Steam engine with no fire!

Okay, so perhaps this is a bit off the beaten track of model railroads – but I found it interesting and thought you may too.


Here are some pictures of a steam engine which has no firebox.

It was parked at the power plant of NCR (National Cash Register) here in Dayton.

A pressure hose was attached from the factory’s steam line to the loco. Steam was pushed into the thermos flask (the main part of the loco), and used to move it around the yard switching 2 or 3 small rolling stock cars.


And now dear readers, some help is needed.

Wayne has got in touch. And I thought I’d ask the collective – that’s you – on his behalf. Please post comment below!

“I read your material everyday. I print it out and have put it in a binder. If you can get some feed back on what I should do? I thought I had it figured out.

I am a novice and just getting into model railroading. Sometimes you get things that your mind cannot comprehend. A friend’s husband passed and he had HO trains and layout with accessories, some installed and others not?.

I picked it up this AM and now I have a 4 track layout on a 4×4 HO Scale board with trap door in the middle. All four tracks are separate buy can switch cars from one to the other.

There are five engines and several cars…. Bachmann and Atlas material. Enough track to build another rail system on a separate board.

There is railroad crossing with lights and signs, end of 3 track switch with lights, etc.

I have the ability to build the hills and buildings as I do scroll saw stuff. Work a lot with plastic.

Attached is a picture of the stuff I have.

1. Do I start all over and build new?
2. Do I work with what I have>
3. Or do I get creative and build around what I have?
4. Should I just start with one engine, cars and work my way up?


So can you help Wayne out? What would you suggest? I’m asking because I know we’ve all been there!

Oh – and don’t forget the new ebay cheat sheet”

Keep ’em coming.



PS Beginner’s Guide is here.

121 Responses to Steam engine with no fire!

  1. If it was me , I would start all over again , and make more use of the centre part

  2. I remember seeing an article about this in Model Railroader, I hope that helps with the engine. I recently put together my first layout and it was an adventure, do you have more room? Do you have the funds to expand on the layout? If so it can give you a lot of experiance and fun to plan and build your own layout. If not stick with what you have and enjoy!

  3. Hmmm. This depends on how detailed you want to get. My suggestion is the work the numbers in this order, 4, 2, 3, 1.

    You should start by running the trains on the current layout to get an idea of the radius of the curves and car widths. If you would buildings between the tracks or tunnels on only some of them, you would need to move the tracks. There is always the option that you could partially work the boards in a modular fashon. In this case, you would have a connecting track between the two boards. If the tracks are glued down, they might not come up easy and it would be time to start over.

  4. Looks too busy on the size of the board in HO scale. Answer would depend on how much room you have available to rebuild with say 3 main loops but with straight runs on a rectangular board or even consider an “L” shape in the corner of a room.

  5. Depends on what you want to do. Personally I’d dismantle it and salvage what I could to add to my layout. What you have there would hold my interest for about 5 minutes…

  6. 4 X4 . Well you could Add to This Layout at the ‘Model Road Purchase 1′ Photo right where the Yellow BOX is on The Bottom Left Corner which looks like a Parking Track that is in an ideal position to Continue an expansion, you could Shoot off from their with out disturbing the Layout you Have. Because latter on You will wish you had not pulled this Layout up, to Make something else with what you have. On this 4X4 Board this area is ready for an Expansion if you have the Space. Anthony

  7. It appears that the minimum 4’x4′ HO layout was intended to ‘showcase’ four spearate trains running at the same time, much like you would have a circle of track under the Christmas tree. This may have satisfied the original builder, but it hardly makes for some exciting railroading and leaves next to zero room to build upon i.e. buildings & landscaping.

    I would keep everything. There appears to be a mix of old and newer period rolling stock so you can always switch out the cars & engine depending on what your fancy is during the next opertaing session. And it’s always better to have more than not enough. At least until you get the feel for what you REALLY want to model. And that won’t happen until you start building a layout.

    Save everything but the base and start over. Use at least a 4’x8′ panel, or check out an Atlas or Kalmbach book on track plans and layout ideas. Do some ‘armchair railroading’ and then pick a plan, maybe tweak it, and go to town. If you truly get into the hobby, you will learn about carpentry, electricity, design, painting, geography, railroad history, art etc. etc. And don’t worry if one day you may not finish this layout but decide to start another one! Don’t worry. That’s normal. It’s always a work in progress. New ideas & techniques always show up. Sometimes you can fit them in as you go, and sometimes it’ll wait until the next layout you build.

    But to start, the rule of thumb is to go the largest you can afford, both in scale, space & pocketbook. Not necessarily in that order. At least for now, you already have the ‘scale’ part answer: you’re modeling HO.

    And as a beginner, starting on a 4’x8′ plan will do you well for the first time around. Head for a local railroad club fleamarket and pick up some older magazines of Model Railroader or Railroad Craftsman for ideas. And check the operating displays to see what you think you can do. Ideas. Ideas. Ideas.
    And as best as you can, plan ahead and work your plan. In model railroading it really helps.

    Best of Luck!


  8. @Ben…I could be wrong, but I think it’s a (slang) “fireless cooker”. W/o looking it up I’ll say it’s not that rare, but it’s probably the only one left! Thanks for sharing ur excellent photos. I do not remember the loco builder right now…

    @Wayne…do what u like…u could use ur 4X4 as a return loop or a helix. I myself for my first layout I built a switching layout but one that does have a mainline & yard. It’s just along one wall, but the yard is pretty big and I can display the models. That’s the first goal that came to my mind. I did include two turnouts that I can use to expand along other walls in case I want a true point to point later on; or, I could provide for continuous running. Those Bachmann’s run well.

  9. Hi- if i were you, I would rebuild it.

    I tore apart 60% of my 3.5x 7 layout complete with scenary. Took out the base, extended the ply wood to proper 4×8. now I run twin loop ovals with several sidings serving coal mine, engine house and a short passenger line.

    It is painful in the beginning, but it is worth it once you start running trains on you new trackwork

  10. Hi Wayne, You do not mention if you are already running a layout or of what size or if it is compatible with what you have just received. If you are then i would suggest that you try to combine the two. a lot easier than starting over. perhaps place a tunnel between the two layouts. of course if you do not have an existing layout then you have an excellent start for a new one. Congratulations on getting all that equipment anyway.
    Regards Rob

  11. i am a novice at railroding but looking at what you have you could make the layout a little larger with 2 main tracks and a industrial siding or 2.

  12. on the steam side very interesting not that smart on how movement around the yard works.

  13. Hi Al, a response for Wayne.

    Hi Wayne,

    sounds like it’s back to the drawingboard for you. You’re probably aware of the initial steps of building a layout; space (wich dictates shape & size), era, type (round and round, shunting, point to point etc) and so forth.
    Most important I find is: take your time to think about what you want & how you want it. This may probably take months before you have created an idea wich suits your ‘needs’. For remember: each choice you make excludes a 1000 other posibillities. So play around with what you’ve got, toy with different layout ideas and gather information about layouts you would like. Gather loads and loads of information, and after a while…. the pieces will come together.



  14. Hello Wayne, It would depend on a lot of things falling into place, such as 1. Do you have children or grandchildren? 2. do yoy have space to make another layout? 3. how big a layout can you build (or is it the same size? Just taking those three questions (I know there are heaps more) this would be my response If you have enough track, build another layout for yourself and leave the 4X4 for the children, also gives you something to use while your “Superlayout” is under construction. If you olny have enough material to construct another 4X4 then join them together and make an 8 X 4, good luck with your project, and if you are looking for a tool to design your new layout check out SCARM (Simple Computer Aided Railway Modeller) on the Computer (a free design program that is really very easy to use)

  15. Fireless locomotives were once quite common in the UK. A few years ago I was involved in an abortive attempt to cosmetically restore one of the locos that used to work in the Huntley & Palmers factory in Reading. At the time I scratchbuilt a model of the loco. I also have a 009 model of one of the fireless locos that used to work at Bowaters in Sittingbourne (Golden arrow kit), while I know there is also a kit available for a Barclay fireless loco in O gauge. I will sort out some photos later.

    PS judging by the name, I guess the one on this page ran on fizzy orange juice!

  16. Well as a beginner also my thought process would be:
    1. do i want to become a railway modeller because it is adictive?
    2. If yes, how big do i want the layout to be eventually? I think you will soon get bored with the relavely small oval you have inherited.
    3. which scale and gauge do i want. You have HO gauge on the track and 4mm model scale as a starter and i suggest you stick top that. I have 00 but am deciding to gradually go to P4 or at least close because i am now thinking it looks better. HO is a good continental scale all round I think.
    4.Do you want DCC? I think you should if you are serious, i have, plan for it now

    Well that should get your thought processes started, oh and keep filing Alistaire’s comments

  17. I would start again as there is to much going on in such a small space. If you have the space 8 x 4 or 6 x 4 min. would give you more room to add scenery that will give you more depth to the layout.

  18. if i was you ,i would have a bigger layout you look as if you have the room,you look as if you have plenty of equipment,to have a really nice railway. all the very best,let us know,what you decided.

  19. Start all over with what you have. It is not easy to carry on with someone else’s ideas. Your own ideas will work well as time go by, you will admire your own work for years to come.
    The layout on the pictures looks very small. For the stock to come alive you need more space.

    Happy planning

    Danie de Kock
    South Africa

  20. If you know what you want, then I would start again as this arrangement will not satisfy you for long.

    On the other hand, you could use what is there to develop your skills so that when you do build your own railway you have made at least some of the mistakes that we all make.

    My suggestion though is to find your local Model Railway Club and there you will find all the (friendly) help and advice that you need. Your local Model Shop will probably know where local clubs are, or try Google.

    Best wishes – you will find a life long hobby


  21. Dear Wayne,

    First of all a questions back at you. What do you want out of the hobby? How much spare time do you have to dedicate to it? Finally how much more do you want to invest?

    I would recommend that if you want to ‘play trains’, don’t have a lot of time, and don’t want to spend much more then work with what you have, start with small operations and work your way up.

    If you are a modeller, have some spare time, and are happy to invest a bit more then I would either build you current layout as a module to expand from or start over. As you are just starting out I would recommend researching a layout that has been done before that is not too complicated but you find interesting to work on and operate. This is what I did (Although I work full time, I spend about 5-10 hrs a week). I started out with a basic train set on a table to get comfortable with the basics then gradually built up. I then researched a layout that I thought would be fun to operate and interesting to work on. I then modified that layout plan so that it could be a module when I could expand. The result was the ‘Kansas City Time Saver’ that Al posted earlier in the month. I am now on my third layout. All can be operated independently or together as one big layout. The reason I did this was I move around every few years with work and have to fit into different spaces in different houses.

    Which ever way you go good luck and above all else have fun. If you have anyother questions fire away.

    Regards, Mike

  22. cool building!!!!

  23. Definately keep what you have and expand on it ! From your photos you have a compact diorama railroad in hand! Your friend’s work is quite impressive – in fact I began duplicating it this morning !
    From the photos you have the core of both a Civil War era railroad and a 20th century short line or interconnecting road.
    I would plan an addition to this line of perhaps 4 x 6 or 4 x 8 similar to the display layout of Varney Model Railroad Co of the 50’s (I can furnish a photo if you lack one). Paper mache’ rolling hills around the elevated tracks would result in a valley village site surrounded by trackage – perfect for a road incorporating the new Bachmann Civil War sets ! And, you already have additional rolling stock for this era.
    Incorporating the Varney layout as an addition in the form of an “L” would result in a rolling countryside ending in the “Village in the Valley”. By simply rotating structures and details like people and cars for horses and wagons you could have a Civil War era road, late 19th century, early 20th century or mid 20th century road.
    DCC opens vast possibilities for this core layout. Adding the Varney layout as an “L” would result in a 8 x 6 “L” layout.
    Thank you for sharing! After 50 years in the hobby I am enthused by the possibilities of your “start-up” 4 x 4.

    Jake Bechtel
    Gadsden, AL

  24. It appears, by the multi-level track, that that the original intent was to put as much as possible into a small space. If you wish to continue this plan then you may want to use or modify the existing progress. If your ideals tend more to an expansive layout, then start anew using those items that suit your plan and add new items as needed. Please post later to show us how it turns out.
    Best of luck,

  25. I would say get creative and build around what you have got. This way you can have it how you want it and make it look good.

  26. Is this model railroad wired and ready to run? It looks like you may already have a throttle and electronics, so try plugging it in and just run some of the engines and cars.

    See how it looks, enjoy the model as is. You can try building a few structures, either from scratch or kits, because you can always re-use those. You can certainly use the rolling stock and engines on any layout as well.

    Then buy a Model Railroader magazine to see what’s possible and decide where you want to go.

  27. Yes, i would have to agree. Looks like you have a lot of euipment there and it seems unreasonable that you’d be happy with someone else’s layout. Expand the board, you have enough stuff, make your own layout, and then thru experience, trial & error, etc. you’ll still be able to build upon it. Good luck, I think you have a great start. Tommy

  28. Dear Wayne,

    Mike has given you some great advice. Use what you have for a while to get used to just making things run. Start with just a few cars and an engine to see what it feels like. You will soon find that this set is probably too small to really enjoy running trains.

    Look at other layouts and read the books and magazines that you can get, watch this site for ideas and tips. Keep notes on what you like and don’t like, what you want in your own line and they start building a section at a time running trains on the track before putting the scenery up. Once they are running well place the scenery and move on to the next section. This lets you run trains and build at the same time and decreases the chance of dissatisfaction with the hobby.

    Look at the time you have, what you want to invest (that number will grow as you really get involved) take your time doing it and have fun.

    Enjoy yourself,


  29. If your friend meant a lot to you I would save the layout as a tribute to him.

    That being said …

    If you truly want to be a model railroader and not just playing with trains you should really consider utilizing the rolling stock and engines and whatever else you can from that layout and build something that will fit what you want as your layout.

    That is a cute concept layout for showing off cars but the curve radii are ridiculously tight and no trains ever ran in concentric circles like that. Also there is no feel for a place and time in history.

    My question for you is this – what do you want out of the hobby? Do you want to just run some trains around the track or do you want to model something either real or freelanced that will allow you to build your skills as you build your layout and allow you to receive the true riches of a hobby that offers so much?

    Neither answer is right or wrong. You just have to go with what is important to you.

    Good luck!

  30. Hi all: I started my n scale set up about 5 months ago in a small space on a computor desk.It’s been a love hate thing,if it wasn’t for this email from Al and the rest of you that write comments,I’d be lost.thanks to Al.and the rest of you for your help.

  31. I am also new at this, but it was seem to me that you have an excellent starter layout and, if you have the room, I would use it attached to a 4×6 or 8 table and use turnouts to connect the existing tracks to the new layout. New being whatever you want to design. And, as a beginner, you should start with a flat board, before you bet into the framework.

  32. It is not what you have, it is what kind of room do you have. Modular design is always the way to go in case you have to relocate. I can help on design work. Better quality, if not for the budget, is the way to go. Prototypical scenes also help. I offer classes in modular design. Get building!

  33. Is there a list of pieces with rail? Maybe i can do you a few suggestions. Above is mentioned already to have a bigger layout.

  34. If the the friend was close, I would try to incorporate at least part of it into a new layout. Just a part, not as a whole. That way every time you see it, you remember a good friend.

    Having said that, a new design
    [to me) would be best.

  35. I Concur whole heartedly with Mike. My self I would find what you have currently boring after 1 or 2 hours. I enjoy challenges and some say I thrive on them. So what I say may not be apropo for you. I love the flexability of an open grid work frame to build on. Course I love mountain railroading and is the easiest way to build that. We all have acceptable compromises we make that we are quite happy with. You have to look at what your true short and long term goals are you want from you model railroading. Some enjoy the pursuit of very realistic representations down the the smallest details. Myself I can’t afford that if my road is going to be larger than a postage stamp. I want the walk around capability so build accordingly. Some prefer the stand in one spot and run them. If you don’t have the questions answered for your self yet your truly aren’t ready to make your long term decision. For now stick with what you know and enjoy what you have and explore through clubs, magazines and if you can manage it get invites to others roads to see what you like and dislike about their roads while respecting their choices. Gotta run.. Slow freight heading out..

  36. Dear Wayne, I would suggesto to make one layout as big as you can make it and convine both sets. In a 4 X 4 your layout becomes a Petzell and soon it becomes boring.
    I notice that it is in a basement or garage, if you can spare more room, you can make it much bigger.
    All presented few days ago my layout which I suspended from the ceiling and it measures 6 X 7, olmost double yours. My set is “N” gauge and I still find it too small. Can you expand its size?
    Regards, Paco Gayon

  37. I agree. Start over.

  38. This layout is OK if you just want to watch trains go in a circle. Since much of the track is elevated it looks like a simple matter, with diligence, to remove the track more or less intact and usuable.
    I think to put what you have on a new piece of plywood. (Easiest to build.) Re-using the same track and adding what other track you mentioned. With the extra purchase of a few turnouts you could create a real operating layout at a modest price.
    Look at a few “MODEL RAILROAD PLANS” books (There are many) for ideas. By changing a turnout here or there on something you like, you’re not copying and you’d probably recieve more satisfaction. Go no bigger than a sheet of plywood size to learn on, and “STAY SIMPLE”
    What would you like? . . . One or two track mainline? Small town or not? Lake? River? Elevated section of track? Level? Hills? Gullys? or mountain side? Small rail yard with two or three rails?
    Doodle with ideas for a month or two and you will come up with something you like and it will be YOURS. Only remember, “Stay Simple” for you first one and “Do a Good Job”. You’ll be more pleased in the end. If the bug doesn’t bite you,you can sell a nice layout fairly easily. If the bug DOES bite you, you can add on to this original layout easily as well.

  39. Hi Wayne,

    I would start over using what you have and as already said also by other get a larger board.
    Width isn’t that important bur length is, to my opinion.
    Make sure you can have some turns at at least on end of the board and stretch the rest.
    If you can run 2 trains at the same time and can have all of them on the board controlled with DCC you will have a good set-up to get started.
    Go for at least 8 x 4 (ft) or longer when possible.

    Just my 2 cents.



  40. Wayne,
    I would just start playing with what you have. As you play you will think about what is wrong and what is right about this layout. Then you will get some thoughts of what you want. Take some time to look at other layouts. Take time to think about your likes and dislikes. Soon the course you should take will become apparent to you.
    Most important have fun.
    Good luck, Jim

  41. If you have some spare time, some space and either a concept of a layout or an actual layout in mind I would suggest you start from scratch. To me the existing set-up is a bit confining, even as a possible module in a larger layout. It appears that you have plenty of basic equipment to work with. Good luck, and happy modeling!

    Bill M

    Pleasant Valley, NY

  42. To Wayne I recommend starting over as you have the necessary skills to construct a layout.

    I like the cheat sheet!

  43. Be creative. Use your imagination. Have fun.

  44. Wayne,
    I’d suggest you figure out how to run a short train on the layout that already exists. You’ll learn quickly if all the electrical connections are solid; if not, that’s a good place to focus on.
    The next step is to learn how to use the switches (turnouts). After that skill is mastered you can practice moving trains forward and reverse through the switches.
    The layout has a grade (incline). If the couplers are NOT at the proper height, they will uncouple. Getting them to stay hitched is the biggest problem I’ve had to deal with.
    If this is a problem for you, then build another layout with everything level.
    In any case, you’ll have fun.
    –Ben Z

  45. My suggestion would be to first ‘play’ with what you gave been given, until you reach the several stages where you ‘feel’ – “I wish my trains could also ……. ?”
    When you have accumulated enough of those ‘feelings’, only then, start either adding a module to the layout you have, or start evolving into your own RR concept.
    You will be significantly happier when the layout becomes ‘yours’.

  46. Steam locomotives with no fire were used a lot in naval dockyards, explosives factories, armament factories. Some ran on wooden rails to reduce the risk of sparks

  47. Hi Wayne.
    Model railroading is very personal, and gives you exactly what you want, and not what anyone else thinks or wants.
    So to answer your questions, quite simply, if you are happy go with it. If you’re not happy, then change.
    My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that you MAY tire of the cramped space, and if you do, will wish you had gone for a larger layout.
    An interesting fact that I have learned with this hobby, which more often than not applies, is LESS IS MORE. (in your case, the cramped layout desires more space).

  48. I would go with your option #3, get creative and build, not so much around, but onto what you have. Another base unit similar to what you have should suffice to support a 4×8 foot sheet of plywood. Remove the existing 4×4 layout from the base, set the new 4×4 piece of plywood across both base units and then set the existing 4×4 layout on top of either one end or in the middle and expand the systeminto anothewr layout of your own design. That design can come from modifying layouts of which there are plenty of ideas to choose from.
    No matter which way you go, the main objective is to HAVE FUN!

  49. Ooops, typo alert:
    “Remove the existing 4×4 layout from the base, set the new 4×4 piece of plywood across both base units and then set the existing 4×4 layout on top of…”
    That should read, set the new 4×8 piece of plywood….

    Sorry about that.

  50. Looking at the amount of gear you seem to have, I’d start with your own ideas as well as looking at joining a local club who will give you lots of freindly advice, enjjoy and remember have fun

  51. Hi Wayne.
    It looks to me what you have there will soon bore you with the running tail chaser.
    I would build bigger and start afresh.
    Look at layouts at shows and on the web and mags to get ideas of the realism and detail you want to put into it plus the time of course and also the cost all these things you have to take into account.
    One idea is to have a few sidings where you can set yourself shunting problems to sort out imagination is endless
    All the best with what you decide

  52. I think if you have all that stock you have you will need a new layout to make it all come to life, you will be far happier making your own and getting it right for you.
    Have fun hope to see a photograph later onece you have built it.?


  53. What you could do is improve what you have.

    I would suggest making a terminal in the middle of the layout.

    plus install a crossover so that you can switch trains from one line to the other and build a small station. that flyover could be made into a hill.

  54. Unless you know what was on the mind of the previous owner, I mean really know what was on his mind, I would start from scratch. Search through YouTube and other sites such as Alastair’s to start getting some ideas. There are hundreds of people on line that have beautiful layouts but they are what was on the mind of the designers. You may want to build a city scape or country scape or both. You can use you neighborhood as a sample. I started mine about 4 years ago and it took me nearly 3 years to finally come up with the design I have now. Once I finish it, I probably will take it apart and start over with a fresh new layout.

  55. I would start again, but have an idea of what I wanted. Research your thoughts on the web, etc. In the meantime, you can still enjoy what you already have.

  56. Wayne,

    Bigger is always better but as your first layout you can practice most of the track and scenery ideas on your little 4×4. This is a fun size if you like to share it with others as it is moveable. My dad and I used to put on a little train show at the county fair every year and we had a small 4×8 HO layout for that event with some old hawaiian and big band music . It was a real draw card for the guys wanting to get out of looking at the flower and quilt exhibits and talk about guy stuff. Additionally a small layout is useful at trying out new ideas without tearing up a big more permanent layout, If you have to stick with small make the layout dynamic with lots of interesting detail and motion.


  57. Wayne,

    I would start, play and think with what you have. Let your mind wander you can always add a switch here and there and pay homage to the original and add your touch and talent to the rest. Good luck to a new model railroader.

  58. Hi Al,ta for latest e-mail which I have just opened. re steam trains with no fire-boxes, if memory serves me I.C.I and a couple of other companies Clayton Analine was one up here in MANCHESTER AREA had these little Hunslet I think made them or they were a conversion of a “normal” locomotive, were running around their respective chemical and hazardous materials plants back in the late 1970 and early 1980ties, when I worked as an industrial fridge installer, and these were filled with steam from a central distribution point and used to run for e few hours until needing to be topped up by in one case a moble road vehicle with a big tank on the backHope this is of help kind regards Chris Jordan

  59. Hi if I were you I would go bigger and be creative, use materials you have toward a bigger project and add too it.

    However draw out your layout first as you can rub out what you don’t like and once you are happy with your drawn layout you can transfer that to s base board of required size and build at your leisure.

    I too am a novice and went from a 7’x4′ layout to a 12′ 5′ I find it much better and I can be creative and have a realistic outcome. My layout is in 00 guage but whatever the scale, if you are a modler and like building from scratch as well as implementing ready built items into your project, it makes it more fun and interesting.

    Best of luck use this site for tips and tricks, I have and its fantastic what you can do from the ideas members have listed here. Saved me a load of cash and has given me satisfaction that I built it.


  60. I would look at it every couple days and then decide on how to join it together. I have done this, it’s a lot of work, but it is also rewarding and kind of a tribute to your late friends work . Is there room to put a big screen and couch near the switcher? LOL

  61. Hello! If it was me, I too would start over to build a new layout and use the equiptment that you have and add on. I to am a novice and I went from a 12 x 12 room size layout to a double deck with two helix’s in a 26 x 32 room.

    The one advice to you is to look around for some fellow model railroader”s as I did, to get some feed back and ideas on how to go about building a new layout!

    Remember, model railroading is fun!

  62. I have been two years working on my model raily and all I have is a board with lods of N gauge track, 15 turnouts all wired up but do not know what to do next.

    I have changed it so many times that I have more unused track than track pinned down. Today I extended the base board and am now thinking of ripping it all up again and starting afresh.

    If I had any sense I would trash the whole lot and take up fishing or . . . but I won’t do that. I am hooked and there is no cure, so it is back
    to the base board, get a bigger overdraft from the bank and carry on.

  63. I would start with a 4×8 with one main line going the whole way around. Have a small town or community, and a purpose for the railroad. (AKA a coal mine or some small business.) You dont want to just have trains running in circles all day, that gets boring fast. But put switches in so that you can expand your layout at a later time if you want. Keep it simple at first, but plan ahead so you can always extend, and before you know it you will have your own empire! Have fun!!!

  64. IN ANSWER TO ALL THE REPLIES: Thank you all so much. I have the room, will use a 4X8 sheet to start with. Not broke yet, but sounds like I might be. I am retired and have the time. From a card board cut out in 1947 to the old three rail wind up (No Electricity until 1949) to the electric. Never had the time to expand my interest, now I do. I will dismantle, as the person who build this has passed and took all his knowledge to the grave, none of his family knows what he was doing, hence the set I got. It will be interesting looking at my photos now and what I finish up with. Till we meet again.
    Not afraid to try something new…..
    Thanks again for all the comments.


  66. For my 2 cents; I was remembering my Grandfathers first advice to me.
    Build your first layout or part there of small so you can incorporate it into your next layout or in my case: mine is still in use in my layout today almost 50 years later. Mine was 18 inches wide by 4 feet long I have used it in almost every layout I have ever made. building in this concept makes it easy to save that special area or scene and use it over again when you want to.
    Whatever you do remember to make it enjoyable to you.

  67. I run a 4×5 layout as I have limited space, and portability is a key issue.
    I had a large layout 8×12 at one time. as forturnes changed, it turned into a nightmare to dismantle and move. A lot depends on your space available. A 4×8 would be a good start.

  68. Wayne,
    I know that I am not you, but you asked for suggestions. So, with that in mind as an invitation, here is what I would do if I were you. Throw out question #1. I see potential in what your photos show.

    Question #2 is where I would start. It looks as if the layout is an ‘Analog layout’ and not ‘D.C.C.’. What you need to do is to decide if you want to keep it as ‘analog’ or go D.C.C. If you keep it as an ‘analog’ you will need to separate the tracks into blocks. That will allow you to control two trains on the layout at the same time. If you do go D.C.C., you could run three trains at the same time, but that can get confusing. I am sure that your local library has books on model railroading that can help you to wire the layout for block control or D.C.C.

    Question #3 is where it starts to become interesting. For ease of identification let us number the tracks as follows. The outer most track will be track #1 and the inter most track as track #4. I would remove track #4. Move track #3 to where track #4 was, but do not make it an elevated track. I would then make a siding track come off of track #3 into an industrial area of maybe three or four companies. The area that was occupied by track #3 I would fill in as a mountain side up to the level of track #2,the area between tracks #1 and #2, I would create a cliff face that merge into retaining walls where it gets close to table top level. So what you end up with is track #1 could be your main line track, track #2 becomes your mountain top line that connects your main line to your local branch line which is track #3.

    As for question #4. By all means start with one engine and a few cars. After awhile, when you have the hang of operating one engine, Then add a second engine and cars. Now it become more of a challenge.

    There you go and pleasant Modelling.

  69. I model N-scale myself, but if I was given a load of Train Accessories such as you have, on such a cramped layout board I would start all over from scratch, especially if as you sounded in your post would like to become more involved, so what away to get started. If you do build a layout from scratch I hope you’ll submit a photo or two of the finished product or a progress report as you proceed.

  70. Here is a website that talks about this very engine..


  71. The pictures of the engine you have posted are of a “Fireless” switching engine.
    These were used during the age of steam as shunting engines in large factory complexes where it was advantageous not to have to deal with the exhaust gasses from a regular steam engine. Sort of like the electric powered fork lifts that are used in a lot of warehouses today, no combustion products to deal with.
    A large factory complex would usually have a central power plant that would generate steam for distribution to various points. The “fireless cooker” would charge the pressure vessel from a steam hose, similar to filling up the fuel tank on your car, then go take care of business until the pressure in the reservoir dropped to the point where it was time for a fill up.
    If you have a large factory complex on your layout one of these would make an interesting yard engine for switching the plant.

  72. Suggestions for the new treasure trove:
    1. I would spend some time working with the layout in its current form before making any long term plans.
    2. The world renowned John Allen used his first layout as the jumping off point for two later layouts by incorporating the original layout as a branch line operation into the later builds. You might want to consider something like that as it allows one to continue to “run trains” while other construction takes place.
    3. If you do decide to start over don’t be in too big of a hurry to tear up and redo everything. Take time to develop a plan on paper that you are really happy with. You will find as you gain more experience that your ideas of the “perfect” layout may change quite a bit.
    4. Whatever you do, Have Fun. 8^)

  73. As others have observed, the original layout looks like it was meant to showcase as many trains as possible running at once. Nice for display, but, cramped. I would expand on this beginning, and fine tune the existing layout, possibly utilizing some of that track for the expansion. The existing layout could definitely use some landscaping and tunnels, at least…Whatever you decide, have fun! I speak from experience here when I say armchair railroading is almost as fun as operating! I’m doing some myself, as I look to resurrect my N scale layout once again…

  74. I agree with the rest of the people if you have the room i would expand and be creative but do not do any ( S ) bends as they are to hard on the trains and if you do this and have any more problems please dont worry just ask us and we would be glad to help good luck…Alan

  75. Railroading is for fun. That’s FUN! Keeping that in mind just add a second 4 x 4 module and run track from your new layout to the new board and let your mind go from there. Or, if your not comfortable with expanding the layout just have FUN with what you have and don’t let anyone tell you it must be done a certain way. It must be done ONLY to your liking.


  76. I think the current layout is fine, but a little busy and would suggest either adding an extension, built in a similar vein, or depending on all the usual variables, consider taking the hobby outdoors and complimenting your garden, which from experience brings many pleasures and all important space!! If space is at a premium,perhaps the extension, built around the garage wall or whatever fits your needs will be more suited. You have the foundations of a splendid layout to build on and cost need not be an issue as this can be achieved as funds dictate and if outside,scenery is free!!

  77. Given the oportunity: I would start new. use your imagination and build a new layout. One that can incorporate all the cars and assecories you got.

  78. I would save this layout for holiday use. The tree stand could be possitioned unde the trap door and the tree set in place from the top or for a smaller tree place the stand on top of the trap door as it looks to me that is what was intended for this small layout.

    Build a new model railroad, for all year use. Find other modelers in your area to help you get started, as most modelers are willing to help a beginer. Local Hobby Shops can also help!

  79. Wayne,

    I will have to stop and see that. I am in Cleveland. Anyways, as many others have suggested as will I, I would keep all the existing cars, engines, buildings, etc. but start a new layout from scratch and use as much of what you have. You do not have to buy new track unless you have a specific plan or thought of a plan that requires the additional track. Build the new layout using as much of your materials you can. As you will soon find out, this hobby is quite expensive and anything that you can re-purpose saves a lot.

  80. Rebuild, there are tons of 4×8 layouts that you could use, that offer tons of switching and operating. that won’t ever get boring.
    So I suggest from what I have read, what you have, to rebuild to a 4×8, and use one of the layouts defined in the layout mags, or online there are tons of choices.
    find a layout that interests you, and has lots of operating on it, so it doesn’t get boring.

  81. 4by 8 is great start im new and just started another 4by 8 Im learning still Im 67 yrs old and love it be cerative its fun

  82. If I were you I would start all over . Selvage what you have and expand
    with a 4×8 sheet . get some track plains . There is plenty resourses out

  83. Wayne
    I haven’t read all the replies but my first inclination is to get one train
    going and see how all the layout works. Looks like you have way too much
    rolling stock to start up. Once you get familiar with the setup, how the switches work, etc. then try adding another train and see if you can
    keep all of it under control.

    And that steamer sure has small driver wheels! I wonder how it gets enough leverage to get itself rolling. Most of the steam engines I’ve seen have driver wheels about 5 or 6 feet in diameter.

  84. I am thrilled that you covered an article from my home town, Dayton, Ohio.
    That was an engine that only moved materials around the NCR area. It covered several blocks on the south side of the city. I’m guessing this engine picked up materials from the main train lines located a few miles north.

  85. start over and expand. Study other layout plans and get really, really, really serious about this hobby!

  86. start over; study other layout plans and take this hobby really, really, really serious…!

  87. Hi the loved one! I need to declare that this post can be amazing, great prepared and are avalable using most sizeable infos. I would like to appearance additional content like this .

  88. Expand with all you have

  89. Hi Ben – many thanks for the pictures of the fire-less engine. I worked on such locos at the coal fired power stations in Durban and New Germany in South Africa. The advantage being that there was an abundant supply of steam from the boilers in the power station.

    Hi Wayne – interesting acquisition! Depending on your space available, I would suggest starting from scratch. This way you end up with your own design and signature layout. The rolling stock will be a good reminder of you late friend.

  90. I enjoyed the fire-less engine. We had a couple here in Montana at the sawmill in Somers, MT, at the north end of Flathead Lake in the northwestern part of the state.

    I enjoy your site!


  91. Hi Wayne, If you are just beginning into model railroading, my suggestion to you is to take what you have and design your own layout, but this also depends on how much room you have. Myself I started with a 4X 8 layout in a 9x 12 room in a garage and then decided to expand with a 3×6 layout and figured a way to marriage them tighter to make a large layout, before I knew it I had knock down walls and expended more and before I knew it I had a layout in a garage 21 feet x 36 feet, just love my trains, lots of fun. Remember model railroading is never finished, always new ideas come to mind. Happy modeling

  92. The steam locomotive photos were very good… That engine was of a type known as a “fireless cooker”. Fireless locomotives were generally used in industrial locations which had a large stationary steam source available and where an open fire would be a risk. The “boilers” were “charged” with very high temperature water under pressure. This process allowed these locomotives to have a greater operating range than they would have had if charged with steam alone.

    About the layout conundrum… I have been a “model railroader” (Railway Modeller for those of you across the pond) for almost 50 years now (53 years if some family pictures are to be believed and I am just shy of 55)… Some of the greatest fun I have had over those years has been had watching trains I enjoy swim around in a “roundy-roundy” fishbowl. I also enjoy switching/shunting puzzles. As to the layout you received… To my eyes it is too busy. For a “roundy-roundy” I appreciate more simplicity (one or two tracks at most) and some form of view-block so that the train/trains are obscured from view for at least 25% of their circuit (the rocks in the fishbowl concept at work here).

  93. Wayne I was at that junction at one time in my life. Rather than start all over I expanded the layout to a 4X8 and later took in most of my basement.
    Expanding in my opinion was the most obvious. It looks like you have enough equipment to run 6 trains at once, all you need is a little more room.



  94. #1 A folded DOG-BONE on a 4x8ft… interesting double over

    #2 LAY-IT-OUT without nails at first… testing your design(s)

    #3 Focus on UP-N-RUNNING A.S.P… keeps you motivated

    1,2,3 get’r done… Scott

  95. 4X4 is kind of small. No 4X4 is very small. I would fool around with the little one while I worked on designing a 4X8 expandable layout. Take your time and do what you want to do first but make it so it can be easily expanded without having to tear the whole thing up. That way you can go as large as you want over time or as large as you wallet and family will allow. Take your time and study before you start. Gather lots of info and decide what area (geographically) and era you want to do. When you feel ready jump right in with both feet and don’t look back!

  96. On “fireless cookers” and compressed air locomotives – There was one on display at the Edaville Railroad (museum) until the railroad went broke and moved back to Maine from South Carver, Massachusetts. The one there was used in the Plymouth Cordage Company. They were commonly used in environments with highly flammable or explosive dusts or fumes where a spark could be disastrous, ruling out both fired steam locomotives and electric locomotives. In addition, compressed air locomotives could be used in a confined space, i.e. indoors, without making working conditions any worse.

  97. Never ceases to amaze me how this part (Planning a layout) always brings a wealth of ideas and opinions.
    And it makes sense since this is the basis of our Day Dreaming and fantasizing about what our final result could be with the proper planning.
    It also makes sense that the novice (myself included) fears the starting and commitment portion of the hobby.
    But if the novice pays close attention to the more experienced Modelers they will pick up on the fact that No layout is ever “really” finished and that the repeating questions are resources, Space, Money and time and so long as my funeral is not planned the Space and Money will eventually take care of themselves.
    The lesson is “Just Start”, Learning to disassemble and rebuild is what has been focused on about Dave’s layout for the past couple of months.
    Give up the Fear, Enjoy the Hobby, it is a practice, like Doctoring, never a completely skill set.

  98. At some point (better sooner than later, I believe) you need to grasp this concept: This is my railroad; I am the President of the railroad. I get to (have to) make every decision, or I will be unhappy with the end product.

  99. The fireless loco is called an accumulator and was a regular sight around the armaments factories in the forties and fifties. No fire to cause explosions. There used to be a pair at the Kirkby Industrial Estate in Liverpool. The only evidence of their fireless condition was the lack of a chimney – looked odd.

  100. This is my first one, I read a few of the postings since I signed up. My comment for Wayne is to catalog everything, come up with a design that is easily expandable and start a new.

    I have been there. In fact, I will have to rearrange my set up with my closet which is a lot bigger than a 4×4 set up as Wayne.

    This catalog that I mentioned should include all train cars and engines only, scale, and if it is operational.

    Hope this helps.

  101. Great photos of the fire lass cooker. comments above are correct.

    Latout – you might want to incorporate the layout with a new one that you could build attached to the purchased one. Draw out a new design and go from there and you will then have a bigger operating se up.
    Take your time and go slow so you get what you really like and want. the main thing is to have FUN!!!!!!!!.

  102. that a Circus Train i c in there? luck with the layout whatever your decision long as u (or yer kids) have fun with it


  103. Hi Wayne,
    I’ve read all the other replies and the general consensus seems to be ‘Build a new layout’. I agree
    It seems that what you have is not a Model Railway/Railroad but a big Train set, there appears to be no scenery or buildings, not even a station. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great Train set but a model railway needs some sort of context in which the trains run.
    Have some fun with what you’ve got and then, when you get bored with watching little trains going around in circles, build a proper layout in which the train can run.

    Denis (British N Gauge)

  104. Hi Wayne
    Going back to the1960s I worked on the LMS railway as it was then (BR now). I can remember taking a goods train to a siding and they had a fire less engine that was used to shunt wagons all day long. It was connected to a high pressure pipe which pumped boiling water into it under very high pressure at night then during the day when worked, as the water pressure dropped and more steam was produced through the water boiling at lower pressure. I cant remember were the siding was but it was very near London, as I worked at Camden shed (1B the main engine shed for trains out of Euston station.)


  105. If you have not built a layout before, then set that layout to one side and by running that one will keep you encouraged. Then start planning a new layout. The hardest part is deciding what you want in your layout.
    Start by were you going to have it setup and placed in what area. This will help in what size the layout will be.
    Then plan what the theme will be (IE: a town, a industry, A mine. ) you get the idea.
    All this will help in how you are going to lay out the track and scenery.
    One of my biggest joys is in the creation of the layout. And I recommend you should at least build one yourself. There is lots of help and ideas you can draw from the model railroad community.
    The old layout you can incorporate into your new one later or change to fit.
    I like to build in modules much like you see from railroad clubs. And each module I do in a different theme. then I can add it into my layout at any time.
    I hope this will help you decide on what you do next.
    Most important have fun with it. And if you are not carful you will be hooked forever.
    PS. if you build in the basement just remember the post hold up the house. And should not be knocked down to make room for your railway. ( HA HA) Note: I know of someone who really did that.


  106. My first thought is I am in agreement with the majority and that is to tear it down and rebuild. But First, I’d consider the original owner. You may want to keep his work intact if he was a good friend and simply add to the existing layout. You could move some things in the original around a bit, and still keep the sentimental value. Simply add another 4×4 board and you could have a module arrangement that would be easy to move about as well. Just sayin’

  107. As far as the steam locomotive goes, when the “Cuban government” found lack of support for parts, they figured out a way to turn little switch engines into common steamers just like this back in the day !

    As far as the gentleman with the layout, what I would do is cut it exactly and perfectly down the middle ! Extended out and add a 4X8 in the middle of it clamping on the 2- 2×4’s at each end allowing you to have one hell of a layout to run four or more trains at the same time with plenty of industries and switching possibilities as well as passenger service in the middle 4 x 8 !

  108. I would wait awhile and become familiar with what you now have first; in time you will get ideas on what you really want. If you rip it all apart with the idea of starting over you may possibly lose interest in the project. I suggest you stay with what you have and it will develop from there.

  109. The engine pictured with no firebox is a type that was used in locations where hazardous/explosive conditions existed. I had a photo of one used at the Naval Weapons facility in Charleston, South Carolina. They were safer than normal steam but required close monitoring so the Engineer (Driver) could make it back for recharging before being stranded away from the charging point. This was a big drawback and the engines died out with the rest of Steam when Diesels arrived. The nick name for these engines was “Fireless Cooker” here in the states.

  110. 4 X 4 for HO seems much too small. I would suggest a new layout of at least a 4 X 8. The layout should represent some kind of working railroad, and a 4 X 4 just isn’t enough room to work with. I have a Z-scale (1/220) 2 X 4 and I would like to have even more. Go bigger.

  111. First: What part, if any, does sentimentality play in this layout? Only you can answer that. 2. What kind of a layout do you want? 3.How much room do you have? Most all of us would like a large layout room filled with all sorts of operations and realism, BUT, the sad fact is most of us have just a small area in which to build and a lot of us have an even smaller pocketbook. The prices that trains and scenery materials and wood for benchwork and all the other tools & equipment needed keep going up & up. If you’re married, the spouse must be considered even if she never steps foot into your realm. I’m sorry if I’m not more help at this point, but the ultimate choice will be yours. To paraphrase a former drag racer here in the US, Don Garlits, once said “SPEED COSTS MONEY, HOW FAST DO YOU WANNA GO? Good luck on your layout building, and keep us all up to date with what you decide to do. There’s a lot of fun & enjoyment to be had in model railroading and there is a lot of support from other model railroaders. Don’t ever give up and always, ALWAYS feel free to ask questions. Model Railroaders love to talk trains and 99.9% of them will always find time to help in whatever way they can. Welcome to the family and Welcome Aboard!

  112. The fireless switchers were also called “parasite” engines.

  113. You will probably out grow this layout quickly. As many others are asking how much room to you have?

    Consider using this for the kids or gran kids.

  114. There was also compressed air engines in use. They were used in mines as a flame could spell disaster with coal dust and combustable gasses present.

  115. it depends on your available space , my original layout was 4X7 n-scale w/ 2 loops and has been enlarged to be ” L ” shaped 11X 4 at one end and the other end is 4X9 and is now in process of being of being turned into a ” U “shape layout , so its really up to you, all of my layouts are in modular form so i change it any time depending on what space i have. ” HAVE FUN WITH IT ” and always feel free to ask for help we as model railroaders stick together and help each other

  116. Ask a Model railroader for advice and see what you get.

  117. I liked a lot of the suggestions, but if you are going to build a larger layout, the ideal way is to build it along a wall or around the room. Then if you do that you need to consider being able to reach accros the layout, that requires that your layout only be 2ft to 2-1/2 feet wide. 4X8 layouts limit you to an island type of layout or a peninsular off the main line.

    Perry in New Oleans

  118. One other thing is hight. You need to build you layout at 40 inches off the floor or higher depending on how tall you are and what scale you are using.


  119. You are not the only one starting out. I think you should build a whole new one so you can customize it.

  120. If you can save the track, I would start over. Add a 4×4 module to it. This will give you a lot of choices. An over/under X comes to mind. Sidings and yards can be added. On a 4 by 8 layout there is no need for a center opening. Model RR Mag web site has many plans for small layouts. An 8′ center divider will give two separate scenes.

  121. some one gave the idea to try running the set up you have first to get used to the sizes and tightness of the curves which I would say are very tight for HO rolling stock , it might be wise to make a newer set up to give the equipment a better
    running radius on the curves so your stock will survive longer and be less frustrating in the long run !

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