From late 2010, the idea of building a layout popped into my head. The scale isn't yet defined, no particular theme, and no idea of scenery and operation. But desire is there, and from that time the ideas will come!
I find a room in my house that will stage the future layout: the attic. A size constraint, however, the slope of the roof. This forces me to rethink several times the height of the layout down, in order to enlarge the surface and the space available. The final height defined at the time, and witch is always the one in effect at the end of construction in 2014, is 3 feet at the lower tracks.
The first ideas
It was at this time that I made my first research on the rolling stock, and I discovered the Z scale, while since late 2010, the idea was to build my layout in N scale. I remember what a joy to think that we will be able to put more and aerate the layout! Much research on the net make me permanently adopt the american style. The profusion of material on this scale (all guarded against the N or H0 proportion...) leaves great potential for developments in the future.
The first plan
After a few weeks for hardware discovery, finally comes the long awaited moment to draw the layout plan. It was at this time that I discovered the very interesting us.forum.eu and brave members who allow me to quickly find both answers to my questions, especially ideas and positive reviews regarding the achievement of my plans. All types and sizes together, I think I drew as many as 20-25 layout plans, sharpening each time, taking into account the operation of the equipment available, cravings themes. Of course, it would be neither possible nor interesting to present them all here, but between the foreground and the last one, it was no less than 12 months of planning, disappointments and joys, always accompanied by some very active members of the forum that I am very grateful!
September was one of the most important month to construction of the layout. In one month, I finished my choices, whether in terms of hardware, theme, operation, size, and reflection on the construction. After many theme ideas, I stop my choice on a typical North American setting. Mountains, a waterfall coming down from the mountain, be divided into two rivers, one going to a seaport. The main theme running is coal and wood. The dimensions are 13.5 x 7 feet (later increased) and the electric drive will be fully digital, all the necessary rolling stock being fully compatible with DCC decoders.
The theme and decor being arrested, I finish my plan in detail. I decided at that time to build my tracks. The plan, drawn in AnyRail, is then redraw to take advantage of the flexibility of the handlaid track, especially at curves, since it is then no more constrained by the curves imposed by track pieces.
Christmas is coming! ... We finally are always great kids! I bought the first series of rolling stock and some Micro-Trains Line (MTL) tracks in order to set up a simple oval with a few turnouts, just to test runs and maneuvers, including automatic pickup and uncoupled of cars. The first derailments on the MTL turnouts support my choice of building my tracks, which will be able to address these problems by welds, sanding...
In august 2012, I joined a model railroad club, a few miles from my home, with the idea to acquire technical and get valuable information from experts in modeling. I meet interesting people who I hasten to show my layout plan. Positive reactions fuse, but they are unanimously criticizing my layout is planned to be fixed. They all encourage me to think about a modular system to move and go into exhibitions. This idea had not yet occurred to me, and I admit that in hindsight, staying fixed would be a mistake. Not necessarily by the fact of not being able to go into exhibitions, but especially to simplify construction and decor, module by module.
This reflection causes considerations of cuttings that will sit between the modules, and then change my layout plan. The yards are moved, the curves suppressed as much as possible between modules and replace by straight tracks to ensure passages without problems.
Start of woodwork
Three years after the idea has come to build a layout, work begins at last! What a joy to start cutting the planks to build the modules. So excited that in three days, the three modules were completed! The two wings, each measuring 4.25 x 2.45 feet and 5.15 x 2.12 feet central module.
Cut on the left side to access underneath in case of derailment under the mountain and access to the turnout's servos of the coal mine which is located above.
Cutting the plank to place the river that comes from the waterfall.
The central control panel which will include the central Digitrax Zephyr. Wired commands will be added on each wing of the network. Holes allow passage of turnouts control cables.
Establishment of the mine access ramp.
Achievement of the supports the upper floor which will host the coal mine.
Cutting and fixing of the plank.
Building the first tracks
The month of december 2012 was dedicated to the building and installation of the first tracks using FastTracks tools. After 6 or 7 turnouts, I finally found the technique to build them in the best possible conditions to ensure optimum performance. Now, the longest is to lay the wooden sleepers, one by one with one tweezer! Another objective is to find a solution to achieve the most efficient and adaptable possible liaison between modules.
Building turnouts using the "fixtures" of FastTracks.
Cutting the floor and creating a system for adjusting the height and lane alignment of tracks between modules.
Reception of bridges and adaptation
Wishing to leave the style of the famous "american ginger bridge", I started looking for different bridges. I found a german manufacturer offering several models, two of which seemed to me appropriate to a US-type layout.
Reception of bridges from Germany. Some will be shortened.
The bridges are then painted brown and will be weathered with rust-colored pigments.
Installation of first tracks
The original idea was to work module by module. Once all tracks of the left module (module of the coal mine) built, I started to install them in order to validate an effective technique. The tracks are laid on cork of 0.635", allowing both to provide a "break" sound and limit the resonance convoys in modules, but also enhance the height of tracks for the subsequent installation of the ballast. For optimum electrical conductivity, each "coupon" track is powered individually. So I started by soldering fine wire on each piece of track, and then I spotted the location on the module, drilled holes in order to pass them through. But the technique appeared to me long and complex to implement. Subsequently, the technique has been place the tracks, then drilling along the rails and then weld the wires.
Power supply of the first coupon to ensure optimum electrical conductivity.
Placing first turnout's control servos of Tam Valley Depot. Installation system for detecting shorting of turnouts hearts and loops.
Laying the first magnetic uncoupler.
Overview of the module around late february 2013.
Once all the tracks completed on the first module, I completed the installation of motors and wiring "frog juicer" electronic system that detects short circuits when the locomotives runs on the hearts of turnouts and also allowing reverse polarity when passing on loops. Next, preparation of the wiring between modules: 220V supply, DCC, 12V power for the electronics "embedded."
The initial wiring. It will change in the future...
Installation of tracks on the right module
In april, I started the building and installation of the tracks on the right module. Contrary to the first module, where all the tracks were flat, those module comprise ramps. I used Woodland Scenics stuff very helpful to start the ramps. The ramp that starts on this module and that rises to the mine will have a maximum slope of 3.8%, which is very important, but existing in some places in the United States. With the retreat, I had to limit myself to 3%, although this does not pose a problem to engines to ride to coal mine, but poses more a cosmetic problem. The big job of the month was to divert the river. Initially, its release was scheduled on the right of the module, but this posed the problem of the bridges which should then be in curve. I changed the river to get her out on the front of the module.
Track installation on the right module. Just as the left module, extensions lanes are planned for later...
Detail on the ramp supports of WoodlandScenics.
First mountain relief
The month of june 2013 was very exciting because I started the relief of the mountains. I started with the central module, before putting the tracks, because the creation and modeling of the river would be complex and could damage the tracks already laid. The technique was simple: soak balls of newspaper in a 50:50 mixture of hot water and wood glue, laying the ball on the module by creating a short relief, then laying strips of plaster. Then rocks manufacturing with liquid plaster placed on sheets of aluminum foil crumpled then to unfolded and plating of these plates on the cliffs just before the plaster is dry. Then finish through 3 layers of liquid plaster with a brush to soften the forms.
Relief of the central module before laying the tracks at the bottom.
Detail on the rocks created with "mold" in aluminum foil.
Pose bridges's abutments.
After creating the relief of the central module, I attacked the module of the coal mine. Quite complex because of the many tunnels, it took me a long time, but the result is nice. The technique remains the same: newsprint, plaster strips and liquid plaster brush, but having previously placed a few pieces of polystyrene to go faster, because the relief is higher than on others module.
Preparation of relief with large pieces of polystyrene.
Placement of buildings to define the topography, since the buildings of the coal mine have a "interactivity" with the rock.
The module before applying the plaster strips.
The module completed and ready for painting.
It remained to create the embossed on the module right. The technique is well adapted and controlled, it only took me 4 hours total to get there. Then, laying the tracks on the last module. Finally, almost one year after the start of work, the trains are running!
Preparing the terrain of the last module.
The module also finished and ready for painting.
The three modules are completed, the next step was to paint the plaster. In order to be as realistic as possible, it was out of the question to make a painting "classic". So I opted for a technique widely used in the United States, and using WoodlandScenics products: the painting with washes. So I prepared washes in 5 different colors. In order: yellow, light brown, light gray, darker brown and one final wash of diluted black, so remaining in the hollows and increases the relief effect.
Once in painting, modules take full extent.
Detail on what will be the location of the waterfall.
Overview of the 3 modules upon completion.
Paintings tracks using Tamiya painting bombs.
The bridge are weathered.
Installation of bridges on the port's channel. We see in the background the coal unloading dock on barges.
Laying the ballast
Once all the tracks be installed, it was necessary the put ballast. I do not deny that this step was the worst of all creation of my layout. The ballast is very thin and light, it moves alone during phases of dipping and gluing.
All tracks are ballasted!
Establishment of the first layer of resin in the port.
Small celebration: the first flocking tests towards the coal mine.
Installation of the first buildings
A 5-week period of convalescence at home allowed me to advance heavily on end-2013. Once the first flocking tests performed, I finished the left module and put all mine buildings which I started getting a few months ago. Once installed and some coal pile created, I was really starting to realize the final style that the layout would have, and it encouraged me. The boats are mounted, and then painted with pigments mixed with rubbing alcohol and then weathered with dry pigments.
Corner coal mine, almost finished. Rendering encourages me to continue.
Detail of the beautiful buildings, wood laser cut kits.
This period was crucial in advancing the layout, but especially for its future. In fact, I started late december 2013 to test the chemical photo-etched brass. Having practiced a similar technique to make printed circuit boards, and practicing N&B photography for years, the "chemical" side of the process did not frighten me any more than that. Besides, my work as webmaster made innate the design and printing of offset films. So I started in january to draw my own signals, then a whole lot of good parts. The results are quickly very good, and the presentation of my work on the forums have had the effect of a small bomb. I took the opportunity to create a small company and a online selling website, where it is possible to order some of my creations.
But more interesting is that I quickly realized that this method would allow me to achieve unthinkable things to achieve otherwise, and more absent in Z scale! The layout would grow, because the original plan provided not enough room for all the ideas germinating in my head...
My first photo-etched signals. Height: 0.8", with rivets on the sides!
Now reflecting on all that I could do, I decided in february to expand my network, while it was not even finished, and an unforeseen event came to intrude a deadline: the acceptance to expose the layout in a big french model train exhibition in october 2014. Coming months would be sport!
But I immediately knew what to do and how I do it. The idea was to create additional space that would have an interest in both aesthetics and technique (using a maximum of photo-etched, and other techniques such as computer cardboard cutout and 3D printing) but especially an interest in operating the layout. Indeed, the main theme is the exploitation of coal, but I quickly realized that the mine area was disproportionate to the purpose, the unloading dock in the port area too small. So I decided to create from scratch a coal power plant, with rather impressive dimensions, since in the end, it will occupy, all facilities included, about 20 square feet.
Following the decision to expand the network and to reduce electrical hazards, I decided to change the power modules. Indeed, from the beginning, I had set up in each module, a 220V/12V transformer to power the electronic cards. Each one of these transformers being fed by a cord from the central module. Now, only the central module is supplied with 220V, and 220V/12V transformers are placed under each other modules. Distribution to other modules is now limited to 12V.
Brainstorming on the coal plant
I spent about two months thinking about and reading about the "modern" coal plants that are present everywhere in the United States. Having finally found two plants that I liked, both in terms of aesthetics, but also features, I started by drawing and building a machine a bit special, which is used to create a large pile of coal from unloading docks. Entirely in photo-etched, welded and painted. This was followed by the creation of electricity pylons, since much of the 2 new modules will be flanked by a zone transformers from power lines.
The creation of the month, in photo-etched.
Details on the machine. The locomotive is in Z scale, of course!
Drawing of the first electric pylons.
The first pylons, welded and painted.
Construction of the coal plant
Since this type of structure does not exist, so we had to build everything. The technique I used was to use a 0,25" Depron structure, covered with cardboard cut with plotter connected to my computer. A thin cardboard was striped, to simulate the texture of the building. Then painting and skating a bit pronounced, for a well made industrial, rather like former USSR. Then laying glass roofs and sandblasting roofs. The hardest part has been the creation of chimneys. Made of PVC tubes of 1.25", cut out, painted, glued and flanked with ladders and protective cages of a few millimeters wide, photo-etched of course!
Structure of Depron and cardboard.
Final style form ex-USSR before finishing the roofs.
Bonding of glass roofs and sandblasting roofs.
Details on ladders and protective cages.
The plant almost complete, with chimneys. Missing doors and finishing details.
Building new modules
The month of july 2014 was certainly most active in the history of building my layout, and when advances were most felt. Certainly due to the kindness of a friend that gave me a lot of his time, sometimes from entire weekends to help me achieve these modules. So that in a single month, woodwork, tracks, installation, ballasting and decoration was finished! Thank you Guillaume!
The new two modules, around july 10th.
Electrification of modules: wiring tracks and turnouts.
Laying the docks where coal will be unloading from cars, and painting the tracks.
Relief before painting.
After reading an article in Ztrack (magazine specialized in Z scale), I discovered a manufacturer which create quite beautiful trees for the price. And presto, a command of 1500 first. But it would not be enough. Therefore I place a new order for 1000 more, for a total of 2500 trees between 1" and 3" high. Again, thank you Guillaume for help! The rest of the month was dedicated to setting the last modules, including the creation of the car park of the coal plant and the establishment of coal conveyors.
Part of the 1500 first trees ordered.
Creating the parking of the coal plant.
Towers of the coal conveyors. Required laser to measure distances with exactitude to design conveyors, using photo-cutting and 3D printing.
Part of trees laid on the third module, the sawmill.
Conveyors are laid.
Retail conveyors. Construction photo-etched, cardboard, Depron and 3D printing for roofs.
Parking of the plant, once the vehicles being glued.
As my 2014 october exhibition will arrive quickly, the month of september 2014 is rich in creations. The last buildings (cooling towers of the plant) are made, painted and weathered. The large pile of coal is put in place. Most of the other goals of the month is the introduction of all the details that make the layout great: installation of telephone poles (with wiring!) peoples details, wood piles...
Construction of cooling towers: Depron, cardboard, photo-etched... routine.
3D fan blades printing.
Cooling towers before weathering.
Installation of telephone poles and wiring.
Establishment of the coal pile in the pit, with real crushed coal.
Gluing small pieces of details: crates, boards, people...
A week before the exhibition, I finally finished the whole electrical part of the plant. Quite a challenge, a lot of photo-etched, 3D printing, and poses numerous wires. Even the barbed wire at the top of the fence enclosure! Parkinson forbidden!
Electrical part of the plant.
The final plan