Shelf layouts

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If you are looking for a type of layout that can be placed in such places as the living room, den, or even master bedroom because it takes up very little space and is finished to blend in, you may be looking for a " bookshelf " layout.

A bookshelf layout is built using normal wood and masonite materials to create a shadow-box effect. The sections are 3 to 18 inches deep and 3 to 6 feet long. The sections are hung on one or more of the walls of the layout room, and then joined together.

The layout is often hung using brackets which are attached to modular shelf supports which are attached to the walls.

Layout and Construction details

Model Railroader ran a two part article describing both the concept and construction details of this type of layout. It was "Bookshelf railroads," by Robert J. Lutz, in the January (pp. 53-57) and February (pp. 95-105) 1977 issues.

Photocopies of the article are available from Kalmbach. Contact their customer service between 8:30 am and 5:00 pm CT, at 800-446-5489 or 414-796-8776.

What are the advantages of this type of layout?

The sections are small in size and lightweight, so they can be carried from place to place. Because of that, you will be able to take them to your work area to work on. This means that you won't have to worry so much about keeping the area spick and span. Not only that, but the tools you need to work on the section will be right there. Need to do wiring on the bottom of the section, no problem, just turn it over.

out of the way and takes no floor space
As the sections are built to be hung from the walls, no floor space has to be used for the benchwork. This allows the area beneath the layout to be used for other things. ( a workbench, shelving, or other items of furniture). This could be an important determining factor in deciding whether to build this type of layout, especially if space is at a premium.

sits at eye level
Hanging the sections from the walls also allows you to place them at a comfortable viewing and reaching height. It is suggested that this level be at about your eye level, thereby simulating watching trains at track side. This level is becoming more common in modern layout design.

Another reason to keep the sections high is that it allows you to keep the layout out of the reach of young prying hands, which keeps both your children and models safe. Another important determining factor to think about especially if you have young children.

can provide many hours of operation
Although this style of layout can be hung from all of the walls, and then connected to make a continuous run , it is usually not. This is because any doors to the rest of the living quarters will be blocked. That is unless you build a removable section. In addition, since turn back loops take up quite a bit of space, you will probably end up not using them.

Based upon these factors, you will find that a point to point layout is best. But what can you do with it?


... and that means operation! With the proper layout of tracks, and using some sort of waybill system , you will find that you will be spending a couple of hours or more just moving cars around. There have been many linear style track plans published throughout the years that can be adapted to this style of layout.

In order to enhance your switching / operation it may be desirable to add a staging yard to one end of the layout. This will enable you to have a storage area for your cars, and to bring trains on and off the layout. Perhaps a closet could be used for the staging area.

advantages for both beginning and experienced modelers
This type of layout provides some advantages for both the beginning and experienced modeler. If you are a beginner just starting to build your first serious layout, it will not be an overwhelming project, and yet if you are an experienced builder you will it challenging enough to satisfy your needs. advantages for the beginning modeler The layout is built in sections, each one takes time to build, so as you continue to build sections, your skill level will have time to develop as you learn new techniques.

As you learn new techniques, your standards become higher. When that happens you may want to exchange an older section with one you have just built. With this type of layout, just take the older one out and replace it with the new one. Which is unlike a conventional layout, where if you are unhappy with it, you may just tear it down.

The small size of the sections means that there should be very little complicated trackage to lay or to wire.

advantages for the experienced modeler
The layout is designed to being viewed at eye level and close up. This provides an opportunity to go to it with your modeling skills. Things like hand laid track and highly detailed buildings, come to mind.

What are the disadvantages of this type of layout?

may not be suitable for apartments
Because this type of layout is mounted to walls using brackets, they leave screw holes in the walls. Most apartment owners frown upon screw holes, so make sure you have their permission before mounting any of the sections to the walls.

limited to smaller scales
The layout is not supported from below, just where it is attached to the walls. That means that the weight of the sections should be kept down.

Turn back loops protrude into the living space quite a bit. Even an 18 inch radius curve would mean it protruding out at least 38 inches.

Because of the above two reasons, I would recommend building either a N scale railroad, or some sort of HO switching railroad to eliminate or keep down the size of the turn back loops.

limits scenery, and layout design
Because the layout is built of sections 3 to 18 inches deep and designed to look like a shadow-box ( which means a height of only a foot or so ), it places limitations on what you can do.

Obviously any thoughts of overwhelming mountain scenery will have to be put aside. You will probably find that the best kind of country scenery is either generic Midwestern or the mountains of Appalachia. As far as city scenes go, using flat fronts or 3 dimensional fronts would be a good choice.

A minimal use of turn back loops and the avoidance of blocking doorways suggest only point to point layouts should be built. This is probably the best kind. However if you wish, you can build just about any kind. A continuous run, point to loop, or even a double deck railroad could be possibly be built.

unconnecting / connecting
The fact that the sections are designed to be taken apart causes problems where the track and wiring go across sections joints. A reliable means of protecting and unconnnecting / connecting them must be devised.

As far as the track is concerned. It puts wear and tear on it, which could cause it to become out of gauge or misaligned, thus causing derailments. A short section of an Atlas rerailer on each end of the section may do the trick.

As for the wiring. The wiring may develop a short or unreliable current flow. Using some kind of male-female connecter between sections will take care of that.

Refer to the modular groups for suggestions on both of the above.

Limited storage of rolling stock

In order to enhance your switching / operation it may be desirable to add a staging yard to one end of the layout. This will enable you to have a storage area for your cars, and to bring trains on and off the layout. Perhaps a closet could be used for the staging area.

In conclusion, this type of layout does have both advantages and disadvantages to consider before deciding whether to build it. But if you are looking for a layout that blends in with your living quarters, uses no floor space and intrudes very little into the square footage of the room, this is probably a very good choice. It is also a good choice for anyone who might tend to move quite often, or someone just starting into serious layout building, where the portability and the ability to change out sections would be of benefit.

About this content:
Original author: Bruce Notman. Last revised on ??.
This LDSIG article is ©1998 by Bruce Notman (email).
Questions/comments may be posted in the discussion tab.

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