8-17-12: Home is Where The Model Railroad is...
My decision to build a model railroad with my two sons had been forming for a while. We reside in a three-bedroom home with no basement or den. Built in 1951, the mud adobe house was designed with rooms that are ‘cozy’ to say the least. I had considered turning the smaller bedroom into a trainroom, but realized that the boys, who currently bunk together, will soon want rooms to themselves. This is only natural.
My next idea was to build an N-Trak module and participate with a local club. Several members of this club are old friends, and through a strange twist of fate, I had been a founding participant of this club in the early 90’s. It seemed like a perfect fit, but for one thing. My boys, aged six and nine, aren’t quite ready to build a layout for operation, and with our space limitations, we couldn’t really build a layout that allowed for continuous running.
A storage shed located in the backyard was another option. It was larger than the spare bedroom, and had 2 x 4 stud walls, good for insulating, but as I examined it closer, I realized that it would be easier to demolish the 12’ x 12’ structure and start over. Even when I was employed, my budget was tight, so rebuilding the shed at that time was out of the question. A quick inspection of the attic ruled it out… at best it would only afford a forty inch clearance. Then the boys’ Papa Chuckie, unintentionally came to the rescue.
In my previous posting, I mentioned the untimely passing of my friend and employer… who was also supposed to be my future father-in-law. As a result of his death, we inherited an 18’ long moving van body. Made of steel and aluminum, this ugly behemoth is more than solid enough to use as both storage AND train room. Now I can eliminate the dilapidated storage shed in the back yard and build a model railroad with my boys.
I laid down a level foundation of railroad ties (what could be more appropriate?) filled with gravel and topped with a 12 mil. plastic vapor barrier. Using an all-terrain, 6000 lb. rated forklift, I carefully removed the box from the trailer frame upon which it was delivered, and gently lowered it into place. This not only got rid of the eyesore in our front yard, but provided a much more secure means of housing a model railroad along with stashing all of our seasonal ‘stuff.’
But how can this ugly box be transformed into a truly useable space. If I had chosen a backyard location, I could have hidden it from public view, but with the other shed already taking up space, it would have occupied far too much room. Since we have three Siberian Huskies, open space is a must. This leaves me with having to make it functional, AND attractive… my fiancé wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve already started by laying a new OSB sub-floor with vapor barrier over the well-worn hardwood planking. On top of that, I’m planning on running a layer of 1” x 2” furring strip and expanded or bead foam insulation beneath another layer of OSB. This will give me an insulated floor with a 94” height around the perimeter of the space, plenty of room for a two level layout.
I live in the sunny southwest, where metal exterior walls aren’t really practical. They transfer heat way too well, and I hope to have a comfortable model railroad ‘man cave’ as opposed to a solar oven. Therefore, I plan to affix furring strips to the outside of the box, add foam insulation and a vapor barrier, and re-sheath the ugly box in plywood paneling that simulates 4-inch vertical siding.
Putting insulation on the outside of the box also has the added advantage of keeping the interior space bigger. Instead of furring out the inside walls to add insulation, I can just insulate between the existing aluminum ribs of the box and affix the drywall directly to them. I’ll need to use low clearance electrical boxes for my outlets and switches, but this is only a minor inconvenience.
But what if I go all out… turn it into a facsimile of a bay window caboose? I’ve found photos of several wood-sided cabooses with steel bays, and one modified wood caboose with a cupola AND bay windows, but that’s a bit too much for my taste. By adding steel angle at the corners, and some steel stock to simulate exterior reinforcements and grab irons, and a good coat of ‘railroady’ paint, the finished product should look pretty convincing.
To make the large bay windows, I plan to weld up the framing from rectangular steel stock and clad it in sheet steel, but with mock windows. Real windows would be a waste since the layout is likely to wrap around the interior, blocking them anyway. Of course, this will leave me with heat transfer problems at the bays, but a layer of foam core between the steel sheeting and the steel frame should help minimize this problem.
To affect a good caboose look, I need to add an extension to the roof. Since I have the box backed up to an adjacent wall, I’ll only be able to build the extension on one side. Not really a problem. Of course, I’ll have to have a metal roof to create the full effect of a caboose and, like metal walls; a metal roof will heat the small space up rather quickly.
To combat this, I plan to build a wood structure above the existing roof, with vented eaves and a vented ridge. This will keep the exposed roof up away from the box structure, and the venting will allow airflow above the box to help keep things a bit cooler. As I plan a roof walk across the ridge of the new roof, the ridgeline vent will be protected from all but the most driving of rains.
One end of the box has a roll-up door, which will be replaced with a stud wall, but only after the insulation, wiring and drywall is in place throughout the space… after all, moving big sheets of material is easier through a wide door. I had considered using tempered hardboard for the walls, but the price is almost twice the cost of 1/2” drywall. I’m planning on having an A/C, Heater combo unit mounted in the wall beside the rear opening, and at least two ceiling fans mounted above to evenly distribute air about the space.
Now I need to accumulate the materials to finish the conversion. Since I’m unemployed, I’ll be relying heavily on Craigslist, materials salvage companies, and the clearance areas of my local home improvement centers. As I dismantle the old, backyard shed, I’ll be saving whatever materials I can, but I’m afraid some materials, like foam insulation, plywood paneling, eave venting, and roofing will have to be purchased new, since I doubt I’ll find these at bargain prices.
In the meantime, I’ll begin sharing some of my layout planning ideas. It will be a long process, made even more challenging by my extended hiatus from the model railroading world, but with resources like Model Railroading Hobbyist Magazine and suggestions from those following this humble blog, I’m sure we can make a layout to be proud of.
'Til my next posting, Happy Railroading!
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