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My first shelf layout

10151 Views 136 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  Shdwdrgn
After a recent discussion of shelf layouts, I realized that this would be an ideal way for me to build some test track where I could try out ideas before starting on my full layout.

My goal is to build a small switching layout where I can test the idea of completely automating yard functions, allowing a computer to reliably move cars around to various locations. Bonus points if I can also write an algorithm which allows the locos to sort individual or groups of cars into a specific order without having to dictate every step of the process.

This layout will be built in HO scale as an 'L' shelf, and I believe the yards on each end will provide a variety of situations that I can test. There is also a mainline track (highlighted in gray) which the switchers will need to keep clear, further complicating procedures. Once I started reading in to switching puzzles, I realized that the right side is actually a variation of the classic 'timesaver', so that gives me at least one known puzzle to work with.

I hope to build this with some easy slopes so it's not completely flat, but otherwise plan to keep it fairly simple.

This weekend I took advantage of some spectacular weather and got some 1/2" plywood and 1" foam cut for the shelves. Last night the shelf brackets were mounted on the wall and everything put up in place over my computer desk. For reference, each leg is 12" wide and 72" long, so it really makes a pretty decent sized setup for HO.

I will be using arduinos to build a version of DCC++, and DCC-controlled servos for the turnouts. The 1" foam gives enough room for the servo horn, so I think I can just cut out a notch for each servo. To keep everything easily accessible, I'm going to try and mount all of the servos to the front of the shelf (inside their respective notches) and slide piano wire up to each servo. Then I will cover the whole layout with a final sheet of 1/4" foam to cover the electronics, and a piece of wood trim across the front will hide the equipment but be easily removable for access.

The turnouts are a hand-laid design I came up with to help crunch all the track into a small space. Basically they are each a 15-degree curve of 20.75" radius. I will be running Bachmann 0-6-0T switchers and cars that are 40' or less, so everything should easily handle the tight turns.

Since I have so many details to work out initially (plus building all the turnouts), this will be a fairly slow project to get started, but I'll post pics whenever something interesting happens.
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Wow, three weeks since the last update. Too many other things getting in the way, plus I've been working with the DCC++ESP32 code to try and clear up some bugs.

Meanwhile, I finally finished gluing down the printouts on the first half of the shelf last night. I'm ready to start laying down some roadbed for the mainline and transitioning down to the base level for the sidings.

A quick detail here... The foamboard comes in lengths of 30" so I needed 2.5 pieces to create my full 6ft length. I used masking tape on the back side to attach the pieces of foamboard to each other, and on the front side I adjusted my printouts to glue a sheet across each joint. This holds them together well enough for working on.

The next step is drilling the holes for the T-nuts so that I can maintain the alignment between the foamboard and the pink foam. I'm going to use 1-2 additional layers of foamboard to build up some areas, and I'm thinking about using foamboard to create my roadbed since both the cork and foam roadbed I have are quite a bit wider than the track and I don't have a lot of free space to play with on this shelf.
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It turns out making roadbed from the foamboard is pretty easy (once you get your measurements nailed down). Basically I just lay a straightedge on the foam and hold a razor blade at an angle while cutting. It's not machine-perfect, which may actually help make it look more realistic. I took some pics to post what it looks like, but unfortunately it's all white-on-white and the details were washed out in the images so you couldn't really see what was happening. Oh well, it will stand out better once I start getting paint on everything.

So at the moment I'm working on creating a foamboard roadbed for the mainline, plus I'll add or remove more foam to provide some minor altitude adjustments for the various sidings.
After it's ballasted you won't see it anyway.
Exactly! I'm just trying to get the rough shape to support the track. I ran into a little trouble with where the mainline curves around in the corner of the shelf. Ended up grabbing some discarded printouts and cutting out the track for that area which I glued to a larger piece of foamboard. Then I free-hand cut the angled edges and was able to line it up with the printouts already glued down.

Hopefully I can get some of the larger pieces cut out today as well. I wish I had something that was half the thickness of the foamboard, but I'll make do with what I have and use a sanding block to taper the transitions.
I've been working with the author of the ESP32 Command Station, which is a wifi-enabled offshoot of DCC++. He's getting close to a new major release which will include LCC functionality. I wanted a more mobile-friendly interface that adapted to cell phones and tablets, so I volunteered to write a whole new interface. This has consumed the past month of my free time, but we've been able to track down and fix a number of bugs in the DCC functions and nearly have everything working now.

I've been staring at my shelf for the past week, wanting to get back to finishing the foam work so I can tack down the track and start getting some wiring and turnout motors in place. Apparently I failed to post pictures of the initial roadbed work in my last posts, so here's what the mainline looks like...

It doesn't looks like much, but it's the same foamboard as I used for the base, with the sides cut at an angle using a box cutter. Easy to work with and I can put it in place with watered-down white glue.

So today I started something a little tougher... the transitions from the high mainline down to the ground level. I had an idea on how to do this, it just took a couple tries to get the hang of it. Basically I cut out the foam in the shape I needed, including the tapered sides, then using a small board to hold the foam straight I held it to the bottom side of a small belt sander. This allowed me to get a perfectly flat transition area, then I used a sanding block to smooth down a curve at the top of the 'hill' so I didn't have a sudden change in grade. Laying a piece of flex track over it allowed me to check how it turned out. There is no smooth curve at the bottom of the grade but when I add ballast it will fill in underneath the track.


Since everything is white-on-white it's really hard to get pictures showing the details, but you should be able to get the idea here. The grade drops about 3/16" in 6" which works well for the limited space of the shelf. I have the foam in place under both of the turnouts pictured, so now I just need to cut the slots for the throwbar rods and then I think I'll be ready to add in the missing ties and glue down this first section of track.
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It didn't take much to add in the ties for these two turnouts this morning, and the rest of the connected track wil use the ties on the flex track.

Now that the glue has had a few hours to dry, I hit this section with a quick (light) shot of rust-o-leum ultra-flat earth brown. I figured the track would block the paint reaching parts of these new ties, so this way I ensure everything is covered.

I'll head up to the hardware store in a bit to grab a tube of brown caulking, and by then the paint should be dry enough that I can attach the turnouts.

The plan from this point will be to get all of the rest of the track built in a similar manner. Once track power is wired up and the turnout motors are working, I'll go back and hit all of the track with the same flat brown paint. It makes a good base color for the ties and sides of the rail, then I can use a brush to add rust color to the rails.

I have another pair of turnouts already built for the mainline on this half of the shelf, so once this first section of track has been glued down I can cut the flex track spanning to the next turnout, and then start setting the wood ties for them. Before I glue that pair of turnouts in place, though, I need to build one more turnout. Between the next pair and the turnouts shown above, there is a run-around siding, and I need to assemble all of the track in progressive order.
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Just about finished the next turnout, it only needs the throwbar and guard rails added in. It's hard to tell from this angle but the turnout itself has a short grade under (dropping from the 3/16" height of the mainline down to the board level). According to the software that comes out to about a 3% grade but it's over such a short distance that I don't think it will matter.

It also occurred to me that I need to start adding in insulated rail joiners so I can break up all this yard work into small blocks. Initially I'll just wire everything together but the wiring will give me the opportunity to play with block detection later on.

I also made up a piece of piano wire to test the control of turnout points. As I mentioned before, the tubing will be glued into the pink foam and will prevent the wire for flexing along the length. The 90-degree bend is made 3/4" from the end that goes into the throwbar, and allows some flex so the servo motor can move further than the throwbar without damaging anything. Once the pieces are fixed in place I can adjust the throw of the servo so it only moves slightly further than needed and provides a little springiness to make sure the points are fully seated in place.

I also picked up some wire from the hardware store for hooking the frogs to micro lever switches. The switches will simply connect the frog to one rail or the other, and will be activated by the piano wire pressing against them. The wire is a bit heavier than I need (20awg) and is solid instead of stranded, but I didn't want to wait 2 months for some ribbon cable to come from China.

So I think I'm ready to glue down the first pair of turnouts, then cut the flex track spanning to the next pair and I can start adding the filler ties around those. I've spent a LOT of time trying to work out how do accomplish various aspects of this build but now most of that is done and the build portion should move right along.
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It's going to be an interesting build indeed.
The prelude sure was.
Great to see it get to this point.
Good luck with it all and keep posting progress.

Thanks for that! I think the biggest mistake I've made so far is not anticipating the foamboard would warp from gluing on the printouts, and I'm still not really sure how to prevent that or correct it. I've tried spraying it down with water and then weighing down the edges while it dried again. The only other idea I have to to wet a washcloth to lay over it and extend the drying process overnight. Anyway, I'm hoping to get the first chunk of track glued down today and work on the ties for the next section tomorrow. Just with the turnouts that are completed I should be able to finish laying the mainline on this half of the shelf, plus two sidings and the run-around track. so that will be a fair amount of usable track to start playing with.
Well I got those turnouts glued down and this morning added my first siding. I wanted this one to be really low, like it's been there and neglected forever but still in use. I cut down the top foam so the ties are actually sitting level with the rest of the ground. It should be enough that some of the ties will show through the 'dirt' but a lot will be hidden.

Here you can see where I tapered down the slope from the mainline. I used a dremel to take out most of the material, then used the edge of a foam sanding block to smooth it out and try to flatted the slope.

And here's the result...

I'm still debating if I want to put a dirt pile at the end of this track, or just leave it bare. I need to get a feed wire soldered on to this and the mainline, then I should be able to check that power is flowing through as I add more track.

Time to get started on the wood ties to fill under the next pair of turnouts!
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I wanted this one to be really low, like it's been there and neglected forever but still in use. I cut down the top foam so the ties are actually sitting level with the rest of the ground. It should be enough that some of the ties will show through the 'dirt' but a lot will be hidden.
Interesting idea. Some prototype pics for ya.


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Yes!!! That's exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of! In fact that last pics gives me an idea for having some of the ballast washing downhill from the mainline. I've never seen a shot like that where so much ballast has washed over that it's almost to the top of the rail. That'll be great to model. :)
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Well I finished up a large chunk of track today. The current section was three interconnected turnouts, with two of them facing track that had to be aligned simultaneously. Yesterday I finished up the wood filler ties and got them painted so I was ready to start gluing everything in place this morning. The track segments have been soldered together and wires are hanging everywhere. This allowed me to add another siding (completed), and I'm ready to add the last short length of mainline track.

I have two big things I need to work on next... First off is removing all the warps in the foamboard so all the track sits level. I've been having a bit of luck putting materials underneath the foam, spraying the top side with water, weighing it down and letting it dry. This gives it an inverse curve against the current bend, and when I remove the weights it seems to be pretty level.

The other thing is that it's time to get started setting up the servo motors. I need to cut slots in the base pink foam and mount the servos, then start building the connecting rods. This also means getting the holes drilled for the T-nuts to align the pink foam and foam board together (and that will also help control the warping of the foam board). Gonna take a lot of work to get these steps done, but once I have it worked out then I'll be to a point where I can finally run a loco and control some turnouts on the shelf.
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Some more good progress today... I have the last leg of the mainline attached, and I got all f the T-nuts mounted to hold the layers together. An advantage of having the T-nuts in place now is that it creates several fixed points (every 15 inches) where the foamboard cannot warp. I've been working against these points with the water bottle and some weights to flatten out the foamboard and I'm making good progress. The majority of the warps I see now are due to wires tucked up underneath.

I'm running into a problem with using superglue to hold down the track... it's just too brittle and it's coming loose as easily as the caulking was. I'm not sure what to try next, maybe I'll give the caulk another shot.

With the mainline complete, I decided to hook up the wires to my DCC controller. I was able to move the loco around the various tracks, even though I don't have anything holding the turnout points in position yet. Still, it was great to finally see some life!

I'm having trouble with the camera, will try to figure out the problem so I can post another progress shot over the weekend.
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Much better progress with the caulk today! This time I used a putty knife to spread the beads flat, and the track seemed to adhere much better. I was able to get the rest of the track tacked down, and took some time to shave the foam a bit to smooth out the transitions.

So here's the section of track I've been finishing up this week...


And here's the overview of what's done so far...

The brown paint makes it hard to get a good picture, but that's what I've got so far. There's somewhere around 10 feet of runnable track already which will let me give the loco a bit of a run. Now I'm ready to start working on those servo motors, hope to at least start marking out their positions tonight.
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Congrats on the progress! It’s starting to take shape!
Thanks, and yes, it's beginning to look like something. Like I mentioned before, once I get the servos figured out and have the turnouts operational then I should be able to pick up some speed and just settle in to building things. It's just figuring out all the little details that's slowing me down. And when I get to working on scenery my current progress is going to seem like a rabbit race in comparison. :( But at least I have a lot of supplies on hand already for that part.

Speaking of supplies, I can't believe how far I'm getting with my first pack of bare rail for building turnouts. I've built at least 14 turnouts, including several dual-gauge, and still have half the pack remaining. So at least 25 turnouts for about $75 in supplies, and it only costs me a dollar each to motorize them via DCC. Quite the bargain!
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I managed to get a better picture with some trains in place...

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The first turnout control rod is in place. First a shaped the piano wire. The angled bit on the left flexes so the wire can move further than the points and provides some spring action to better seat the points. I cut a slot in the foamboard for the tubing and used the caulk to stick it down, but it didn't stick very well. I roughed up the tubing with some sandpaper and glued it again, and this time it seems better.

The switch took the longest. First I had to find just the right position so the switch clicks just before the points seat in one direction. Since the control wire sits right on top of the foamboard I had to cut a hole for the switch to sit in. I also used a triangle file to cut a V-notch in the end of the level to keep the wire in place, and I added a slight bend to the level to allow extra clearance for the control wire movement. The switch was also glued down using the caulk, and I will add more around it once the wires have been soldered on. The only purpose for this switch is to provide power to the frog.

Overall the servo will move the control wire up to 3/8" while the points only move about 3/32". Once I have the DCC decoder hooked up I can fine-tune the movement of the servo so it only travels as far as needed for operations. This will also allow me to adjust each servo independently since there will be variations in the positional assembly of each turnout and servo.


Next up, cutting the slot in the pink foam and mounting the servo!
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