Layout Expansion

Back when I designed my layout, I was concerned about taking on more project than I could manage. My life is filled with work and family commitments that draw heavily on my time and energy. I was determined to hold off with any expansion projects until I had enough layout that I could photograph and enjoy with my friends.

Here is a link to the conceptual plan for the layout (I’ve never actually drawn a scale track plan for a number of reasons, which include the fact that the prototype already drew it for me) so you can put some things into context. I wrote some things about that plan back then, and it’s interesting to look back upon that post with the International Paper side of the layout completely functional, though not entirely complete.

layout schematic1 copy

The right side of that conceptual plan has changed somewhat. Having operated the International Paper side of the layout about a dozen times with other people, it’s become obvious that the aisle space that I planned for would be too restricting. To get a wider aisle, I’ll build more narrow benchwork on the right. Narrow benchwork will not accommodate the North Tonawanda yard scene, so I’ll move that scene further along the wall, which translates to upward on the sketch. I’m considering putting the scene with the bascule bridge over Erie Barge Canal on the right. Here’s the prototype:


I’m not sure if this will work, given the narrow benchwork, but I’ll figure that out and adjust the scene or benchwork accordingly. I’ve seen layouts with bridges on narrow benchwork, and it seems the trick to making it work lies in the use of an effective photo backdrop. You can see in the photo above that the background will be pretty straightforward: the canal curves away to the right, and the far shore is mostly trees. I won’t know if it’s possible to make this happen until I try, so I plan to experiment my way through this challenge. On the urging of my friends Bob Fallowfield and Paul Bellemore, who seem to be modelling Penn Central and Lehigh Valley vicariously through me, I’ve decided to forge ahead and build the North Tonawanda scene.

I’m not great with carpentry. That’s an irrefutable fact. So I recruited the assistance of Steve Lyons to help me build the benchwork. Steve has a nice collection of tools that needed a good home. His preferred method for building benchwork is to create dimensional lumber out of quality plywood. He’s built aircraft this way, so I figure it should be rigid enough for layout benchwork. Steve set up the machines and showed me how to rip the plywood, cut dados, drill holes in the braces, then glue, square up, and tack the frames together.

A drill press and jig speed things along.


Half of the required braces, lined up ready for assembly.


Cutting dados.


Starting assembly.


Dados help to hold everything in alignment by friction.


Brad nails keep it all snug until the glue dries.


The first two sections of benchwork are finished.


A shout out to The Hamilton Brewery. Their logo is fittingly reminiscent of the TH&B.


Dinner to round out the day. This is what leftovers look like at Steve’s place.


Six benchwork sections piled on the floor in front of the finished part of my layout.


Here’s where the benchwork will go. I won’t finish this wall with drywall because there will be a curtain above and below the layout, and a backdrop behind, all of which will hide the unfinished wall.

Similar to the other side of this space, there will be a shelf above the layout, under which I will string the layout lighting. The layout is at about 47″ from the floor so that the tracks can disappear into the crawl space and emerge on the staging directly beneath. Below all of that, I’ll have another space to store things on the floor, behind the curtain.

I’m off to buy more lumber.



  1. You know, an enterprising and ambitious model railroader might be tempted to make a bunch of these “Pre-fabbed” benchwork sections and offer them for sale to others, and perhaps make a tidy profit to boot! It seems that both modular and shelf layouts are becoming more popular, and these benchwork sections seem to be the perfect starting point for either of those. Great work!


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