U shaped N scale layout

Alan’s been in touch with his U shaped N scale layout:

“Hi Alastair,

A while ago I sent you my first attempt at a layout built on an 8ft x 7.5ft board with a cut out in the middle.

Well at 82 years old I got fed up with bumping my head crawling under so I decided to cut an access slot and reduce the scale from OO to n scale to accommodate the tighter radius restrictions.

I’m from a small country Aotearoa (translated means Land of the Long White Cloud) which is about 8,000 miles west of California. Anyway being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean getting much in the way of n scale in the model shops locally is difficult to impossible so most is ordered on line.

I’ve tried to picture the transition from the 1st layout to the 2nd layout (U shaped N scale layout). Hope it makes sense. There is about 90ft of n track and 9 points controlled with lever type switches. The tunnels have access for track cleaning.

1st OO layout with bump your head hole

OO scale

1st layout gutted

gutted model train layout

Enter the access slot

model train access

Track laying underway

U shaped N scale layout

Kitset bridge milestone completed

U shaped N scale layout

Earthworks underway

U shaped N scale layout

One side finished

U shaped N scale layout

U shaped N scale layout

N scale track plan

Other side nearly finished. Houses are laser cut kitset

model train


Thanks to Alan for sharing his U shaped N scale layout – I do love seeing the layouts being built from the ground up.

And thanks for all your comments on the latest stone embankment.

Of course, I’m biased, but it’s a terrific deal – four buildings for $9.97.

I shall be breaking that offer up shortly, so if you like the sound of it, best to grab it now.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the first embankment in a layout.

That’s all for today folks.

Don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide if you want to get off the side lines and get going.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here (still updated every single day…).

model train answers

50 Responses to U shaped N scale layout

  1. Stef Loisou says:

    Alan, My compliments for being active and inventive at age 82 and for sharing your new, attractive layout..One doesn’t often think of a model train enthusiast way out in the Pacific Ocean! That speaks of the universality of our shared enthusiasm, passion and love of model railroading, whatever the scale and wherever the location in the world.
    My enjoyment began in mid fifties with my first Lionel set [diesel switcher set with Baby Ruth car which I still have] delivered by Santa Claus and my layout has grown from that over the years.
    Our thanks to Al for allowing us to share pictures, notes and experiences through his site and postings.
    Best regards to all, Stef Loisou Midlleton MA and Port Charlotte FL

  2. Bruce Young says:

    Aotearoa New Zealand ?


    Well done Alan…
    Love N Scale just for this reason. Unfortunately I’m still bumping my head
    but DCC has helped.
    Phx. Az. USA

  4. Michael Sultana says:

    Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand, though it seems at first to have been used for the North Island only.


    New Zealand is one of the least densely populated nations on Earth.
    Lucky you. Beautiful country. We visited a couple of years ago. Can not imagine
    Doing all that you have done without my favorite hobby shop right around the corner.
    Sheldon, Phx Az

  6. Alan Roberts says:

    Hi Alan, your 82 you say, all I can say is you’ve done a sterling job in your transition. I’m a mere 73 and could not compete with your masterpiece.
    I have a 00 layout in my garage and often think I’d like to make changes, but then have second thoughts. Mind you, if I had problems I would probably HAVE to do something. I see your 00 layout was British but you’ve gone for what looks like American in N gauge. Which island do you live on, I’ve been to both but can’t make up my mind which I prefer. They are both fabulous.
    The Tieri Gorge railway would make a good layout.
    Excellent work! Alan

  7. GaryOC says:

    I’m just ‘across the ditch’ from you and I love your work.

    Please send us more as you progress and can we have some close ups of your scenery, especially the bits you love.

    I’m 71 and ‘n’ gauge can be hard on your eyes at this age but it is so satisfying with what you can do in a small space which is evidenced by how much more interesting your layout has become.

  8. Glenn Krueger says:

    Aotearoa is the North island of New Zeeland.

  9. steve says:

    very impressive and would like to see close ups of the houses

  10. Jef Robinson says:

    Superb downsizing Alan – well planned. Is N Gauge stuff so hard to come by in New Zealand? Best wishes

  11. Dan Marso says:


    You did great work, you put me to shame, been out of the hobby for 30 years, trying to get back into it. Have had medical problems, slowing me down. Still have my bench work. Many times I have thought of N gauge on my 4×8, but I have retired and have a lot invested in HO. All the great work from all the layouts I see
    Have been both inspiring and overwhelming at the same time. When I built the HO Danville and Western RR, in the early 70’s,I didn’t know anything, but of course there were no websites to see such great work like now,but it was a successful RR. I look back, and wonder how I did so good back then. Thank you
    For your great layout rebuild photos.

    Danny Marso , Rhode Island

  12. FRED KING says:


  13. Randy Hinke says:

    way cool. I think my train fever is coming back

  14. Mike Pettruzzelli says:

    Many kudos Alan….For your age and your ability to build a beautiful N Scale Layout…Last year I completed “Copper Canyon” layout in N which Al showed here…This year is a new one in On30…I’m 74 and chasing your age too…Keep up the good work…Mike

  15. Norman Roy says:

    Well done indeed…. great pictures and successful project. Congrats.

  16. Mike says:

    Keep up the good work. Am working on my N Gage railway. I am still laying track. Don’t work on to long each day. Enjoy doing it.

  17. Mike says:

    Keep up the good work. Am still working on the tracks for my N Gage and don’t know when I will finish. Do a little bit each day.

  18. Hugo Budzien says:

    WOW!!!! Makes me consider dropping out of 7-1/2″ gauge and building an N gauge layout in the RV. Thanx for sharing.

  19. Ben Hawkins says:

    Very nice, layout, I like the clouds as the back ground

  20. tom says:

    Wow I see more and more AZ modlers!!! I am in Payson AZ No hobby shops here either. Love the layout, I`m only 72 have a large N gauge layout and starting a 4×8 HO. Tom Payson AZ

  21. Don says:

    I also use risers. They greatly simplify construction. I start with 1/2 inch 2by8 (from a 4by8) and cut many curve sections of the desired radii. I saw this technique on Youtube. Very little waste. I then lay the plywood at the lower level of the rise. I joint them with biscuits. You can easily make complex curves. Since it is flat it allows uniform construction. I then add the risers and cover with plaster cloth. It becomes very strong and is a perfect grade or grades. Risers are great. A long straight grade is still easier with wood.

  22. Gene Fricks says:

    I am 68 and have gotten back into model railroading after a several decade-long break spent in prototype railroad civil engineering. I bought a layout from a buddy very similar in size and concept to Alan’s first failed attempt but without the extensive urban component.. My dissatisfaction with the approach stems from the “quarry-like” appearance of the typography. I am trying to mimic the appearance of eastern Appelachia(sp?) that characterized the little town where my grandfather grew up after the Great War.

    Question: What road width dimension did Alan use for the second attempt?Did he use a particular road surface mtaerial?

  23. James Beal says:


    Hafa Adai .

    Great Layout.

    Having spent a few years in Guam I really understand how hard it is to get anything on small islands. My parents figured it out when the sent a Birthday Present 3rd class after Christmas. It took 6 months to get there. They have a big container that they send off when it is full. Christmas time it fills up quickly other wise it takes a long time. Catalogues were typically worn from reading by the postal employees. The folks on the island were great just a totally different life style.

    I worked for Fletcher Pacific/ Fletcher Challenge at the time. As they told me if you see it on island buy it. You won’t see it tomorrow.

    I did build a wood model kit on island and fortunately only required a drill and some basic tools. Getting it home was interesting.

    Hope you are doing well.


    Jim Beal

  24. roger elliott says:

    Well, gentleman, I’m just starting again after 50 years. I’m 77 and I am running n gage inside ho.I’m making kinda a mining town idea.I have a little modern and some very old mixed. I have a pastor who has a 15,000 dollor layout, and he has helped me a lot with my ideas. I also watch u guys as well 🙂 keep up the good work. roger

  25. Barry Pearlman says:

    I too think that you did one h–l of a job. I am just a hair’s width away from ordering the lumber to start my own layout. I do admire your artistic abilities, something I don’t have.

    I too am planning a cutout so I don’t have to worry about hitting my head while under the table doing something; it will all depend upon how far I can reach
    whether not I need an opening.

    I have thought about this, and respectfully suggest that one could make the inside corners 45 degrees instead of 90 degrees or even 1/4 curved. The big plusses would be that this would allow less of a narrow radius of the track, a “gentler curve” and a bit more real estate,


    BTW – I have a 2001 Corvette and belonged to a club (same kind of thing as a model railroad club). We had a party one evening at a member’s house and we had a man and his girlfriend from New Zealand visiting the US on vacation,

    I had the opportunity to chat with them about NZ, its people, and just how beautiful a country it is. Would love to see it but it is almost halfway around the world (St. Louis, Missouri) and I would also have to win the lottery. 🙂

  26. Tom Sallee says:

    Alan, What a great layout! In fact, it looks better than most of us who are less than half your age. Tom, Utah

  27. Ken says:

    Would love to have the room to do this congratz its looking great .

  28. Ian Mc Donald says:

    nice work Alan you have given me inspiration to do more to my layout especially being a lot younger than you looking forward to see what I can do to my layout over the next 20 years thanks.

  29. Harry Kubarek says:

    Alan, I think you helped me make up my mind. I have a layout that is 4’x12′ that I’m using to learn how to do things in HO. I’m 62, relatively young compared to you sir. Hope I make it that far. Anyway I’m the process of designing a layout that will be 12’x12′ and I’m modeling the town I live in. Superior, WI USA. It is at the tip of Lake Superior and has claim to fame of being a city that has the slogan “Where Sail meets Rail”. You see my city is also a major inland shipping port. The point that I’m trying to make is I’m not getting any younger and I really want to build this layout and hand it down to my grandson’s so I have seriously considering tearing down my layout and starting over like you did on you beautiful layout. Nice job.

  30. Pete Evangel says:

    What a funtastic transition. From 00 to N scale. And this is a job well done. Age doesnt matter. Sure we slow down a bit, but us oldsters use our brains better! We have to in order to figure out stuff to make it easier, like the cut out instead of the duck and bump hole you had!!! Very efficient. Keep us posted on finishing (although one is “never” really finished, you just keep adding and tweaking).

    Pete-8000 miles east of you in Silicon Valley Calif.

  31. ALAN–GREAT JOB ! My eyesight isn’t so good, so I’m wondering if to stay in N scale…but I’m used to it. Feeling along the rail of some work done recently…my track joints are awful! (Not all–just some!) Kudos to you! Mine is a little switching layout that keeps changing every few months.,,hasn’t officially “run” in ages Many thanks for your inspiring updates! 🙂

  32. Ian Campbell says:

    Great stuff – I like the captioned photos especially. 🙂

  33. Brian says:

    Great stuff, I am just over the pond and a very junior 61. I Had the start of an N guage setup (odds and ends only obtained) but the Kids brought me a Noch HO layout base kit for Xmas and this is going to form the basis for my layout. Your setup has given me fresh ideas for my expansion (SWMBO has yet to be informed – ha ha) keep the photos coming mate.

  34. Keith Willoughby says:

    First class, you’re an inspiration to us all.
    I have just about completed my baseboard and mine too has an access point very similar to yours.
    I love your scenery it looks brilliant, is it all wired up for night time?
    I bet it looks good if it is….. any pics of that?
    Keep up the good work.
    Keith…. UK.

  35. NJ Mark says:

    Truly wonderful!! Glad we could all celebrate your fantastic accomplishments.

    NJ Mark

  36. David Murray says:

    It’s obvious that transferring from a circle to a U has given the layout a completely different character. And that’s what our layouts strive for. I’m very impressed with the scenic work as it’s very realistic. You have achieved a look that imparts that the scenery was here first, then the railway came along afterwards. I’m pleased you don’t have to ‘scrabble about on the floor’ (my terminology) at 82. It’s not good for you to strain to pull yourself up and bumping your head is a very decimate no-no. Although I have a former attic bedroom 25′ X 15′ in my cottage for my ‘Elmton Branch Line, I’ m a U shape fiddle yard to fiddle yard with both lines disappearing into tunnels to give the impression to visitors that the trains are going somewhere/coming from somewhere. We are Hornby Dublo 3 rail running on 1950s Wrenn 3 rail track. The buildings are a varied mixture of scratch built / kit built/ Bilteezi models. My aim is to make the whole layout look like it was built by a schoolboy in the 1950s and we are certainly not fine scale.

  37. david howarth says:

    Well done Alan , a good idea with that plan , now you have easy access to all parts of your layout …and well at 82 it shows we are never too old to start again … ..Dangerous dave

  38. Lee Barry, CEO LZPMRR says:

    I modeled in N from 1992 until 2009 when I went to Z due to space limitations, my wife and I live in a small 2 bedroom house which we rent. Our biggest problem is getting the manufacturers to produce engines that will run, first time every time. The companies that have the ability to do so, Kato, ConCor, Atlas have no interest in our gauge of the hobby, so we are at the mercy of a few companies. The rolling stock they make is excellent, but what good is the rolling stock with out the engines to pull them with? My layout is 37.5″ x 27.5″ x 10.5″ high. It is a “runner” type layout and can be seen on Z Central Station thru the gallery and going to LZPMRR. The pictures posted are from 2010 but there is no way I can change the layout. My mistakes were few when I had it made in July-Oct.,2010, I should have had it made 48″ x 36″ x 12″ high and should have had outlets to plug in my hand controller on all 4 sides. It is a beautiful piece of work. I do have at the present time 3 engines that run pretty well, a Tenshado 2-8-2 steam engine, which it ran excellent out of the box and then I let the tender droop and tore the wires loose from the engine, the motor is in the tender. I had it repaired at a cost of $50 ($40 for repairs and $10 s&h). Got it back and while putting on a “run-in track I did the same thing, off it goes and there goes another $50 bucks. I also have a Micro Trains GP in N&W livery with the “hamburger” logo on it, it runs pretty good after I coax(meaning one has to bump the engine to get it going until it decides when it wants to go all alone. The third one is a cantlever type engine by Tenshado also. It will scoot around the run in oval. None of the three have been used on my layout but will try to put them on it by this weekend. Thanks for listening. If I had it all to do over I’d have went back in N gauge.

  39. Dr Bob says:

    Alan, you’re my hero! Not only have you driven home my point on my last few posts about men in their golden years working on layouts but you have delectably accomplished a wonderful layout of your own. Please keep us posted on your updates!

  40. James says:

    looks good… nice

  41. Dominic Joseph Radanovich says:

    My interest in trains, models and prototype has been a life-long love affair. I will be 81 years old in November. As an infant, my family lived a block from the Milwaukee Road line that went through the Wisconsin State Fair Park and out to Waukesha. Every time I heard the bell on the wig-wag signal go off, I was out on the sidewalk watching the old steam locomotives trundle through. I received my first train for my second Christmas. I was only a year and seven weeks old. It was a beautiful Marx train, four wheel cars, and a Vanderbilt locomotive. I still have such in my extensive train collection. During WWII we lived in Cudahy, a half block away from the Chicago and Northwestern spur line which served the Red Star Yeast and Milwaukee Vinegar Works on the shore of Lake Michigan. As I was growing up I rode the Milwaukee streetcars almost every day. They went everywhere. My earliest travel at age two was a trip to Ontonagon, Michigan, on the Chippewa Hiawatha. At age nine or ten I received a Lionel Scout train set, but I was already captivated by HO gauge and the modeling world. This has stuck with me all these years. I have seen some great changes in the toy and model train industry. Here in Milwaukee we have been blest with Kalmbach Publishing Company and the William K, Walthers Company. Every November the Great Train Fest comes to Milwaukee, and draws thousands of visitors. I still travel by train. I usually take two long trips a year by Amtrak. Yeah, it’s all we got! Trains. Rails. Models. It’s in the blood. I’ll probably die with a steam locomotive in my hands! Thanks so much!

  42. Brian Rockey says:

    Great job Alan – I know the feeling of constantly bumping my head!!! That access slot is a great idea.
    Brian, Wokingham, UK

  43. Will in NM says:

    Alan, Thank you for your inspiring story and photos of your layout. I am most impressed by the high quality and neatness of your workmanship in all aspects of your rebuilt N scale layout. You must have better eyesight and patience for working in N scale than I have. All in all, a magnificent layout. Please upload some video of the trains running if you can.

  44. Erick says:

    Look Good: Would like to see more.

  45. James Marek says:

    Beautiful layout. I would guess that there are very few people that start any size layout at age 82. Yo work in N-Scale makes it even more impressive.

    So I am guessing… that you will be starting your 3rd layout around age 94.

  46. Ken of Lakewood Shores says:

    What an awesome makeover !!!!!!

  47. Gary says:

    Hi Alan looks great. I live in the same small country – New Zealand – Aotearoa I am getting on a bit in years also well done

  48. Yale M Schiffman says:

    Thanks for the hints. I’m 84 and also got tired of scrabbling on my hands and knees. So when I rebuilt my n scale layout 38″ wide X 15 feet long. I made it accessible from both sides, except for the L section at the far end. It has a lift out section of the layout that is about 20″ wide and 3 feet deep. All my wiring is now connected to a pull out shelf located under the operating control. Power DCC turnout controllers, snap relays for signals, etc are also on the shelf. My next project is to make wiring neater so troubleshooting is less of a task. I’ll post some pictures so that others who are long in the tooth can have a better idea of how my accessibility project came out.

  49. Brian Olson says:

    This almost 73 year old congratulates you on a terrific design!

  50. Jim AZ says:

    You’ve nailed it. A well done transition. The scenery is spot on. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

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