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“Steaming in the Sunshine on Florida’s East Coast”

The Tribe Track Layouts, Merritt Island, Florida

By John Tribe 

How the Tribe Layouts all came about … 

I started running Gauge 1 electric inside the house in the early 90’s, mostly with LGB and Bachmann equipment. Living in a salty atmosphere next to the Indian River Lagoon, I didn’t think electric rails would hold up well outside.  Since I wanted the track installed semi-permanently, I decided the best solution was to run it around the kitchen above the cabinets.  

Once I’d gotten a doubtful OK from the kitchen boss, I started the necessary shelving between the cabinet tops and negotiating for the top shelf in the pantry and the associated holes each side. After that, as doubts arose about the extent of this work, I found it was easier to seek forgiveness than to ask permission for future acquisitions.  

Luckily my wife was working a lot of second shift during this time and I could cut holes in walls, frame them out, stain the trim and, very importantly, clean up the mess before she got home. As the layout grew I decided that it made a lot of sense (to me anyway) to extend it through the kitchen walls into the utility room. This would give me enough room for 3 more sidings allowing for a total of 7 separate trains to be stored above our heads. My long-suffering wife accepted all the activity and the noise when I was running but put her foot down when I ran smoke generators that had the habit of leaving a brown trail on the ceiling and a lingering smell in the house. 

In 1997 we closed in a screened porch and converted it into a dining room and bar. It was a logical step, again for me at least, to punch through another kitchen wall inside the pantry and run track down through this new area above the bar. Unfortunately I screwed up on window sizes on the opposite wall and while I maximized the viewing area of the river I left insufficient height for a track bed so the track had to stop after a 40 ft straight run down along the inside wall.  

I installed a couple of diodes across the track joints at the end of the run to slow a train down and a timed directional change to back the train out on its own with similar controls at its siding in the utility room. All this is still functional and great for entertaining the grandkids. It does tend to get bit dusty because the house duster says “she don’t do trains!” 

However around the turn of the century I was bitten by the live steam bug, eventually committing to build an Aster A3 “Flying Scotsman” kit. I built a treadmill for it but this soon paled and I needed some outside track to run freely. Obviously inside was out of the question because of tight radii, fire hazards and oil splatter (plus a wife who said, in no uncertain terms NO WAY!). 

So I looked around the garden for an appropriate site until my yard superintendent (who also manages the inside of the house) pointed out where I could put it (literally) and the boundaries I had to work with. I started off with the intent to just have a single loop of track to check out the Aster performance and proceeded to design a substantial support structure for an elevated track of a nominal 32 inch height using 4 X 4 PT posts, 2 X 4 PT cross beams and 2 X 6 PT stringers.  

I then decided that with that substantial base it would be foolish not to have at least two track loops so I laid out two ovals with 25 ft straights and radii of 7 ft 6 in and 8 ft 3 in. On the inside loop I added two sidings and on the outside loop a passing siding and connected the two loops with switches. I used all Aristocraft track and switches. 

Rapidly tiring of scooting under the tracks on my knees every time I needed to get to the inside of the layout I built crude walkover steps at one end to reach the inside of the oval and then a more substantial set of steps at the other end for the less limber of our central Florida steamers.  

Last year, continuing my tradition of building only British kits, I built an Aster 9F “Evening Star” 2-10-0 and because its initial performance seemed lacking on the curves I assumed the configuration demanded more radius. (I subsequently tweaked the 9F and it worked fine on the smaller radii).  

However I pressed on to add a 10 ft radius loop using the passing siding on the existing outer loop and just squeezing past the house wall with inches to spare with a new loop outside the other two. It was tight but it worked. I took out the switches connecting the two inside loops and used them and two more to connect the two outer loops.  

All of this work required some rework of faucets, sprinkler systems, landscaping etc. – all under the eagle eye of the boss lady but it worked out well and steamups have been successful. As I said earlier we live on the Indian River so views from the railroad make for a pretty layout with only the minimum of landscaping.  

Like all garden railways it’s never finished and I see now that I should have thought bigger when I started and had more steam up sidings, maybe better access and more durable top boards. I used PT 1 X 6’s but the Florida weather is tough on them and I will probably have to change them out before long.  

Next time I will use Trex composite boards and camber them a little on the curves. (The trains haven’t come off on the curves but the flat track makes one worry a little if they are hustling, as Asters are wont to do!).  

Also although the Aristocraft track is holding up pretty well their switches have not worked as well. The frog gaps are too large for the Asters and the clunk of the wheels dropping into the gaps offends me even though the wheels don’t derail. Also all the switch boxes have deteriorated, their stainless springs rusting and the action seizing, and while Aristocraft have replaced parts I have found it better to switch to simple throws from Sunset Valley. In fact I would go to Sunset Valley for all my track needs if I were starting over.  

The layout was fun to design and build and very rewarding to see my locos strutting their stuff. As with all these projects you learn a lot and next time it’ll be an improved version assuming I can again get spousal planning permission.

 

     

(click on thumbnails to enlarge)

Spring 2009 Steamup photos are posted on page 2

Photo Gallery 34 - page 1 > page 2

 

 

 

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