The Fast Track to Layout Construction

Reprinted from

Railroad Model Craftsman

November 1997

The I-beams come in lengths just under two and four feet long to provide even two and four-foot sections when assembled to the legs. A top and bottom I-beam is to be used on most leg sections, and longitudinal beams (four-footers) are to be used alone. Splicing blocks are available in case one needs to tie I-beams together for some reason or make up a custom length. All holes are drilled with a jog and are located accurately for their mating parts. The I-beams work out to be about 3/4" thick by around 4" high. Obviously special situations can be worked out with a drill and a couple of bits.

As mentioned, the legs (2"x2" poplar) have an octagonal top to allow I-beams to attach in either a 90 or 45-degree corner. Pairs of chrome-plated steel stabilizer pins are inserted into pre-drilled holes adjacent to a screw in "cam dowel". When the pieces are pressed together all one needs is a standard screwdriver to turn the cam in the I-beam and lock the parts. That's all there is to it: no mess, no cutting, no drilling or sawdust. This can be done in the living room on a carpet, and a basement can be filled in an evening.

I assembled three different benchwork sections, including two with four-foot I-beams, then tried to deflect the benchwork down by pushing hard on it. The assembly in incredibly strong. A "sag test" was done by placing a six-inch piece of 125-lb. rail across the I-beam. The board spanning them sagged. The I-beams did not.

The photos show one stand-alone section and the pin details. The pins are chrome plated, so they will not rust; this also makes them easier to insert (or remove). The cam locks are cast metal and work by biting into the cam dowels. The resulting connections are completely secure, but I suspect one could actually take the benchwork apart, put it in a moving van and cart it across country flat. The savings in time and money would get the next railroad started fast.

Although the sections may be assembled in nearly any arrangement ( a four-footer can be lifted with one hand, by the way), they are primarily based on two-by-two, two-by-four, and three-by-six multiples. If one is seeking to build a modular or portable layout the system is flexible enough to work something suitable out. Model railroaders tend to be a creative bunch.

MIANNE has a price list and information sheet avalable for $1.00, and it's worth getting. They offer benchwork "packages" in addition to individual sections and parts. Some of the packages will fill a room. As a sample, benchwork for a two-foot wide by twelve foot long railroad runs about $250.00, plus shipping. With so much work done in advance and the high quality of of the parts, there can be real advatages in using this system, rather than making a trip to the lumber yard. Lumber isn't cheap.

Note that there is no reason why one must stick to a two-foot width for a railroad, even if the longitudinal members of the benchwork under it are two feet apart. Cross-joists may be used to support wider scenery. Remember, scenery methods, sub-roadbed and track are all separate from the benchwork. I would tend to favor some sort of rigid foam scenery in keeping with the neat clean aspects of this benchwork. The standard legs set the tops of the I-beams at 40", which is a nice height to start from.

If benchwork is where model railroad dreams start, the MIANNE benchwork sections can help them be good. I will be using the sections that I have for a layout project; it is already off to a good start.
-Bill Schaumburg

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