Build a HO train layout – Bob’s latest

Bob’s been back in touch – he’s had the itch to build a HO train layout again.

Looks great too:

“Hello Al,

Last week a neighbor came over and I showed him around my train layout.

He said ” I didn’t know you played around with toy trains”. I told him that if model trains were good enough for Frank Sinatra,Tommy Dorsey,Rod Stewart,Jay Leno,Tom Hanks, etc., they were good enough for me.

His only comment was” I didn’t know Sinatra played with toy trains!”. Oh well….

Anyway, I have attached some shots of My Last Layout. About 1/3 of the layout is in final form and the rest I have just sitting on the base. I still move things around a bit.

On this layout I painted the top half of the walls flat black and then bought a cheap piece of cotton drop cloth, cut it in half, stapled it to the wall and painted it blue. It kind of draws your attention directly to the layout.

I laid this one out in vignettes that allow me to get a little creative, avoid everything being in the same period and style and provide me with places to put more stuff.

I am pleased with the mine operation. I wasn’t sure how it would look with the structure above and the actual mine below but I like the way it turned out.

I built the ore boat and ore tipple out of my usual bunch of sticks and wood scrap but no matter how I tried I could not build an acceptable tug boat from scratch.

I finally bought a boat kit and made a tug boat out of it. The tires on the hull are rubber washers, most of the superstructure are bits and pieces from my junk box. The main cabin is a cut-down toilet paper cardboard roll, the door is a piece of tongue depressor (my favorite) with a grommet for the porthole.

I wanted to try lighting my structures so I bought a string of LED Christmas lights and use them to light the building interiors.

They look good in the dark but it was kind of a pain to wire all the buildings.

After seeing what the talented Dave has done with his lighting I have decided to add some street lights to my town. Got the lights but haven’t put them in yet.

Speaking of buildings, can you see anything familiar about a couple of the houses in my town (hint-they are made from paper)?

I removed the gable on one of them and covered the roof to look like cedar shake and on the larger house I added wood trim to the doors & windows and added wood trim to the outside corners as well.

I have also added signs to my businesses named for my family members. Unfortunately, with 6 brothers and sisters and 10 grandchildren I have more names than buildings and some of these folks get a little testy if they don’t see their name on something.

I still have not added the water to my waterfront, just painted the base blue for now. Same with ballasting the track. I always do that last after I finally decide where all my structures will be placed.

You must be careful to not glue down your structures so that they block your track when it comes time to ballast. I learned this the hard way.

Just an idle thought, the more I see the track without ballast the more normal it looks …..hummm!

Most of the structures are now scratch built and I buy a few damaged ones on the internet and fix them up and/or use the parts to build other things.

The more I build the better I seem to get at it. For example, I got a building front, cut it in half and used the bottom to build a store and the top to build a fire station. Hands still shake a little at the most inopportune times. Seems mostly when I’m trying to glue something.


build a ho train layout

build a ho train layout

build a ho train layout

model railroad sawmill

model train west town

build a ho train layout mine

HO scale water

build a ho train layout

HO scale water

HO scale water

build a ho train layout

build a ho train layout town

model railroad store

HO scale firestation

A big thanks to Bob for sharing, I’m pleased he decided to build a HO train layout again. Any layout is good viewing in my book.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if you’re feeling left out in the cold, come and join the fun: the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

61 Responses to Build a HO train layout – Bob’s latest

  1. Bob, the mind boggles , not only able to dream up all the plans but having the skill to make them come to life, reall this makes me aware that my efforts are miniscule ( at the moment)
    Look forward to seeing your layout in the future.
    Believe me when I say all the very best and as they say “keep on keeping on”
    Jayne n Bernard

  2. Frank Raimondi says:

    Hi Bob,
    I’m impressed with your layout. Could you please tell me where you got the GULF decals.

  3. Wayne says:

    TRUELY envious. I’ve been building my frame for 3 months!! I build it, not satisfied, make changes, rebuild, over and over again. I cannot stick to the plans because I update to keep the layout current and keep make changes!!

  4. MIKE,Seattle WA says:

    That is a very nice layout Bob

  5. Chris says:

    love the pictures, especially the waterfall, keep em comin’

  6. Sheila says:

    Very creative and very impressive! I have never seen a mine done the way you did it. I like it. As to the “hands shaking”, I think it is normal, mine do it everytime I am doing something that requires alot of concemtration.
    All the best.

  7. craig says:

    I can’t imagine making anything from scratch. You guys just blow me away!
    Your layout is very impressive as is, I hope to see some pics when it’s complete. Except I don’t think you or some of the other guys will ever think your layouts are complete. Please consider every thing I say a compliment, as I am so impressed with your work!!

  8. Thomas Meleck says:

    This is an absolutely stunning layout Bob. It really shows your fertile imagination at work. I really like your waterfront vignette. It is really well thought out. I may have to borrow some of your ideas for my own layout.

    I would like to make one humble suggestion. So close to shore, harbor water is never that bright blue color unless you are in Hawaii or the Bahamas. Even there, owing to the accumulation of underwater plant growth, the ocean takes on the color of the vegetation below. The illusion of green water is further enhanced because the water near the shore is always more shallow, and therefore more clear allowing the color of the vegetation below to show through. Only out in the deep water does the ocean take on a blue color. Even that color is not the water itself, but the reflection of the sky. A simple way to recall this is to remember that our Navy is manned by “blue water sailors”. They go out into the deeps where the water is blue while the Coast Guard stays in the green.


  9. `nice work you have done there BOB

  10. Dave Robbins says:

    Love your layout mate it looks great, the 2 boats are great. Can you tell me where I may be able to buy flashing signs for shops. in HO

  11. paul Otway says:

    it looks good

  12. charlie bohemia n.y. says:

    Great layout. I like how you did your water and the dock.keep up the good work.

  13. James Vanholt says:

    Nice Layout. Im 36 years old building my first O gauge lay out. Lot’s of people tell me I should not be playing with toy trains! To me it is more then trains its a life style. I live for this stuff. I come home from a hard day at work and fire up my big boy and Im in my owen world. Love what you do! And your hand will build the things you love. Model RR is great and keeps the mind sharp with creativeness.

  14. Mal says:

    Truly amazing!!!

  15. Michael, San Martin, CA says:

    Lotsa fun! I especially like the Indian camp. That’s a nice touch and brings back childhood memories. Keep on ‘roading! michael

  16. Tuscan Joe says:

    I love the Indian Village!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Great Layout thanks for sharing the ideas!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. david says:

    well done bob, what a layout,youv done a great layout so far

  18. fred says:

    Bob well done

  19. Bob Miller says:

    Well Frank, the Gulf signs are not decals. I find all my signs, posters,shop window pictures on the internet. I do a search for ‘pictures of’ and put in what I am looking for. For example – Oil Company Signs or Bait Shops. I then copy them into my word processor or my picture edit program to size them and then print them on my HP printer.

    Thanks for the water tip Tom. I did a search and you are correct, most of the bay water looks more grey or dirty brown.

    Don’t know about flashing signs Dave as I don’t have any. Seen them though.

  20. Toni says:

    For Bob: When people ask you why you play with toy trains. Tell them that you don’t play with trains; “Because our railways work by the laws of physics, You’re studying and observing physics on a miniature scale.

    By the way, I really like how you did your waterfront and mine areas. An interesting way how your created them. and the wooden bridge across the ravine, all I can say is wow.

    For James Vanholt and anyone else, when people tell you that you should not be playing with toy trains. Tell them what I told Bob; “Because our railways work by the laws of physics, You’re studying and observing physics on a miniature scale.”

  21. THOMAS says:


  22. Skip says:

    I like the layouts that’s everybody dose but how do I upload pictures .

  23. Albert Weir says:

    Thats a great job i realy am not game to put pictures of my layout up everyone i see is so good one day ill get the courage

  24. NeilH says:

    Great stuff, Bob. Thank you for the inspiration….
    BTW, add Neil Young to the list of model railroad celebrities 🙂

  25. DJ hay says:

    You should join in a tournament initial with the greatest blogs on the internet. I will recommend this web internet site!

  26. Dennis says:

    I think the lower level of your mine operation is an EXCELLENT idea and VERY cool.

  27. Lee Barry says:

    O yes I too have seen the articles in Model Railroader magazine showing and telling about Rod Stewarts’ layout. Wouldn’t have thought he would do that. Anytime that his songs come on the radio I always say Model Railroadin’ Rod !!! And with respect to the late great Frank Sinatra in regards to your layout, “You did it your way!”
    PS : to all of those of you out there if you donot have a copy of the Model Railroad mags. with the Rod Stewart layout in them, it is too late, Kalmbach sold out a few years back. The only two ways of gettin one is : A) seeing if someone like my self has a few never looked at copies to sell, mine aren’t for sell or B) go to your local library and see if they have a copy you can look at, the photos themselves are amazing but the story about it will make you wonder, surely this is not the same “Maggie May” Rod. I’ll keep the rest of the story for you to look for yourselves.

  28. Lee Barry says:

    Oh, I forgot, excellent job,If anyone says anything about you water or other modeling, just tell them “That’s the way I saw it” !!! Wanta see pictures of my Z scale layout, go to Z Central Station and look for gallery, click it on and look for LZPMRR. I don’t relly care what anyone thinks about it, I have been offered good money to sell it and the man that built it for me told me to go to the model railroad and train shows and see the layouts people want to sell and the price they want for ’em then compare it to yours, as he said it is museum quality. Not bragging about it but look at the pictures then come see it for real, I don’t hide it like a lot people do theirs, anyone is welcomed to view and run it as long they let me know in advance, I’ll also show you the “Rod Stewart” model railroader mag, only please have clean hands. I’ve got over $16,000 invested in my Z scale stuff. Ya’ll come!!!

  29. NYC Engineer says:

    Great job Bob. Beautiful detail with great craftmanship, shaking hands or not!(I believe it’s something we all have to go through.)
    I have to respectfully disagree with the “un-ballasted” look. Without the ballast it looks like a “Model Train Layout”. It’s odd what a few grains of sand can do to a layout.
    Keep the pics coming.

    Bob in Ga

  30. john says:

    I really like your layout especially free style. Your
    Creativity I think is Greta on. I’m under construction myself with AF S
    Gauge it fun but challenging to do. You gave me
    a good idea with the water front for my addition
    I will be adding.
    To Bob Miller you can get the gulf decals
    On ebay

  31. TJ says:

    Where did the bear go?

  32. Lita McDougall says:

    well done bob. we are about to put a mine in our layout so it was good t o see yours. very nicely done

  33. Patrick Beck says:

    You can help me anytime. Am a novice and just getting started on a 16 foot by 8 and an 6 by 3 rail yard love all the ideas and tips posted by Alistair Lee land those that post , your help is fantastic and I hope that in a few months I will be able to share my project with all of you. Keep up the good hints and design. Much appreciated.

  34. Ed Dunaway says:

    Truly Amazing Layout.
    Especially liked the Store and the Fire Station the Fire Engine is First Rate.
    The Indian Village Nice Touch.
    Well Done more pictures very soon PLEASE!

  35. Ed Dunaway says:

    PS: The scratch built bridge is FANTASTIC…………
    Someday hope to have one on my layout……….

  36. Doug T of Townsville Australia says:

    Ballast might look good to some but may not be practical in dusty/humid conditions like mine – requires much vacuuming and to me is just waste of $ – I use instead a sandy type paint – looks like ballast & good enough for “My railroad” anyway

  37. Lee Barry says:

    Bob, you must’ve been reading the Model Railroader mags from Kalmbach. I too am a fan of Rod Stewarts’ music since he first came on with “Maggie May”. I have shown all of that mags articles to friends of mine who are not into model railroading and they can’t believe it is th same Rod Stewart. When his song come on the radio I say “Model Railroading Rod”. Still got my fingers crossed that our daughter will come down from Erie,Pa. as she said for the Thanksgiving weekend and help me get pictures of my layout and send them to Al so you all can see it. It is a testament as to what can be done in Z scale in such a small space ( 37 x 27 x 10 ). The scenery work is awesome. Keep up the good work with your layout !!!

  38. Perry says:

    I was going to say the water in my area is grey or muddy brown.

    I will say that your neighbor will think differently when you get the track ballasted and have him over when you run a real op session about you playing with trains. You are model RR not playing with trains. .

  39. Joe Cavilla says:

    Very impressive work. Thanks for sharing. I had been wanting to add a harbor scene and seeing how you did that drop down gives me ideas how I will do mine. Thanks again.

  40. Linda says:

    Great layout. I also like your mining scene, very creative.
    Keep up the wonderful work.

  41. Dave, from NY says:

    Bob… a great model railroad ! You’re obiously a creative guy and not afraid to try out new ideas and to me, that’s what model railroading is all about ; the creation of a unique “world” that YOU are happy with (and it sure looks like that’s what you’ve done. I applaud your efforts!
    Oh, please add Mandy Patinkin (remember him on E.R. tv show ?) to the list of celebrities who “play” with “toy trains”…his home layout is in its own building on his property and I’m told it appears to have at least one of everything Lionel ever produced!

  42. Minnesota Dan says:

    Great job, Bob!!!. I especially liked the over/under treatment of the mine. Adds another dimension to “what lies beneath.” Yeah, that Dave guy does wonders with his flashing signage…..and pretty much everything else. Good on truckin Bob.

  43. Bill from WV says:

    I’ve read every post that Alstair has sent. And I enjoy every one of them. Why are people saying “You shouldn’t be playing with toy trains”? Do they ever give a reason that makes sense. I think that comment is ridiculous. By the way, if you watched the Sopranos on HBO, one of the gang members had a large electric train layout in his garage. The guy even wore an engineer’s hat. Unfortunately, he was killed in the last episode.

  44. Hemi says:

    LOVE the layout!!!!!! NICELY done, or well being done!

  45. Jack Herrick says:

    Hi, I build “ Toy Trains “ with my grand kids. We’re building a 4×8 small layout in my cellar. I started with trains with my Dad back in 1952. I spent my grade school days and teenage years building an o gauge Lionel which took up my Dad’s whole attic perimeter. It kept me out of trouble for many years and I learned how to work with my hands on fine detail. Even in my mid 70’s I am drawn to it. My grand kids love it as well. Incidentally I once saw a layout built by a famous basketball star in his home from the Boston Celtics. His initials are B.R. His number was 6 and he has 11 NBA championships. You’d be surprised who likes to “play with toy trains.”

  46. Hi Bob. Great job. Thanks for sharing.
    I call your work worthy to be used as a MUSEUM PIECE
    I’m 87 and my trains are all packed away ,but, I still have plans and ideas in my head to do it again . This time including some fresh ideas Thanks to you.
    All i need is the time Bill

  47. Don Lukenbill says:

    The remark about playing with “toy trains” is ridiculous. they are working scale models. over the past 40 years I have put $30,000 into this hobby. I am in rebuilding mode right now, and unlike most people who do it from plans I do mine freehand as I go along. I love this hobby and find it very cathartic. I find uses for many every day items that most people will just throw away. last spring I got a gallon baggie ful of wood chips from the chipper trucks and I use it for forest flooring as well as other things. I use sawdust (stained of course) for driveways in rural areas, and other rural roadways. paperclips, matchsticks, cardboard, are all handy. I use fiber from Woodland Scenics, stretched real thin and airbrushed for smoke coming out of chimneys. The possibilities are limited only to your imagination The electronics are where most of the $ goes, I have working 4 way stop lights for my intersections, lights in buildings( have tried many things for that) I find that fiber optics and LEDs work best for that, I glue in black construction paper to create separate rooms in buildings, so I have buildings with only certain rooms lit. I use 4 different airbrushes with varying size tips for painting, I can go from pencil thin lines to 4″ wide areas. I am retired so have much time on my hands although I have other hobbies and interests as well. I play 9 different musical instruments, have 3 telescopes with digital motorized control and cameras to go with them I can operate all of them from my laptop. I get the most enjoyment from my model RR though. There are many many people willing to share ideas so make use of them all, no idea is too silly sometimes it just takes a little time and experimentation to get the effect you want, ignore anyone who belittles your work as they are mostly just people with lack of imagination. I am currently working on a 20’x14′ layout (HO scale) and I will send pics of progress as I go along, if you have a suggestion about any of my work as I post it please don’t hesitate, I will not be offended I appreciate the input. that’s all for now, Hank

  48. Raymond Hays says:

    amazing! those same people who refer to playing with toy trains probably do not model anything, and most likely say modelers are just playing with toys. I enjoy my models but I don’t play with them. Unlike model railroads models are mostly static displays once they are built. However, Model RR are not only fun to run but as a young teen girl once told me at a Model RR show this is more than just fun its an adventure to our Nations History. She said she has learned more US History than she is being taught in school. So let us do what we enjoy and let the naysayers just be …..whatever!

  49. Tony’s advice to Bob: “When people ask you why you play with toy trains, tell them that you don’t play with trains. Because our railways work by the laws of physics, you’re studying and observing physics on a miniature scale.” Right on!
    Many years ago, a professor at Princeton University was studying train wrecks to develop safer designs and procedures. What were his test vehicles? Model trains, of course.

  50. Very nice bob I like the fire hall

  51. Joseph Boyle says:

    Model railroading is 3D art in motion. I am 77yrs old and starting on another RR. I think that I am going to do “N” scale with DCC. Scratch building takes a little imagination and patience. I have modeled in most of the scales and enjoy it all.
    Model railroad mag had shows listed in it. they are mostly free. Mabey a donation. I have seen a few and the are really super, and have a lot of great ideas. Joe

  52. William Orton says:

    Simply amazing. I really like your bridge with the waterfall. Great work!

  53. Model RR and RR Model Craftsman magazines both have ads for companies that make flashing signs / billboards, And one familiar with electronics could build the mechanism from scratch.

  54. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Bob……. great layout……. love the bridge and waterfall.

  55. Curtis says:

    Wow love it love you bridges looks like you’ve been busy. You have a great day.

  56. Will in NM says:

    Bob, Great work! I love your layout, especially the mine and waterfront area. Very original work. Also, your unballasted track would be appropriate for the early western town and mine areas. A lot of the early railroads didn’t use much ballast other than dirt to keep construction costs down.

    By the way, to whomever might be looking for the Rod Stewart articles in Model Railroader, I believe that all back issues are still available online to Model Railroader subscribers and/or members. They have also sold DVDs that contain 10 years’ worth of Model Railroader magazines.

    I have the 2010 – 2019 DVD as well as some hard copies going back as far as November 1948. I even have a couple copies of “The Modelmaker” magazine from 1934 that give an interesting snapshot of Pre-WWII model railroading. Some surprisingly sophisticated layouts were being created even back then.

  57. Robert Burke (NZ) says:

    Regarding the great Rod Stewart, I read an article about his passion for model railways (as he and the rest of us in the Commonwealth would call them 🙂 ) and I remember reading that in the hotel between shows on tour he would have his roadies working on bits for his layout with him. Just a shame I haven’t got the money (or talent), or roadies he has as I embark on my N gauge (N scale to some) baseboard construction, but Al’s kits are a great asset.

    There are no bad layouts; just ideas that appeal to us personally more than others. Like art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Greetings to all from Aotearoa New Zealand.

  58. robert dale tiemann says:

    very nice work. love the decals and the whole layout.

  59. Gary Gordinier says:

    You Tube has the pictures Go to Rod Stewart’s train layout. Has all the Model Railroad pictures.

  60. matiSon says:

    Great job!
    I play with trains, and am proud of it!!

  61. John Birch says:

    Well done Rob. When people say that I play with trains, my response is that ‘I operate a model railway’. (Emphasis on ‘operate’!)

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