Looking Ahead: Plans for Version 2


Version 2 footprint, simplified lines, easier to manage, keeping the parts we like, and improving the sports that version 1 was lacking in.

Solutions to the issues I identified with the previous layout construction are fairly easy to come by.  Implementing them will take a little time, but it’s time well spent.

Let’s start at the bottom.  Ever since I spotted tables being built using black metal pipe, I’ve wanted build layout legs with that material.  The weight of the product makes worrying about a tip-over of a top-heavy layout less of a factor. The pipe also comes pre-cut and threaded into useful lengths.  We decided to test-build a 3’ section, and it went up fantastically.  The legs, once cleaned of manufacturing oils, painted, and Loctite-ed together will not come apart.  The strength of the material and the lack of cutting in doing the assembly is part of the appeal, as is the appearance.  The legs will look very industrial. Additionally, I found locking casters with 4” wheels that have a max weight per caster of 300 lbs.  That boost, and the number of legs we plan to employ, going from 10 to 13 legs, will increase the 1500 lbs all the way up to 3900 lbs.  Even using the pipe, we’ll be well under that weight target, meaning the layout will be sound from the ground up to the benchwork.

Moving upward, the benchwork needs a rethink.  The things I liked using, the pocket screws, the glue, and the plywood, will be back.  However, I’ve come to several conclusions about my own ability with the tools I have and have room for.  I do not see up-close safely enough to cut the lumber properly.  It’s not that I can’t cut, it’s that I can’t cut safely.  In order to see what I’m doing, my face winds up being inches away from a saw blade.  Not the best position.  Additionally, I want to use integrated “C” braces that will let me support the backdrop and a ceiling to the layout along with the valence, all as one unit this time.  To solve this set of issues, we’ve decided to use products from modelrailroadbenchwork.com to construct the benchwork.  The site there includes “C” brackets, and those will be incorporated into the design.  

The decking will be the same material, 1/2” plywood, but again, instead of trying to use project panels or cutting the majority of the cuts here, I’ll have those cuts made at a local lumber yard.  The backdrop and ceiling of the layout will bet an upgrade from masonite panels and foam core to 1/4” plywood pieces, again cut to order, and the masonite for the valence and fascia will also be cut and brought in.  I can make some minor cuts to length here if necessary.

On top of the decking, 2” foam will once again be used, but before installing it, all of it will be cut to size, test fit, and then glued down, which means the river / stream location will be cut in ahead of installation.  

The footprint will change a little with these revisions.  The front edge “S”, while cool looking and interesting on the track plan, made visually checking for level and straight very difficult.  The curve in the giant L will still be there, but the right hand end of the benchwork will simply be a  straight shot.  

Some of these things are new, like the metal legs, and some are things I’ve used, like the plywood for the benchwork, and the professionally cut sections (I used a different manufacturer for some benchwork on my original YV layout 10 years ago).  The construction here should allow the layout to move less as I can work on the backdrop from the front and not need to move the layout around as much.  Even so, it’ll be desirable to move the thing around for operating.  


Test legs from metal pipe.  The caps used on the floor will be replaced by casters that can handle the weight of the whole layout section, and there’s the possibility of adding a shelf.

Orders have already been placed, some test-parts have been secured, and all the old lumber and benchwork has left the building.  I can’t wait to start getting this layout back up.

In the mean time, I’m going to lay out the track plan on paper.  A few tweaks might be in order, and doing that full size is the next task.

It’s time to get to work!



Looking Back: Version 1


Failure analysis on the version one of the ACP branch was fairly quick.  A few things stand out as glaring failure points, and addressing those things is key to the success of what will be version two.


The visible symptom that started the whole conversation about dismantling and going back better was a series of large bubbles and folds that began to appear on the styrene.  Those bubbles arose after putty and sanding time was put into fixing seams, but even those were covering what eventually became an issue stemming from how I built the backdrop support, and tied to the valence supports.  Those supports were composed of large “L” shaped brackets made up of 1” wide strips of 3/4” plywood.  There was a glue joint at the corner of the “L”, and then strengthened by metal brackets.  As I sandwiched the wood “L” with 2’ by 4’ masonite panels and attached everything with screws to the layout benchwork, over the 12’ and then the 5’ of the length, the height of the whole assembly dropped from 19” to 18”.  With the backdrop up, and the valence installed, the spans on those “L” supports all experienced failures of the glue joints, and the rounded corner on the valence needed an additional support added by creating a “suspension bridge” using parts from a picture hanging kit.  All these failures were compounded in the left hand end, where multiple attempts to straighten, strengthen, and match everything involved employing several layers of styrene sheet and putty.  When we went to pull the styrene off the backdrop, everything started to fail completely, and when I pulled the first set of screws out, the who valence/backdrop essentially fell off the layout.


Level and square.  Level and square.  Level and square.  In addition to trying to fix the issues with the backdrop loosing it’s 1’, dealing with the left end of the layout that somehow wound up 5 to 6 degrees out of straight, and then other support drops all along the length involved several support additions to the legs, and attempts to ship to vertical the end of the layout.  Those things failed, badly, and nothing ever wound up completely ‘fixed’.  Additionally, the benchwork was constructed from pieces of past projects essentially recycled and adjusted.  While that’s not bad, the extra weight of the pieces added to deal with the adjustments simply made for an unwieldy and heavy for the sake of heave, not for structure, plywood mess.


Noticeably, the foam for the stream bed was omitted from being cut out at the time of installation.  Fixing that required me to dig out and chisel away at the location.  I never was really happy with how it turned out, but had multiple “fix” adjustments planned for dealing with that issue.


The double”H” legs were essentially a success.  The modification of the Modutrak design worked well, and if this layout had been stationary, those would have been sufficient, with the addition of the angle support braces to hold up the layout above, to manage this layout.  That said, the casters were an utter failure.  The failure there can be traced to a couple of factors, but those things combined to create a hidden disaster ready to strike, and to that end, I’m glad to have taken the layout down now, rather than get much further.  The failure essentially stems from the fact that I didn’t do any kind of calculations for the weight of the layout when I purchased the casters, and didn’t take into account any of the stresses moving the structure around would put on the connection between the metal and wood.  The tiny screws used to hold the “T” nuts in place began to fail and pull out.  The simple fact that the 150b per caster weight wasn’t enough and the screws began to fail, meant that everything was vibrating and not rolling properly, though I couldn’t see that until the layout started being taken down.

Onward.  Finding the solutions to the problems will involve some changes, but those will be for the better.

Time to start planning ACP branch, version 2.


R.I.P. The ACP Branch V1.0


Well…. I suppose everything is a learning experience.

I went out this morning and got the supplies to start painting the fascia.  After much debate, a color of PPG paint called “Forrest Black” was picked, and I happily picked that up and went on about getting another color called “Ash Blue” to dry brush a fade into the backdrop./. Looking forward to making some progress with the layout this weekend, and really getting the ‘look’ going.

I got home, and my wife and I were looking at the layout, and noticed that the styrene was ‘bubbling’ away from the masonite backdrop.  Uh oh.  The bubbles were big.  Then we noticed that the glue joints for the valence supports were all failing.  Uh oh.  We decided to see if the styrene could be removed and replaced.  Um… oh no.

It only took about an hour to tear everything down.  The valence came off, the backdrop peeled back, and the legs came off.  A sawmill will be secured to dismantle the main benchwork.  Version 1.0 of this layout came down with a whimper, not really a thud.

When I took the legs off, some of the casters even pulled out of the legs as I laid the layout down.

Ultimate fail.

Lessons learned:

     * Overbuild

     * When in doubt, overbuild

In all seriousness, I learned that I need to either buy more tools, like a large table saw, to properly cut plywood, or I need to buy pre-cut plywood.  I learned that creating a fake “C” truss is not as good as using a real “C” truss.  I learned that I need better screws for just about everything.  Level is key, uniform length is key, covering mistakes doesn’t work.

Onward.  I still intend to have this first section of layout standing up this summer if at all possible.

Time to get back to the workbench!


Try, Try, Try, and… then Rethink

I’ve been struggling with the left-hand end of the layout.  As I reported previously, there was a large opening there for connecting to the next layout section that was allowing the valence to sag, and didn’t look very good.  I added a sheet of plywood to that with an opening for a tunnel cut in, and we decided that didn’t look very good, but it did support the valence the way I want, while creating a few other issues that I’ll go into in a minute. I then cut the tunnel out and created a large “C” shaped piece that, while rough, looked much better.


It was decided to skin everything in styrene to bring the fascia and valence to the a nice meet with this support.  This would allow me to correct a construction issue with the valence being 18″ deep and the fascia/layout being 19″.  The ‘swoop’ I set out to create solved that issue on the valence, but added some abrupt edges in the .060 styrene.


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The valence.  The rough end is on the right side where several pieces of styrene step-down.

To solve the abrupt edges, I turned to putty.  After going through 3 bottles of Vallejo putty that I originally had intended to use on the seams in the styrene backdrop, I stepped back for a day and thought about the approach.  I decided that I could use some of the left over .020 styrene that is what formed the backdrop to make transition pieces that would be long enough to cover everything, and would then stop at the already existing valence or fascia seams.  I quickly fabricated those pieces and got them up.  I don’t know why that solution eluded me for about 5 days, but now that those pieces are up, things are much better looking.



What did I learn?  A couple of things.  First, the next layout section is going to have the “C” shape supports cut from the plywood and inserted before it goes up on legs.  This section is fine, but solving the valence drop issue in that manner is extremely good.  I’ll have some re-engineering to do on the next section, but I’ll address that next year or later this year.  Second, I learned how to solve any mis-matches by using long pieces that match to already existing seams instead of struggling along.

The whole process here is a learning experience.  I have one more droop of the valence to solve this week, if the weather will cooperate.  That will involve adding a couple of additional pieces to the layout, but I believe the functionality that I’m looking at in the one corner will be worth the effort.

Time to get back to the layout!


What Color is Dirt?

With the change from the Sierras of California to the Appalachians of West Virginia, figuring out how to convey the location visually on the layout, so someone walking up on a tour, or someone who has visited, or someone who lives in or grew up in that part of the country would say “yes, this is West Virginia” involves lots of changes.  The sky, the clouds, the trains….. and the dirt.

What color is the dirt?


Matching colors for the YV was done with photos taken on field trips.

When planning the YV, I had matched the dirt paint color to photos I took on field trips out along the former rail line.  Without that available now, I’ve been hunting and looking for photos, but I recently stumbled on a TV show that, while not something I normally watch, the brief clip I did watch helped greatly with the color of West Virginia dirt.

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Small screen grab with West Virginia “Dirt”.

The photo here is a screen grab from an episode of Appalachian Outlaws.  It indicates a much more brown dirt than the reddish earth in the Sierras of California.  The next task will be to match this to paint chips and find something close to make a good base color with.

Over the dirt, there’s a great deal of leaf-litter, twigs, low brush, dead trees in every photo and video I’ve seen.  Replicating that in the trees on the layout will absolutely make the scenes “sit” in the mountains of West Virginia.

Looks like it’s time for another hardware store trip.


Suggestion of a Car: Part 3

As of part 2 of this project, I was waiting on some parts orders to proceed with finishing the car.  I was pleased a few days after that post to receive a box of parts from Precision Scale in the mail continue the parts I was waiting for.


A strip of styrene under the grab-irons makes for an even spacing installation.

With the door and brake-gear in my hands, I decided that removing brass door hardware cast into the Precision Scale door parts set was not something I wanted to try doing, and instead pulled a set of extra Westerfield USRA doors out of the parts bin.  I proceeded to remove the door latches from the USRA car and apply them to the new build.  That involved cutting, and then gently sanding, the parts so they were nearly paper thin.  


The car standing on trucks!

Once the door latch was on, I then applied door guides and a stop.  Using a drilling template that I taped in place, I then added the grab-iron ladders on the sides.  Detail Associates ladders were trimmed and used on the ends, while a Precision Scale set of brake gear, and home-made uncoupling levers were applied.

With those things done, the car was mounted on it’s Fox trucks to try out how it sits.  I’m pleased to report it sat grate, and looks fantastic.

I used A-line stirrups to complete the parts on the car.  After letting all the glue have time to set, the car is ready now for primer and paint.  I’ll be applying some dry transfers to letter this model, and that will be in the next installment of this build.


Stom strapping applied to the door, and into primer.  Paint followed in Scalecoat Boxcar Red #3.

Time to get back to the workbench and finish some cars!