Coffee Table #3 Construction
Note: The links on the left side of this page and the other Model CT-3 pages will take you to detailed information about the new coffee table's design and construction.
Layout Base & Jig
Before the trackage (track & turnouts) could be installed, the layout base plywood and a sturdy frame or jig to hold the base had to be prepared. During construction, the base plywood would be fastened to the jig to prevent warping.
The layout base was made of 1/4-inch cabinet-grade plywood. The base was 24.75" x 51.75" with rounded corners. The first level of track and much of the scenery would be mounted on the base. A second identical piece of plywood was used for the second and third levels of track. The photo below shows the base plywood resting on the jig. Also shown in the illustration is the half-size mockup of the layout's trackage, along with a can of gray primer and a short section of N-scale track.
Before the plywood was used in the layout, both sides were painted with flat gray oil-base primer. The primer helped prevent the plywood from absorbing moisture. Because an oil-base primer was used, the priming project was moved outdoors, and the painted plywood was banished to the storage shed until the smell went away.
The first step in the track laying process was to copy the track plan for the first-level track from the full-size layout drawing to the plywood. The red piece of paper in the photo below is a template for the 8" radius curves that are common throughout the layout.
With the the location of the first level track and turnouts marked on the plywood, it was time to start cutting holes in the plywood for the turnout motors. To make sure that I would cut all of the holes correctly (or all of them incorrectly), I made a transparent plastic template for marking hole locations.
The Peco under-table turnout motors required some modification, unless I wanted to cut very large unsightly holes in the plywood. The mounting tags on one end of each turnout motor were removed as shown below. This allowed the hole for the turnout motor to limited primarily to the area directly under the turnout. The cutout could have been made even smaller if I had been willing to mount the motors on the turnouts after the turnouts had been installed.
Even though the mounting tags had been removed from one end of each turnout motor, it was still necessary to undercut the plywood at that end of the motor. This can be seen in the next photo.
With the turnouts ready to install, track laying could begin. For the coffee table layout, I decided that track nails should not be used. They look too much like manhole covers when viewed by the TrainCam. So, all of the track was glued in place. This is easy to do, assuming that you have an appropriate assortment of weights to keep track in place while the glue dries. In this case, a sledgehammer, video camera battery, anvil, and a can of heavy-duty soup worked perfectly.
Using the sledgehammer and anvil gluing process, it didn't take long to complete the first loop of track and the trolley track. Temporarily toss in a few houses, and it begins to look like a model railroad!
Soon, the entire first level of track was complete.
Second-Level & Third-Level Track
The second piece of plywood (mentioned above) was used for the second-level and third-level track. Although the first-level plywood was mostly left intact, the plywood for the upper levels of track would have to be cut into narrow strips that were just wide enough for the track and ballast. But first it was necessary to figure out where bridges would be located, because this would identify where the plywood strips would eventually be cut. To determine the precise location of each bridge, the bridge structures and an assortment of buildings were temporarily placed on the layout.
The next step was to transfer the track plan for the second and third levels to the plywood, making note of the location of each bridge structure.
Then the roadbed was cut from the plywood sheet with a power jig saw. As seen in the photo (below), all of the second-level roadbed was cut as a single piece. However, the small piece of third-level roadbed leading to the high bridge had to be a separate piece, since it overlapped the second-level roadbed. The small piece was actually cut from the large area that was removed from the right side of the plywood. Much of the large area that was removed from the left side of the plywood eventually became the hinged section of scenery that covers the first-level tunnel tracks in that part of the layout.
The second-level and third-level roadbed had to be installed in the layout with great precision. Improper grades or poor trackage would result in unreliable train operation. Incorrect vertical spacing between track layers would create other problems. Too little vertical space would prevent the TrainCam from negotiating the tunnels. Too much vertical space would increase the overall height of the layout, and the train would not be able to operate under the glass top.
With the roadbed in place, it was time to install the trackage. With the help of a collection of small clamps, the upper levels of track began to emerge. This part of the project required a lot of time and patience. Sloppy track work was not an option!
The result of all this work was trackage that will provide smooth and reliable operation for many years to come. (Note: as of August 2014, the trackage has proven to be very reliable.)