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Staging, Act 1, Construction


GNRR locomotive #4125, a GP20, switches cars in Elizabeth Yard on my new staging cassette.


As I discussed in my last blog I recently built a new staging cassette. In this blog I’ll discuss the techniques I used to design and build the removable staging cassette. These same procedures were used to build my layout with a few modifications for the staging cassette.


After determining the size of the new staging cassette, six feet long by one foot wide, I designed the track plan to maximize the space. I allowed for 2 inch track centers, and 3 inches from the outside track centers to the edge of the fascia. The 3” is distance on the outer tracks is a safety zone that will keep any train that is bumped or derailed from hopefully not falling to the floor.


For the benchwork I used 1X4’s and made a box frame with intermediate framing members on 18” centers. Since the staging cassette is moved frequently, I glued and installed screws in the corners and then finish nailed the cross members for extra strength. In addition, I made pockets for the removable legs to be inserted in on the “free” end of the cassette, as the other end attaches to the wall and does not need legs. To lessen the weight, I used a 2” hole saw to drill holes along both sides of the cassette. The holes in the sides of the frame will be covered by the fascia in a later step. I also drilled holes in the cross members to make it easier to pass the wires through on the underside of the cassette. Once the framework was done, I added a 1/8” thick sheet of Lauan plywood to the top, which would be the base for the extruded foam top.


Using foam safe adhesive, I attached two sheets of 1” thick extruded foam to the plywood top. I wanted some contours in the yard area and one siding to drop approximately 1” below the level of the main line, so using foam was a good option for the track base. I carved away the foam with a snap wallpaper knife and smoothed it with a Stanley Surfoam Shaver. As you can see in the photo, I did not get the grade quite right on the first carving attempt so I had to add some foam back in to bring it up to the correct level and obtain a 2% grade. Once I was satisfied with the shape of the foam, I added strips of 2 mm sheet cork for the track roadbed. On the main line, I doubled the cork to give the main a slightly higher ballast profile. I used the Surfoam Shaver to bevel the edges of the cork and give a smooth profile for the ballast. With the cork roadbed in place, I cut out and installed the fascia from ¼ tempered hard board.

The final step before laying the track was painting the cork and scenery base. I prefer to paint the cork the same color as the ballast, that way if I am a little thin in applying the ballast the brown cork does not show through. The grassy areas were painted a Georgia clay color and the locations of the gravel road and parking lot were painted dark gray.


Next up was installing the track. I use MicroEngineering code 70 track and #6 turnouts for all the track on my layout and did the same for the cassette. One of the nice things about the MicroEngineering track is that once you bend it, the track holds its shape. I was able to salvage all the track from the original staging cassette and the one diverging track that was curved on the old cassette mated up perfectly with the new track arrangement without having to adjust the curve. I needed a couple new turnouts and sections of track to complete the expanded staging cassette so I painted them to match the original track.


When painting track I apply a base coat of light gray enamel paint, and once that is dry, then use a wash of acrylic burnt umber for the ties. The rails are painted with Floquil Rail Brown after the track is installed and the feeder wires soldered. To secure the track to the cork base, I use Elmer’s white glue. It has a relatively long drying time and allows me to make slight adjustments to the track as I am installing it. I mark out the areas where the turnout throw bars are located and make sure not to apply any glue in that area. One other benefit of using Elmer’s white glue is that if you ever want to remove the track, all you have to do is soak it with water and it will come back up when you slide a putty knife under it. Once I have the track in place I use push pin tacks to hold it in place while the glue dries. As you can see, the staging cassette is starting to come together.


In my next blog I discuss installing the electrical, ballasting, scenery, and detailing the track with joint bars. Until next time, stay safe and keep model railroading.

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