Help this novice with starting a layout

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dilbuhtruck1974

New Member
Hello,

My name is Will and this is my first thread as I am a new member. I am an HO guy and am starting a 4x8 DCC layout during this almighty shutdown!! I have watched youtube vids and read some articles but still have some questions.

1- I built framework and glued 2" foamboard directly to that. I am now wondering if I need to remove the foam and place a thin sheet of plywood first, to attach accessories, unless anyone has had luck attaching motors, blocks and what not to the underside of foam?

2- I would like to use quality products, tortoise switch motors seem to be nice, but I am all ears on opinions. Is 2" foam too thick to allow the wire to reach from the motor to the switch? Should I change out to 1" foamboard for this reason? Or skip the foam and just stick with the thin plywood?

3- I am using code 100 flextrack for reduced derailments hopefully!! Seems like Atlas is a good brand for this, but again I am all ears.

4- I know absolutely nothing in regards to switches, what is a quality manufacturer to go with?

5- I have a mix of cork and foam track bed, thoughts on one over the other?

I have a blank canvas right now and will undoubtedly have many more questions but 5 is good for now. Thanks for reading and answering any or all questions!!

Thanks so much

Will

table.jpg
 

bob

Administrator
Staff member
Wow... that’s your bench work? Looks like a coffee table! That’s some awfully nice woodworking.

As for the plywood. Well, you won’t like my answer... I’d want a sheet under there, and not even “thin”. Maybe 1/2”, something nice and solid. It’s the foundation of your railroad and stronger is better. Foam breaks in tension. You don’t want to be leaning on it to re-rail a car and have it break.

Edited to add: practically speaking, the only real advantage to thin plywood is cost savings. You need one sheet. In the grand scheme of things, the cost savings is insignificant for a single sheet. Having a solid and strong foundation will serve you well long term.

Now, I tend to over engineer stuff, but I’ve crawled over my layout on my hands and knees. I’m sure someone will be along shortly to tell you that the foam alone is fine. Lots of options here.
 
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Alcomotive

Grandson of ALCO Bldr
I concur with Bob. Use at least 1/2 ply underneath. You can see my work here. I plan to use a combination of cork an foam in certain areas.


As for track Atlas, Peco, Mirco, Shinohara....all are good tracks stick with NS (Nickel Silver)
 

dilbuhtruck1974

New Member
Wow... that’s your bench work? Looks like a coffee table! That’s some awfully nice woodworking.

As for the plywood. Well, you won’t like my answer... I’d want a sheet under there, and not even “thin”. Maybe 1/2”, something nice and solid. It’s the foundation of your railroad and stronger is better. Foam breaks in tension. You don’t want to be leaning on it to re-rail a car and have it break.

Edited to add: practically speaking, the only real advantage to thin plywood is cost savings. You need one sheet. In the grand scheme of things, the cost savings is insignificant for a single sheet. Having a solid and strong foundation will serve you well long term.

Now, I tend to over engineer stuff, but I’ve crawled over my layout on my hands and knees. I’m sure someone will be along shortly to tell you that the foam alone is fine. Lots of options here.

Thanks Bob for the feedback!! I'm okay pulling the foam, as it is a blank canvas. Better to do it now. Whats your thoughts on the thickness overall of plywood and foam combined? Will it be a problem for the switch motors or will they still work if there is a long throw between the motor and switch?
 

dilbuhtruck1974

New Member
I concur with Bob. Use at least 1/2 ply underneath. You can see my work here. I plan to use a combination of cork an foam in certain areas.


As for track Atlas, Peco, Mirco, Shinohara....all are good tracks stick with NS (Nickel Silver)

Thank you James, nice job on your benchwork!! I love that laser level
 

bob

Administrator
Staff member
Thanks Bob for the feedback!! I'm okay pulling the foam, as it is a blank canvas. Better to do it now. Whats your thoughts on the thickness overall of plywood and foam combined? Will it be a problem for the switch motors or will they still work if there is a long throw between the motor and switch?
I'm not sure, as I don't use foam on my layout. It's "old school" with L Girder construction and plywood and Homasote for a roadbed.

I'm pretty sure you can make them work but you may find you need to use a thicker connecting rod between the switch and the machine. Hopefully somebody can fill us in on that.
 

dilbuhtruck1974

New Member
I'm not sure, as I don't use foam on my layout. It's "old school" with L Girder construction and plywood and Homasote for a roadbed.

I'm pretty sure you can make them work but you may find you need to use a thicker connecting rod between the switch and the machine. Hopefully somebody can fill us in on that.
Sounds good, thanks for the feedback!!
 

santafewillie

Well-Known Member
Good Morning Will. First of all, welcome to the forum, we will look forward to your questions and progress.
Answering your questions first.
1) Even though I don't use foam, almost all modelers that I have had contact with have put 1/2" plywood under the foam, regardless of the thickness of the foam. Since I use straight plywood for my layout without foam, I cannot answer regarding the accessories.
2) See #1.
3) Atlas code 100 is a good brand of track. I use it exclusively. As far as reducing derailments, it helps, but not as much as well-laid trackwork to begin with. Some others will note the unprotypical look of code 100 compared with code 83, but .017" difference in height is not visible to me. That's about as thick as 3-4 pieces of copy machine paper. Avoid brass track if you can. It conducts well, but tends to get dirty sooner.
4) Not all switches are equal. Atlas is OK, but 10-15% need additional tweaking to make them work flawlessly. They are the most inexpensive when using a lot of them. I have over 100 and would have to mortgage the house if I used Peco or Walther's. There are undoubtedly many other good brands. I mostly use Caboose Industries ground throws, and have to modify the Atlas throw bar. Ground throws ensure a tight, unmovable closure when used correctly. I use the Atlas switch machines where reach is an issue.
5) While I use cork exclusively since I once got a great deal when my LHS owner retired and shut down, both cork and foam track bed work equally as well.
Your benchwork looks really good. Come by and visit the Coffee Shop for some good-natured banter and lots of other railroading related information. Tell us more about your rail interests, mountain, seaport, modern era, steam era etc. What RR will you be your model?
 

bob

Administrator
Staff member
1) Even though I don't use foam, almost all modelers that I have had contact with have put 1/2" plywood under the foam, regardless of the thickness of the foam.
There's a good reason for that. It's fine for scenery, but if you're creating benchwork with it, you need some support.

Picture this:
Take a 2 inch thick piece of foam and Karate Chop it. Bet you could make it snap pretty easy, right? Now, picture doing that with 1/2" plywood. What's going to snap is the bones in your hand.

The Karate chop is a primitive form of shear testing, to see how well the material holds up in tension. Wood is good in both compression and tension. Foam is good in compression (up to a point), but not as good in tension.

Now, if you were making a small layout designed to be portable and transported, then maybe having it be mostly foam would be worth it. But for a big layout, one that's likely to be leaned on? Not as good.
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
Are you planning to have your track change elevation or "simply" have the terrain around it (and perhaps with it going through a tunnel) raised above the level of the track? On a 4' x 8' layout, much of a change in elevation will result in some pretty steep grades. For example, if you are going to have the track loop around and cross over itself, you will need at least 3 inches between the top of the lower rails to the bottom of a bridge crossing over. In that case you will need risers under the roadbed, and a solid surface to support them. Either way, I would agree that a sheet of 1/2" plywood would be a good idea as a base...unless you are going to use open grid with risers attached, in which case you would cut 1/2" plywood in the pattern of your track, supported by the risers from the 1"x 4" cross pieces. The simplest thing is just using the 4' x 8' sheet of plywood. My own layout is in a 14' x 14' room and is in the form of a folded dogbone. For areas where I have changes in elevation of the track, I use open grid with risers. BUT...my two main yards are laid on 1/2" plywood sheet, with cork roadbed on top. I don't use foam, but in the areas where the scenery rises above track, I use plaster over screenwire or cardboard weave with plaster-impregnated cloth or towel paper.

Track switches...or turnouts as model railroaders refer to them, I have used Atlas SnapTrack and Custom Line, with the switch machines attached. I also use Peco and Shinohara (when Walthers was selling those...now they have their own brand). Caboose Hobbies ground throws are fine as long as you can reach them (shouldn't be a problem on your sized layout). Tortise switch machines are fine, as long as you can get at them under the layout. (I have a bunch of twin-solenoid switch machines left over from previous layouts, and they are mounted above the plywood, as at my age crawling under the layout isn't much fun anymore.

Always feel free to ask questions on this forum. Stay well!
 

bob

Administrator
Staff member
Track switches...or turnouts as model railroaders refer to them...
Not just model railroaders. :)

The civil engineering / MOW departments of the railroad also call them "Turnouts".

Operating crews call them switches. As in "I'll go throw the switch". That is correct, as the movable portion of a turnout is the switch, or more accurately the switch points.

If I call my supplier and order some "switch points", I'll get the long knife edged points that change which direction the train will go. If I order a #9 turnout, I get the points, the frogs, the guard rails (if it has them), special plating, heel blocks and a bunch of other "jewelry" that makes up the turnout components. They typically do NOT come with ties, though you can order them that way. They also are missing some of the standard rails, though you can order those as an option.

You can even buy "snap track", fully assembled turnouts, already on ties and shipped in 3 pieces, ready to drop into place. They're shipped in specialized gondolas and if you have to ask how much they cost, you can't afford them. (They're so expensive that I've never installed one. Mainline railroads use them fairly often, but they can also ship them at much lower cost than a contractor can.)
 

MHinLA

Well-Known Member
🌈 Hi. Normally I go into multi-paragraphs with newbies/novices. But I'll focus on just one issue; track.
Hopefully you haven't already bought tons of Atlas code 100. It will not prevent derails anymore than any other size rail. That depends on purely on how well you install track + inadequately made locos and cars. Second thing is, assuming you know what the frog is in switches and crossings, Atlas c 100 frogs which are made of plastic can/will cause stall outs with short length locos and others because the frog can't be powered..Next, Atlas c 100 track, if it's the type with the black colored ties, and if it matters to you, these ties are out of scale (too wide/close together)..And the height of the rail itself (c 100) scales out to about 12"-14" tall in real life..The tallest rail in US is about 9"..(This excludes the ties).
If not too late, I'd truly advise you to go with Code 83 Atlas Customline track or Peco 83 which are in scale and the frogs are metal which allows them to be powered when you want/need to power them (to prevent stall outs) ....Hope this info is helpful...M
 
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Patrick

Well-Known Member
Greetings.

I use 1 1/2" foam over 1/2 plywood. It allows for digging streams in fair easily and still works great. While I use Atlas Code 100, a lot of mine has come from estate sales and auctions over the years, so I reuse a lot of older track. I have even picked up some of the old brass track, which I am not currently using.
 

dilbuhtruck1974

New Member
🌈 Hi. Normally I go into multi-paragraphs with newbies/novices. But I'll focus on just one issue; track.
Hopefully you haven't already bought tons of Atlas code 100. It will not prevent derails anymore than any other size rail. That depends on purely on how well you install track + inadequately made locos and cars. Second thing is, assuming you know what the frog is in switches and crossings, Atlas c 100 frogs which are made of plastic can/will cause stall outs with short length locos and others because the frog can't be powered..Next, Atlas c 100 track, if it's the type with the black colored ties, and if it matters to you, these ties are out of scale (too wide/close together)..And the height of the rail itself (c 100) scales out to about 12"-14" tall in real life..The tallest rail in US is about 9"..(This excludes the ties).
If not too late, I'd truly advise you to go with Code 83 Atlas Customline track or Peco 83 which are in scale and the frogs are metal which allows them to be powered when you want/need to power them (to prevent stall outs) ....Hope this info is helpful...M
Very helpful indeed, all great stuff. Thanks for replying!!
 

dilbuhtruck1974

New Member
Greetings.

I use 1 1/2" foam over 1/2 plywood. It allows for digging streams in fair easily and still works great. While I use Atlas Code 100, a lot of mine has come from estate sales and auctions over the years, so I reuse a lot of older track. I have even picked up some of the old brass track, which I am not currently using.
Great point on digging out scenery. Thank you for replying!!
 

dilbuhtruck1974

New Member
Are you planning to have your track change elevation or "simply" have the terrain around it (and perhaps with it going through a tunnel) raised above the level of the track? On a 4' x 8' layout, much of a change in elevation will result in some pretty steep grades. For example, if you are going to have the track loop around and cross over itself, you will need at least 3 inches between the top of the lower rails to the bottom of a bridge crossing over. In that case you will need risers under the roadbed, and a solid surface to support them. Either way, I would agree that a sheet of 1/2" plywood would be a good idea as a base...unless you are going to use open grid with risers attached, in which case you would cut 1/2" plywood in the pattern of your track, supported by the risers from the 1"x 4" cross pieces. The simplest thing is just using the 4' x 8' sheet of plywood. My own layout is in a 14' x 14' room and is in the form of a folded dogbone. For areas where I have changes in elevation of the track, I use open grid with risers. BUT...my two main yards are laid on 1/2" plywood sheet, with cork roadbed on top. I don't use foam, but in the areas where the scenery rises above track, I use plaster over screenwire or cardboard weave with plaster-impregnated cloth or towel paper.

Track switches...or turnouts as model railroaders refer to them, I have used Atlas SnapTrack and Custom Line, with the switch machines attached. I also use Peco and Shinohara (when Walthers was selling those...now they have their own brand). Caboose Hobbies ground throws are fine as long as you can reach them (shouldn't be a problem on your sized layout). Tortise switch machines are fine, as long as you can get at them under the layout. (I have a bunch of twin-solenoid switch machines left over from previous layouts, and they are mounted above the plywood, as at my age crawling under the layout isn't much fun anymore.

Always feel free to ask questions on this forum. Stay well!
Thanks for the clarification on things, this is all very informative for me!!!
 

dilbuhtruck1974

New Member
Good Morning Will. First of all, welcome to the forum, we will look forward to your questions and progress.
Answering your questions first.
1) Even though I don't use foam, almost all modelers that I have had contact with have put 1/2" plywood under the foam, regardless of the thickness of the foam. Since I use straight plywood for my layout without foam, I cannot answer regarding the accessories.
2) See #1.
3) Atlas code 100 is a good brand of track. I use it exclusively. As far as reducing derailments, it helps, but not as much as well-laid trackwork to begin with. Some others will note the unprotypical look of code 100 compared with code 83, but .017" difference in height is not visible to me. That's about as thick as 3-4 pieces of copy machine paper. Avoid brass track if you can. It conducts well, but tends to get dirty sooner.
4) Not all switches are equal. Atlas is OK, but 10-15% need additional tweaking to make them work flawlessly. They are the most inexpensive when using a lot of them. I have over 100 and would have to mortgage the house if I used Peco or Walther's. There are undoubtedly many other good brands. I mostly use Caboose Industries ground throws, and have to modify the Atlas throw bar. Ground throws ensure a tight, unmovable closure when used correctly. I use the Atlas switch machines where reach is an issue.
5) While I use cork exclusively since I once got a great deal when my LHS owner retired and shut down, both cork and foam track bed work equally as well.
Your benchwork looks really good. Come by and visit the Coffee Shop for some good-natured banter and lots of other railroading related information. Tell us more about your rail interests, mountain, seaport, modern era, steam era etc. What RR will you be your model?
I am into modern big power in regards to loco's. I like the paint schemes of each class I railroad for one reason or another, so I have a medley of locomotives. Of course I am limited with 4x8 so not sure what industry to go with, still figuring out the track layout. But I really enjoy the grain industry, refineries and intermodal yards......all of which require a lot of real estate! For a smaller footprint, I want to create a fictional beach scene with the surf leading close up to the tracks and then I want to have a section of poverty stricken ghetto with run down and boarded up buildings with abandoned vehicles. I guess you can say I have eclectic taste and ideas!!
 

Sirfoldalot

Product Tester ACME INC.
Staff member
For a smaller footprint, I want to create a fictional beach scene with the surf leading close up to the tracks and then I want to have a section of poverty stricken ghetto with run down and boarded up buildings with abandoned vehicles.
An Idea along this plan is to have a divider along the center of the table (maybe at a slight angle) and have one scene on each side. I have seen this done on several smaller layouts and it is very effective.
 

daves68

Member
i did alot of research about building layouts on these forums. some people will use just foam as a base if they have a girder support system underneath. as long as they don't plan on standing or leaning on it. i use peco turnouts as most people say they are very good. and so far mine have been working great. i got a good deal on peco flex track at a train show so i used that.
 




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