BUILD YOUR RAILROAD INSIDE OUT
Traditional indoor benchwork works outdoors, too
BY ARNLJOT GRANHEIM
WHAT I NEED is a manageable outdoor layout I can build myself.
I am retired from a long career in the armed forces and I live in a military-oriented retirement center. I suppose I could have received permission to set up the usual kind of ground level layout somewhere on the premises but it just seemed too much. Besides, I am a member of the San Antonio Garden Railway Society and the huge outdoor layout we have been building will take several more years to complete. But, as I said, I am retired and time has become more precious. I really wanted a project I could finish relatively quickly.
I had built some layouts in smaller scales but inevitably I had to relocate and it was necessary to tear everything apart. They did teach me about wooden benchwork, though. That's when I began thinking about combining indoor and outdoor railroading.
We built a large covered patio behind our garden apartment. The apartment protects the patio on the north, a glass wind screen shelter it on the east, and a roof overhang on the south. Eventually the logical conclusion dawned: It would be nice to have some simple, easy-to-access trackage out on that patio to exercise my large scale trains pending final development of the ambitious SAGRS layout.
WHAT I WANT
After deliberate, subconscious, or "unconscious" thought, I adopted the following guidelines:
- Feel free to look into a different approach, but keep it simple.
- Build a durable, reliable, all-weather layout I can run anytime, rain or shine.
- Look at outdoor railroading with a slight twist: Incorporate aspects of both indoor and outdoor layouts such as live Bonsai plants, artificial terrain, seated eye-level operation, and ample storage under the layout's benchwork.
- Avoid the 4 x 8 flat sheet of plywood look.
- Avoid filling the entire patio with trackwork.
- Be able to reach all points of the layout with nothing more than a step stool or mechanic's crawler.
- Plan the major parts of the layout but keep it flexible enough to change during construction.
- Stick with one main manufacturing system for track, electrical controls, couplers, and other technical accessories.
- Plan to amuse myself, regardless of how prototypical or whimsical.
- Be able to run and listen to trains with a minimum of hassle and maintenance. The SAGRS layout could provide more sophistication.
WHAT I BUILT
I have devised a 12 x 16 foot layout on wooden benchwork. The open-grid construction follows Linn Wescott's L-girder techniques and the sub-roadbed is 1/2-inch thick plywood. The cabinet grade plywood and D-grade 1 x 4s have no knots or warp and make life much easier. I used 1/4-inch bolts and relatively large screws but no nails. I liberally treated everything with Thompson's Waterseal. The legs are steel, and I maximized the girder spans to allow as much uninterrupted storage space as possible under the layout.
I installed 3/8-inch thick Mainline Modules brand cork-like plastic roadbed and LGB sectional track. Most radii are 2 foot (LGB 1100) but some are 2 1/2 foot (LGB 1500). The maximum grade on the west end reaches 4.5-percent to make the over-and-under crossing. Other grades are no more than 2.5-percent. Only the sidings and spurs are level.
All power and electrical components are from LGB. I had one wiring problem nobody I could think of seemed able to help with so, at the suggestion of Ron Gibson at LGB of America, I sent my complete wiring plan to Rolf Richter at the LGB headquarters in Germany. He sent it back with only one extremely simple correction. I felt pretty good about that but his taking the time to help me was much more impressive.
It gets very hot here so, to provide enough ventilation for the control panel, I mounted it on a rolling cart with four clear Lexan shelves open on all four sides. Quick-disconnect plugs allow me to set up in no time.
So far, no scenery is in but I have found a number of plants able to withstand life in pots, extensive pruning, and the Texas heat. They will eventually become miniature, living, evergreen trees.
I hope the solution to my unique layout problems will inspire other hobbyists to consider more creative approaches. When I do finish the railroad, it will be neither a traditional outdoor layout or a conventional bench-type layout. Maybe we should call it simply an outdoor model railroad.