Monthly Archives: December 2012

Really starting my new model train layout

For months now I’ve been working on a new train layout.  When I was little my father had a train layout kept in the finished basement of my parents house.  This layout was moved to my bedroom when we got a cat and the cat, who spent most time in this finished basement, used the train layout to play out her fantasies of being King Kong.

When it was moved up in to my bedroom, my mother wasn’t very happy and requested that it be cut down to a more manageable size – for a bedroom that is.  So my father and I complied and changed a 4′ x 8′ layout in to a 4′ x 6′ layout.

Later on during my childhood, other interests began to take over, like hockey and computers and girls.  Please note that the latter two were two distinct interests.  Alas, the trains began to undergo neglect and eventually the trains were requested by my mother to be removed, in favor of a computer desk and computer that I had purchased.

But ever since then I’ve vowed to revisit the hobby of model trains, and when Wife and I bought a house, I decided now was the time.  Unlike the many suggestions, I put the trains in the garage.  This wasn’t to complete the whole man-cave motif, but instead I took the practical move since at some point down the road, the two “spare bedrooms” in my house will have living occupants.  At some point.  Down the road.  Okay?

Also, there is a third “spare bedroom” which is a glorified closet with a closet, which I have made in to my office.  So I really couldn’t take over two rooms with stuff!

Anywho, so I’ve spent the past six months constructing what will be the base to my layout.  It’s been a long process but I’m trying to do it right.  For example, my father’s layout was a 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood on saw horses.  The layout fits perfectly in a corner of the garage which happened to be 5′ x 9′.  Hey, every inch counts here!  So in order to accommodate the odd size and the need to join cut plywood together, I built an entire frame for the plywood to rest on.  In addition to the couple extra feet and the sturdy frame (which consists of 2×4’s on the long edges, and 1×4’s every foot across the short edges), I also built legs.  Initially I had the layout sitting on saw horses, but I have the need to be able to move the layout since the corner of the garage I have the layout in only allows access from one side!  So at the bottom of the legs I attached casters so the layout can be moved freely.  I even attached a surge protector underneath with a long wire so the layout can be plugged in and powered and still be moved freely in the garage.  Surprising to even myself (since I’ve never really done much woodworking before), it is surprisingly sturdy and moves very well in the garage.  In fact, since finishing the construction, I’ve moved the layout every time I’ve worked on it so I could get to all the sides, and I’m still impressed at how sturdy it is each time I move it!

Well over the past month, I’ve made significant progress, I think.  I sealed the cracks between the joined plywood using wood spackle.  Sanded and spackled and sanded again just to be safe.  I then painted the whole top of the layout brown (since in my mind , dirt is brown and that’s what is underneath everything anyway).

Just over the past couple of days, with some time off from work, I nailed down all the track in to the configuration I wanted and cut some flex track in to the size I needed it for an odd size straightaway.  I also drew an outline of this entire first part with a white pencil.  I have since removed the track leaving only a faint white outline for me to use as a guide as I lay down the cork roadbed.

Earlier today I even started laying the first couple of pieces of cork roadbed, gluing it down using wood glue (cork on plywood after all), and nailing it in place so it doesn’t move.

So after six months of planning and creating the benchwork, the layout begins to show life!

On a side note, I’ve learned during this process that track is expensive!  Because of this, I’ve decided to break the layout in to three parts or phases:

Phase 1 will be the lower main line.  This line will be level with the plywood, and consist of a single spur.  In addition, the lower main line will have a switch track used for accessing Phase 2 and a double crossover used for accessing Phase 3.

Phase 2 will be the rail yard.  The yard may be slightly elevated by about an inch.  I’m unsure if I like that idea, but it may aide in construction of Phase 3.  The yard will start at a switch track connecting to Phase 1.  Immediately after the switch will be another switch splitting the line with one track leading to a turntable with up to six tracks for locomotives and the other leading to a series of Y switch tracks which will connect four tracks for the yard.

Phase 3 will be the elevated main line.  It will connect to Phase 1 with a double crossover switch and feature a gradual incline and decline.  The top portion of the elevated main will also have a spur.  The goal will be to construct mountains creating a tunnel for the lower main line to pass through as well as travel under a bridge.  The use of a double crossover switch (not pre-fab by the way, just using good ol’ fashioned Atlas switches and track), will allow trains to run independently on each lower and upper line or allow trains to run the full length of the lower line and the full length of the elevated line while crossing over at the double crossover switch and requiring no switching during mid-run.

There was at one point a Phase 4 which would have created a third upper main line which consisted of a completely elevated line that connected to Phase 3 using another double crossover.  I have temporarily scraped that idea and may revisit it as long as I feel this will not make the layout look too crowded and I can still have a “city” in the center of the layout.

Photos will be posted soon of the progress.

DIY Hell: It Begins

I’m cheap.  And poor (read: “house poor”).  And there are things I feel I should be able to do myself and not have to hire someone all the time to do.  Electrical I feel I can handle.  And since buying a house, working with sheetrock and plumbing* isn’t too far out of my realm.

* I have not worked with, nor do I plan on working with, copper pipes.  PVC for drains is fine. Copper, not going to happen.

One side note – when it comes to my car, I let a mechanic handle that.  Anything that I travel in at 65+ mph is not going to be my responsibility to maintain.  I let someone who knows what they are looking at work on it.

So anyway, here goes.  At home, I have a one zone HVAC system.  It is a forced hot air furnace with central A/C.  Not uncommon stuff here, but it gets weird.  I have two separate thermostats.  It’s actually very logical – one upstairs controls the A/C and the one downstairs controls the Heat.  Since heat rises, it makes sense that’s downstairs and since cool air sinks, that thermostat should be upstairs.

Both thermostats were the old dial kind.

Now recently I replaced the downstairs Heat thermostat with a digital programmable model.  Great investment too.  I’ve been very pleased and happy waking up to the heat already coming on, and coming home to a nice warm house while reaping the benefits of turning down the heat when I’m at work.

But I tried to get a little fancy with the installation.  You see the old Heat thermostat just had a dial, no on or off options for anything.  And the new thermostat has the ability to turn the fan on without calling for heat.  The upstairs A/C dial thermostat actually has a switch to also do just this.  So I thought, wouldn’t it be great if both thermostats could be used to call for the fan to turn on by itself?

For those of you who might be HVAC experts, I “accomplished” this by connecting the Green wire from the thermostat to the furnace motherboard (or whatever HVAC people call the main piece of circuitry inside the furnace!).  The A/C thermostat also connects this way.

However when I turned on the fan using the Heat thermostat, the A/C compressor kicked on.  Not what I wanted.  Apparently, because I called for the fan to be on, the upstairs thermostat which was set for “auto” mode thought that since the fan was running the compressor should also be running.  And called for the compressor to kick on.

So I abandoned the idea.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.  Until today.  You see, having forced hot air heat is very dry. So dry that Wife gets nosebleeds, and I’m pretty sure it’s also leading to sinus headaches I seem to get during the winter.  We bought a small one room humidifier to solve this problem, but they are a pain to clean daily – we do it because it’s the right thing to do blah blah blah.  And I don’t think my sinuses are appreciating the changes in humidity on a 15 minute basis when I’m in other rooms of the house.

The solution is to buy a whole house humidifier.  And I found the perfect model because it meets our crazy criteria.  We need something that’s not a pain to maintain, that can fit in a ridiculously tight duct space, and does not require a floor drain, since our furnace is on the first floor of which is on a concrete slab.  The Humidifier we found was an Aprilaire 400, which satisfies all of this, plus comes with some neat features, like an “automatic mode” which will use the outdoor temperature to decide what time of humidity we should have in the house plus be able to humidify the house even when the heat is not called for by running the fan alone without the rest of the furnace.

Alas, we have stumbled on to our problem! So this unit will be able to turn on the fan by itself when needed by wiring in to the furnaces Green wire terminal, which means (if you’ve been paying attention) it will trigger the central air compressor to kick on.

At least that’s what I’m afraid of.  Welcome to day one of DIY Hell.  I haven’t even bought anything, and already I can see this being an issue.