Case Study - Construction

Building the 6.2.1

I have built a goodly number of Z-Scale layouts for others since the early 1980’s, but I finally came to the realization that I had nothing for myself. A nice Z-Scale collection but nowhere to run it. As much as I loved the earlier 0290 track plan book and its very formal Germanic style track plans, I realized that the 0294 book’s No. 6.2.1 track plan was an ideal choice for me.  Big enough to have interesting scenes, yet small enough to be portable.  Interesting enough for train operations such as switching the industries, yet simple enough to just let the trains run, chasing their tail around the railroad.

The specifications for the 6.2.1 railroad were 800 mm x 400 mm (approximately 32” x 16”).  Given the small size and relative simplicity of the 6.2.1, it could be built on a simple sheet of plywood.  If you did not wire up the track switches nor installed lighting, there would be only two electrical wires that supply track power. But, if you’re going to go to the trouble of building a Z-Scale railroad, even a simple one, why not do it well?

I wanted a railroad that showed off the unique character of Z-Scale, and it seemed best that the railroad be incorporated into some nice woodwork. So, I chose red oak for a support frame. Once the frame was built, the 800 x 400 sheet of plywood that holds the railroad was attached with screws.

Here, a bottom view:

The middle support pieces have holes to allow for the passage of wires.  These holes also provide support for the wiring harness of the railroad.

The red oak frame itself was held together with Miller dowels, finished with a nice stain and sealer.  Once completed, the layout support was attached with a 1/2” offset around all sides.

When I started the railroad, it was my intention to use Woodland Scenics profile boards along the outside edges of the railroad.  However, once these profile boards were installed, I became dissatisfied with their appearance.  Although the profile boards did what they were intended to do, I removed them and replaced them with thinner material.

The thinner material came in the form of what is called “backer board” by cabinet makers.  It is a thin (1/4”) sheet of MDF that has a colored coating on one side.  The backer board is used on the back sides of cabinets, both for appearance and to strengthen the entire cabinet box. Fortunately, I was able to find two-foot by four-foot sheets at a local home supply store; it is marketed as a chalk black board for home projects.

I cut the backer board into appropriate sizes, marked and cut out the profiles and attached them to the railroad with glue and the small size Miller dowels:

Once the glue had dried, I flush-cut the exposed dowels; masking tape was applied to protect the red oak wood frame.

At this point, the frame construction and layout support was complete. The railroad is now ready for track and wiring.

Locating the Track

The track itself was fitted together and laid onto the plywood support board.  Once the locations were marked, the track was lifted away and IBL roadbed and switch pieces were installed with hot glue.  The roadbed top surface was then sanded to level out any rumples.  The track was reinstalled using Märklin track nails (No. 8999).

I painted the track with a medium brown spray paint, masking off the switch machine covers, the covers of the 8587 uncouplers and the terminal tabs of the 8590 feeder track. I then cleaned off the rail heads. At this point, the construction phase of the layout support was complete and ready for wiring.

It should be noted that there is no hard & fast sequence to the layout building process. Obviously, some things need to be done before other things, but beyond that, you can pretty much work at things as you are ready.  This is especially true if you have not found a particular component for the railroad or if you have not figured out how you want to approach a particular phase of the construction.

I grant that I have probably committed overkill on the construction phase of this railroad. No doubt it could have been done in a simpler manner, but this railroad is for me and its small size just begs for some added details.  Just because a model railroad layout is small does not necessarily mean that it will take less time.  Nor does it mean that you have to do as much to get a satisfactory Z-Scale railroad.

Here, the structures are placed just to see how things will fit together in the scenery phase:

And, after several different such fittings, two larger buildings will be put aside and replaced with several smaller buildings. All in keeping with the jewel-like character of this railroad.

Next, the electrical wiring.

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