Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Moving the Railway

As I mentioned in my first post, Philip’s Creek or parts thereof has been moved on average once every two years. Hopefully, now that frequency will reduce, but I learnt a long time ago never to say ‘never again’.
I thought I should document some of the lessons learnt from those experiences  to assist those who find themselves in a similar situation. 
The decision to move home and all of the consequent implication is a very personal one and well beyond the scope of this post. My start point is that the die has been cast and decision must now be implemented.
I have not exhibited a model railway but from what I have read and seen at exhibitions, there are a number of similarities, the use of a modular concept, the use of lightweight materials and some form of prefabricated packaging. However, there are a couple of significant differences.
First there are the people handling the move. The people who move the exhibition layout are usually the owner(s) and others known to them. They have a focus on getting it to and from the exhibition with an absolute minimum of damage. With a domestic move, Tom, Dick and perhaps Harry who you have never met before turn up to pack and move your prized possessions. Many are very good, some are very ordinary but the problem is that you don’t know. Your railway is just another item on the inventory to be moved and the sooner they finish, the sooner they can move to the next job or go home. They are attuned to packing and handling glassware, crockery and other household goods but a model railway does not usually feature on their radar.
Secondly there is the means of transport. From what I see in the car park adjoining an exhibition, the layouts are moved there in some form of vehicle or trailer adapted or fitted out for that purpose. For a move, if you are lucky, the home layout is moved directly into its transportation container but often it is not. It may be trans-shipped from a smaller van into a container or into some form of depot before commencing the major part of the journey.  It may also go through a similar process to be delivered to your new address.
So what can be done to mitigate some of these risks – here are a few suggestions. Most of them are common sense but sometimes in the frenzy of preparations things get overlooked.

January 2011

First and foremost, take control of the packing and unpacking yourself. Depending on the arrangements, packing of household items is often part of the service. This is particularly common for work related moves. Don’t be distracted by promises made by the removal company representative who visits to inspect prior to the actual removal. I have found that time spent packing one’s rolling stock and associated paraphernalia, where possible in the original boxes has paid dividends. Whatever you pack must be snug. The opportunity to move or vibrate is a recipe for damage. I have also created specialist packing for the layout itself that in essence, uses its substructure as the frame for the container.  Therefore when the removalists arrive they are presented with a number of packed boxes and all they need to do is load them onto a truck. For me, this arrangement has stood the test of many moves from 1997 onwards.

February 2011

You need to be able to reduce the layout to manageable sized packages. If you have designed and built your layout around modules then that should not be too much of a challenge but if not, then this is probably the biggest decision that will influence the future of the layout in its present form. If it can be divided into smaller elements, I suggest that you don’t go much above 1.8m in length. This allows you to manoeuvre the section into its new location. I was caught out once in 1995 with my previous layout. We had found a house that had a large basement and I had grand plans for a massive expansion of my existing layout. Unfortunately, one of the two modules measuring around 2.4m by 0.9m would not fit down the stairs and so I had no option but to break it up. After that hard lesson, I made sure that no module was over 1.8m in length and have used a standard width of 0.6m. I have managed to get these up and down some tight stairs particularly in the UK.
Weight is another factor that will influence the size of sections. While the removalists will have two people to lift it onto and off a truck, you may often to manoeuvre it into its new location. Unless, you are doing a ‘door to door’ move, you may not know where that location is. In two of my moves, the final location for the railway was on a second floor and I was in a new location without any mates to provide assistance.
I found that when I was preparing the crate to take the actual layout, there is a temptation to add other pieces of equipment, spares and bulk scenery materials. Try to avoid this and only include things that are already securely fixed to the layout. Anything else, regardless of how well it is packed could come loose and become a potential ‘loose cannon’ rolling around inside. I do confess that on occasions, I have weakened but usually to move a stock of Styrofoam only. Even that left me a little worried until the crates arrived.
For the sake of domestic harmony, work on the ‘first and last’ principle. Pack up the railway first in your old location and unpack it last in the new location. While this means that you must do without your hobby for a while, it ensures that you will focus on things that are important to your ‘significant other’.  To mitigate this to some extent, I have often taken a small set of tools that enabled me to work on a project that has been on the ‘to do’ list for a long time.  This works well particularly if you have to go into short term accommodation for a period of time in the new location.
When moving internationally, I have anticipated the need of Customs/Quarantine to want to inspect the inside of each crate by identifying one panel that can easily be removed. Murphy’s La w says that they will open the opposite one to the one I identified but in reality, I’m not sure that they have availed themselves of the opportunity.

April 2011

Insurance while in transit is a personal call. Because I have packed things myself, I understand that I have forfeited the right to claim for any damage to specific items that occurred as part of the packing/unpacking and transit. However, as the most likely types of damage are usually broken detailing, I am probably the person most capable of making or arranging the repairs. That said, I have made sure that the railway layout and equipment is described and valued on the inventory so that I will receive reasonable recompense if it is lost as part of a greater catastrophe to all of my personal effects.

July 2011

As I said at the start, these are number of lessons that I have learnt over the past 20 plus years. While many people won’t try to move a layout and will take the opportunity to start afresh, I have not wanted to do so and consequently had to plan accordingly.  It’s been a pain in the butt but for me, ultimately worth the trouble.

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