Resurrecting a dead layout 30 years later

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by beckyb, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. beckyb

    beckyb New Member

    When I first got out of college and on my own, I decided to build a nice N-scale layout. I built a plan I found in an N-scale book. It’s 6’x4’, has a 2x4 frame and plywood for the top. I laid the track, got it running, and then my social life interfered, complete with husband. So, for the next 3 decades, I lugged the thing from house to house, always planning to get back to it (and in the meantime buying engines, rolling stock, buildings, people, etc). Well, now I’m approaching retirement and have decided this would be a great project.

    Unfortunately, over the years the German foam roadbed I used has crumbled and deteriorated to a big mess. So, at a minimum, the track has to be pulled up and re-laid. I have about a dozen engines of various types, about 100 cars rolling stock (used to buy cars after Christmas at Woolco’s for $0.09 in the early 70’s!). I also have a city’s-worth of buildings and accessories. I am having fun right now building some buildings, painting them, adding “curtains”, that kinda stuff (yeah, it’s great being a girl, you can admit to liking “cute” things), and planning little vignettes. I’m not aiming at super-realism, but want more than a bare-plastic stuck-together look. Mountains and tunnels are a must.

    I would appreciate some advice before I get too far along.

    1) It’s obvious from reading this forum that building methods have changed. Would I be better off tossing this layout and building something out of foam with a lighter frame? I’m not planning on moving it, but are there other advantages of the foam that would make losing the time invested in this one worthwhile?

    2) Would it make any sense to add a thin foam layer to the entire top? Not sure what this would do for me…

    3) I am vacillating between simplifying the track plan (it can be made into one huge loop that doubles back several times) and going DCC. When I got the track running long ago, I was disappointed in how much effort and concentration it took to keep two trains running on it, with the reversing loops, etc. Especially at this stage of life I’m more tempted by “watching the pretty train go ‘round.” But getting the acceleration/deceleration functions, sounds, individual control of trains, etc sounds like a lot of fun. I don’t have unlimited $$$, but am willing to spend a bit to get something I’m pleased with. I’m leaning toward the Zephyr. Any comments?

    4) I haven’t found anything that discusses the size issue for DCC decoders. Are they small enough to fit in the engine, or will I have to use dummies with the diesels and tenders on the steam for them? Will I be able to retrofit my old stock to work with them? I’m a reasonably competent solderer, but don’t want to get into too much of a mess getting things to work.

    5) Can you add sound effects in N-scale? Enough room? Everything I have read about sound talks about 1” speakers, obviously not an N-scale solution.

    6) Long ago I also put together a small oval layout for Christmas. I drilled holes under the buildings and used a string of Christmas lights to light the houses. How do y’all light buildings? I’m sure I’d need to use a dimmer with the Christmas lights, to keep the heat down, but is this a reasonable idea?

    Lots of questions, and I’m sure I’ll have lots more as I go, but I’ve been very impressed with the thoughtful and knowledgeable posts on this forum. Thanks in advance for your advice! I'll also post some pics of the mess I'm starting with.

  2. beckyb

    beckyb New Member

  3. Catt

    Catt Guest

    Hi beckyb,welcome to the Gauge.I hope you enjoy your time here.

    First things first,there is nothing wrong with the way your layout is built right now. If you want to use extruded foam you can remove your track and roadbed and lay the foam down on the benchwork you allready have.

    The main advantage to the foam is you can carve creeks and ditches and even lakes in it.I would suggest that you use 1" foam for the base over your plywood.

    If you desire to simplyfy your track plan now would be the time since you will be pulling the track up anyway.My personal opinion would be to relay the track like it is now with out fastening anything down permanently and let it set for a few days.If after that time you like it than anchor the stuff down.Otherwise change it to something you might like better but then again live with it for a few days.

    As for the DCC decoders they are made in N scale sizes. Unless some of your locos a fairly new you may have to have the frames milled for clearance and then hardwire the decoders in.Most if not all N steam mounts the decoders in the tender.Sound if not allready available ,soon will be.

    Using Christmas lights to light your buildings has been around for a long time.If your using the kind with the plug in wall transformer you needn't worry too much about the heat as these bulbs are very low voltage.

    Well before this turns into a book I'll let someone else have a shot at your questions.
  4. Clerk

    Clerk Active Member

    Hi Beckyb. I also would like to welcome you to the gauge.
    I agree 100 percent with Catt. He has some very good ideas there.
    What kind of track do you have. The section type or the long type
    like the Atlas that bends?
  5. Papa Bear

    Papa Bear Member

    Welcome to The Gauge, Becky.:wave: You're layout looks good; there's plenty of room for buildings and scenery.
  6. cidchase

    cidchase Active Member

    Of course, Becky, what we all want to know is if you're still
    lugging that husband from house to house along with the
    layout :D :D

    Is your track soldered? Is it glued down or nailed? I guess what I'm
    thinking is that replacing the roadbed under it might not be to difficult.
    You already have the elevations and cutouts you want using the
    plywood; so, unless you're thinking a major re-configuration, you
    might want to keep it as is and skip the foam.

    Or you could just scrap the whole thing an go for an around-the-walls

    Or maybe save that idea for the next layout! :thumb:

    Have we been any help yet????? :rolleyes:
  7. Oroka

    Oroka Member

    Welcome to the forums!

    1) If you dont plan on moving it ever again, then staying with what you have is fine, not a big deal. If there was one really good reason to scrap what you have and start fresh, would be the fun of doing it all again.

    2) That would alter the clearance of your tunnel.

    3) I think with some thought you can set-up a dual line layout, connected by a few turnouts. If you want one big continous run, the turnouts can be opened to allow that.

    4) Firstly, I havent worked with DCC, but I have seen and understand them. IMO if you are comfortable with soldering, then try it on one of your engines.

    5) I would assume it is or will be on the market soon. I think N scale is growing in popularity, so there will be a higher demand for such hardware.

    6) Christmas lights would be alright, and simple to use, but maybe LEDs would be better. They can be brighter, they last for decades, draw next to no power, and create little heat. It might take some custom wiring, but it is very simple.
  8. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    Welcome to The Gauge, Becky. :wave: I see you're already in good hands so, I'll leave you at that. :thumb:
  9. Tileguy

    Tileguy Member

    Becky, you had some serious talent you let lay dormant!! :)

    Lets Start from the beginning shall we.

    #1- What do you want this layout to be?
    a)- an operational mini transportation system
    b)- a place to just run trains for display and model scenic elements
    c)- a combination of both.

    #2- Are you happy with the trackplan as it is?
    a) Does this plan suit your needs to provide you satisfaction with answer to #1?
    b) Does this trackplan fall short of your needs and desires?

    #3- Is this size model rr going to meet your desires
    a)- do you have room for a walk around layout (spare room, basement area etc)
    b)- are you tied to this size or have no additional room?

    Givens and Druthers is a term we use for planning out our needs, desires and developing a plan based on our equipment, prototype or freelance RR.
    It helps us define where we want to go with the RR.
    This Link will help you to start from the beginning and determine if the RR you have been lugging around with you will be a good jumping off point........or if you really want to start anew.
    Let us know what you come up with and everyone here will do what we can to help you reach your goals and dreams as you return to this Greatest Hobby of model RR ing :)
    This link is to the NMRA Layout design primer. It is very well done and really makes you Think ahead about what you want and how to get there!! :)
  10. GeorgeHO

    GeorgeHO Member

    Hi, Does your husband know that you are the perfect wife?
    Your layout looks great, however I can see what you mean by spending too much time operating it because of reversing loops and switching all the time. You appearently have a method of hooking up one large looped layout, but I have a drwaing of how you could have two trains running continuously, and another doing switching.
  11. GeorgeHO

    GeorgeHO Member

    If you add a third track coming down the left side from the mountain, you can have one train on a short loop (track 2 with ties drawn in) and your main train on a path through your layout hitting all the spots.
    The main "A" train could go counterclockwise from the front center of the layout (which I marked Abby Lane) to Beckysville, under the mountain, through the middle of the layout, back to Abby Lane on track 3 traveling clockwise, up the mountain to Charlotte, loop over to the right side of the layout, back again, and down the mountain on track 1 back to Abby Lane. You could watch the trains all day without throwing a switch.
  12. GeorgeHO

    GeorgeHO Member

    Sorry, I've tried twice to upload a layout, hope this works.

    Attached Files:

  13. beckyb

    beckyb New Member

    First of all --thanks to all who have replied, there's a lot of great info for me to digest. [​IMG]

    Clerk: The track is mostly Flex with some sections. I plan to use as much Flex as I can, and the tip I saw on the forum about soldering the pieces together before laying is great! I remember trying to get those ends lined up, sawing, rails popping off, ugh! I hope to reuse a good portion of the track, although I'm guessing the remote switches aren't going to function after all this time.

    cidchase: As to the husband, unfortunately I lost him a number of years ago. But, I've been dating a great guy for the last year and a half, and it looks likely that I'll take the plunge again. So nice to have someone to be close to again! He has expressed some interest in the layout, so I'm hoping to get him involved.

    The track is nailed down. I pulled up a section at the front to see what it will be like, and it should be fairly easy.

    Oroka: Thanks for pointing out that adding a layer of foam would alter the tunnel clearances -- that settles that point. I'll stay with the plywood as is.

    GeorgeHO: I really like the plan you came up with for two lines, will be much more interesting than just one. Thanks! And, I'm just hoping Bruce will think I'll be the perfect wife!

    Tileguy: You certainly gave me a lot to think about. I read the primer you linked to, and several vague thoughts have started to gel. I think my plan will be to get the track laid and running, do the initial scenery base and color so it looks semi-finished even if empty, then work forever on the rest. Most of the enjoyment for me is going to be in the buildings and details. I'd love to have shop windows with actual things in them, people moving about doing things, night lighting, etc.

    The primer's emphasis on picking a location and era helped me to focus on what I want, too. I'd like to do the area I grew up, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in the '50's. I think that means I can mix steam and diesel, right? And I remember seeing Reading, Pennsy, and B&O trains. I will probably concentrate on Reading, since that was only a short distance from Pottstown. That also means I can use a lot of memories for industries, like Kiwi shoe polish and Mrs. Smith's Pies (both original to Pottstown), some of the stores like Levitz, Schmidt's beer distributor, the Firestone plant, the Mercury newspaper.

    Now the biggest problem will be researching. I could find sites with area history in the 18th and 19th centuries, but not more recent. I may have to just rely on memories for most of that. It's going to have to be my version of the town, anyway.

    Anyone know of a site that helps out with what type of rolling stock belonged in Eastern Pennsylvania in the 1950's?

    I think I am going to be happy with the track plan and the size of the layout. It's in a 3rd floor room, a finished-off attic area that is 15'x33'. On the other end I have built-in cabinets where I have all my other hobby stuff (sewing machine, art stuff, and jewelry making station). The train layout fits just right, with access room around it, except for the slanting roof in the back.

    Thanks, everybody! I'm sure I'll have more to ask!
  14. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    Welcome to The Gauge!

    Re: Digitrax Zephyr - I have one and am very pleased. There are a number of things I like about it:

    1) You can expand the system at any time, using any of the other Digitrax components, like throttles, receivers, boosters, and so on.

    2) It has a "full" keyboard - that is not many of the buttons have more than one function (the easy exception is the function keys are the number keys)

    3) It can read and write CV values when programming decoders (not all DCC systems do this, and not all decoders support it, however)

    4) You can hook up up to two old "smooth" (non-pulse) DC powerpacks for use as "jump" throttles. This allows you to run more trains using your old equipment.

    One thing I don't like, but which can be easily solved is that it does not come with a wlka around throttle. I plan to remedy this at some point with a radio receiver and a UT-4R, which is the basic radio throttle.

    Hope that helps.

  15. Papa Bear

    Papa Bear Member

    Fallen Flag RR Photos is a great site for looking for photos of old railroad equipment. There are photos available for most railroads. Just pick the one you want and browse through the photos. Usually, they have the date and location with the picture.

    Hope that helps.

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