Part 4a: Preparing for Roadbed

In part 3 of the series “Building the Evans Hollows Industrial“, we looked at keeping the layout at a comfortable height off the floor. This ensures that the layout is comfortable to operate and does not cause fatigue or have other health and safety issues. And yes, this is something that you should be worried about.

Part 4 is a three-parter, and we’ll be going from bare board to track down and be ready to wire in part 5. In this exciting part (4a) we’ll go through how I go from the plan to set out switches and flex track and marking up the surface so that we are ready for glueing down the roadbed. Enough talk, let’s get to it.


A quick note: as-designed versus as-built

Software, no matter how good cannot replace the human eye when it comes to seeing what looks right. In building small layouts there is always a little fiddling required to go from the screen to setting out track on the layout board. What appears fine on a monitor can look wrong on the board. I trust the Mark 1, Mod 1 human eyeball as the best tool available to ensure things are correct and in alignment. This is also true from the artistic point of view, where sometimes it has to look right to work right. No matter how you proceed make sure to document your differences from the as-designed to as-built versions. There is a lot of learning in that difference.


Step 1: Transfering your plan to the board

What you’ll need for this process:

  • A printed copy of your plan,
  • A marker ( prefer a fine Sharpie),
  • A ruler, or framing square (if you have one)
  • Map pins, T pins or both if you can manage it.
  1. To transfer your layout design to the layout board you’ll need reference points. Using your rule mark out a grid on the layout that matches the grid on your software’s plan (most software uses 12″squares or the equivalent metric measurement). If you’re not sure how to print out the gridlines, consult the software’s help file. Usually, it is in the print dialogue.
  2. Set out your switches in their final location according to the plan and pin them down with map pins, “T” pins, or whatever you have available.
    Switches: Pt 1 – when laying out switches I use the tie bar at one end…

    Switches: Pt 2 – and the frog or guard rails to positively locate the switch
  3. Layout the flex track to join the switches, making sure that the track joints have a smooth transition. and that there are smooth transitions from straight to curved sections of flex track. (This will assist in trouble-free operation later on).

    Smooth flowing trackwork will give better performance. Use your eyes to find and fix kinks, dips and high points.
  4. You may have to move switches around to smooth rail joints and curves. Do this now. Don’t be afraid to vary from your software plan.
  5. Pin all of the flex track in place.
  6. Now change your height, getting down low, to view the track layout. And get your camera out. Sight down the rails. Check for alignment and review.
  7. Pay attention to the headblock ties of your switches. Make sure that you have clearance to operate your switches using your method of choice. (I’m using a rod in tube method that will be below grade for the operation of the point throw.)
  8. Mark out your track feeds, including frog, positive and negative (if DC) or front and rear (if DCC) while the track is down and before you get to the sub-roadbed. Make sure to mark the spots and draw offsets to them to allow you to see them after you’ve laid the sub-roadbed. (You can download a copy of my wiring standards using this link)
    I mark up all my track – note the lines drawn along the outside of the ties – also I mark in the feed location for the live frogs (here using Peco points)

    All track gets a feed point for each rail 
  9. Take a little time to test fit the car types planned for each spur. This checks the spur length is sufficient for the number and types of cars per your operating plan. Work through a mental operating session.
  10. Once you’re happy with the position of your track, switches and you’ve completed your mock operating session to check for spur/siding lengths and everything looks OK it is time to mark the layout top using a marker.

Step 2: Marking the track layout on the board

  1. Clear the layout of everything except for the track and the pins holding the track in place.
  2. Take a fine marker and run it around the outside of the track formation. This means all switches, flex track and includes the head blocks for the switch as these become crucial depending on the mechanical operation method of the switch.

Lessons learned

With the Evans Industrial layout, something was missing from a visual perspective. It all seemed too linear. Including a curved point and realigned the siding coming from it. That gave an organic look to the layout that was missing before. This is highlighted especially from a lower viewing angle.


Ready to lay some roadbed?

Well then, in Part 4b we’ll go through how we do that. See you there.

Designing Small Operating layouts you can build since 2003

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