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Ready To Start My First Layout - Guidance?

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Ready To Start My First Layout - Guidance?
Posted by kenben on Saturday, January 06, 2018 3:06 PM

I've waited 50 years to start my HO layout. Now I have the time to do so. Things have changed over the past 50 years. I don't want to go through "trial & error" or redesign the "wheel". I just need some guidance and direction.

Scale is HO. Layout area about 10'x7'. I do have a number of DC engines, some are 60+ year old brass engines. But I want the layout to be 100% DCC. I have a bunch of old old MR mags and all of the MR mags since Aug 2009.

And I'm ready to start. Tips? Guidance? Direction? All welcome. THX

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Posted by snjroy on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 8:01 AM

Hello and sorry for the late reply. Hopefully others will join the conversation. Here is my advice:

1) Start simple and grow. But do start something. I would start with a temporary 4x6 with no scenery and a simple track plan. Eventually, you may want a wall mounted plan that goes around the room. But that will require planning and skill building. Start small, but start!

2) buy one good running engine. Keep the brass for later projects - unless they run well. Converting brass to dcc is doable, but not easy. You can start dc and convert later.

3) Read and learn. It is part of the fun. The NMRA website, this forum, how-to books and the Internet are great sources.

Simon

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 8:11 AM

The layout area you are listing is small so no one can accuse you of trying to bite off too much for a first layout in 50 years.  My first layout was 16x19 and I built it in a garage while in graduate school.  I got all the benchwork up and track laid and was just starting scenery when I finisehd and had to move.  So building something largish as a first layout is not necessarily going to end in a bad experience.

That said, I did learn that in the garage, with extreme temperature and humidity swings, I'd have some track expansion/contraction issues.  And I did.

About all I can say is you will learn some things along the way and maybe have to re-do them.  I found that out with my scenery efforts on my most recent (3rd) layout.

All I can say is plan carefully, measure twice, cut once etc.

The conventional wisdom is to build a small layout first, like a 4x8 if it is HO.  But your planned layout sounds small anyway so it doesn't sound like your planning an aircraft hanger that first layout.  Of course it depends on the person and what they can successfully tackle for a "first layout" also.  I broke the rules with my 16x19' layout and it certainly wasn't a deal breaker.  It was a solid track plan and engineered well.  You know after years of planning - I was ready to start something substantial at the time!

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by UNCLEBUTCH on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 8:43 AM

I can tell what I think,take it for what its worth.

You know the space you have to work with,within that space decide what you want for running. A switching layout,point to point,perhaps a dogbone?

Then a track plan, I myself, don't have or use one. You could spend the rest of you life drawing  the perfect one.

Once you got a plan,on paper or just an sparkle in your eye, you need bench work. Witch will depend on your room,track plan, and you personlly[ how far can you reach]. I built mine from scrap leftover lumber and foam,or spend as mutch as you care.

Wireing can be simple two wires or complex.

As said above, get one good engine to start with.Rolling stock can be used,RTR or kits.

Scenery is a learn as you go, pretty hard to screw it up.

There is more information here then you could ever use,just ask.

Its a hobby, I don't believe there is a BEST WAY to do any of it. As long as you don't draw blood,its all good

Just my thoughs

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 8:57 AM

UNCLEBUTCH
Scenery is a learn as you go,

Learning throught the school of hard knocks in some cases.

pretty hard to screw it up.

Pretty hard but I found a way.  I did screw it up pretty good.  I did conventional cardboard strips with plaster gauze.  So far so good.  Then when it came to putting a coating of plaster on, things went south, very south!  The plaster did go on but when I put a layer of latex paint on for base color, it peeled up all over the place.  I learned that I needed to put a lot more moisture down on the plaster gauze before putting on the plaster, cause it's like a moisture sponge.  I also needed to wet the plaster a bit too so it would set up properly.

Its a hobby, I don't believe there is a BEST WAY to do any of it. As long as you don't draw blood,its all good Just my thoughs

I know it may be politically incorrect to say it, but in some cases there is a best way.  I found out the hard way.  So it isn't a bad idea to solicit advise - it might save some trouble and money in some cases.

As for blood, exacto knifes and other sharp objects are likely to draw some - I speak from personal experience.  Black EyeClown

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by dknelson on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 10:40 AM

My only advice (well OK, the only advice I am going to post at this time) is to say that just because something is "done" - benchwork is built, the track is down, wiring is in, scenery is in place - does not mean it has to be that way.  Yes there is an expenditure of money and time that could be lost but if it isn't right or isn't pleasing, don't live with it just because of that. 

This is particularly true about track.  Even if it is ballasted (and ballasting really should wait until you know the trackwork is correct - but folks don't always wait) don't rule out ripping it out and doing it over right away if that is what the situation calls for.  

When all the dust is cleared this might be the hardest lesson in the hobby because it applies to every project there is.  You are fighting human nature every step of the way.

Dave Nelson

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Posted by G Paine on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 11:07 AM

Have you decided some of the following?

  • Timeframe - what era do you want to model - steam, transition, modern, something else
  • Location - what part of the country are you thinking about or what type of terrain
  • Road name - have you selected a railroad to model or are you going to freelance? This is an important one because it gives you focus, and so you do not buy a bunch of locomotives then have to get rid of some of them because they do not match. (Same for timeframe)

As to DCC or not DCC, for the size layout you are planning, starting with DC and converting to DCC later would not be difficult. It would save some cost. Many locomotives are DCC ready, which means a plug is there to accept a decoder. Others have a dual mode decoder so they can run on either DC or DCC, although DC running is sometimes a bit flukey.

George In Midcoast Maine, 'bout halfway up the Rockland branch 

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Posted by jjdamnit on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 11:57 AM

Hello and welcome back to the hobby,

Something to consider...

"A model railroad should probably start with a concept. Why? Because much knowledge about railraoding, experience in model railroading, and thought are required before a proper concept for a model railroad can be formed. These requirements are seldom possible on a first pike. Mine was no exception."
- -John Allen; Gorre & Daphetid Railroad.

G Paine asked three great questions.

As far a starting with DC and then...

G Paine
...starting with DC and converting to DCC later would not be difficult.

I went that route with my 4'x8' pike and regretted it.

With DC I had 16 control blocks with over 20 turnouts- -all wired for DC.

Each control block required a single positive feeder wire with a common ground for the entire layout.

Each turnout required three wires for remote operation.

Thats a lot of copper!

On top of that there were the power routing switches (controllers), two cabs (power packs) and the reversing circuit for the Wye.

When I converted to DCC I removed most of the wires to the control districts.

I went from 16 control districts to 4 pairs of feeder wires from a terminal strip connected to the booster.

For the Wye I installed an Auto Reversing Unit that changes polarity automatically- -no more having to "think" about manually flipping a switch to avoid a short.

I kept all the turnouts DC.

The money I spent on controllers, cabs and wire could have easily paid for at least half of any good DCC system.

As has been said many times, "With DC you run the track, with DCC you run the trains."

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by kenben on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 12:41 PM

Thanks for all the info and starter tips.  I've been a big fan of John Allen from the beginning. And now a fan of George Selios. Their modeling skills are over the top. Being a filmmaker, I'd love to shoot some of these layouts and make then "pop" on the screen and tell their stories.

I have a stack of books on model railroading and I see many, many "How to.." videos out there. I'm a bit partial to Model Railroader's world of what they offer in "How to.."

My layout will be built inside in a upstairs room with a 3' wide doorway. So the construction will have to be very creative and planned out as I know this layout will have to be relocated at some point.

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Posted by snjroy on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 2:17 PM

There are tons of threads on this forum about the DC/DCC debate. I don't want to start that debate, but I agree that if you start in DC, don't go too far in that direction as you will likely consider changing to DCC sooner or later. That means not going nuts with fancy electricals and trackwork under DC. An oval with a few switches should satisfy your initial needs until you plan and start your "real" layout. But beware the "armchair railroader" trap. I've seen some guys plan their layouts for decades without getting anything done apart from pilling up shelves of dead rolling-stock.

On the other hand, starting DC will allow you to use your old locos that are likely to be DC. I'm sure you want to see those brass beauties work... You can run a DC locomotive on some DCC systems, but it is not ideal and you can harm your locos that way. DCC also involves upfront expenses that you will probably prefer to delay. Unfortunately, it is not practical run a dual DC/DCC layout (but doable).

Simon

 

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Posted by G Paine on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 10:51 PM

snjroy
An oval with a few switches should satisfy your initial needs until you plan and start your "real" layout.

This is another good point. Start with a simple layout. Get the feel of trackwork, some scenery, structures, and running some trains. Considder it learning experience. After some time, you will have learned some hands on skills, and you will start saying 'I could have done this better.' That is the time to start layout #2. 

There are always new things coming on the market to try out. I started my first layout around 1960, and am still learning new things!

George In Midcoast Maine, 'bout halfway up the Rockland branch 

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Posted by xdford on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 4:36 AM

Good Luck with the starting. If you have a look at MR Dec 73 issue and the Turning Lead to Gold article by EE Seeley. It has been the basis of my layout and I am still finding things to do differently after 35 years with variatons of a staging yard. In any event grow your layout.

 If you care to, PM me with your email and I have a PDF of that article I can send you. You could also check my website (www.xdford.freeasphost.net) with a few items on how I run the final version.

Enjoy the hobby!

Trevor

 

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Posted by dstarr on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 8:49 AM

First off, get John Armstrong's book "Track Planning for Realistic Operation".  It has track plans, rules of thumb, methods of easing curves, plenty of photos.  Fantastically useful.

   Decide upon an around the walls layout or a table in the middle of the room layout.  Around the walls will give you more layout and more track but requires a duck under to enter and leave the layout room.  A table in the middle of a 10 by 7 foot room requires AT LEAST an 18 inch aisle on all four sides.  That gets your table down to 7 by 4.

   Track plans consist of a main line, single or double track, loop or point to point, with passing sidings, and industry spurs.  Don't run the main line straight along the edge of the benchwork, it looks like toy trains running on a table.  Put some gentle curves in the main as if it was following the terrain rather than the table.  Go with the broadest curves you can fit in.  You MUST have at least 18 inch radius, and preferably better.  You will need 24 inches to run full length passenger cars. 

   Plan for staging track.  Tracks where you can have full length trains ready to run, and when you want to switch trains, you run into an empty staging track and run the new train out of staging onto the layout.  Staging tracks can double as passing sidings on the main. 

   Think about a deep river valley, spanned by an impressive bridge.  You don't have to build it right away, you can always modify your benchwork later.  If you have grades, know that HO locomotives cannot climb anything more than 3%.  Any grade needs a transistion area and the top and bottom, where you reduce the grade from what ever you have on the hill to zero over a distance of a couple of feet.  Without a transition, couplers will uncouple, pilots will hit the rails.

   Think about starting small and getting trains to run as soon as possible.  Trains run fine without scenery, back drops, fancy wiring.  A running train is a wonderful morale booster that will speed the rest of the constuction.

   If you do around the walls, think about putting the backdrop up before the benchwork goes in.  Think about photography.  You want somewhere with a reasonable plain background to photograph your trains.

   Good luck.  Post some pictures.

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Posted by kenben on Thursday, January 11, 2018 8:29 PM

Just a couple quick questions.

 

1- What is the difference between HO scale track code 75, 83 and 100?

2- When shopping for your HO "stuff" are prices overall better online or in-store? The nearest hobby store that carries HO "stuff" is 45 mins away. Though there "stuff" says "discount" prices, I found an item with a discounted price on it but found sthe same thing on Amazon for less.

 

Thanks again. 

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Posted by dstarr on Monday, January 15, 2018 7:57 AM

Rail "code" is the height of the rail in thousands of an inch.  Code 100 rail is 100 thousands or 0.1 inches tall, from bottom flange to railhead.  Code 83 and code 70 are smaller.   Code 100 is very common in HO, most yard sale and train show used track will be code 100.  Code 100 is a little over scale.  If you paint the rail sides rust brown the track looks a good deal closer to scale size.  Code 83 is closer to scale size and is generally available.  I don't believe anyone is making code 70 track.

   Sad to say, prices on new HO stuff are usually better on-line or mail order than in your local hobby shop.  If you have a local hobby shop that you patronize, think about subsidizing him by buying some big stuff, locomotives say, from him, just to keep him in business.   Your best prices are for used stuff at train shows. 

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Posted by Left Coast Rail on Monday, January 15, 2018 12:37 PM

I'm about ready to embark on a similar journey of designing and building my own layout after I got back into the hobby about 10 years ago.  I've recently retired, and in the past 10 years or so, I've amassed a decent amount of locomotives, cars, structures and vehicles based in the era I've chosen to model without making too many mistakes.  I did a lot of reading, started a subscription to "Model Railroader", joined the NMRA, purchased several books covering the railroads that interested me and found a club in my area that I felt suited my need for reintroduction.  
My advice is to find a local club join up if it is practical.  Look for one that is well run before joining and once you're in, take advantage of the broad knowledge base of the membership.  Joining the NMRA can also provide you with a great source of information.  Many of the regions put together a wealth of clinics and conventions during the year and attending one of their national conventions is well worth the effort.  If joining a club is not practical or if you're not a club joining type, join up with some of the Yahoo user groups and forums and interact as much as possible in order to answer your questions.  This group can also provide you with a lot of answers and provide you with good advice and direction. Also, don't ignore your local brick and mortar hobby shops.  While you might not get the best deals shopping there, patronizing a good one with knowledgeable employees who have a passion for the hobby is often worth the premium you pay.  
Your choice for going DCC is the right one IMHO, but you'll have somewhat of a challenge converting those 60+ year old brass locos into something that will run well and play nicely on a modern layout with the equipment currently being sold.

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Posted by kenben on Monday, January 15, 2018 12:47 PM
Thanks for the feedback. Unfortunately the nearest club is an hours drive from me just as the nearest hobby store that carries HO gear. I do attend the train shows when the come to my area, still 45 mins to an hour drive, but these are worth it for the volume of HO products new and used.
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Posted by kenben on Monday, January 15, 2018 12:52 PM
Thanks for the feedback. Seems to me code 83 is the way to go. And I'll follow you blog from the North country.
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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, January 15, 2018 1:50 PM

I am going to try and be practical here.

.

You said the layout would need to be moved. What is the time frame for that move?

.

You have been away for 50 years. What is your age/health/retirement timeframe?

.

Welcome to the Model Railroader forums! Soon your posts will not be delayed by moderator approval any longer. Please stick around with us.

.

-Kevin

.

Happily modeling the STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD located in a world of plausible nonsense set in August, 1954.

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Posted by mbinsewi on Monday, January 15, 2018 2:44 PM

SeeYou190
You have been away for 50 years. What is your age/health/retirement timeframe?

Geez Kevin,  Laugh  I've never heard a new member, or any member as far as that goes, ever get asked that before.  I'm sure he's aware of his personal situation.  The man just wants to build a model railroad.

Mike.

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Posted by kenben on Monday, January 15, 2018 6:15 PM

Layout move: I expect I may move from my current home in about 5 to 7 years. I know I'll be bolting the support framework to the railroad bed and my layout height should be kept to 30" or less for mountains or structrues. But structures will be removable.

Haven't '"been away" for 50 years. Just been sitting on the "when I get time to" shielf. I'm kinda in a retirement mode. I'm a filmmaker so I still am working on projects but all on my schulding. I've had my dad's big box of HO trains and kits etc. for about 38 years and have some of his trains on display in mt house.

I'm in my 60's. Look like I'm in my 40's. Feel like 50's. Health? Good, but there are no guarantees in life. And I'm in no big hurry.

BTW, sinced you asked, you'll be moving my layout when that time comes! 

 

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Posted by UNCLEBUTCH on Monday, January 15, 2018 6:30 PM

Myself, I wouldn't put a lot of time ,effort or planning in a ''moveable'' layout.

Lets say in 6yrs you move. There is a really good chance the layout won't fit in the new location,by then you could be tired of it, and you will be 6yrs better at what your doing and want a clean slate to start over.

Once you remove the rolling stock,pull up the track, the building,save some of the trees. Whats left?  bench work, that can be replaced fast and easy

just thinking

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Posted by CNSF on Thursday, January 18, 2018 5:18 PM

My advice would be to not confine yourself to a 4x8 tabletop approach - especially if you're thinking you might want to save and move it. Modular construction in an around-the-walls configuration lends itself better to that and (IMHO) provides a better user experience as well.  Modules can also be rearranged and incorporated into a new layout with a different footprint after you move. 

I would also recommend you use insulation-grade styrofoam as your "tabletop" or scenery base. It's much lighter than the old plaster-over-plywood approach, and I find it easier to work with as well. You can stack it up, carve down into it, tear it out and redo it, all with ease. And it's dry. (You'll want a good shop-vac, though).

As for DCC vs. DC, I'm generally a DCC fan, but your old brass engines are a special consideration. How well do they run in their current DC configuration? If they're great, DC may be the best option for you. But if they don't run as well as you'd like them to, you'll probably have to do a lot of work anyways to get them up to snuff. Might as well convert them to DCC while you're at it.

Good luck and have fun!

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Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, January 18, 2018 5:45 PM

kenben
I know I'll be bolting the support framework to the railroad bed and my layout height should be kept to 30" or less for mountains or structrues. But structures will be removable.

Hmmm...I didn't know that.  The discussions we have had here on a single level layout is somewhere between 42" on the low side and 55" on the high side, unless you are operating from a chair. 

Maybe you are looking for huge mountains and buildings, but most people like their track closer to eye level.  Of course the higher the layout, the harder it is to reach to the far side.  24" is considered the useful distance one can reach into the layout.

As far as moving, I can relate to that.  Several of us are considering that option and building modular layouts, rather than bolt on to the wall layouts.  MRH is doing a youtube series on what they call their TOMA modules.  Not sure what Toma stands for but the idea is to have sections, which can be maneuvered out of the house and around the stairs and yet be long enough to have a yard, where the turnouts aren't located at the seams of the modules.

If this is your 1st layout, you will be tempted to put too much track into too little space.  Run your ideas by this group first, we have some professional layout designers that will give you an opinion.

I didn't see that you specifically asked for DC vs DCC opinions.  I like the sound features of DCC, but converting old engines is a bit daunting.  Not everyone likes sound.  As a rule you can't run both at the same time.  At least one of our members uses a center off DPDT throw switch so he can either run one or the other.  You never want an engine to cross between DCC and DC.  You can't go wrong with either Digitrax or NCE. 

 

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by Doughless on Thursday, January 18, 2018 6:42 PM

kenben

Layout move: I expect I may move from my current home in about 5 to 7 years. I know I'll be bolting the support framework to the railroad bed and my layout height should be kept to 30" or less for mountains or structrues. But structures will be removable.

Haven't '"been away" for 50 years. Just been sitting on the "when I get time to" shielf. I'm kinda in a retirement mode. I'm a filmmaker so I still am working on projects but all on my schulding. I've had my dad's big box of HO trains and kits etc. for about 38 years and have some of his trains on display in mt house.

I'm in my 60's. Look like I'm in my 40's. Feel like 50's. Health? Good, but there are no guarantees in life. And I'm in no big hurry.

BTW, sinced you asked, you'll be moving my layout when that time comes! 

 

 

The reality is that if you apply your time to the hobby you'll learn so much over the course of the next 5 to 7 years that you'll likely...highly likely...find that what you build now won't be worth moving.

Starting over with a new layout is common for many folks in the hobby.  And its fun to build something that suits your then current level of knowledge and experience.

But modular table top benchwork is not that hard to build.  Its more time consuming than difficult, and your space would require just a few modules.

 

- Douglas

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Posted by xboxtravis7992 on Saturday, January 20, 2018 2:16 PM

As a guy who is working on my first real layout project, I have a few suggestions:

Read Up: Model Railroader, Model Railroad Craftsman etc. are good places to see what others are doing. I think you'll eventually find some authors that talk about the hobby from a view point similar to your goals, for example I like to read stuff from Tony Koester and Lance Mindheim since I enjoy reading about applying prototypical practice to the hobby. You might find other authors you like more, who might be bigger fans of focusing on things that catch your interest more.

Visit: Going to visit your local hobby shops and fellow modeler's layouts in your area offer some good hand on experience which can guide your layout goals.

Just do it: Fear of failure is good if it helps you pursue to learn and hone your skills. However it is exteremly detrimental if it paralyzes you so much you don't want to do anything. Its better to start building a little bit here and there and make progress honing your skills, than do nothing at all because your worried to mess it up. Better to have a messed up layout, but fun all the way learning to build it; than have no layout and missed out on the experience entirely.

 

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Posted by kenben on Sunday, January 21, 2018 1:08 PM
Thanks for the input. I'm only looking at DCC since I'm really starting from nothing. If the old brass engines can't make the transfer to DCC, they my just be pretty to look at parked somewhere on the layout. My idea is to be able to remove the framework for the actual roadbed for moving purposes, and have the "roadbed" designed where it can come apart in sections.

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