Saturday, March 30, 2013

Some old school track planning

I’m interested in building a smaller layout for showcasing streetcars and buildings, as well as for taking outside as a set for photographs. To me, there is nothing that can beat natural sunlight for photos, and my current layout doesn’t allow for easily moving it outside. When I built the framework for the LOL, I also had a goal to make it as light as possible, but I didn’t achieve it as I got over concerned about the rigidity of the train-board during its construction. The LOL is light enough for me to move up and downstairs, but just barely. It’s not something that can be moved outside on the spur of the moment.

I must admit I’m not much involved with prototypical operation and lots of switching. My previous layout was a point-to-point affair that incorporated John Allen’s Timesaver game, but I quickly grew bored with it.  I’m more of a person who likes to see continuous motion – in fact this point was driven home when I finally took delivery of a long on order Con Cor TTC PPC and I realized I didn’t have a loop of track on my layout to run it, which eventually led to scraping the old layout and building the LOL. I like to watch things run* from various angles and in different lighting conditions. To me switching is for changing the path of something in motion.  The problem is, this desire, combined with a small layout size and HO scale puts a tight constraint on what can be run. It isn’t a big problem, but I would like to be able to run my Bowser PCC streetcars without any difficulties. After some internet investigation, it looks like the minimum radius turn they can handle is 9 inches – although I need to construct a test track to verify that.
[Styrene master templates used to trace the blue track pieces]
So, the upshot is that I thought I’d try to come up with some switch-less, looping track plans that wind through city, town, or other sorts of urban or suburban oriented places with a focus on the places and where the track will take people. And if converted to an actual layout, it would need to be small, carry-able, and very lightweight – and this time I mean it :-)
I cut some track templates from cardboard using Atlas code 100 track for basic measurements. Although that track doesn’t have the most prototypical appearance, it’s commonly available, relatively inexpensive and quite robust. For the quasi-urban layout ideas I have in mind, the track ties won’t be visible anyway - I envision the ties will be covered with pavement, brick, or grass - so their appearance doesn’t matter as much as their ability to hold the rails firmly in place and be moderately priced. Also, the rail in Atlas track isn’t the sort of thing one would find used for actual streetcar track, but as I mentioned, convenience and cost are important to me.

The width of the track templates is determined from the tie width of the Atlas track and the body overhang of the PCC as it goes around a 9 inch radius curve. I sized the template width so that a PCC body would not extend over its edges; that is, so the PCC’s body would not infringe on any roadway or sidewalk that was adjacent. In the end, I settled on a 5 cm template width. 
[The Mouse]
I could have used a track planning CAD program, but I’m a person who likes to use real objects wherever I’m able so I can get a sense of the true size of things. This approach allows me to add track and streetcars and buildings and stuff to help see how things will look. For the LOL, I decided on its plan by playing with old pieces of track on the back patio.  And, since this isn’t going to be a large layout, CAD seems a little bit like overkill to me. But, no doubt I’ll likely switch to some sort of graphics program once I understand the sorts of layouts that are possible with these pieces.
I cut cardboard templates for quarter-circle 9 inch curves, various straight sections, and 90 degree crossings. The plans from these limited pieces are a bit reminiscent of old tinplate toy train set-ups, slot-car layouts, or even wooden Thomas track, but to me they make some sense – admittedly in a stylized way – for grid-like, urban oriented settings; more TTC Red Rocket than CN Turbo Train.

I’m going to fiddle with these pieces a while and see what happens.
* I came across a John Armstrong article called, Build Your Pike to Suit Yourself, in the November 1954 of Model Railroader where he stated that he thought there were 3 types of model railroaders: Engineer, Dispatcher, and Spectator. I’m definitely in the Spectator category.

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