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Thinking of an unusual helix

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Thinking of an unusual helix
Posted by jkovacs5 on Saturday, October 15, 2022 12:30 AM

Hi all,

I'm in the design phase of an N scale layout for after my wife and I move into her parent's "in-law" basement apartment. For the first time in my return to model railroading as an adult, I will actually have some space to work with: roughly half of a 2-car garage, 10' wide maximum and 18-19' in length, depending on how I plan for the end of the layout next to the main garage door.

Anyhow, as the current version of my N layout in a spare 11x8 bedroom has gone really, really well, my initial thoughts were to basically blow up the 11x8 track arrangement to fit the new, larger space, while avoiding the compromises I had to include in the bedroom, such as the mid-room duckunder. With the width available to me, I was even able to add a central peninsula down the long axis of the new space, which gave me pretty good separation between my three or four "must-have" scenes and a total mainline run of about 83 ft without compromising on my minimum radius or aisle widths.

Then I started really exploring a double-deck idea for the new space. Go big or go home, right? Make maximum good use of the space available. I *really* hated the idea of a standalone helix; with the gradient I'd be happy with for the helix, I'd be looking at a 5x5 in one corner that would be a bit awkward to work around given my 10' max width, meaning it'd compromise more space than just its basic footprint. Plus, there's something about tieing up an entire deck's worth of track just transiting between the two scenicked decks. A helix is an amazing tool, indeed, but I just don't want to give up that floor space to get it. And unfortunately, even with the peninsula, I didn't have enough run length the get the elevation increase I'd need with a no-lix.

So I started playing around with way to maximize my mainline run in one deck (which for me personally is a bad idea; I tend to start making cumulative compromises here and there until I end up with something that would technically work but would be really difficult to build, maintain, and/or scenic.) But then I had a series of thoughts: What if I turned that central peninsula into a helix, but make each level a short, narrow sceniced area?

For reference, the peninsula from wall to turn-back loop is about 14 ft, and aside from bulbing out the ends to keep to my minimum radius (15") it's mostly 2' in width to keep 30" aisles with up to 18" wide side wall shelves. At the bulbous end, those wall shelves will need to neck in to 12" to keep in my 10' wide footprint; no big deal.

Anyhow, the salient feature of using this peninsula as a helix is that it's approximately 32' of track per loop, allowing 5.5" of rise per loop at under 1.5% grade. Three total loops would get me at least 16" of elevation gain to the top deck. To allow room for counterbalancing the decking on the inside of the loops behind some backdrops, I could create shelves of the loops roughly 9" deep by 5" tall mini-scenes that could be up to 28' long going entirely around the visible part of the peninsula. Granted, I couldn't do much with them; it's still basically just a helix, albeit with more elevation per loop than normal. But I could do one loop as a long farm scene(s) with the double-mainline at the back of the loop shelf, I could put about a 7' long passing track on another or maybe model an interchange of about the same length, or use backdrop flats and some foreground scenery to simulate running through the suburbs, or maybe a have a rural station stop or two. Nothing heavy with trackwork or involving anything below grade, of course. I even thought of maybe doing each loop level in a different season, such that if the main lower and upper decks are in summer time, I could do an autumn, a winter, and a spring scene from bottom up. 

Anyway, this 3-loop extended helix would give me roughly 100' of mainline running, connecting the more or less level lower and upper around-the-walls main decks each about 50' in length, and the only part that would involve hidden trackage would be the turnback loops at the wall-end of the peninsula, maybe about 12 ft in all. So I'd have effectively a 200' mainline with more than 180' feet (roughly 5.5 scale miles) of it open and sceniced and being an active, identifiable "place" within my railroad network rather than that nebulous black hole that is a traditional helix.

Anyhow, I've mocked up such 5"-tall by 9" deep shelves to see how it looks, and although there's no real disguising what's really going on (especially from a distance and without any strip lighting illuminating the individual decks), I think having even somewhat sceniced loops is a workable compromise. More than that, it REALLY allows me to get running room between those 3 or 4 key scenes I'll be including on the main decks, gives me several new operations opportunities, and adds significantly to my overall mainline travel time.

What do you think? I'd be happy to upload the AnyRail plan sometime over the next few days if anyone would be interested, and I want to spend some time with my mock-up to flesh it out a bit to see a more finished form before committing to this idea; those photos can be uploaded as well.

Thanks,

-Jason

(Edited for spelling errors)

  • Member since
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Posted by "JaBear" on Saturday, October 15, 2022 5:09 AM
 
While nothing as ambitious as you propose, at the Club we have a HO scale helix where the track is visible in a couple of locations, and another helix I’ve seen also had a tunnel “cut away” section so the viewer had a side on view of the inside of the tunnel.
 
I will be interested in seeing how your mock ups end up looking.
 
A short video of the helix I was trying to describe on the Club layout.
 
Have Fun.
Cheers, the Bear. Smile

 

"One difference between pessimists and optimists is that while pessimists are more often right, optimists have far more fun."

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Posted by jkovacs5 on Saturday, October 15, 2022 11:31 AM

Thanks Bear.

Yeah, my thoughts are sort of along those lines in the video, only the decks within the helix would be stacked directly atop each other, just like in a normal helix. My idea just stretches the helix length-wise to get maximum vertical separation between decks up to the my grade limit, which is opposite of the normal course of action to minimize the clearance/minimize the grade in the smallest footprint practical. The long straight sections then give me the option to back the tracks up towards the helix's center line and create some scenery space, or even some limited operations space, in the foreground.

I've been playing around this morning sketching out how to mount these shelves  around the visible end of the peninsula while maintaining the ~9 in scenery depth. Pretty sure I got that sorted, but still have to mock that up. The long straight sides, piece of cake.

I was also considering maybe going for a 50/50 approach between this idea and a traditional helix; 190-ish feet of sceniced mainline with about 85 ft of that on these very short shelves is a whole lot for a one-man show. But if I move my peninsula to one wall, then I'd only have to scenic about 14 ft of each 32 ft loop in the extended helix. To break up the now wide open middle of the around-the-walls layout, I could have at least one and maybe two smaller peninsulas coming off the opposite long wall, which would allow me to more fully develop a few industries or just have more rural running with more than just right-hand curves to look at. In total, the mainline run would be close to the same as with a central peninsula/helix: about 180 ft total between the two decks and the extended helix, of which about 125 would be sceniced (52 ft on the helix loops). This would definitely save me some in materials (track and scenery) and build time while still breaking up the extended time a train would spend out of sight in a traditional helix, it would ease some of the helix construction difficulties, and it would virtually eliminate ANY aisle width concerns; I had been planning on 30" aisles throughout, and this would break them all out to about 4' with 30" choke points. It would likely even let me have space for a 2' x 4' workbench that I could roll out into the dedicated layout space when not running trains and store under the benchwork for operations, rather than having to put my workbench into the other half of the garage.

Still sketching this one up in AnyRail, but it might be a nice compromise position between my (nearly) fully sceniced extended helix and a traditional out-of-sight helix.

-Jason

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Saturday, October 15, 2022 11:34 AM

Hey Jason-

Have you thought about a 'nolix'? Basically, that's a track that runs around the perimeter of your layout at a selected grade to connect levels. You gotta figure some logical way to setup a tunnel or something at each end and then run the track in the unfinished area between decks.

You didn't include a trackplan, so I took the liberty to generate a rough sketch of a generic garage layout. Your layout on the right, your wife's car on the left, your car parked in the rain outside on the driveway. Layout shown in 18 feet by 10 feet. Diameter of the bulbous end loops is 36 inches to allow 15- or 16-inch track radius and 2-inch minimum clearance to edge of benchwork.

The heavy red line is 2 inches in from the edge of the benchwork and as shown is 840 inches (70 feet) in length. At a 1.5% grade that gives 12.6 inches of deck separation; at a 2% grade the separation is 16.8 inches.

Just a rough idea. Your situation might be slightly different. Or even entirely different.

Good luck.

Robert

 

EDIT   Apparently you were posting while I was posting. I'll read your latest and see if my hare-brained idea is still appropriate.

LINK to SNSR Blog


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Posted by "JaBear" on Saturday, October 15, 2022 3:22 PM

jkovacs5
only the decks within the helix would be stacked directly atop each other, just like in a normal helix.

Gidday Jason, I have to try and visualize in N scale, and think I’m grasping your concept, and still think you’re on to a great idea.
 
Without wishing to insult you, have you taken into consideration the “Shelf height” to include lighting.
 
Cheers, the Bear.Smile

"One difference between pessimists and optimists is that while pessimists are more often right, optimists have far more fun."

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Posted by davidmurray on Thursday, November 3, 2022 2:30 PM

Hello Jason:  I really like the idea of being able to see a train most of the time it is running.  The amount of time to do a tradional helix of that rise will leave most of us wondering if the train has stopped.

It is your railroad, have fun.

 

David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada
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Posted by jkovacs5 on Monday, November 21, 2022 12:44 PM

Hi all, just a quick update on this topic ... this time with pics and a plan! Sorry for the long delay, work has been super hectic towards the end of this year.

Robert: I considered a Nolix, but ultimately ruled it out. Some of the issues I had on previous builds were too much track in hidden, hard to reach areas, and I try to minimize that as much as possible now (specifically the hard to reach part... in N especially, it's entirely too easy to leave oneself with minimum clearances that I can just not get a hand or arm into ... ask me how I learned that lesson, lol!) I don't have quite to run to get the elevation gain I want between the main decks with a Nolix, at least not without doubling-back the mainline. Which would then conflict with one of my personal dislikes, of running through a scene twice but going the other way. So I'd have to hide it in terrain or pass it behind a backdrop. There were ways to do it, of course, I just didn't care for the arrangement.

Bear: Yessir, my space between the primary decks provides lots of clearance for the upper shelf work and the lights below it. It's right around 20" rail to rail between the main decks (on average), and the upper shelf will mostly be built of 1x3 capped with 1/2" plywood, leaving no less than 15" from rail to bottom of valance ... plenty of space. For the sceniced, elongated helix with 5.5" from rail to rail, I'll be using strip LED lighting, which are pretty easy to hide behind the minimal 3/4" tall valance I'll be using. The scenes there are only 9" deep, and these will work fine in such a confined space. Any switch machines in the helix will be remotely mounted and not hung from the benchwork under the turnout.

OK, first the elongated helix. To reiterate, it'll be approximately 14' long by 3' wide, double-tracked main, which allows me to increase height each loop 5.5" at approximately a 1.5% grade. From trials, I know my 1st gen diesels can pull trains of 20-25 cars up such an incline if double-headed, which I'm planning on doing for all trains anyway. The scenery space on each loop is 9" deep by 5" tall (top of ply to bottom of ply). I've mocked up a section of two decks and threw some basic scenery base on it, to see what it looks like in reality from a few different angles. Overall, I like it. I can't do a ton with the scenes; mostly farmlands, maybe a few structures, one loop will have an interchange which effectively takes up most of that 9" depth, etc. I have an idea to do a dramatic bridge scene involving two levels at the end of the helix, where the upper loop tracks go across a tall trestle or viaduct over the tracks of the lower loop; totally non-prototypical, but in my mind I think it'll look great. 

The mock-ups:

Overview https://flic.kr/p/2o1yEK2

Overview with Structures https://flic.kr/p/2o1yEKT

Head-on   https://flic.kr/p/2o1wfqW

It's been forever since I tried to post pics or links here and since about 5 minutes ago, my first time using Flickr, so let me know if those work or not. I reduced the images to sub-1MB, but I'm only seeing a broken pic icon while typing this, so I suspect that I messed something up.

Layout plan in next posting...

-Jason

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Posted by maxman on Monday, November 21, 2022 1:08 PM

I can see the photos just fine.

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Posted by jkovacs5 on Monday, November 21, 2022 1:13 PM

OK, I can click the photos and get taken to flickr, so I think those worked after all. Would have preferred embedded photos, but no biggie.

Anyhow, the layout plan: This is 9' wide by 18' long, and is located on the right side of a 2-car garage. 

Layout plan, grid squares = 1 ft  https://flic.kr/p/2o1yPLU

What might not be obvious at first glance is the helix is slightly off-set, allowing me to have 1' wide staging yards for both the upper and lower terminals of the railroad, which are accessible from "outside" the layout, as it were. Entry to the modeled portion of the layout will be through a swing gate on the lower level in the bottom left (upper level will be duck-under, but at ca 60", it shouldn't be a problem).

So, starting from the lower staging on the left (light blue background; green track represents a thru-track routing for continuous running.) The mainline (right-side running, exiting staging on the pink mainline representing northbound) enters the sceniced layout at the end of the helix, climbing at 1.5% along the right side of the helix before exiting to the lower main deck. On this deck the railroad passes through two key scenes clockwise around the space, climbing at less than 1% grade to achieve 5.5" elevation, and re-enters the right side of the helix for two and a half loops at 1.5% grade. It then exits to the upper main deck, climbing to ultimately reach a heavy industrial area consisting of coal and cement facilities above the helix. The mainline then passes to the left of the helix and enters the upper staging. Total elevation gain is approximately 24" from lower staging to upper, with the main decks having an average spacing of about 20" (about 15" of which is "usable" area above the lower main deck.) Operations are pretty basic; two permanent mainline through freights as "rolling scenery" that the operator (ie: me) will need to work around while running local switchers from the two yards to the various industries and interchanges. Some limited Doodlebug passenger service is envisioned, but as a very minor component. Two unit trains will service the cement and coal breaker daily, with all loads routed southbound.

The small bits of discontinuous track on the first main deck are CNJ trackage, which parralleled the LV trackage for good portions of the Lehigh River gorge. These of course are here simply for scenic completeness in Glen Onoko and Penn Haven Jct.

Total mainline run (one-way, excluding staging yards) is roughly 175 feet, of which only about 30' is hidden on the left side of the helix. That left side is fully accessible from "outside" the layout, as are both staging yards. From testing in TrainPlayer, the track plan and operational scheme work well, with a total session of one northbound local switcher, one southbound local switcher, and two northbound unit trains, taking approximately 3 hours to complete ... about perfect for my lone-wolf operations.

There's still some tinkering to do of course. The staging yards are kind of generalized right now just to get an idea of rough storage capacity. Likewise, the major cement and coal industries each need a little work to optimize the trackage. I also want to adjust my river crossings somewhat so that there isn't a bridge scene on each deck right above each other. But the main beats are all there.

-Jason

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Posted by jkovacs5 on Monday, November 21, 2022 1:57 PM

Other quick details:

Code 55, Peco flex on cork. Minimum radius = 15". Max grade 1.61%. 1 1/4" track spacing. In the plan it's drawn using mostly Peco medium turnouts, but at least for the mainline cross-overs I'll likely switch to Fast-tracks #10s, and #8s for other turnouts from the mains. Yard/siding turnouts likely to remain Peco mediums.

Lower main deck will be built on L-girders with hardboard spline sub-roadbed (got to try something new with each build, right?), upper main deck 1x3 box construction topped with 1/2 ply sub-roadbed on risers. Linear lumber may end up being ripped 3/4" plywood rather than stick lumber (except for what is salvedged from the current layout); depends on relative costs at time of purchasing. Helix decks will be 1/2" plywood cantilevered and braced on the interior side of the helix with 1x2s and 1x3. Biggest challenge will be needing to get at least a basic scenery base installed in each loop of the helix prior to moving onto the next loop above it; the back half of those 9" deep, 5" tall scenes aren't too easy to get to with spoons, brushes and eyedroppers, let alone a static grass applicator. But they're pretty minimal, and should go pretty quickly.

Turnout control will be a mix of Tortoise and servo; the second "something new" for me will be wiring these for block detection and JMRI disbatching, which I've never tried before. DCC system is Digitrax.

-Jason

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Posted by Colorado Ray on Monday, November 21, 2022 8:00 PM

Very interesting concept.  Looks like it will work great for N scale.  You might want to consider adding some cross-overs in the visible parts of the helix to give you the flexibility to have a faster train pass a slower one using the other main.

 

Ray

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Posted by "JaBear" on Tuesday, November 22, 2022 3:23 AM

jkovacs5
Would have preferred embedded photos, but no biggie.

Garage_Test_Sceniced_Helix_Double-Deck_01 by Jason Kovacs, on Flickr

Overview_2 by Jason Kovacs, on Flickr

 Overview2_2 by Jason Kovacs, on Flickr

 Head-On_2 by Jason Kovacs, on Flickr

I like it!Thumbs Up
Cheers, the Bear.Smile

"One difference between pessimists and optimists is that while pessimists are more often right, optimists have far more fun."

  • Member since
    December 2021
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Posted by jkovacs5 on Tuesday, November 22, 2022 3:57 PM

Sweet, thanks Bear!

 

Ray: I had considered crossovers in the helix, but ultimately settled on a compromise by putting that 2-track interchange on the middle-most helix loop. I really wanted to keep the helix trackage clean of turnouts just to simplify construction, but the interchange serves the double purpose of giving me another switching location as well as a handy passing track. Granted, its only on the uphill mainline side, but I figured that's the most likely place where I might have a significant slow-down where a passing track would come in handy.

Besides, schematically the whole thing is just a massive folded dogbone about 380 ft in total run, and if I run my planned two permanent mainline trains as rolling scenery/traffic to work around, I'll need to keep them more or less running at the same pace, otherwise one would eventually catch the other. So there's a layout-wide max speed rule in effect, either 20 mph or 30, haven't decided yet. At a scale 20 mph, it's about a 34 minute total run time, or 17 minutes between trains over any given spot on the mainline (on average). At 30 mph, its about a 22 minute run or about 11 minutes between mainline trains. Either way, that's plenty of time for my operator-run local switch jobs to slot in for the trek up or down the helix, even if they're traveling at half the speed limit. They may end up needing to wait on a siding for a passing mainline drag with priority for a few minutes, but that's part of the operating scheme.

-Jason

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