Thursday, July 29, 2021

Reprise: my staging table

 My layout’s staging arrangement has come under discussion numerous times since I first posted about it, some years ago. It’s my own design in detail, but much of the idea was borrowed from John Signor’s very impressive 16-foot table of the same kind, on his layout. 

More broadly, the idea has been around forever in a variety of forms. I observed transfer tables of several kinds on many weekend display layouts, during the year I lived in England, almost 40 years ago. So certainly I am far from an innovator here.

What I want to do in this post is to provide links to some of my original blog posts, but also to repeat some of the photos and collect a complete story here. That way I have a single source to which I can refer when questions arise about my staging.

To begin, I had read John Signor’s Model Railroader article, and had seen his staging table in person, which works beautifully. Thus I pretty much knew what to do. (For my original background on that, you could look at this link: .) I built mine with 3/4-inch plywood, supported on a pair of L-girders. You can see this below, as the upper part of the photo. A sheet of 1/2-inch Homasote is glued to the top of the plywood.

I used heavy-duty “no slop” drawer slides for the motion of the drawer (Accuride #3600), the same slides that John used. In the photo above, the slides are between the pairs of L-girders, and the lower L-girder in each pair is being attached to the lengthwise L-girder across the bottom of the photo. 

The black-painted legs, which are 2 x 2-inch size, are temporarily clamped before verifying that the table is level, and carriage bolts will be used to bolt the legs to that lower L-girder. Bar clamps temporarily attach the outer drawer-slide L-girders to the frame.

I should say that there really isn’t nearly the solidity and squareness in my 7-foot table that is evident in John’s table that is more than twice as long. He had a local cabinetmaker build his drawer, and he advised me to do the same. He also advised four drawer slides, not two. I wish I had done both of those things. Mine has more flexibility, side to side, than is healthy.

Next came track indexing. John’s table is very solid and nicely lines up tracks between the table and the layout. Mine is just not that repeatable. For indexing, I placed a long strip of hardware-store aluminum strip, 1/8-inch thick and an inch wide, along both ends of the table, with holes drilled every 2-1/4 inches. I spaced it out from the table end with blocks of Homasote. I then placed a simple hardware-store barrel bolt so it could lock into those holes. 

Once this locking strip was in place at both ends of the table, I laid track on the table with each successive barrel-bolt location locked, to match with the adjacent layout trackage. I placed Atlas re-railers at the center of each 7-foot track, and half a re-railer at each end of each track, to protect against any derailments entering or leaving the table. Each adjacent layout approach track also has a re-railer. The photo below isn’t quite the final state of construction, but shows the idea.

Recently I had to repair some of these end re-railers, because they developed a separation of the rails from the plastic ties at the very end of the re-railer. I described that repair, using PC-board ties soldered to the rails, in a recent post (it is at this link: ).  

I have also written several times about a refinement of my indexing system. The barrel bolts work well at both ends to get the adjoining rails close to alignment, but in HO scale, “close” isn’t always good enough. I shamelessly stole the system Roger Nulton uses on his layout in Tacoma, Washington for my own use. It’s been well described in a prior post (you can find it here: ). 

Essentially, this system comprises a short length of brass tube on each rail, and a close-fitting brass rod that runs through the two tubes. In the photo below, the locking rod is engaged through both tubes.

I set up the entire table electrically so that I could power any track singly, or power none of the tracks. When I operate a train from the staging table, I power only its track, and when it returns, I can turn off that track. I said a little more about that, and showed my control panel, in an early post about the staging table (post located at: ). 

Finally, I do get questions, even from people who are standing alongside the layout looking at the track, about what the track plan is for  my main line. It is a simple loop, one side of which is one of the staging tracks. You can see a drawing and more commentary here: .  

The staging table continues to be a dramatic sight when open, with complete trains, some stored locomotives, and additional freight cars, filling most tracks. Here is a repeat photo from my recent post about repairs (link to that 2021 post shown in the second paragraph above this one).

This staging table does work, and comes into play during every operating session, for whatever mainline trains are part of that session. It isn’t perfect. It wasn’t as solidly built as I was advised to make it, and it has required some modification and maintenance over the years. But it does do its job.

Tony Thompson

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