Sunday, November 3, 2019

Saving and Moving a Layout: The David Lee Model Railroad Story

David Lee sees his layout for the first time in its new location.

For most model railroads, the end of the line is a dumpster. But a few are dismantled and moved into a new home. 

That’s what happened to David Lee’s HO scale layout in Hamilton.

Lee, Master Model Railroader #26, was the proud owner of a 26 by 30-foot HO scale layout in the basement of his home.

In 2015, due to health and age, it was time for Lee and his wife, Ruth, to downsize.

Before Lee moved, Hamilton Spectator columnist Paul Wilson wrote an article about how the layout was soon to become a memory.

At the same time the article appeared, Dr. John Kelton was looking for a layout to occupy a public space in the new David Braley Health Sciences Centre in that city.

Friends of Kelton, knowing he was looking for a layout, brought it to his attention.  

"I went into the basement and gasped," Kelton told the Spectator. "The amount of work that has gone into that ... I've never seen anything so joyously creative."

He immediately wanted it for the Centre. But how to move it?

That’s where the Dundas Modular Railway Club comes in. In the article below, club member Tony Czerneda describes the process.

David Lee passed away January 19, 2019 at the age of 84. Fortunately, he was able to see his layout in its new home before he died.

Here's Tony's report.

The History

In 2015, Mert Hambly, the former superintendent of the Dundas Modular Railway Club, told club members they had an opportunity to help move and put back together David Lee’s layout at the Centre.

Many members were skeptical; how do you take down a layout that had existed in a basement for 40 years and put it back together?

Despite misgivings, the club decided to get involved. In April 2015 work crews went to David’s house and started the process. 

The Layout

Before describing how the layout was dismantled, one needs to understand how it was constructed.

David with his layout in his home.

In David's case, he planned the layout as part of the new family home when it was constructed in the late 1950s.

In the basement, David had the block work of the outside walls installed with 2-inch slots at the 3-foot level.

When it came time to start the railroad, he inserted 2'' x 5’’ lumber into the slots on three walls and built the shelf layout on this base.

On the fourth wall he used an open frame/girder type benchwork and used L-girder benchwork for an island in the middle of the room.

The layout was constructed of a combination of solid plywood for the largely flat areas and risers and subbase in other areas.

Dismantling the Layout

Prior to dismantling, numerous photos and videos were taken of the layout. Then the work began.

Members of the club take the layout apart.

Anything that could be taken off the layout (rolling stock, locomotives, buildings, vehicles, people and animals) was removed and placed carefully in large plastic totes. 

Since the layout was to be stored for a period of time, it had to be put into specially-made crates small enough to get up the stairs and out of the basement.

More cutting the layout apart.

Dismantling started with the centre island. Cuts were made so as to cause a minimum of damage to scenery and track work; switch locations were avoided above all.

Lifting out the engine terminal section.

Each cut out piece was sequentially identified, with its location recorded on a copy of the track plan.

Part of the layout in a crate, ready to be moved.

The pieces were then stretch-wrapped and secured to their crate base and the crate numbered to correspond to the piece inside. A total of 27 crates were required.

Rebuilding the Layout

By mid-May of 2015 the whole layout had been cut into smaller pieces and crated. All crates were then shipped to the David Braley Health Sciences Centre and placed in storage.

The layout's new home.

In January 2016 the club started to piece together some parts of the layout based on drawings from the architects for the Centre.

The plans from the architects showed two separate sections for the layout, a west and east section. On August 1, 2017 the layout pieces were moved into the final position.

Over the next few months, the layout pieces were screwed together, wiring was connected, fascia was applied, and track and scenery work finished.

A photo from inside the new home.

On November 3, 2017, it was opened officially opened with David present. In early 2018, it was opened to the public. 

Three trains can be operated, started by push buttons. Once started, they run for four minutes each.

It has been an incredible journey.

See a video of the layout here.

Some of the dismantling crew.

For a story about another layout that was moved, click here to see photos and read about how Harry Clark’s Indian Creek Valley—located in its own building (see photo below)—was moved.

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