Four Shows and Eight Months Later...
The Casey Jones Chapter's new traveling layout has been up and running for nearly a full season. It has been moved from storage, set up, operated, torn down, and moved back to storage four times over the last eight months. Thankfully, the foam base and Lionel FasTrack have held up fairly well. There are few dings and broken track pins that we will have to fix over the summer, but so far there are no serious problems. There have also been no electrical issues.
Where we have not fared as well is with the underlying support system. It was apparent after the first three shows that our idea of using wooden support rails on sawhorses was not working so well. The low-quality 2x2 lumber we used to construct the rails had twisted and warped. We also had not constructed the rails long enough to support the layout at the very edges and had to sister extensions on to the ends. The extensions prevented the rails from folding properly. The whole apparatus had become unruly to transport and setting a rail up straight and level was difficult.
Another problem we encountered was it took too long to lock a support rail section into its open or extended position. The rails are sectional and designed to unfold to achieve the required length. This folding action eliminates the need for assembly and makes transporting the rails in smaller vehicles easier. When unfolded, the sections need some sort of locking device to prevent them from folding back up and collapsing. We chose threaded hex bolts and knobs as our method for locking the sections into place. One permanently installed bolt serves as a pivot point for the folding action. A second bolt serves as a stabilizing pin and is inserted into the rail section near the pivot point to keep the rail rigid across sections. This method seemed good in concept but did not pan out in practice. The bolts are just too cumbersome to use. It is hard to insert them into the rails because of their threads, and the knobs take too long to screw on to the bolts. We needed a solution.
We still fundamentally believe in our original design approach to supporting the layout. The combination of the rails and plastic sawhorses provides a lightweight and very sturdy platform that is easy to transport. It was our implementation that needed work. Our best option was to scrap and rebuild the rails using better lumber and finding a more convenient way of locking them into position..
The first step was to abandon using 2x2 lumber in favor of 1x2s to achieve our desired 2x2 profile. First of all, the 1x2s at our local home improvement store seemed to be in better condition. The cuts were cleaner and the wood seemed drier and not so crooked. The biggest advantage of using two boards instead of one (besides increased rigidity) is they can be counter-crowned (i.e., placing any arching pieces so the arches oppose each other) during assembly. This helps offset their tendency to want to bend one way or the other as they dry. Wood glue, a brad nailer and clamps made an easy job of assembly and produced a very strong and straight final product.
The finished 2x2 sections were then cut to their proper size and drilled for assembly. This time we only used the hex bolts to create the pivot points for each of the sections. To secure the rails in their extended position, we settled on 1/4-inch wire locking pins. These pins are smooth and easy to handle, which makes it easy to push them into the rails without having to bore out the holes. The attached clips secure the pins in place. A pin can be inserted and secured in a couple of seconds using only one hand. There are also no parts to get lost. The pins can easily be attached to the ends of the rails during transport and storage. We found a perfect solution.
We are still learning and have a couple of other improvement opportunities. This was a big one, however, and so far it looks like two time's a charm, to adapt an old phrase.