When you’re planning and building a layout of any reasonable size you live with it in your head for a long time. I’ve been thinking and pondering over this layout plan for so longthat I mostly know well in advance where the tight spots and speed bumps are going to be. One D’oh moment did happen as I laid the track between QW and Morpeth but I think I’m being honest when I say there haven’t been many instances where I’ve been caught out and things didn’t fit where and how the plan said they were supposed to. As the process of building a layout is curated by our own individual personalities it’s no surprise to find that the habits and personality quirks we bring to life and work are reflected in the way we build our layouts and that has never been more true that in building and laying out the curve between the storage yard and Raworth.
Now for those of you who don’t follow my ramblings all that closely I should probably say that the construction of this layout has been impacted by one critical decision I made prior to settling on the final plan. This decision was to include my two portable layouts, Queens Wharf and Morpeth, into the “permanent” design. I knew this would have an impact on the design and construction of the layout but if I’d known how big an impact I’m not sure I’d have gone down this path, at least not with Queens Wharf. This is not to say I’m unhappy with the result, but equally I’m not convinced that the payoff (in terms of time and effort saved) of allowing QW to dictate what happens on a major portion of the larger layout has been worth it. In fact I know it hasn’t been. Queens Wharf was a tiny test bed of a diorama I built over a decade ago. It had some charm and it allowed me to test some ideas but here I am a decade later letting it partially dictate the position and arrangement of the track on a large, permanent home layout. Some of the scenery and all of the track from QW is now sitting on the permanent layout but great slabs of the scenery have either had to be removed or have simply fallen off and as such will need significant amounts of work to be reinstalled. In addition the switches on this little diorama were the first I’d ever made by hand in any number and as such their construction and geometry leave a little to be desired. Anyway the decision was taken, QW now sits along one wall of my layout room and I’m now moving toward the point where I will have the circle of track around the entire perimeter completed and I can run a train around the room. Not that this is a significant accomplishment to a “serious”, operations orientated modeller like me of course. I only put a circle of track in to pander to those of a less serious frame of mind than me 🙂
So I’ve essentially got both QW and Morpeth installed, the storage lines are in place, the not inconsiderable obstacles of a staircase and a cupboard that were inconveniently in the way have been addressed and the two ends of track that form the circle are gradually creeping toward each other to eventually meet in the one totally “new” part of the layout: Raworth! The Raworth (pronounced Ray-worth) portion of the layout is the only station that I can build free from the constraints of a pre-existing diorama or layout segment. Here I can let my imagination run free and “design” to my hearts content to get exactly what I want. Or not. If this layout were a movie it would be Twins starring Danny DeVito and Arnie. Morpeth and QW would be Arnie, who got all the good genes and Raworth would be Danny DeVito, who got all the left over crap. All the easy to fill spaces and walls have been taken up by my two portable layouts with Raworth getting the truncated, “leftover” corner. In addition every fudge and compromise I permitted myself in the design phase to get them to fit has come together in Raworth to provide me with a genuine construction challenge. A challenge that culminated yesterday in me knocking another whacking great hole in one of my newly installed walls/ceilings.
When I reach a tough spot in a modelling project I tend to ignore it and work around it. Thus it has been with Raworth: I had a plan and I knew what was supposed to happen in the corner it sits in but I had done the sums and made some measurements and I knew my minimum radius of 1.5m was in real trouble in one particular spot: the apex of the curve as it rounds the bend into Raworth’s short yard.
After a long design process, a lot of time and effort put into testing curve radii and a great deal of thought I’d put into how to build this part of the layout I discovered three days ago what I’d long suspected: I didn’t have enough space to accommodate my minimum radius curve in this part of the layout. Where my plan said a 1.5m radius curve should be, there was a wall and it wasn’t going anywhere! 🙂
Several weeks ago I’d been able to stand in the middle of the area where the track would curve out of the storage sidings around into Raworth and I could tell that things were going to be extremely tight. This was without adding in a curved point at the top of the curve where the triangle of track was to be created. The radius on this Peco point was much larger than 1.5m and there are straight sections on these manufactured points so this would push the radii out even further. I knew that a 1.5m radius curve wasn’t going to fit, I just hadn’t worked out by how much. So being a go getting type of personality I ignored the problem and started work on the suspended section of rail line that runs over the stairs and through the storage cupboard. This kept me occupied for two or three weeks but the curve into Raworth was always there in the background. I came back to the problem about a week ago. Surprisingly the wall hadn’t shifted out 50mm in the hiatus of work in this area 🙂 The problem wasn’t just confined to the amount of simple distance I had available between the throat of the storage yard and that or Raworth: in addition I once again had to contend with the dormer ceilings that slope up at 45 degrees from the vertical walls. While I would have been able to squeeze in a 1.5m radius curve if I had straight walls, I have in fact got 45 degree angled walls and these were in the way due to constraints further up and down the line: at one end I needed the track to be at a particular height so that it would match the shelf the track runs across in the storage cupboard and at the other end I had plans to curve the coal branch up and over the line running out of the storage roads so every millimeter I could raise the track where it enters Raworth means a slightly less stiff grade on this branch. Of course I couldn’t just raise the line because eventually it would hit the ceiling. So if I couldn’t will that wall away I had to come up with a solution.
The problem had two aspects: the first was that there simply wasn’t enough space to fit my minimum radius in and secondly there was a strict limit to how high I could raise the track at this point to ease the grade on the coal branch. It turned out that I was close but there wasn’t quite enough room to squeeze in my 1.5m “minimum radius curve. In fact I was short by about 50mm (2”) for this size curve to fit in. So I reduced the radius of the curve to 1450mm and drew up and cut two lengths of 12mm ply at this radius and fitted these in place. And it worked. However at the point where I wanted the trains to run the ceiling starts to angle out. While there may have been room for the curve of track, unless all my stock could be reduced to being only 50mm high none would pass that spot without hitting the ceiling.
A couple of days ago I had a visitor who was delivering some wood for a project I’m working on and she came upstairs to see the layout. I’d spent the day struggling with the realization that I couldn’t fudge this part and that I was going to have to do something to get trains round that bend but I wasn’t prepared to reduce the radius of the curve any further to bring it away from the ceiling. I was swearing and carrying on to my friend when I said “and I’m not cutting a hole in the wall!” to which she replied, “why not? You’ve cut holes in three other places.” She was right! So cut a hole is exactly what I did! 🙂
So I gave into the inevitable and cut a new hole in the ceiling, this time to allow the trains to pass. It was a long narrow hole which sits about 200mm behind the backdrop and will allow the leading outside edge of my trains to swing through the arc of the 1450mm curve without hitting their noggins.
As usual with my hole cutting excursions there was a piece of plasterboard channel sitting behind the exact spot I wanted my hole to be. Cutting the hole in the plaster was a mere bagatelle but the bloody metal channel needed the application of a lot of elbow grease by way of a hack saw and I was sweating by the end of the process. Well it was actually two processes as I had to extend the hole when I discovered it wasn’t long enough. And then we come to the backdrop. As you may be able to see from the photo above the hole in the wall is quite a way behind the backdrop. I wasn’t prepared to have a 20mm high backdrop along the entire length of Raworth so I cut the backdrop away to allow the curve to swoop into the gap and out again. Before starting this I thought I could disguise the hole by a few judiciously placed trees but the gap is 1.5m long and 240mm high. It would take a lot of frigging trees to disguise that! 🙂 And before anyone suggests it there are no grades on the Morpeth line so there are no hills and hence tunnels were not an option. I needed a solution to try to reduce the visual impact of this huge gap prior to the application of some judiciously placed trees!
I decided that I would curve a short length of backdrop into the hole created for the curve but this would need to be held very precisely in place on some sort of brace that was ever so slightly of a larger radius that the 1.450m radius curve of the track. This was my solution.
Once I’d made the brace I attached a length of 3mm mdf (this is the backdrop material) to it so that it could be slid in place to provide a cover for all that ugly wall and the hole in it.
When I’d constructed the backdrop screen from a brace and an appropriate length of mdf I slid this in place and mocked up the track bed to check that everything would fit. I needed a clearance of about 115mm above the track bed for it to work and about 20mm behind the track base to let large equipment to overhang on the curve. I’m pleased to report that it all worked perfectly! 🙂
I pushed the backdrop insert into position and screwed it in place, ensuring the backdrop wasn’t leaning forward and interfering with the passage of trains. In spite of the rather bodged up, last minute nature of this solution it looked and worked far better than I had a right to expect. I’ll run a string of LED lights along the upper inside of the main backdrop to get rid of the shadows. It won’t make everything disappear but this will cut down on the visual impact considerably.
Ok, ok, this still doesn’t look “pretty” but it’s a heck of a lot better than simply leaving the gap unmasked so you could see the hole in the ceiling. With track in place, a photo backdrop applied to the whole area, a string of LED lights behind the main backdrop to remove the shadows and (yes you guessed it) a few judiciously placed trees, I think this isn’t going to look too bad. Well I have my fingers crossed 🙂 And I got my 120mm clearance to allow trains to pass at a reasonable height. Not a bad outcome overall.