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Russel, you are correct! I'm going with the grade. The layout's big enough to have lots of interesting things going on. My only regret is I'm doing it very old school where the track is basically running in parallel lines following the table perimeter. I looked at Howard's and he got continuous curves. Not to be argumentative, but there are also railroads in this country, lots of them, where the tangent tracks are quite long. In fact, if railroad planners had way, there wouldn't be curves since curves each up tremendous amount of horsepower. Besides, I really like looking as the whole train in all of it's glory. I'm going to have some cuts and fills and maybe a mountain too, but it won't be West Virginia railroading. It's a great hobby and we each design our layouts to serve our needs and desires.


Now onto today's progress report...


With a little help of the grandkids to keep the first part of the 2nd module from collapsing before I get real fasteners in place, I got the far end of the 2nd (main) module started. As I was looking at it, it didn't seem right. It was too wide! It was supposed to be 40" from inside girder to inside girder and it was 48". 48" inches is not good! It puts the ends of the joists right on the girders if I want to get two joists out of every 8 ft. 1 X 3. But supporting a beam right at the ends is the weakest method of supporting it and will promote sagging in the center. It wasn't too late to fix this problem. Only two out of five legs sets were incorporated in this part. Since I had put the longitudinal diagonal braces in place, the legs were stable, so I removed the X bracing, took my original spacing beam and marked a 40" line, and with the help of grandson #1 clamped the legs at the new distance. I put the X-Brace in place and marked off the new (shorter) angles and cut them down to size. It worked well and I then restarted the production line to modify the other three leg sets with the correct distance.


With that out of way, work progressed quickly. This main module makes a modest 23" offset about a 1/3 of the way along as the railroad widens towards the left end to compensate for the 24" step out in the back wall. In my previous design the main girder also had a similar bend so I had Simpson Strong-tie splice plates that already had a bend in them.


I was now working alone so I need to develop a nice way to erect the rest of the module without yesterday's collapse. I screwed the splice place to the end of one girder and using a nice c-clamp to temporarily fasten the mating girder to it with the other end of the mating girder laying on the floor. Then I moved about halfway down the girder (this was a long segment) and using a hefty c-clamp, tied a leg set to the girder at an approximate level with the leg close to vertical.


I left this leg alone for a while since it was not in its true position, but it was just adding stability. I then went to the true location and attached another leg set with quick clamps. The leg sets are spaced about 8 ft. apart. At this point I did fine leveling of the girder and cross-leveled with the opposite girder. If a hit with the soft-headed hammer was sufficient, that was good, but often I had to release the clamp and hold it all together with the level lying on the girder and try to get it close.

I then put it one carriage bolt and tightened it to enable me to get the quick clamp out of the way. I put the level on the leg's side and plumbed the leg and then drilled the second hole for the other carriage bolt. With both tight, the leg was reasonably stable and didn't need further clamping until the longitudinal braces are installed.

Speaking of longitudinal braces, here's a pile of them ready to unpacked and re-used. It's neat that a lot of this layout was first created 13 years ago in Germany. Many of the pieces still have the German bar code stickers on them. All of the carriage bolts I'm using for these leg sets are 6mm sets from the original layout. Each rebuild is incorporating pieces of the old and besides being a nostalgia trip, it's saving me a bunch of moo-la.


 2nd Module 4


After the legs are tied in and every thing is ship shape, I went back and added fasteners to the splice plates and removed the small c-clamps. There will be a second splice plate on the backside of each girder which will make the splice complete. Here's the splice plates in use.


 2nd Module 7


I repeated the above steps for the left hand part of the main module. I then un-clamped the leg in the temporary position and moved it further left into its final location. It was going to lie in the left hand bend, which wasn't there at the time I used the leg to support the mid-section. That leg will be fastened tomorrow. I did a lot of stooping, and bending today and my back let me know that I did enough today.

Notice on these pictures the wooden splice plates I originally used to join girders. They were clunky and used a lot of screws, but they were strong. Using the metal plates is entirely sufficient.


Here's several views of this module. It's big! The final amount of offset will be determined by the connecting it to various cross girders that tie both sides of the layout together. After I get the final deviation, I'll install the second layer of splice plates which will help lock in the angles.


 2nd Module 6


 2nd Module 5


 2nd Module 3


2nd Module 2


When all the legs are complete, I'm going back with the saber saw and trimming off the tops of the diagonal braces so they won't be in the way. I seem to be mounting the gusset a little higher up on the leg this time resulting in all the diagonals sticking up about the girder. This layout's been assembled and disassembled three times so there's markings on the girders from its previous incarnations.


Tomorrow I'll finish that one leg and start working on the end modules. Once all the girders are in place, I'll start laying out where all the joists will go based on what they're supporting. And I have to order the foam roadbed, lots extra track, plus about 500 feet of wire. I'm going to wire the railroad in preparation for DCS and TMCC. I don't own any Legacy equipment (yet) so I'm not heading that way.


If you've all read so far, I have a question... Should I use twisted pair cabling for the DCS instead of either zip cord or individual leads? Twisted pair cancels digital interference (or so I've been led to believe.)


Images (6)
  • 2nd Module 7
  • 2nd Module 6
  • 2nd Module 5
  • 2nd Module 4
  • 2nd Module 3
  • 2nd Module 2

You can tell I'm on a roll, I've posted for three straight days. Having this being the 3rd rebuild (and enlargement), I'm getting very good at it. I don't have to think a whole lot about how to joint part A to part B, or what's the best way to join girders meeting at 90º, I just do it.

I remeasured and reset the positioning on the 2nd (main) module on the floor using the back wall as a datum and double-checking against a chalk line (without the chalk). The offset was supposed to be about 23" and it's within the margin of error for that. Once I got the offset where I wanted, I went back and added the 2nd set of splice plates to lock those bends in that position. While doing this, I got the saber saw and sliced off the offending diagonal braces that were sticking up above the girders.

I then set up the longitudinal positioning by taking a reference point from the left end of the wall girder and the end point of the main module's left end. The main module is to extend past the wall girder by 2'-6". I used a 1 X 3 with line at that distance clamped to the wall girder and the inner girder of the end unit (3rd module). Again used the chalk line to get the distance right. The layout is still light enough so with a good tug I could pull the entire main module towards the left without assistance.

Now it was time to build the 3rd module which comprises the layout's left end. I needed two leg sets that had a 2'-6" separation distance (it's a coincidence that it's the same dimensional as the left end offset), so I took another set of legs from the previous layout and adjusted them. Since this distance wasn't so much larger than the previous version, I was able to simply remove screws from the diagonal braces—2 from one side and 1 from the other—swing the diagonal to a new position to meet the other leg, and then screw them down in the new position. I still use a spacing brace to hold the position as before.

The inner girder was already clamped into position on the end of the main module, so it was a snap to position the outer (and shorter) girder on the legs sets that I just built. The outer girder was to extend rearward from the inner girder by 3". I measured and marked this off on the outer girder and clamped the leg on that spot.

Here's the clamping scheme.

3rd Module 5

While I could have fastened the inner girder to the ends of the main module's girders by screwing into the end of these girders' 1X4, I don't like putting screws into end-grain unless I absolutely have to. It's just not as secure. Instead, I like to install a mounting block which is screwed into cross-grain and then use carriages bolts for added strength.

3rd Module 4

This was the outer edge. The inner girder connection is done the same way.

So here's the end module completed. I'm now working on the corners. The front left corner is going to have two small L-girders that will be interconnected on the bias. The rear left corner is much more complicated. It will have the girders drop down about 10". This will be the location of the layout's main bridges and the deep channel will be where the waterway will be. Of course I'll document this is agonizing detail.

Here's the whole deal as it appears so far.

3rd Module 1

Today was also a good day for my grandson, Alex. He officially finished his F-18E Super Hornet. It was an eight month project and it wasn't easy. It was completed over a lot of interruptions including school, camp and family vacations, but he didn't give up. He asked for help and got it when he needed it, but did almost all the assembly himself. He relied on me to manage the airbrush and to scratchbuild two missing parts. He was very proud of the accomplishment.

Alex and Super-Hornet 2


I just edited the detailed construction drawing to ensure that it matched the "as-built" structure that's going on in the basement. The joist layout is an approximation. I make joist assignments on the layout itself and I evaluate the stress points under each sub-roadbed panel. This is a PDF and I don't know if it will work. Can't hurt to try. It will help folks understand the geometry. 


I take the track plan from RR-Track as a screen capture. Paste it into CorelPhotoPaint and then save it as a GIF file with a transparent background. I import this file into CorelDraw and enlarge it to the exact size of the layout as noted in RR Track. I can then overlay the track over the sub-roadbed panels and still see through it. If you keep it as a JPG or Bitmap, the background is opaque white and hides what's below it. It's how I design the sub-roadbed panels with confidence that the track plan will fit as designed. It works! You can also do these same steps (with slight differences) in Adobe Illustrator and PhotoShop. I have both products loaded on my laptop, but am more familiar with Corel products so I default to them.


To keep the momentum going I actually got some RR work on both weekend days. These session included finishing the left-end module, fitting up and completing an auxiliary module, and getting started on sorting out all the joists and beginning the process of attaching the sub-roadbed panels.


Here's the auxiliary module all clamped together to get the geometry right. I clamped a false leg in the corner to set the height, and clamped a 1 X 3 across the top from the existing girder to set the width. I notched the flanges on the girders so they nested together and then clamped the ends, and then was able to get the leg fashioned. On the original layout, I didn't want to keep building girders so I made a really long joist and then made it into a simple truss with a diagonal that ran back to the bottom of the girder. It worked, but it was touchy. With additional width I have now I was able to fit a respectable girder into the space to better support the inside circle.


 aux girders 2


And here it is fully fastened in. Again, I made good use of the Simpson Splice Plates for the non-square corners. For the square corner at the end, I again use the separate block screwed to one member and carriage bolts in the other direction.


aux girders 7


Then there was how to fasten the leg to the odd-angled member. I made a block that brought the angle back to square. The first time I did this, I didn't spend the time to drill pilot holes and the screws promptly split the block in two. My second attempt was much better and the pilot holes prevented splitting.


aux girders 6


Here's the block:


aux girders 3


And here's what it looked like after I blew it up.


Girder Array 4


In addition to the railroad work, my grandson and I started another model in the inventory: a beautiful Hasegawa 1:48, F-22 Raptor. The model is spectacular with beautiful cockpit, tailpipe and weapons bay details. It also has add-on photoetched for the weapons bay doors and the titanium sides of the variable exhaust nozzles. Alex did a real nice job on the pilot and the photoetched seat belts. His skills and patience keep improving. I'm reliving my childhood through him ( son was a pretty neat kid too, and a wonderful eye surgeon now).


Something else comical happened. You'll notice that block at the right-angle corner, well... I put it on, quickly, and was tightening down the carriage bolts but noticed the girder was still floppy. Then I saw it. I had put both sets of screws into the same beam instead of being 90º from each other. In other words, the girder wasn't connected yet. After smacking myself in the head for rushing. I disassembled the mistake, drilled clearance holes on the correct face for the 9 X 2-1/5 Deck Screws and then reattached it correctly. Now the girder was solid.


aux girders 5


In the picture you can see the wrong holes too. If that's not proof that I'm not perfect I don't know what is, although I suppose you could ask my wife


I also build some other auxiliary girders to fill the corners. Again, in the original version I used elongated joist cantilevered out into the curve. Since I've gotten so good at making girders, and have the extra material to do so, I just knocked a few out. Here they are:


Corner Girders 2


aux girders 1


When I disassemble the back table and incorporate it into the layout, I'll make some more small girders to fill in the back right corner.


And then finally I started working on joist placement, and figuring out how best to use the old joists. After reviewing their status, I'm going to have to redo the placement of the risers and how their fastened. In the 2nd iteration I resorted to using furring strips for the 1 X 3 joists, but they're not milled and the edges are not square so they don't make such terrific joists. Furthermore, I used a Simpson wide-head, phillips screw that was quite long enough. This resulted in a sub-par assembly. I'm going to redo all of them. The riser shoe top should be 42-1/2" off the floor. I'm going to set them up using a water-level so they'll be at the same height over the entire room. It takes time, but it's not particularly hard...mostly production line stuff.



Joist and Risers 01



Images (9)
  • Joist and Risers 01
  • aux girders 7
  • aux girders 6
  • Girder Array 4
  • aux girders 5
  • aux girders 3
  • aux girders 2
  • aux girders 1
  • Corner Girders 2

After taking the "Building the BV 1940s Gas Station" diversion, I'm getting back to building the layout itself. I posted a detailed build thread on the gas station in the Buildings and Structures forum, so I won't belabor the point here.


Yesterday I started to actually install joists and risers while the grandsons were occupied working on other projects. I'm building the layout with the table level a little over 43" from the floor. Therefore, the heads of the risers need to be 42.5" inches off the floor. After I installed one, I leveled the next to it and so on, periodically checking the floor to riser height just to make sure there's no collective error creeping in. The joists are 16" on centers like normal stick-built home construction. To level risers at remote distances from this first, "Home base", riser, I'm using a water-tube level that will set the height many feet from this point. It's a bit challenging to use, but it works and ensures that the entire layout is on the same plan, unless I want to change the grade. I'll document it's use when I get to that point.


I already made a slight error that was good to catch at this early stage. For some reason I had in my head that the elevated track portion in the rear most part of the layout was 5.5" inches above the base level and made the first two at that height. But I was doubting my memory so I checked the plans on RR Track. Yup! I was wrong! The height is 5.0" above base level. I was restricted to this dimension if I wanted to keep the grades at 2º or lower. At the termination of both ends of the grade are switches. I didn't want the grades to pass through them so I had to stop one track length in front of each, which created the height restriction. As you guys know, as in real life, railroad design is one compromise after another.


Joist and Risers 03

Joist and Risers 02


I square up the joists with the girders and square the riser heads to their risers. This isn't critical, but it's just the way I work. Any out-of-squareness in the head would be adjusted as I level the heads when fastening the riser to the joist.


I use clamps all the time, the quick-connect kind. I clamp the joists to the girder before I drill a pilot hole and screw them with a single screw at each end. You only need to stabilize them before the ply goes on top. Once the ply is screwed with two screws to each riser head, and with the load basically straight down, nothing really moves. It becomes a very strong inter-connected network. And it's one of the read advantages of L-girder construction in that it minimizes construction materials about as much as possible while maintaining a light and strong structure. Then I clamp the riser to the girder and use the soft hammer to tap to the correct height and level. I fix one screw and remove the clamp. Then I level it to its neighbor and put in the second screw.


To finish the grade, I'll install the riser at the end of the straight run in the back with it's specific height. Then I'll run a string line from the top riser to this one. All the intermediate risers will be fastened touching the string. This will ensure a nice smooth grade. When it goes around the corner it will be a bit trickier since the string will need something to hold onto while it bends around the curve.


Sometimes, the screw heads on the riser head are obstructed due to other structural pieces blocking the way. For these instances, I bought a flexible shaft adapter for my cordless drill that lets me bend the driver around corners and still drive the screws. Also, in these instances it's good to use the star drive screws since they forgiving when trying to drive them slightly off access. Can't say the same for Phillips head... off access and you'll strip out the screw head.


Images (2)
  • Joist and Risers 03
  • Joist and Risers 02

I had a rare Sunday work session today and got more work done on that first part of the back layout. I set the grade with a series of risers based on the dimensions that were called out in the RR Track design program. I made that plan into a GIF file so I could import into the CorelDraw image of all the infrastructure. For the uninitiated, GIF (and PNG) files allow to save files with a transparent background. In this way, the layout can sit above all the plywood in the drawing, but you can still see what's beneath. This diagram provides good reference points for the location of grade start and stop, and critical check points. Here's a slice of that drawing showing the track grade heights. The heights are shown from the track section's end. An important reference point is the L-girder that extends from the jog in the back wall. The entire layout is being keyed to this point.


Grade Detail


This next shot shows how I use a level to align risers of equal heights. You could use a straight edge, but the level gives me another check point to make sure there's not drift. And again, you can't have enough quick clamps. They make working alone very easy. All you do is bring the next riser up to the level, clamp it, put one screw it it, and check cross-level, unclamp and put the second screw in and re-torque them to ensure their tight. All the other joists along this part of the layout are all screwed down. I did them all while sitting on the scooter so I didn't have to keep getting on and off of it.


Joist and Risers 04


This last series shows how I ran a chalk line (without the chalk) from the last riser at the 5.0" elevation to the riser at the start of the left end curve. Beyond that riser you run into the area where the bridges are going. I'm not doing anything there until the work along the entire back is roughed in. Once that end is closed in, the only other way into the middle without using my scooter... or being 8 years old... is at the opening on the front right end where the swing-out section is going. It's a long railroad and walking about the entire perimeter each time I need to get in or out, is a lot of walking. Once the back is done with it's track and roadbed, I'll close the left end in and create the bridges. This also goes for the track that crosses in the middle which will also be a bridge.


Joist and Risers setting grade 2


I really don't care about the heights of all those intermediate risers. Once I establish the start and finish points, the chalk line ensures that all the intermediates are at the correct elevation.


Joist and Risers setting grade 1


This is a very accurate way to set up grades. When I sighted down across all the risers, I noticed that the last one I put in was slightly lower than the others. I fixed it. The quality of the OSB fit is directly related to how smoothly and evenly the risers are installed.


Images (4)
  • Grade Detail
  • Joist and Risers setting grade 2
  • Joist and Risers setting grade 1
  • Joist and Risers 04

I had a rare Sunday work session today and got more work done on that first part of the back layout. I set the grade with a series of risers based on the dimensions that were called out in the RR Track design program. I made that plan into a GIF file so I could import into the CorelDraw image of all the infrastructure. For the uninitiated, GIF (and PNG) files allow to save files with a transparent background. In this way, the layout can sit above all the plywood in the drawing, but you can still see what's beneath. This diagram provides good reference points for the location of grade start and stop, and critical check points. Here's a slice of that drawing showing the track grade heights. The heights are shown from the track section's end. An important reference point is the L-girder that extends from the jog in the back wall. The entire layout is being keyed to this point.


Grade Detail


This next shot shows how I use a level to align risers of equal heights. You could use a straight edge, but the level gives me another check point to make sure there's no drift. And again, you can't have enough quick clamps. They make working alone very easy. All you do is bring the next riser up to the level, clamp it, put one screw it it, and check cross-level, unclamp and put the second screw in and re-torque them to ensure their tight. All the other joists along this part of the layout are all screwed down. I did them all while sitting on the scooter so I didn't have to keep getting on and off of it.


Joist and Risers 04


This last series shows how I ran a chalk line (without the chalk) from the last riser at the 5.0" elevation to the riser at the start of the left end curve. Beyond that riser you run into the area where the bridges are going. I'm not doing anything there until the work along the entire back is roughed in. Once that end is closed in, the only other way into the middle without using my scooter... or being 8 years old... is at the opening on the front right end where the swing-out section is going. It's a long railroad and walking about the entire perimeter each time I need to get in or out, is a lot of walking. Once the back is done with it's track and roadbed, I'll close the left end in and create the bridges. This also goes for the track that crosses in the middle which will also be a bridge.


Joist and Risers setting grade 2


I really don't care about the heights of all those intermediate risers. Once I establish the start and finish points, the chalk line then ensures that all the intermediates are at the correct elevation.


Joist and Risers setting grade 1


This is a very accurate way to set up grades. When I sighted down across all the risers, I noticed that the last one I put in was slightly lower than the others. I fixed it. The quality of the OSB fit is directly related to how smoothly and evenly the risers are installed.

As I stated last night, once the girders are up, construction moves along quickly. You get into a rhythm. I finished all of the risers for the middle OSB sheets and started bolting them into place. This started with the elevated portion and moved down to the base level pieces. As you can see, I added extenders to several joists that didn't extend far enough out to support the edges of the panels.


 Rear Sub-roadbed 02


In the picture, the continuing pieces of the elevated section are just clamped in place to see how it looks. By not having the panel seam at the crest of the slope, leaves a nice smooth transition from grade to level. This was not planned. It just happily came out that way.


 Rear Sub-roadbed 04


Rear Sub-roadbed 03


The portion to the left of the panel shown below has risers exposed. I'm probably going to add some surplus OSB going forward to support landscaping and building. The track is not going out there as it stands now.


Rear Sub-roadbed 01


I'm including a closeup pic of the DeWalt bruiser that I'm using along with the flexible drive. I'm using the drive almost exclusively working underneath since it can work around obstructions. It's a bit difficult to handle when you try and put the final torque on the screw since it wants to wrap up the flexidrive into a pretzel.


The Bruiser


One annoying problem that I have to correct is when using a screw that's too long. The riser heads are of two different kinds of stock (and thickness); the original German pieces (thin) and the ones created for the second iteration (thicker). Even when I use the correct length, they still penetrate enough to be a safety hazard if you happen to lean on the layout in the wrong place. What I do is take the Dremel with the big cutoff wheel and cut them flush with the OSB. It's not hard, just a pain in the butt and you need to wear serious eye protection.


Screw Problem


Got the word from Hobby Innovations that they got my check and my roadbed is on it's way. So I have to keep cracking to get enough OSB down that can receive track. I also want to paint all the Ross track running rails. I bought this cute little paint roller at York some years ago that I'm itching to try out. On the old rail, I'll have to clean it pretty well. Shouldn't be too hard on the new rail.


Images (6)
  • Screw Problem
  • The Bruiser
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 04
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 03
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 02
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 01

Had a good long session today and got more done. I completed the left side of the rear layout high line, then mounted the lower base level that runs sort of parallel. I also screwed down the middle piece that I fitted yesterday. I used Simpson Strong-tie plates to join OSB panel edges to stabilize the edges.


 OSB Panel Joint ex


Now that the OSB is screwed tight, this part of the layout is becoming rigid like a rock. It is enormously strong. I frankly don't know why folks use 2 X 4s in an egg-crate arrangement, when L-girder gives such a strong, light and uses much less resources to make it so.


 Rear Sub-roadbed 05


After this session, I got the Dremel out, put on the goggles and the dust mask and cut all those dangerous screw points that were protruding from the surface. I used the dust mask as well as the goggles since the last time I did this without the mask I was blowing my nose and getting steel dust in the results. I didn't like that.


I cleared all the junk off of the panels that were just lying on the left rear end and started laying in the joists and building the high-line in that portion. This portion is a constant 5.0" above the base. Again, joists are 16" on center. I'm using stock from the previous iteration of the layout. I've stripped the previous risers and heads from them, re-cut them to a new length and will reattach the risers. I'm replacing all the phillips head screws with the Star drive ones since they're so much easier to torque properly especially when working underneath. Notice my scooter... I'm getting back in shape getting my butt up and down onto it by using the girders to hoist myself up. The layout's getting stronger as more members are in place so it's a firm thing to hold onto when getting up and down.


Rear Sub-roadbed 06


Here's the right end high-line being fitted. 

High Line Right rear


Here's a long shot showing progress so far. Once the rear panels are all in place, I will clean off the table in the back of this picture and reconfigure it to be installed at the right end. Should be there in a couple of days.


Progress shot 9-19


I'm getting quite a pile of old joists that are too short for this new design. I have new lumber (1 X 3s) for this purpose, but I want to conserve it so I don't have to buy more. Therefore, I may simply splice short ones together to make longer ones. If the overlap is enough, they're very strong. The screws I'm using have a 350 pound sheer strength. Three screws = over 1,000 pounds. Plenty strong for joists on a model railroad.


Images (5)
  • High Line Right rear
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 06
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 05
  • Progress shot 9-19
  • OSB Panel Joint ex

Today's session, while very important, doesn't photograph so well. First let me say that the additional track arrived from Ross Custom Switches. Once the vinyl roadbed arrives we'll be able to start laying track.


I fastened the right rear high-line and spliced it to the existing piece.


Rear Sub-roadbed 07


Then I started preparing more risers... lots and lots of risers... using the old risers and some new stock. I have almost 60 of them now, but will probably need more. Here's the pile of joists without their risers from the old layouts. As I noted in last post, I will probably splice these together to make longer ones so I don't consume precious resources.




And here's the riser pile. When possible I'm using the torx screws instead of the old Phillips. Many of the old screws already are suffering from cam-out problems. I opened  up all the screw holes in the riser piece to 11/64ths clearance for the #8 Spax torx head screws. While you don't even need a pilot hole for this brand of screw, I find that having a clearance hole on one piece makes drawing the parts tight much easier. If you don't use a clearance hole, and if the parts are not tightly clamped together, it is possible for the screw to be tight without the parts being drawn together. If you try to torque it tighter, you actually have to strip the threads out on the riser, which is hard to do and it may also strip the threads out of the joist.




Next session will be more interesting since I'll be actually mounting stuff on the railroad.


Images (3)
  • Joists
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 07
  • Risers

Got three panel pieces permanently fastened which almost completes the right end. There are two more high-line pieces in that corner and they'll be installed in the next session. This session fixed a big piece (one of the largest). Instead of putting in all the risers then flopping the piece over them like I did when doing the original build in Germany, I attached a splice plate on one end and clamped the panel to it, then with the level sitting on top, shimmed up the other end with a riser and clamped it when it was close to level. I then went to the middle of the panel and clamped a riser there until it was exactly level. Once I got a few risers positioned so it was level and cross-level, I screwed the splice-end tight and went back and started to fasten the risers permanently also. In this way, I worked my way back to the free end and made sure everything was tight.


 Rear Sub-roadbed 09


I've started using wooden splice plates since the Simpson Strong-tie sheet metal plates were flexing too much. I also replaced the Simpson plates on the high line since there as a small dip in the grade area at the splice. It's still not perfect and I think that one of the risers is a bit low and needs adjusting. It may not matter operationally.


 Panel Splice


I will say this, my back and hands are sore! It's a lot of moves that I'm not used to making to get under the layout and position yourself to reach all the screws. And one more thing: I've already put in hundreds of screws. Without power drivers I can't imagine doing a project like this.


On the high line I also fixed another small problem that occurred when I installed the wood splice. There was a small difference in thickness between the two pieces of OSB. This little bump may have replicated itself when the track was laid. To correct, I put a cardboard shim under the thinner piece which brought it up to an exact match with the thicker one. All the other panel-to-panel joints were on the same plane.


Here's a shot showing how long this railroad's becoming. Sorry about the focus. Next time I'll set the camera on the tripod, take multiple exposures and then use the focus stacking software for an infinite depth-of-field.


 High Line Perspective


Here's an underneath shot showing all of those risers! Another nice thing about L-girder; if the girders aren't level, it doesn't matter since each riser cleat is individually leveled. This cancels out any irregularities in the girder system. If it was an egg-grate frame, the frame itself would have to be level and even throughout.


 Risers 2


This is a good time to assess where we are are and how much more we have to go. I estimate that we're at the 25% completion point (for the platform only). Best to show a diagram to explain this.


 Progress schematic 1


Nine pieces have been installed so far (piece 1 and 2 were split since the rearmost portions on both are on the high line). The upper left end will be the second to last area to be finished since I like having the opening there to get to the chop saw. The last part to be finished will be the swing-out session at the lower right. I want the railroad to be stiff and stable before building that. With the pieces installed today, I'll be able to clear off the end table and make the modifications needed to match the new design. That shouldn't take long. Then I turn my attention to the front side of the layout. There's a lot of work to do there, but there is access from both sides. The table height of 43" makes a great stand-up workbench for doing all sorts of assembly operations. It's very convenient.


Images (5)
  • Progress schematic 1
  • High Line Perspective
  • Risers 2
  • Panel Splice
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 09

Put the last pieces of OSB in place today and started rebuilding the right end. The downslope of the grade starts right at the end of this elevated section.


 Rear Sub-roadbed 10


In this case I fastened the splice plates to the OSB BEFORE I hoisted it up onto the risers. I also added a brace to one of the base level pieces when I found a "soft" corner that needed reinforcement. You see a tube of "caulk on the table. It's Loctite Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive that I'm going to use to glue down the vinyl roadbed to the OSB and the track to the vinyl. While it would be faster to fasten the track down with screws, it makes the railroad noisier. O-gauge trains are noisy. If you put the screws through the vinyl, it completely defeats the roadbed's sound-absorbing properties and the screws carry the sound directly down to the OSB. Acts like the bridge on a guitar. Once this glue sets, you won't easily move anything so you better get stuff located right the first time.


With the back OSB in place, I cleaned of the right end table. I removed the ply sheeting which was used as the B-17 building table. This is going to be re-purposed as an elevated work surface for the workbench (future project). At first I thought I could use the right end table almost as it was with just changing one of the girders. I was wrong. I'm really rebuilding it completely. The only thing that's not changing is the width.


Here's the before picture.


 Right end 01


In order to get the dimensions correct I jerry-rigged the outer curved OSB by clamping to to the high line end, building a temporary support leg held with a c-clamp and laying the free end onto the right end framework. The plan's dimensions called for 29" from the end of the curved piece to the right hand leg. This leg is going to ultimately support the piano hinge for the swing-out section. I move the table rearward so it equaled this dimension. I then measured from the outer rear girder to the same leg set which gave me the length of a new girder that I need to make. The right-most girder was also replaced with a longer one. I also pushed out the leg spacing about 2 feet to make it a little more stable and facilitate getting underneath.


 Right end 02


I temporarily held everything together with a couple of bolts and lots of clamps and then it was time to quit. Tomorrow, I finish off the right end.


Images (3)
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 10
  • Right end 02
  • Right end 01

Worked on trains today too.


Right end is shaping up. Using the RR Track drawing that spells out the track elevations. It gives the elevation at the center of each piece of sectional track. My risers don't necessarily match up 1 for 1 to those track pieces so I had to interpolate the elevations which fell at other locations. Again, like the straight run, I set up a lower riser, an intermediate one and then used the string line to establish the position of all the rest.


Before I did this, I had to finish up the foundation work. I tied the right end girders at two points with right angles using attachment blocks and carriage bolts like I did with the angular girder way down at the other end. I had to extend one of the rear girders so it reached he right end's girder. I also attached a diagonal girder across the angle which gives me a strong point to attach as set of radial joists which support the curves.


Here's a shot that shows the radial joists. When I build this layout before, I didn't do it this way. I just ran joists diagonally across the corners and mounted the risers edge-wise to them. This was not very secure, but it avoided making more girders. This new method allows risers to be mounted conventionally to each.


 Right end 03


To be sure about how far out the elevated curve OSB had to hang out over the end structure, I broke out some actual railroad track. This was a major event since it was the first time this track saw the light of day in 3.5 years. I put together the corner curve and the little bit of straight section that runs across the back and—with the curve OSB temporarily clamped into position—aligned the track with the center of the OSB and moved the OSB outwards until the curve looked right. Here's the track.




After positioning the OSB curve I started to fasten the risers to the piece. In a couple of instances, I had mounted the risers too far in, so I removed them, repositioned them and re-fastened them.


With the top piece down tight, I started to attach the inner, base-elevated OSB curve. This piece was easier to position since all I had to do was make sure it was level with the existing parts of the layout. I mounted the end splice blocks onto these pieces before putting them on the layout since it's easier to screw them when face down, instead of underneath the layout facing up. I still have to do that for the mating piece, but that's only one instead of two. In this picture, it's just sitting there. I will be fastened in tomorrow.


 Right end 05


 Right end 04


I have one correction to make. As I mentioned a while ago, I had changed the way I was drawing the tangent line to draw the ends of the curved pieces. I thought I was doing it better, trying to draw a line from the imaginary center of the arc inscribing the curve, but I was wrong. I will make a small filler piece to fill this gap. I will have to do this a few more times since the curves at the other end also have the same errors. Not a big deal, just a bit of a pain.


 Right end 06


As you readers know by now, I don't just show you the good stuff, I show you all the stuff. The good, the bad, and the really ugly. 


I now know the reason to maybe NOT use OSB for model RR construction. It's an "instant splinter driver". If I just look at it the wrong way, I get a splinter somewhere. Whenever I handle it, I wear serious leather work gloves, but as soon as I take them off to pick up a screw or something. BAM! I get another (&#%_)%T splinter. It's no wonder... the entire board is made of nothing but splinters! It is very strong! It's also very rigid and will ultimately make a great layout once it's all covered with scenery so no one can ever touch it again.


Images (5)
  • Track
  • Right end 06
  • Right end 05
  • Right end 04
  • Right end 03

Today's work consisted of finishing up OSB installation on the right end. The down grade piece consisted of two pieces that I made from leftover scrap. I had originally wanted to put bridges on that part, but reconsidered and had to put in solid planks. Since the down grade angle was already well established, I was able to clamp a straight edge (my 48" level) on both the fixed end and the new unfixed part. I pushed up the end so the run was completely straight and clamped a riser at that point. With the line nice and straight, I removed the plank and put in all the intermediate risers. I also level them cross-wise before putting in the second screw.


 Rear Sub-roadbed 11


Right end 07


Both curves on this end come to a sudden, square end. This is the hinge end of the swing out section. I'm still not done all the engineering on this part, but I'm leaving it for last so I know exactly what's going to be happening at each fixed end. 


Rear Sub-roadbed 12


With this work out of the way, I went back and filled in that ugly gap I wrote about yesterday. When I use either my circular saw or saber saw, I use the layout as a sawhorse and clamp the pieces to be cut to the joists. I'm careful to evaluate the cutting path to ensure that I don't cut through something that would be bad it I cut it in half. I also trimmed up the corner near this point that was clearly mismatched. I still have to grind off the screw points that protrude here and there. It's very difficult to get screws that exactly match all of the different thicknesses of material I'm using.


Repair 1


Lastly, a couple of the screws that hold the cleats to the underside of the OSB were even too cramped to use the flexible extension shown at the bottom of this picture. So I resorted to the right-angle head that I bought when building this layout in Germany. It works! There's a little adjustable thumb rest that helps stabilize the head when using it. I've got to tell you, this DeWalt is the best cordless driver I've ever used. It's very heavy, but I'm getting used to it and building up forearm strength.


DeWalt Attachments


The flexible shaft actually makes putting in overhead screws easier since I don't have to support the weight of the driver over my head, but can hold in at chest level and used the flexible shaft in my left hand to drive the screws. This really works well when using star-drive screws which need very little inward pressure to develop lots of torque. With Phillips heads, you've got to press inwards heavily to keep the bit set in the screw.


At the end of today's session I started planning how I'm going to proceed. There are differences in the "as-built" versus the "as-drawn" structure and I'm not sure why. For example, I thought the right end would be 2'- 7" from the right end wall. It turns out to actually be 4'. This isn't bad since more space at that end is a benefit. But, I wonder what's the cause. I also noted that the middle crossing bridge pieces is about 9" too rightward. This doesn't make sense. If I mounted the wall pieces off by some amount, the distance to the wall would be less, not more. This makes me worried so I'm going to proceed cautiously. I think I'm going to start in the middle with the spider piece and work in both directions. That's a critical piece and ensuring that it's in the right place is important. I've got to actually work tomorrow so the next session will be on the weekend or Monday. 


Images (5)
  • Repair 1
  • DeWalt Attachments
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 12
  • Rear Sub-roadbed 11
  • Right end 07
Last edited by Trainman2001

Today, I started building the front side of the layout. First thing I did was take one of the large right front curved pieces...the outer one, clamp some stock on the end so it could hang onto the existing right-end piece, and then test to see where the curve actually intersects the front assembly. As I suspected, the entire front assembly was about 9" inches too far to the left (facing the layout). Since nothing was mounted on this assembly other than the spindly girders, I was able to slide the whole after rightward. I was also a little bit too forward so I moved it back towards the middle of the layout. This move was sufficient to put that bridge piece directly over the girder it was supposed to be over based on my drawings. So the drawings were correct.

I checked on more thing. I swung the curve in an arc that would be the same when the swing out portion is installed. It clears the column by about an inch. I was very pleased. Swinging this out will give nice access to the insides of the layout.

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With that out of the way, I checked all the dimensions and decided that the front side joists had to be 65" long. I decided to consume all of the old joists before cutting any more new 1X3s. 

Since none were even close to that length, I spliced two together in various ways to give me the correct length. I made some marks on the existing platform as a guide and just got to work. 

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Pretty soon they were all gone. 

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I laid them out on the girders and did some final fitting. Then I went and checked the clearances to the other columns. As I foresaw, the clearance is a tight 19", but passable. Any closer and we'd have a problem. There's adequate access to the furnace as planned.

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Then the grandsons came over and I put Jack to work. I have that small power screw driver from Black and Decker and it's perfect for a kid. So Jack and I went to work clamping the joists, drilling the holes and driving the #8 X 1.5" SPAX Star-head screws. I clamped and drilled and Jack drove the screws home. He likes that and he got a chance to roll all over the place with the scooter and I didn't have to get up and down. We're on schedule to get trains running by Thanksgiving (or thereabouts).

I'm designing latching methods to hold the swing-out portion to the main layout. Here's a drawing showing two variations. I would greatly appreciated additional input. Clem uses a large case-type latch. Where did you get it?


Latch Design


Images (1)
  • Latch Design

Hello Trainman 2001

Hey your progress is great. I bought my latch at the local Do It Best hardware store, they are available in black or metal (silver). The black looks better.   I use the latch because it draws the two pieces together, I don't have to push on the table. In a operating session I just put Lichen over it. 

Clem K

 Hey Trainman 2001,


I just came across your thread on building your new layout.  I like that you're documenting your progress for others to watch.  After reading the entire thread I only have one question.  Why didn't you build a wall infront of the basement wall so you could insulate & sheetrock for warmth?  I like your idea about using Tyvek in the ceiling, I'll make sure to use your idea on my new train room.  Keep up the great work.



Thanks Chuck and Clem. Before I get into today's session, I'll answer your question. It was strictly a budgetary decision. I simply didn't want to spend the $$ to do construction in the basement. I couldn't have stopped just at that wall and would have done much of the rest and this would have been more than 10 grand. It would have delayed building the trains again by a year at least. The basement's dry and not too cold. It's actually colder in summer than winter since the air leaking from the ducts push some air-conditioned air into the basement. In the winter it's heated air which tempers the room nicely. If I wasn't down there all the time, I'd want to plug those leaks since it's not very efficient. 


I'll look for those clasps, Clem. I'm probably over-thinking this.


As to the build thread. I built an RC, B-17 (78" span, 1:16 scale) for a local RC pilot. I blogged the build on RC Apparently, great builders all over the world write detailed threads on the entire construction of these scale models. Some thread take years since some of the models are museum-level construction. I liked this and blogged my build. Then I did the same thing for my USS Missouri build on So it just seemed natural to do the same on OGRR's site. It helps me think through the project to document each session's progress, plus lets others learn from my techniques and mistakes.


Now to today's progress of which was substantial.


I finished putting all the joists on the front module. This included making some longer ones to span the widest part of the layout. At first I tried to make since pieces, but an 8-foot piece of 1X3 was not long enough to overhang properly on both ends. So I split the joists and had them overlap in the middle. I'm on the scooter the entire time doing this. I clamp and end, square it up, drill the pilot hole in the L-girder flange, put the screw in, then scoot across to the other end, clamp, drill and screw. The whole thing takes a little over a minute.


Spider panel 1


I clamped some scrap onto both ends of the bridge piece that carries rail across the middle of the layout to the "spider panel". I threw the spider panel onto the joists and aligning its mating end with the bridge piece. When positioned, I clamped a temporary risers to elevate the spider panel to a height of 43.25" off the floor which is the height of the OSB on the opposite side of the gulf. Finally, I clamped the bridge panel to the spider to stabilize it a bit. 


Spider panel 2.


With the position correct, I started clamping real risers to various joists that lie under this panel, each time bringing it up to 43-1/4". Usually a hit or two from my rubber-headed hammer nudges them to the correct height.


Spider panel 4


Once all the risers were clamped, the panel leveled and the height correct, I put one screw into each riser holding it to the joist and letting me take off the clamps. I removed the bridge piece and the spider panel setting it aside. With the risers now exposed, I use the head of a combination square which has a little level to level each head independently and then put in the second screw that holds everything in that position.


Spider panel


Before I removed the spider I marked the location of some strategic risers underneath so I could replace it in the same spot with having the re-clamp the bridge piece. I put the spider back on aligned on these marks and clamped it in a couple of places. I drove the 2" screws to hold the riser cleat to the OSB. Once all the screws were in it was solid and level. This piece will set the relationship of all the pieces on the front module as the layout construction expands out in both directions.


Spider panel 3


I'm not going to describe this process any more since it becomes repetitive. I detailed this one since this piece needed to be positioned in relationship to the bridge with set up the relationship between the front and the back modules.


Here's another process schematic shot showing how I'm doing. 


Progress Schematic 3


Images (6)
  • Spider panel
  • Spider panel 4
  • Spider panel 3
  • Spider panel 2.
  • Spider panel 1
  • Progress Schematic 3

Thanks Rich!


Clem, I'm looking for them, but so far haven't found the kind that you used. Give me a week and I'll take you up on the offer. 


Yesterday, I threw (literally) all of the OSB onto the joists to get an idea of how it all fits. Some of the panels look very warped. While there is some warp, it's exaggerated by some of the legs sticking up beyond the joists. Once the risers are in place they pull the panels down nicely.


Progress shot 10-3


As I noted way back in the beginning, so of my layout changes caused some poor panel fits, but I now had a panel permanently fastened in place which set up the relationship of all the others. While most was predicted by the plans, there was one surprise... the last piece on the right extended about 10" further out than it should be. So much that the right hand curve (the swing-out door curve) overlapped this panel by a bunch. I don't know where this error comes from since all the panels leading to this one were tightly butted up to each other. If I pushed the end panel back, I would push all of them 10" and put them out of alignment. So what to do? I'm going to actually lay down the track to that point and see how close the actual track follows the build plan. Once I see that I'll be able to decide if the track plan needs adjustment or simply hack off some of the OSB. I am reluctant to cut that OSB until I understand the impact of that decision.


On the other hand, some of the more predicted poor fits were easy to identify and fix. Here's an example of one such adjustment.


 Front Panels 01


The reason for these defects was a change I made in laying out the curved pieces. I changed the end cuts from a line that was parallel to the side of the layout to one that was radial to an imaginary center point of the circle of track it was inscribing. Unfortunately, this change wasn't made accurately and I missed changing both sides of the joint. So instead of a clean joint, I have some joints with some triangular spaces between them.


Here's the O-88 circle that involves the cross-over and the one of the reverse loops. I was concerned about making repairs to the joints that could change the diameter and cause a poor fit for the track. So I broke out the O-88 track and stuck them together  to see if they fit. They did.


Front Panels 03


Here was one of those joints that I trimmed to get the fit right.


Front Panels 02


Next step will to elevate all those pieces and put risers under them. For the smaller panels I can put the risers directly under the panels, but on the bigger panels which are quick heavy, I'll move them out of the way and put the risers in, then flop them back on. I'm still waiting for the roadbed. Once that arrives I'll start laying track.


Images (4)
  • Front Panels 03
  • Front Panels 02
  • Front Panels 01
  • Progress shot 10-3
Last edited by Trainman2001

Didn't have much time to work today and got one more sub-roadbed piece tied in, plus positioned another one. It was time to break out the "water-tube level'.


 Left end 01


Besides using the carpenter's level, I periodically take a measure with a tape from the floor to the top of the OSB. It's supposed to be 43-1/4". This is just a check since I have no idea how level the floor actually is. When I put this piece in I noticed that the floor-OSB measure was over 43-1/2". I don't want any errors to start stacking up since the layout is so big it could be a couple of inches off at the other end, so it was time to break out the water-tube level. I used this originally in the layout's German iteration. If you've never used one, it's a great way to capture a level reference point and replicate it over a large area.


It works on the principle that water in a curved tube will always seek the same level at each end. You fill the tube with water and make sure there's no entrained air. Hold the two ends together and bring them to the reference level point. Find a way to affix one end of the tube next to this reference point and use a sharpie to mark the water level in the free end of the tube.


Water Level 1


Carry the free end to the point you want to measure, making sure there are no kinks


Water Level 2


There's a little stopper you put in the free end so it won't spill when moving. At the working end, align the water level with the Sharpie reference mark and hold it up the piece you want to level. Use a clamp or tape to hold the tube there so you can clamp the riser at this location. The two points are now at the same point regardless of what the floor is doing. Make sure you remove the stopper before taking the measure since the water won't move with the stopper in.


Water Level 3


I won't have to use it everywhere, but will use it every so often just to make sure there's no systematic error creeping in. An easy way to fill the tube without air bubbles is to siphon the water into the tube. I filled the utility sink, put the tube in and laid the rest of the coil on the floor. Suck on the end of tube to get it going and just watch the tube fill up. When it reaches the end, you're done.


Here's an interesting before and after showing how all the old layouts have now been subsumed into the new one.








And here's the progress schematic pic for today.


Progress Schematic 4


Little by little, OSB panel by OSB it's starting to fill in.


Images (7)
  • Progress Schematic 4
  • Water Level 3
  • Water Level 2
  • Water Level 1
  • Left end 01
  • After
  • Before

I've been working on the railroad almost the entire week and have made significant progress on the benchwork. I've have six pieces of conventional benchwork left to install with the rest being the swing-out portion and the area for the bridges. I've got a lot of pictures today.


After I measured and laid down the left end elevated curve (actually its a grade that returns to base level) I was getting suspicious that all was not right. So I clamped up some pieces to better visualize what was happening and here's what I saw.


 Bridge end before


You can clearly see that both ends leading up to the gorge do not meet. I'm not sure why since I measured from the center of the inside circle to the center of the outside and used this dimension to position the outer curve relative to the rest of the installed road bed. So I removed all the screws holding the OSB to the risers and pulled the whole curve assembly out about five inches. I basically just sighted over the corner and stopped pulling when they lined up. It took less than a half hour to make the adjustment.


Here's the after picture. While it's still not perfect, I can work with it.


 Bridge end after


With that fixed, I glued filler pieces into the v-shaped gaps that showed up as I "bent" the curved piece to conform to the new pattern needed for the bridges; which BTW have been ordered and are in transit. They're kits by Plastruct and look pretty real. I may have to shorten their 30 inch length since I still don't have enough straight track leading into the bridges. My long steam engines have some significant overhang on the outside of corners and they may hit the bridge. Being kits of a bunch of structural steel replicas, I may invert the bridges and make a truss deck bridge. With all the structure under the tracks, the engines won't have anything to hit. I will have to make the gorge deep enough to give realistic clearance under the bridge.


Working around the curve, I tackled the big piece that I laid out backwards. It required a "radical" fix, squaring up the angular end that was backwards, and pulling in a filler piece that matched up to both pieces.


 Right end patch


And here's the splice plates underneath that stiffen up the whole assembly.


 Left end large fix 3


I'm using ply and OSB for splice plates instead of the Simpson Strong-tie plates, partly because I have too many screws sticking through that I need to grind off when I use the thin sheet metal plates. They're also stiffer. I'm making sure that I put the splice plates on each piece before it's onto the risers. It's easier to put them on at least one side when I can flip the OSB upside down and work standing up. Once the piece is one, I still have to put the screws into the other half working over my head, but it's only one side.


I then moved on from sheet to sheet. I'm now having to handle some pieces that are almost a half sheet of OSB and they're heavy; too heavy to push up in the air with a riser in my left hand and a quick clamp in my right. I needed a tool to help me out. This morning I realized I could make a simple jig that would support the sheet at the proper height making it easier to fit the remaining risers underneath. Remember; one end is already resting on the splice plates of the previously installed OSB panel, so I just have to raise the other end under it's level. The sheets are bowed in both directions, so I put the level between the high spots and push a riser into the middle until there's no gap under the middle of the level. Here's the jig.


 Setup Jig


I just lift the sheet, slide the jig under it and supported across a joist. It works. It greatly sped up the installation of the big pieces with less wear and tear on me. I don't place all the risers under the sheet. I Just install one at each joist with one screw. I then take the OSB off, level the riser cleat and put the 2nd screw in to fix it. Then I clamp the level to the top of the installed risers and clamp the other riser on the joist so it's pressing up against the level. I fasten this one with one screw also, level that cleat and then put in the second screw. This insures that all the risers are dead flat and at base reference. When I put the OSB back on top and start screwing the cleats to the OSB from underneath, it usually pulls out all of the warp and the sheet is dead flat. Neat!


Here's what it looks like when the OSB is pulled off and all the risers are in place.


 Riser Forrest


Here's the progress shot showing the sheet that was just being installed in the above picture.


 Progress Schematic 8


The next piece went in cleanly. The piece after that needed a little trimming to align perfectly to its neighbor. Here's a shot showing the edge that I needed to trim with the saber saw. It's getting easier to saw stuff since I have a lot of study tables all over the place to clamp a work piece to use the saber or circular saw. Speaking of saws, I think something's going wrong with my Craftsman Power Miter saw. After cutting a lot of pieces in succession, the auto-brake is not working or working intermittently. It just started doing this. It's not to scary since the saw has an effective blade guard, but I have to be careful when bringing the saw down to align another cut.


I've photoshopped this picture to highlight the area.


 Joint repair


And here's the schematic showing where we are now.


 Progress Schematic 9


The gray OSB panels are added since the original design. When I added the run-through rail yard, I needed to put some wood into the gap. I'm also adding some rectangular OSB to fill in what would be just open joists. There are buildings and structures that are going into these spaces. All of the OSB will be done by the end of the month. We're taking a trip back East and my wife and I going to York. I used to attend them religiously even when I was living in Germany, I got the York show. Since we moved to Louisville, it became a bigger deal to get there. This will be my first visit in 3 years. Unfortunately, I've dropped so much cash on the rebuild so far that I may not be able to buy anything.


One thing that's sure when you almost double the square footage of a layout... it takes tons of risers and cleats. I've completely consumed all the risers from the earlier versions and now in production making new ones. Here's what that looks like.


Risers-stinking risers


I thought I had enough 1X3 stock to make the riser leg. I had four 8 foot lengths of furring strips that I've had for years. However it is warped on it's length, and very dried out. When I screwed the cleat into it, it split in half. I chucked the whole lot of it and am using the fancy, primed finger-jointed stock, which I am now out of. I'll need some for the bracing on the bridge end and the swing-out so I'll probably get another 6 pieces. Having a drill press is an essential tool in this project.


The target is still to get trains running by Thanksgiving when my son and his family come to visit. My oldest granddaughter, Anna, is tech savvy and the trains.










Images (10)
  • Left end large fix 3
  • Right end patch
  • Progress Schematic 9
  • Joint repair
  • Riser Forrest
  • Setup Jig
  • Bridge end before
  • Bridge end after
  • Progress Schematic 8
  • Risers-stinking risers

Today's session involved some young helpers. My grandsons actually helped. Jack (8) did some fastening of splice plates using the small B&D cordless driver, and Alex (11) did some serious work using the big DeWalt. He put in all of the underneath screws holding on three panels. We actually got more done with the two of us. I was pleasantly surprised. He really wanted to get to work on the railroad and today we were able to.


Here's a progress schematic of project status. Notice there are only a few pieces left.


 Progress Schematic 10.


I need to hit Home Depot tomorrow for some more lumber (1 X 4, 1 X 3, and 1 X 2); not much just a few pieces. If I didn't have to scrap those old furring strips, I would have been fine. Alex also drilled splice plates and assembled a bunch of risers. I did a count today and I have 12 more, but need 30, so I have to build 18 more. There could even be more needed since I don't know how many are going to be consumed on the swing-gate or the bridge end. I haven't done a final tally, but I'd bet that there are 100 plus risers holding up this system.


 Progress shot 19


Here're some shots from today's work. Everything is nice and level. There is some slight height differences between some pieces of OSB, but I think I'm just going to fair them in with the belt sander. The kids really like the progress so far, and Alex is constantly commenting on how much bigger it is than he thought it would be. Funny... my wife keeps saying the same thing. The nice thing about the size is there will lots of clear space around the tracks so it won't feel all cluttered.


 Center front 2


Center front 1


In the above pic you can clearly see the splice plates waiting for the next adjacent piece to be installed. I'm making them out of OSB now since it's very stiff in short sections like this, and I've got lots of scraps to consume. I used 6, 1-1/4", #9 Grip Tite star-drive, Deck Screws on each side of the plate. They're not going anywhere, ever!


It's getting harder to see progress in these overview pics since it's all taking place at the other end. I've been building a PowerPoint presentation showing the time-lapse evolution of the layout. It's pretty neat, although, my positioning and lens settings varied slightly between some of them. I'll share it with those interested when the layout is further along (read... having some track with trains on it).


I've got to buy more screws today! While the SPAX and GripTite screws are great, they aren't cheap and I'm going through a boat load of them.


Images (4)
  • Progress Schematic 10.
  • Progress shot 19
  • Center front 2
  • Center front 1

We got back from our 11 day trip back East on Sunday. We drove the entire trip in one gulp (11.5 hours) to stay ahead of Superstorm Sandy. It was a good decision since West Virginia, where we would have stopped for the night was experiencing some pretty weird weather themselves. Finally got back to building the layout today with the piecing together of various sizes of scrap to fill in the final areas of the main platform.


The reason for this "jigsaw puzzle construction" was this. I originally didn't have any OSB on the section near the swing-out door. After I was designing the place for the town, I realized that all that real estate needed to be paved over. But I didn't have any large pieces of OSB left so I used up some of the saved scrap and pieced it together.


Before doing that I had to make a fix. The last big piece I put on didn't have enough risers/cleats under it and it was pretty badly bowed in both length and width. The bow was down in the center as seen in this not-so-good picture.


[Warp 1


It's not so easy to see in the picture, but the dip was about 3/16" in the center. I tried to put additional risers in the middle and push them up to remove the bow, but it didn't work. At first I said, "what difference does it really make?", and then my perfectionism kicked in and I decided to make a permanent fix. I figured it would be easier to pull the bow down instead of trying to push it up. So I removed a zillion screws and removed the sheet. I then went back and added a full set of risers in the center of the sheet and made sure they were dead level. I turned the sheet upside down so the bow was up, and fastened it all down again. The result: Bow is gone and sheet in dead flat in both directions.


warp 2


With that out of the way, I started piecing together the "jig saw" which is what I'm calling the multi-piece assembly of scrap to make a large flat section. I fastened the various pieces together using splice plates, and then set up the riser field. Here's the splice plates holding a couple of pieces together.


Jig saw 1


And here're the risers in place


Jig saw 3


Here's all the pieces laid in place.


Jig saw 2


Only one problem... it seems that I've been getting some height stack up. The new pieces are somehow 1/4" higher than the big piece they're abutting to. While it seems like a simple thing to just lower the risers a quarter inch, but the last piece next to the jig saw is leveled perfectly with them AND the pieces down the front side. If I lower the jig saw risers, they won't be level with the front panels. So... I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet.


So here's the map showing where I am now.


Progress Schematic 11


It's quickly becoming the time to construct the swing-out gate. I've got the structural designs pretty close and I'm still working on the latching scheme. I bought a bale type case latch which should work. So, for the moment, I won't need to exercise Clem's offer. Clem's latch is much more robust than the one I bought, so it may still be needed.


I'm also designing the interlocking circuit so the power is shut off when the gate is opened. Dale's many relay posts have been very helpful! My grandson suggested tying the microswitch directly to the latch bale. This way as soon as the latch is moved, the power would shut off, even before the gate started to move. I believe I can do this. I've been researching some relay schemes with or without timing circuits so the trains would activate with some delay to let you get away from the gate. I'm also researching whether to use digital control (or not). I've read the manual and have decided I am going ahead with it. It will require using twisted pair 14 gauge wire for the best signal propagation.


Images (6)
  • Progress Schematic 11
  • Jig saw 3
  • Jig saw 2
  • Jig saw 1
  • warp 2
  • Warp 1

That certainly sounds easier. I've got all of the parts to put the interlock together so I'm going to give it a try. 


I finished fastening all the pieces of the Jigsaw. I had to raise the panel next to it so they met correctly. I then turned my attention to making the swing-out gate. I did some re-design to make it deeper. It came to me that scenery could be installed on the gate so the space could be used effectively. Here's the final plan. When opened it gives almost two feet of clearance to access the inner parts of the layout.


New Door


Two fixed casters are shown. I'm also installing a smaller caster under the yellow piece to support the other end of the hinge line. I didn't want to have any torque stress on the piano hinge. The fixed hinges will be mounted on the radius line from the hinge so there will be no scuffing when the door is opened. Here's a sketch showing some more construction details.

New Gate


For the sake of brevity and time, I didn't add any thickness to the members, but I wanted to understand the geometry. Here you can see the small fixed wheel on the hinge side. Just before I finished this afternoon I decided to check the level between the far right end on the curve and the platform that I just finished on the other side of the gap. As I feared, there had been some "level creep" so the right end which was completed months ago, was about 1/2" lower than the part I just finished. Rather than mess with a zillion risers, I'm going to adjust the leveling screws on the bottom of the legs. A 1/4" down on the left side and a 1/4" up on the right. I can change the value over a broad area so there won't be any grade inserted in what should be level track.


I used a temporary fence and the circular saw and sliced of the edge of the new OSB so it was all even AND on the same line as the structure below it. Then I fastened a 1 X 4 below that will act as a "door jam". I then built the first part of the gate itself, the front L-girder beam. Each piece was mitered at 22.5º and held together with wide Simpson Strong-tie splice plates on both sides. I finally bought screws that won't poke through to the other side. Lowe's had a good selection of Lath Screws which work nicely with Simpson plates. I dropped a line directly down from the jam area on the left and the hinge point on the right and made marks on the floor. I then measured and cut leftover old L-girder material for the beam. The back beam is a single piece and won't need any splice plates.


swing gate 1


The last thing I did today was to start working on the hinge post. The problem with L-girder (if there are any) is that the structural members are few and inset from the edges so I had to create a hinge point. My first attempt wasn't good enough. I want the post to fall as close to the corner of the roadbed as possible. My first attempt used the wrong thickness of wood to space the post in the fore and aft direction. I also neglected to leave space for the movable part to butt up against the post so the hinge can be assembled.


swing gate 2


I removed this first attempt, used the correct sized packing pieces and realigned the mounting holes so there's a space for the mating part to the hinge. This space may still be too small. I find out next work session.

swing gate 3


The broom will not be part of the final assembly. I'm going to add a sway brace running 45º back from the hinge post to the girder behind it. This should add some rigidity. If not, I'll have to add some more boxing on the other side of the post.






Images (5)
  • New Door
  • New Gate
  • swing gate 1
  • swing gate 3
  • swing gate 2

Good evening.... That hinge post has to be rigid. the sway brace will help. Maybe you can run a couple of 1x4s across the width of the table on the hinge end, tie all three legs together. kinda like making those short pieces of OSB longer. You might have to do that on the other side of the table legs.The extra wheel isn't really needed. I made my swinging gate table top first to make sure it was the right size, held in place with temporary legs and the 2x4 rest's on each end of the unmovable tables, then but the running gear and hinges on. Remember the latch has to pull the pieces together if you push the gate closed you could move the table ends. I have shelfs under my table. On the hinge side and the latch side I store heavy stuff so the ends of the table don't move should I bump into it. The gate I keep has light as possible. Take another look at my photo's. I can send you more pictures of any part you need more detail on




that's a good suggestion. I woke up this morning thinking about applying your ideas and working on the assembly sequence. I too am planning on putting the top pieces in place temporarily and working downward. I'm not working today on the layout which is a deal made with my wife that I don't spend nice weekend days in the "cave". But I'll will have the swing door built by next weekend.

Based on Clem's feedback I revised the hinge post...again. This time I ran the supports across the entire face of the legs. I then ran a diagonal from the back. Between these two changes, the hinge post is quite rigid and I think it will work okay. It's also nicely in line with the corner of the outer OSB end point. I wanted the hinge point to start exactly there since I know everything clears the lally column. The spacers under the horizontal braces are there to pack it out to the same point as the ends of the OSB.


 swing gate 4.


Here's the diagonal brace. As before, I like to fasten these kinds of assemblies to cross-grain wood, not end grain so I added the block under the brace to capture the screws properly. If this brace isn't sufficient, I can add another one deeper down the leg. It will join at a funny angle on both ends so I would fasten it with Simpson Strong-tie straps bent to conform to the various angles.


 swing gate 5


With the hinge post in place I was able to get back to building the upper framework. The piece I cut yesterday on the left side was too short so I to cut another one. Of course I had to make the 22.5º miter again. And of course if there a least four ways to cut the miter either in the wrong direction or the wrong end, I made three of them. I was still using left-over L-girder from the older layouts and didn't want to use new stock which I'm saving for building the structure under all the bridges.


 swing gate 6


I going to finish the framework, position and clamp it in position and then build downwards towards the wheel assemblies. Won't be able to work tomorrow or Tuesday, but may get some work in on Wednesday. My consulting "semi-retirement" just got busier with the addition of another project. I'm finishing up one and starting another. It helps the cash flow, big time, but more "real" work time means less train building time.


I tried adjusting the 1/2" difference between the two sections of the layout, but was unable to shorten the leveling screws on the high end very much since they were already near the end of the inner travel. I should have paid attention to their position when I was initialing putting the legs into position, but it was a detail that I missed. I did raise the low end a bit by lengthening their screws, but didn't want to add too much to that side since it would "unlevel" this part of the layout. It's not going to affect the grade portion since it's already unlevel. The ground level portion will require some adjustment. 




Images (3)
  • swing gate 6
  • swing gate 5
  • swing gate 4.

Believe or not, I actually had a little over an hour today to do some work between a dentist appointment (hooray...not cavities again) and a work related meeting. I finished the top works frame for the swing-gate and reinforced all the joints with double Simpson splice plates. Then I put the whole thing into position and leveled it. I added a temporary leg in the front and made measurements for the middle support that's going to have the casters. I cut the OSB plank that's going to hold the wheels and support the legs.


swing gate 7


To get the correct radius to mount the fixed casters I used the Rotape with the center point being close to the hinge line and extending it out so it intersected the OSB base somewhere in the middle. The Rotape has a drafting pencil lead in the other end and I scribed the arc darkly on the OSB. I will use nuts and bolts to mount the wheels. The holes are 5/16".


swing gate 9


This is sort of how they'll look mounted, but I just realized something looking at this picture. I best make sure that I mount the wheels from underneath since the arc is not symetrical with the board since it is struck from a offset center point. If I were to screw them on in this orientation, and then turned the board over to mount the legs, the wheels would no longer be correctly aligned with the center of rotation. Believe it or not, this is actually a benefit to me in blogging this build in such detail. As I write, I'm thinking about what's been done and what needs to be done.


swing gate 8


I'm also going to reset the radius to move the wheels a bit more to the right giving me more clearance for the caster fasteners. I'm going to frame the top side with either 1 X 3 or 1 X 4 as a mounting point for the legs. I will screw these parts on from the underside of the OSB into the regular grain of the dimensional lumber. I don't trust OSB with screws into the side. I can't twist the board since the legs must mount square to main rail. The legs will be fastened with carriage bolts and nuts. Then I'll add sufficient diagonal bracing to stiffen up the whole deal.


Images (3)
  • swing gate 7
  • swing gate 9
  • swing gate 8

I got done work early today and my wife had a night out with the 'girls', so I worked before AND after dinner on the Swing Gate and it's getting near done. I got the wheels mounted, built the center pillar and braced it. And then built the hinge structure on the door. When it was all done, I realize the the hinge plank was not plumb and will have to be adjusted. I speak more on this later.


I did change the wheel path just a little bit to ensure that their hardware cleared the side planks. I screwed it all together and again used carriage bolts to hold the vertical posts to the L-girders. This makes a very rigid structure. The other holes you see in the L-girders are left over from their previous life when they held up part of the older versions.


 swing gate 12


I installed cross-bracing that will stiffer the fore and aft movement using 1 X 3s. and then I installed a diagonal brace on the left. This was a weird angle so I used Simpson Strong-tie straps that could be deformed to conform to the angles. It only has to support the short end and it will work.


 swing gate 13


Braces on the right side and back were easier since they were in line with parts on their upper and lower regions. With this, the pedestal is secure.


 swing gate 15


Now it was time to build the hinge post structure. It too had to be rigid in both planes. I used a 1 X 3 for the post itself, and then made a box structure with the left end terminating in a 2 X 2 in the left corner, and a 1 x 6 across the bottom. I then ran a diagonal from the lower right to the upper left to stiffen the side to side direction. For the fore and aft direction I made an angle block to give a plane surface to mount to and ran a diagonal from the bottom plank across the space to the front girder.


 swing gate 16


However, when I pushed everything back in place I noticed I have some adjustments to make. The hinge post is not plumb. This picture is supposed to be portrait, and should be rotated 90º CCW, but for some reason, the picture loader turned it to landscape. I will have to remove most of the screws holding the hinge framework in place, pull it into square and then replace the screws in new locations. I if just reinserted them in the same places there's a good chance that it would wrack it again. Once the hinge plane is correct it's time to put the piano hinge on permanently. 


 swing gate 17


It's proof that the hinge assembly is rigid since I couldn't budge it at all to move it. BTW: the wheels work perfectly and the radius is dead on. Clem said I don't need the additional wheel holding the up the back left corner, and I think he's right. For now, I'm going to see if it works as is.


Once the hinge system works, I'll go back to the jam area and makes some improvements so the gate will be guided to the correct position. The I'll mount the joists and risers and lay in the subroadbed that been patiently waiting piled up on the other part of the layout. 


Images (5)
  • swing gate 16
  • swing gate 15
  • swing gate 13
  • swing gate 12
  • swing gate 17

Realigned the hinge post and then was able to install the piano hinge. It works! It's rigid and the wheels are in line perfectly.


 swing gate 18


With that out of the way, I was able to lay the curved subroadbed sections over the gate and trim them so they fit exactly in the space when the gate is clamped in the closed position. I then clamped some temporary supports to the fixed portions at both ends and clamped the curved piece to this. I used the outside curved piece for this part. I then installed the joists that would support everything. I wanted the joists to end in line with the curvature of the roadbed piece. I was running out of 1 X 3... AGAIN... so I used whatever was left laying around the shop. I will have to go to Home Depot for more since I'm going to need it for the bridge sections on the other end of the layout, but I didn't want to stop work today since I was on a roll. 


I cut and installed the joists, and then working from the inside to the outside, again laid in the inside curved piece clamped at both ends and added the risers underneath until it was level and flat. BTW: I had to create another 10 risers and cleat assemblies... After the inner curve's risers were all settled in, I did the same for the outside curve. The curves are now ready to be permanently fixed. Once this is done, I'll finish up the engineering on the jamb end and install the latch. Here's a photo sequence showing a working swing gate which easily clears the lally column and gives a nice opening to access the insides of the layout. Sweet!


 swinging gate 1


 swinging gate 2


 swinging gate 3


swinging gate 4


swinging gate 5


One more work session should finish up the swing gate and it will time to move onto the bridges. Rather than wait until I build the bridge kits which will be a significant effort, I think I'll install a temporary "gap filler" so I run trains while I'm building the bridges and it's associated terrain. It could be several months before the bridges are actually complete.


Images (6)
  • swing gate 18
  • swinging gate 5
  • swinging gate 4
  • swinging gate 3
  • swinging gate 2
  • swinging gate 1

Most of the dramatic work on the swing gate was posted last session, but I did some important finishing things.


I added the outer loop on the gate and then installed the latch. Before installing I beefed up the mounting point by gluing some plywood blocks under the OSB. There's a lot of stress on this point and it's right at the edge of the sheet. I didn't want to risk any pull-out later on. The screws protruded below the ply so I cut them flush with the Dremel and cut-off wheel. They were in a very dangerous spot which could have easily injured someone. The latch is mounted at an angle. I first installed it square to the face, but the mating end has a tab that was having trouble entering the latch since the door swings in laterally. I remounted it on an angle and the two mate up perfectly. It draws the gate tightly shut.


 swing gate 19


I added some landing blocks on the jamb and hinge ends to add some additional support under the movable parts since, unlike all the other OSB on the layout, the pieces are not firmly screwed together with splice plates. There was some give to them which could allow them to drop a bit when and 11 pound locomotive runs over the junction. The landing blocks prevent that from happening. I sanded a slight taper on the blocks so the mating parts would slide together nicely.


The only problem with this arrangement is the latch location. When you're inside the layout you can't reach the latch. It would take two people if you want to run the trains from the inside using a hand-held controller. One solution would be to add an inside latch in addition the outside. When inside you'd use that latch, and vice versa. I'll think about it.


Jamb End
swing gate 21


Hinge End
swing gate 22


I used the belt sander to level some of the joint areas and ground off some protruding screws that were missed in previous work sessions. I then cleaned off all the tools and material and moved it to the other end of the layout in preparation for building the bridge area. This is the last piece of the puzzle to be built and then it's onto laying track.


 Bridge Area 2


Here's the right end all cleared off ready for track. It's a sea of OSB!

Sea of OSB


It's a great feeling to draw all this stuff out in plan and then have it come out exactly as it was envisioned. Pretty neat.


Images (5)
  • Sea of OSB
  • Bridge Area 2
  • swing gate 22
  • swing gate 21
  • swing gate 19

Good Morning Trainman...I see you added the supports under the roadbed on each end of the gate. I did the same only, I used 2x4s that support the whole gate on each end. Thats why i didn't need the small third caster. As I close the gate it is lifted slightly on both ends. I also put stops on the table ends so the gate can't be pushed out of alignment,this way the gate closes the same all the time. Once you get the track down it as to line up horizontally and vertically. You might want to review my photos again. Of course you might not have any problems at all (looks like you do good work).   After I tapered my gate supports I applied a heavy coat of Johnson's paste wax where the wood contacts, that makes a big difference. I can't reach my latch from the inside either, fortunately the gate stays  in alignment even when not latched.~ I'm in the process of an expansion, so have to clear everything out to prevent damage and be able to move the whole display two feet.    

Clem, there's a bit of springyness to the door. You have to put a little pressure on the closing before activating the latch. It doesn't seem to need any downward force, so I'm going to use it as it is before making some additional modifications.


Now onto today's activities... I made a minor adjustment to another OSB panel that wasn't on the same level as an adjacent panel. I tried the belt sander routine to reduce the height of the higher panel, but there was too much stock to remove so I went to my tried and true, Plan B which was to shim the thinner panel's splice plates under the panel to raise the low piece enough to make it flush. I had to put in about 1/16" of cardboard and it worked. It was flush and I didn't need to generate any more sawdust.


With that, work formally began on the bridge end. Here's two views of what I'm attempting to do here. First is the plan view of the final structure design, based on what I actually installed today. The light blue L-girders are 23" below the main girder level and are 31.5" long. For the inner one, this spanned the entire distance between the adjacent girders, whereas on the outer one, I had to build some connecting girders that tied into the existing structure at approximately a 45º angle. The original OSB pieces for this corner no longer conform to the new design so I'm going to cut some new ones out of the scrap I have left. It's the light green pieces in the plan drawing.


 Bridge end final design


And this is the elevation of what the deck truss bridge will look like. There are two options shown. No. 1 is using additional box trusses are lead-ins to the main span, and No. 2 is using earth works leading to an abutment. All of the earth work will be carved pink Styrofoam. I have a hot-carving unit that eliminates all of the plastic from flying around. The bridge is accurately scaled from the kit that I bought.




And here's the structure itself. For the inner structure I had to drop 1 X 3s directly from the existing girders and then using Simpson splice plates, join it all together. For the outer, I made some small 16" L-girders to extend to the existing structure, and then used 2 X 2s for the drops. Across the bottom is the other L-girder. In this case I went with the carriage bolt fastening scheme. Tying the L-girders together will be a grouping of 1 X 3 and 1 X 2 joists. The bridge abutments and scenery will be supported with these joists and it will tie everything together as a network.


Looking from the inside to the outside

 bridge end 04


Looking outside in

 bridge end 01


As I was screwing the screws into the Simpson plates, the lumber started splitting so I had to resort drilling pilot holes for all the rest of the screws. This solved the problem.


Images (4)
  • Bridge end final design
  • Bridge
  • bridge end 04
  • bridge end 01

I didn't build today since I was at work, but had a nice experience that will directly support the layout's progress. I may have mentioned that I'm currently working with a new client; a company that buys and sells commercial aircraft parts. The owner is a very nice fellow! They had received an entire pallet piled high with spools of cable that was surplussed by Airbus. I had shown him a picture of my B-17 so he knew that I was a model maker. I was then looking at the pallet and there were large spools of wire that looked pretty good. He asked if I was interested in it due to my RC building, and I told him that I was looking for wire for the new train layout and, since it was going to carry a digital signal, it needed to be twisted pair.


This wire has three twisted conductors, but looked like it would work if the gauge was right. Since all the specs were in French, it said it was 1.39 mm to 1.53 mm. He said I could have a spool for free, but I needed to find out what gauge that would be. The digital control system calls for 14–16 AWG. I went on the web and researched this size and it turns about to be about 15 gauge. Talk about luck!


When I came into the workplace today he had the spool in his hand and asked where I would like him to put it. It quickly went in my trunk. Santa has arrived early...

The spool says for quantity, "739". I think it's listed in meters which would put it at more than 2,000 feet of wire. I'm figuring that I'll need several hundred feet, so this should be way more than I need.


 Wire Gift


With the cable having three conductors, I posted a question on the DCS Forum to see if I can use the 3rd conductor to carry current for other applications such as signal, switch or lighting power. Please feel free to comment here too.


If I can't run additional power on the 3rd conductor, it's not a problem. It will just be along for the ride. So now I have absolutely no excuse about getting the trains up and running as soon as I finish the bench work. I've got the track, the switches, the rubber roadbed, and now I have the wire... lots and lots of wire.


Images (1)
  • Wire Gift

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