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We’re making good progress on what I call the Day Branch Extension of the Park Day Railway, an HO around-the-walls layout that I’m building with my middle school math students in our classroom. As I’ve described in earlier posts over the last few years, I emphasize the value of experience with manual tools, a flexible attitude towards precision, and benchwork designs that allow me use very cheap (and shockingly poor quality) lumber.
Our benchwork is basically small L-girders made from 1x2 pine supporting grid frames, again 1x2 pine, with risers supporting cookie cutter roadbed of ½” homosote laminated to ¼” plywood. In the yard areas sheets of the roadbed material are screwed directly to the frames. The use of risers means the frames don’t have to be perfectly level, I can adjust slopes and vertical curves of the roadbed independently by clamping risers until I’m happy, then screw the risers in.
Over the six years the layout has been under construction I’ve always used the very crude spirit level I call Old Faithful that is typical of the many very cheap (and shockingly poor quality) tools that I’m just too lazy or sentimental or parsimonious to replace.
When using this level, I have frequently been perplexed by projects that end up slightly off kilter, and I think to myself that (despite the name) this level probably isn’t very reliable. A couple of years ago I even bought a wall-mounted laser level when we were working on a critical section that was part of a student lesson on the quadratics of parabolic vertical curves. But for many tasks it’s handier to lay a beam level on structural elements so I still used Old Faithful.
But a couple of days ago we were trying to level L-girders so they could span a couple of window sills in the corner of the layout and it became obvious that something was ridiculously wrong. In assessing the situation I finally did the simple thing that for some reason I’d deliberately not done heretofore: read the level, then flip it around in the same spot and compare the indications.
I finally broke down and bought a decent level, and the project is back to sanity.
Of course, if I were to start this (or any other) layout project again I would not think twice about renting a rotary laser level for a day to establish a level line everywhere in the room. And I will think long and hard about what kind of psychological state of denial kept me from replacing Old Faithful long ago, and what other obstacles I’m ignoring.
This article first appeared on model-railroad-hobbyist.com
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