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Recycling A Model Railroad

When working with a new design client, it’s fairly common that they state a desire that the model railroad be designed in such a way that it can be moved to a new residence at some point in the future. Makes sense right? If you’re going to put all of that effort and expense into a model railroad and, you know at some point in the future you’ll be moving, why not plan ahead so you can take it with you. However, what sounds practical in theory almost always turns out to be unworkable at the point of implementation. Model railroads are both heavy and fragile, a combination that makes moving them less than ideal. Also, layouts are typically designed to fit a very specific size and shape room. Even a modest change in the shape of the room in the new residence generally makes fitting the old layout (or even portions of it) in the new space a no go. In short, planning a layout for a future move is something I generally discourage.

Having said that, planning for a move can be done. As a custom layout builder, all of my projects must be built in a manner that will allow them to be moved at least once, from my shop to the customer’s home. A significant amount of forethought goes into planning such a move. The key issue centers on where to locate the bench work joints. In planning the joint locations some things that must be factored in are:

  • The pieces must be small enough to fit through a door and around corners.

  • The pieces must be light enough that you can carry them.

  • Although you want manageable size modules, you want them large enough that you don’t have too many pieces.

  • You can NOT have a joint in a track curve, a driving factor in deciding where to place the joints.

  • Bench work, plywood sub-roadbed, track, and the scenery base must have joints at the module ends. You don’t want to be going in with a saw later!

  • Waterways such as rivers and lakes won’t look particularly good if you have a joint crossing them. Same for roads.

  • Wiring that crosses a joint must be cut out unless you plan ahead.

Instead of planning a layout for a move in its entirety, I encourage my clients to think in terms of massive recycling. Structures, trees, turnouts, DCC systems, and switch machines, all expensive components, can be removed and reused on a future model railroad. Even entire town scenes (less track) can be moved if they are placed on a modest size extruded foam slab. For structures, track, and trees the key is to think ahead in terms of either using a water soluble adhesive (such as white glue or matte medium) or, if possible, use no adhesive at all. The use of edge connectors on switch machines makes future removal easier. As long as they aren’t cemented in place with massive amounts of glue, trees can be plucked and packed as can structures. A spritz with a mister bottle and deft use of a putty knife makes turnout removal easy enough. Switch machines and control systems are simple clip outs. Planning ahead for future recycling can save a lot of time and expense when it comes time to build that next layout.

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