My salvation arrived when I took out the recycling one night and found four 2'x2' pieces of 1/2" particle board. Three of them had smooth finishes and the fourth was ugly, but I put it in the back corner anyway. Since I hope to move soon, the ability to tear this all down for moving was an asset. I screwed them all together and put down the track. Finally, I had a solid surface to work on. It was time to buy track nails and go crazy with a layout. Then I bought some cork roadbed and made it look even better. I was able to put in some lights, and even installed a few remote switches. Things seemed stable, as long as I vacuumed occasionally.
Unfortunately I still had a significant problem: everything had to sit on the surface of the board. Wires were starting to spread, and I was reading enviously (in N Scale Primer) of layouts built with real benchwork. I needed to elevate my layout enough to run wires underneath for switches, power, and anything else strange I could imagine. I found my childhood blocks and put them underneath the boards. Now I have about an inch of clearance to work with. I'd like more space, but my buildings are too tall to fit if I raise the board any further.
Because I started in a pretty random way, I had to figure all of this out as it happened. Underbed railroading doesn't give you the luxury of building elaborate layouts with multiple levels (unless perhaps you're working under a bunkbed with no bottom bunk), but you should make sure to at least give yourself a small basement underneath your board for wires and anything else that comes along. The extra elevation also keeps some of the dust off the set.
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Copyright 1996 by Simon St.Laurent. All rights reserved. You may print this document for yourself or others at no charge, but commercial distribution without permission is prohibited.