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LeeZuril Valley

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Image - Toronto, Ontario, Canada(external link)


The World's Greatest Hobby - model trains - is a very complex and complete activity. Building a layout can keep you busy for years and is never finished, so you can always go back and improve or change things. It is truly a great journey: it can start at any age and lasts a lifetime. The area of expertise spans over many fields: physics, electronics, hand crafting, paint work, plaster work, carpentry

I always wanted to have a model layout. Since I live in a small space I had to balance the desired complexity of the layout with the space constraints. The various modeling scales available (HO, N, Z) allowed me to weigh-in my options before the design phase. I choose Z scale as it seemed small enough to build a reasonable complex layout that would take not much space. I choose the Marklin brand as it is based on "German Quality" has a long standing history of producing trains and a wealth of accessories available. The drawback: it is pricier than other Z scale products.


I bought a starter set and was happy to see how it runs. The craftsmanship of the trains is truly remarkable so I got excited by the project.
I did some research in the on-line Marklin catalog to see the track dimensions.
I wanted the layout to have some challenges: tunnel and bridges, a gate crossing and a reverse loop so the train can travel in both directions (in fact I realized I need 2 reverse loops actually...)



LeeZuril Valley - The baseboard table as it was built I decided to use pink construction insulation foam as baseboard and scenery support. It is fairly strong, easy to carve or drill holes and very light.
LeeZuril Valley - The baseboard table as it was built I create a wooden frame and attach folding legs just in case I will ever pack and transport the layout elsewhere (Train Shows or relocation).
LeeZuril Valley - The baseboard table cover is made of pink insulation foam. It is firm and also easy to glue on and drill into as needed. Done! The table is completed.
LeeZuril Valley - Setting up the track on cork and glued with foam glue. On the left side I want a mountain with tunnels and a reverse loop around it.
LeeZuril Valley - Another view of the loop. I use this as a reverse loop. This is a future tunnel and bridge over. I constantly test if the trains have enough clearance to pass underneath. I ended up removing all the foam supporting the upper track because I needed more clearance.
LeeZuril Valley - Bridge detail: notice the grey plyurethane glue; I am not concerned about imperfections at this time because everything will be covered with plater for the finish. I constantly test if the trains have enough clearance to pass underneath.
LeeZuril Valley - Bridge detail: the pink foam was excellent: so easy to work with. Initially I had the bridge sitting on foam(painted black) but not all rolling stock was fitting under so I had to cut it for higher clearance. I ended up removing all the foam supporting the upper track because I needed more clearance.
LeeZuril Valley - This loop is part of a reverse loop.I do not force the curvature of tracks as Z scale is very sensitive to imperfections. The 2 tracks in the middle will be inside the mountain tunnel
LeeZuril Valley - Setting up the track on cork and glued with foam glue. On the right I want a bridge
LeeZuril Valley - The bridge elevation is given by additional layers of foam as needed. The train engines are able to climb only very gentle slopes because the wheels slip (thy need more weight on them to increase friction but there is no room for that)

I have 2 reverse loops in the plan. This will allow the train to travel in either direction on any track section. Because Z Scale is only DC (not digital DCC) I will have to change the polarity in the track depending where the train is. It also means that I will only be able to run one train at a time (unless of course I dice the track in even more segments...). I will focus on running just one train for now.

Since you can go as wild as you want with this modeling hobby I decided to spend time and automate the track polarity changes. So I built a "Travel Direction Detector" electronic circuit that uses the track current closed through the engine to activate one of 2 relays: one would activate if train goes East-West (Right-Left) the other one would activate if the train goes West-East on the given track section. So I had to cut some sections in the track to insert this travel detector.

I ended up building three of these circuits and took me some six months... I went a bit extreme to design the circuit and print it on PCB board, to the point that I felt I am forgetting about my initial goal: building train layout. But, hey, things can get as complex or as simple as you want them...

LeeZuril Valley - Adding the grass and stones. Adding the grass and gravel. I glue with special Woodland Scenics glue. But first I paint the pink foam with brown paint so it looks like the ground...
LeeZuril Valley - Notice I first painted the pink foam with brown latex paint to have a nice The left loop (under the mountain) completed.
LeeZuril Valley - Top Level View 1 of 5 And here is the mountain: made of pink foam and covered with plaster for a smooth finish. On top I put the grass, the footprint of the future chalet that I will build (Kibri). The mountain is removable so I can access the train in the tunnel if needed or to have the layout without mountain if I so desire....
LeeZuril Valley - Notice the buildings bases I used as footprint to sit directly on the foam. To the right I create a lake using different tones of blue paint covered with a plastic sheet (to be reflective as the water surface)
LeeZuril Valley - The yellow bridge is made of thin sticks; it did came up a bit rough but will do until I build a finer one. The bridge mounted in place. It is made of fine sticks glued together. It is a bit rough but will do for now...
LeeZuril Valley - All structures are Kibri or Marklin kits. In the meantime I am also building the structures from the plastic kits.
LeeZuril Valley - Top Level View 2 of 5 This is the water/coal station.
LeeZuril Valley - Top Level View 3 of 5 The railway stations (top and bottom) and the green observation tower in the center.
LeeZuril Valley - Top Level View 4 of 5 Another small station, the locomotive shed and the crossing gates.
LeeZuril Valley - Top Level View 5 of 5 The lake
LeeZuril Valley - A layout panorama made by stitching together 5 individual pictures. Panoramic view of the layout (the above 5 pictures stitched together in a crude way...)
LeeZuril Valley - The Mountain is detacheable and made from the same pink foam with plaster over it. The tunnel portals.
LeeZuril Valley - The Mountain has 2 tunnels. I can lift it up and reach the train inside if needed. You can see the mountain just sits like a bowl on top of the tracks...
LeeZuril Valley - Drilling the holes for the semaphores. Drilling the holes for the semaphores
LeeZuril Valley - Adding some trees makes the layout look much better.


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