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Discussion Starter #1
Since I've been asking a lot of questions (and getting a lot of really good suggestions), I thought I'd post a few pictures of the progress I'm making on my layout. This is a modified version of the Salt Lake Route layout featured in spring 2010 Model Railroader. I'm using all Atlas Code 55 turnouts and flex-track instead of Kato. I'll post updates periodically as well.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Everything is Atlas Code 55. The turnouts are all #5 or #6, except for the double-crossover, which uses #11.
 

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Since I've been asking a lot of questions (and getting a lot of really good suggestions), I thought I'd post a few pictures of the progress I'm making on my layout. This is a modified version of the Salt Lake Route layout featured in spring 2010 Model Railroader. I'm using all Atlas Code 55 turnouts and flex-track instead of Kato. I'll post updates periodically as well.

Tim;

Things look good so far! I see that the Model Railroader version has a double sided backdrop that divides the layout into two separate scenes. That is an excellent feature that I recommend you incorporate into your layout. It breaks up the unrealistic, "round-and-round the train goes" look common to so many table top, rectangular, layouts.
Using that backdrop, and the hills, as a view block, transforms the layout into two distinct scenes where the trains arrive in yard/town area, do whatever switching may be required, and then move on toward "The next town." (not modeled) On the way, they pass through some nice scenery, on the other side of the backdrop.

One concern would be access to the back side of the layout. Can the entire layout be rotated as needed for track cleaning & maintenance? In other words is it mounted on one big board that can be moved, or on a counter top that is permanently mounted? Would it be possible to have the backdrop, (and possibly the hills) removable, to obtain the necessary access? I see, in your photos, that two sides of your layout butt up against walls. That will make access even more difficult. There is an excellent idea in master track planner John Armstrong's book "Track planing for Realistic Operation that you might consider adopting for your layout. He cut 45 degree pieces off one end of a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood and then re-attached those cut off triangular pieces to the opposite end of the 4 x 8. He ended up with a layout that was pointed at both ends. Each pointed end was 90 degrees. He pushed one of the 90 degree points tightly into one corner of the room, like the corner in your photo. The layout then stuck out at a 45 degree angle to either of the two walls that formed that corner of the room. This let him get to both sides of the layout, without moving it at all. He could also see either side easily, and enjoy both. One improvement to Armstrong's idea that I suggest is to round off the sharp corner that juts out into the room. If/when you bump into it, your body will be grateful that you did! :eek:

What are the overall dimensions of your layout? The original MR plan says it's 4' x 9'. Your version looks like it might be narrower than the common 4'x 8'. Would it be practical to permanently rotate the whole layout 90 degrees, and let one narrow end stick out into the room? (supported by legs)
Doing that would not only take care of the maintenance access issue, but also let you see, and enjoy, the scenic side better. Also a 4' x 9' single big slab, layout would be a major pain to move, if you ever have to. You might consider building the benchwork as four 2' x 4'-6" sections. That would not only make transportation easier, if you should have to move to another home, but also make some of the construction easier. All the under-the-table chores, like wiring, and mounting switch machines, will be immensely easier if you can take a section to a workbench, and work with it upside down. Sitting in a comfortable chair vs. crawling under the layout, and having to do all this same work above your head, will be a lot easier on you too.

good luck with whatever you choose;

Traction Fan:smilie_daumenpos:
 

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Poor advice

I was going with that but chickened out based on my hobby shop's advice to a newbie N scaler. Yours is going to look very sharp.
jackpresley;

I disagree with your hobby shop's advice.
Atlas code 55 flex track, and turnouts are no more difficult to lay than their code 80 track and turnouts, which is probably what you ended up with.

As you have noticed, the code 55 track also looks considerably more realistic than the code 80. The code 80 track has rail that would scale up to a foot high in real life (way bigger than any rail ever used by a real railroad) Also, the code 80 track's ties are too short, and too far apart, to look much like real track. Painting, and ballasting, the track will help disguise some of these appearance shortcomings. Operationally the code 80 flex track is fine, it will work just as well as any other track.

Last, and worst, Atlas's code 80 "Snap Switch" turnouts, which you probably also got stuck with, are quite inferior to the Atlas code 55 turnouts (and every other turnout on the market!)

The code 55 turnouts even come with the metal, powered, isolated, frog "DCC friendly" configuration built right in from the factory. While any turnout can be used with DCC, it's nice to have this configuration.

The Atlas code 80 turnout comes with a plastic frog, which is not likely to affect operation that much, but the metal, powered & isolated frog on the code 55 turnout is better, in my opinion.

The code 80 turnout comes with a flimsy, weak, switch machine attached. Way back (before I knew any better) I used the Atlas code 80 turnouts, and several of their switch machines actually shook themselves apart.

The Atlas code 55 turnout comes without a switch machine, so TimW will be able to operate his turnouts with any switch machine, ground throw,or linkage, that he wants. Unless he is foolish enough to buy Atlas switch machines, whatever he chooses will automatically be better quality than the Atlas switch machine, since it is the worst.

All and all, while the advice you got from your hobby shop was likely to have been well-intentioned , I feel it was poor, at best.

If you do have the Atlas code 80 turnouts, there are improvements you can make. My Atlas switch machines shook off their own covers after enough "snap action" operations. This caused the innards to spill out. I suggest attaching a small strip of Scotch tape over the seam where the top & bottom of the switch machine's housing join each other.
To prevent coil burnout, use a "Capacitive Discharge Unit" (CDU) to operate all your turnouts. A company called "Stapleton" makes turnout controls that have a built-in CDU. They will not only protect your turnout coils from accidental burnout, but will also replace the bulky, and trouble-prone, "blue button" Atlas controls that come with their code 80 turnouts.

The frogs, and flangeways, of most commercial turnouts do not meet NMRA specs. which can sometimes cause derailments. Should you experience derailments on your turnouts, you can simply, and cheaply, modify the flangeways and frogs to insure smoother, more reliable, operation. The attached file, "Improving Atlas Turnouts," explains how.

good luck;

Traction Fan:smilie_daumenpos:


View attachment Improving Atlas turnouts pdf version.pdf

View attachment All AboutTurnouts.pdf
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for the recommendations, Traction Fan. Unfortunately I have to go with the space and direction shown in the photos. I'd considered using the double-sided backdrop like in the MRR layout, but since this layout is intended to be only temporary (I retire in just over 5 years and a layout room is definitely in the picture for the house we'll build in retirement) and mostly for learning to do important things like lay track ballast road bed, and do basic scenery development and construction, I've decided on the round-and-round concept. It's a full-size 4' x 8', and I intend to fill the corners with rocky hillsides and sparse trees and desert grasses. I just finished doing all my ground level roadbed installation today, but I now have to wait on the arrival of a couple of bridges before I can finish setting the risers and begin covering them with plaster cloth.

BTW: The 2" x 2" table legs are mounted on 3" soft tread, locking casters so the table moves about quite easily and quietly. I'll upgrade the legs to something better looking as I get closer to the end.

TimW
 

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Casters good

Thanks for the recommendations, Traction Fan. Unfortunately I have to go with the space and direction shown in the photos. I'd considered using the double-sided backdrop like in the MRR layout, but since this layout is intended to be only temporary (I retire in just over 5 years and a layout room is definitely in the picture for the house we'll build in retirement) and mostly for learning to do important things like lay track ballast road bed, and do basic scenery development and construction, I've decided on the round-and-round concept. It's a full-size 4' x 8', and I intend to fill the corners with rocky hillsides and sparse trees and desert grasses. I just finished doing all my ground level roadbed installation today, but I now have to wait on the arrival of a couple of bridges before I can finish setting the risers and begin covering them with plaster cloth.

BTW: The 2" x 2" table legs are mounted on 3" soft tread, locking casters so the table moves about quite easily and quietly. I'll upgrade the legs to something better looking as I get closer to the end.

TimW

TimW;

Having those casters,and being able to move the entire layout away from the wall, makes all the difference. You could even use the backdrop that way, if you so choose, since you would be able to access both sides.
I also didn't know that this was a temporary, learning layout. You should learn a lot in building it, and have fun with it too.

Good luck, and have fun. It looks like you are off to a very good start.

Traction Fan:smilie_daumenpos:
 

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Discussion Starter #10
All the ground level roadbed is in. Time to wait for the mail to deliver my bridges before I can finish the risers and start covering them with plaster cloth. I'd include an updated photo of today's work with the tabletop cleaned off, but I can't figure out how to do it.
 

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I like the layout design Tim - I'm a big fan of double-track runs (more action going at once) and this layout seems to do that well while also allowing for some fun switching operations. My only pause for concern is that the curve radius seems tight on a few of the curves. If those curves are less than 11.25 degrees, then this is going to prevent you from being able to run many passenger trains and long rolling stock, as they will derail.

On another note, I agree with all of Traction Fan's sentiments on Atlas Code 55 track and turnouts. Lots of Peco fans out there but I chose Atlas mostly because of the US track prototype, and it was also more cost-effective for me to attain what I needed for my layout. My Atlas track has performed great for my entire layout without issues.

There are 2 important things I will say about turnouts though... And I don't know if this applies to just Atlas or all of them... but:
  1. In many cases, you will likely need to file down the point rails so they are flush with the stock rails. Because the point rails are on a moving pivot, the smallest of debris getting under that pivot when gluing / ballasting / etc. will slightly raise the point rails in elevation. Or in some cases, the turnout itself might just be manufactured imperfectly and it's not even a debris issue. And N Scale being so small, the wheels don't take much to derail. Plastic wheels seem to handle imperfections better than metal wheels, and also the weight of the car (locos handle better than an empty flatbed car)
  2. You may experience some power loss issues at the frog occasionally. Before blaming the track and frog as the culprit and start cleaning / filing / doing anything to the frog to try and rectify the issue, PLEASE CHECK YOUR LOCO WHEELS FIRST. The nature of how frogs are designed, there is a pretty large empty space in the middle which is designed to give space for the wheels traveling in 2 directions (the diverging route). This space is a brief gap of non-electricity, even in powered frogs. If you have any dirt / grime on the back wheels (either on them or in the wheel wiper points) that are preventing electrical pickup, then the front wheel hitting that "dead gap" in the frog is going to exploit the issue. So be sure to do a thorough disassembly and cleaning of the trucks and wheels on your locos as a first remedy, before blaming the track.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I will definitely heed your advice regarding the Atlas turnouts.

While the curves may look tight in the pictures, none is <15" radius. I bought a really big compass that will do up to 22" radius circles and used that for mapping all curves as I was drawing it on the tabletop. I also built myself a simple template out of cardboard that has a 16" radius on one side and a 19" radius on the other. I like to use it to double-check myself and ensure that even my short curves are open enough to accommodate passenger cars and other long rolling stock.

Thanks again!

TimW
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Aha! You can't use quick reply to post pictures. After another productive building day and nearly a quart (so far) of Elmer's white glue, here's the layout with all the ground level roadbed in place. Gonna take a couple of days off and have some fun father-son time with my youngest son.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I'm primarily using this layout to learn the skills necessary to build a room-sized layout in the future. The Salt Lake Route craftily created two scenes on either side of the layout by using a divider/backdrop between the two halves. I'm creating a two-mainline round-and-round layout with some interesting switching and only a single backdrop at the rear. Additionally, the MRR layout created two sections using tunnels. That may come later with this, but right now I'm going to simply grade upward on one side, split levels slightly so that passing trains will be at different elevations, cross a small river, and descend back to the front of the layout. The original MRR layout was 4' x 9', but I only had 4' by 8' to work with, so I decided to keep it simple and cut out a few things, but I still chose to include lots of scenery details to learn with. I figure this layout will always be a work in progress until I decide to take it apart, donate it, or sell it before embarking on my "biggie". Unfortunately, the biggie won't fit in my current house and will have to wait a few years until I retire and move. ;)

TimW
 

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Storage question

I couldn't help but notice those drawer units below your layout. Did you buy those? If so, I would love to know where you got them! They look awesome.
 

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I was going with that but chickened out based on my hobby shop's advice to a newbie N scaler. Yours is going to look very sharp.
I'll bet they have a tone of code 80 track, and little if any code 55.... if the giver of advice has anything to gain from that advice never accept it at face value.
 

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I guess Jack found my previous comment overly cynical and insulting. It wasn't intended that way -- cynical, yes, but not insulting. I apologize if anyone was offended.
 
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