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A successful move, sort of

Read this N scale column from the March 2011 Model Railroader
A successful move sort of
The loop section from Jim’s third Tehachapi Pass layout, extensively modified, is now the central feature of his present N scale model railroad.
Jim Forbes
Back in 1995, I wrote a story for the first issue of Model Railroad Planning about Tehachapi III, the N scale Southern Pacific and Santa Fe layout I was building. In that story I told how I built the layout in 13 bolted-together sections supported by easy-to-disassemble ­L-girder benchwork. The layout was movable, if not exactly portable.

I had no thoughts of moving at the time, but I hadn’t the two times before, either. My first Tehachapi Pass layout had been no great loss, but the scenery on Tehachapi II had been well along and I wasn’t able to save any of it. I was determined not to go through that again.

Moving and N scale. This is supposed to be to be a column for N scalers. So you may be wondering what moving has to do with 1:160 layouts.

I think a large N scale layout has a better chance of surviving a move intact and being set up again than one in a larger scale. In general, N scale layouts have smaller footprints per square footage of aisleway than do layouts built in HO. This is because our trains are ­smaller, but people remain the same size (and even tend to enlarge over the years).

Also, the width of our layout sections is largely dictated by the radius of our
return curves. An N scale 18" curve is the equivalent of a 321⁄2" curve in HO. So our layout sections tend to be narrower.

Testing the concept. But I digress. I worked on Tehachapi III for five years, never thinking I actually would move it. But in 1996, the “build it to move” principle got put to the test.

The layout came apart just as planned and ended up stored in the garage that came with the small house I had bought. There most of it remained for the next several years, though it wasn’t too long before I took down one section, the Tehachapi Loop. I began working on it in my new basement, where friends and I were also building Ntrak modules.

After several years of that I moved again, this time to a larger house with a larger basement better suited to my dream layout. It even came carpeted.

The time for the payoff was at hand. I would bolt Tehachapi III back together, perhaps with a tweak here and there, and be right back in business.

After measuring the new basement and drawing up the floor plan on tracing paper, I slid a copy of the Tehachapi III track plan drawn to the same scale under the room drawing and began sliding it around, seeing how it would fit. The stark truth quickly emerged. It wouldn’t. No way. I could place the central feature – the loop – just about anywhere, but the rest of the layout was hopeless.

Much the same, but better. I had to completely redesign the layout, which once I got over the initial shock turned out to be a good thing. It allowed me to eliminate some features that hadn’t worked out well and take better advantage of the space available.

For one thing, I had become unhappy with the 15" curves on Tehachapi III and went to 18", which looks and works a lot better under 89-foot flatcars. I also settled on a 30" minimum aisle width, with 36" in most places. The aisles had been as narrow as 24" on Tehachapi III.

As I’ve built the new layout, I’ve salvaged the old. The legs and L-girders were all recycled. Some of my risers date all the way back to Tehachapi I, and they have so many holes drilled in them they look like Swiss cheese. All the switch motors, push buttons, and most of the wiring was used again, as was much of the track.

True, I could have dismantled the layout and salvaged all these parts before moving, but I didn’t. All this disassembly would have taken time I didn’t have, and like Tehachapi II, it would have all gone to the landfill.

Was moving all those layout pieces worth it then? Yes. And to all those friends who helped, thanks. Don’t worry, we won’t be doing it again.

For N scale product reviews, track plans, and videos, visit the Model Railroader N scale page.

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5 compact track plans

5 compact track plans

Pack lots of fun into a small space.

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