Suspending layouts from the ceiling.

Discussion in 'Track Planning' started by TechOtter, Jan 10, 2008.

  1. TechOtter

    TechOtter New Member

    Hi all,
    I was at the train show in Sacramento last weekend and had the opportunity to talk to one of the members of the Sacramento Model RR Club (Historical Society?) as he was trailing his assigned train around the track that they had set up for the show. I overheard him talking to someone else about a layout that other person had suspended from their ceiling, and wanted to ask him a couple of questions about it, as I have been thinking of doing the same thing in our den and garage. Basically, I was thinking that it ought to be possible to have a series of pullies on the ceiling, and ceiling-wall corner, through which a number of cables would pass, going from some kind of winch at one end, to cleats or eye-bolts on the layout at the other end.

    The layout I am envisaging for the den is an inverted "L" with the long-vertical side being 8-9ft, the long base being about 5-6' and the thin top of the "L" being between 3 and 4 feet. This will be an N scale layout, so I'm not really worried about track radiuses (radii?). There are a number of reasons I've concocted to justify this idea:
    - Dust is lighter at the ceiling so the layout should remain cleaner than if it were at waist level.
    - Space is always at a premium wherever you go in our house.
    - That blood in me that is Scots in origin hates the idea of wasting anything, and there's all that lovely unused space near the ceiling that hasn't been crammed with good single malts.
    - Our 110lb German Shepherd can take out an entire N or HO town with one mighty sweep of his tail.
    - Our 12lb Terrier can leap (from a standing start) into my arms 4' above the ground
    - My sense of cussedness is acute enough to make me want to do anything that would solicit "He's lost his marbles" looks from anyone.

    So, does anyone here have any experience with this kind of setup, or am I the only congenitally insane person to stagger in here?

  2. RonP

    RonP Member of the WMRC

    Toronto railroad club has a layout like that i heard.

    Further reading your thread i realize this scott is F&*(^$g serious. Well
    Couple of options from a carpenters point of view.

    Anything anchored to the ceiling joists will need to be attached solidly.
    So you gotta be ready to take off the drywall to anchor off of 4 points hung down.

    You could use what is called Ready Rod it is a pre threaded rod of steel hung down through the layers you could attach washers and a few nuts. To anchor it to the ceiling you could get 4 fairly thick plate with a L and a suitable hole fore the washers and nuts.

    Double nut will lock it
  3. TechOtter

    TechOtter New Member

    The way our house is constructed, the beams that support the plywood of the angled roof, have a second set of beams directly below them, sort of cantilevered. There are no flat ceilings in the upstairs. It's cathedral ceilings everywhere. What they did do in the den, is to slap some gyproc over the beams that we can see from below, so the ceiling slopes upwards from the walls towards the peak at a 15 to 20 degree angle. The beams are big. I'm thinking 4x6 at least from a visual estimate. The problem of course, is that they're spaced about 4 feet apart (I just did a rough measure on the wall in the mstr bedrm) and I'm not going to have as great a choice in where to put the lag bolts that would hold up the pullies. That being said, I'm looking at 5, preferably 6, anchor points on the sloping beams, and a layout that is as light as possible. So, here's the beginning of the plan:
    1. Cookie cutter construction on 2" or 3" styrofoam ... Will air spaces between tracks reduce weight significantly?
    2. Styrofoam supported on all five sides ("L" shape) by 5/8"x4" pine and underneath by slats under the foam. Similar to how box springs are supported on some bed frames.
    3. Digitraxx DCC and power hookups through quick-disconnect cables when the layout is lowered. No power or control boxes on the layout itself. Too heavy.
    4. No plaster. Going to use geodesic (Bragdon enterprises) foam for the scenery base, rocks, etc.
    5. Most building models laser-cut wood or card stock.
    The other points I'm thinking of now are:
    1. What type of rope / cabling to use. Has to be flexible more than it has to be strong. Clothesline is too thick, but something similar and thinner would do the trick.
    2. What sort of power to turn the winch to lower and raise the layout (human power, or electrical).
    3. What kind of winch?
    I think I can secure the ends of the cables to screw-eyes bolted through the sides of the frame at the 5 corners and in the middle of the long side... Dang, this is fun, ain't it? :yep:

  4. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    There was considerable discussion on your subject here about a year ago. I believe the individual who wanted to do the suspended layout was in Australia. I can't remember what the outcome was. Did you try a search on The Gauge?
  5. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

  6. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Whatever scheme you come up with, I would suggest a wooden frame (1x5) with 2" styrofoam decking as the lightest/strongest combination.

    I think that having the layout in two pieces (i.e. "vertical" and "horizontal" parts of the L) would be easier. I would lower it onto legs, rather than have it hang from the ceiling all the time. Winching it up is basically for storage.

    A human powered winch would probably do the trick - try one like is used to get power boats onto a trailer. More than enough capacity.

    Good luck! I second the suggestion for a search here, as this topic was covered before...

  7. RonP

    RonP Member of the WMRC

    Steel stranded cabling would work for you with a winch or HD electric downriger unit as well i guess but it would swing around especially if the dog hit it.

    The 4 point peice of advice still applies stable and level is always the way to start from a carpentry point of view. Each step you try to accomplish will have an easy answer and a complicated answer. Go the easy way 90% of the time and your set.
  8. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Some thoughts on the idea:

    1) Anything but a rectangular shape is going to be much more difficult to engineer from many aspects. The frame has to be extremely rigid, but still be light weight. The layout has to raise and lower smoothly and evenly to avoid derailing or moving rolling stock on the rails.

    2) Fiber rope has too much stretch to keep things even. Wire rope is recommended.

    3) This is critical. Pulley system has to have the exact same "down" angle from every pulley to the support points on the frame. If anything but straight down is used, all pulleys must be in the same horizontal plane and all support points must be in the same horizontal plane. Otherwise, one corner will rise faster than another.

    4) Add counterweights as layout weight increases to reduce effort to raise/lower. But remember that with counterweights, you are doubling the strain on the pulleys and their mounts.

    5) Legs or similar stabilization are essential when layout is lowered. Otherwise, you are trying to work on a giant pendulum.

    6) For any fold up, lift up, or other "portable" layout scheme, the more effort required to position and prepare the layout for storage or operations, the less the layout will be used. The layout ends up being left in the stored position because it's too much effort to set up for a few minutes worth of operations or construction. Or, if you are very, very fortunate, it never gets lifted into the up position.

    In all the hobby magazine write-ups of "lifting" and "fold-up" layouts, I have never heard of said layouts actually lasting more than about 3 years in active use. I'd like to be proven wrong - that there are indeed folks that are satisfied over the long term with these type of layouts. But it hasn't happened yet. Apparently, the extra effort, "pain", and the compromises take away from the pleasure of the hobby too much. This is why much smaller layouts that are always accessible often satisfy the owner more and see much more attention than a large layout that takes 30 minutes to prepare for each use. A point to consider: modular layout setups go to great lengths to devise schemes to reduce setup/take-down times. Even then, most module owners only do about 4-5 setups a year due to the effort involved. And most modular groups would jump at any chance to have a site for a permanent setup.

    my thoughts, your choices
  9. RonP

    RonP Member of the WMRC

    I agree the pullies could be lagged to a frame leveled.
  10. TechOtter

    TechOtter New Member

    Searched... but maybe not the right words...

    Yup. Searched "Track Planning..." using
    • ceiling
    • suspended
    • suspended ceiling
    Not a lot of luck, and that's why I titled my original post the way that I did. Hope somebody in the future finds it of some use. Checked the FAQs as well. Didn't check any of the other subgroups yet because I thought that this was the right place to pose the question.

    ...besides which... if he was in Austrailia, wouldn't it be pullies on the floor leading to a layout suspended upside down in mid-air?? :twisted:
  11. TechOtter

    TechOtter New Member

    Advanced search using....

    Well... I just checked the entire forum in advanced search using suspended layout ceiling, and found a thread called "Layout progress photos for SFJ" started by Santa Fe Jack in the HO Scale Model Trains forum in July 2006. Went to his website at Tauxe's HO Train Layout and found it to be pretty much everything I was wondering about, although some of the design details vary. My bad. Mea Culpa. Oops. Kind of interesting though to see someone else who is as warped as I am... and disappointing to find I'm not unique. Now... who else here has developed a hamster-powered turntable?

  12. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    One other consideration before you try to suspend your layout. I don't know where you live, but generally roof joices are designed to support the roof, ceiling, and any loads that may add to the weight of the roof (ie-snow loads if you live in snow country). In California, there is extra bracing required to tie everything together in the event of an earth quake. Your beams may seem big, but on 4 foot centers, a layout that isn't carefully engineered for light weight, may over stress the beams in the roof. You are also going to need a place to store all of the rolling stock. I don't think it is really practical to design a pulley/cable system that would allow the layout to lower and raise without either tipping or swinging. If the layout moves in any direction except straight up or down, any rolling stock will roll around.

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