Robert’s saw mill railroad layout

I’ll start with an answer to a question many of you asked Cameron.

If you’re wondering how he got the bus to move…

“Dear All,

Thankyou for your kind feedback and support for the video. It has left me feeling extremelly motivated to put the finishing tuches on the layout and film another one.

As for the bus and fire engine moving, it is not as impressive as the video makes out. Just some black thread and a 1:1 scale man pulling it along. I got the inspiration from Dave who used this technique in a video he submitted some time ago. Ahhh the magic of cinema.


“Hello again Al,

My decision to switch into a larger scale was not only based on the fact that I was thick fingered and squinty eyed but also I now had a larger space to play. I decided not to take apart my HO layout because I still liked running the trains and I felt I had too much invested into it. Thought this was a good time to mention that although my 1st layout had a switching area I found I really did not enjoy picking up and dropping off trains. I just like to watch them run around my layout while I sit and drink my coffee.

My plan was to build the On30 layout on top of my work and storage shelves directly under the HO shelf layout. The first thing I did was to buy a 2-6-0 Consolidated with DCC and sound and put it on the shelf to give me inspiration. I then bought a couple of what they call Craftsmen kits. I got one called the Hillside Mine from Ozsteam (Steam in the Bush) in Australia and the other was the Danby Saw Mill that I found on eBay. After I finished building them I designed my new layout. It was during the process of building the craftsmen kits that I got more confidence in my ability to do more scratch building. I got tired of using coffee stirrers from restaurants and tongue depressors that I picked up at my doctors office and went to a place called Michaels that my wife told me about (an 80 mile round trip) and bought all kinds of wood sticks. Some of these were like Popsicle sticks, others were like tongue depressors and some were just flat w/o the rounded ends. Forget the hobby shop (although I do wish I had access to one) this is the way to buy wood for scratch building. Also picked up a bunch of 1/4 size stock at the lumber yard.

Some items of interest about this layout:

1. Had to bite the bullet and use two drop-in’s (two levels of tracks) since this layout was too low (about 34″ high) for me to duck under.

2. Tried my hand at installing decoders. After destroying two locomotives, I have given up on this part of the hobby.
I buy my locomotives with the decoders installed or I send them out to be installed.

3. The main trestle with the waterfall is my copy of one I saw on the internet called the Sundance Central. The main station is my rendition of one I saw in a magazine called the Rubble’s Depot sold by Deben LLC. I built it out of cardboard boxes with the round part being a couple of salt boxes (Morton’s Salt) with the top being a funnel wound with string and a thing the doctor uses to look into your ears and nose mounted on the top. I then rolled the whole model in kitty litter. When I was at my doctors, he threw away the plastic do-dad that he used to look into my ears and I asked if I could have it. He then reach into a drawer and gave me a bunch of them. I now glue them on top of pill bottles to make steam boilers. Everything else is also scratch built from pictures I see in magazines of on the internet.

4. Just a note about making molds of things. For rocks and big stuff, Plaster of Paris is O.K. but on thinner stuff like tunnel portals it’s much too soft and the casts will break. Use regular plaster. If you need really strong plaster, I used Durham’s Water Putty. I bought a bunch of plaster stumps and spent a whole lot of time making molds of these tiny stumps and then making plaster casts for my layout. Much easier to just go out and get some tree branches and cut them into stumps. Live and learn! I made molds of barrels and then made dozens of them out of plaster. When I ran out of plaster I filled the molds with melted glue sticks …. much easier and the casts were better.

5. A gentleman named Mario gave me some advice when I began to build this layout and also the names of some layouts to look at. They really changed the way I try to plan and build my layouts.

6. Some of you may have noticed that I now use NBW (nut-bolt-washer) sets instead of pin heads. Make sure you don’t trim your finger nails when you play with these little things.

7. On my HO layout I used something called Liquid Water (I think). On this layout I used a product called Glaze Coat (Famowood – but any like product will do) that I bought at the lumber yard. Much cheaper and does the same thing. So if you like your water feature to have actual depth, this is the way to go.

8. Lighting this layout was always a problem for me. I tried strings of white Christmas lights. I tried string tube lights that are used under kitchen cabinets. I also tried small florescent under mount lights as well. None of these really worked for me. The main problem with lighting this layout was the fact that I did not allow enough height to provide for effective lighting. I could not use a valance because it would block the layout. If I would have planned for a layout under my existing one I would have used small canned lights mounted in the upper layout. My waterfall is actually strips of clear silicone caulk painted white on the underside.

9. The heavy foliage is some poly fiber that I took out of an old pillow that my wife threw away. I dunked it into a can of green latex paint, wrung it out and let it dry out in the sun. When I need it, I stretch it out into a thin sheet, then dip it into a 50/50 mix of white glue and water, ring it out a little and press it into a mix of scenic foam(one side only). I then drape the stuff over my scenery. If your scenery is unfinished plaster you may have to brush on some white glue to help is stick.

I operated these layouts for about a year and then had a scathingly brilliant idea. I called a contractor friend and asked if he could add a 12 x 12 foot extension onto my existing train depot. He said ‘No Problem’. This gave me a 12 x 24 foot space and another adventure had begun.


Wow! Another inspirational layout. Thank you Robert.

Don’t forget the very latest ebay cheat sheet. It’s here.

Have some fantastic tips lined up too.



(There are hundreds and hundreds of posts to enjoy and learn from – but the only way you’ll get to see them all is by being on the newsletter).

32 Responses to Robert’s saw mill railroad layout

  1. I wondered where I had seen that technique before Cameron !! and well done to Robert

  2. What a great layout. It has given me inspiration for my new layout under design at the present.

  3. I was looking through all of the images and noticed something quite amazing in the image of the base of the trestle. Can anyone else see it, here is a hint ( its black, big, has claws ) a bear Quite unique

  4. What a great layout, I especially like the attention to detail you’ve submitted with several of the buildings, especially the saw mill structure and the trestle bridge, they are just so realistic. I also like the way you’ve left the saw mill building open, as it would of spoiled it if you’d enclosed it some what, the way it is adds to the realistic appeal of the scene, so great job and thanks for sharring it with us modelers.

  5. Great layout robert,we are all green with envy that you have the space you need to build it.

  6. More wonderful ideas. Robert, the depot idea was one of the most unique that I have come across. I liked the bear at the base of the trestle.
    Cameron, thread? That’s idea I haven’t thought about since I was knee high to a grasshopper!
    Best to everyone.

  7. Very well done! I like the “extras”-the gold miners, the bear, the sheep herder, etc. Thanks for sharing! Jim

  8. Great layout and a nice touch with the bear. I have a question on the glaze coat used for your water. Is Famowood a type of paint? Would it be laid down in layers or poured and let cure in the pond? Does it dry clear? Thanks for any info.

  9. Yes, Jim, I saw that bear … hope no lions and tigers; oh my!
    Scenery and detail are awesome!

    Thanks Cameron and Al for sharing

    Keep On Training!

    Tom N

  10. Thanks for all the useful tips. I will have to visit the surgery and see what I can scrounge. I also use odds and ends so am always looking for ideas like this. I wonder if I have patience and skills sufficient to tackle your wooden trestle bridge and water tank etc.
    Thanks again , D/


  12. Fantastic. most of them must have been handcrafted with lot of thought and precision. Great work, great patience and enthusiasm.

  13. I love the work on the saw mill.

  14. I like bush railways

  15. Fantastic! Your attention to detail is amazing…

  16. A splendid layout Robert.
    The mill theme has worked well.
    Some useful hints and techniques described there.

  17. Hi Rudy,
    The glaze coat is a two part epoxy that drys clear and can be poured in as many coats as you like. It can also be colored when mixing as well. It’s a common item at most hardware or home center stores. Also check out “glaze coat epoxy’ on the internet.

    The bear was too easy …. how come nobody found the moose?

  18. just love the shanty buildings. very well done, got a great atmoshpere about it

  19. Excellent modeling.

  20. excellent work

  21. Loved everything, it is such a complete look. The bear and waterfall are favorites. But family has a sawmill so that addition was the crowning touch. Question: were can I purchase a lg. amount wiring for fasttack switches. The Lionel brand is to expensive.

  22. hi alister
    it`s going to be awhile before i can show you the layout as it is a bit complex but what i have to say is this, no one has ever mentioned a fantastic medium for railway modelling and the funny thing is we used to play with it when we wher children . and that is paper machay sorry if spelt it wrong

  23. Hey, Robert.
    My question is how did you do the stone on the building in the last picture? Looks awesome!

  24. Terrific! Are you in the UK?

  25. Absolutely brilliant , Well done Robert!!

  26. This is one beautiful layout. I wish I had your talents to make a layout.

  27. Excellent, hard work and research.

  28. Another great job. Now you are beginning to pique my interest. I still want someone to show a great 3 rail O gauge layout in the same light that these small gauge layouts have been presented.

  29. Well after a few tries I did finally did spot the moose – He is quite hard to spot as he really does blend in with the background scenery quite well. Overall it is quite a great layout and you had a lot of great ideas. Thanks for sharing pictures of it, and them.

  30. Wow and here I am still trying to figure out how to do a layout for a zig zag mountain theme on a 8ft by 6ft board any suggestions and ideas welcome

    Allen in Perth Aus

  31. A Good thematic representation and imagination. Great work with attention to details

  32. Amazing stuff! Especially the giant rodent!:-)

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