Along the Rhine (HO Scale)

The clients for Along the Rhine had traveled extensively in Europe and had amassed an impressive collection of European buildings and a fair amount of track and rolling stock but really didn’t know what to do with it all. They had a space and had a setup but wanted something more imaginative and interesting.

After examining the location and discussing various options, the clients elected to go with a two phase project. I constructed an upper deck for later use and a lower deck for the first phase, which has been completed.

This layout design had one very common challenge: lighting. The space originally had only two 60 watt bulbs for the whole room. When we added the upper deck, we added a series of under-cabinet LED lights which provide very good illumination for most of the layout. The overhead lights were then re-directed to the areas the LEDs didn’t cover so that the whole was, in the end, very well lit.

When designing any layout, always try to take steps to ensure proper lighting!

The lower deck is a long double track main line dogbone occupying a 2′ wide shelf running between a pair of 4′ wide tables that allow the trains to turn. The left side table is occupied by a city while the right side table is occupied by an industrial yard and train storage building. The original design called for a turntable in the industrial yard but this was removed to make room for more industrial sidings. Turnouts allow transitions between the two lines of the double track but do not provide a reverse loop capability. This was to keep the operations simple at the clients request.

All track other than turnouts is code 100 Atlas flex-track laid on Instant Roadbed sticky material. The sticky roadbed allowed the clients and I to revise the design (many times) over the course of construction. However, it is not easy to use on foam risers and inclines and in the future I would use cork instead. It works really well on foam board and plywood though.

A portion of the inner loop rises and passes over itself as it winds around the layout. This presents some nice drama. We were able to keep the grade to 2% throughout, which was essential to run some of the trains in the collection. The minimum radius is 18″, which is sufficient for the relatively short passenger cars and locomotives used on the layout.

Control is entirely conventional with two power packs for the two main lines plus a third pack to power an upper ‘trolley’ point to point line that was added later.

The dramatic mountain structures are plaster cloth over cardboard in most places with some rigid foam and foamboard used as needed. All this was covered in Lightweight Hydrocal from Woodland Scenics that was textured and painted as it dried. The sculpted rock faces in and around the tunnel portals and most of the masonry retaining walls were hand-carved Sculptamold while the rocks along the river were conventional castings. I have subsequently switched to Sculptamold carving for all rockwork because with practice I have found I can sculpt faster than I can cast and the Sculptamold faces are extremely sturdy and easy to fit.

The waterfall and small stream were done with Woodland Scenics Water Effects. The long ‘Rhine’ river that winds along the perimeter of most of the layout was done with (a lot of) Woodland Scenics Realistic Water. Be careful using this product as it will find any leak in the river base. I had to scrape quite a bit of resin off their floor, which fortunately was concrete…

The deciduous trees are Polyfiber from Woodland Scenics. The evergreen trees are mostly ready-made products from Busch.

The layout has two ‘towns’, one on the large left side table and the other occupying part of the right hand shelf. We did not have enough depth for town buildings on the upper level of the shelf so Rail Tales took photos of the client’s buildings and mixed them together to make a printed backdrop that we embossed on two panels. We think the effect is very convincing.

The scenery plan was revised many times as the project evolved and access had to be planned into the concealed track sections. In some places, this access is difficult and if I’d planned the eventual design from scratch, some of the access could have been improved but as it turned out, the access is sufficient. When planning a layout, it is important to account for access to all portions of the track.

This layout is designed with extensive lighting for the structures and streets. More than 30 street lights and 30 interior lights accent the various buildings and industrial areas. We used Marklin LED street lights for most of the outside locations. These have an adjustable height, consume relatively little power, look good, are sturdy and easy to install, and best of all, are reasonably priced for brass lights.

“Along the Rhine” was the first large project undertaken by Rail Tales and was a cooperative labor between Rail Tales and the clients.  Rail Tales built the framing, laid the track, constructed the primary landscape features, and did the tunnels, bridges, roads, water, rock-work, and electrical systems. The clients built and provided all of the very many structures and most of the tree work. The trees and other small details are an ongoing project by the clients. The layout is not finished as of this date but it works and it is impressive.

Besides, what layout is every truly ‘finished’?

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