illinois Central Chicago District - Monee Rebuild

Started by vinceg, September 10, 2018, 10:46:43 PM

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Now that I am most of the way though building my Rugg diorama, I have started to think about placing it on the layout. I actually cut the base for the diorama long ago and also built the frame in which the dio would sit. The plan is to site it on the north end of the town of Monee.

When I built the benchwork long ago (now we're talking close to 25 years -- shudder), the first thing I did was to paint the concrete basement walls a sky(-ish) color that was to serve as the backdrop. Of course, this was not my best idea ever but I was very much in the gotta get it done mood back then and that was a quick fix. Further, I did a little scenery for the town of Monee that consisted mostly of the Woodland Scenics ground foam scattered about and a couple of quickly done roads and DPM plastic buildings. Now, some 25 years later, I am much more focused on high quality models and scenes rather than just a means of running trains around the basement and perhaps some interesting operations.

So, to illustrate, here is my starting point - Monee today:

Monee is essentially that entire wall you're facing. This is the view as you come down the steps to the basement.

You can see the concrete wall that has been sky-i-fied as well as the couple of DPM buildings sitting there. The "hole" in the scenery to the left is the site for Rugg. Just a little left of that is SRMW Ware Knitters - another dio that I build a long time ago. On the layout, you're always facing east - north is to the left.

No suspended ceiling (I may regret that, but I'm not planning to change that at this point - so far, after 25 years, the fallout from the floor above really hasn't been bad). All the lighting is accomplished with 4' shop lights that I have recently rewired to take 5000K direct wire LED tubes (40 fixtures - was "fun"). I intend to have a lighting valence everywhere around the layout as you see here. Right now, Monee is about the only area it exists.

More in a few minutes.

Protolancing the Illinois Central Chicago District from Chicago to Kankakee


Here's a closeup of the concrete wall:

Unpleasant. Again, 25 years ago with the goal of getting done quickly, it seemed to make sense. Now I find it disturbing. Since I did this, I think I can say that I have not seen a single layout that phoned in the backdrop like this. So, gotta change.

At this point, my benchwork is complete so there is no way I am going to try to finish the basement to any significant level. What I decided to do instead was to use 1x2 dimensional lumber and Masonite to serve as the backdrop. The 1x2s are glued with the concrete walls with Liquid Nails Heavy Duty and the Masonite is cut into 22" by 8' strips and fastened with countersunk screws to the strips. Seams between panels and screw holes are covered with drywall tape and mud. Then, it's all painted. Here's an example of the backdrop that I put in for the next town south, Peotone:

I did this about a year ago before any trackage was in place. The Duffy's diorama you see will not go there -- I just wanted to make the picture a little more interesting.

As of right now, I still don't know how I will deal with the horizon, but I'll start working on that plan shortly.

More shortly.

Protolancing the Illinois Central Chicago District from Chicago to Kankakee


Here are a couple of long shots of Monee as it stands today. First, from the north (looking south):

That bridge is scratch built, BTW. You can also see Barongould's Tannery in the far background. That's actually the south end of the town of Manteno. Its backdrop is also in place. The tannery will not be sited there -- it's just a temporary resting place. The 2x4s underneath it are a story for another day.

Here's a shot from the south, looking north:

This shot also shows you the old school scenery structure - plaster strips on wire screen.

BTW, this area is known as the "Monee Cut" - so called because the Illinois Central did that engineering in the first half of the 1900s to reduce grades and make it easier to haul long coal drags. For fun, here is an old picture of the real Monee Cut. (FYI - It's a single track today.)

This is the "proto" part of my protolancing.

Finally, here's a direct comparison of the new vs. old backdrop scheme. Monee is on the left, Peotone is on the right:

More shortly....

Protolancing the Illinois Central Chicago District from Chicago to Kankakee


So, my plan now is to rip out most, maybe all of the scenery in Monee and put in the backdrop. While I am at it, I will put in the backdrop on the perpendicular wall that leads to the next town north - Richton Park. Once the backdrop is in, I will go back and use foam to recreate the elevated town of Monee except that this time I hope to build a few larger dioramas that contain several kits that make up the scene. In particular, I am thinking that some combination of Dexter's Dead End and some Bar Mills individual buildings will reside on the east side of the tracks. Still need a bit more thinking about what to do with the west side.

I expect to still site Rugg in its originally intended position. Here's a close-up of the site:

You will notice that there's not a lot of room here between the tracks and the concrete wall. I'll need 3/4" for the 1x2 and another 3/16" for the Masonite. The room is there (I'll need to lose that rock outcropping) but I'll need to be careful.

As part of the rework, I will rework the DCC bus wiring as well. All my new wiring is a twisted pair for the 12 gauge bus (you see individual 12 gauge wiring here) for the bus with liberal usage of terminal strips and wire nuts rather than difficult to install and maintain under-the-table soldering as you see here. I am also installing numerous occupancy detectors along the way as my plan is to support some significant automation in running and CTC operation.

The team track-like spur that serves Rugg here also serves Ware Knitters. It's to the left of this pic. I'll post a couple of pics of that next.

Protolancing the Illinois Central Chicago District from Chicago to Kankakee


Here's the end of that spur that passes by Rugg:

And one more shot:

I think we can all agree that the spider webs are a very nice touch.

Ware Knitters is also nestled in its frame here although not fastened and scenicked in. My plan is to leave it in this location. We'll see if I have any better ideas once I get further into the rehab.

BTW, you can see here that the track is hand-laid. In fact, all of the Monee trackage is hand-laid. That was my original plan when I started the layout 15 years ago. (Weird, eh? Wants to hand lay the track but just paints the concrete walls blue....go figure.) But, I'm older and wiser now -- well, older anyway. All new trackage is Microengineering flex track and a variety of turnouts.

So, that's it for the background and the intro. I have already cleared out the top shelf below Monee where all those beautiful red and yellow boxes were hiding (you can see a few of them in the close-up picture of the Rugg site and in my very first picture in this thread). The next step is to rip out the existing scenery and start gluing up the furring strips for the backdrop. Along the way, i'll start to do some landform planning for the new Monee topography. Still needs to be a cut, but have to plan the transitions and do some figuring on how the structures will fit in.

The reason I am posting this is that I am hoping to get a lot of suggestions along the way. The NNGC layout tours were very inspiring -- there's so much talent out there. I hope I can tap into some of it.

Protolancing the Illinois Central Chicago District from Chicago to Kankakee

Mark Dalrymple

Hi Vince.  I'll be following along.
Try this - mock up a few of your craftsman structure kits and stand back to view them.  Then honestly assess how much visual noise you get from the drywall above your 22" backdrop - especially those lumps.  Remember - every time you view your work for the next ??? years, this is what you will see.  I suggest this because now is the time to address the problem.  Once all those craftsman kits (and all your hours of blood, sweet and tears) are on the layout it will be too late.  I also think it wouldn't be too big of a deal to make a light weight 'cloud' which would attach to the top of your 2" by 1" framing on the wall, prop it at the front, and then hang it from the ceiling at the front.  It might just be worth talking it through with someone you know with some expertise in this area (if you don't possess said expertise) to get an idea of how much work would be involved.

Looking forward to your progress - whatever direction you choose to take.

Cheers, Mark.


Great modeling Vince. The Rugg building really holds up to close-up photos (that's tough!). Very nice benchwork and flowing curves. Thanks for sharing.




I am really glad you decided to share this rebuild of your layout with all of us.  After reading thru Mark's post I am left with a couple questions.  What is the height of your benchwork, and what is the height to the top of your new Masonite backdrop? 

I'm excited to watch your progress.


Watching your progress is going to be great fun.  8)

As I look back on thing I have done, I find some things amazing, but others it's a "what was I thinking" moment, so I tend to be my harshest critic. I'll enjoy seeing you work thru the areas from the past that you find aren't up to your standards today. Have fun.  :)
Gregory P. DeMayo
General Construction Superintendent Emeritus
St. Louis & Denver Railroad
Longwood, FL


Thanks for a very timely (I hope) thread. I'm getting ready to embark on a construction project that has many of the same hurdles you are/were faced with.
The work you've done to date and your comments about it may keep me from major mistakes and for that I thank you profusely. And, you have an open invite when you come back to the Philadelphia area to stop and see if I learned anything,
Chip Stevens
Working on my second million. I gave up on the first.


Great meeting you last week at the NNGC. Will follow along on your layout and kit builds. Thanks for starting this thread.
The SRMW Ware building is one that is not on the shelf here. Looks good on your basement empire. Nice job !
Tom Boyd in NE Minnesota


Hey Vince:

All very well done so far. I'm following along.



Did you ever notice how many towns are named after their water towers ! ?


My gosh -- lots of responses -- thanks guys. I'll try to respond to all:

Bob and Karl, thanks for the support. I think the Ware Knitters kit turned out OK but I know the rest is a major fixer-upper. I hope you will continue to look in from time to time and offer constructive criticism. This is going to be a big effort. At the end of it, I would like to have at least one major town scene that is worth bringing people down into the basement for. I will definitely be looking for input as people see opportunities.

Tom, it was good to meet you, too. Just a formality, tho, right? I felt we already knew each other from all the emails and phone calls beforehand.

Chip, if you're looking for mistakes to avoid, I'm your guy. Chances are pretty good that I have hit or will hit them all, at least once. And, count on my taking you up on your offer to visit you in Philly. As I now have some new responsibilities to help take care of a couple of aunts that live there, I will need to visit from time to time.....maybe even again before the end of the year.

Greg, I have had the same thoughts...on the one hand, I can go back and see things that I did like scratch building a #10 crossover that still runs very reliably and say "wow." Then, on the same day, I look at decisions I made such as buying cheap, untempered hardboard for the fascia (not Masonite) that has permanently buckled where it absorbed water from scenery application and general humidity and again say "wow" (bad, this time). Another good example is the tannery I mentioned on the 2x4s. The reason those 2x4s are there is because I made the original diorama base out of 1/2" roof sheathing, not cabinet grade plywood. Looked great after I built it (it was my first craftsman kit....I have a new definition of great now that I have seen so many top-notch models from the people here). But, a couple of years later, the plywood had cupped severely. Looked like a rocking horse with about 1/2" or more rise on either side. I took several weeks slowly tightening clamps every few days to the two 2x4s with L-brackets attached until the plywood was back to level. Then bolted the dio to the new supports. It's straight now but I am sure I will have a heck of a time finding a way to install that in the layout somewhere.

Jerry, the track height coming out of the south end of Monee (the curve that turns left into Peotone) is 49.5". The top of the Masonite hardboard backdrop is about 72" and it is 22" high (so the bottom is at 50"). Those weren't carefully calculated numbers. Rather, they were chosen to keep the backdrop between the concrete "knobs" that come out of the wall where the anchors were to hold the forms when they poured the foundation. By staying between them, I can get away with using 1x2 furring strips placed flat against the wall. That's enough space to clear the irregularities in the wall. If I wanted something taller, I would need to use 2x2s to clear the knobs and then lose more layout space. Since my shelves are already relatively narrow (2' in most areas) I wanted to conserve all the space I could. 22 inches also allows me to get two panels from a 4x8 sheet of Masonite with another few inches to use for fascia or maybe horizon. Handy. Now, it just so happens that the space between the knobs is just above my benchwork so it makes it very convenient to have a low horizon which is what I will need for my midwestern setting. Check out the picture above where I have the Duffy's diorama in the middle. You can see the lower knobs are right at layout height. That wasn't planned. It just worked out that way. If you can't be good, be lucky.

John, thanks for the compliments. I also love the flow through Monee. The use of splines for the roadbed there was one of the good things that I did. Getting very subtle curves like that would be a lot harder (for me, at least) using plywood roadbed. And thanks again for finding the stair stringers at the show for me. I have already started to install them on Rugg. Hope to update that thread by the end of this week.

Mark, no question about it...I will have a nice backdrop everywhere. As you said, the distraction of a painted concrete wall behind an array of beautiful craftsman kits is just unacceptable. My wife thought I was nuts when she saw me first do the new backdrop around Peotone and Manteno. Once it was finished she said "I get it." I have to admit I'm a little concerned that a backdrop that is only 22" high may not be high enough. But, fortunately (?) I'm a short guy -- between 5'8" and 5'9" depending on how much I've shrunk since college  ;D so  what I have will at least be above eye level. Should be plenty good for photos, too. I love the idea of mockups as you mentioned. I've never done that before and will come back to the group for suggestions when I get to that point. No idea what materials to use, how to find the right balance between speed and fidelity, etc. But, it sounds like a worthwhile investment in time.

Thanks again to all for the notes. I'll try to post a quick pic and a note as I work through things.


Protolancing the Illinois Central Chicago District from Chicago to Kankakee



Wonderful start on the build thread. I'll be watching and waiting for more photos.

Beautiful layout and I'm glad you are going to cover the walls. The concrete seems are a slight distraction but the Masonite is perfect for the back drop and sky.

Very well done sir, very well done indeed.

Tom ;D
"If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."
Thomas Jefferson

Tom Langford

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