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Layout height - Should I go a little high or more than a little low?

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Layout height - Should I go a little high or more than a little low?
Posted by Cymrych79 on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 2:42 PM

Hi all,

 

I have myself a little bit of quandry. As a side project away from my main layout in the spare bedroom train room (plus a small layout for my employer's front window at the office, plus a module for taking to train shows), I'm building an N-scale shelf layout in my living room on the one wall available. The layout is only 76" long by 14" deep with an added 36" drop-down staging track, and the track plan is based on a slightly modified Tar Branch. MR did a series in 2018 on this layout, but I haven't seen it yet. I only know of the origins of the plan from an MR video back in 2014 or so when they first researched the prototype and drew up their modeled version. I slightly tweaked the basic plan in AnyRail to fit my available space and then "test" operated it in TrainPlayer. I just really love this little switching layout that sports a good mix of industry modeling without being a spaghetti bowl of track. It's a "switching puzzle", in a sense, but one that feels not much different than some of my main layout industry switching operations. Plus it's small enough that I can finally dabble in some handlaid trackwork, which I've been looking for an excuse to try for quite a few years now.

 

Anyhow, my one available wall has an issue: an in-wall air conditioner at about chest height off the floor at what would be the last 15" or so of the left end of the shelf. I rent, so removing is not an option. I see three options open to me regarding fitting my shelf layout around this obsticle.

 

My options are 1): Place my shelf above it, which would put the track at about 60-61" above the floor. For myself (the prime operator), this isn't too bad. I'm 6'1", so my eyes are roughly 66" off the floor. And the total depth is only a little more than a foot, so reaching in for switching and decoupling wouldn't be an issue. However, for the secondary operators, the wife and son each (currently) at about 5'4", this would be too high, so I'd have to build them a bench to stand on. A secondary issue at this height would also be some really tall legs on really narrow benchwork. (I'm trying to use a minimum of reenforcements into the wall itself, being a renter; I'm shooting for free-standing benchwork with as few as one or two anchors into wall studs just to keep it from toppling). But I know I can overengineer some sturdy legs that won't wobble by basically making a narrow plank wall on 2x2 uprights, so I'm not very concerned about that. I can even through a shelf or two on it for the wife's plants, which she'll like.

 

Option 2): Place the top of the rail at the bottom of the AC at about 37" above the floor, and leave the backdrop open in front of the AC. I'd then extend the lighting valance over the top of the AC at about 20" above the layout. The AC sticks out from the wall about 6", so that would necessitate a minor trackplan change to my left-most industry. The major disadvantages here are, of course, the gap in the backdrop and the industry in front of the AC, as well as a low-ish layout height. It might also mean a slight shortening of my drop staging so that it could hang vertically when not in use.

 

Option 3): Make it a fully sit-down-to-operate affair, and drop the shelf to something appropriate, 30"-ish off the floor. I'd still have to account for the AC in the backdrop, but it would be 6" above the track and won't interfer with the trackplan as-is. My lighting valance would end up being 27" or so above the tracks in order to go over the AC, which might make hiding the lights themselves difficult if not impossible. The drop-down staging track would have to be converted to removable staging. 

 

I'm just curious as to your thoughts on this. I'm leaning Option 1, fully above the AC, in order to preserve the floor space underneath. The sit-down version Option 3 would effectively kill that floor area, and I'd have to pick up a rolling chair since I couldn't quite reach everything from a central seated position. Option 2 might be a little uncomfortable to operate while standing, but more importantly to my mind is the needed change to the track plan and the scenery to incorporate the AC and still leave it accessible for changing filters and, of course, usage.

 

So what do you all think? Is a 60-61" track height too much for regular usage? Ops in TrainPlayer seem to go 30-45 minutes per run at nominal scale 5-15 mph, perhaps a bit less using real running trains.

 

I'm thinking I may just pick up the lumber to build the main shelf (which I'll need regardless) plus legs tall enough for Option 1, cobble it all together and see how it feels at that height with some temporary trackage in place. If it seems OK, I can pull it down and build the rest of the benchwork for the lighting valance, paint it, etc. And if it doesn't, I can always cut the legs to whatever I need for Options 2 or 3.

 

-Jason 

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Posted by selector on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 2:53 PM

The goal is to enjoy what you have crafted.  If height, either too low or too high, interferes somehow, then you have made an error IMO.

People find that duck-unders will always be too low.  Or, they find they can't get up and reach into a high main operating surface without causing damage or having to drag a stool from over in the corner and use that to get enough height...and reach...to effect the change they desire.

One key miss in layout design, and operation, is access.  How easily will you be able to access all key components to rectify something if you adopt any of the options?  You are somewhat taller, so getting down on your knees will get old pretty darned quickly.  Or, bending over all the time to get a closer look.  If your back is as long, or longer, than your legs, it will be quite a strain.

I had a low layout last time around and quite enjoyed it.  I'm only 5'7", and the main surface and yard were at 27"...believe it or not.  It worked well.  The floor was painted plywood that I could slide around on my back and have no trouble wiring under it.  Mind you, I was only 60 then.  Times have changed.

Maybe you could craft something fairly light, considering the scale, and store it upright in a closet on one side.  Then, you could use your table or counter for the short periods you want to do work on it or play with trains.

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Posted by Cymrych79 on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 3:39 PM

Access isn't much of an issue, except perhaps during operations (which I think I'll need to test before settling on a final placement height). As I'm renting, nothing I've built has been designed for permanency; all of it was designed from the get-go for eventual relocation. Admittedly, the main train room layout is semi-permanent and will require quite a bit of elbow grease to break apart into smaller, transportable sections. And indeed, my duck-under there at about 48" (track at roughly 51 or 52") is definitely too darned short but not enough for me to make it removable yet. But I'm only 41 and don't plan on being at my apartment for more than a few more years, so hopefully it'll never be an issue while that layout exists.

 

I had thought of making the shelf layout a removable deal, to be taken out when the mood strikes me. But I like the idea of it being like a piece of furniture, or dare I say, even a bit of personal wall art. Plus the lighting valance will help illuminate that whole corner of the room, which has always been really bad. My plan at present is to build the main deck on the floor and workbench (aka, the dining room table), and complete the trackwork and underneath wiring before putting on the legs and adding a pre-built backdrop/lighting valance assembly, also built at the workbench. Hopefully, additional underneath work will be minimal, as once the valance/backdrop is attached it won't be particularly easy to remove down to the workbench, at least not solo. But it's still planned as a light-weight shelf (even if I'm mounting it on legs), so two people can take it down and move it if needed.

 

My main concern is really the operations at that height. I think I really need to just mock it up with some temporary trackage and see how it does. If the ergonomics just aren't right or if I can't see/reach a decoupling point due to the low viewing angle and the few structures about halfway from front to back, then I'd clearly have a problem enjoying the layout in the long term.

 

Thanks for the thoughts to ponder. After hearing about your 27" high layout, I'm seriously rethinking the lost floor space vs standing operations compromise.

 

-Jason

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Posted by RR_Mel on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 4:08 PM

Age also makes a difference.  As I’m older than dirt and I don’t stand very much anymore so regular table height (30”) works good from my roll around doctors chair.  Had I built my layout any higher 30 years ago it would be very uncomfortable to run my trains today.
 
 
Mel
 
 
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 
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Posted by BigDaddy on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 4:19 PM

Even though it's only 14" deep, 60" high is not an ideal height to build and scenic it.  Especially if you have a rotator cuff tear, like most of us old geezers do.

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 4:26 PM

How much stuff do you plan to have on the layout, particularly electrified stuff?  My layout only allowed 38 inches or so of clearance below, but as I got older I found it harder to get to the wiring beneath the layout.  Too low for a chair, but too high to lie on my back and work.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by Cymrych79 on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 5:32 PM

Aside from eventual structure lighting wires, the only underneath electrical stuff will be bus and feeder wires, and either frog juicers or tortoises or a combination of those. Pretty minimal, and once the track wiring is in, that'll be the lion's share of it. Not really anticipating having to get to the bottom for serious work much, if at all.

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Posted by Cymrych79 on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 5:37 PM

BigDaddy

Even though it's only 14" deep, 60" high is not an ideal height to build and scenic it.  Especially if you have a rotator cuff tear, like most of us old geezers do.

 

 

Absolutely agree, not the easiest to scenic at that height. The vast majority of that is planned to be done at the workbench. Aside from half a dozen structures, it'll be mostly ballast, grass and bushes. As with electrical, pretty minimal implementation.

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 6:13 PM

N scale is best enjoyed when viewed at eye level. If you plan to operate this layout while standing, the upper location would be just great. Would it be possible to take the layout down for scenicking and adding detail?

Happy times!

Ulrich (aka The Tin Man)

"You´re never too old for a happy childhood!"

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Posted by Cymrych79 on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 9:39 PM

Tinplate Toddler

N scale is best enjoyed when viewed at eye level. If you plan to operate this layout while standing, the upper location would be just great. Would it be possible to take the layout down for scenicking and adding detail?

 

 

Absolutely. In fact, I want to have 90% of the scenery done before I install it at the final location, whichever height I decide on. The main things I anticipate not being totally complete by the time it's ready to go operational and installed are the structure detail bits like lighting and fine details. But as I've only ever installed structures so that they can be picked up and moved to the workbench for such work, their incomplete status once I install the shelf has zero impact for finishing that last 10% of the scenery.

 

Really, the best way to think about this layout is more as a portable train show module that I will ultimately install in a semi-permanent fashion. Unlike my train room layout, where the benchwork was completed first and firmly installed before laying track, I'll be building this one on a table and across my lap, including all trackwork, track wiring, bus wiring, testing, and the majority of the scenery and finishing work like fascia. It'll then get put on legs and lightly anchored to a wall stud only as a tip-prevention measure. I don't really plan on moving it after that, but if I need to it's a simple matter to back out some leg bolts and the wall anchor, and move the shelf to the workbench, moving truck, where ever.

 

Thanks for the input Ulrich. I've never run on an N layout quite so tall as I need here, but I've seen plenty of double-deckers that have the top deck around that 60" mark and it doesn't seem to hinder their owners much. Still think I'll mock it up to see how it feels ... and worry about a shorter operator's step/bench later on once it's needed.

 

-Jason

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 10:40 PM

Since you are only 41, I say build it at just below your eye level. I did that will all my N scale layouts, and it was a good choice.

.

I am 52, and my next layout should be my last one. It will be at a height so that it can be operated from a wheelchair if need be.

.

I have seen a few people lose the ability to enjoy their layouts after the unexpected happens to them.

.

-Kevin

.

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by Onewolf on Thursday, January 2, 2020 7:51 AM

If it was just you working/running the layout I would say go high.  However because of the wife/child factor I think I would go low.

My layout has levels at 42", 62" and 52" (relative) and the 62" level is great for me (5'11" tall) to view 'in' the train level.

Modeling an HO gauge freelance version of the Union Pacific Oregon Short Line and the Utah Railway around 1957 in a world where Pirates from the Great Salt Lake founded Ogden, UT.

- Photo album of layout construction -

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Posted by dknelson on Thursday, January 2, 2020 9:46 AM

Is there an Option 4 which would built the layout at the "ideal" height on either side of the air conditioning unit, with the portion in front of the A/C (perhaps with its own backdrop?) being removable or slide-into-place?  Presumably the A/C just sits there during the colder months so having the layout in front of it should be no big deal and in the event you want to operate during warm weather perhaps the A/C could be turned off at least a while.  

I realize this could create a "bump" in your linear layout plan.  If it is like the A/C in my old apartment it juts out a couple of inches.  

When I operate I like to stand and thus I like fairly tall layouts.  If it is short I have to sit - bending over for long periods is torture for me.  But if your wife and child are serious about wanting to join you then I think finding a good height for all takes priority and it is the layout design that needs to "give."

Dave Nelson

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Posted by Cymrych79 on Thursday, January 2, 2020 6:56 PM

Thanks for all the suggestions guys, it's much appreciated!

 

Unfortunately, the AC unit is about a 1/3 of the way between the corner of the room and the sliding patio door. It does stick out about 6" or so from the wall, which is why I really didn't want to put anything directly in front of it as it'd really chisel into the narrow 14" shelf space. 

 

Quick note about the wife and stepson; we're not actually married, just been together for such a long, long time that it's usually easiest to just refer to them as such. But (and welcome to Kentucky with this one), we live 100 miles apart, me near Cincy for work, her in Louisville for stepson's school. 95% of the time it'll only be me running the layout.

 

And, as it turns out, my numbers were wrong. The top of the AC is at 55 inches, not 58. So my 1x3 box framed shelf topped with 1/2 ply will have a railhead at about 58.5" give or take. Also turns out my eyeballs are at about 69". Mockup with 3" foam scrap cut to 14" shelf width shows this deck surface will be more than workable. It also let me test where I'd like my valance lower edge to sit, and thus the height of the backdrop I'll need and the valance vertical supports. Think I'm going to go with a 4" valance on a 1x2" frame with bottom edge about 70 or 71" off the floor, and a 6" fascia (hangs low enough to block the whole underside from view from the sofa, but not so low as to block AC airflow) attached to the shelf front and side, leaving a "viewing window" 12 or 13" tall by 6'4" in width. The final height of the valance will be determined more precisely during the build; I'll leave the vertical supports long to adjust the height, and trim off the excess once I find that sweet spot.

 

With the four legs being more like two 14" wide walls for rigidity and a couple wall anchors for tipping/minor wobbling prevention, I think this will be plenty sturdy and pretty sharp looking to boot. The one leg-wall that will be very visible is right at the edge of the sliding glass door, and while it certainly won't match with the drywall interior of the room, at least it'll look more or less like it belong there.

 

Well, lookie there, I seem to have a plan! A thought out, rational plan! Thanks again all. I truly appreciate being able to bounce ideas off this community; it always helps me to really zero in on what it is that I'm looking to do and how I want to present it. 

 

Cheers -Jason

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Posted by AlienKing on Thursday, February 13, 2020 1:49 PM

It looks like you've decided to go above, which is good.  Air condintioners have a tendancy to generate condesation and drip quite a bit.  Usually its outside, but if the drip hole fills with debris, it can sometimes go inside as well.  For that reason, I would warn against putting it below the AC.

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Posted by rrebell on Thursday, February 13, 2020 2:29 PM

You could float the ply over the air unit and build the supporting stuff 6" in or more.

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