Oddly enough…after a lifetime of involvement, in some shape form or
fashion, I'm about to start my first layout. It's been on paper in some version
or another for several years now but I finally have the space to work on it. I
guess the only reason I'm writing this down is to first keep a bit of a diary or
journal of the layout's construction. I hope that I can help somebody to not
make whatever mistakes I'm about to make…or keep from making one that they
would have made.
Planning the layout
The WOW factor…
I know that during an open house most of the people who will see the
layout aren't model railroaders…or at least serious model railroaders. I hope
they like my layout but I'm not trying to impress them. What I do want is for
the few who are serious modelers to leave saying that it's one of the best they
have ever seen. I've seen a lot of layouts and only a few have what I like to
call the 'Wow Factor'. When I left Ken Ehlers layout in 1999 I had my first true
Wow experience. If you haven't seen Ken's master piece you have really missed
out and if you have seen it you know what I'm talking about. I walked out of
Ken's house and the first words out of my mouth were, "Wow! That is the
best layout I have ever seen." I would like for modelers to leave my house
saying the same thing…until they see Ken's.
After that experience in 1999 I have become more aware of the Wow Factor.
Gil Freitag's layout (Also in Houston, TX) has plenty of Wow. The most recent
experience came this last year at the LSR convention in Houston when I turned a
corner at Craig Raymond's layout. Craig models the Rio Grande Southern and has a
section of his layout that is the mine at Vanadium. That was a major Wow. The
mine is huge and it sets in there at a great angle and dominates the peninsula.
It's incredible. That's the kind of thing I want to keep in mind in designing
I have set my expectations rather high…I hope I can pull it off.
I'm a firm believer that it's my layout and I can do whatever I want. I'm
the only one that has to be happy with it. This is one of the great true-isms of
our hobby...to a point. For example, I like to switch and I enjoy a switching
puzzle. I know that a lot of people find switching to be difficult and want for
it to be as easy as possible. So…I'm compromising. I want a layout that is not
only visually pleasing but fun to operate as well. Now I'll be the first to
admit that I don't know a thing about designing a good track plan. I do,
however, know what I like and what I don't.
Armed with that knowledge (remember a little is dangerous so I wore a
helmet) I went to my train magazines in search of ideas. I have a large
collection of magazines and went through every track plan they had. I have
picked up books on track plans and planning over the years and I went through
those. I looked for designs that would fit my space and had the potential for
Now, I've been drawing this layout for this room for about 4 years now and
two large pet peeves were about to effect years of planning. While these are my
pet peeves and it's something that I want to avoid on my layout, I am in no way
saying that you shouldn't or can't do them on your layout. Your layout is just
that, yours. You should build it so that you are happy with it and not worry
about what everyone else thinks.
The first thing I really would like to avoid is having my 3 dimensional
models running into a 2 dimensional backdrop. By that I mean that I don't like
the glue it to the wall drawings or photos that a lot of people use. It's not
wrong to do so…I just don't care for the look of it. The second is that I
don't want each town to butt up next to each other. I want some countryside
between them. Since I model Colorado narrow gauge my scenery will be mostly
large mountains. This works out well for me since it will allow me avoid one of
my pet peeves. I'm planning on building the benchwork to a depth of 3 feet. This
will allow 2 feet for track space and 1 foot for scenery. I'm planning large
mountains that will become the backdrop. The only thing on the wall will be sky
blue and clouds.
As planning started I had to take into considerations was the limitations
of the room itself. I'm working in a converted garage that leaves me a room that
is 15 X 18. This is a large room for a layout but there are several things that
will have to be planned for. First of all, there are 3 doors in the room. The
first being the entry from the house, the second is to the furnace and the third
is to the storage area that is left from the garage. This room also has the drop
down attic ladder as well as the electrical breaker box. I had a track plan
designed but the attic ladder was proving to be a problem. I couldn't lower the
ladder and build the benchwork to the design that I wanted. After some
redesigning, soul searching, head scratching and cussing, I found that I was
going to have to make a few tough decisions.
With the plans that I was trying to build I was going to be able to get
around many of the obstacles but to do so I was going to have to use printed
backdrops and I was going to have to save every inch of real estate…this
included narrowing the isles. I was also running into problems with how to set
up staging on either end of the layout. With that…I went back to the drawing
This time I decided to outline the things I wanted to accomplish before I
spent a lot of time planning. First, I want a point-to-point railroad with
hidden staging on either end to support the layouts' ultimate goal, operations.
I also want a layout that is easy to display. I live in the Dallas, TX area and
we have several train shows a year that I would like to have my layout open for
tours. The problem with displaying a point to point layout is that you have to
have operators available to turn the trains at each end. So…the first mission
was to find out how to get around this. Lastly, I wanted my isles to be no less
than 3 feet wide.
I played around with several designs until I was able to find a benchwork
design that would fit the room. I'll have to cover the breaker box somehow…I
think a large stamp mill with a removable roof will work. The other problem is
the attic door. In its current location it will fold down right in the middle of
a planned peninsula. With the benchwork design finalized I found where I could
place the attic door and moved it. Now all I have to do is fix the drywall and
The next thing that will have to happen is to take the door going into the
storage area and turn it around so it will open out into the storage area
instead of back into the room. The storage area can still be entered by raising
the garage door so this won't be a main entry point. This will allow me to cover
the door with benchwork.
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