Author Topic: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout  (Read 1252 times)

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mmagliaro

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Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« on: July 14, 2014, 02:19:39 AM »
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Since I got some questions in the Weekend Update about my layout, I am opening this thread to address those and any other layout-related issues.

An exhaustive chronological look at the layout's plan and construction may be found here:
http://www.maxcowonline.com/maxspage/projectFiles.php?projectStringData=picdir%3DlayoutPhotos3%26picidx%3D22%26lastpic%3D152%26picstyle%3D10%26&x=15&y=11

If that long cumbersome link doesn't work, go to www.maxcow.com, and in the lefthand pane under layouts, click on
the "Current NP / SP&S"

Richie (UP1950s) asked:
"It feels like it has only been less than 2 years since you broke foam on that great pike Max . Puts another meaning to words , fast tracks . Now that it is at this stage how satisfied are you with it ? What ticks you off about it ? Plans in the future ?"

Actually, July 3, 2014 was 3 years to the day from when it started.  A good bit of its accelerated progress can be attributed to 3 things:

1. Months of planning and redrawing the plan, and the benchwork members, before cutting one piece of wood or nailing in one nail.
This enabled the benchwork to go up exactly per the plan with no fumbling around, and the trackwork to go in exactly
per the plan and actually fit the benchwork.

2. Scaling it to something achievable in a 9' x 12' room.  I really did not want to build something too big to manage or maintain.
I have lived the days of trying to build a "basement empire" and I have no desire to every do that again.

3. Reusing trees, structures, and electronics from my previous layout - this sped things up considerably.

In answer to Richie's questions:

1. I am very satisfied with it.  It has the expanses of pretty scenery and some industrial areas that will be nice places
to watch my trains run.  It looks like the Pacific Northwest (at least to my newbie transplanted east-coast eyes).
I can physically reach every spot on it without a step stool.  even the far back corners are accessible through hidden
openings behind a mountain and backdrop so I can comfortably stand in there.

2. What ticks me off about it?
Well, the Atlas code 55 track, while it looks very good, was a disappointment in the turnout area.  If I had it to do over again,
I would build my own turnouts.  Every one of them was honed with files and jumper wires to be reliable, but it was a lot of work.
And hand-made turnouts would still have looked and worked more smoothly.

I wouldn't say this "ticks me off", but I wish it had more long storage tracks and passing sidings.   But then, unless you have a "basement empire", I bet every layout owner on the planet would say they wish they had more storage, staging, and passing capabilities.  I stuck to my guns on minimum radius, grades, aisle space and physical reach - so overall, I am pleased.

3. Plans for the future???
The layout still needs about a half dozen structures.  I only reused ones I truly liked from my previous layouts, and
the only new ones are laser wood kits.  So the remaining structures will be kitbashes of higher-end wood kits or
scratchbuilds.  I'm in no hurry, and I want them to be real scenic focal points.   The layout needs lots of vehicles, people,
lineside "junk" and just plain old human activity to bring it to life, but I'll be very happy to just putter around and do those things
at my leisure.
Some sort of nice fabric skirt has to go around the bottom to really give it a finished look.  I have track lighting installed in the ceiling on a dimmer, which I am very happy with.   I do have lighting in some of the buildings.  A lot more will follow for nicer night viewing.

If you mean "expansion"... probably not.  I would have to tunnel through the wall, inside a water-proof tube to get through a bathroom (not out of the question), and into another bedroom to do it.  That's years away, when my step children have grown and moved out.  For now, this size is just what I want.   A "roundy round" takes about 2 minutes at scale speed... big enough for me.

---------
The big plan for the future is building more beautiful steam locomotives to operate on this layout.  That has always been
my strongest interest in model railroading.  My SP&S world needs freight engines big-time.  The first 3 SP&S/NP engines I've made are all passenger engines.   I have two NP 0-8-0 switchers and an SP&S RS-1.  But the NP W-5 2-8-2 currently under way will be a welcome addition to the fleet.



Ed Kapuscinski

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2014, 10:49:37 AM »
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It'a a beautiful layout Max, pretty much exactly what I'd expect you to do!

sirenwerks

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2014, 11:35:46 AM »
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Pretty...when's the open house?
Now seeking Pacific NW N scalers to create a Modutrak-style modular club featuring NP's shared mainline between Seattle and Portland. PM me if interested.

MVW

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2014, 01:14:52 PM »
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Thanks for taking the time to do this, Max.

Your comment about code 55 turnouts caught my eye. I've seen similar sentiments expressed elsewhere.

I'm in the process of planning a new layout; I've used Atlas code 80 before, and will likely stick with it, at least for the staging yards (so I can re-use what I have on hand). I'm not particularly interested in rolling my own turnouts, but I am interested in alternatives.

Have you used -- or would you consider using -- different rail/turnouts?

Jim

mmagliaro

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2014, 01:13:36 AM »
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Thanks for taking the time to do this, Max.

Your comment about code 55 turnouts caught my eye. I've seen similar sentiments expressed elsewhere.

I'm in the process of planning a new layout; I've used Atlas code 80 before, and will likely stick with it, at least for the staging yards (so I can re-use what I have on hand). I'm not particularly interested in rolling my own turnouts, but I am interested in alternatives.

Have you used -- or would you consider using -- different rail/turnouts?

Jim

If I had to go commercial, and not use Atlas, I would go with Micro Engineering.  I used them, and their code 55 flex, and it is excellent stuff.  They only make a #6 turnout, however, so you either design around that (what I did before), or you roll your own.

I would never use code 80 anything.  The chunky ties and wide tie spacing are just too much for me to overlook anywhere
but in a hidden staging yard.   I won't use Peco either (code 55 or 80).   I have also used their track before, and it is also a well-made product.  But again, the tie spacing is just too wrong, even on the code 55, for me to live with.
You won't be disappointed with it, performance-wise, if you choose to use it.  But be sure you like how it looks, even ballasted.

///////////////
Sirenwerks wrote,

"Pretty...when's the open house?"

Ha!
I've been lightly goaded about that, but honestly?  This layout, as you can see, is in a little 9x12 spare bedroom.  I do not have any capacity to "host" even a handful of people trying to look at it, much less operate on it. 
« Last Edit: July 16, 2014, 01:15:36 AM by mmagliaro »

MVW

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #5 on: July 16, 2014, 12:15:55 PM »
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Micro Engineering, huh? I've heard a lot of good things about their track, but have never seen it in person. May have to give it a try.

The #6 turnouts aren't a problem, as I've used nothing but #6s in the past.

Thanks for the tip.

Jim

mmagliaro

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2014, 01:41:58 PM »
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Micro Engineering, huh? I've heard a lot of good things about their track, but have never seen it in person. May have to give it a try.

The #6 turnouts aren't a problem, as I've used nothing but #6s in the past.

Thanks for the tip.

Jim

You haven't ???   You really need to buy a few sticks and try it before you embark on a whole layout building project.
It is mighty nice track and is worth an evaluation.

The main things are that it has nicer, irregular looking ties (compared to Atlas) and the spike heads are smaller.  It also has
about .003" to .005" more clearance for wheel flanges, so although it is billed as code 55, I actually have measured the rail height as
.058, and that usually is enough to let a lot of older stuff with larger flanges run on it, that would not run on Atlas (if that matters to you).
Of course, the old Arnold engines with enormous flanges still will not run on it.

The other big thing (which some people do not like) is that their flex track is quite stiff.  It doesn't just loosely bend to a smooth
curve the way most flex does.  You have to work it from one end to the other, bending and forming, and when you've made a curve with it, it holds its shape.  Sometimes that's handy; sometimes it's a pain.  It's just something you have to get used to.

The turnouts, unfortunately, are only slightly less troublesome than the Atlas ones.  Even the ME turnouts have problems
with the gauge being too tight through the point rails, and with lost contact at the point rail hinges (a word to the wise, ALWAYS solder jumpers to the point rails and do not depend on that hinge or on the tip of the point rail touching the main rail, to conduct power to those point rails!)  Some folks solder a fine wire across the hinge underneath (I do that).  Some people say they can just touch a bit of solder right into the hinge itself to make sure power is conducted across it.  I would worry that it would make the hinge too stiff.


MVW

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2014, 02:41:28 PM »
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You haven't ???   You really need to buy a few sticks and try it before you embark on a whole layout building project.
It is mighty nice track and is worth an evaluation.

My not-so "LHS" is two hours away, so I don't have a lot of opportunities for side-by-side comparisons. I just switched to N from HO 3-4 years ago, and stuck with Atlas products because I liked their HO stuff. And code 55 wasn't available at the time (imagine that), so code 80 was really the only choice.

And don't worry, I'm too cheap to buy a layout's worth of track I'm not familiar with. I was thinking of 3-4 sticks or so to see how I like its stiffness. I've only worked with Atlas flex, and don't mind it's flexibility.

So ... soldering the jumpers is usually the only major tweak required?

Thanks again for the info.

Jim

mmagliaro

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2014, 01:36:57 AM »
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On both the ME and Atlas turnouts, I found I had to file the insides of the point rails or the stock rails so
that the gauge was correct through the points.   It was much more of a problem on Atlas than on ME.

Many many of them had the gauge too narrow in the point
rails, enough to make steam locos ride right up and out of the rails.  (And yes, my engines are meticulously
gauged on an NMRA plate)

I think guys running diesels don't have the problem because the engines are more forgiving.  But actually,
even Kato F units would have issues with the turnout gauge.  The ME ones were more reliable than the Atlas.
With the Atlas #7's, I had to file and tweak practically every one before installation.

While you are at it, solder your own wire to the underside of the frog and drop it through the benchwork.
Don't depend on that "handy" bronze contact that comes out the side of the Atlas code 55 turnouts to
power the frog.  Easily 1/4 of those didn't work or went bad shortly after installation.  They just aren't made
consistently enough to be making good contact with the frog.

Let's see, the hinges, the gauge, the frog....  oh! yes...   before you install any turnout,
check every rail with an ohmmeter.  Make sure everything that's supposed to be live and connected really is.
There are bronze contact plates under the turnout to make other rails "live" ... not just the frog, and
some of those were bad right out of the package.

The ME turnouts didn't have nearly as many issues.  On those it was an occasional gauge problem and jumpering across the hinges.   The Atlas ones needed a lot more fiddling, and boy oh boy, DO IT on the bench before you install it.
It's much easier that way.  I got into a routine where I would take an Atlas turnout out of the package,
fix up the gauge, contacts, frog, any wonky things in the throwbar (some are loose, cockeyes, or the point rails don't
close level with the stock rails, etc)...

I'm sure I'm not making Atlas happy by saying all this.   I don't mean to be bashing.  I'm just reporting exactly what I found,
and I think after installing 30 of them on this layout over the past 3 years from different sources, these are honest
results.   

 I really do like their products, but man, the turnouts need help.



MVW

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Re: Maxcow's NP/SP&S Themed Layout
« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2014, 08:31:49 AM »
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On both the ME and Atlas turnouts, I found I had to file the insides of the point rails or the stock rails so
that the gauge was correct through the points.   It was much more of a problem on Atlas than on ME.

Many many of them had the gauge too narrow in the point
rails, enough to make steam locos ride right up and out of the rails.  (And yes, my engines are meticulously
gauged on an NMRA plate)

I think guys running diesels don't have the problem because the engines are more forgiving.  But actually,
even Kato F units would have issues with the turnout gauge.  The ME ones were more reliable than the Atlas.
With the Atlas #7's, I had to file and tweak practically every one before installation.

While you are at it, solder your own wire to the underside of the frog and drop it through the benchwork.
Don't depend on that "handy" bronze contact that comes out the side of the Atlas code 55 turnouts to
power the frog.  Easily 1/4 of those didn't work or went bad shortly after installation.  They just aren't made
consistently enough to be making good contact with the frog.

Let's see, the hinges, the gauge, the frog....  oh! yes...   before you install any turnout,
check every rail with an ohmmeter.  Make sure everything that's supposed to be live and connected really is.
There are bronze contact plates under the turnout to make other rails "live" ... not just the frog, and
some of those were bad right out of the package.

The ME turnouts didn't have nearly as many issues.  On those it was an occasional gauge problem and jumpering across the hinges.   The Atlas ones needed a lot more fiddling, and boy oh boy, DO IT on the bench before you install it.
It's much easier that way.  I got into a routine where I would take an Atlas turnout out of the package,
fix up the gauge, contacts, frog, any wonky things in the throwbar (some are loose, cockeyes, or the point rails don't
close level with the stock rails, etc)...

I'm sure I'm not making Atlas happy by saying all this.   I don't mean to be bashing.  I'm just reporting exactly what I found,
and I think after installing 30 of them on this layout over the past 3 years from different sources, these are honest
results.   

 I really do like their products, but man, the turnouts need help.

It's not the first time I've seen reports like this, so I'd hardly call it bashing. I wonder if quality control will improve as Atlas track products start coming back online.