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Spokane Southern Railroad (HO)

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    I am really enjoying this layout journal. The steel framing is very interesting. I was contemplating experimenting with steel framing when I do an expansion of my layout into a 6' x 10' closet adjoining my layout room.


      Very nice work


        Originally posted by Paul S. View Post
        Jerry, what's your opinion of steel studs? Easier than wood to install? Any corrosion issues?

        Hi Paul:

        I personally feel that the steel studs are way easier to work with. They stay straight, it is easy to secure them together with a screw, and I don't end up with splinters in my hands which seems to happen whenever I get within 6" of wood. I didn't use the drill / tap screws, I drilled with a pilot drill, and then used Uncategorized Groups machine screws to hold the stud together.

        I've had no corrosion issues.

        What I would change if I ever do another layout is I will invest in a cheap cut-off saw with a cut-off disk to cut the studs to length. I took the cheap way out, marked the length, cut the short legs on that line, and then bent the long end back and forth until it fatigued and came apart. Hit it with a file after that to break the edge.

        I used 2" foam over the steel studs as sub-roadbed. Secured the foam to the studs with Loc-Tite Power Grab (not the heavy duty stuff though). Things have stayed together quite well for 8 years now.



          I wanted to provide some further information on the steel stud benchwork.

          I'm in the minority when it comes to layout construction methods. I didn't dream this stuff up, it all comes out of "Model Railroader" articles. The article that got me interested in steel studs was in the April 2000 issue written by Jonathan Miner. The May 2005 article had another article on it by Bill Boyd and Art Jones.

          A picture is worth a thousand words, so here they come.

          The benchwork at this point is 30" wide. I used 2x4 studs for the wall sections, and 2x3 studs for the cross members. We cut short pieces as gussets to strengthen the cross members, but only on the 30" side. Everything is screwed together with Uncategorized Groups x 1/2 flat head machine screws. We did the studs on 24" centers, since we figured that would be plenty strong. We capped off the end with a standard end cap.

          Click image for larger version

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          Here is the other side of the wall. The shelf width here is only 24" wide.

          As a side note, notice all of the cork roadbed on the end of the layout. I cut all I needed off of a roll that I got from a friend, for free. Saved me a pile of money.

          Also notice that we decided to reinforce the main 2x4 wall members with a piece of 1x4 wood, which gave us something more substantial to anchor the cross members into. For screws here, we used 1" drywall screws.

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          For sub-roadbed, I simply glued 2" foam board (kind of a purple color, blue and pink foam formulations were long gone when I started this project.

          I then cover the front of the end cap and foam with 1/4" MDF for fascia.

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          The foam benchwork resulted from the "Model Railroader" June 1994 article on foam benchwork by William Darnaby, and his follow on article in April 1998.
          Now please realize that I'm not saying that this process is for everybody. Foam benchwork IS noisier, and according to one notable web site owner, my layout is going to shrink before my very eyes. All I can tell you is the author of the foam benchwork article has been running his railroad since those articles were written, with well over 300 operating sessions under his belt. Mine has been running sessions since July 2016 and I just completed session #62. Neither is suffering from derailment issues, or for that matter, shrinkage issues. The ONLY place I've noticed possible contraction has been on the 1/2 foam I use for backdrops. I don't know if that is the caulk I used to fill in the seam, or if it is shrinking. I really don't care. Any photo I take the seam is easily editable out in Affinity Photo, and it isn't like I haven't had problems with taped and spackled joints on 1/4" masonite backdrop on my old layout.

          The adhesive I use to hold the foam to the studs is the "All Purpose" Loctite Powergrab. Do NOT use the "Heavy Duty" version, especially if gluing down cork to the foam. The HD has a very short cure time.

          I hope this provides a suitable overview of my construction method. Feel free to ask any questions that you may have regarding this method.

          I'll post a series of photos tomorrow on how I install switch machines in the foam. They drop in as an assembly. Bill uses a simpler, and cheaper method which he wrote about in his 1998 article.


          Attached Files


            Further information on installing BluePoint switch machine controllers which are a manual controller. The mounting footprint of the BluePoints is identical to a Tortoise.

            Keep in mind that I use 4"x4" blocks (well, some have been odd sized like 3 3/4" x 4" since that was the plywood I had left, it doesn't need to be precise), and that I am working in HO. The 4"4" works out well because I can put in a quick 2" hole to clear the Blue Point in the foam, since it is up inside of it.

            I start by marking out the exact location of the track from a full size template that I print out from my track planning software. I utilize RR-Track V5 for all of my layout planning. This program grew out of a program for three rail O scale track, but they have all of the track files for HO Walthers (shinohara) and Peco track. They also have the Atlas Code 55 track files. I can print out full size templates with this program.

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            Once the exact location of the switch point mechanism is known, I mark that location.

            Then we draw lines for locating the center of block, and line up the block to ensure that it is properly located. Then I draw a box around the plywood block, number it so the right block goes where it should, and then I'm ready to mark the hole for the switch machine.

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            I then take a 2" hole saw, and mark a circle for cutting with my Tippy hot wire cutter.

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            Cut the hole. This is a blunt force instrument exercise, so it don't need to be pretty. If you don't get enough clearance, go back and cut out where the interference is at.

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            Now the rest of the square needs to be cut down enough to have the plywood flush with the top of the foam. For me, this dimension is 3/4". It has to be flush or below the top. If you cut it too deep, just put more LocTiti Powergrab in the cavity and push it flush to the top.

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            Do NOT glue it in without the switch machine installed on the bottom with the throw rod sticking out of the top. I equip the Blue Point with the three leads to power the frog prior to installation, as well as the throw rod. This eliminates having to do this work while working underside. Did that once, won't do that ever again.

            I'm going to go back and edit this post with more photos later today, but wanted to get this post started.



            • Eric - Housatonic RR
              Eric - Housatonic RR commented
              Editing a comment
              I agree. That is a very useful post. I wish I had seen that when I was starting my layout.

            • Russ C
              Russ C commented
              Editing a comment
              A very interesting read and the photos are good too. That's a good approach to installing switch machines in a foam base.

            • Guest's Avatar
              Guest commented
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              With switch machine installation images go a long way. Thanks for posting the tutorial.