Off The Floor

I’ve had my father-in-law staying with me over the past few days. He’s an ex-locomotive fireman, driver and train inspector who worked on the NSWR for over 40 years in the Riverina region. He’s a lovely bloke, very Australian, in the best sense of the word, with a great love of bush poetry from the likes of Lawson and Patterson and he really loves a yarn. Getting him talking is easy, it’s stopping him that’s the real problem πŸ™‚ However, in spite of this I managed to get some work done on the layout this weekend and it was time to cut some wood and get Queens Wharf up off the floor. I’d been thinking and cogitating over this step for a number of weeks because I knew I wasn’t going to like the height of the layout after I’d decided on the compromise between the height of track above the floor, the height of the backdrops and the distance I was prepared to allow the layout to sit out from the walls. If I’d been building these sections of layout from scratch I probably could’ve managed the issue a little differently, shifting the taller structures to the front and possibly lowering the backdrops and trees a little. However, in the end this was only going to give me a few more inches of height. The room I’m building this layout in has sloping ceilings and there isn’t much I can do about this: raise the layout to the height I’d prefer and I’d have to use curves that would have been at home on a HO layout, lower the layout to the point where I can get decently broad curves and I wouldn’t need to build benchwork because the layout would need to be on the floor. Still I’m in this hobby to make decisions and present myself with a series of problems to solve. It would be boring if this stuff was easy. Well that’s what I keep telling myself πŸ™‚

Even without something to gauge the height of the benchwork against, you can tell this is less than an ideal height. Rail height is approximately 1m from the floor, about 300mm (12″) lower than I’d prefer.

I had the layout sections of Queens Wharf already in the room, I’d purchased the wood I was planning to construct the benchwork from a few weeks ago and I had a design nutted out for the benchwork units because I’d developed it a couple of years when I used something very similar in my previous home layout. On that occasion I’d started to set both Queens Wharf and Morpeth up as a permanent layout but had to abandon the scheme when my career took an unexpected turn and I sold the house the layout was being built in.

While I’m a real fan of Linn Wescott and his L girder benchwork, I must admit to only having the space required for its use on one occasion; in this application and in all the other layouts I’ve ever built I’ve never had the room to justify its use. I use his idea of the L-girder but these have been turned over and used as rails on which my pre-existing modular layouts will sit. I found it interesting to be reading some of Pelle Soeborg’s thinking behind his most recent modular layout today in MR and finding that I’d come to many of the same conclusions he has about wanting to be able to pull the layout apart at some point down the track with minimal damage. I may not be the one pulling the layout apart but I do want to allow for this if it ever needs to happen. I’m going to preserve the breaks in the backdrops and track where possible to allow the sections of layout to be unbolted and removed from the room in blocks.

After doing some calculations and checking heights I commenced cutting the 2x2s for the leg units. These all have adjustable feet on them to allow for an uneven floor and the floor is uneven, I’ve already checked. The leg units are recycled from the previous aborted attempt to set these two small layouts up as a home layout so the really hard jobs had mostly been done. I already had the leg units made and the adjustable feet installed, all I had to do was disassemble them, cut the 2x2s to the shorter length this room required and reassemble them. I then made up four 2.4m long L girders and screwed these into the tops of the leg units. The last step was to cut some diagonal braces to provide a bit of support to the legs and then haul the resulting units upstairs. Ever since I decided I was going to set Queens Wharf up as a home layout I’ve always planned to extend the passing loop at this location to allow for the passing of reasonably long trains. After consulting my plan I’ve decided that I can extend the loop by 1.2m (4′) essentially doubling its length and making it far more practical.

This photo clearly illustrates my dilemma with the height of the backdrop and the sloping ceiling: lower the backdrop and I start cutting into the scene, raise the benchwork and I lose the ability to have what I feel are reasonably broad curve radii because this pushes the layout further out from the wall.

Now that the benchwork for QW is built I’m going to spend a few weeks sitting and looking at it for a time to see whether I can live with it or whether it prompts a re-think of the plan.

I think this photo illustrates the problem with the layout height. I’m used to a layout that sits about the height of my armpit and to get a similar view at this height you really need to be sitting down. As I grow older it’s quite possible that sitting down while I shunt the layout may become a necessity rather than a luxury. Luckily my bald patch isn’t too apparent in this shot πŸ™‚

My house guest told me quite a number of stories of his time on the railways and most are pretty funny. One involved a driver by the name of Speedy and his mate who were working the goods yard at a station near Hay in southern NSW. Evidently the usual station master was on leave for a number of weeks and his replacement had a very attractive, young wife by the name of Darlene. Most NSW stations provided accommodation for the Station Master adjacent to the station yard so these houses and their surrounding yards could be seen from the line. On this particular day Speedy and the fireman were propelling a string of wagons into the goods shed which was a “through” design with doors on either end. The doors on the far end were shut and the shunter was down that end of the line using hand signals to direct the crew. Evidently Darlene was out in the yard of the Station Master’s residence hanging out the washing and she was dressed in a pair of quite revealing shorts. Speedy was watching her from his side of the cab as she bent to pick up items of clothing and he called the fireman over with a “take a look at this”. The train was still moving as both of them stood glued to the scene with the shunter on the ground near the end of the train wildly waving his arms about and shouting for them to stop the train. Of course the inevitable happened and the wagon at the rear of the train hit the rear goods shed door, smashing through it and propelling several wagons through the other side.

Both men were hauled up before the local train inspector and questioned about what had happened. Speedy told him, “I couldn’t see the shunter, he was on the other side of the wagons.”

So the inspector turned to the fireman and asked him why he hadn’t seen the shunter’s signals. He replied, “I had a cinder in me eye.”

“Why couldn’t you see him with your other eye?” was the next question.

“Let me poke you in the eye and we’ll see how well you see out of the other one,” the fireman replied.

They both got away with it…

5 thoughts on “Off The Floor

  1. Good story!
    As to layout height my last “real” layout was at 60″ – it was Alpine Tunnel on the NG DSP&P. I had step ups for those shorter than my 6’2″. Had built it high with notion that a lower level at 40″ would be added at some point. That layout and attempts to rebuild it fell victim to relocations over the years.
    In the interim I have had modules 48″ high. New layout was planned for 48″ when I put the room together but now severe lumbar stenosis limits the time I can stand – suddenly 40″ for viewing and operating from an office chair has entered the picture. A visit to a specialist this Thursday may firm up my plan or just lead to abandonment – sad after waiting all these years for retirement and a real train room.
    Keep up the good work – wish I was in Australia to see it in person but I did not return there when I got out of the USMC in 1970.


  2. Hi Trevor,
    Enjoying the updates as they regularly roll out. The height compromise is always a debatable issue, more so with exhibition layouts and accommodating to the general public (or kids and those in wheelchairs…which I usually maintain that its my layout, I’ll stick it at the height I choose). In this instance, I feel the desire for the sweeping curves wins the battle, as the aesthetics of how a train looks flowing around a broad corner adds greatly to the overall feel of this layout design. Your photo demonstrates that it is easy enough to get comfortable at the lower height and still appreciate the sweeping lines (especially after a few beers!). The lower height will be easier for maintenance tasks, and a couple of rolling stools for visitors/operators to use will tuck neatly under the layout when not in use. I can also see an opportunity to take advantage of the gap that remains between the back scene and wall, to make access points for the likes of structure interior lighting and details, or even point motor mounting should obstructions exist under the layout. I’d say leave QW at this height for a bit and enjoy a few more beers in front of it…the relaxed drinking/railroading may grow on you πŸ™‚

    The only issue I perhaps saw, was where is the workbench situated? In a separate space, or was it meant to be included under the height of the layout? I have had to compromise with a fairly low workbench under the layout in my own setting, which is fine while I’m youthful, but may become awkward as I get elderly, but at that stage I’d hope some kids have moved out and I may have gained an indoor hobby space again to host a compact modelling bench.


    • Dan,
      The beer was merely there for comparative, scaling purposes. I wasn’t actually going to drink it although it somehow came to be opened and it would have been a waste not to consume it πŸ™‚
      The curve radii issue is slightly more significant that simply an aesthetic one and the way longer stock looks on those curves. I’m concerned about actually being able to get the locos I want to run to round the curves I’m going to use. If they’re too tight the locos litearally won’t round the curves. 1.5m is my preferred minimum so having 1.4m curves is really pushing this target.

  3. Hi Trevor,
    Great post!
    Suggestion for what is worth.
    I agree with Dan that the desire for the sweeping curves is important.

    I suspect that if you were staring from scratch with that other possible layout you might be tempted to use the intersection of the vertical and sloping wall as the obvious bench height for the layout. This would mean that the sloping wall would form the backdrop. It would of course result in the need for some modification of some of the rear buildings so it would only make sense if there were no plans to exhibit any of the Morpeth modules in the future.


    • John,
      Yes the sloped ceilings would probably have become curved backdrops if starting from scratch but I’ve done some calculations and having them pushed in tight against the ceiling wouldn’t have added all that much to the benchwork height without pushing out from the low vertical part of the wall. Ironically I wanted to use the height of a typical kitchen benchtop as my absolute minimum height. These tend to sit around 1050mm above the floor. I have a feeling that I haven’t quite achieved this height because as I started to raise the benchwork it started to push out from the wall quite alarmingly and space is tight even with the curves at 1.4m. One of the crucial issues is the length of Morpeth and the way this starts to intrude into the aisle space at the bottom of the plan near the entry door from the stairs. Making that crucial curve at the top of the plan 1.5m pushed the end of the layout, which remember is pre-existing and so can’t be shortened, too far into this space. Having broader curves doesn’t just push the layout away from the side (or long) wall, it also pushes the end of the whole layout further toward the far wall. I chopped 150mm off one of the modules the last time I went through this exercise, I resolved not to chop any more off so I’m stuck with trying to fit it into the room in its current confirguration.

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