Your Model Train Layout Is Personal

My brother, Rob, while stating that his N scale model train scenes may not reflect the detail his artistic talent is capable of (time will tell if they do or not), does believe that scenes should bear some appearance of realism.  This includes allowing for space and not crowding a scene into an “unrealistic” area.

The Early HO layout as Rob envisioned it

The Early HO layout as Rob envisioned it

In planning his wife Barbara’s HO table, he designated an area for her lumber mill which included road access for lumber trucks.  She decided to move the mill into a much smaller space at another location where there was no way for a lumber truck to get to it.  Does a scale model really need such access?  Of course not!  It’s a model.

Rob went on to note that Barbara “squished 3 mobile homes between two curved tracks with hardly any room for the little folk to hang their laundry”.  Her answer… “They live on the wrong side of the tracks.”  Again, he was opting for “realism” while she was approaching it from a viewpoint that would satisfy her.

What I see in these examples is the wonderful capacity of model railroading to appeal to different preferences.  Whether one aims for duplication of actual locations, imaginary but realistic scenes, flights of fantasy without ties to the real world, or just a display for an engine and a couple of cars… a model train layout is a very personal proposition and there is no right or wrong way to build it.  It only needs to satisfy the one who owns it.

The current HO model train layout

The current HO model train layout

As Rob mused, “Hey, what can I say (let alone do), it is HER layout, right!?!?  Guess I’ll be thankful she is interested.”  In planning and building a model train layout, the best advice is be yourself and have fun.

A Highway For Rob’s Model Train Layout

Rob wanted to include an old Route 66 type highway in his model train layout, one which showed weathering and a few potholes.  To create this he mixed some ceramic tile adhesive and cement grout, both available from any hardware store, with Elmer’s White Glue and spread it on a piece of tar paper.  Once it had dried, he rolled it every which way until cracks and potholes appeared.  The results speak for themselves.


He is still experimenting with the concept, looking to reduce the number of “potholes”.  With strips of the proper width and center lines added, one can see from the photos that it will give a good appearance of weathered tarmac.

Once again, he is using left over building materials.  He shows how, with a bit of ingenuity, you can have fun creating realistic scenery for minimum cost for your model train layout.


Rob’s Model Train Layout

It was with great anticipation that I learned my brother, Rob, was going to build a model train room as part of his art studio.  While he says this project will be for fun and not to expect much, Rob is a very talented and creative artist.  I can only presume that what he constructs will be very interesting. This blog will follow his progress in the buildout.

robslayout1As Rob’s interests lie with N scale trains and his wife’s interests lie with HO scale trains, there will actually be two model train layouts in the room.  Barbara’s will be freestanding, and Rob’s will be against the wall.  As with any typical marital relationship where each partner gives in to the other’s wishes, Barbara’s set up will be worked on first.

The planned layout will have some interesting features.  Being movie buffs, there are a few scenes from movies planned.  I will reveal these as the tables develop.  Space will be an issue, but I hope new and would-be model train builders will be motivated by seeing what can be done with limited space and a bit of creativity.

As with any project, I am sure changes will be made as problems arise and new ideas come to mind.


Having just built his studio and an adjoining residence, Rob had lots of left over scrap lumber with which to build his tables.  While you can purchase a table prebuilt for a model train layout, such as what I had as a kid in New Jersey, a nice base for a layout can be built inexpensively from scrap lumber.


One of the first things received was a truckload of foam from the same company who supplied the insulating foam for the studio.  This is is to be used for building up the topography or landscape on both layouts.  It will be carved and treated for realistic appearance.


The following are some pictures of the layout so far.  There are some questions as to the scene elements, but they will be worked out as the layout develops.


Displaced Railroad Tracks

My father-in-law spent his life in the engineering department of the Union Pacific Railroad.  He was based in Pocatello, Idaho and was involved in the design of crossing guards, signaling, and rail safely throughout the northwest.

I remember a story he told me of a situation where a flood had washed the track off of a roadbed by several hundred feet.  The track had to be returned to the roadbed for the line to be opened again.

Three D-9 Catterpillar tractors were brought in and chained to the track in an effort to restore it.  As mightily as these Cats pulled, they could not budge the track.

The engineering department decided on an alternative plan.  A turnout was installed near the location of the displaced track.  Track was then laid at a 90 degree angle to the displaced track and an engine (I do not recall which model) was driven onto this new spur and hooked up where the D-9s had made their attempt.  When the engine was driven forward, the errant track was easily dragged back onto the roadbed without further problems.

D-9 cats are big machines, but this story attests to the tremendous pulling power of the engines which haul trains on the nations rails.

The Dean’s Train Story

When I went to USC back in the early 1980s, the Associate Dean at the Marshall School of Business was a train enthusiast.  We had several conversations about trains and the train memorabilia he had around his office.  He told me the following story.

He had been born and had grown up on a farm in Idaho.  He disliked the farm life, having to rise early in the morning and work until nightfall.  There was a train track which crossed the bottom of the farm.  When he had the chance, he would sit on the hillside and watch the trains as they would cross the property and leave for parts unknown.  It became an obsession with him that one day he would get on one of those trains and never look back.  A train would be his pass to freedom!

Many years later, he became a professor and a dean at the prestigious University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, but he never forgot the train which allowed him to escape the farm life.  Trains became a symbol of freedom and change for the better.  Perhaps they represent that same feeling for many others.