It seems that helices are always tricky to set up on model railroads. Every modeler seems to do it a different way. This week, I was shown a method that I hadn't seen before. The modeler used long bolts and strips of wood to hang the helix laps from the uppermost section of benchwork. The advantage here, of course, is that the modeler didn't need to find a source for long threaded rods; the bolts he used are much easier to find in comparison. However, this method still runs into the issue that there are a lot of places that need to be adjusted to get the helix grade right.
The National Train Show was held in July 2010 in conjunction with the National Model Railroad Association's 75th annual convention. This year I was able to talk to many of the manufacturers at the show and got some audio for everyone to hear with their new announcements. Unlike the Trainfest episode last year, this episode has all of the audio in one long chunk. This episode is about 5 times longer than usual, but here it is.
For this episode of the podcast, we're going to focus on model railroading and save the prototype history and data for a later show. It's October, and now that the days are getting colder and the nights longer, that means that model railroad season is well under way in North America. Model railroaders are home from summer vacations and are getting together to build, operate and just talk about their layouts with each other. Also, model railroad shows are increasing in frequency as we head toward the end of the calendar year. Last week I spent some time asking exhibitors at the Green County Model Railroad Club's annual model railroad show here in Wisconsin for their favorite model railroading tips.
Backdrops are good, sky-colored backdrops are better. Even better yet are sky-colored backdrops that don't have large wood grain in them like can be seen in this NTrak module. The ripples will stand out quite prominently in photos using small apertures (which means a higher f-stop number and therefore larger depth-of-field like this image). There are a couple of ways around this problem, with the most simple being to use a smooth material other than wood as your backdrop material. Styrene sheet is available in large sizes up to 4'x8' at specialty plastics stores, and if you don't have a plastics dealer nearby, your local hardware store or lumberyard may be able to order it for you. Another option is to cover the backdrop with another material, which could include any of the preprinted backdrops that are easily available at almost every hobby shop, photos cut out of calendars from past years, or printed from your own printer on photo paper. The key to any backdrop cover is that it needs to be thick enough to hide the wood grain beneath it, so papers should be somewhere around cardstock thickness.
When you're planning and building benchwork, be sure to leave enough clearance around your track for your largest trains to pass through unobstructed. Cut away sections of wood and place turnouts and turnout motors so they won't block your trains. Run your tallest, longest and widest trains through narrow sections until they will pass through without problems then leave a little extra room for future acquisitions. If there isn't enough clearance before you add scenery, then you'll never have enough clearance.
Using threaded rods for helix supports can be a quick and simple way to get your helix up. However, doing so requires precise placement of each helix lap so the rod can pass through the benchwork uniformly over the entire rise of the helix and over time the nuts may work themselves loose if they aren't soldered (think plumbing solder here...) in place.