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I've haven't started rebuilding the Pennsy and Pacific RR since we've moved to our new home in Louisville, KY. I was sidetracked by building an RC B-17E on commission for an RC pilot and building a museum scale USS Missouri model. Butnow that project is reaching an end and I've been instructed by my wife that I should get cracking putting the trains back together before the grandsons are too old to help or enjoy them. Here's a drawing of the old layout as it was in our Pennsylvania home. It was 27' X 13', two-track main line, min. diameter at O-88 and all Ross trackage. It was conventionally powered with an MTH Z-4000, but no DCS. The RR was entirely L-girder construction using shaped plywood sub-roadbed panels with Vinylbed roadbed. For the move all the ply and vinyl was scrapped.


L1 final


As you can see it had some problems. Using the native track spacing of 4" center-to-center, my ultra-long engines had some intimate love affairs with long cars on the outer loop. Specifically, my 3rd Rail H-8 Allegheny and the MTH centipedes and coal turbine, all kissed trains on the outer track. It did some minor damage to the H-8 and in some cases did worse things. 


The design also had a mainline crossing running through a yard track which meant all trains on that yard track had to be broken in two or they fouled the main. 


Lastly, the big yard tracks were unreachable which made handling trains very difficult. The RR was not senicked. While I was procrastinating this task, it was fortuitous since we eventually moved states when I retired in 2009.


The new basement is 50% larger than the old, better situated, with no columns, unlike the old one which had the layout in the middle of the room with two columns interfering. Here's the new design done with RR Track software (highly recommended).


1408 New 5 Rev.


I attempted to use as much track from the old layout as possible which accounts for the similar design. My operating philosophy is long trains that go around and around. I don't get excited by scale operating sessions, but love to watch trains go by (real ones too). The original design was all one level which was necessitated by it being originally built in a house in Germany where I worked from '99 to '02. It was then moved back to Philly and 6' added. In this case another 11' are being added to length and 2' to width. I am restricted in the new space width-wise which really constrains large-radius designs. I'm using 0-96 for the large curves and that's 8 ft just to make a simple circle.


I've expanded all track center-to-center distances by at least a half inch. I eliminated the yard-track crossing, and made a large open center with a duckunder (ugh) to get to the lard tracks. And to make things a bit more interesting, the outer track is raised for the back half of the layout coming back on level in the front where the RR station is. One smaller note I brought all #cross-over switches to the front so they're easily accessible. These switches can be areas of trouble and I wanted them near the operations center. The back of the layout is against a wall which means that I can actually do some backdrop work which I couldn't do in the old house.


I will have to add track, a few more switches, and 11 sheets of plywood and all new Flexibed. I'm estimating that the new rendition will cost about $2,000+. This doesn't include tons of plaster cloth and roadbed gravel.


The rebuild also gives the opportunity to use Star Wiring instead of ground-loop which configures it properly for MTH DCS (plus a Lionel TMCC add-on) so I can take advantage of the latest engines that I have with PS 2.0 and TMCC. My previous wiring did not have equal length out and back leads and I didn't relish rewiring it. Now that I'm basically starting over... no big deal.


I've designed all the subroadbed ply on Corel Draw. It exactly matches the track profile that was imported in-scale to Corel Draw. The question became how to cut the ply so it conforms to the design. My nephew, the artist, suggested projecting the images of each piece, full-size, onto the ply directly from the computer. I just so happen have an In-Focus projector, that after a $300 repair bill will work. Once I buy and have the ply delivered, I will project the piece images in the garage, use a Sharpie to outline each piece and cut them in the garage. I have a sharp bend in the cellar stairs and don't think I can handle a 4 X 8 sheet into the basement. I will cut them and then carry the sub-roadbed pieces downstairs. I did the same thing in Germany, cutting the pieces out in the foyer and then carrying to the basement myself. My wife was back in the States visiting at the time AND the foyer was large with a tile floor, in case anyone is wondering how I pulled that off.


I just tried uploading another picture but the system seems to be in trouble. I'll load it in a separate entry. Since I've cut no lumber, if there's  any corrections or ideas I will easily be able to incorporate them, so have at it.



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  • L1 final
  • 1408 New 5 Rev.
Last edited by Trainman2001
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Here's the subroadbed design as drawn in CorelDraw. And here's how it looks in the space. I drew the room design in MS Visio. This is really helpful in understanding what works and what doesn't.


1408 Construction letter sized


Here's the room:


1408 layout 1 rev


I'm planning a mountain in the back right corner and some more aggressive landscaping on the left-hand edge where the outer loop is at a higher level than the inner. I didn't want the elevated level to block the view of the inside so I've limited it to the back where it's elevation will make it easier to see.


Images (2)
  • 1408 Construction letter sized
  • 1408 layout 1 rev
Last edited by Trainman2001

I think the new design is far superior to the old one. It has distilled what you were looking for into a very practical and logical scheme. I also enjoy watching trains go by and this layout makes for some operating variety without "going crazy". Is the yard at the same elevation as the mainline or does the yard lead go over or under that crossing?

It looks great, are the white areas walking space?


How will you turn your engines, the loop on the left side area (of the yard) can be used, but can you place a Wye closer to the yard or maybe a turntable?


I recently saw Keystoned Ed's PRR 2-rail layout nearby in Williamsburg and large layouts like his and yours are simply fantastic.  His rendition of Horseshoe Curve had more track in it than my entire layout


Hope to see more progress photos soon!

There are double reverse curves in the design which lets trains turn in either direction. Also a train can be brought from the yard to any section of the layout. I have really big, really heavy motive power and don't like lifting them to put them on the tracks, ever. Just like the real ones. I will take my time. My main goal is to get the trains running again. I don't like all of them sitting in their boxes with their batteries (leaking). At least NiMH batteries don't leak like the old carbon zinc batteries in Lionel 1950s Santa Fe's....(experience).

Hello trainman2001, i will have escrow close on our need house this friday, do not know were the trains will run, my wife let me know today she whats booth of girls trains will run on the new layout, one is the 1957 girls set and the other is girls k-line set, plus all the trains i all ready have, when  think i have handeld, more suff on the new layout, Richard Yegan

Originally Posted by Trainman2001:

Here's the subroadbed design as drawn in CorelDraw. And here's how it looks in the space. I drew the room design in MS Visio. This is really helpful in understanding what works and what doesn't.


1408 Construction letter sized


Here's the room:


1408 layout 1 rev


Perhaps someone can shed some light on why these didn't load in the last post...


I'm planning a mountain in the back right corner and some more aggressive landscaping on the left-hand edge where the outer loop is at a higher level than the inner. I didn't want the elevated level to block the view of the inside so I've limited it to the back where it's elevation will make it easier to see.








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Your welcome ! If you need more pictures or other information just contact me and I will be glad to help. Don't forget curved turnouts by Ross, they make your straights longer. You could probably make them fit in the lower right corner where duck under is. I have a curved turn out on this swinging access and all curves are super elevated. 

Last edited by clem k

Here's a quick drawing showing the swing out in that corner. The lower left corner has too much going on although it is more accessible. There is a Lally Column near the right corner and I'm showing it in this sketch. The opening would be a maximum of 25" not taking any framing into consideration.


Swing out Proposal


I didn't change any of the L-girders. That can wait until you review the actually opening and let me know if it's feasible.


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  • Swing out Proposal

I don't know how to separate the photo's or write under them, I don't have a power off on the swing out I should do that, I had a dead line to meet and just never did it. I have a curved turnout on this gate.  Angle the casters to match your arc.  2x4 on each end of the joining tables set the height they actually lift the table slightly and 1x4 attached to the gate inside edge hinge end line up the table horizontal another 1x4 attached to the table inside edge on the closing end, keeps gate from closing to far.

I didn't see any latching system. How to you hold it closed? Do you have any tracking problems with all those switches leading to the swing-out?


When you insert the pictures, you can insert them inline with the text. It's a check-box in the download box. You can then annotate each picture as you develop your post.


Do you have an overall track plan? Also, that looks like a vinylbed roadbed product... what is it?

Good morning...You can see the latch in the first photo's I sent you, it's silver and looks like a buckle (also available in black) The latch draws it up tight and the track matches perfect every time. I did have to shim the ends of the track in a couple of places but ballast covers it all. The road bed is homasote that I cut in straight strips, for curves I just cut across the strips with band saw about an inch apart and two thirds across the strip then just bent it and stapled as I went. I posted a video on the three rail site. Do you mind  if i send you an email? I can send photos and video easier there. 


You might be able to use two latches.

I sent you a video the way it moves together, the last inch just kinda slides together. I cover my latch with lichen. Also you have to keep the ends of your table from moving. The tables on either side of the gate are weighed down with books and catalogs on one side and hardware supplies on the other. All legs have carriage bolts in the bottoms for levelers   

I have a video on the three rail forum (double head steam) posted on Feb 18. That will take you to my youtube site once my video comes on click the youtube...icon.. and then click the grey box on top that say's....eleven video's...


Last edited by clem k

Thanks Clem... I answered your eMails and saw all the videos. Nice work! I use levelers under all the legs also. I have a little 4-wheeled scooter that I bought in Germany (it was a flower pot stand for the garden) which I use to do underneath wiring and move under the layout to the inside, but it's getting harder to get down on it and get up again... So a swing-out would be the answer.

I'm also trying an idea to make a counter-balanced hatch using a gas spring for support. it seems simple to conceive, but I'm not sure about the separation at the hinge line. I'm specifying concealed hinges that will allow an inset door. I don't know if it will lift the door enough so the hinge end rail on the main platform won't foul as the hatch lifts. Here's the drawing I put together. I calculated the loading at the gas spring attachment point as about 100 pounds. The total panel weight is 25 pounds based on the sheet weight of 19/32 OSB at 64 pounds.


I want to put a picture here, but it's not responding correctly. I submit this and add the picture in a second post.


It was suggested by a friend that I paint the concrete walls before putting a layout in front of them. So I'm spending time with concrete patch filling all the holes in the wall. I can't afford to do what I really want to; finishing the basement.


I was going to project the images of each sub-roadbed piece directly on the OSB from my PC Projector, thereby eliminating the tedium of laying out each piece. That idea did not work as plan. There was way too much distortion on each piece; in many cases more than 1". This defeated the purpose so I went back to doing a full X-Y layout on each 4 X 8 with each piece measured from a lower-left origin. Here's what that looks like:




Plan C


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  • Plan C

Here's the picture I wanted to add of the hatch details. This drawing was done to scale in CorelDraw.


Hatch Closure DetailT

The air spring is one offered by McMaster Carr, sized to 100 pound lift and an 8.00" maximum travel. The hatch weight does not include roadbed, track, ballast and scenery which would add another 5 to 10 pounds approximately.


In looking at Clem's rotating door idea again, I may go back to that. My problem was that I was trying to do it in L-Girder too. Instead, I could make it much simpler with a wooden frame and the one leg with the casters that Clem used. It would be much cheaper? Between the cylinder, brackets and hinges, we're almost at $50 for this scheme.


Comments at this point are expected...


Here's another view of the bracketed wall mounts for the rear walls of the layout. By using brackets, I'll avoid legs getting in the way in the back. This drawing was done to scale in SketchUp. If any of you haven't tried it, Google SketchUp is an amazing, FREE, 3D drawing program that isn't hard to use and does wonderful rendering.


L-girder Wall Support


The back part of this part of the layout will be elevated 5", but for simplicity, I didn't show it here.


I'm going to blog most of this construction as I go along for you edification. 


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  • Hatch Closure Detail
  • L-girder Wall Support

I finished the patching of the back wall in preparation for the nice sky blue paint (suggested by Gayl Rotsching of Cincinnati). The walls were a mess and took two tubs of concrete patch to fill all the holes. They're a little lumpy, but better than holes. Next I'll put a coat of Behr concrete primer and then Behr one-coat concrete paint tinted a nice sky blue.


I patched just as far down as the railroad will be up so as to save labor and $$$. No one will see what's below that line and no one will care. It's all an illusion, isn't it?


Patch Walls


I've marked the floor for the camera tripod so I can take time lapse photos from the same spot each time. It should be interesting to see it growing over the next several months. 


The more I think about, I do think I'm going to use Clem's roll-away access door instead of the swing up door. It will be less expensive and less complicated.


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  • Patch Walls

Nothing much happened today except using concrete primer on the same walls. On Friday I'll paint the blue. Does anyone know where to get cloud painting templates? Bill Bramlage has used them and they do take the "art" out of that artwork. Plus, I'm continuing to design the swing-away portion for inner-layout access. When the design is finalized, I'll post it here.

The walls are painted, but the patches do show since they're higher than the surrounding concrete. I don't think it will be too noticeable from the distance people will be looking at it (+10 feet), and the clouds and other backdrop painting will further confuse the viewer.


Painted Walls

In this picture, the paint wasn't yet dry (flat) and it was wetter on the patches since they didn't absorb the water-based paint at the same rate as the old concrete. Notice how I saved lots of paint (and labor) by only going as far down as the railroad is going up.


I was originally going to use Tapcons to hold the angled brackets to the back wall, but was advised by some colleagues that they're not to be trusted in pull-out loads. They're okay in sheer, but I may come down the basement one day and find the back of the layout on the floor. I took them back to Home Depot and bought 1/2" wedge bolts. Those will not break loose.


Well... today I bit the bullet and got into the garage to start cutting out the OSB roadbed pieces. I built another set of sawhorses just to hold a second 4 X 8 next to the one I'm laying out. Many of the curves have centers that fall off the primary sheet. I clamped two pieces together so I could locate the off-sheet center point with my Rotape compass rule. 

Doubling up the sheet's a bit of a pain since I can't reach all the way to the center, but if all goes according to plan, I will only have to double up the sheets this one time since the pieces I cut have the radii that I'm using for all the rest of the curved pieces and will serve as templates. I just have to locate the starting and ending points of the curve, hold the correct radius piece up to those points and then trace the curve without having to use the Rotape. In fact, I'm going to hammer in some brads at these end points so I just push the curve up to the brads and trace away. It should speed things up since it took longer to lay out the piece than to cut it.

I laid out and cut all the pieces of sheet A. That was five pieces including two large sweeping curves. My computer locations came out very close to the real world and that was a relief. I used the circular saw to do the straight cuts and my 30 year-old Sear Craftsman saber saw for all the curves. That saw is USA made with an all aluminum housing, variable speed trigger and build like a truck. It just keeps going and going. My circular saw is new and is a Skil with the laser alignment thingy (that's a technical term). 

I was glad to see how clean cut sheet edges are. I was worried about using OSB instead of plywood, but so far so good. My original layout used plywood (sperrholz) that I bought in Germany. Their standard lumber is a higher quality than standard US lumber. The ply was 7 layer instead of 5, and was completely knot free.

Funny story here: When I built the first layout in Germany, I laid all of the pieces out based on what I thought a metric-sized plywood sheet would be. I just assumed that they would have something equivalent to a 4 X 8, which I figured was a 1 X 2 meter sheet. I get to the builder's supply store and show the associate the plan, and he claims, "Falsch, falsch!" meaning, "wrong, wrong!", and I ask "Warum?" (why?) so he takes me over to a piece of ply, pulls out his tape and measures it. Guess what? It's a 4 X 8, it just measured in metric. So it comes out to 1.22 X 2.44 meters. So it was "back to the drawing board", literally! It killed another whole week since I was working full-time, and they closed early like all other German businesses with very truncated Saturday hours and no Sunday sales. I had to re-draw all the cutting templates since the sheet size was so different than my assumption. But none of their other dimensional lumber was an English measure shown in metric; they were all true metric sizes. But not the plywood.

It's a bit of a challenge to throw a 4 X 8, 19/32 piece of OSB onto those horses all by myself, but I persisted. It's not that it's so heavy (64 pounds), but it's so unwieldy. My first attempts would have been great on "America's Funniest Home Videos". The saw horse fell over towards me a nd


almost smashed my toe, but almost doesn't count.

I'm keeping all the scrap of a usable size and proportion. There's going to be all sorts of opportunities to use all sorts of pieces of OSB during the construction.

It will get easier going forward since it's always the planning and worrying that seems to take all the mental energy. Once you get into action it becomes easier with each piece. I've spent almost 3 years thinking about this rebuild, and at some point it almost seems like an impossibility.

Also, sheet A was one of the more complicated with 5 pieces. And none of the pieces will have trouble getting down the cellar steps.



Fix'n to cut some wood


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  • Painted Walls
  • Fix'n to cut some wood

3 down and only 8 more to go... OSB sheets that is. I got three sheets laid out and cut today. I tried the improved method of using a previously cut piece as a curve template for the next sheet thus avoiding the off-sheet center-point problem. To make it more stable, I hammered in some small nails at the apexes and just bumped the template against them to make the curve. It worked nicely and made it easy for me to do the curves without a helper.

Curve method 1

In addition, it was gratifying to see how closely the actual layout conforms to the computer design. Here's a close up of the template after being bumped up against the pins, and how close the curve comes to the sheet edge. Above it is the drawing with the coordinates. Note that the edge of the piece in the drawing touches the edge of the sheet, just as the real one does. It's within a 1/4". The sharpie that I'm using makes a line an 1/8" wide so being within a quarter inch is quite acceptable.

Perfect curve fit

Here's the third sheet completely laid out prior to cutting. It's a relief to know that I'm not making fine furniture. Any blemishes, or not-so-hot cutting will ultimately be concealed under layers of track, roadbed, ballast, paint, ground cover, foliage, etc.

Laid out sheet

And here's a closer look.

Laid out sheet 2

Now for some fun... I'm working with the grandkids to build a large jigsaw puzzle on the floor of all the sub-roadbed pieces to get an idea of how it all fits in the room compared to all the plans. My 10 year-old said it more "sawing than jigging".

As the time goes on this picture will fill up. Then all I have to do is build the trusses that will hold it all up. The frame construction is more fun than cutting out all these slices.

Subroadbed puzzle 1

Since I already have a Visio drawing showing the layout placed in the room, this "puzzle building exercise" will give me another reality check. "Does it really fit with the clearances I need." I can fix it at this stage more easily than if the framing was started.

I have work tomorrow. Will get back to cuttery on Wednesday. At the rate I'm working all the pieces will be cut by the end of next week.


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  • Curve method 1
  • Perfect curve fit
  • Laid out sheet
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Thanks! I will try!


This morning I woke up thinking that something was wrong with the ply pieces at the back. I had forgotten that the rear track was to be elevated so the large sheets needed to be split in two with a large forward piece and the 8" wide rear piece. Luckily, I haven't cut these yes so I redrew them in CorelDraw with a new set of coordinate measurements, so no harm, no foul. I find the period of semi-awakeness in the morning is my most creative time. It always has been.

Thanks Clem! I'll keep at it.


Some updates:

Got all the sub-roadbed pieces in the basement with the help of my son in law. Believe it or not, I actually laid out one of the biggest pieces half backwards. I was looking at the plan drawing upside down as I was laying it out and got the curves on the wrong side. I had to put the piece in upside (rough side) down to get it to almost fit. Now I need to adjust the other end. I'll figure something out.


Big Boo Boo 1


You can see that the narrow end's angle is now going the wrong way. Here's a shot of the other end and it too is going the wrong direction. In the picture is it passing under the piece on the right.


Big Boo Boo 2


I don't think that the rough-side is a big problem since it will be completely covered by everything else. I've got lots of scrap and will be able to make all kinds of patches to fix this. This problem would never have happened had I been successful with the projection idea. Oh well...


On Friday morning I woke up mentally building all kinds of things for the layout. I developed a different way to build the wall brackets and I decided that I would have to cover the ceiling with Tyvek since the basement is rife with spiders. This is a "poor-man's" drop ceiling. Between the Tyvek and the Tyvek tape on all the joints, there will be no way for the spiders to wander around the joists and drop down on the layout. It also keeps the dust from coming down. And it brightens up the space a lot. I did this in the old house and it worked very well. It's a lot of work and I thought that I could get away without doing it here, but my rational brain won. Here's a view partially completed. You can see how much brighter it gets. The Tyvek is tough and all the graphics are on the other side and it's opaque so you can't see it.


New Tyvek 2


It should be done in a couple of days and then I'll start erecting bench work. After laying all the pieces out on the floor, it appears that the swing-out entry gate that I'm going to construct based on Clem's design will completely clear the lally column and will be able to open fully. Before long I'm going to have to make a big order to the Vinyl Bed people and Ross Custom Switches.


I've looked at the new Ross roadbed. Can anyone tell me about it? It seems that it would cost me a lot of money, but I love that it fits all of my switches perfectly. It could greatly reduce the amount of time to build the layout.


BTW: I learned something about cellar spiders. They make all those nasty cobwebs. Instead of building a neat web and waiting in it like the orb-weavers, they throw up their stuff all over the place and periodically check back to see if they've caught anything. That's why you never actually see them in their cobwebs. Kind of like how lobster fisherman work... And they don't belong on my railroad.


Images (3)
  • Big Boo Boo 1
  • Big Boo Boo 2
  • New Tyvek 2

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