March 1, 2003

I've been 4 years without a layout, and it's looking like it'll be several more until I'll be able to build the proper DL&W layout that will eventually fill the entire basement. So I've decided to build a smaller "interim" layout, which will satisfy my desire to play with trains as well as allow me to experiment with a few ideas I've had.

The principal experiment will be with "layout presentation," meaning designing the benchwork so that the layout itself is well-presented. I'm tired of benchwork being essentially a 42" high, 30" deep, flat table with homasote on it, and with the "sky" entending all the way up to the ceiling. So I'm going to use spline roadbed and build the layout surface in a 5-plus foot high, 12- to 18-inch deep recessed area with fascias and layout-specific lighting.
I've found a webpage on a layout that does this with apparently good effect, click here for some pics of the general appearance and here for a pic of the general design.
I've worked with spline roadbed before, at the PAMRRC in the '70s, but I'd have to say it was a failure. The technique was flawed (we used 1x2 pine sawed into 1/4" wide strips and glued the strips into 1x4 risers with notches in the end) and the end result just wasn't very good. The pine doesn't bend well (I had to soak the strips in the swimming pool overnight!) and is nowadays quite expensive. But I've always like the idea of spline, and was pleased to find lots of info about it on the web, including some specific ideas on the webpage mentioned above. Spline techniques have evolved: most people now use 1/4" thick Masonite, gluing several 3/4" strips side-by-side to create a strong, monolithic piece of curving wood. I experimented with Masonite, but instead plan to use MDF as it's about 1/2 the price, it takes glue better, and is softer (which allows you to fasten screws to it more easily). Plus it's 3/4" thick, so making spline strips is easier than with Masonite.

I've also been experimenting with benchwork techniques, and have decided to build the layout out of prefabricated (by me!) "ribs" that are shaped to the desired cross-section of the layout. Because it'll be a mushroom-design layout (to make the most of the space, plus to experiment with that technique), the ribs are question-mark shaped. They're made from 2x3 lumber with 1/4" luan playwood glued and stapled at the joints. I'm gluing and stapling/nailing everything for strength - previousl layouts have all been screwed together with the thought that screws are easier to remove when modifying a layout, but experience has shown that when modification is desired, the screws are never removed - the wood is simply cut.