Model Railroad Update #2

Yes, I know you are excited, because it is time to document progress on my model railroad.  In the last episode I had build most of the benchwork and was starting to lay out the track.  Since then I have made a fair amount of progress.

So as we were saying last time, I printed the track plan full size, and then traced the lines onto the foam below using a pounce wheel, a sewing tool that looks like a spur.  You can see below that the traced lines were a bit wavy so I thin used an 8 foot long straight edge and a sharpie to draw the final centerlines for the track.  Then, I started putting down the sub roadbed, which are pre-milled pieces of homosote.

I wanted to hand lay some track, but I also wanted to get started and have some basic track up and running, so I have decided to use use code 55 flex track for the main lines and to hand lay code 40 track for the spurs, branches, and yards.  You can see below I am starting to lay the mainline flex track.  As mentioned in the last episode, I started from the crossings in the distance and started working outward from them in all four directions.

Below, more progress.  You can also see wires poking through as I start the tedious process of wiring power to all the track.  Also in the foreground you can see a code 40 turnout I built.  I am using it to figure out how to do the transitions from code 55 to code 40 track.

At the same time I am starting to build the turnout controllers.  I will be using the FastTracks bullfrog control, which is basically a manual control using flexible control rods.

At this point I realized I should have really mounted the backdrop before I started laying track so I paused and got the backdrop up.  I have used masonite before but it is really heavy.  This time I used 0.09" thick styrene sheet.  There are lots of vendors on the Internet (people use the large sheets for signs) and I was able to order sheets cut to 24" x 8 feet.  I then had to splice two together.   I used a 6" wide piece of styrene and plastic weld (bought a big can from Amazon).  It was sort of awkward, particularly to butt them exactly square.

Here it is starting to go up.  I screwed thin hardwood shims into the joists, and then glued the styrene to the wood with E6000 (I tested liquid nails but the joint was not very strong).  I put in screws to hold it at the very top and bottom.  The bottom ones will be hidden by the scenery and the top by the upper valence.


It turned out that near the corners, the shim spacing was not close enough.  I had to slip some extra shims in from above after it was installed to get the backdrop reasonably flat.  In retrospect, this was a LOT easier than masonite, though masonite is stiffer and would not have needed as much support to be flat.

Why not just paint the walls, you might ask?  Well the styrene sheet is a lot smoother even than drywall, but the payoff is really in the corner.  Here is the corner with and without the sheet.  Sky does not have corners.


The next step was to start on the wiring.  I find the wiring to be extremely tedious, but it is easier for this layout than on my past efforts because the benchwork is relatively high so I can sit in a chair and work on the wiring underneath.

Thank god for suitcase connectors, it makes wiring leads to the bus wire way easier.  And here is the growing proliferation of switch machines.


And the payoff - the first train!



  1. Solomon Foster:

    These posts are appreciated! Still think you're a bit nuts to hand lay code 40, but I'm eager to see / hear how it works out.

  2. Artemis:

    This is awesome. Love seeing the progress. If I had any request, it would be for higher rez photos.

  3. Noumenon72:

    I worked ten years making styrene just like that -- surprised it's not curled up, could they have shipped it to you flat? Cool to see someone actually using it. We would sometimes get it back the 48x96 sheets with scenes of golf courses or mountains printed on it to hang in our break room -- would make a great sky.

  4. irandom419:

    Awesome, keep it up. I have a bunch of HO stuff in boxes waiting for the right time.

  5. Jim Kenney:

    Love these posts Warren. Keep them coming

  6. sean2829:

    I am a post processor for 3D printed parts (we electroplate them to make them stronger on more durable). If you want to make any unique items for you train layout and you've got some CAD skills to draw them up, I'd be happy to print and electroplate (Cu and Ni only) them for you with a high resolution printer. The parts just have to fit in a 5.5x5.5x6.5" build volume.

  7. John Allyn:

    The posts ARE appreciated. Where do you get your Homasote subroadbed? I'm looking for HO.

  8. 笑八达:


  9. marque2:

    I bet your railroad is heavily subsidized and taking up lanes that could be used for other traffic :P

  10. Jeff Melcher:

    I wonder if I could provoke you, as a rail-fan, economic theorist, and net neutrality analyst, into considering the old Doris Day movie "It Happened to Jane" ?

    To recap VERY briefly, Jane -- Doris -- is a "content provider" of fresh Maine lobsters and her only channel of commerce is controlled by oligarch railroader Harry Malone. --Ernie Kovacs. When the rail fails to deliver on time, Doris sues and winds up owning one old steam locomotive from Malone's fleet. But Malone owns the rails and rights-of-way, so begins charging Doris rent for the days the locomotive sits on his tracks.

    ANYHOW, the interesting and pertinent scene is that when Jane loads up product and sets out in her old locomotive to market, it is shown she MUST request permission to roll along Malone -- and others' -- routes. It is similarly shown Malone MUST give her a routing: direct her and reserve her time apart from other traffic. So with maximum ill-grace Malone routes her through every side channel, whistlestop, delay-on-siding, and detour he can imagine...

    One classic example I recall illustrating a so-called "natural monopoly" back in college was a railroad bridge. Supposedly no two entities could each afford such an expensive/extensive structure; but if guaranteed monopoly control and rents, one entity might build, and be required to allow other use of, the bridge. It seems to me that AT&T is in the position of a railroad monopolist like Malone; that Netflix and Amazon are in the position of commodity bulk rail loads like grain and coal; all the while my email and blog comments are in the position of Doris Day's lobsters. And it also seems to me that the movie shows that just because the government requires the monopolist to share the bridge, actual practice under the rules is still a matter of how much good will (or otherwise) exists in the overall market.

    I also wonder -- the other example of "natural monopoly" I learned way back when was the post office. I was taught the problem doorstep delivery was so great no two competitors could afford to service any single route. As I watch my street now serviced by USPS, FedEx, UPS, Amazon's own delivery vehicles, Domino pizza logo'd private delivery vehicles ( a fleet logistics model Amazon apparently has copied), LYFT/UBER delivery, and soon WalMart, Kroger, and other grocery delivery services all moving "parcel" traffic the last mile, I'm wondering if the whole idea of natural monopoly was ever completely valid.

  11. Steve Cox:

    While I really like what you are doing may I most gently say that you apparently are laying your Homasote roadbed incorrectly? You should have two types of roadbed, one with the slots on the beveled side and one with the slots in the middle. Use one of each type and have the slots point to the inside of any curve. I cannot make out the curved sections so you may be doing this correctly there but it does not appear so. Doing it the way I described will make the slots close up and allow you to make tighter curves without breaking the roadbed. Just an FYI.

    Steve Cox
    Cascade Rail Supply

  12. Steve Cox:

    I make it.

    Steve Cox

  13. Mark Rubigreen:

    Love the layout. Any chance you would be willing to share your track plan?