height-challenged" visitor/operators can actually see trains! I think a modest-size rectangular plywood box with spring-loaded castors inside (allowing the box to be rolled around easily, but when someone steps on the box, the weight retract the wheels and the box rests on the floor
) like those library step stools but only a little bigger, will create a solid vantage point.

I also wanted a two-foot-tall strip of 1/8th-inch Masonite hardboard between the upper layout benchwork and the top of the lower level benchwork for the On30 pike. This decision put the lower layout at 53-inches above the floor. For a guy my height, this would be very low for viewing and operating while standing. But I wanted a layout I could work on and operate while sitting down. This height allows me to sit in a roller-type office chair and be at an acceptable height glide along as I follow the trains around the layout.
Next time, I'll talk about developing an On30 operating scenario by creating the "image and era" of the railroad and how this helps with layout planning, creating a “mood” and bringing the railroad to life. I'll also discuss choosing my railroads' names. And, with the HO scale layout, I’ll touch upon rethinking operations in the new “around-the-room configuration.

Until next time, keep swatting them 'skeeters!

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