The "sofa" idea is great. I'm thinking a 48"x48" on each end of the
sofa with a 96"x12" "connector". The 48"x48" would have 18" & 22"
radius loops and the connector would be like a mainline with a small
switchyard. I'd put my 18" Atlas arched bridge on the connector.
I'm guessing I need to avoid the temptation to go out and buy 3/4"
plywood and go with an open grid-style benchwork (correct my
terminology please) made of 1"x4" boards about 12" apart, then cutting
3/4" plywood to mount the track. (?)
First thing is that you need to try to decide what you want to do. If you
just want some trains to run round & round, that will take a different
approach than if you want to do intircate switching moves. Usually, most of
us settle for something in between.
Second, you need to decide if this is going to be your only layout. I'm on
my third one right now. I learned a lot from the first two so you can think
of early efforts as learning experiences. As you might guess, you will
include skills learned and ideas tested in subsequent projects as you go
Third, as to whether or not you want to lay track on 3/4" plywood... that is
kind of determined by how many hills / mountains you want in your model. If
you were modeling the midwest, you would want to be much more flat than the
Rocky Mountains. Even the road that you model won't always determine
this... the Union Pacific goes both over the mountains and across the
plains; the C&O went through the mountains of Virginia and across the
flatlands of Ohio. Decide what you want to do then go from there.
As you have already learned, everyone has an opinion. And, with few
exceptions, most all of them are "right" depending on what you want to do.
Is a plywood base "right" for you? If you are going to be content to just
have a couple of loops of track with some buildings, then probably so. My
current layout is built with plywood strips in kind of a gridwork fashion
with 1/4" luan plywood on that, topped off with a sheet of 3/4" blue foam
insulation. That isn't right for everyone but it suits my needs perfectly.
Finally, and I'll take some real flak here from others: it is YOUR railroad
so do what YOU want to do. If you want to haul modern Amtrak passenger cars
with old steamers, go for it. It won't be "right" based on what really
happened on the railroads, but if it's what you want, do it. If your first
building efforts don't look like those that you see in MODEL RAILROADER
magazine, don't despair. Keep the building as a measuring stick to judge
the improved skills you acquire over time. Take your time, accomplish
little things to accomplish the big things and remember that a layout is
never done... once you think you are totally done, you will realize that
cars may need weathered, buildings may need painted, trees may need
improved... this is a lifelong hobby and you will probably have plenty of
time to do all of the stuff you want to try. You don't need to do it the
A friend of mine tried model railroading... he went out and bought a very
expensive building kit and gave up about a third of the way into it. "Too
hard & too expensive..." he says to me. No, he just bit off more than he
could chew with that first bite. Start simple but dream big. Most of all,
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