Photography by Richard Schumacher
The Gateway Division is doing it again. At the invitation of the Missouri History Museum, located in Forest Park in the City of St. Louis, members of the Gateway Division have spent part of the summer of 2002 building a somewhat revised version of the Saint Louis Central 2001 layout. The History Museum exhibition “Our World in Miniature: Trains, Dollhouses and Other Miniatures” runs from Saturday, October 5, 2002, through January 2003, and this layout will be operating throughout that time.
This model railroad layout is based on the Saint Louis Central 2001 Model Railroader project designed and built by St. Louis area members of the National Model Railroad Association during the July 2001 National Train Show in downtown St. Louis. We’ll call this one “Version 2.002” because we have made some adjustments and changes for a variety of reasons.
The version published in the July 2001 issue of Model Railroader magazine was a bit more simplified than our original concept. The National Train Show (NTS) layout, which was built as originally designed, had an additional siding and some adaptations made to the kits, such as eliminating a section of the building or altering the placement to fit the track plan. Unfortunately the tire plant kit used in the original design is no longer in production. We have made a substitution there and have replaced or added several other structures. The track plan for Version 2.002 is the same as that built during the NTS.
The Saint Louis Central is based on downtown St. Louis, Missouri, probably in the 1950s, although not much has changed and this layout could represent an earlier or later period. Neither the track plan nor the buildings are intended to model exact places in the St. Louis landscape and they can represent any urban area. The building kits, however, were selected not only because they fit our space requirements, but also because they reflect architecture similar to downtown St. Louis buildings – brick structures, often with large arched windows. The names we have applied to buildings do represent well known St. Louis businesses and our collective memories. The 150’ bridge located at the corner of the layout is from St. Louis area’s Micro Engineering Company and is based on a bridge on the St. Louis riverfront.
The track plan was designed so that a train can run in a circle (as it will do during the History Museum exhibition). In addition, sidings serve a variety of industries so that some car switching can be done. Finally, several tracks can be extended beyond the edge of this 4×8-foot layout when the modeler decides that he or she would like to expand the limits of the railroad. While the track does run in a circle, the buildings and street down the length of the layout serve as a view block so that various scenes will be seen independently.
Some Choices We Made and Why
The Power System: This particular layout has been built primarily for continuous running at the Museum. Because only one train will be operated at a time, we chose to use a power pack rather than digital command control as we did on the NTS model. It was determined to be more dependable for the museum staff to operate and less expensive for the initial setup. We did install insulated track joiners in several locations so that a future operator could run more than one engine The NTS model railroad used digital command control because we expected this layout to eventually become a home layout and digital generally provides more realistic operation.
Track: Once again we used Atlas code 83 track and turnouts. They are reliable and relatively inexpensive, and we are able to provide a specific shopping list and track diagram. Some flex track is used, particularly for longer sections, but whenever possible, we chose sectional track including 1/2, 3/4, and 1 inch sections, which have the advantage of easy and accurate track connections. The NTS layout used track nailed to cork roadbed. The profile provided by the cork roadbed is very attractive, but the additional 1/4” elevation of the track requires that many buildings, especially those with loading docks, must also be raised to the corresponding height. Version 2.002 places the track directly on the extruded foam base, glued down with white glue or yellow carpenter’s glue. Track nails were used to hold the track until the glue dried; they were not removed, but are not sufficient to hold track on the foam by themselves.
The Framework: Because this layout (as well as the various annual project layouts that the Division has built) will be moved several times and may eventually be stored at the Museum, we used the same techniques we have developed for our annual project railroads that are taken to various shows and other events throughout the year. To make a layout that is lightweight, very sturdy, and collapsible, we built a framework of 1×4” pine supported by folding table legs. The base is 2” extruded foam insulation board, conveniently available in 4×8’ sheets. For a layout that will be permanently located, a sheet of plywood to support the foam board and 2×4” legs would also be suitable.
How We Built It
For the structures on our layout, we farmed out the various kits to members of the Gateway Division and provided instructions for any alterations to the directions in the kit. Before we could actually place track on the layout, we needed to have both the 50’ bridge and the 150’ bridge. It was also important to have either the completed buildings, the base or a paper footprint of the other buildings, especially those with loading docks or rail spurs. The Walther’s concrete street system pieces were used to determine the width of the main street, curbs and sidewalks.
The framework was built of 1×4’ select pine, glued, screwed, and biscuit joined. We intend that our framework will hold up! Corners of the side facia were butt joined. Cut two 8’ lengths and two 4’ plus the thickness of the two abutting boards, probably 4’ 1-1/2”. The inside dimensions of this box should exactly fit the 4×8’ piece of extruded foam insulation board. (Note: Use firm extruded insulation board, not bead board.)
The “platform” inside this box was also made of 1×4” pine. It was inset approximately 3/4” up from the bottom on the outside frame. Cross prices across the 4’ width of the framework were placed at each end. They were biscuit joined to the ends of three lengthwise boards, cut 8’ less the width of the two cross pieces, or approximately 8’ 7-1/2”. (Wouldn’t it be great if a 1×4” board was really 1×4” instead of something like 3/4 x 3-1/2”?) This forms the platform that the foam will rest on.
The platform braces were inset 3/4” up from the bottom edge of the outside frame in order to accommodate the two pairs of cross braces that the folding legs were attached to. These 4’ cross braces were placed approximately one quarter from each end. Placement of these depends on the dimensions of the set of legs. For stability, we used nuts and bolts rather than screws provided with the legs. We had to offset the pairs of legs a bit to opposite sides so that they would each fold flat against the bottom of the layout. They should also be set far enough from the ends to allow room for “the tricky part,” at least ten to twelve inches.
Now the tricky part: One corner of the layout fascia and the foam board must be cut out to accommodate the long bridge, and a base must be built for this lower section. We notched out the side facias at one corner (the upper right in our track diagrams) down to the cross bracing so that the bridges were plainly visible, leaving only a 2 inch wide “bridge pier” for the end of the long bridge. This step could be omitted, but it will leave your bridges set down into a hole.
But first, to determine how much fascia to trim and how much foam must be cut out of this corner, we laid out the track plan on the foam board. This works best by using the actual track pieces and turnouts and connecting them with rail joiners. We placed the track pieces starting at the “north” and “west” (or top and left side on our diagrams) about 1 inch from the edges of the foam board and built the remaining track from there. When everything fit and each rail joiner had been double checked for a solid and proper fit, the track location was marked on the foam board with a felt tip pen. The angle of some sidings made from flex track required the footprint of related structures to be exact.
At this stage, the most important structure placement was the 50’ bridge, a straight bridge with curved track on it! The foam base was marked to indicate cut lines for end supports for the 50’ bridge, the road going under the short bridge, and the retaining walls under the 150’ bridge and to either side of the shorter bridge. The corner of the foam board was cut out and a plywood base was installed at this point. A long serrated knife works well for making these straight cuts in the foam. Later we wished that we had determined where the street would begin going downhill and cut out more of the road cut going under the 50’ bridge at this point in construction. Whenever it’s done, it is a bit tricky because the width of the cut needs to match the placement and the width of the concrete street system to be installed later. We also marked the location of the street at this time.
The foam base was then glued to the framework using Liquid Nails latex adhesive.
The track was glued in place, using yellow carpenter’s glue spread directly on the foam and being cautious not to get glue in the switch throw bars. Power drop wires were installed. We painted some of the area below the 50’ bridge using a brown latex interior house paint as the base for anything not covered by future retaining walls and installed the bridge under the track at this time.
The concrete and brick street was installed next, assembling large sections and then using Liquid Nails latex adhesive to attach it to the foam.
After the rail and street systems were installed and the glue had dried, track was cleaned and we hooked up the transformer, put on an engine, and did our first electrical check to assure that all joints and trackwork were working correctly. When everything ran well, we weathered the track rails with rust and dark brown latex paints, taking care to clean the rail heads and protect the turnout contacts. We also masked off the brick side streets and spray painted the concrete streets and sidewalks, using concrete, aged concrete, and gray and grimy black paints to add texture and street grime to the roads. Later center lines, RR crossing marks, and parking space lines were stenciled onto the streets.
Manual ground throws were installed on all turnouts using yellow carpenters glue and track nails. On several, the throw bar was reversed to make operation easier.
The pink foam base was painted with a brown latex interior wall paint and sprinked with a variety of ground covers up to the marked footprints of the buildings and close to track. It was then sprayed with a diluted latex matte medium. (Diluted white glue works also.) The milky appearance disappears as the scenery dries. Track should once again be wiped and cleaned to assure that turnouts are not glued down. “Asphalt” parking areas were painted with a gray black latex paint with a bit of grit mixed in.
At this point, all of the track was ballasted, using “wet water” (water with a bit of dish detergent added) or isopropyl rubbing alcohol to promote flow of the glue and then diluted matte medium or diluted white glue to affix the ballast. Another track cleaning and electrical check were done at this point.
Buildings were permanently installed with a two-part epoxy glue and figures and vehicles were also glued in place. Touch-ups of ground foam and other scenery materials were done around loading docks and the bases of buildings where glue might show. Trees, bushes and weeds were added for the finishing touches.