Ian’s layout

“Hi Alastair,

thanks for sending all of the tips and photos – they have been great help to someone like me who at the age of 66 is just starting out. I have been a scale R/C aeromodeller for over 50 years so I thought I would make a change. I am also learning the “lingo” which is very interesting.

I have also included a shot of my layout so far. I only have a small area (3.5 mtrs X 2.4 mfrs “L” shaped) It will be two early 19th/20th century coal mine layouts with a river running through both.. I will be using On30 size Porter Spectrum locos pulling coal trucks around two separate tracks. These are perfect for tight curves.There is a siding and other areas of interest. Because of the shallow depth of the layout I have digitally printed a background and 50mm in front of that a plaster cliff face with LED’s on the base between the two to give a more 3D effect (looks great at low light) The waterfall has bee “roughed in” and the river has to have the rapids enhanced before I can go any further.

You can see the four bridges stacked on the left wired up and set to go.. Before I can install them the track on the bridges will have to be have ballast added and then the wooden girders and the bridges glued in place, and after that the rest of the track will be laid with ballast.

Now, speaking of ballast I purchased a Proses Track Ballast Spreader. I have tried it out on a test piece of track and it works just fine but the leading edge of the spreader being 90 degrees catches on the “spikes” or whatever you call them, so what I did was lightly sand a 45 degree angle on the leading and trailing edges (there goes my aviation talk again) so they would ride over the lumps and bumps. I hope you can see it in the photo.

I was told when I started this hobby that you never finish a layout and I can see why. I have been going to model railway exhibitions for years and finally decided to bite the bullet. I have built a few scale buildings and trees but the installation will come much later. I am more interested in running the two tracks for some time to make sure all is ok. As some parts of the tracks will be hidden behind trees and buildings they will be difficult to get to – so no tunnels on this layout. By the way I tried laying the track on a foam base with thin Super Glue and it works great. Just pin the track in place and a few minutes later ….. voila !!! All fixed down.

Going by my photo of the layout, if anyone has any comments please let me know – I am new to this.

Kind Regards


“Here’s how I solved the limited space issue in my workshop. The mechanism is made mostly of bits & pieces from junk box and scrap pile. The layout is just starting, but closed cell foamboard and 1/8″ plywood will keep the weight down. The “picture frame on the ceiling makes the layout dust proof. All 4 “backdrop” sides fold down for easier access. The table is 8′ x 8′. It takes about 4 seconds to raise or lower. The light for the workbench automatically connects when the layout is up.To overcome reach issues to active track (N gauge), there will be a removable center section with no active components, just structures and scenery.

Jon in Texas”

“Dear Mr. Lee,

I have two tips to offer, maybe three…

Model railroading is the perfect hobby from my point of view…

From my point of view, model railroading offers more opportunities for creative self expression than any other hobby I am aware of.

Here are my tips… They apply to model railroading and to life..

1. It is more fun to be a participant than a spectator… build something!
2. Start small, failure is less painful and success comes more quickly.
3. Have fun… Play with new ideas and materials.



And now my friends, I’ve decided to put some of the questions I get time and time again to bed. So let’s start with this one:

How do you decide what scale to model in?

Answers please!

And don’t forget the latest ebay cheat sheet is here.



27 Responses to Ian’s layout

  1. HO scale track, trains, buildings are available in the US in many stores and most hobby shops. If you’re planning to buy on-site, this’d be an excellent choice.
    HO stuff is available at many sellers on-line.
    A piece of plywood 4′ by 8′ gives plenty of room for a layout.
    –Ben Z

  2. What scale depends on your age. If knocking on a bit, how much longer will you be able to see N scale. of course there is always broil. I’m sorry I will feel that again !!

  3. I bought a loco which had sound out of curiosity and after hearing it and running it in a circle on the dining room table, I found I wanted to see it running through scenery. My layout is now 13 ft x 22 303-547-2714/2 ft. It has been a year and a half since I brought the loco home. Rob M

  4. That’s. 22 1/2 x 13 ft

  5. Think you are going about it the right way Ian , and 4 x 8 should give you a decent layout , if the track is hidden you can still clean it with these modern track cleaners , all the best with it all

  6. Right now I’m into O gauge. For two reasons 1. I grew up with the Lionel Santa Fe (my first train) I was 5. Reason 2. my grandson (3) is into Thomas The Tank engine the size is appropriate for little hands. I’ve done HO and N gauge and I’d like to try G.
    HO would be my recommedation to start out with especially if you are into realism.

  7. I prefer to model in HO scale. Right now my layout is in S scale (American Flyer) because my 5 year old grandson can rerail the trains easily and because he discovered by childhood American Flyer trains in the basement closet and asked me to set it up. Our layout is about 22 x 8 feet square, about 2 foot wide with a large square in the center and about 28 inches high (so little people can play with it). There is not a lot available in the markets for S scale.

    N scale is too small for me (I’m 71 years old), too hard for my grandson to rerail and too delicate for running without derailing and other problems. I had an HO scale layout 30 years ago and it is just right to put a lot in a smaller area. There is also much more available commercially for HO scale than for S or N scales. I promised my grandson that when he turns 7 years old we will convert to HO scale as I still have many of my old locos and cars. Can’t wait!

  8. Layout looks good. I would like a reprint of how to make trees.

  9. Just a suggestion Ian since you do R/C models. I use DCC on my On30 layout and just converted to battery operation instead of using track power. No wiring,no track cleaning and no worries about polarity. There are a lot of model railroads using R/C control as well as DCC. Just a thought.

    I model in On30. I began model railroading at 65 and used HO. I soon found that both my eyes and my hands needed a larger size. If I had to do it over again I would go to what is called Garden sized or 1:20.

  10. It depends on what you think looks right. Also, how much room you have.
    I model in 00gauge N is too small for me, 0 gauge too big although if I had enough room and money I would be tempted.

  11. Good looking layout, Ian! I guess a lot of it depends on space. When I started building my current layout, I was VERY limited on space, only had 30 inches x 60 inches so I went with N scale. I wanted a continous run so my 7 & 9 year old stepsons could enjoy the train running so I went with a modified figure 8 set in a small rural “anywhere” USA setting. My joy comes from hand building the structures from card stock and balsa wood. The boys notice everytime I add a new scene or structure. Since I started this layout 9 months ago (pictures coming soon), I have “aquired” more space in my garage and will be setting up my 20 yr old HO train that’s been stored away. I love the great tips on this site! Thanks Al!!

  12. Right now, I don’t have a layout, but I have trains and some buildings for HO, and I’ve also got trains and track for N gauge. I belonged to a rr club that primarily used HO, but I’ll probably make a small N gauge layout when I can. My main reason is because of my lack of space for the HO size layout.

  13. It’s great to see all layout photo of these and advice they give me I’m so greatfull I have I o gage

  14. I have o gauge I uses all what you show me and that give Me this laoyout and so great


  16. I have done layouts in both ‘S’ and ‘N’. For getting the most into a space, ou can not beat ‘N’. I am working back into another ‘S’ layout as I have room to work on a medium sized layout and do a model of the NY Central / PRR North eastern division which ran in the town I grew up in.

    I find that for the most realism with out over doing the space, ‘S’ is very suitable and it is a common arcitect’s scale of 3/16″ to a foot make scratch building very easy and enjoyable.

    Otherwise go with what you fee comfortable with and can fit in the space you have….no the layout is ever finished, and then it is on to another adaptation.

  17. I have started an N scale railroad I have had HO, 027(American Flyer), G … I have a 2′ X 6′ (space permitted). It is 3′ in height. It is easy to work with easy to get around. light weight benches and using foam for base. I am 70 years old can see good … have some Arthur Ritis … not enough to keep me from working with N scale. I do not have problems keeping the trains on the tracks. May have to do with your radius using with the size of your rolling stock. I use re-railers to get them back on the tracks. Re-railers come in handy for road crossings too.

    I will send some pictures soon and a brief intro.
    I like N Scale… easy to work with for me and can do much with limited space.
    Keep up the great work Ian!
    Success to all who model railroad!

    I liked what John had to say three things to do for model railroading.
    I believe a failure is but a brief setback to find the patience and knowledge one needs to succeed. Not really a failure but a learning experience. What each of us add and give to our life … makes us a better person.

    Thank you Al for sharing thank you all for contributing.
    Be waiting to hear from you again.

    best regards,


  18. There is probably not a wrong answer to the “what scale to model” question. What ever your choice you should just get into it. Some of the observations I have are:

    What country and period do you want to model?
    America and Europe have heaps of HO scale available.
    England is mainly OO scale
    Both have N and O but not with as much choice as the other scales.
    Australia often uses narrow guage in a variety of different scales.
    The above choices also help to set the budget. The more available scales/ countries are always the cheapest. I am from Australia but model UK. If I was modeling an equivalent sized layout of an Australian railway it would have been more than twice the price.

    What size space do you have?
    8ft x 4ft layouts are popular starting points for HO and OO layouts as they are a manageable size yet will give you a lot of layout and the ability to do a full round circuit if want to.
    Shelf layouts are great, usually about 2ft deap and as long as you want. These work for all scales but don’t have the ability to do a loop.

    Scenic Lanscape or Urban Landscape?
    N scale works very well for sweeping scenic landscapes with lots of topography and depth. O scale on the other hand for the average sized layout does not offer as much scope. A hill in O scale will be as big as your living room. Urban scenes are easier to model in the larger scales.

    Steam or Deisel Locomotives (or both)
    O scale steam locos look fantastic.
    N scale seems to work better with more modern locomotives than steam as there is more space for the tiny mechanisms.
    OO and HO work well for both.

    How old are you?
    As some have said if you eye sight is going then N scale can be hard work. Word of warning. This hobby can be very addictive. You might see yourself pursuing it for a year or two then 20 years down the track find your still going strong. Many older modellers change over to O scale.

    Of cause there is another way of looking at it. Go to your local hobby shop. Find the nicest looking locomotive you can afford. Read all about its history then build you layout around it.



  19. I liked what you had to say Cameron … thanks for your insight! Well received here.

    best regards

  20. I was given an HO train set for Christmas the third year of my marriage. So, I model in HO. At least in the States, HO seems to be the most readily available. Choice in scale should be driven by two factors – how much space you have, and the scope of what you want to model. You can do LGB on a 4X8 if you love switching or street car scenery. Of course Age and Arthritus play a significant factor. So far, HO, magnifying glasses, and brighter lights have kept me in the modeling game.

  21. Could Jon from Texas show us more detail on the pulley system that he has used to raise and lower his layout.

    Many Thanks

  22. I started off at 18 months old with HO Trix Twin (2 trains on 1 track under independent control), and in the 60’s had some continental stock to go with it (Trix Express) In those days OOO or N Gauge as it became wasn’t very realistic compared to the OO / HO gauges. Since the 80’s, I’ve been more into 2 rail but still have British and European stock so it’s OO / HO and a couple of US trains as well. So depending on my mood, I can run British, German or Swiss trains as required, with the continental stock running from the overhead wires (Marklin K or home made in the hidden parts)
    I started my current project just over 2 years ago and will measure 15′ 6″ X 11′ 6″ when finished with a double track main line, single track goods and a single track branch leading to a small country terminus. The terminus is currently in the living room for when my Great-Nephew comes to visit as the shed is a bit of a minefield at the moment, but when the main layout is finished, will be on a higher level at the back of the shed with a ramp leading up to it along the length of the shed.

  23. I really enjoy everyone’s tips and comments. Some 20 years ago my wife and I were visiting with my younger daughter and her husband in Colorado. We went to Denver for some antiquing. I found some Marklin HO trains, a transformer and related items stuffed into a China cabinet. The price was right so I bought it all and took the mess home. I found that I had a steam freight engine and a steam passenger engine, plus appropriate rolling stock. It took a number of years for my wife to allocate space in the finished basement for a Train Table. We decided to build a 4’x8′ table on legs over a trundle bed. I was now 86 years old. I went to a Model Train store that Handled Marklin and many accessory items. I. Designed the track layout. I contracted with the store owner to construct the table, install tracks per my layout sketches, build a tunnel; He did all the wiring including 3 transformers and lights for buildings and the roads. He then delivered and set up the table over the bed. I built a scenic backdrop for the 8′ side of the table. Structures were bought and installed. Being colorblind, my wife will do the landscaping. I’m now 88 years old and enjoying every minute I spend with my Trains I intend to send you photos and a video soon.
    Bud in NJ USA

  24. cool !

  25. I started in OO in 1958, was awakened to HO and moved to that scale in 1968. In 1984 I dabbled with N scale but decided (at that time) Kadee couplers were too expensive to convert from the horrible Rapido types in use in N scale, so changed back to HO. I have stuck to that size as it has been able to offer a wider range of Aussi products. However that is now changing for the smaller sizes, thank goodness.
    I also model in 1.5 inch scale, ie. “Live Steam”, just because I like engineering! Definitely a nut case!
    Advice to newbies, pick a time, a location and restrict yourself to that. Sounds very limiting, it is not, you will end up with a more plausable result. I wish I had that advice when I started. Also start with a diorama, it is amazing how much you will learn and finish. Finishing is the best medicine to spur you on!
    Good luck

  26. Ian, I’m a bit confused. You said you had two coal mine operations, using On30 Spectrum Porters, and then you mention N scale. Are you mixing scales for perspective? It will be a while until I really get going on my On30 (which after doing HOn3, I consider the perfect scale/gauge) layout, but I love the support Bachmann has for that scale/gauge. I started out a few years ago getting a Spectrum 2 cylinder Shay which just sat in a case. Now I’ve had sound added to that, and also gotten a Spectrum Porter 2-4-2, a Spectrum Baldwin 2-6-6-2 Articulated (so I have to stick to 18″ radius HO track min.), a Spectrum Goose, and a Spectrum Rail Truck. I started out with Bachmann HO track, but found the ties (aka “sleepers”) were just too small and close together. So I’ll be laying PECO On30 track and switches. Will have to get a good DCC controller. The Bachmann DCC controller is just too limited in what it can do. Not worth the money compared to an MRC. Have to clear out a workshop on the back of my property, get the roof fixed, and evict a couple ‘possums before I can put it all together.

    If you can perfectly blend those gorgeous backgrounds into the scenery, that will be amazing. Looks like you’ve already modeled them to match. All the best!

    Ken in Fullerton, CA

  27. yea some that wants to run trains, less interested in lay out at first any way seems thanks good job and keep the pictures coming dan o arkansas

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