All of my Halifax-era layouts live here in the main room of our apartment on top of a bookcase. The layout of furniture in the space changes and this modular bookcase moves around so attaching the layout to the bookcase hasn’t been something I’ve done. Initial plans were based on the idea of traditional wood-framed modules but I gave up my workshop when we left the Island and by the time I started Coy my idea had been to keep things simple so Coy was just built on slabs of foam insulation (two layers of one inch foam) that just laid on top of the shelf. In all cases, the structure of the bookcase provides all the framing required so the layout’s own frame was really just a medium to provide scenery below the track and I really could have just laid a sheet of cardstock right overtop the bookcase, glued track to it, and started running trains. No matter what size, I like very minimalist layouts with simple track plans. Consequently this kind of layout doesn’t require complicated wiring which is good because all wiring must be done on the surface of the layout. Equally, below track turnout controls are difficult to engineer.
Here in Halifax downtown we have a Deserres art store and in their inventory they stock these Apollon Gallery Wood Panels. A thin skin of plywood on top and with a softwood frame they’re pretty much a readymade model railway baseboard. They come in a variety of sizes but from the first time I ever laid eyes on them it was that 6×48″ and 6X36″ sizes that spoke to me. Perfect for N scale but a little tight for On30. I imagine proper creative folks use these for wall-mounting applications but all I could see was a traditionally-framed model railway surface.
The previous On30 layout was built like Coy. Just two layers of foam laying directly on top of the bookcase’s top. It was a beautifully simple response to a complicated problem but I still didn’t like running the wires across the top of the layout and I wanted access to the bottom of the turnouts because I was still contemplating a motor drive for them instead of the ground throws I’ve been using. Then it struck me: why not use these Apollon panels under the track and then flank them with foam infill modules? The open region within the wood panel serves as a conduit so I have a run to place wires or mechanical things inside; I don’t need complicated woodworking to build this.
The bookcase’s frame is very simple and to provide some sense of dimension I had already placed a perimeter of wood trim as a crown around its top. I like the way this looks and would do it even if there wasn’t a model railway resting on it. In my sketch this crown is marked as Fascia and it surrounds the space where the layout is built.
Those Apollon wood panels are marked as Layout Core. They’re a little taller than the perimeter but not so much and this causes them to stand a little proud which is a nice effect anyway.
In the space between the wood panels and the fascia I just placed styrofoam blocks. While the wood panel “modules” are bolted together to form the continuous run of the layout the modules just rest on top of the bookcase and the foam infill pieces are just resting in that channel. Nothing needs to be glued together and it all cooperates like puzzle pieces. I can scenic straight across section joins and when it comes time to move this all, the parts I will keep to recycle can be separated quickly by just slicing through that crust of scenery.
Because the foam scenery panels are not glued into place they can be left removable (the scenery doesn’t actually need to be spanning that seam) so that I can remove them to make it easier to get a camera down into the scene.
While this feels complex and even a little clumsy to describe but this is a solution that works for me, for now. It doesn’t require tools I don’t have or workshop space I can’t access during the pandemic. Foam can be cut easily here in the house with a knife and it’s fine as a structural form for scenery but I’m not so much of a fan of it under track. I am still still using a skin of 1/2″ foam under this track but that’s out of some unfounded belief in its sound-deadening qualities because I was worried about the space under the wood panels becoming a speaker cabinet for trains running overtop. Though the modules are crudely bolted together for the sake of track alignment the whole puzzle really just rests together on top of the bookcase so it’s easy to remove or work on part of it elsewhere.
And most of all it’s now a space where I’m working on something of a layout and have a layout to run trains on, which I do, which feels so much better than all the fretting I was doing before.