For those just starting out with T-Trak modules, there are 2 main construction techniques.
The first builds a miniature 'train platform' that can rest on your table top, and still align with modules during a show.
I've diagrammed a single straight module using the Alternate 33mm Track Spacing, and an Alternate Corner, also using 33mm Track Spacing.
I wanted some sort of stream and a bridge on my module. But the basic box is no better than the standard 4'x8' sheet-of-plywood-Christmas-layout when it comes to terrain. Flat. Perfectly flat. So I decided that I could turn a basic module upside-down and put a stream across the bottom.
The construction of a basic module is strong enough on its own, but in order to see the stream I wanted to carve away much of the front panel of the module. So the construction of this module would require some changes from the basic box.
To prevent sag, the base of the module starts with strips of 1/2" x 3/4" stock under the front and back edges of the bottom plywood panel. On top of the bottom panel are two more strips running along the sides/ends of the module. I drilled and screwed threaded inserts into the side/end strips. You can see the bolts popping up in the photo.
I built my bridge by bashing two Atlas truss bridges together-- I cut off one of the side trusses from each bridge and glued the remaining structure together, keeping the basic/original 1" track centers. The Atlas bridge is 124 mm long; I filled in the balance of the track with 62 mm and 124 mm sections of Kato track to make the 310 mm required.
Standard Atlas N-scale rail joiners connect to Kato rails with no problem (they're all code 80). Use the blue Kato UniJoiner tool and remove the Kato rail joiners where the Kato track meets the bridge. I also soldered all of the rail joints. This provides some structural strength to the track, and prevents gunk from seeping into the joints and causing electrical problems.
I eventually realized that the stream needed to start somewhere other than at the back wall of the module, so I hacked away much of the back wall. Because the module has the wood strips under the plywood base there is no sag.
In this photo I've roughed-in the scenery, and the pieces of the bridge abutments. Sometime after this I added a 2nd tier of retaining walls on all 4 wing walls.
Here's the completed module. I added several people. At the front, two fishermen (one on the bridge) are angling for supper. I painted the edges of the module in simulated dirt and rock strata.
This is a back view of the module. There's more going on here than in front. There's a blue rowboat on the bank, and the fisherman is on the bank just up-stream from the boat.
It looks like this is "the ol' swimmin' hole." Up near the tracks another fisherman is showing off his catch. Down on the bank two buddies are hanging out, while up on the abutment their friend is ready to swing out on the rope that's tied to the bridge.
I've built some modules that use a different style of construction, which allows more 'depth' to the scenery.
I was toying with plans for modules, and was thinking about various scenery possibilities. My first thought was to add a body of water. I sketched out a corner module. My notes say "Cut out front – lake, etc. Cut out back – track on causeway."
My sketch at the time shows that I was thinking about taking a standard module and carving away parts to make room for the terrain features I wanted.
Then I realized that I could build it as a piece of plywood with track elevated on a piece of foam:
The "Blob-O-Foam" would also become the chassis for the scenery.
Although constructing a T-Trak module using the 'official' method is simple, it still requires quite a bit of handwork. The official method uses 3/16" plywood and stock molding. Although you can cut 3/16" plywood with a sharp utility knife, it takes time and about three hands to assemble the standard module.
I propose a much simpler method of constructing a module. The 'chassis' is a piece of 3/4" plywood. You mount threaded inserts at each corner for the adjusting bolts, and you're done with the construction phase. Stack on some foam insulation panels and carve your scenery. That's it! No carpentry to speak of; if you have a local home center, they'll cut the plywood to size for you for a nominal fee.
Standard modules are just a tad less than 310mm long x 8-1/4" deep. The length lets the rail joiners of the Unitrack hang over the edge of the module, and lock with the next module. I tend to make my modules just a hair shorter than most; there are (small) gaps between the ends. This means my dimensions can be a bit more casual. It makes the modules easier to separate, but does require a little nudging during setup to make sure the straightaways are straight.
Start with the piece of 3/4" plywood. Cut plywood to size (or have your home center do it). The long dimension (306 mm) will let the ends of the tracks just peek over the ends of the module. This will let them lock onto the next module, yet a slight turn sideways will unhook them.
Drill holes and insert the 4 inserts in the plywood. The distance from the edges of the plywood must be far enough so that the interior plies aren't forced out along the edges when the inserts are pounded into submission... er, into place. I think mine are about 1" from the front and back. Ideally, they should be 1/4 of the way across the module from each end (see diagram below). This lets each pair of legs support 1/2 of the module. Drilling the right sized pilot hole helps prevent any problems, too.
Screw in the adjusting bolts from the bottom. I use 1" or 1-1/2" bolts. Longer bolts aren't necessary.
This concludes the construction phase. On to scenery.
Peel the protective film from both sides of the foam insulation board. Stack 4 layers on the plywood to make the official 2-3/4" module height. You will have 2" of foam + 3/4" plywood (= 2-3/4"). The adjustable bolts will raise the track bed to the full 4 inches (+/- 1/4"). You can stack foam higher to make mountains and molehills.
Depending on your planned terrain, slice away parts of each layer, or add extra bits. You can pin the layers together temporarily with toothpicks while you work. Glue the foam to the plywood. Glue on the remaining layers of foam as needed.
Cut and rasp the foam until it looks not unlike natural terrain. Apply your favorite scenery techniques. At some point in the process, glue down the track. This can be either before or after the scenery is complete; your preference.
Done. The advantage of this technique is that there's only 1 piece of wood that needs to be cut, and you can probably get someone -else- to do it! Insert the threaded inserts, then it's scenery all the way! No waiting for the glue on a built-up module to dry! Do it on the kitchen table.
I’ve also built some of these as double-wide modules. The depth of these modules is 'standard,' but the width is a multiple of 310mm, less enough to let the rail joiners hang off of the ends. It’s not a multiple of the official module size, since the official module is already shortened by the amount of the overhang, and a multiple would result in double / triple / quadruple overhang. Multiply the (number of module multiples) x 310mm, then subtract about 4mm. This allows about 2mm of overhang on each end.
If you've built to 'official' dimensions, the plywood + foam is 2-3/4" tall. This gives you 2" below track level for additional scenery (gullies, valleys, rivers, etc.).
Track height above the table top is 4" (+/- 1/4") during operating sessions. If you're the adventurous type, you can add an additional 1/2" of foam below track level, and still meet the 4" maximum height.
The scenery is constructed of layers of 1/2" foam insulation board. Mine was blue. It has a plastic ‘skin’ on both sides. Remove this skin so the glue will hold the foam together.
I started by stacking layers up to track level. They weren't glued together at this point. I drew the track outline on the top layer, then started slicing away the parts I didn't need. I used toothpicks to hold the layers in alignment as I sliced. I was making a river valley, so the layers got wider the further down the stack I went. Since the track plan swung the track from front to back, and was symmetrical, I was able to spin the cut off pieces of foam end-to-end, and use them to build hills on the opposite side of the tracks with no additional cutting! More about the track plan later.
One note about the foam insulation board-- it has a definite 'grain.' Slicing in one direction makes a smooth, even cut. Cutting across the grain takes a bit more effort to avoid a ragged edge.
I cut my foam with vertical cuts. Thinking about it, cutting at an angle would make the contouring operation a bit faster. With vertical cuts, you also have to make the cuts a bit on the wide side, so the contours will be the proper width after you rasp part of the layer away. Of course, you gain back some of this when you slop on the scenery coating.
Once the layers looked good, it was time for glue. I used a 3M spray contact adhesive that does not attack foam. Work in a well ventilated area!! At this point, the scenery looked like a topographic map, with 1/2" contours.
I used a red-handled, slightly curved Surform tool to smooth the rough terrain, and a steak knife to carve in some gullies. Next step was to slop on paper towels dipped in plaster. I used a wire brush to turn the hillside into a layered, rocky hillside.
After the plaster had hardened I thought about adding some drainage under the track. A small culvert was easily inserted into the hillside below the track. But I wanted a larger something as well. At first, I was going to put in a bridge. So I gouged out a hole in the plaster shell where the bridge would go. But the bridges commercially available were too narrow. I did some preliminary work with a razor saw and some Atlas plate girder bridges, but didn't like the results.
After a few months (it was Summer), I remembered seeing large concrete culverts under river roads along the Delaware River in NJ. So I found a concrete tunnel portal that looked right, and modified my plasterwork even more. I used a section from the core of a roll of toilet paper to form the interior ceiling, and placed the portal. I then poured plaster over the form ("just like the prototype") and restored the scenery back to track level. After the repairs it was time for color, track, foliage, and details.
Another possibility is to use a piece of 1" x 10" board (actually 9-1/4" wide) as the chassis. This would give you an extra 1" of depth. Placed at the front of the module, the extra depth would allow the front track to have a passing siding up front.
A double-wide module seems to work fine. I think a triple or a quad on plywood or a plank might have too much sag without some help. Positioning the adjustment bolts 1/4 and 3/4 of the way along the long dimension of the plank might help; each bolt would be balancing 1/2 of the load, instead of bolts at the ends letting the entire module sag in the middle.
Screwing a length of 1"x2" down the center (2" dimension vertical) should give a 4' wide module enough stiffness. The screws would come up from the bottom of the module into the narrow edge of the 1"x2". Of course, your scenery will have to cover (or use-- (a dam? a retaining wall?)) this spine. The spine might not be required for the full width; perhaps a 2' length in the center would be enough. It could also be on a diagonal. Hmmmm....
There is another advantage to using a chunk of plywood or 1x10 as the chassis-- less woodworking! Your local home center will usually cut a board to length, or make a few cuts in plywood, for free or for a small fee. Insert the threaded inserts, and you're off to the scenery. No waiting for the glue to dry!
There are several ways to assemble a module on a plank... and many people have their favorite adhesive to glue track to foam to plywood. I've been using
DAP Weldwood Nonflammable Contact Cement
"New Neoprene Rubber Formula"
VOC Compliant - Environmentally Friendly
32 Fl. Oz. 0 70798 25332 2
This has proven foam-safe for me, at least on blue extruded insulation foam (and probably the pink and yellow as well).
It's not an instant adhesive-- you're suposed to coat both surfaces, let it cure for 30 minutes, then press both parts together -= precisely, =- because this is a contact cement, and once it grabs you're stuck. So to speak.
Gluing a slab of foam to a plywood or GatorFoam base it's fine as a contact cement.
For track, I like a little more time to position the track exactly where it's supposed to go. In that case, I mark the track position, then slather on a nice layer of the cement. And =while the cement is still wet,= I place the track. Because the cement is still wet, I have time to move the track into precise alignment. One time I did this outdoors on a warm, humid, Summer evening. Due to the conditions, the adhesive cured within about 5 minutes, so you may experience varying cure times!
If you use 'official' construction, using 1/4" or 3/16" plywood, you don't need a table saw! You can cut plywood this thin with a utility knife and a metal straight edge! MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A SCRAP LAYER UNDER YOUR WORK!! Line up the straight edge along your cut line. LIGHTLY score along the line to break the fibers and start your cut. Repeat several times, gradually increasing pressure as you cut. In a surprisingly short time, you'll be through the plywood and cutting your table top. There's also no saw kerf worth mentioning!
I've built a quad-wide module using 1/4" plywood for the top, and 1/2" x 3" poplar for the front, back, and sides. This provides ample stiffness for a 4' span. I used poplar because it was the only wood in this size that was straight and clear. And because it was sitting in a bin in the middle of the aisle.
There's an insulation product called "Great Stuff." It's "spray foam in a can--" a light-weight, water-resistant, solid foam in an aerosol can. Screw on the trigger, stick the straw in the nozzle, pull the lever, and out schnurkles a sticky, yellowish snake of foam. The foam rapidly grows fatter until the snake is about an inch across. Spray back and forth, filling the nooks and crannies, and you have a hill. Or a mountain!
24 hours later it's a solid mass. And the air leaks around your pipes are gone! But there are caveats!
It's a close relative of Gorilla Glue, but tweaked for foaming action instead of stickiness. However there's plenty of stickiness to go around-- get it on your hands and you have to sand it off, or wait until the layer of skin it's stuck to sloughs off your hands!
The chemicals react to the moisture in the atmosphere to speed the foaming and curing processes. That's why the can says to -lightly- mist the target area with water.
The caveat is that the stuff cures in contact with the moisture in the air. If you're trying to build a mountain, you'll be tempted to keep the trigger down and build a huge blob of the stuff. But don't do it!
There are two problems. First, until it's had a chance to cure, the foam is like a baking Angelfood Cake-- very light, very fluffy, and very fragile-- it'll collapse under its own weight! It can't hold itself up. So you have to either build your mountains in layers (it'll stick to itself, so there's no problem with your mountain coming apart), or spritz water on it after each layer of foam as you build your mountain. But don't make too big a blob; it -will- collapse!
Second, if you do make a big blob, after a day it'll look like a solid blob. But don't believe it! Chances are the center is still uncured. To make sure it's 'done,' treat it like a cake in the oven-- poke into the center with a knife and see if it comes out 'clean!'
If you are making a big mountain you can build a shell of cardboard boxes to approximate the shape of your mountain, and spray on a thin shell of foam to make your mountain.
Once your foam has cured, it's time to make it look like a mountain, and not a pile of noodles and lumps of foam. I used a surform tool to rasp away the worst of the un-mountain appearance. I then dipped paper towels in plaster and draped them over the mountain.
To add rock strata many folks talk of carving in the layers of rock. In N-scale and smaller, the strata end up being -very- thin, and would take a -lot- of carving. Too much work! I used a wire brush and briskly scrubbed the plaster-coated towels where it would do the most good.
See the mountain with the tunnel in the Photos section for an example. If you look closely you'll see some "orange barrels" sticking out of the mountain. Remember my caution about curing the foam? Well, I originally constructed the mountain as a single lump. I added the towels, terrrain, and scenery. Then I decided that I could use the corners separately, so I sawed the module in half. And the moisture in the air hit the inside of the mountain that had NOT cured thoroughly. And the mountain proceeded to grow! And it cracked the plaster shell I had constructed over the foam.
I really like the way the mountain turned out, so I broke the mountain loose from the base, pulled out as much foam from the interior as I could, and re-inforced the inside of the mountain with more towels drenched in plaster. And I re-connected the two halves; it's now a U-turn and will stay that way! And it weighs a ton with all that plaster!
Note that I did NOT plan where the outcroppings would be, or where the flat spot on top would be, nor that an indentation with a rivulet trickling down the side would occur on the side of the tunnel. They all sort of 'grew' from the foam as it expanded. That's what I like about using the foam as a building material-- you don't get to choose your terrain; your railroad has to be built through the mountains as provided!
On the Australian T-Trak Yahoo newsgroup discussion drifted to catenary wire for T-Trak. Although there has been N-Scale live-wire catenary, this discussion talked about 'decorative' wire.
A comment was made that the ideal way was to use human hair as the wire-- as long as you can find a wife, girlfriend, daughter, or female acquaintance with long, straight (it has to be straight) hair, and you can convince her to part with some! It would also work for telephone poles!
I wondered if horsehair would work-- and if you could buy hanks of horsehair at music stores. Musicians use it to string the bows for violins, violas, cellos, and string basses! The consensus was that, yes, it should work. Totally off-topic-- Anna Russell described the stringed instruments as the "Scrape section" of the orchestra-- "although the instruments are all the same shape, they come in different sizes. But they're all worked by scraping horse-hair across cat gut!"
Further, I wondered if a trip to Sally Supply (beautician supply store) for a cheap Halloween wig, or a fall or hair extensions would result in more 'wire supplies.'
While you're at the music store get ahold of some steel guitar strings to make handrails and grab irons.
Although T-Trak modules are definitely smaller than N-Trak or other 'portable' modules, there is a tendency for enthusiasm to take hold, and module sizes to grow! This is especially true when it comes to yards of various sorts, or when a Scenic Wonder is under way!
Traditionally, "plywood" or other solid wood is the answer when the question is "support" for a module.
A better choice would be a product called "Gator Foam," or its cousin, "UltraBoard."
From the Miniature Basics page:
Gatorfoam (also known as Gatorboard)
Produced by Alcan Inc., Gatorfoam is an extruded polystyrene foam mounting board encased between layers of a melamine and wood fibre veneer. Gatorfoam/Gatorboard has a harder outer surface than other foam core boards and resists warping. For miniature builders, Gatorboard is often used as a backing for wet materials like paperclay or stucco finishes which require a water resistant backing while the coating dries. Gatorboard is more durable than foam core boards and is a good choice for non archival applications, where strength and light weight are important. It is not suitable for archival applications as the facings offgas.
Gatorboard is available in the following thicknesses: 3/16 inch, 1/2 inch , 3/4 inch, 1 inch, 1-1/2inch, and 2 inch. It is usually sold by the piece, but is available in full sheets sized 4ft by 8 ft up to up to 5 ft by 10 ft.
So: GatorFoam is a stiff, dense, lightweight foam board, similar to "foamcore," but with a much denser foam, and a water-resistant wood-pulp exterior. It's stiff, smooth-surfaced, structurally sound (within reason), and saws like balsa wood.
GatorFoam paints nicely (acrylics and latex paints work just fine!), it is weather-resistant, and can even last for several months outdoors. Manufacturer's tip sheets note that exposure to ultraviolet radiation (ie sunlight) may deteriorate the foam interior, so at least the edges should be protected.
For single and double modules the 1/2" thickness should be self-supporting. For anything longer I'd recommend a 1" wide strip (or two) glued on edge as a stiffening spine. One in front and back; or spaced back from the edges-- your choice. I'd recommend putting it on the topside of the board to be hidden with scenery.
I've used GorillaGlue to fasten panels together with good results. Just make sure to clamp well-- GorillaGlue expands! Other glues may work as well-- but be careful of solvent-based glues that might melt the foam center!
GatorFoam saws with woodworking tools.
You can cut GatorFoam with a utility knife-- if you take your time. Start with gentle cuts with light pressure, then gradually build up pressure once you've scored the fibers. Straight cuts, of course, are easier than curves.
Drilling holes is a bit hap-hazard-- once you're through the face coatings, the center foam doesn't drill cleanly. Try a bit with center point and side spurs. You need to cut through the surface coating cleanly. Poking through the entire panel with an awl as a starting point would allow you to drill through the face coating from both sides. Then you can mangle the foam core.
Adding the height adjusting bolts takes a little creativity-- (see "Playing Footsie" below).
MicroMark MicroMark sells pre-cut pieces, but they're not "T-trak" sizes.
Signmakers use GatorFoam for 'temporary' or light-duty signs-- If you become friendly with a signmaker or store manager you may be able to claim signs that have outlived their usefulness as signs but not as module materials!
It's pricey- somewhat more than plywood- but it's a whole lot lighter! Plus, you probably won't need a lot for a single module.
In the Greater Cincinnati area I've found 2 distributors:
Queen City Polymers
Both companies will make cuts to order-- I had both companies make a single cut across each panel so they'd fit inside the cap on my truck. This was no-charge, but more cuts or more complicated cuts are billable!
If you have them cut the panel, order the larger piece and ask that them to 'send cut off' so they include the 'scrap' piece:
"1/2 x 48 x 60 white gator board cut from 48 x 96 send cut off"
The T-Trak standard calls for a module 2-3/4" tall, and a means of adjusting the position of the track to 4" above the table during shows.
So far, the only system of adjusting the height of the modules I've seen has been threaded inserts at the corners of the modules, and adjusting bolts to raise the module up or down. I've toyed with a couple of ideas, but all were a lot more complicated (and expensive) than bolts-and-inserts!
If you look at the underside of a 'traditional' module (see diagram at the top of this page), each corner has a chunk of 2x2 lumber (1-1/2 x 1-1/2 'real' dimensions) 2 inches long. A hole is drilled through the center of the long dimension of the block.
The hole is carefully sized so a threaded insert can be mounted in the hole at one end of the block. The block is then glued or otherwise fastened into a corner of the module.
Rockler has a commercial version of corner blocks at $6.50/pair
The normal way of adjusting module height is to roughly adjust the bolts, place the module in the layout, then try to sneak your fingers under module to make those 'last few' adjustments.
A major improvement over this technique is to make the bolts accessable -above- the module-- no more fussing with cramped fingers and trying to remember which direction is "raise" and which is "lower" when you're working 'upside down.'
The way to do this is to make sure the hole in the corner block goes all the way through the block. When you mount the blocks in the module, mark and drill a hole through the top of the module so there is a 'tunnel' from the threaded insert all the way through to the top of the scenery.
Then, use a hacksaw and cut a slot in the end of the bolts you're going to use for adjustment. Once the bolts are installed in the module, you can use a skinny screwdriver from the -top- of the module and use the slot in the bolts to adjust the height from above. Turn to the Right (clockwise) to Raise the corner; to the Left (counter-clockwise) to Lower the corner.
You can use strategically positioned scenery to disguise the holes. And no more cramped fingers!
If you're using plywood without full corner blocks you can get the same effect-- just make sure the bolts are long enough to extend through the base plate. Then slide a piece of tubing over the threaded end of the bolt and up to the surface of the module. The tubing will guide the screwdriver to the bolt.
There are several varieties of threaded insert.
The one most people talk about is "A." This requires drilling a hole, positioning the insert with the 4 prongs facing the wood, and tapping it into place with a hammer.
The problem with this insert is its ease of installation. It is just as easy to uninstall! Once you thread a bolt into the insert and adjust a module's height a few times, the prongs no longer have a tight grip in the wood, and you may end up with both the insert and the adjusting bolt in your hand.
Some have recommended using epoxy or other adhesive to encourage them to remain in place, but I'd prefer an insert that doesn't require fixing.
The remaining inserts shown all require 'installation--' they must be screwed into the wood.
"B" is for use in relatively thin wood. The bolt is threaded into the insert along with a nut, and is screwed into the wood. The extra nut and bolt are removed, and the insert is ready for use.
"C" is designed to be screwed into the wood using a hex wrench. The diameter of the 1/4-20 hole is less than the diameter of the wrench.
"D" and "E" are screwed into the wood with a screw driver or a special installation tool.
There are other designs intended for installation with a hammer: drill a pilot hole of the correct size, position the insert, and whale away! I've used some of these, and although they work and are secure, you MUST install them before beginning any scenery work! I've installed them in plywood, and I usually install them on a concrete floor, so the concrete will back the plywood. Maybe the pilot holes were too small...
Fine for GATORFOAM
The only difficulty in using GatorFoam for T-Trak modules is that mounting the height adjustment bolts requires some finagling-- GatorFoam will -not- support threaded inserts!
Although I consider the 4-prong inserts a poor choice with wood, they are a good choice for GatorFoam-- with some additional support.
I used flat plastic electrical cover plates to provide the additional support needed. The shape doesn't matter-- I used blank switch plates on one module. Their curved edges added a bit of extra height even without bolts.
To prepare the plates, drill 5 holes. Start with a hole that will allow the center of the insert to pass freely. Then, carefully drill 4 smaller holes to pass the prongs.
Choose the side that will be visible and insert the insert. Place the plate + insert on a -very- hard surface and peen over the prongs (hit the prongs with a hammer with intent to bend them over) so that they will grip the plastic plate. Be forceful on the metal, and gentle with the plastic!
Once you have the plates for the module prepared, drill a hole through the GatorFoam to pass the bolt, then use your favorite adhesive to glue the foot plate in place. I used GorillaGlue-- and you -must- clamp anything you're fastening! The photo shows two feet mounted but before cleaning up the extra glue that oozed out.
So the railroad bug has bitten yet another victim... and a permanent layout is starting to overwhelm your T-Trak experience!
Building a layout from scratch is a large project, similar in scope to installing a new bathroom. There are lots of variations, lots of options, and lots of defenders of each option.
The model railroading hobby has changed a LOT in the past few decades! Sound and computers are the obvious changes from the "running the railroad" side; new materials and techniques for constructing the layout have eliminated the chicken-wire-covered-with-plaster-dipped-paper-towels landscapes.
Subscribe to some model railroad magazines, get ahold of some of the model railroad planning books, look at real railroads-- the idea is to find out what really appeals to you; what do you want your layout to include.
Also find some basic books on layout design and planning-- how to allow for realistic operation, what does a railroad yard need to include, etc. etc.
I think the best tool while in the 'dreaming' stage is a pad of paper, and the rules from John Armstrong's book, "Track Planning for Realistic Operation." The March 2006 issue of Model Railroad Planning had a supplement titled, "Workshop Tips: Introduction to Track Planning." Review the information on "Sketching by the Squares."
The problem with most planning is that we tend to cram too much track into too small a space ("SURE there's room for an uncompressed model of Horseshoe Curve!"). Squares attempts to reign in our imaginations just a bit by making reality one of our planning tools.
The basic idea of "Squares" is that you decide what your minimum mainline radius is, then calculate the size of Square that will contain a 90 degree double-track curve. You then measure your available space, and mark it off into squares of the Standard Size. Then, sketch away! If you put no more than one 90 degree corner in a Square, your sketches will be (more) realistic, as opposed to optimistic!
The corner and straight modules of the T-Trak system seem to fit this kind of layout planning quite well!
Why a pad of paper first?
-- You can wander around and jot down thoughts as they occur-- at your desk at work, for example. (Just jot down the idea-- don't re-design the entire layout-- your boss might not understand!)
--There are computer layout planning tools available, but until you become familiar with them you may spend more time fighting with the computer, rather than doing any planning! With a pad of paper you won't be fighting with a computer that may object to your ideas. Get all of your ideas down on paper, -then- let the computer tell you you've violated your planning rules. And then tell the computer you -want- to violate them. "Just this once!"
--You can sit in the layout room and envision the main line snaking around the washtubs and cold water heater, looping past the support column, ducking behind the furnace, and popping out of one of the treads on the stairs to the main floor.
PLEASE DO NOT block access to the furnace, washer, dryer, electrical panel, cold water heater, water pump, pressure tank, sump pump, meters, or any other portions of the 'physical plant!' If you do, the day will come when you have to perform major surgery on the layout so the affected item can be removed and replaced! And leave a clear path from The Item to the outside that's wide enough to move The Item without bumping into benchwork! And leave space for the poor workman to get in and behind The Item so it can be worked on!
While you're dreaming-- make sure your basement is sealed water-tight! Nothing worse than damp, clammy walls to grow mold on a layout!
Once you get to the point where you know what you think you want, expand your reading with books on building the benchwork, wiring, lighting, etc. etc.
Sally Supply is a beautician supply company-- all sorts of things for hair dressers, barber shops, etc.
I destroyed the pump bottle I used for shampoo in the shower (the spout popped off, and the little ball bearing that makes the pump work found a new home somewhere), so I finally ventured into the local Sally Supply.
I found a bunch of stuff for model railroaders!
-- Spray bottles for liquids and pump bottles for lotions. There weren't as may varieties as I'd imagined. Kroger Supermarket usually has a wider selection, at least for spray bottles (although the cheaper bottles sometimes dribble as much as they spray). And a janitorial supply house (or Sam's Club or other warehouse shopping club) would probably have the 'industrial size' models.
tweezers, a wide variety, some with interesting angles
Daubers (ie foam "Q-Tips")
Brushes - makeup brushes, useful for all sorts of things-- the big fluffy ones are good for dusting things off
Sam's Club once sold a 'variety pack' of about 20 makup brushes-- all sorts of shapes and sizes. They're all through the house at the moment-- some by the trains, and some by the computer to dust off the nooks and crannies.
Files and sanding blocks (well, nail files and emery boards). Useful for detail sanding.
Scissors... hair clippers...
The less obvious--
--They stock a wide variety of fake eyelashes. Some are sold as individual 'sprigs' of eyelash-- with 3-5 'hairs' in a clump. Looks like weed material to me! You could probably take a full eyelash and cut off pieces.
--I don't recall if they have a lot of makeup as such-- but powders and eyeliners and such in earth-tones ought to make great weathering materials.
--Hair pieces and extenders. They come in a wide variety of colors. I wonder if you could snip off short lengths to make more weeds-- clip off a piece 2x the desired weed heights, hold it by the center, and stuff it into the 'ground.'
They also have a wide variety of fingernail-sized stickers. I'm not sure what you can do with a tiny, glittery "rose," but I'm sure someone will find a use. Maybe as a sponsor's logo on the side of a racecar.
By the way-- have you seen the new micro sanders from Colgate? The toothpaste people? Well, -they- call them 'vibrating toothbrushes' or some such. Snip off the bristles, and glue on a piece of sandpaper or emery board, and you're off to the races! They come in 'straight line' and 'rotating' versions, too! I found a Kroger (supermarket) brand that actually takes AA or AAA batteries!
Jim Nealand mentioned that they also have nail polish, but he buys his at the "dollar stores;" it's cheaper! Jim suggests using it as an insulator (for example, those turnout frogs that get shorted out); color-code things with small dots; paint the ends of a piece of wire if you need another color; if you melt the insulation off of a decoder wire, nail polish will re-insulate it! Jim has a variety of colors: clear, black, red, white, and blue. I have a bottle of yellow, myself. My most recent use was to monogram the shells of the box turtles in my yard to see if it was one well-travelled turtle, or a bunch of them! And, no, it's not used to get ready for a night on the town.