Ralph’s been in touch with his 3×5 N scale layout:
“Hi Al –
I’ve been an avid follower the past year or so, and decided it was time to contribute.
I title my segment “How NOT to approach model railroading, but have a grand time doing it!”
I started with a 3×5 N scale layout that I had initially made with my kids about 30 years ago.
I hauled it from California to Tennessee when I retired; I was “just” going to see if I could refurbish it and run a couple of trains.
Mistake #1: I started by building the world’s most ridiculously complicated analog control system. I wasn’t aware that DCC existed. And I recommend truly understanding your layout before worrying about the control system.
My concept was to make a sandwich front panel out of 1/8 inch particle board and a sheet of metal. I could then print out the front face using printer magnet sheets, and have a representation of my layout and labels.
Inside the box, I have the LEDs, switches, terminal blocks, relays, and a power supply. Various logic is invoked (for example, when a siding is activated, the turnout to that siding is automatically adjusted).
Any track section can be assigned either of the two transformers, and direction is also controlled from the panel. The front panel is held closed by a magnet, and is hinged at the bottom so I can access the innards.
It is mounted to the layout, but by disconnecting three24-pin connectors to the under-layout wiring and removing two wing nuts, the whole contraption moves over to the workbench and lays flat for modification/repair.
I also turned my design docs into a manual. I included a troubleshooting guide which has come in handy. The one failure so far is Transformer B will not move a train on the long crossover between the inner and outer loops. I know this means I have a loose connection at either pin 7 or pin 9 of switch C2. (Right now I just switch to Transformer A and move the train).
So then I turned to the layout. It turns out the track was useless, and the cork roadbed had crumbled, so I was back to a flat 3’ x 5’ board that sits on a table which is 2.5’ x 6’. The table is on casters so I can roll the layout into the middle of the toolroom (I’m in a wheelchair, so that lets me reach everything from all sides).
Mistake #2: At this point, I should have made the base bigger. The extra foot in length the table allows would have opened up (out of spec) tight track curves in the figure 8. But alas, I plowed forward.
And back to Mistake #1: I discovered as I thought about operations that I needed another crossover from the inner to the outer loop to avoid trapping a third train on the main lines, and that a switchyard siding had to be eliminated to allow large engines to navigate the re-fueling station. Fortunately, I was able to re-print a new magnetic layout which covered now unused holes in the control panel, repurposed some existing holes and wire appropriately.
I had never mastered the art of ballasting, and I had bad memories of grains of sand gumming up the 19 turnouts on my little layout. So I went with foam roadbed, masked and painted it with two colors of Krylon Stone Texture spray paint.
Like many of you, content on my layout harks back to my days growing up. I lived in Joliet, IL (just outside of Chicago). My dad was chief engineer for the fossil fuel side of Commonwealth Edison, the local power company. So my first additions were a coal-mining operation and power plant.
Note the asynchronous lights at the top of the stacks in case there are low-flying aircraft in my toolroom…
Now that I had completed the industrial part of the layout, I was hooked. I wanted to build a town, and try some geography (hill) on the left side of the layout. But now I was limited to about two square feet to fit this in.
Mistake #3: The outer track is up against the edge of the layout, which precluded building a mountain in the corner as there was no room for tunnel entrances.
Mistake #4: There was a turnout in the middle of it; the turnout ended up in a tunnel, but the top of the mountain comes off for access in case of derailment. (More on the temporary house in the picture later).
As many of you have probably done, I made paper mockups of buildings, roads, etc. to help plan the next steps of my 3×5 N scale layout. I wanted to allow access to the hill from the town, and my time in San Francisco reminded me that apartments can exist on a steep hill leading to the top. The resulting design left one place on the layout for the obligatory train station.
It is about this time that I discovered the great Alastair newsletter. Mistake #5: too ego-coupled to my existing plan to access “the Beginner’s Guide”.
Completed the 1970s midwestern town, the hill (and park) above it. Everything was constructed on the workbench, and then moved to the layout (due to my physical limitations). Nothing is glued down, so opportunities for mods later, and if necessary complete dismantlement. I like the weathered/beaten look, not only for aesthetics, but it hides a multitude of sins (“that balcony is not crooked – it just needs repair…”). Here’s the result:
You have no doubt noticed there is a lot of kit and kit-bashing involved in the layout. I did try my hand at scratch building. We had a family reunion, and my wife suggested I model the old homestead where we all grew up. I knew the garage doors were 9 feet wide, and then scaled everything else from the pictures.
In addition to the house, I had fun modeling the iconic family vehicles (’68 Chrysler Town & Country wagon ’84 & ’93 Town Cars, and especially the Winnebago RV).
My siblings delighted in pointing out that there needed to be crab apples under the tree in the front yard, and even though I had gotten the dog house, shed, picnic table, swing, and garbage cans in the back yard, I was missing the bird bath. I have since moved it off the layout to make room for the town.
What’s next? As you all know, it’s never done. The cornfield needs work. A backdrop would be a good addition. Attention to rolling stock is necessary. Some weeds along track bed. I need to finish adding people.
A challenge I have is that I have developed macular dystrophy, and doing N scale details with peripheral vision is daunting. Pedestrians often end up laying on the sidewalk (homeless population?). And I’m hesitant to add too many more people, because I already have complaints to the Planning Commission about the inadequate parking downtown…
It is now time to access “the Beginner’s Guide”, have a good laugh at myself, and discover other “mistakes” I’ve made along the way. I’m sure one of the tenets will be planning ahead, because even though you may intend to “just” refurbish an old layout – once you’re hooked there is a great deal of time and energy involved. What a grand journey it’s been…
Best to all,
A huge thanks to Ralph for sharing his 3×5 N scale layout. Loved his narrtive – he’s really had fun with his layout.
That’s all for today folks.
Keep ’em coming.
And please don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide is here if you want to get going on your own model railway adventure.