December 2016 Update

December 14, 2016

The Layout as of December 1 2016.

The layout is coming along quite nicely. Fortunately for the layout, I’m much more consistent about working on it than I am in writing about it here.

What’s New

There’s been a great deal of progress since August! The main line, which is terminated by reversing loops on either end, has been complete since November, and trains can run the entire length. Two passing sidings allow me to have two (or I guess three) trains on the track, although this amount of mental juggling is not something I attempt often.

Aside from the sub-roadbed and track work, the backdrop has grown significantly and received a coat of primer paint. The photo above was taken a couple weeks ago; as of this weekend the backdrop has made it around to the corner at the left rear of the room. One more 4’ section remains.

The backdrop has been a challenge. It’s made out of 2 foot tall panels of hardboard (Masonite). The most time-consuming part of this has been in smoothing out the seams between the pieces. I’m using drywall joint compound to do this, and I’ve learned that my skills with drywall mud have a long way to go. For some of the seams I tried using paper tape, but it’s taken a very long time to smooth over the ridge that the paper tape formed. Perhaps after it’s all over I’ll have something to share. At any rate, once I get the seams smooth I’ll be able to finish painting it, and then I’ll be able to get started on roughing in scenery, hopefully by the end of the year.

One of the areas I’m most excited to start work on is in that back left area. I’ve used cardboard to sketch out the profiles of the mountains in this area and I’m really happy with how it’s looking. A closer look:

Playing with river valley profiles.

The dip in the center represents the river, which flows toward the camera, from up around the bend to the right. The track of follows the river, of course. I had formed an idea in my head of what I wanted in this area, but prototyping it with cardboard really helped it come to life. The two lengths of elevated track in this photo are the upper return loop. The one in the foreground will be a bridge.

I had been planning to build a backdrop down the center of the smaller peninsula. I even wrapped another piece of hardboard around a tube to make the endcap, but after temporarily assembling that section of backdrop I decided not to proceed. These floating backdrops chop up the room of course, and in this case I didn’t think it was worth it. So the challenge will be to develop scenery that logically separates the two halves of that peninsula (as they are not intended to be geographically back to back). Being able to look out over a wider, unbroken landscape will be nice.


We’ve had a fair number visitors to the layout over the past few months. It’s been fun to see how people respond to it. In particular it’s cool to see some pull out their phone to take a picture.

I’m also learning how to “entertain” guests with the layout. Yes, you run the train, but with a single track main the action can be somewhat limited, with only one train moving at a time. (Trying to make oneself available to talk to people is not a good time to attempt to move two trains around the layout simultaneously. I need a crew…) Still, I would do well to remember what I said about Tom Brennison’s layout: limited action allows visitors to take in the details. This will be more of a long term goal – my layout has no details yet.

Perhaps half of my visitors are friends’ kids. I try to make sure they get to blow the whistle on the big trains, or I’ll tuck the big train safely away on a siding and let them run our Thomas LionChief train around. Thomas can handle flying off a curve at full speed a lot better than the big trains. I’d love to find a way for them to run the big train. Perhaps using the speed limit feature would be sufficient.

What’s Next

I’m looking forward to getting started on some scenery. The base backdrop needs to be finished first, however. Also, although the mainline and major passing sidings are complete, none of the industry sidings and spurs are. They still need to be planned beyond sketches or general notions in my mind.

I’ve been doing some preliminary work on signals. The present plan is to use an isolated rail for block occupancy detection and an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to make the logic work. It’s been fun to prototype it out on the Arduino. Here’s a little video I made testing out opto-couplers for isolated rail occupancy detection:

More on that in a future blog post.

Lastly, this railroad really needs a name. I’ve been trying out names for the towns/areas; perhaps I will do the railroad thing and name it for the towns that it serves. Until next time!