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Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:39 pm
by alan_r
Hi all.

Having completed my first mini layout, one thing I learned was how much time is taken up with the carpentry for the base, and how low a proportion of time was spent on the fun part of making the actual model. It also struck me how much track could be 'lost' to fiddle yards, so I came up with an idea to get around this.

The idea is to make a universal base that can be reused, and once a layout is finished, can be lifted out easily, put into storage for swapping back again at a later time, and then you can get straight on with making the next model rather than start again with building another unexciting base. The fiddle yard would be made with channels to contain the track, without having to glue it down, thereby keeping it pristine and it could be lifted up and reused if necessary if the whole model was to be thrown away.

The base consists of two wooden shelf boards 1150mm long and 400mm wide, with a plywood backboard that drops into slots at the back. Expanded polystyrene sheets then form the layout, with thick cardboard grips to contain the track.

Let the experiment begin ...

a01 two ends.jpg
Polystyrene end loops/ramps.
a01 two ends.jpg (374.98 KiB) Viewed 2957 times

a02 centre layout.jpg
Wooden base, supporting plywood backboard. Track and road placed to determine proportions and spacing.
a02 centre layout.jpg (242.78 KiB) Viewed 2957 times

a03 right loop.jpg
Right hand loop in place
a03 right loop.jpg (452.43 KiB) Viewed 2957 times

a04 left loop.jpg
Left hand loop in position
a04 left loop.jpg (407.28 KiB) Viewed 2957 times

a05 left loop close.jpg
Left loop, clearly showing cardboard grips stuck to the polystyrene
a05 left loop close.jpg (546.16 KiB) Viewed 2957 times

You can see the cardboard grips stuck on the polystyrene. The track will simply sit between them, thus shouldn't move, yet can be picked up and recovered in the future if required.

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:53 pm
by alan_r
As you can see, the track then just drops into the gaps between the grips...
a06 left half track.jpg
Track dropped in between grips
a06 left half track.jpg (544.02 KiB) Viewed 2946 times

a07 left full track.jpg
Full loop filled with track
a07 left full track.jpg (510.3 KiB) Viewed 2946 times

a08 left gradient.jpg
Low angle, showing the height change over the loop
a08 left gradient.jpg (427.85 KiB) Viewed 2946 times

a09 whole board.jpg
View of the whole layout board
a09 whole board.jpg (375.24 KiB) Viewed 2946 times

Since this will be a home layout against a wall, the fiddle yard needs to be at the front where I can get at it. By dropping the track to a lower level, the scenery can go over the top, with a lift-off cover.

a11 fiddle1.jpg
fiddle yard at the front for access
a11 fiddle1.jpg (312.22 KiB) Viewed 2946 times

Here you can see the eight storage sidings; four in each direction, two long and two short. Medium points used and flextrack. Again, all loose in the channels held in place by cardboard grips stuck to the polystyrene. All the track remains pristine, and can be lifted up and reused if required. :-)

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:58 pm
by alan_r
a12 fiddle2.jpg
Storage area
a12 fiddle2.jpg (452.35 KiB) Viewed 975 times

a13 fiddle3.jpg
Medium points for the storage sidings
a13 fiddle3.jpg (445.25 KiB) Viewed 2946 times

a14 fiddle4.jpg
Long view of the layout
a14 fiddle4.jpg (586.7 KiB) Viewed 2946 times

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:04 pm
by alan_r
The polystyrene and cardboard then gets a good thick coat of paint to seal and protect it. By choosing green and grey, it also doesn't look quite so conspicuous!

a15 coloured.jpg
Painted loop
a15 coloured.jpg (444.43 KiB) Viewed 2945 times

a16 col fiddle.jpg
Storage area
a16 col fiddle.jpg (538.91 KiB) Viewed 2945 times

a17 col backL.jpg
Storage points
a17 col backL.jpg (486.4 KiB) Viewed 2945 times

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:10 pm
by alan_r
Next, check the opening in the backboard doesn't foul with the largest wagon I have (a loaded car transporter)

a18 wagon guide.jpg
checking for clearance
a18 wagon guide.jpg (492.35 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

Then put the track in place ...

a19 loop left.jpg
Placing the track
a19 loop left.jpg (509.32 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

a21 fiddle back.jpg
Long view
a21 fiddle back.jpg (443.83 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

a22 backboard.jpg
The whole layout
a22 backboard.jpg (178.47 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:15 pm
by alan_r
Next to stick the backscene to the back board, and finish placing the track...

a24 track back.jpg
backscene and loop track
a24 track back.jpg (800.02 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

a25 centre back.jpg
storage yard
a25 centre back.jpg (551.3 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

Full view...
a26 whole back.JPG
The layout from afar
a26 whole back.JPG (198.35 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

Side views...
a27 left back.JPG
side view
a27 left back.JPG (476.2 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

a28 right back.JPG
side view
a28 right back.JPG (449.32 KiB) Viewed 2944 times

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:29 pm
by alan_r
So now the base is complete, I can drop in some 50mm polystyrene sheets, and get ready for the fun part :D

a29 left track.JPG
Layout left
a29 left track.JPG (423.54 KiB) Viewed 974 times

a30 right track.JPG
Layout right
a30 right track.JPG (427.56 KiB) Viewed 2941 times

Low angle view, showing the loop and the gradient down to the storage area at the front...
a31 left loop.JPG
low view
a31 left loop.JPG (288.15 KiB) Viewed 2941 times

Then some supports to hold the scenery above the storage area...
a32 supports.JPG
supports for scenery
a32 supports.JPG (336.62 KiB) Viewed 2941 times

...and there we have it!
All reusable, can be unslotted and put into a car, and all of the track remains pristine, and can easily be lifted and reused.

More importantly, I can now focus on making the fun scenery parts only, without having to build this every time.

I will post pictures of the layouts when I get around to it.

Please comment on the idea (good, bad, indifferent). I'd love to know what people think of the idea. Any questions about the construction or how it works are also most welcome.
Cheers, Alan

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 1:02 am
by thebritfarmer
Looks good Alan and looking forward to seeing the scenery develop. Good job so far !! and welcome to the forum.


Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 1:59 am
by StevieDay
Hi Alan,
Firstly, welcome to the forum.

Reusable boards are a good idea. Yes time is spent by many in making good baseboards. Though making of the layout can take many yrs, for some even decades of creation & options for expansion etc is often built in.

I do have a couple of questions. The cardboard grippers are a good idea to prevent lateral movement of the track. But what about the vertical movement, how do you overcome this? As this whether due to thermal expansion, can cause trains to derail. Esp with n-gauge (as a modeller of) where the tolerances are much more critical.

Also the scenic area above your fiddle yard. Will this be removeable? The supports you have won't allow access if you have a permanent structure on top.

Don't get me wrong, I can see you're looking beyond the lifetime of the layout & the desire of not restarting totally from scratch.

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 1:53 pm
by alan_r
Hi Steve

Thanks for the questions. :)

The cardboard grips are about 3mm high so taller than the sleepers. They are also quite tight to the track and once they were painted do grip it quite well. So far I've not had any issues with misalignment, and to pull the track out does require a little force. However it isn't so tight that thermal expansion would build up. If it did, I could just reseat the track. I think the flexibility in the polystyrene should accommodate any thermal effects.

Good observation regarding the storage sidings. The scenery supports are loosely placed over the storage area and not stuck down. The scenery above them will be in sections that can easily be picked up to gain access to the storage sidings. This will be not only to put trains on the track, but to also operate the manual insulfrog points to 'park' one train before bringing out the next for running. The scenery then goes back on top.
The biggest modelling challenge for this is then to try to hide all of the many gaps in the scenic sections, whilst keeping them durable and loose enough to easily pick them up.
One advantage of having small lift-off sections is in removing loose scatter once applied and the glue dried: all I have to do is turn it upside down over newspaper, and collect what falls off :D

This all sounds quite ambitious for what is only my second ever layout, but then if anything on it goes wrong, I won't have wasted much money on track, and I can try another layout in its place straightaway.


Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 2:36 pm
by b308
For a layout that stays mainly in one piece then the use of expanded poly like this would be ok, but if you are planning to take it up and put it down several times or transport it around I doubt it would be strong enough unless it was fully braced around the edges and under with wood such as ply...

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:09 am
by alan_r
Ok, so with the first layout underway, here are some pictures of progress ...

Firstly laying out the cardboard base for the road
cardboard road cut and positioned
a33_road.jpg (480.02 KiB) Viewed 2816 times

then stick layers of polystyrene and carve to form a hill for the road to disappear into, and the embankment to raise the road to thus form a backdrop for the railway
polystyrene hill
a34_polyhill.jpg (458.58 KiB) Viewed 2816 times

road tunnel
a35_roadtunnel.jpg (593.52 KiB) Viewed 2816 times

road embankment
a36_polyroad.jpg (426.5 KiB) Viewed 2816 times

Then cut the approach to the railway tunnel and the main river
the main river
a37_polyriver.jpg (576.65 KiB) Viewed 2816 times

The big advantage of putting the layout on a polystyrene sheet is the ability to make scenery below track level. This should avoid it looking like it is 'stuck on a flat board' which of course most layouts are. By going below the track, not only will the river look better (I hope), but it should remove any flat look that give a lot of models away.

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:17 am
by alan_r
view up to the rail tunnel, showing the rivers and bridge locations
Trackbed, rivers, bridges and tunnel approach
a38_longright.jpg (575.12 KiB) Viewed 974 times

Cutting the embankment first, to ensure it matches
main bridge location
a39_river.jpg (572.22 KiB) Viewed 2815 times

locating the bridge
a40_bridgesides.jpg (598.99 KiB) Viewed 2815 times

Then cut the polystyrene away to give perfectly positioned supports
cut away the polystyrene to give the bridge supports
a41_bridgecut.jpg (547.54 KiB) Viewed 974 times

Then cut the main river to fit the bridge
main river bed cut into polystyrene
a42_river.jpg (544.64 KiB) Viewed 974 times

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:27 am
by alan_r
Next to build up the road crossing and the scenic fields above the storage sidings. These should then mean the trains can be viewed fully within the landscape, with nothing outside of the model to distract the eye
layout far left
a43_road.jpg (520.86 KiB) Viewed 2814 times

Then the second, smaller river. This time no bridge (would be too many bridges, and I want some embankment) so this stream will be piped under the railway.
smaller stream and railway embankment
a44_river2.jpg (524.1 KiB) Viewed 974 times

View of the larger river crossing
layout right
a45_right.jpg (548.58 KiB) Viewed 2814 times

A long view to the left of the layout
long view - layout left
a46_left.jpg (521.35 KiB) Viewed 2814 times

and a long view of the right of the layout
long view - layout right
a47_right.jpg (536.55 KiB) Viewed 2814 times

Re: Reusable, modular layout base in N-gauge

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:37 am
by alan_r
Then to round off the riverbed. Here I'm using a slightly watered down mix of filler, to give a smooth bottom to the channel, which when painted should look like a muddy base
filler riverbed
a48_fillerriver.jpg (534.98 KiB) Viewed 2813 times

Full view to the right, with the riverbed (not too great a shot with my point-and-click camera!)
layout right
a49_longright.jpg (525.51 KiB) Viewed 2813 times

Full view to the left. The road bridge should hide the track going off-board, with the scenic sky coming as low as possible. Will need some trees to finish off, and maybe a bus or lorry to really hide the gap! Hopefully, when viewed lowdown, it should work.
layout left
a50_longleft.jpg (551.39 KiB) Viewed 974 times