No. 7: Ackley Layout: New Layout Considerations

My kids had a swim meet in Berlin recently and before the meet we visited the “Tropical Islands” indoor resort, which is about an hour south of Berlin.  The resort is housed inside a gigantic airship hangar that was built around 1989 by an airship company that went bust.  The airfield itself has a ton of history–it was originally a Luftwaffe airfield, then a Red Air Force field during the cold war, and now it is a vast parking lot.  The word HUGE does not begin to describe the Tropical Islands airship hangar.  It is the largest “indoor hall” in the world.  It is so big there are balloons flying around inside.

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Here’s a photo of the fam on a cold day on the way into the place for a day of swimming and fun.  Not too far away was an overpass over the Germany railways–a beautiful location with a station and an interlocking tower of some kind, and all kinds of outbuildings.  I couldn’t break away to get photos there, unfortunately, but it’s on my bucket list.

On the modeling front…

Because of space limitations I’ve decided to build the new layout at sit-down height, with the operable, scenicked portion of the railroad being about 16 x 2-feet max.

The entire hobby area is about 21 x 18 feet, with a sloped ceiling and a chimney right in the way of the layout area. I can get the most layout area by building a sit-down layout, as Doug Tagshold did with his Conrail Detroit layout which was featured in a recent MRP/GMR.  The photo below shows the layout space, complete with chimney, wall heater and multi-opening skylight.

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Turning right in the photo above is another double window with this view (below).  Not bad.


The principle requirement of the layout is that it needs to be lightweight and moveable. Since I hate building benchwork, I was thinking of using plastic folding tables as semi-permanent sub-benchwork. The idea is to build traditional lightweight (open grid with foam on top) benchwork modules and secure them on top of two or three 8-1/2 x 30-inch tables. Lifetime makes a nice party table with sturdy legs and a hard plastic top. I can attach the layout modules to the plastic table tops with a few screws, creating semi-permanent benchwork that would be super easy to move or pack up when needed.

Erecting benchwork would take me as long as it takes to pop the legs into position and turn the table upright.   I can install a front fascia that extends over the front of the table and still have a nice, dressed appearance with only the table legs showing.

To keep the tables from sliding around, especially if I hit the legs with my chair, I may have to secure the tables to the walls at a few places. That’s an easy compromise.

There’s one huge drawback. With the layout secured to the table, I would be unable to do maintenance on wiring or switch machines, etc. So the under-table wiring and machinery would have to be bullet-proof before I secure the layout to the tables. I suppose it would not be a big deal if I didn’t use switch machines, but I like using them because they keep my hands out of the layout.

Another option, of course, is to buy the folding table legs separately and attach them to the layout modules.  I’ll look into that as well.

In the meantime, I’m building turnouts for the layout using Central Valley tie strips and scratchbuilt and Proto87 Stores and Details West components.  I’ll need about 10 or 12 depending on the location I choose to model.

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This is a No. 8 Right, Code 70.  I built all the turnouts for my last Ackley layout in this fashion and they turned out well and looked great.  The model above uses all new parts but a recycled throw bar from a turnout on the old layout.

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Here is one of the turnouts I built for the old Ackley layout.  The Details West frog is a beautiful casting, and you can solder frog power to the casting if you keep the heat low and do it carefully, so says Joe D’elia of DW.  The rest of the detail parts are from DW and Proto87 Stores, and some details are scratchbuilt.  I salvaged most of these parts for turnouts on the new layout.

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Here is another home-made turnout on the old layout.  The stick-pins are used to keep track in perfect alignment while gluing track down.  I laid track on the previous Ackley layout on wood subroadbed, then two layers of cork–the bottom layer O scale, and the top layer HO or N depending on the desired height of the rail.

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Here’s a close-up of the turnout detail.  I used some of the larger rail braces (a Details West part) initially–they can be seen on the header ties.  After doing a little more research I found that these are post-1950 parts so I replaced them with DW regular rail braces.  The throwbars are dummy pieces, attached underneath the track to simulate a moving throwbar.  I detailed them with Tichy rivets.  ON t his example I have not added the point rail detail yet.  The joint bars are from Grandt Line and Details West.  I used a PCB tie for the throw bar.

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Finally here is a view of a #8 turnout painted and installed.  Some of the detail melts away to the naked eye, but magically re-appears in front of a camera lens.  I included this photo to show how well the Details West frog looks when it is painted and weathered and polished.  The rack in the foreground is Code 55 flextrack with the ties cut apart and spaced, and some wood ties added here and there.  I like the effect.  The foreground ballast was sifted dirt I picked up from the PRR roundhouse area in Richmond, Indiana where the T-1s and Q-2s worked.

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