Many toy train collectors and model railroad enthusiasts lack the space needed in a basement or garage to build a permanent layout for running their trains. Even a compact, portable model train table may require more room than is available in the average-sized house or condominium, forcing many would-be modelers to relegate their prized collections to static display cases. For a creative solution to get the trains off the shelves and running on the track, just look up to the ceiling.
Measure the dimensions of the room to create a floor plan drawing, making note of windows and doorways. A basic oval track plan circling the perimeter of the room may be the most practical design. After measuring, verify the train track will fit above the window and door frames yet below the ceiling. Consider a dual-track plan that enables two trains to run simultaneously on parallel tracks, either traveling in opposite directions or racing each other around the room.
Cut the plywood into straight-aways and corner pieces, and lightly sand the edges to remove any splinters. Measure and cut the straight sections, cutting the pieces at least two inches wider than the width of the train track. The corner sections, where the track work curves around the corners of the room, can either fit up against the walls into the corner or can be cut to follow the radius of track to leave an opening between track work and the corner of the room.
Measure and mark the location on the wall for the first plywood section. Use a carpenter’s level to transfer the mark around the perimeter of the room, following the track plan. Mark the locations of the wall studs using a stud finder. Attach the corner molding to the wall along the perimeter mark, securing the molding to the wall studs. The corner molding acts as a ledger board to support the inside of the plywood and track work.
Lay out the straight and corner sections of plywood on the floor, directly under where each piece will hang from the ceiling. Drill holes along the outside edge of the plywood, 5/16 inches in diameter, 6 inches from each end and approximately 24 inches apart along the length of each piece. These holes will accept the threaded rods to support the outside edge of the plywood pieces.
Test fit the train track, centering the track across the width of the plywood and taking care to position a full piece of track across the seams between two plywood sections. If desired, stain or paint the plywood. For convenience, attach as many sections of track as possible to the plywood before mounting the plywood to the ceiling. The National Model Railroad Association recommends attaching the track carefully and securely to the plywood surface for smooth running trains.
Cut the threaded rod to length using the hacksaw. The length of the rod is determined by the distance between the ceiling and the top corner molding, plus two inches. Thread a washer and nut on one end of each rod.
Hold the first section of plywood in position, resting the inside of the piece on the corner molding. If desired, attach the plywood section to the molding with a short screw. Slide a piece of threaded rod up through the bottom of the plywood through one of the pre-drilled holes and up to the ceiling. Use the level to verify the rod is plumb, and mark the location where the rod hits the ceiling.
Drill a hole in the ceiling large enough to insert the hollow wall toggle anchor. With the washer and nut positioned under the plywood, slide the rod up through one of the pre-drilled holes in the plywood, and thread toggle anchor to the end of the rod. The anchors have two small tabs that fold to fit into the hole and then spring open to hold against the inside of the ceiling.
Push the rod and anchor through the hole in the ceiling. The anchor tabs will spring open, holding the rod loosely in place. Repeat with the other rods needed to hold the section in place, and then tighten each of rods into the anchors until the plywood is level.
Repeat with the next section, working around the room until the track plan is elevated and in place below the ceiling. Connect the sections of plywood together with screws. Use the level to ensure the track is flat and level, adjusting the threaded rods as needed to raise or lower the plywood surface.
If needed, use a second washer and nut to tighten the threaded rod against the hollow wall toggle anchors in the ceiling.
Use birch or hardwood veneer plywood for a finished appearance to the underside of the suspended toy train layout.
Run trains slowly to test the completed track work to identify any problem. Derailments may cause the trains to fall to the floor.
Use caution when working from a ladder to avoid falls.