Congratulations on your “failure”

That’s an odd thing to say, isn’t it? “You failed – well done!”

But that’s not quite what I mean.

A big “Attaboy!” goes out to Peter Vanvliet, who recently posted on his blog about an experiment with sectional layout construction using foam board.

Peter concluded that this is not a good way for him to build the layout sections he wants. He gives the technique a “fail”. Click on the image, below, to read more about Peter’s experiment…
 photo PeterVanvliet-FoamModule_zpsfddc59c3.jpg

So why the congratulations? Two reasons:

1 – He tried something, rather than simply ask others. This hobby thrives on experimentation of the kind Peter has just undertaken. And when experimenting, unless loss of life or limb is involved there’s really no such thing as a failure – just an undesired outcome. But Peter has learned valuable lessons from this failure, I’m sure – lessons that he’ll apply to his next attempt.

2 – Rather than hide the results, Peter has shared them online so that others can benefit from his experiment. As he writes, “I am keeping this article on my website, just in case someone is interested in pursuing this idea.” Peter’s results should not encourage others from trying – what fails to work for some may work fine for others. And to this end, I applaud him for NOT saying, “To prevent others from making the same mistake” or some other such negative statement. In fact, Peter’s statement challenges one to pursue the idea further – building on the lessons he’s learned.

So, Peter: I’m sorry it didn’t work for you, but congratulations on your “failure”, nonetheless! Very well done!

“We might have to jack hammer…”

Today, I came really close to throwing in the towel on this hobby.

Really, really close.

Our house, circa 1885, has been suffering from a slow drain. Last week, I reported that the plumber had successfully passed a snake through the sewer pipe running under the house. The problem, it seemed, was outside – under the front yard. It was probably a tree issue.

Digging commenced Friday and tree roots were indeed discovered. The original, 1885 drain was removed and new pipe was laid as far as the city service – although the city will have to come to clear their part of the system, as it has also been compromised by tree roots.

That said, all was looking good until one last inspection of the system. The inspection camera was shoved into the floor drain at the end of the Port Rowan peninsula. It got about 20.5 feet, then disappeared into water – about 18 inches ahead of the camera that took this image:
 photo SewerCam_zps0efbaa57.jpg

20.5 feet – minus a few feet for going down the floor drain pipe – turned out to be right under the apple orchard in Port Rowan:
 photo Sewer-Orchard-01_zpsd6962a6e.jpg

The measurement was confirmed with a locator and for a while – for far too long, in fact – it seemed that the only solution would be to break into the concrete basement floor to have a closer look and replace the offending section of pipe. And since jack-hammering can’t be done sitting down, breaking into the floor would’ve required chopping apart the layout along the lines in this image:
 photo Sewer-Orchard-02_zpsffacc842.jpg

Note that the space between the lines includes four turnouts, plus the derail, plus the built-in-one-piece-for-smooth-transitions incline for the coal track.

“Cool train set, by the way,” says the plumber. “Can I see it run?”

“You can if you can fix the drain without digging up the floor.”

Fortunately – after much prodding and probing – the crew determined that the drain was in fact operating as it should. Water flowed well. A snake declared the drain clear, and several flushes and utility sinks full of water confirmed it. The camera was merely getting caught on some sediment at a bend in the pipe, which the flushing helped clear.

Crisis averted.

I do not have to take up découpage.

I remain a model railway enthusiast.

I’m off to pour a single malt, to raise a toast to my plumbers.

Now we are Two

Two years ago yesterday, my friend Pierre Oliver visited and stayed overnight.

Two years ago this morning, we went for a hearty meal at Boom Breakfast & Company on College Street, then broke ground on my Port Rowan layout. Five hours later, the layout room looked like this:
Benchwork In A Day photo BenchworkInADay.jpg

Last year at this time, I took a set of photos to document the progress of the layout on its first anniversary. I’ll have to do that again.*

I’m really enjoying my foray into S scale, and I’m looking forward to the next two years!

[*UPDATE – October 14th: I’ve done that, and they can be viewed here.]

48″

In a recent comment, reader Brian Termunde wrote,

I’m curious as to your layout height: I tried to do a search, but I can’t seem to find anything. Would you satisfy my curiosity?

I haven’t actually addressed layout height on this blog because my experience is that it’s very much a personal preference. Some prefer layouts to be quite high – others want them comfortably low.

I can see advantages and disadvantages to both. Fortunately(?), my layout height was pretty much pre-determined for me by my layout room.

My layout is built in a basement room – and I must deal with the main heating ductwork that runs lengthwise down the middle of the room. It’s boxed in for a nice appearance and dust-free environment – but it still made a huge impact on the design of my layout.
Ductwork-Room Entrance photo Duct-02_zpsec014a85.jpg

Ductwork-Lynn Valley photo Duct-01_zps864893d8.jpg

My basement floor undulates a bit, but the average height from floor to railhead is 48 inches. The ductwork in the photos above is 69 inches above the floor. When drawing layout plans for my space, I determined pretty early on that standing under this ductwork would not be a comfortable experience. Therefore, the only way to use the space effectively was to build the layout under it. Port Rowan is aligned below the ductwork in the room, as shown here:
Ductwork-Port Rowan photo Duct-03_zps7bbc78ac.jpg

The railhead height of 48 inches works fine for me. It’s high enough that I’m not stooping to view the trains, but low enough that I can comfortably reach in to uncouple cars in the Port Rowan yard. And with a valance drop of approximately 16 inches from the ceiling, or 5 inches below the ductwork (to shield one’s eyes from the layout lights), I still have a decent “window” between fascia and valance through which to view and operate the layout.

Brian – thanks for asking the question. It was a good one!

That’s it for wood (or is it?)

No photo for this post…

Today, I achieved a milestone that I can’t recall ever before achieving when building a layout.

I realized that I’m done with wood.

Since starting this layout, I’ve had lengths of 1″x2″ and 1″x3″, plus various other odds and ends, stacked in the layout room to “season” to the layout conditions. These have been deployed as benchwork, roadbed supports, backdrop supports, valance supports, and other uses. And – unless I’m mistaken (and I could be) – I’ve built all of those things. There’s nothing else to build, benchwork-wise.

So despite it being a warm and humid day, I hauled wood from layout room to garage. I’ve stacked it neatly in one corner, where I can get to it if I need it. But I don’t think I will.

It feels great – really odd, but great – to realize that that’s it for wood!

(At least, I think it is…)

Safe Stock Storage

With yesterday’s delivery of a box of air, I made significant progress on the equipment storage shelves I started earlier this week.

It started with an assessment of needs, then a trip to the trim section of my local building supply store. I picked up some poplar “strip wood” (the full-size kind, not the stuff we use for models) in 0.5″ x 3.5″ and 0.5″ x 0.5″ sizes, plus other supplies. When I got home, I set to work adding sides and ends to the previously built shelves.

To keep rolling stock from rolling about on my shelves, I cut sheets of 0.25″ thick acoustic foam to fit the shelves. I then cut lengths from the 0.5″ square stock and screwed them in place, through the foam, to form four divisions on each shelf. The dividers are spaced with 2.5″ between them – plenty for my S scale rolling stock.

Here’s how the shelves look now:

 photo EquipmentStorage-03_zps244941ff.jpg

Equipment sits on a soft bed and doesn’t roll. Perfect!

I have not yet added a back to the shelves. And I may cut more pieces of the acoustic foam and attach them to the tops of the dividers, to extend the dividers the full height of the boxes I’ve created: While equipment doesn’t roll, some of it does rock a little. I don’t expect this to be a problem but one should always expect the best and plan for the worst, right? I am also considering options for a cover to keep dust off stored equipment.

The good news is, the equipment seen in the above photo represents most of my excess stock – and it all fits on one shelf. That means I have a second shelf that’s mostly empty and ready for more equipment.

Even better, the sector plate is now much less cluttered – and therefore more functional.

Here’s the sector plate as it looked earlier this year – with excess stock tucked behind almost every train, and on the base behind the sector plate:

Full Staging photo FullStaging-02_zps2fd626b3.jpg

The situation has actually gotten worse since that photo was taken, as I’ve been adding boxcars to the fleet.

Now, here’s how the sector plate looks today. There’s one train out on the line, but no extra stock in the scene. (Well, except for The Flying Yankee, which I need to return to its display case in my office.)

Staging without Clutter photo Staging-Decluttered_zps0b30ec9e.jpg

Much better!

I have a third shelf, which I have not yet fitted with dividers and foam. Before I do that, I’m going to think about how I want to use that third shelf. I mounted it with enough clearance to hold my waybill box and other tools necessary for hosting operating sessions.

I’m pleased with how this project is turning out, and with the space I’ve freed up in staging.

“A box of air”

Here’s a poser:

If fragile stuff – like wine glasses and brass locomotives – is shipped wrapped in foam… how is foam shipped?

– Is it stuffed inside a glass mailing tube?
– Packed into a box with a bunch of lightbulbs?
– Vacuum-packed into a letter-sized envelope? (But stand back when you open it!)

These were all questions I pondered as I placed an order for a 4×8 foot piece of 0.25″ thick acoustic foam – the kind found behind the grilles of stereo speakers – to use in the rolling stock storage shelves I’m building.

The answer is, it comes in a box:

What's in the Box? photo AcousticFoam-01_zpseee5dc57.jpg

The delivery guy said “I’ve brought you a box of air!” He wasn’t far off:

How to ship Foam photo AcousticFoam-02_zps41238eec.jpg

I’m particularly amused by all the FRAGILE stickers on the box. Presumably, these were applied because with essentially nothing inside, the box itself is fragile – and it obviously took a few knocks and dings en route.

I acquired the foam online from TCH. Service was excellent and even though they were only across the city from me, shipping was cheaper than the gas it would’ve cost me to drive out to collect the foam in person. Faster too: My order arrived within 24 hours. I’d buy again from TCH.

More on the storage shelves – and how I’ve used this foam – in my next post.

Equipment storage shelves

With four trains staged and ready to go, my four-track sector plate is getting pretty full. There’s little space to store extra equipment on the rails – and if I store it there, it’s in the way when I want to build new trains. Something needed to be done. So I’m doing it:
Equipment Storage Shelves photo EquipmentStorage-01_zps101c4171.jpg

Following the success of my two slide-away work desks, I decided that the 20″ under-mount slides I picked up at my local Lee Valley Tools (item 02K33.20) could be used to create slide-away shelves under the sector plate to hold additional equipment. Accordingly, I purchased three more sets, plus three laminated pine project boards from Home Depot. These are 16″ x 36″, but I cut them down to 31″ to fit between existing layout legs.

Based on 40-foot boxcars, each shelf will hold four rows of three cars with plenty of room to spare, so the three shelves give me capacity for approximately 36 pieces of rolling stock – depending on length. I mounted the first shelf 6″ down from the layout benchwork, to give me room for the box I use to hold waybills: I might as well keep it where the cars are stored and trains are built.

The lower two shelves are mounted with 4″ of vertical clearance – plenty of space for my S scale equipment:
Equipment Storage Shelves photo EquipmentStorage-02_zps854098b7.jpg

This is a work in progress – obviously, the shelves need walls to prevent equipment from rolling over the side – and in fact, something to keep the equipment from rolling at all. I’ll also want a cover for each shelf to protect the equipment from dust. I have a cunning plan…

Stay tuned.

Keeping the layout room dry

Multy Tile photo MultyTile_zpsd2b12a2e.jpg

Last week’s minor flooding in the train room was not as bad as it could have been, in part because when I started this layout I invested in an open-weave rubber flooring system called Multi Tile. It costs about $1.50 (Cdn) per square foot, is easy to cut with tin snips or a knife and installs quickly with a dead-blow (rubber) mallet. (Edging strips are available separately, to finish off room entrances and suchlike.)

The result is a floor that’s more comfortable to stand on than concrete. But what really makes it shine for basement use is that because the tiles do not have a solid surface, they allow air to circulate to the floor – even under rubber storage containers. This keeps moisture from being trapped on the concrete, which helps a dehumidifier control the funky smell that many basements suffer. I noticed an immediate improvement in my own.

As I dried out the train room after the flood, I used a wet vac to get water out from under the tiles, but it was a whole lot easier than tearing up a solid surface to release trapped water. I also did not have to move all of the storage tubs. Water flowed out from under them to the low points in the basement: That narrow gap for air circulation has been a real back-saver and the room has dried out very nicely.

This system was well worth the cost.

Multy Tile is broadly available. I bought mine at a number of big box home improvement stores in the city. Click on the tiles below for links to a couple of sources in Canada:

Canadian Tire:
Multy Tile photo MultyTile_zpsd2b12a2e.jpg

Home Depot:
Multy Tile photo MultyTile_zpsd2b12a2e.jpg

Fascia frames the scene

My friend Chris Abbott visited on Tuesday and, among other things, we installed more than 30 feet of fascia on the layout.

The front edge of the Port Rowan peninsula looks so much better now that it has been clad in Masonite:
Fascia - Port Rowan feed mill photo Fascia-04.jpg

The biggest challenge was removing and then reinstalling the four switch control stands governing the yard throat, but even that went off without too much trouble and even without paint the fascia makes a huge improvement to the appearance:
Fascia - Port Rowan yard throat photo Fascia-02.jpg

We also worked on the St. Williams side of the Lynn Valley, adding a section of Masonite in the corner:
Fascia - St. Williams photo Fascia-03.jpg

I will now be able to fill in the terrain with foam board.

So far, the layout has needed more than 45 feet of fascia, including 16 feet Chris and I did earlier in the Lynn Valley:
Put on a happy fascia photo Fascia-01.jpg

I say “so far” because with that, we’re done with fascia – at least for now. There’s a section still to do in front of the staging area, but it will have to wait until we’ve installed the mechanism to control the sector plate and wired up the track.