In this Instructable I share the trials and tribulations of the project and hopefully inspire some of you to undertake a train project of your own!
Step 1: Planning
Upon measuring the room, I determined that I would take about 78 feet worth of track to make the loop. Additionally, the ledge was 3.5 inches wide -- plenty of room for the train to clear the wall.
I visited a local hobby shop and talked to "the train guy" to get some insight into what type of train I would need, what kind of track, and how to power the whole thing. Talking to the expert really helped shape the design of this project. He said that a basic HO train set would suffice, the transformer was more than enough to handle that much track. However, a separate bus line would be required to carry consistent voltage along the entire length. He recommended soldering feeder lines from the bus to the track every 3 to 6 feet.
To facilitate the feeder line, some type of roadbed would be required. The hobby shop carried pieces of track (snap lock) that had an attached roadbed, but cost around $3.00 per 36 inch section which was way over my budget. I decided instead to use 1/2 inch plywood.
I opted for Atlas code 100 flex track in 36 inch lengths. Flex track has one fixed rail which allows you to bend it however you want. This came in handy for the 90 degree and 140 degree corners. "Code 100" refers to how tall the rail section of the track is.
With the basic plan complete, it was time to build some prototypes.
Step 2: Prototyping
I purchased an Athearn HO Scale train set which included:
- 1 HO scale engine
- 4 HO scale cars (caboose, box car, etc.)
- Powerpack (transformer)
- Oval snap lock track
I bought 5 pieces of flex-track and a 2 x 4 foot piece of sanded pine at the hardware store to prototype the roadbed. Using my tablesaw set to 3 and 1/8 inches wide (leaving room on the ledge in case I needed it), I cut out all of the roadbed sections. Leaving the edge flat just didn't look right so I used my router with different bits to select the edge design.
I also determined that the minimum turning radius for an HO scale train was 15 inches. Using that measurement, I cut out what I thought a corner would look like.
In order to run the bus-line, I decided to cut two 1/8 inch wide channels under each section of track. In that channel, I ran 14 gauge wire with connectors on each end; This allowed each section to plug into the next. I also drilled holes through the roadbed so I could solder the feeder lines between the bus and the track. Initially, I soldered the feeder lines to the inside of the track -- thankfully I tested this before I went into full production, the train wheels run in between the rails! Soldering to the inside would have caused some major problems.
Step 3: Testing
After testing on the ground, I decided to try to test it on the ledge. My 6 foot stepladder only brought me eye-level with the ledge (standing on a stable level). For this job, I had to break of the extension ladder.
Lesson learned: putting this thing together 9 feet above the floor would prove difficult.
Step 4: Manufacturing
In short, this was a long tedious process. I had to build roughly 20 rail sections to the same specifications. And to top it off, delays in the completion of my shop pushed this phase into early December which didn't leave much time to finish the project.
Step 5: Installation
I installed a section of track with power connectors and ran speaker wire between it and the transformer on the floor below. This allowed for the train to be controlled from the ground.
During the last few days of the project, my Dad was on hand to help with the project. Having another set of hands was a huge help and he set me straight on the bridge. In fact, the bridge ended up being the easiest section.
After we had installed all of the track, the engine didn't run. In fact, it required a push to get it going and slowly at that. This was disheartening considering the work I had put into the project. Thankfully, a little sanding to the rails solved the problem and soon the train was running flawlessly.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with the outcome of this project. I mean, I have a train running around a ledge 9 feet above our living room! I've posted a couple of videos at the end of this Instructable.
Step 6: Future Enhancements
Since the train went up, I've had a ton of ideas and a ton of suggestions to improve it. Some of those enhancements include a town above the fireplace, trees, mountains, a tunnel, a covered bridge, a suspension bridge -- the list goes on. I'm really excited. A project that spawns other projects. Excellent!
Step 7: Lessons Learned
- Corners are complicated. Even though I made the turn roughly a 15 inch radius, I still had to re-do them several times to prevent the train from derailing. Fortunately derailing did not involve the train crashing to the floor below as I had feared.
- The connectors and rail joiners were difficult to connect. It would have been better to make less sections and thus less connections.
- Take lots of pictures during the construction -- we all want to see what you've done!
- Don't be afraid of complicated projects. Spend some time planning and break them down into smaller components. If you stick to the project, you will complete it. It will be awesome.