The Five-"M"s in Building a Portable Layout

The Spokane International Railway is a portable layout designed and built in four light weight sections that are easy to move. This is one of the many features that I wanted in the design for my N scale railroad. Each of the four sections are framed with 3" aluminum channel and sheathed with 1/4" oak plywood. I used different thicknesses of styrofoam to support the track and scenery. Track elevations are made with Woodland Scenic Incline sets that allows the track to change in elevations of 2% and 3% increments. My design is much different that traditional benchwork due to the constant setting up and breaking down of the display. If your thinking at building a portable layout, take a look at my Ten Tips for Working with Portable Railroads, featured in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of NSR.  Making your layout portable or sectional has some advantages that home layouts don't provide. Here are my FIVE-"M"s to keep in mind:

  • Mobility: A portable layout can move to any location or be stored at any time. If you don't have any room for a layout, you might want to look at this approach.  Storage can be in a trailer and set up in a garage for a afternoon operation. Take a look at some of the other popular N scale layouts that have been successfully built by keeping the mobility feature in mind. 
  • Maintenance: Any section can be worked on individually to allow easy maintenance or changes while apart from the rest of the layout. There are always new products coming out and
    3-D printing is starting to take off in the hobby.   Portable layouts allow changes to be made easier when you have access to all five sides of the layout (including the bottom). Older sections can be revamped and upgraded at any time which can keep the owners interested in the layout for years.
  • Magnify: If you have a smaller layout that is easy to work on, chances are that this will allow you to focus on detailing small scenes without the
    distraction of maintaining a large layout. This will also help fine tuning your skills on scenery since you will not be overwhelmed with vast spaces that will have to be landscaped.  With a well designed track plan, a layout can continue to grow when new sections are added and confidence grows with completion and success.

  • Monetary Value: Most home layouts are made  with expensive track and switches permanently fastened down to the roadbed.  Scenery is another expense that is also permanently attached to the layout. When the time comes, most home layouts are demolished when they are required to be removed from the house for one reason or another. In this day and age, track and scenery materials are expensive and add value to any well built layout. Portable layouts hold their value for resale. They can be sold or traded to the right buyer since there is no damage from moving and are ready to operate.
  • Model Train Show Participation: Most of us have attended our local model train show to shop, look around, and inquire about about anything interesting that can be used on our home layouts. Promoting the hobby by participating with a portable layout is another way to enjoy your layout. Many events will pay for some of the expenses because they need hobbyists to exhibit for public attendance. This also allows you to show off your success and connect with other modelers in the area. You might even create a special interest group to operate or share information about your projects.  

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