Category Archives: Benchwork

The Helix Continued…

I hope everyone is having a great Holiday Season. While I have been busy with family and work, I have had a chance to continue on the helix. Just not as much as I had hoped. I guess that’s the way it goes.

I did get the second ring of the helix installed. Tracks in and wired and successfully tested. Which leads to some thoughts on the way helixes are monitored.

This has been and continues to be one of the great divides on using a helix. Many will tell you that they would never use one for a couple of reasons. First, they are a tremendous real estate suck. Yes, yes they are. I have devoted about 30 square feet to mine. That’s a lot of space, especially if you are working in tight quarters. Fortunately I have the space.

The second is, you can’t see what’s going on and have no idea if the train is even moving.

My solution to that one.

One could just leave the helix open so that you could see what’s happening. My sense of aesthetic won’t allow me to have this great big monster hanging out in the open. I don’t know, maybe we should chalk it up to OCD.

My plan is the following. First the progress.

Second loop of helix in.

You can see above that both tracks end in the same place. Not something that happens when laying track with two different diameters. They were cut off together because this is the end of the first detection block. There will be a three over three signal at the entrance to the helix top and bottom. The upper signal head will show occupancy for the first section as the train navigates up or down. The lower the second section. The operator will have the visual cue of the signals so that they know there is movement.

If this isn’t enough, I have a two camera monitor that the operator can watch.

Monitor and cameras for the helix.

You can choose between the two cameras or have a split screen of both. The cameras will be placed (I hope) so that one can see the entire helix as well as the upper and lower return loops. Will see how that works out. I had picked this up at Lowes years ago on clearance. When I got it home and played with it I really liked it. Went back to get another but they were gone. The newer security systems are way too expensive (my opinion) for what I need. Mainly because they all have DVR’s built in. Don’t need a replay of the train in the helix.

Any ways, my solution to the problem.

I did get the third ring assembled and set into place.

Third loop set in place.

One thing that struck me was, with only two loops, it didn’t strike me as a helix. With the third in place it now “looks” like a helix.

Still have several family functions to attend through new years, so there won’t be much work done downstairs. After the 1st though I should be back at it.

Till then, Happy New Year…


Movin’ on up…

Got the helix started and we are movin’ on up to the second deck.

As I had left it last, I had all the curved roadbed pieces cut for the helix. As I was getting ready to assemble the first loop I realized that even if I got it put together I had no way to mount it. So back out to the garage to cut the vertical supports.

Originally I was going to have six sets of vertical supports. They would mate up with the with the joint in the roadbed pieces. I had a rather intricate plan for the vertical supports that would have been a lot more involved and labor intensive. Also I would have had to figure out how to a measure .667 inch rise between supports. I did the math and the fraction of an inch isn’t any better. So, I decided to have eight sets of supports, which meant that it would be a half an inch rise per support. A lot easier to figure out.

I than had to refigure the placement of the supports. Which presented the next hitch. One of the supports landed right in the middle of the reverse loop under the helix. Again, out to the garage to cut a piece to lift the support over the track.

The supports.

Vertical supports added for the helix.
Alternate view of the vertical supports in place.
Of course there is always a special case.

And then I was off and running. First I measured and cut off half of a curved section for my overlap. With that done it was a matter of gluing and screwing the pieces together till I had a complete circle.

Start of the first loop of the helix.
The staggered joint.
First loop complete.

Before I moved the finished ring to the layout I started the next loop so that the overlap would match up.

Also made the first section of the next loop so that the joint would match up.

Ah yes, moving the loop to the layout. I had assembled the loop at the end of the peninsula. The plan was to slip it into place on the Brandon side. Wouldn’t go. So around the layout and up and over the New Brighton street scene. Got it partially into place and then back around the layout and into the helix center where I wrestled it into place.

The next task was to join it to the other sub roadbed. My plan was not to use any cork roadbed to increase clearance. This meant an offset joint. While trying to figure out how to cut a piece 5mm thick for the offset, it occurred to me to just use a piece of cork sheet.

The loop in place with the joint plate connected.

Next I measured and mounted half of the loop, with the other half pulled high (you can see it in the picture above). This was so I could mount the first section of track where it was under the overlapping piece of the loop. I am using code 100 track in the helix. The reason is simple, I have a bunch of it sitting around from what I figure is about 25 years ago. Plus if I need more it’s cheaper than code 83. This meant a had to use transition pieces. They are from Walthers (   

Added the track to the area under the end of the loop while still accessible.

After that, permanently mounted the rest of the loop.

setting the rest of the loop in place.
The loop from the other side.

Next up was to add the track, wired in feeder wires and then the first train.

Successful run up the first part of the helix.

Now it’s back to the next loop. Keep you updated…




Finally, The Helix…

I have finally taken the first steps towards starting the helix. It is long overdue. This past weekend I had a large block of time.  And since it was still warm enough in the garage without heating it I picked up the plywood and started cutting.

As I had mentioned before (it’s been awhile, May 2015) I have a aluminum pattern that I had made for the curves. Using the pattern I trace out the curve section on the plywood (I can get 16 curved sections on a 4 x 8 piece of plywood). I then rough cut out the pieces. Then again using the metal pattern screwed to the rough cut pieces I run them threw the router using a pattern bit. I had detailed this along with pictures in the May 2015 post if you want a better idea of how it works.

I need 12 curved sections per loop. Six would complete one loop if I were using 3/4″ plywood. However than you would have to join the pieces together without creating a clearance problem. My solution was to use 3/8″ plywood and laminate the pieces together offsetting the joints to crate a 3/4″ thick ring that would have nothing below to cause clearance issues.

The stack ready to go.

All loop pieces ready to go. Also 4 sections for the entrance and exit from the helix.

As noted there are also four pieces (bottom of stack) that I cut with straight sections leading into and out of the helix.

My plan is to assemble them away from the layout one loop at a time. I will glue, clamp and screw them together.  Then I will add that loop to the layout, lay and wire the track. I will then run a test train through it before going on to the next loop. After the first loop works I will repeat the process.

The thought of trying to mark the locations for screws and the center line of the track kind of boggled my mind. A little thought and my next great idea. Back out to the garage and in no time I made a couple of marking gauges.

They ride along the edge of the roadbed and have holes in them for a pencil to mark screw and track locations. One is for the inside of the curve and the other for the outside.

Tried one out and this is what it looks like.

I should have the first loop completed and installed this week. Will keep you updated. I will also have an update on the grain complex for you on Wednesday.

Till then, Happy Modelling…

A River Runs Through It…

As I had said the next part of the scenery had a river that runs through it. I had penciled in where I had wanted the river but never cut it out. Part of the reason was that I was unsure of what type of bridge. The track here in on an incline (slight) and a curve. And I didn’t want just a culvert.

I finally decided to use the sides of an Atlas ( plate girder bridge. That way I could cut the sides of the plywood subroadbed flat on the side and add bridge abutments and presto, a bridge.

First up was to cut out the river. Not an easy task considering that everything else was in place and I had to be careful not to wreck what was there. Mainly I had to be careful of the wiring that ran underneath the area. This is where one of my favorite tools came into play. It’ my Dremel Max ( oscillating cutter. With the wood  cutting head in It, you can come in real tight and have excellent control. So I got the river cut out.

The wall in place and the river cut out.

And then the next problem. Seems the feeder wires for these two tracks are right in the middle of the bridge.

Of course the feeder wires are in the way.

So these had to be moved. No big deal, but it seems it is always something.

With the wires moved it was on to the riverbed. I used 1/4″ plywood but wanted to add stiffeners so I could staple the screen to it. Problem here is there is little access. Because the cabinets are set back 6″ from the edge of the benchwork and wiring running underneath, you can’t come in from the bottom. the piece is too wide to come in from the top. And there is only a 3/4″ wide slot at the front. So I prepped the panel with all screw holes in place, slid the panel in and then added bracing.

The river base ready to install.

Next up was the abutment. My first version was the bridge support with the wings attached. Once done I slid them in place and decided that the wings where way to low.

Bridge abutment version 1.

The bridge abutments were built out of .040 styrene sheet and .100 styrene strip with some trim work to look like poured concrete. I cut the wings off so I had just a support. Then I built new wings that came up to the full height of the river bank.

Abutment wings for version 2.
Version 2.

Then I needed my plate girder sides. As I recall you used to be able to buy them separately as a flat car load. No joy there. I ended up buying a full bridge and cutting the sides off from it. Next thing was Atlas built there bridge around a 9″ piece of straight track, which scales out around 65 feet. My span was only 28 1/2 feet.

Bridge abutments in place. The plate girder sections will need to be resized.

A little too long. So working from the center I cut it apart. I used the short double reinforced sections from the ends and grafted them on to a cut down center section. The end results are near perfect.

The finished bridge set in place.

Then brought the screen down to the river and added the plaster cloth.

The scenery finished down to the river.
alternate view.

It just needs a top coat of plaster and it will be ready for some earth paint and then scenic materials.

That’s what I’ve got for now, until next time. Happy Modelling…



Staging Yard wired…

I also got the staging yard wired up. I know that I may have led you to believe that I had wired this up before when you saw the photo of a switch and LED lit in a previous post. What I had done was a quick hook up with jumper wires in that shot to see if things would work.

The staging yard is eight tracks wide with three to four 3ft sections of flex track per yard track. I wired each section of flex track individually to make sure there would be no dead sections because of a loose rail joiner. In another word there are a lot of wires pulled to the switches. I have a picture of all the wires pulled to a hole in the fascia, but it’s one of those that is sideways and for whatever reason can’t be corrected.

I then installed all the  switches and LED indicators in the fascia and wired those up before mating the fascia to the yard wires.

Back of the yard panel – wired and ready to hooked to the yard.

I should also note that before installing the switches and LED’s that I painted all the fascia panels and used RC striping tape to indicate the track.

I then joined the two and screwed the fascia in place.

Track power switches and indicator LED’s.

Side note: The reason for the oddness in the way the tracks are laid out in the diagram on the fascia is – I had six switches controlling six turnouts, thus when I laid out the track diagram I did it for six tracks. I didn’t figure out till after I drilled the first six holes for switches and LED’s that six turnouts feed into eight tracks. So the above layout is an effort to save the work I had into the fascia.

Along with the track numbers I also added the capacity of each track as measured in forty foot cars as they were most prevalent at the time.

UP-5 panel for the yard and the yard track numbers with track capacity in 40 ft car lengths.

I took the track diagram as far as the New Brighton yard as I have not completely figured it out yet. More on that at a later date. But the track diagram up to that point does include the hidden siding for the power plant. You’ll notice that the tracks for this siding are in yellow. My plan is to have the main in white and the sidings in a different color. At this time most likely in all yellow.

Track diagram of the staging yard on the fascia.
Staging yard lead is in white, the storage tracks for the power plant are in yellow.

Well that’s what I’ve got for now, Till later…



End of January Update…

It is the and of January and I have some actual progress to report on the railroad. First of all, for those wondering about the roundhouse, progress on it is as far as it can go until it is set in place. And when that will happen is a whole post on it’s own.

So what have I gotten done. Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of the month, I had cut a whole bunch of wood so that things could get done. First the “power box” that I touched on in that post.

I have been reading in multiple blogs and forums that one should be able to kill the power to the whole railroad should something happen. Add to that all the extension cords and power strips I had everything hooked up to, I figured I should do something. My answer was a box that would control power to the deck lights, aisle lights, blue rope lights for night lighting and all the power to the DCC system and related equipment.

It is simply a box tucked into the one of the electronic cabinets that has power to it, with switches on the front for the different functions and outlets on the back for the related items. Here is a photo of the finished box in place.

Main power panel – light control as well as all power to the layout.

It wasn’t hard to do, just a little time consuming, but I already feel it has been worth it as I used to have to plug in two cords to get the deck lights on in order to work on things on the lower deck. Now, I just flip a switch.

Next was the missing backdrop sections. Those installed were: The short section near the power station between the staging yard and the power station, behind the roundhouse and behind the berm scene.

Scenic block between layout and staging yard.
View from the staging yard.
Backdrop behind the roundhouse scene.
Backdrop in place behind New Brighton berm scene.

I have one section left on the lower level which is on the backside of the berm scene. I have the piece cut but have not installed it yet. The gaping hole between the piece behind the roundhouse and the berm scene is where the helix will be. Its backdrop won’t be installed until it’s installed.

The next thing I have been working on has been the fascia around the lower level. I had started with the piece under the staging yard and have been working my way around. I have it in place all the way up to the town of Jackson. However, I stopped just outside of town as I’m trying to figure out some of the scenery contours and need to figure out how wide to cut the next piece to accommodate a hill that acts as a scenic block.

Fascia in place in the back aisle. Holes cut for UP5 panels.
Fascia installation working it’s way around layout.

I also have mounting the UP5 panels for the DCC system to the fascia. I made a mounting template out of styrene to mark screw hole location and the hole for the circuit board. Fun to make and it makes it easier to mark the holes and keeps things consistent.

UP5 template I made to speed up the hole process.
Hole cut for the UP5 panel.
UP5 panel mounted.

Lastly, the first set of doors are done and installed. These are on the side that faces the stairway up to the family room. Since there is no door that would block the view of the unfinished layout, it has been my wife’s biggest bug-a-boo and why she wanted them in.

First set of cabinet doors finished and installed.
View of the layout from the family room. This is why my wife wanted the doors on.

As I said this is the first set, only 25 more doors to make. But the heat is off to get them done.

So looking back at January what have I learned. Probably the same thing you had noticed, that after several months of not being able to work on anything major downstairs, I was all over the board trying to get everything done. Time to sit back and take stock of where I’m at and organize where I’m heading.

Till next, Happy Railroading…


Happy Memorial day…

I would like to wish everyone a Happy Memorial Day and offer my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all those who served and especially those who have sacrificed all for our freedom and country.

I have finished and started several things this past week. Pretty good considering the work load right now with my job.

First: I have the track in up to the helix transition. Yup, check that off the list.

Track work in up to the helix transition.
Track work in up to the helix transition.

While I was installing it and constantly bumping my head, I realized that a bunch of the “stuff” that I had put off till later should probably get done before I get much farther. First and foremost is the backdrop in this area. That way I can also install the base and track for the gravel company.

And then I figured that if I was going to cut the hardboard for the backdrop here, I might as well cut all the backdrops. Upper level included. Which means first I had to install all of the half inch base boards for the backdrops on the upper level.

So second: I did just that. all of the baseboards installed.

Installed all the base boards for the upper level backdrops.
Installed all the base boards for the upper level backdrops.

Then I remembered that before I could install the backdrops on the upper level I would have to get all of the upper level valance supports into place as the backdrops will be notched around these.

So… third: I started to install the valance supports.

Started the upper valance supports.
Started the upper valance supports.

I have all of these cut, the problem was that I only had enough pocket hole screws to get just this corner in place. Late on Memorial Day is not the time that you are going to be able to run out and buy more.

This whole episode is very much like the story – If you give a mouse a cookie.

A couple of other things that I have been working on. First is a background building for Jackson. It started out life as a Walther’s Water Street Freight Terminal. I am making it into a light manufacturing building. Because the space is only 4 1/4 inches deep here, I had to narrow the depth. I used the backside of the main building that I cut off to lengthen the building. Right now I’m working on the mortar lines in the brick. After that I’ll add the windows and such. To make it look more like a manufacturing plant than a warehouse, I’ll add venting ducts, piping and perhaps some tanks to the outside.

Here’s what I started with:

The basis for my light industry for the Jackson background.
The basis for my light industry for the Jackson background.

And here’s where I’m at so far:

Modified the kit as a background building.
Modified the kit as a background building.
From the other end.
From the other end.
Overall building.
Overall building.

One last thing, I installed a concrete retaining wall behind the buildings along the berm in New Brighton. I was out of the mix of paint that I use for old concrete and used Floquil “aged concrete” paint that I had on hand. The color looks nothing like old concrete. So I bought some paint and mixed my color and started to repaint it. Below is a picture of the wall and the two colors as well as a couple of what the scene will look like when finished.

Concrete retaining wall along the berm scene
Concrete retaining wall along the berm scene
View down main street in New Brighton.
View down main street in New Brighton.
From the other angle.
From the other angle.

That’s it for this week, till next time – Happy Railroading…



The Town of Brandon…

I have finished laying the roadbed for the town of Brandon. As I have mentioned before, Brandon is a agricultural based town smaller than Jackson. As it is just ahead of the helix the mainline cuts across the benchwork at an angle. This actually works out well as the town is then laid out at a right angle to the mainline adding visual interest to the scene.

In my last post I had talked about the over planning that had taken place with this town. Way too much ( and complicated ) track work. I slimmed down the plan to:

The mainline, a team track, a siding for a lumber company and a siding that will serve a grain elevator, an oil dealership and as the lead for the gravel company siding.

And while I had said before that I was using bits and pieces of other layouts as Layout Design Elements ( a term coined by Tony Koester ) the layout for Brandon came from an old photograph of a small Midwestern town. If it worked for the real thing it should work for a model railroad. The cool part is that there is almost no compression to get it to fit.

The thing I liked best about the design of the town is the variety of cars that will be needed to serve the few industries in town. Boxcars for the grain elevator, team track, oil dealership, lumber company, and supplies for the gravel company. Hoppers for the gravel company. Tank cars for the oil dealership. And last but least, flatcars for the team track and lumber company.

Should be a lot of action in a small space.

Anyways, got the plan drawn out and the cork down for the roadbed. I also put in the cork for the road crossing the tracks. There will be a few commercial buildings to suggest a town. They will be in between the road that crosses the tracks and the lumber company.

The town of Brandon, south looking north.
The town of Brandon, south looking north.
North end of town with the sidings for the lumber yard (right side) and the gravel company ( left side ).
North end of town with the sidings for the lumber yard (right side) and the gravel company ( left side ).

In the above photo you can see the two sidings, one for the gravel company and the other for the lumber company. They don’t continue because: for the gravel company I am waiting to get the backdrop in place, which won’t happen until the helix is in place and for the lumber yard I don’t actually have one yet and I won’t lay the cork until a know exactly what I’m dealing with.

Brandon, looking south.
Brandon, looking south.

One last photo;

The elevator with a home road boxcar.
The elevator with a home road boxcar.

You can see in the picture above that I have started to decal the home road boxcars. I am currently working on a logo for the railroad that will go into the empty space on the left end of the car.

Next up is finishing the planning of the New Brighton yard.

Stay tuned.

Until then, Happy Railroading…



Late November Update…

First and foremost, to all my US friends… Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you had a good day filled with family, friends, food and football.

I have read and reread my last post and I found it rather long and wordy. What I was trying to say in a nutshell was that until I got the lower level mainline in, the helix made no sense.

So with that in mind I installed the last couple of pieces of plywood for the New Brighton yard. This will tie together the staging area with the rest of the layout. Once installed, I realized a couple of things that probably weren’t going to happen.

New Brighton yard towards west wall.
New Brighton yard towards west wall.
New Brighton yard towards east wall.
New Brighton yard towards east wall.

In the first picture the mainline is going to loop around near the backdrop. I had hoped to fit a turntable and roundhouse inside the loop. The turntable is a must as I need to turn the steam engines, however the roundhouse will not fit. I am looking at several options to give the impression that there is a roundhouse here without actually having one. Also the back of the tall red building to the right  will be up against the backdrop hiding the helix.

In the second picture near the bottom edge, you can see a couple of brick walkways. Again, I had hoped to have the station for New Brighton here. But a station would take up a lot of real estate that I need for a yard that already is a bit on the small side. I have the strips in place near the edge, again trying to create the impression of a station with out the station.

I have already started drawing out the track center lines for the yard and  mainline. Once I have that more or less finalized I will see what I will be able to fit into the rest of the space.

Any work on the actual layout will be a bit slow between now and Christmas. My wife would like the cabinet doors done before Christmas, as there will be extended family over for the holidays and the layout is in plain view from the family room. I actually would like them done too, as this will remove the distraction of what’s below the layout.

I will keep you updated, till then – Happy Railroading…



Early November update…

So I FINALLY got the base for the helix in place ( more on the helix later… ) and I thought that after all this time it would be kind of an epic moment. Actually it was more anticlimactic. It wasn’t all that hard, once I had the time and materials it went rather quickly and dropped into place.

Once in place, I laid out the outline for the helix itself. With that established, I laid out the return loop because I needed to get that in place and running before I could build up from there. As I had mentioned before the entrance track swings off the main and cuts through the backdrop, it then swings around and comes back across the bridge that is part of the berm scene  ( more on that in a minute also ).

In order to get from the main to the helix base required a piece of plywood subroadbed, so first I made a cardboard template.

Helix base in place, outline of helix drawn in although hard to see in this picture.
Helix base in place, outline of helix drawn in although hard to see in this picture.
Making a template for the return loop leg.
Making a template for the return loop leg.

As you will notice I also had to cut a piece of the upright support in order to get the track through the backdrop. With the template in hand I went out to the garage to cut the piece out of plywood. Took no time at all and the piece dropped right into place.

Cut the subroadbed using the cardboard template, cork roadbed in place.
Cut the subroadbed using the cardboard template, cork roadbed in place.

As you can see, everything was moving along so well that I had the cork roadbed in place before I realized that I had not taken a picture of just the plywood piece in place. You can see towards the top of the picture that the cork roadbed is laid all the way around and comes up just short of the bridge.

It’s at this point that I realized that I was moving way to fast. First of all, if I had not stopped and laid the cork up to the bridge, I then would have started to lay the track and if I had done that I would have then had to tear some of it up. See the picture below and I will explain.

Alternate view of the helix base with return loop.
Alternate view of the helix base with return loop.

As you can see in the picture above, the street is not finished or mounted to the plywood base. In order to do that I have to pull out the bridge abutments ( which also needs to be mounted ). So I stopped and I will have to get the street painted and permanently mount both the abutments and street.

More importantly I realized that even if I get the return loop in and running, building the helix is kind of stupid.

I think I have been fixated on the helix because I have never built one.  I have built layouts before, built benchwork, laid track and wired it. I have built scenery and backdrops, but I have never built a helix and it is one of the untried challenges that I have been looking forward too. If I started it now, it be a helix to no where. If you can’t run a train to the helix, then what use is the helix.

I mentioned early on that my plan was to work linearly and building the helix now would be jumping ahead. Besides, if I don’t get the rest of the subroadbed in place then the starting height of the helix is just a guess.

So the plan now is to get the rest of the subroadbed in place on the lower level. I started with the next town in line between Jackson and the helix. This will be the town of Brandon, a smaller agricultural based town. I installed the base for this town and was able to figure out where the tracks will enter the helix, although the exact height has yet to be established.

Planning the town of Brandon on the approach to the helix.
Planning the town of Brandon on the approach to the helix.

With the starting point for the helix established I worked around the outline of the helix and marked where all the support risers will go. It probably isn’t all that important, but it gave me an idea if there will be any conflicts with anything else that would make installation a problem.

Figured out where the actual helix would start.
Figured out where the actual helix would start.
Marked all the riser locations for the helix, I wanted to make sure there would be no interference with anything else.
Marked all the riser locations for the helix, I wanted to make sure there would be no interference with anything else.

The only other base plywood to install is for New Brighton, I have it cut and just have to install it. After it is in I will begin laying out the mainline and then the sidings. Then the track, wiring etc… Get the mainline running to the helix and then the helix.

Till later… Happy Railroading