My main layout is also my very first layout.
I started it shortly after I retired because I had always wanted to try model railroading, and I found I had the time to give it a go.
Space considerations at the time were a large part of my decision to adopt N scale, although the scale also appealed to me for its ability to get more into any given area. The potential difficulty in dealing with smaller details was a consideration, but I decided to give it a go, and I’m glad I chose N scale.
I’ll be adding sections here in the coming days to describe the main layout, as well as how I went about creating it, and why I chose the various methods I used, as well as discussing some of the mistakes I made so that you can avoid them.
Finally, after more years than I care to admit to, it seemed as though I would get a chance to give this model railroading thing a go.
However, I felt if I was going to do this, I wanted to create a layout, with all the scenery elements, multiple trains, points to send them on different routes, the whole works!
But, that meant I needed to make some decisions on where, when, what, how etc. I also needed to learn something about this hobby, so that I could make the right choices as I went along.
My first consideration I had to come to grips with was how much space I had to devote to my layout.
We didn’t have much spare space, and we don’t have an attic or basement that some others have access to for their model railroad empires. We decided I could use some space in a shed in the back yard, that had been built as a retreat for our children, but wasn’t being used much anymore. There was still a lot of stuff in there that couldn’t be thrown out, so that meant the space wasn’t much, but this was my first step into this hobby, so it was better to start with what I could and see what happened in the future.
Checking what could be moved, sold, donated, or thrown away, gave me space for a 2m x 1m layout, with a chair. Not much, but it was better than nothing. I had a goal!
Scale – HO or N?
HO is the most popular scale world wide, and this is reflected in the amount of equipment that was available locally to me. More places had HO stock, and even the stores that had N scale had more HO scale items available than N scale. However HO scale, at 1:87, was bigger all around, so I could fit less into my space with HO scale than I could with N scale.
On the other hand, although N scale could fit more into the same size space, I was concerned that 1:148 (or 1:160) might prove a challenge. There was also the more limited range of N scale items to consider.
After talking to local shops, yet more research on the internet, and discussing with my wife, I elected to go with N scale. I think a large part of the decision was that I just prefer the smaller scale (my wife says it’s cuter…). There was also the bonus that I could get more scenery into my space than with HO.
While I now knew I wanted to have a model railway layout, it was going to have to fit into space 2m x 1m, and it was going to be in N scale, I had no ideas about what else it would have.
I guess that in my mind, I had always envisaged something like my original train set, which was an oval of track with a side spur. I see now that when I visited model railway exhibitions, I also preferred the layouts that allowed continuous running of trains, rather than point-to-point layouts.
But these concepts weren’t much to go on, so I started looking to see what track plans I could find to give me some ideas.
As I researched, the difference between fixed track pieces and flexible track soon became apparent. I liked the simplicity of fixed track pieces (or set track) because everything was uniform. All straight sections of the same type were the exact same length, all the curve radii were correct, and so a layout built with these pieces of track would be very neat (assuming the track plan didn’t require slight gap closing to make it work). On the other hand, flexible track provided unlimited possibilities, and seemed to be what was used on most of the layouts I had been seeing at exhibitions. It was also less expensive than fixed track pieces. I decided to use flex track.
I then found out about track code. Typically for N scale Code 80 or Code 55 seemed to be the choices. More that I had to learn about. The code of the track refers to the height of the metal rail above the sleepers, with code 80 being 0.080″ above the sleepers, and code 55 being 0.055″ above the sleepers. While looking at the 2 options side-by-side at a hobby shop, I personally felt that code 55 looked more realistic to my eyes, so I decided to go with code 55. Some people on internet forums were concerned that code 55 track was too low to accommodate old wheels, but as I was starting from fresh I felt this would not be an issue for me.
I wasn’t confident that I could just go ahead and lay down track and get it right, so I decided to use software to help me design my track plan. Two programs seemed to be the most useful for me – SCARM, and AnyRail. I downloaded both, and started playing around with them, getting a feel for how each one worked, and in particular how each one handled flex track. Both had their own way of achieving things, and I find that each one has strengths and weaknesses.