[Build Log] Micro-Layout for my Mother

Mr.D. Oct 5, 2013

  1. Mr.D.

    Mr.D. TrainBoard Member


    This is where I will update my work-in-progress for my first Micro-sized layout and my first Z Scale layout. I have quite a bit of history in modeling, I'm half-way thru getting my MMR, so I know my way around the track. Its just that I've never tackled something so small, nor anything in Z before. I'm open to any and all suggestions, comments, encouragement and critiques.

    First off, let me show you my size constraints:


    I bought this at a local thrift shop because it looked very well suited for my goal; which is a small, self-contained layout for my mother who is in an assisted care facility. She was also an avid modeler in her day, but she has memory issues now and working things that are complicated are not in her best interest anymore. So this will be simple, able to be run continuous, and safe for all ages. As you can see by the pictures, the display table is self contained - this if for two reasons: She has grand-kids that visit (my nieces and nephews) and they might try to grab; She isn't as steady as she used to be so this will make it as close to static as it can be and still be not static?? Not sure if that made any sense, but hopefully you get the idea. There is one side of the glass that opens, and that will be where any quick fixes that need to be done can be done from.


    I don't have much height to work with, so I'll be keeping this one level. Haven't decided if I want any grades, but definitely no crossing over/under. She is very good at scenery, and in fact held workshops at NMRA conventions on how to make trees from furnace filters so I'm going to set her up in the tree-making business for this. If I make the track too tall, there will be no room left for scenery.

    Because this is such a small area, I want to detail it as much as possible. I'm sure this will be the conversation piece with her friends for a long time, and it'd be nice to have hee keep finding little things every time she looks at it. This is an area that she especially liked when she was working on our family's N-Trak modules. You could spend hours looking over a 12' section and still not find all the little things that she detailed in there. I'll be doing lots of lights, a crossing, and if I can manage it, other items moving (i.e. cars, a flag, a clock, etc.).

    Track Plan:

    Oval. I am debating two things right now: A spur or a double loop with cross-over. Two concerns I have are: derailments in an always-on operation and size. The size is a huge factor for the double loop because I am not sure I can get a crossover at the right angle for that small of a layout. In HO, I'd just make one, as I did on a folded dog-bone layout that needed a curved cross-over, but there is just no way I'm going to hand lay Z scale track. I'd like this to be as reliable and maintenance-free as possible, but a spur just adds so much character. Any suggestions y'all have I'd appreciate!


    75% completed by Christmas. This'll be her Christmas present. I will never say that any layout is 100% completed, just that other projects have taken priority. I think this will be the same and that 75% will get it to a point that it'll look pretty darn good in her apartment and she can show it off, and even say that its a work-in-progress to her friends.


    The table top is .5" pine or a light hardwood. I'm pretty sure that I'd like to build this on Styrofoam, but I am willing to take suggestions here. If I do build on the wood, it'd have to be prepped quite a bit as it has a furniture finish. I like the ease and customizability of foam , but I'm open to suggestions again as I have no experience working with Z. Also, if I go the non-embedded roadbed way, what do I use for roadbed? is cork available in Z scale, and is it size appropriate? I have seen (somewhere) where the suggestion was made to use double sticky tape for roadbed. I am all about hacking and kit-bashing and using unconventional methods to get what I want so again, suggest away.


    While I'd like to say that cost is no object when it comes to Mom, the reality is that I don't have a money tree so it is something to consider. I know Z scale is super expensive so I'd like to save wherever possible.


    My Mom is in her mid 70's so I'd like to do late 40's-mid 50's. I know this is really popular as this was the main transition from steam to diesel, so this should also help keep costs down as this should be the most widely available era from power and rolling stock.

    I'd like to make my choice of base before next weekend - this'll give me the chance to do a track plan and do the initial prep work before I burn up my credit card at Caboose Hobbies in Denver next Saturday.

    Thanks for reading and I'll keep this build log updated as I keep building!
  2. Mr.D.

    Mr.D. TrainBoard Member

    Anybody ever used AnyRail as a layout program? I am using it and so far - so good. I double checked the printed out pieces with what the measurements are and they are pretty much right on. This is good news because it gives me the ability to plan a little in this super tight space.


    I used Rokuhan segments for my drawing and was able to fit an oval and a spur. None of the curved switches really fit so I used a straight one and created a full length spur. The side of the oval that is longer I'll most likely raise up a small amount just to give some depth.


    I have decided to do a city rather than a country or a mine scene, just because that affords me the most 'action'. I can add street lights, cars with headlights, buildings with interior lights and maybe some animations, a stoplight or two, and a grade crossing. I have a 12"x18" 1/4 birch plywood board there. I am not sure if I want to build on that or not. I might have to make a run to a new housing development overnight to find some thin extruded foam scraps because I sure don't need a 4x8 sheet of it!
  3. Curn

    Curn TrainBoard Member

    Mr D.

    Re. Cork Road Bed For MTL Flex;

    At a craft store, try to find a roll of 1/16" cork sheet. Since you have the 1 to 1 print out of the track plan, lay that over the cork sheet and trace the track plan with a hobby knife to cut out the cork in the shape of your track plan. With the tight curves of Z scale, it is near impossible to bend cork strips to the curves like you would in larger scales. Its far easier to just cut the shape you need. I think 3/32" cork is more common, but 1/16 is the hight difference between MTL flex and their roadbed turnouts, giving you a perfect match in rail height. If all you can find is 3/32, you'll have to shim the MTL turnouts to match rail height.

    Several/many/all of us have built tiny layouts in Z scale, and there are many build logs on here. These are a few of the ones I remember off the top of my head. Look through them for some construction ideas.

  4. Mr.D.

    Mr.D. TrainBoard Member

    I have looked thru the last 4 in that list, including yours, specifically, for inspiration. I loved the idea of cutting the for sale sign as a template for the track and as a smooth surface to mount everything on as opposed to the rough cut foam. Had I chosen to put more elevations in my layout, I would have used that method for sure.

    Its nice to have that one for one printout, but I'm pretty sure that I'll need to add a few mm or three on each side since the printout just accommodates the track (I believe). I was at Michaels just yesterday eying that sheet cork you're talking about. They have both thicknesses so I'm good there. Question: is there some inherent benefit to using cork as a roadbed? I saw other materials there that seemed to be just as useful, but before I pulled the trigger, I just wanted to see. I have always used cork, but my dad laid his ties and rails straight onto the the layout's surface, which was made from Homosote soundproofing board. I figure that its done because its more stable than plywood or whatever other structural surfaces are used - but I'm dealing with 1.5 sq feet here so I cant imagine that its as big of a deal. The cork is 15 bucks for the roll and the brown foam sheet is 99 cents and the same thickness as the thicker cork roll.
  5. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    One reason for cork is noise reduction. For the size layout in discussion here, that might be of no concern.
  6. Mr.D.

    Mr.D. TrainBoard Member

    I hadn't thought of that, and that is a good point. As I have gone down in size, I have noticed the noise, at best, says the same level, and at worst, gets louder. Since I have no experience operating Z scale equipment, is motive and rolling-stock noise an issue? I think that my idea of the thin foam sheet would also work as sound dampening, but not sure.
  7. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I used Itty Bitty Lines cork with good success on a pistol case-sized layout. The only catch is it is not pre-scored to be spluit for curves, you have to cut it yourself (unlike N scale Midwest cork). Split N cork would work well for Z, the extra height will give a great heavy mainline feel. Sanding the cut edge to give a bevel is all that would need. Peco makes nice code 55 flextrack (minus the European-style looks).


  8. Mr.D.

    Mr.D. TrainBoard Member

    I'm off to Caboose Hobbies tomorrow in Denver with my Mom. Any suggestions for what to look for? I'll be getting MTL flex, maybe Marklin turnouts, and maybe motive power. Extras for my mom to work on as well including scenic details like people and buildings... I go to Denver once a month so this'll be my first of 3 trips that I can make before Christmas.

    With regards to motive power, I wanna stick with 2 axle diesel for now. Maybe steam in the future, small units and when budget can allow. I know F7s run around a hundred bucks and geeps around 140-150.
  9. JamesTraction

    JamesTraction TrainBoard Supporter

    Mr D.,

    Caboose Hobbies is a fine establishment, but if you don't see what you're looking for, remember that the on-line sellers have the best selections:
    Norm's train world, ZScaleMonster, ZTrack, Raildig, etc.

    Certainly not as fun as walking through a brick-and-mortar, but gives you access to items CH may not have.
  10. Curn

    Curn TrainBoard Member

    I was looking at Caboose Hobbies inventory and they have a decent selection, however there is more out there from the online dealers. The AZL GP7s that I have are the best runners I have; better than any thing I have in N scale. They run forever, over the worst rack, and need little maintenance. By many reviews The AZL GP30s and GP38-2s are probably just as good, however I have neither of them. The GP38-2 is an entry level engine and is sub $100.

    The MTL GP9 and GP35s are also good engines. Think of them as the Z scale equivalent to Atlas N scale running quality. They run well and quite, but my AZL GP7s are quieter. Also these engines need periodic maintenance to remove lint from the trucks and contact wipers. This might not be a problem in your enclosed layout, but they tend to pick up lint and cat hair in my experience.

    The MTL F7s run well, but are loud. They have the same problems with picking up lint as the MTL GPs. Apparently there is some guy who can make them run like a swiss watch named Glen Chenier. I don't have a good way to describe its running characteristics other than saying that it has an older design of chassis, and the newer MTL and AZL ones are far better in their performance characteristics. However, I wouldn't say that its a bad engine, or that you shouldn't buy it. Just get an A-B set in case one the the units stalls the other can push it back life.
  11. Mr.D.

    Mr.D. TrainBoard Member

    I have a problem - there is just no way that trains will run on that track. I bought an MTL set which included an F7, 2 boxes, a tank, and a caboose. The F7 wont make the corners, neither will the two boxes - only the tank and the caboose. How is this possible if I'm using the templates for Rokuhan track segments? The radius is 3.25, and I know that is tight, but the Rokuhan segments printed out 1-1 thru AnyRail so what am I missing?

    And I am quite disappointed in MTL freight. Nice detail, poor trucks.
  12. Curn

    Curn TrainBoard Member

    The normal Z minimum is 5.7" (145 mm) radius. The crazy small layout that I am building right now is far too small for normal operation with standard engines. Its kind of limited to small Marklin steam and idustrial diesels from Searails, and some custom rolling stock. A few of my GPs can make through the 3.25" (95 mm) curves, but they have been converted to body mounted couplers allowing for more truck movement, however they tend to derail anything they are coupled to. I didn't catch in your earlier photos that the min radius was so small. You have enough room for 145 mm radius track, or as an absolute minimum, 120 mm with 145 mm radius easements, but you will need to abandon the idea of using 95 mm. You may also have to abandon the idea of the outside spur, or move it to the inside of the loop. Time to go back to the drawing board and make a new track plan.

    You might also have to increase the size of your layout. Take it all the way to the glass and notch out the corners of the board for the table posts. That might buy you a few inches and every inch will count with this one.
  13. David K. Smith

    David K. Smith TrainBoard Supporter

    Small-radius Rokuhan track was never designed to support the operation of every piece of rolling stock made; there's nothing faulty about the track or rolling stock simply because they do not function as expected. Their super-small radii are intended for use with trolley cars and other light rail rolling stock. F7s and other similar locomotives will balk at anything below about 6" radius. Then you've got six-axle locos, which are at home on 9"+ radii. And finally, you've got articulated steam locos, which should not see anything below 14-16" radii (even though they may function on smaller curves, they look absurd--as do passenger cars). Unfortunately, some people fully expect everything to run on everything, simply because they do not have an understanding of physics, and the natural limitations of various models. The same problem exists in all other scales: for instance, you can purchase 7.5" radius curve track in N scale, but you're not going to get a Challenger to negotiate it.

    Bottom line, what you are missing is an understanding of what works and what doesn't. This comes with experience, after working in the hobby for some time. Your best bet is to look at Märklin's three-axle locos, such as their 0-6-0 diesels and steamers, and two-axle freight cars.
  14. emaley

    emaley TrainBoard Supporter

  15. shamoo737

    shamoo737 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I used 145mm radius on my shadow box layout. To get the engine to run such tight radius, I added a pilot to the front and kept the truck mounted coupler in the rear. I also limited to cars of 40ft of less. Marklin engine don't have prototypical truck center, so they will run on tighter radius. Your MTL F7 may not negotiate the tighter radius.

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