Starting a layout

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by sapblatt, Nov 19, 2008.

  1. sapblatt

    sapblatt New Member

    Hi - new to the forum...long time enthusiast, rare hobbiest. Having two young boys who look like drug addled lunatics whenever they see at train - real or otherwise has got me going again...I want to do something right this time - have it work properly.

    I am looking to make a generally interesting layout some freight, some passenger which I know will not be great on a small layout, except for possibly trolleys (4' x 8') maybe with a street running down the middle with tall buildings to break it up a bit...I know I am asking a lot here - but here it goes...

    1. I have always just done a sheet of wood on top of a pine frame - this is probably not the best way to go? I keep hearing about using two inch foam on top - would that be on top of the wood, or on top of the pine frame? Is it strong enough alone? How hard is it to cut? How much does the foam go for? I am guessing it is a Home Depot type product? If using the foam as a base how does one elevate the track for grades? Another layer of foam? Can you attache wood supports to the foam? Am I way off here?

    2. Road bed - I used to use cork, but never really new how to deal with it on curves and generally made a mess and hated it - I have also heard about Homosote - any advice here? Do you use Homosote for a base like the 2 " foam, or do you just use it as a road bed like cork. Can you paint the foam?

    3. DCC vs. traditional - I am leaning towards DCC - but need to keep it faily economical and easy to set up...which brings up my fear of soldering - have never had any luck with that...

    4. Laying track - I have always winged it - never had it come out great - always had trouble with switches, etc...I have a lot of books and have been looking at some software for planning...I want my curves true, my trunouts correct (not derailing or stalling) and my wiring solid - advice? books? tips?

    5. If this goes well I am going to try something bigger - I am somewhat enamored with the old Boston Elevated Railway - but to make any of this accurate I am going to have to make the cars and hand lay the I want to get something going that will give my boys some fun and develop my skills.

    Any thoughts or input are greatly appreciated - I have enjoyed and got a lot out of what I have read here so far.

  2. iis612

    iis612 Member

    Hi, welcome to the forum. :wave:

    You came to the right place for answers. The wealth of knowledge available here is second to none.

    1. Their are several methods for creating the benchwork. 2" foam is 1 of them. It is fairly easy to cut, but you should invest in a hot wire cutter. It should have an underlay, such as plywood or OSB, as the foam itself is not strong enough. It is a Home Depot item, and is usually found in the same area as the other insulation materials. Depending on what you are wanting to do with the layout, bridges, cuts, mountains, etc... 2" might not be thick enough. It is available in some areas up to 4" thick. That stuff still needs an underlay too. The foam can be painted too.

    2. There are several products that can be used for road-bed. Cork, Foam, Homasote (which is used like cork in most instances), and track that has roadbed attached, such as the Bachmann EZ-Track. When you are putting your curves down, you have to be certain that the cork has been cut down it's centerline, it makes it alot easier to bend.

    3. Your fear of soldering is something that you should overcome regardless of your choice of DCC or analog. DCC has some great features, but mostly they are geared more for larger layouts. I am not saying that DCC is the wrong choice for a 4x8. I would read up on that one some more. Check out the DCC forum here. There are several books available. Check with your local library, or go to your LHS. You can also search for Gateway NMRA, they have extensive information about DCC available.

    4. Tracklaying has been the subject of ALOT of books, and articles. My best tip, be patient. When you are laying track, make sure you mark the centerline onto your benchwork, and work from your track plan. Look down the rail. I mean get your cheek right on the rail and look down it. If it looks messed up, then it probably is. Watch your guage, and make sure that your locos and rolling stock are all in guage as well.

    Model railroading is a lifetime hobby. Your boys and you will get to spend some quality time together doing something that develops skills, and taps into that creative part of the brain. Take your time with the layout, and enjoy every second that you get to share it with your kids.

  3. sapblatt

    sapblatt New Member

    Thanks for all the tips so far - the boys are 2 1/2 and almost 6...I let them run the trains, but not touch the trains - they have their GeoTrax they can throw around...I am doing the building - they can be the operators - the older one loves running around and picking up cars and dropping them and going to stations - after a couple of sessions on our small layout I got him to realize that it was fun not have the trains go "full speed" all the time...
  4. sgtcarl

    sgtcarl Member

    Welcome to the greatest forum on the greatest hobby! (And amen to the not going full throttle all the time!)
  5. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I made a 4x8 Lionel layout using only 2" foam but supported all around and every 15" by a wood frame.
    My HO layout is Homasote top with foam scenery. I didn't make roadbed provision on this, so track is mounted directly on Homasote.
    The usual use of Homasote is cutting it to make roadbed, although some use it in the full sheets on top of plywood (or whatever).
    Homasote takes screws and spikes and holds; foam tears away or enlarges.
    Foam can be cut with a knife or hot wire (Ventilate!). Long straight cuts can be made by scoring and hen bending. With a saw blade it produces a very tenacious dust. Homasote also produces dust when sawn, but it doesn't cling the same way. I use a toothless saw blade when I can find one.
    Foam comes in 2", 1" and 1/2" sheets. I think the 2" cost about the same as 1/2" plywood (or was it the 1"?) Pink and blue (and yellow?) are different manufaturers. Watch out for stuff with a layer of protective film; that has to be removed. Foam takes Latex paint well. It should be painted for fire safety. It won't cut with a hot wire after painting.
    Cork and rubber (WS) roadbed are split down the middle and the middle laid to the track centre line. Cork holds nails better and is sturdier for hand-laying track. I glued rubber roadbed to foam and then glued the track down.
    Woodland Scenics makes foam risers and trackbed and slopes, plus a whole pile of other items for scenery. I think we have a couple of threads on here where members have used it.
    Grades can be made by cutting the appropriate section out of the foam and bending it up. The thinner foams are better for this.
    I glue using Lepage's green (water based?) contact cement.
  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    For the youngsters:
    I use throttles powered by Lionel transformers (the old ones). If you cut the transformers back a bit it limits the top speed.
  7. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Hi sapblatt...

    Welcome! Some quick answers to your questions, in addition to the good info above...

    1. I would second David/60103's point about the 2" foam. If you get the extruded[/] type (smooth uniform texture, usually blue or pink) 2" thick is strong enough when supported by a frame with centres from 16" to 24".

    If you use the white "beaded" styrofoam (white or pink actually, crumbly "bead" texture) it will need support underneath. It is messy to work with as well, and really is only useful for landforms, having no structural strength.

    You can create your benchwork (underlying frame) from just about anything. A number of guys I know have opted for steel stud benchwork. Very light and strong, and it goes together very quickly. Just be sure to invest in duct tape to cover the sharp edges when you're done.

    2. I have always used cork roadbed, but have tried a new experiment recently. I carved the profile of the roadbed right into the foam. The advantage is that for lesser used branchlines, this represents the less than ideal ballast profile you might expect to see. The track comes out only slightly elevated compared with the surroundings, versus raised high like a high speed modern mainline.

    3. DCC is a great option for the kids (and adults!). Easy to run multiple trains simultaneously (watch for collisions!) and sound is always appreciated by the kids. There are a number of "starter" sets out there, but some (like Digitrax Zephyr) are easy to expand, and some (like Bachmann EZ DCC) are not.

    Soldering skills will come with practice. I know I need more practice...! ;)

    4. I lay my track (and cork) directly on the foam using latex caulking. Easy to do, and you can keep the cork or track in place with map pins until it dries. It is easy to lift if needed - simply break the bond with a putty knife.

    You might want to draw out your track plan on the benchwork using a straight edge, and a compass or blending curve for the curves. One of the best things to do when laying track is to get your eye down as close to the track and sight along it. You can also test each section as you go by running you most "troublesome truck" over the completed section.

    One place to be careful is at joints. Again, sight along them, and if using flex track, solder the pieces together before curving them into place. Trying to solder a curved joint is difficult.

    5. Instead of building one layout and then scrapping in favour of another, why not do it in phases? Build you first piece so that it can be incorporated into the next.

    I have two girls (now 4 1/2 and 7) and the oldest has been "training" with me since she was 2 or so. Get some junkers (engines, buildings, rolling stock) that they can paint, or some other activity that keeps them interested and doing the same thing that Dad does.

    Good luck with your project(s)! Hope to hear more about your plans/progress.

  8. green_elite_cab

    green_elite_cab Keep It Moving!

    before we go any further, Athearn blue box locomotives are probably some of the more resiliant model trains you can buy. It may be wise to start with these since they are strong and reliable, and can handle rough handling. One (which was also my third locomotive) accidentally went camping with me to rhode island for a week, and it still works fine!

    There are more efficient ways to use a 4x8 sheet of wood then just a rectangular table. while that is standard and easy, don't hesistate to consider other ways your space can be used. You may like it better as a result. In fact, a 4x8 can be cut and reshaped to give more useable area, and a longer mainline. On a traditional 4x8, the corners usually do not afford much space to put things in, and you cannot fit mainline tracks into them.

    You can cut and rearrange your 4x8 into a long hexagonal shape, which takes your 4 corners and turns them into two, letting you access space you would have previously lost. this also gives you the advantage of a longer run for your trolleys.

    It is and it isn't. It really depends on what you want to do. I have a more urban layout, so i can get away with being perfectly fat.

    Using the foam allows you carve your scenery a bit. For example, a pond or an irrigation ditch is usually dug deeper into the ground than is level. If you build on a solid piece of plywood, good luck digging that ditch! with the foam, you can just get a knife and start scooping out the foam to make your pond.

    normall you'd just glue then to the plywood table, but if you need any deeper features, some modelers build an open frame instead. I doubt you want to get into that complicated mess on the first layout though.

    my club used homosote for the subroadbed, and i don't like it. its to messy and stiff. using Midwest Product's cork is still best. I just nail it down with track nails and stagger the pieces on curves to avoid trouble.

    My club now uses the foam to build anything else on top of the homosote. THe foam can and should be painted.

    Just got DCC and buy a good system like NCE powercab (trust me, it gives you the most bang for the buck. Powercab is a superior starting system compared to the digitrax zephyr and others).

    Invest in a DCC equipped locomotive so that you can atleast run as soon as possible. Its not worth it to stick to DC, since you won't get the same operational ability, and for your small layout, DCC reduces the wiring considerably.

    Most decoders don't require soldering. Most have a plug of some kind that allows them to go into the locomotive, or wire connectors.

    while talking about DCC, (and i know i'll get shot on this forum for it) stay away from digitrax. Digitrax is popular on this forum, but it is not a brand you want to stick to. Their products are either behind the current offerings by competitors in function, or they have reliability issues. If you are going to spend the money, don't buy a DCC set that doesn't afford you everything you can get for the same money!

    Their zephyr and other sets are expensive, but don't have nearly the same amount of features as other dcc sets in their class. Sure you can "expand" the set, to get the same functionality as say, the powercab, but then you're spending more money.

    Almost every digitrax decoder i own has had to go back to the shop for repair the moment i got it, and from the looks of things, most people i know have also always had bad expiriences with their products. NCE and TCS are probably the most reliable decoders available, (I've used most brands in my locomotives already), so stick to them!

    As far as software goes, the freeware Right Track Software by Atlas is ok, but it is TOO exact, and many pieces that merge together fine in real life are bent out of wack on the RTS program.

    Buying most beginner books will tell you how to lay track. My biggest suggestion is to use Flex track. It removes most gaps in the rails that cause derailments or loss of power, and as long as you keep your curves uniform and broad enough, you won't have a problem. You'll only have to deal with joining the rails between flextrack sections and the switches. the trains will stall less if at all. just remember to clean the track!

    For switches, its a matter of just investing in higher quality stuff, and doing a little maitenance before you solidly mount down the switch, and making sure your switch is big enough to handle what you're doing.

    Avoid S-curves at all costs! faulty track arrangements also cause big derailments. A crossove is ok, just make sure it doesn't immeadiately go into a curce after a crossover unless it is curving the same way.
  9. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    You mentioned having trouble soldering. Near the bottom of the index page for the Gauge in the "Reference Section" is a Tips and Tricks forum. There is a thread that gives a good tutorial on soldering. The one caution that I would give you is to look closely at any solder you buy. The Home Depots and Lowes stores out here in California are eliminating lead from their product lines. The last time I looked for solder for electrical work at one of those stores, I discovered that they had dropped 50/50 and 40/60 which are both lead based products in favor of 95/5 which is 95% tin and 5% antimony. 95/5 is good solder, I used it for years in refrigeration repair because the lead based solders won't take the pressures of refrigeration systems. The downside of 95/5 is that it melts at a temp about 200 degrees than 50/50 or 40/60. If you use 95/5, you will need a bigger soldering iron than you will need for the other solders.

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