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N scale shelf layout

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  • Member since
    December, 2012
  • 19 posts
N scale shelf layout
Posted by kt9797 on Friday, May 10, 2013 6:01 PM

Hi everyone,


I have just gotten most of the materials to start building my benchwork for my shelf layout. Its going to be along two walls and be 11' X 7' 18" deep. Have room to make a removeable 4' section off the 7' side. Still toying with track plans but figured just getting the bench work up with seeing how I can't really make it any bigger. I have been getting discouraged with coming up with a track plan that will work so actually getting ready to build something has got my encouragement up.

In the process of all this I came up with an idea, nothing new to these forums most likely, but it seemed to be able to give me what I was looking for. Granted this is just a shelf layout but I toyed with the idea of adding a helix to the left end of the 11' foot side. Granted this would cut this side down to 8' of scenic and operated layout but having a secound level would let me enlarge some of the industries I want to model and space them out.

Even though there is only 7 or 8 Industries I want to have(not including team track and rr frieght depot) Cramming them all on the one level left me with no yard, all them being on top of each other, and very compressed(the larger ones at least). I'm not looking to run 20 or 50+ car trains. but being able to run a 10 or 12 car train would be nice along with a few industries that could take more than 2 or 3 cars.

Now I just got back to this so I rather spend the money on a pre designed helix kit instead of trying to do it on my own. I have the materials to build the one level shelf but should I build it leaving room for the helix or just cut down on what I was trying to do. In all of your opinions is it worth it or just go with what I was origionally doing and cut away at it later if I want the second level.

 Any answer is appreciated. Good bad or ugly.



  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Central Vermont
  • 4,014 posts
Posted by cowman on Friday, May 10, 2013 7:25 PM

Not just sure of the outside dimensions of an N helix.  Since you appear to be thinking pre built, you should be able to find out from the manufacturer.  My guess is in the 3' - 4' range, depends on what you want to run for car length.

If you know you are not going to be happy with the single shelf, you will probably tire of it before long.  You could follow your second thought and start, with a planned expansion.  Many folks have done that.  If you can't afford the helix at the moment, design your first shelf with some of the industries you want, but a plan for the others on the second level.  Should you be able to afford the helix, but not much for the second level, a narrow shelf off the helix could just be staging until you are ready to expand. 

Nothing says everything has to be done at once.  Get your  track work up and running flawlessly on as much as you plan to start with before you go too far with scenery.  Scenery away from the tracks can be worked on while trains are checking out your track work.  Work toward the eventual "completion" (model rr are never completely completed) as time and funds are available.

Good luck,



  • Member since
    June, 2006
  • From: Back in the PNW
  • 659 posts
Posted by alco_fan on Friday, May 10, 2013 7:48 PM

need 15-16" radius for an N helix. So about 3 feet wide

  • Member since
    November, 2006
  • From: huizen, 15 miles from Amsterdam
  • 1,484 posts
Posted by Paulus Jas on Saturday, May 11, 2013 2:39 AM

Hi Kevin,

When you want a continuous run you'll need a second blob anyway.

You did not mention your modeling scale nor the kind of equipment you want to run. In a helix the minimum radius should be 3 times the length of your longest piece of equipment. The latter depends on your wishes however. Long modern autoracks are 90 ft long, just over 6" in N_scale.

You did not mention the kind of industries you want either. Each of those biggies might require a dedicated switcher (operator) when they have a lot of different car spots; E.G. one large backdrop building might have five car spots of 60 ft each. Getting these cars spotted in the right order is very time consuming.

The balance between running and switching isn't clear either. However if you are the sole operator most of the time, a single level switching N-scale layout the size you are building might already be more then you are able to handle operationally. Building such a layout with all possible details will take years too.

How To Design A Small Switching Layout by Lance Mindheim might be an eye-opener. 

When the emphasis is more on running however you have a different story.

BTW are you able to make a drawing of your space and the footprint of your benchwork? 

Wish you luck


  • Member since
    May, 2013
  • 59 posts
Posted by TerryJ on Saturday, May 11, 2013 10:15 AM

I posted this about 2 years ago. It was concerning grades in n scale, but I think it has merit for your query.

Sorry, you can't get there from here?

If you simply have to do it, I'd look at a helix or something similar in the lower left . Depending on the height of your backdrop(sounds like 10-12"), once the helix is complete with scenery it could easily overrun the backdrop height.

The second concern I would have would be the width of the bench work itself. If you're considering passenger cars they may not be able to negotiate a helix based on the bench width. It seems that at 2 feet wide you'll be stuck with a minimum radius somewhere south of 12"(most likely 9.5"), so a lot would depend on your passenger cars. Also consider than an "on layout" mountain would normally taper as it goes up cramping the radius even more. Also consider the logistics of working inside an 18" wide "chimney" to right your cars should something go awry, - unless you build a lift off mountain (which I have dine).

If it were me, I'd consider an off layout helix at the lower left of sufficient radius to accommodate your passenger cars. The cars don't have to look realistic on the curve, but you don't want them straining the limits of practicality either. If you assume a 17" radius helix ( I choose this radius because for practical purposes we can call this 100" per turn) you'll still need a 2% grade +/- for clearance , so six turns. At 2% grade, the rule of thumb tends to be that your train length is halved - assuming a straight line. This brings us to the freight situation - can your single loco pull 30 freight cars on the level? If so, you MIGHT get 15 cars up the helix without helpers.

All that being said, I had an almost identical situation. My back drop height is 14" and I put in the helix off layout. The difference being that I don't run passenger service through the helix and my freight trains are limited to 14 cars without helpers. Of course, the helper set-up just becomes an operating feature.


  • Member since
    December, 2012
  • 19 posts
Posted by kt9797 on Saturday, May 11, 2013 3:24 PM

I'll get a sketch of the area i'm working with done and post it up. I looked at ashlin's prebuilt helix's. I'm a handy guy but with all I have read and heard on helix's even though it will cost some $ just not having to deal with the mistakes I will make is worth it. From their site its 6 1/2 levels with 15" inside and 16.5" outside radius with a 2% grade. I am only going to have a single track and 12" radius turns on the layout but figure this will give me less problems.

Not looking for continuous running as I'm just modeling a shortline. But I want industries that look proportionate to the cars they get in. Plus for the 1 or 2 larger industries I want to be able to give them multiple tracks. Also there are just a lot of good scenic scenes I would like to have even though a train will just pass through it(have more than I could even fit in a full basement layout but want 1 or 2).

Like I said just a shortline. 1 operator mainly. 3 - 5 trains tops daily. Longest cars I will be running are 62" centerbeam/bulkhead flats and 33k propane tank cars. Those industries were going to be on the origional shelf either way so their never gona go up the helix if I do it anyway. As for train length average would be 7 cars 12 absolute tops.


  • Member since
    January, 2013
  • From: PA
  • 469 posts
Posted by Schuylkill and Susquehanna on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 6:22 PM

Hi KT9797,

I usually draw HO scale plans, but I'd be glad to give an N scale plan with Peco turnouts a shot.  I think I have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for.

Two shelves - one above the other.

Yard on the lower shelf, with staging on the removable 4' section.  Due to curve radius, and desired train length, the staging will have to be on a sector plate / transfer table to eliminate the space consuming (and costly) yard ladder.

A few large industries behind the yard.  Propane distributor/refinery, paper mill, and treated lumber manufacturer (also makes plywood.

A small engine servicing area beside the yard.

On the upper shelf, smaller industries.  You didn't mention the types of cars or the industries, so it would be helpful if you gave me some more information.




Modeling the Pennsy and loving it!

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