My HO scale Silver Springs Railway & Transportation Company has been a work in progress for the past 30 years. Like a lot of us, I’ve gone through several moves to different homes – the layout gets torn down and redone in the next “basement.” But when we moved to our current residence, I neglected to really check out the basement to ensure there was a spot for my layout. Turned out there was a spot alright – the crawl space under the living room and kitchen! The ceiling height at the highest point was 52 inches with areas where the ductwork ran across the room being more like 42 inches. I could work with that!
My crawl space layout began as a 11 x 22 foot duck under entrance layout. The bench work height would be determined by the ceiling height. I discovered I needed a way of moving around in the crawl space and found some nifty mechanic’s stools on wheels at Canadian Tire which proved to be the solution. In addition, the tray on the bottom of the stool was a good place for tools and supplies to transport around while working.
Sitting on the mechanic’s stool dictated the layout height to be 24 inches as that felt like a comfortable level to work from while sitting on the stool. It also allowed my knees to fit under the bench work.
During the early stages of construction, a problem occurred in entering the layout room. I had designed the layout to be a single track main line which would loop back onto itself forming a long oval shape with a swing bridge at the room entrance. But with the low ceiling and bench work height, I needed to come up with an easier way to enter the room. While reviewing layout plans in some of my books, I came across a track plan which I could modify slightly to give me continuous running capability and eliminate the track crossing the doorway entrance.
I expropriated more crawl space which allowed me to modify the existing plan, thus removing the obstruction. The expansion increased the layout size to the 22 x 22 foot size it is today. I decided on which control system I would use to operate the layout before I began construction – this would dictate the way the layout would eventually be wired. At the time, the change from the traditional DC block wiring system was being challenged by the then newer, DCC system.
After some consideration, I decided to go with the DCC Digitrax system as my research indicated they were one of the key players in the field of DCC technology at the time. I purchased a used Empire Builder II system as it would allow me to operate a sufficient number of locomotives, keeping me and any other operators busy during operating sessions. To minimize the problem of short circuits shutting down the whole layout, I installed a circuit board which allowed me to divide the layout into four power districts thus keeping a short circuit in one area from shutting down everything.
To program DCC locomotives, I built a separate program track off to the side in one area of the layout. The track is covered with a piece of scenery when not in use. I use a laptop computer to run the software program, Decoder Pro. I find it a very useful program to perform some of the more difficult functions rather than doing it through a throttle.
Part two of this article will be posted on this blog on Tuesday, May 6
Don't stand up too quickly! Dennis' crawl space is only 42" high!