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  • Build Your Own Benchwork:

    Your model railroad becomes more of a model and less a toy when it can run on its own tabletop.

    LEFT: A highly-detailed scene like this one created by SS Ltd's Craftsmen, is only possible with proper benchwork support. These mountains are part of a 2x4-foot HO scale "module".
    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1970 - Page 12 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1970 - Page 13

    Once you've experienced the joys of operating an oval layout on the living room floor, or of admiring a shelf-full of model railroad equipment, you'll begin to wonder just how much better it all would look in a more permanent setting. There are, to be sure, thousands of true model railroaders who never got beyond the floor/shelf stage, but they are missing something. Model railroading is really an action hobby - those precisely-detailed miniatures of real railroading are designed to operate as well as they look. Why not get that train set or collection off the floor or shelf and onto a completely-sceniced model railroad layout?

    That term "completely-sceniced" can be enough to scare off some of the more timid souls. In fact, a plain plywood board with tracks, a scattering of houses, grass, trees, and roads falls with in the definition as much as a mountain "empire" - the fascinating feature of this hobby is that you have the choice of which to build. Many modelers start with the simple flatland layout, adding hills and ravines over a period of months or even years to suit their budget of time and their interests. The first step, though, is to get a table built that will allow you to expand your new model railroad layout with a minimum amount of rebuilding.

    To the beginner, the simple flat tabletop may seem the quickest way to get some trains rolling.

    PAGE 14 LEFT: It takes proper tools to build benchwork that will last. Most can be rented for the project. You'll need a drill, power saw, power screwdriver, screws, tape measure, and a "pilot" bit to match the size screws you use.

    PAGE 14 RIGHT: Number 2 x 1 1/2," wood screws are adequate for most bench work (hold the legs on with stove bolts and nuts) . A "pilot" bit to match the screws will make the work easier and save splits. 

    PAGE 15 TOP LEFT: The 1x4 wood members of the "open grid" benchwork are cut to size, then assembled with wood screws. Drill a "pilot" hole first.

    PAGE 15 TOP RIGHT: This "Yankee"-brand power screwdriver makes assembly easy. Handle is simply pushed toward joint; the screwdriver does all the twisting to seat screw firmly and quickly.

    PAGE 15 BOTTOM LEFT: This example of "open grid" benchwork would fit any 4x8-foot track plan. 1x3 supports have been screwed together with crossmembers spaced a minimum of two-feet apart.

    PAGE 15 BOTTOM RIGHT: Legs are added last. Attach each with at least two carriage bolts and nuts. If layout cannot be bolted to wall, each leg must be braced with a diagonal 1x2 wood support.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1970 - Page 14 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1970 - Page 15

    It may well be, however, that flat tabletop can present some real problems if you ever want to thrill at the sight of a train crossing over a bridge - with a flat tabletop you must provide some sort of cutout under the tracks for that gully that the bridge bridges. There is a better way ... Most experienced model railroaders will suggest some form of "open grid" type of benchwork. The open grid style is similar to the framework of a frame house before the exterior and interior wall panels are in place - you might consider it to be merely the outer framework of a table with some braces across the open center section but no top. Narrow boards, just a fraction of an inch wider than the tracks, follow the path of the tracks around the "open grid" tablework. The track boards are supported a few inches above the top edges of the tablework on short wooden risers. You are free to add bridges: hills, and valleys wherever you choose - extra tracks can be added at will on their own track boards and risers. Eventually plaster-type scenery will fill in the open areas. Initially, however, the open spaces can be filled with scraps of burlap or cardboard to keep any accidentally derailed trains off of the floor.

    The simplest type of "open grid" benchwork is simply a series of shadow box-style frames made from 1x3 or 1x4 boards placed on end and screwed together. A slightly more complex type of "open grid" was pioneered by Model Railroader's Lynn Westcott. Westcott's design used 1x3 longitudinal members that were capped with glue and screwed 1x2 pieces to form an inverted "L" shape. The shorter crossmember's are then screwed to the "L" braces from below through the flange of the "L". The advantage of the "L girder" type of benchwork is that even the basic grid can be adjusted for closer spacing under complex mountain trackage or wider spacing under larger, flat, yard areas. If you're planning a first-ever model railroad layout, the simple shadow box-style "open grid" benchwork will be best. Just be sure to fasten all joints with screws rather than nails. Should any changes be needed as the railroad progresses, the screwed-in place supports can be removed without upsetting the rest of the layout. It's also far easier on existing construction to attach new track supports with screws rather than to shake up the entire layout as you hammer away at the new supports.

    Apartment dwellers may want to consider constructing their layouts in a series of portable "modules" that bolt together to form a complete layout. These modules, like those in the photos, can be as small as 2 x 4-feet; with each area detailed as an independent unit. The modules can be stacked on a series of shelves for storage and assembled into a larger layout when you want to operate complete trains, or on that blessed day when you finally find a house with room for a complete model railroad. Even a single module can form the basis of an effective scene to display your models. If the trackwork is planned carefully enough, you can even operate a switching yard or industry setting while you wait for the day when longer trains can be sent out to run over the "mainline". The time spent detailing one of these modules is worthwhile in that the module can form at least a part of even the largest model railroad empire. If your space is limited, at least temporarily, it's a good way to get started and gain experience in building and operation.

    PAGE 16 TOP LEFT: The Elmhurst (ILL.) Model Railroad Club is constructing their N and HO scale layouts using "L girder" open grid benchwork. Crossmembers are attached to top of "L" with screws from below.

    PAGE 16 TOP RIGHT: Track support boards are cut to match the location of the track plan; about 1/2" w ider than tracks. Boards are supported a few inches above grid to leave space for rivers and valleys.

    PAGE 16 BOTTOM LEFT: The "open grid" bench work of the Elmhurst (ILL.) Model Railroad Club is nearing a final stage of construction. Most track boards and tracks are in place - scenery comes next . . . .

    PAGE 16 BOTTOM RIGHT: This "city" module is one of four that assemble into a 4x8-foot display layout for SS Ltd.'s HO scale structures, trees, detail castings, rock castings, and bridges. 2x4-foot module is assembled and detailed as an individual diorama. 

    PAGE 17 TOP LEFT: "Industrial" module, from SS Ltd.'s layout, was carefully planned to compliment the adjoining modules. Track plan of entire layout was drawn first, then broken into modules.

    PAGE 17 TOP RIGHT: "City" and "industrial" modules form an L-shaped layout in their own right. Modelers with little space could use just this much of a layout for switching operations and display.

    PAGE 17 BOTTOM LEFT: The third layout module depicts a rural mountain scene. Hills, valleys, streams, and tunnels can be incorporated into the modular design as well as city or industrial areas.

    PAGE 17 BOTTOM RIGHT: The "city", "industrial", and "mountain" modules bolt together to form a 4x6-foot layout. Forth module will feature more tunnels and rock cuts to complete the 4x8-foot layout. A center backdrop helps to separate the "city" from "mountains". The entire layout is supported on a set of removable legs.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1970 - Page 16 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1970 - Page 17

    Article Details

    • Original Author 1001 Model Railroading Ideas
    • Source 1001 Model Railroading Ideas
    • Publication Date Winter 1970

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