The floorplan of the “Abbyville” subdivision as it currently appears. The layout takes up about 35% of our basement, which is as much space as I was allowed to have. Originally, my layout only used the “Western” portion of the basement, which was far too small for any operations.
To join the eastern and western subdivisions, I had to drill a hole through a poured concrete wall. It took a weekend with a hammer drill and the largest hole saw Home Depot had to punch through.Here you can see my benchwork which is constructed of 3/4” cabinet grade plywood I cut to 4” widths.
A Kato SD45 tests the clearance through the south tunnel. This section of track runs along the wall above my workbench and exits into the furnace room on the other side of the concrete wall. This locomotive happens to be the first one I ever bought when I got back into model trains.
One of the first scenic areas I started on was my bridge over the Fox River. It was a lot more fiddling around to get the heights just right than I thought it would be. It didn’t help that the floor in my basement is not level. This lead to a grade change that starts immediately to the right of the bridge.
A shot of the bridges and the curving tracks of the duck-under. After my first layout, I swore I’d never do another duck-under. Fortunately my layout sits 54” off the floor making the duck-under reasonable. Someday it might get to be too much for my back, but for now I can live with it.
My train buddy helps out with some “monkey glue”. Of course this little girl is now going to be freshman in college in the fall, so it gives you some sense of how long I’ve been working on my railroad.
The first layer of the Fox River is poured. To accomplish the look I wanted, I put down a thick coat of paint from Home Depot. It took a while to dry and set up. Several people have asked, and yes, the Fox River in De Pere really is that color in the spring.
If the river looks wet, it because it is- wet paint! A pleasant surprise happened as the paint sat on the layout. Since it was a thick and took a while to dry, the colors separated a bit creating a flowing look. Once it was dry I covered it with a coat of 2-part epoxy to give it some gloss.
Here, I removed the bridge to allow some basic scenery to go in. Although the bridge is a moving swing bridge, I modeled it out of service and locked in place.
As my basic river scenery started to take shape, it generated a lot of mess. Too often when I’m working, I’ll let materials and tool pile up until I’m overwhelmed and need to take a break to put things away.
A view from the doorway of the train room. You can just see the duck-under at the bottom of the photo. Near the center of the picture is my spray booth which vents through the window above. Having such tall benchwork allows me plenty of storage underneath.
My assumption that my basement floor was flat, lead to a miscalculation in benchwork height. This meant I had to begin a grade change immediately after the track came off the bridge. A series of shims before support the track before applying ballast.
The track by my bridge was ballasted with real CNW “pink lady” stone. Just like in the prototype the ballast is actually working to hold the track in place. The rest of my track will use the same real rock ballast with some variations on sidings.
After completing all the benchwork and before starting with track, the kids decided to test it out. If it holds up these two and all their animals, it should be sturdy enough for my trains. Both of these girls are now sophomores; one in high school and one in college!
Several years ago my brother helped me build this storage shelf for my engines. I’ve mounted it under my benchwork to show off some of my completed models. Don’t be fooled by what you see, I really am a Wisconsin Central fan!
The Benchwork and layout sit high enough that I can slide my toolbox underneath. There is plenty of storage for things like all my empty engine and rolling stock boxes as well as my daughters extensive collection of American Girl dolls.
My mom helped me sew up these canvas panels to hide what’s stored underneath the benchwork. At each corner they snap into place. While they work great, they do tend to be challenging to reattach when I take them down.
Here is another shot of the layout that shows the location of my engine display shelf. In the future I plan on adding some glass sliding doors to the display. Nothing has fallen off yet, but there have been some close calls.
One the western division, I constructed a deep drawer to store locomotives under the layout. It keeps them out of the dust and safe from the hands of little visitors to my railroad. I’ve subsequently added a nice birch front panel as well as a handle.
A distance shot of the bridge and some completed scenery. If this spot looks familiar, it’s where I usually set up my engines when taking pictures. Gravity has taken it’s toll on many of my trees over the years and I might have to do some reforestation in the future.
This is a rarely seen part of my layout. The south tunnel exits into the furnace room. It runs for about 8 feet before re-joining the layout on the western division. I needed this section of track to be perfect, since any problems would be hard to reach.
A train passes a TRANE. The track passes extremely close to the humidifier for the furnace. Because this section of track is generally inaccessible, I’ve installed side guards to ensure that in the event of a derailment, nothing hits the floor.
The north tunnel is nothing to look at, so I needed to build something to block the view.
This Walthers kit was heavily modified to conceal the tunnel. The addition made of white styrene is deep and tall enough that no matter where you stand in the train room, you can’t see the tunnel opening.
A fresh coat of primer and initial painting of the brick components really helps tie this structure together. There are going to need to be a lot of added details before I can call it complete.
Preliminary painting is complete. I still need to put the mortar on the bricks and install some of the larger detail parts. I’m still not set on the roof details and interior loading dock.
My nephew and I watch a coal drag cross the Fox River bridge. When this picture was taken, he was just tall enough to stand on a stool to see what’s going on. Unfortunately he later decided to dance around and fell off the stool! I’ll never forget that day!
A reverse angle shot of the bridge over the Fox River. My nephew Lucas enjoyed spending time on the layout, but subsequently he and his family have moved to New Zealand. Maybe I’ll have to visit him and see if they have “kiwi trains”.
There are other kids who enjoy the railroad as well. I caught my daughter down on the layout doing her own operating session. It seem that my trains are very popular with the 8-and-under crowd. Once they are teens they have little interest.
A rough-up of the shopping district of downtown “Abbyville”. Most of these are Design Preservation Models, but there are also a few Walther’s structures tossed in.
It seems like my projects seems to go in streaks. Sometimes I get busy with rolling stock, while other times I spend all my time on engines. Here I decided that I needed a break and decided to work on some structures for a while.
Using DPM components, I’ve assembled a structure I’m calling the “Riverside Condominiums”. Those 3rd floor windows would be great for watching passing trains.
More foreground structures are being added to the main street of downtown “Abbyville”. The condominium in the back has been a constant source of frustration for me. I’ve never been able to get the color right and my attempts at mortar have been less than stellar.
A painted advertisement for one of my favorite beers of all time. This is a custom decal made from a beer bottle label. (Back in 1988 you paid $4.99 for a 24 case of bottles, and that included the deposit!)
The interior of my computer store begins to take shape. It will be lit with LED’s and have a detailed interior.
The computer store interior is just about done. I still need to make some signage for the exterior as well as detail the attached garage.
The interior of my computer store is complete. Of course they sell nothing but Macs and iPads. The miniature computers were printed photos of real machines. Once I got the scale worked out, they were easy to make.
The backside of the computer store. The parking lot needs a lot of weathering to look more realistic. Later, I will add some utility lines and other miscellaneous details to bring it more to life.
It always seems like I’ve got too many projects going on at once. I have the bad habit of starting new projects before I’ve completed old ones. If I’m not careful, my workbench gets totally out of control and becomes a disaster area.
After a day of cleaning things up and putting tools away, I’ve got the workbench looking pretty good. Of course it will only look like this until the next project comes along.
Unfortunately progress on the Western subdivision has come to a screeching halt. The ceiling had to be removed because of a bathroom remodel directly above. You can see the bathtub drain pipe hanging down at the upper center of the picture.
Since I had the ceiling down, I decided it was time to replace all the florescent lights. The ballasts in the cheap ones from Menards have been slowly burning out. Everything will now be replaced with recessed LEDs.
The ceiling and light replacement project has moved on to the workshop portion of the layout. I felt the overhead cabinets took up too much space and I wanted to install a higher workbench, so everything was removed.
Once things were down we discovered the drywall was a mess. I decided it was much easier to just cover everything with 1/8” masonite panels to get a nice, smooth finish.
After months of work, the bead-board ceiling is up and everything is painted. I’ve replaced the original workbench with movable tables that have plenty of leg room underneath. The storage cabinets will form the base for a new staging yard.
The only casualty of all the work were my trees. I needed to remove them to paint and install hardboard on the wall. In the process they got kinda beat up. They will be replaced with more durable versions.
The storage cabinet will host one of my switching yards. I’ve not done any track work for a long time, so I”m excited to get started on this project.
The switching yard came together quickly and is ready for paint and ballast.
To connect the yard to the rest of the railroad, a pretty significant and extended ess-curve was needed.
Preliminary ballasting is underway in the yard. For this section I’m using more real rock, only this is from the kids sandbox. The larger stones will be removed when I get ready to glue things down.
After a lot of time and effort, the yard finally has ballast installed. If it wasn’t for all the hobby shops being closed due to the COVID-19 quarantine, I could move on with some landscaping.
A grumpy switchman walks along the line.
Switch panel mock-up.
More to come!