I downloaded a copy of AnyRail and proceeded to figure out how to stuff as much Bachmann EZ-Track as possible into 3.5′x6.5′. I came up with a simple oval (chasing its tail would be the main mode of operation during the holidays) with a stub siding to a mine inside the oval and a siding outside the oval that went to two storage tracks.
The layout was to have three main elevations. The storage tracks would be on the lowest elevation, the loop on the second elevation and the mine on the third elevation. The frame with the leg mounts was about 1.5 inches thick, the base board 1 inch, the main board 1 inch and the mine elevation 1.5 inch for a total of 5 inches. That left 1 inch for some low scenery by the mine. The mine itself was supposed to be a lift off unit made to fit inside the loop. I picked up two .5″ sheets of foam, some Woodland Scenics foam risers and ordered the missing EZ-Track pieces. I printed out the track plan, pinned it to the foam, and proceeded to design the base board profile.
I did not have a suitable work surface to cut and laminate the sheets but I did have an IKEA “GALANT” desk that I had disassembled and stored. I put the legs back on the GALANT frame for a nice sturdy work surface at a convenient work height. I screwed three 4′ 1×2 pine boards that I had cut for another home project to the frame cross-wise and laid the foam on it to cut out. When I had finished cutting the main shape, my wife looked at the board on top of the GALANT frame and remarked how nice it looked. I stood back to look and realized that it was better looking and stronger than anything I could build. It also supported my idea of keeping the center of gravity low with a light weight top and a heavy base.
Since I was already storing the GALANT frame it would take no additional storage space and I gained the .5 inches the leg plates took up so I could go a little higher with the scenery. I cut the ends off the 1x2s off even with the foam board and glued them to the foam. I then added outriggers to the ends by gluing 1x2s over the ends of the frame perpendicular to the cross pieces. I did not glue pieces between the cross pieces, that was left open to route the building and track wires. After it was all dry, I painted the entire underside of the foam/pine assembly chocolate brown to seal it.
In the original plan the grade from the storage yard to the main loop was 4%. I read somewhere that the Porters were having trouble on some layouts at anything over 3%. Since I already had half-inch foam, I changed the main board from 1″ elevation to .5″ and the grade to 2%. I next cut the main board and laminated it to the base board and glued on the base board-to-main board WS riser. I Sculptamolded the joints and smoothed the edges. I made a couple of small rocks in a WS rock mold and stuck them in the Sculptamold. Since the next level was to be fully inside the loop, I went ahead and painted the edges, the lower level and most of the track area for the main level with a mustardy tan. I installed the track and ran the track wires from a re-railer section to the Zephyr. I placed the Church, Post Office and restaurant outside the loop and ran their wires over the edge, looping them through the frame so that their on/off switches were near the front of the frame and plugged them into a power strip.
I already knew that I did not want to have to crawl around turning on the building lights and the Zephyr so I decided to use a 19″ DJ-style rack-mount power strip I had. I built a rack for the panel with some 1×2 so that the rack could slip into the 1″ space between the foam and the GALANT frame and be Velcro strapped in place. That way the power strip would just be another accessory like the buildings and not modify the GALANT frame or add things to the foam board making it harder to transport and store. I put a laptop table under the frame and placed the Zephyr on it. By pulling the laptop table partway out from under the frame I could run trains, turn the lights on and off and throw the switches (through DCC). All that was left was to install the mine spur and a snow blanket.
Early on one thing had been determined, the church would go in the back corner and be raised above the village level. Everything else was negotiable. I started playing around with the idea of a hill in the corner for the church but the area was too small unless the hill had a tunnel or a cut for the loop. I eventually settled on a cut and decided to bring it around the whole outside end of the layout. I cut and fitted foam profiles to raise the church area to 4.25 inches; with the 1 inch mounting strips that set the total height at 5.25 inches, comfortably below my 6 inch limit.
It ran fine and looked like a nice small Christmas village display. While scouring Michaels looking for scenery items, we found a Gazebo, some LED Christmas lights for the gazebo, a lit Christmas tree and a house we liked. Then at Lowe’s we found a pie shop. That would make it a proper display. The problem of course was that the only area left was inside the loop. Even if I had room inside the loop how would I route the building and accessory power over the tracks to the side of the layout? Eventually I decided I would just punch a big hole through the center and cover it with the snow blanket. That never happened. I cut the lamp wires to all of the buildings above their switch and poked a hole through the foamboard with a bamboo skewer for each building then attached a plug to each and plugged them into the rack-mount power strip.
Of course, with the pie shop, house, tree and gazebo inside the loop there wasn’t any room left for my “mountain”. There was also a missing piece: we really wanted a skating pond with animation. We finally found one at a Sears and plopped that in the middle as well. We just piled the battery controllers in the center of the loop. It didn’t all fit. I straightened the track inside the loop and put the pie shop at the end of the stub. What the pie shop was shipping and receiving that required its own siding remains a mystery to this day. The whole thing was starting to look very silly. The loop was too small and the area between the loop and the storage sidings was not very useful.