Queens Wharf Benchwork

I’ve  been working on the preparation for exhibiting QW over the last couple of months and this has allowed me to become familiar with the layout again. It has sat packed away in the corner of my workroom over the last 18 months. QW folds up into a neat little “box” when not in use and this is in some ways the reason it has survived three house moves and about 8 years of development and refurbishment. When it comes time to move house I just have the removalists pack it on their truck along with the furniture.

I have never really written much about the benchwork or construction of QW, so I’ve decided to start making a few posts on my blog to gradually explain how I developed the ideas for its construction and how I implemented these as I built the layout. The ideas incorporated into the design of the layout were all new to me at the time (about 8 years ago now), however many of them were picked up from reading widely over the years, adapting other people’s ideas to my own purposes and then blending these with ideas of my own. I can’t provide you with a comprehensive list of sources for these ideas and methods, however I’d like to mention three primary sources of inspiration for the way I go about designing and building benchwork and layouts:

– Probably the most influential modeller on my approach is the UK modeller Gordon Gravett. His Ditchling Green layout and Wild Swan books on 7mm modelling continue to inspire me.

– Next comes Linn H Westcott for his benchwork book. Over the years I’ve continued to go back to this source of inspiration again and again.

– Finally I should mention Norm Abrams and his television show the New Yankee Workshop. As a teenager I spent a year or so as an apprentice to a carpenter. For a number of reasons I didn’t complete the apprenticeship but this just means I’m a frustrated carpenter. I credit Norm Abrams show with reigniting my latent interest in woodworking in addition to helping me refine and develop my design methodology in layout construction. Norm does a lot more than glue and screw bits of wood together.

In spite of the QW’s benchwork now being about 8 years old, I feel that it will be a worthwhile exercise to go back and take a look at the way I developed the design of the benchwork for this layout. Much of what comes later in the design of my Morepth MkII layout is a development of this earlier design thinking and adapts and elaborates ideas I developed in building QW.

So where to start? It may pay to keep in mind that QW’s existence and continued survival is something of an accident. In about 2003 I had a permanent layout with the working title of Morepth located in my garage. I’d decided that I wanted a bit more scenery for my trains to run through, so scrapped this layout’s fiddleyard in favour of a short, 3m long extension that was to sit on a trolley. I’d originally built this trolley for the fiddle yard. The trolley consisted of a wooden frame on wheels and would be pushed out of the way when the layout was not in use, allowing me to park my car. In conjunction with the decision to scrap the fiddleyard, I also decided that this new layout segment would be built in such a way as to allow it to be used as an exhibition layout.

I’m not exactly sure where I get these brain explosions from: I’d been reading Tony Koestner for years as he’d hammered home the point about the fact that you can never really have too much storage space. Here I was scrapping my only off scene storage in favour of an extension of my layout which itself wasn’t even finished yet. Because I actually wanted the new layout section to fulfill two separate functions – as an extension of a permanent home layout and as an exhibition layout in its own right – I decided that it would need to as light as I could make it. Finally, as if that wasn’t enough, I also decided that the whole scenic section of this new part of my layout would have to fit into the back of my Toyota Camry station wagon.

At about the same time I was developing my ideas for QW, there was a group of modellers gathering together in Sydney to build the large 7mm layout Stringybark Creek. They were proposing to construct this layout from square aluminium tube and plastic connector blocks. While I was not convinced that this would provide the sort of rigidity I was after, I did like their ideas about trying to reduce the weight of the layout segments through the use of aluminium. I decided that I would try to replace some wooden elements of my benchwork with aluminium angle stock in a drive to reduce the overall weight.

In this first iteration of my idea for portable layout construction, I settled on some basic design and construction criteria:

– The layout would be in two segments that would “nest” together for transport.

– The layout segments would be built of a blend of radiata pine cross members, aluminium longitudinals and mdf.

– The layout would have to fit into the back of my Toyota Camry, along with associated lighting rig, stands, models, control system and the luggage of the two operators.

– All track would be hand laid. I had used PECO 32mm gauge track on my permanent Morpeth layout and I wasn’t very happy with its appearance.

With these parameters in mind I set about constructing my experiment: an experiment that outlived its parent layout and is still going strong as it continues to be refurbished and developed.

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