Many of us have been designing our dream layout in our minds for decades, carefully placing each building and tree just so, but when it comes down to turning your dream over to us to build it as a tangible reality, there are certain details that must be thought through. We’ll explore some of these considerations in depth in this column as we follow the process of choosing each relevant pathway in the decision process.
Today let’s talk about the empty room that your layout will one day fill. How much space do you have to build a layout in? Some enterprising rail buffs have turned everything from coffee tables to Murphy Beds into layout space to pursue their hobby. Most people who get as far as building a dedicated layout that exists full time, not in pieces in a closet, will have a room or part of a room dedicated to this venture. We’ve built effective and fun to operate layouts in garages, attics, basements, warehouses, and more, according to the clients’ available space. In the smaller scales, like HO and N, even a two car garage can yield a small empire. Thanks to a variety of available operating equipment designed to run on tight radii, even O and G Scale can occupy a medium sized space and still have many operational possibilities (just don’t expect to run your Big Boy or auto carrier car on a small curve). With larger spaces, O scale trains can enjoy realistic sweeping curves that retain the look of reality and allow the operation of all the available rolling stock.
Don’t forget that in addition to the space taken up by the layout, you have to figure out how much space you will need to get around your layout, either by aisles around peninsulas in an “around-the-room” type configuration, or an open perimeter for an “island” style layout. We stress that aisles should be a minimum of at least 28″ wide though as a general rule, we highly recommend aisle widths of 30″-36″ minimums. The wider aisle space provides unrestricted movement throughout your empire for you and your guest.
Suppose you need to cross the tracks to get into the center portion of your walking space. How will you accomplish that? In years past, ducking under the tracks, crawling on the floor, or lifting a heavy panel were the only solutions. SMARTT has a more comfortable alternative. We developed a high precision Dutch door style gate we call the “Swing Bridge.” Tracks run across the swing bridge, and when the gate is closed the trains will run over it seamlessly. When it’s time to go in and out, the precision aligned gate swings open on heavy duty hinges to let you in or out, then a slide latch locks it back into pre-aligned position. No ducking under and crawling on all fours and nothing heavy to lift.
I suppose you’re now worrying about what happens if the gate is left open and a train comes barreling along. No worries! The system cuts power to all tracks in the area of the gate when it is not latched in place.
The gate can be easily disguised as a functional part of the layout. It could be covered in scenery, a stone viaduct, even a complex bridge. One of the most interesting ones we’ve built was a gate that opened in the middle of a 10′ long, double-decker six track steel bridge. When the gate was closed, it was pretty much undetectable as a separate element.
With your room chosen and the amount of space in it that you’re going to want to use allocated, think about the other considerations. Is the room weather-tight? Water can ruin any layout. Do you have adequate lighting? The best displays have plenty of light that can be turned down or dimmed to a comfortable level. It’s best to have the lighting installed before the layout is finished so that you have easy access to put a ladder anywhere you may need. If you are having a professional electrician install the lighting (always a good idea), make sure that you have adequate AC electrical outlets around the walls and that they all work well. The circuit breakers should be able to handle as much as 20 Amps for larger scale trains with lots of accessories. Finally, there is climate control to consider. A good air handling system will not only make your train room comfortable to be in, but will protect your investment from damage by extremes of temperature and humidity.
As you can see, there is a lot of planning that comes into play before you lay your first piece of track. Whether you plan on doing it yourself, or hiring us, the professionals, a little forethought can save you a little time and money and a lot of headaches.
from the April, 2011 SMARTT Newsletter