Continuing from part one of this article series, the next obstacle I needed to clear was how to build this layout. I had pretty much ruled out a setup on carpet, mainly because carpet fibers aren’t great for small gears and there’s a very high risk of stepping on trains (especially at night). Kato turnouts (switches) are also powered, meaning that they have a wire underneath them that can connect to a turnout controller. Normally these wires simply run across the underside of the tracks to the controller. If you have one or two turnouts, it’s not a big deal. I have fourteen.
My solution to this ugly wire management problem was to have the tracks sit on a table (that I didn’t mind drilling holes in) that would allow me to route wires through the surface to an area underneath. The other consideration was with regards to where I’d put a 5×11 foot table. My dining area is a long and straight room. Aside from having couches and a dining room table, the room is really not used for much. I figured this was the best place to put it, and to make the most of the space I had, the layout table should fit on top of my existing dining room table.
In the end, I figured that creating a modular table would best fit my needs. It was critical because of room dimensions that the table be no wider than five feet. Originally I had planned to buy folding tables, but not only were they too expensive, but no combination I came up with would fit efficiently in my available space.
Because of my requirements, this was probably the hardest part of my project. My original intention with the layout was that it could easily be stored away when trains were not in use, without robbing me of valuable space. What I designed was a six piece wooden table with overlapping tops that can be screwed together. Each module is 2×5 feet, with the exception of the last (being 1×5 feet). When disassembled, it fits in a small space in my garage. Assembly is a 30 minute process involving two 2x4x12’s (chopped to 11 feet), supported by two adjustable height sawhorses (to clear my 30 inch tall dining room table), and then just laying out the modules in order.
Anybody can make one of these tables, but I found that a few basic power tools made the job a lot easier. A compound miter saw and cordless power drill are a great help if you have them. Additionally, unless you plan to buy (and are capable of hauling and ripping) full 4×8 sheets of plywood, you’ll probably like the 2×4 foot sheets of plywood. I ended up using MDF board from Home Depot because it had the advantage of being perfectly square with no warping. For me, it was critical that all my boards fit next to each other as seamlessly as possible. Since my table is 5 feet wide and these boards come in 4 foot pieces, it was necessary for me to rip them in half. A table saw would have made this task extremely easy, but I made do with a circular saw instead.
Honestly, I half designed this in my head and half as I went along, so I don’t have a blueprint of how the frame is constructed exactly. If there’s an interest in seeing it, please email me or leave a comment.
After painting the surface and exterior frame, I started laying track down. By designing this on computer, it was extremely easy to setup track. I was amazed (but should have been unsurprised) that everything fit together perfectly. Since I have both an HO scale loop and an N scale loop, the hardest part was making sure the N scale layout was positioned correctly to fit properly inside the outer loop.
Only when I was completely certain where tracks were going to be located did I start drilling. The Unitrack power connectors are just under 1/2 inch big, so a drill bit of that size proved to be perfect for making wire holes. I positioned my drill points to be perfectly underneath turnouts and tracks so they can’t be seen from the surface.
Because my loops are so long, I realized I did need additional power feed lines for each mainline. It’s suggested that feeders be placed roughly every ten feet of track. When I rewire for DCC in the next article, I will likely add more feeders. Currently I use two; one placed near the station, and another at about the half way point before the long viaduct. On the main lines, there don’t appear to be heavy voltage sags, but in my yard area where there aren’t closed loops, it’s very apparent that the voltage in the sidings is much less.
The last big ongoing project is to create a city. Because the layout has to be portable (actually, the entire thing–table included–fits into our Honda Civic, believe it or not) i will never permanently affix the tracks to the surface nor will I ballast or create terrain. That’s not the point of this setup. On the other hand, it doesn’t need to be boring.
There are many companies out there that sell N scale buildings. Some arrive in kit form, some are preassembled. We’ve been collecting both kinds, but all of them are completely modular. This part of the hobby is something that both my wife and I share, which is very fortunate. Slowly, we’re both building and painting a residential area, an industrial area, and a downtown.