John’s layout update

John’s been back in touch again with a very detailed narrative on how his layout has taken shape:

“Many years ago when most would say that they did not have any room for a layout I built my first small layout.

I was newly married and we lived in a small apartment. The only room that I had was the secretarial return of my desk which was in the bedroom.

A few years later I was in college and nothing had changed: No time, no money, no space but I still had my desk and I built my third small layout in that space.

I did not know about the traditions in the UK and the only small design I knew was John Allen’s Time Saver.

The layout I built then lasted for many years. While other layouts have followed, the pattern for my modeling was pretty much set.

About 20 years ago or a little more I discovered Carl Arndt’s blog which was entirely devoted to what he called small and micro layouts. While he defined a micro layout as being four square feet or smaller, he was not as dogmatic about that size as some others have been since.

Carl focused on an idea, a principle, the idea was the smallest possible layout that still retained a defined purpose for existence. It was through Carl’s site that I first became aware of the Inglenook shunting layout (and several other plans suitable for the modeler with “no space” to build a layout.  

A short time later I discovered (a little too late) a delightful magazine known as Model Trains International, While I have collected several issues of that magazine I would very much like to collect all of them.

MTI and some other chance encounters with Railroad Modeller, Continental Modeller, and Model Rail broadened my horizons and interests. In all casas these offerings were far better, far more consistently suited to the space I had available than any of the major domestic magazines were.

While looking for certain trackplans I was introduced to this blog. In short order I found myself needing an enginehouse for one of my layouts — The only model that would fit the space was one of Al’s print out kits.

It was not long after that when almost every structure model I built would begin as a print out kit.

Then I started scratch building using the techniques I had learned from the Print-Out kits and John’s (not me) instructional videos.

Note: If you are ever feeling depressed, John’s tutorials on building Al’s kits is the absolute best and healthiest cure!

Now about my latest project.

I have been subscribing to Model Rail for about four years now or a little more. About six or seven years ago Model Rail included a little booklet that featured about six or seven very small layouts; one of the layouts featured was an N scale layout called “Clark’s Yard”.

I have wanted to build an H0 scale version for a long time now. When Model Rail had Bachmann build a bespoke version of the World War II USA 0-6-0 tank locomotive about four years ago I had to have one.

Of course a locomotive means that one needs something to display it on. The best display is a layout! Uh Oh… A layout means more equipment and more locomotives. And down the rabbit hole I went chasing Alice!

A layout? Yes! But now what? Clark’s yard was the obvious choice but even then something was missing. What was missing was a good way to hide the mouse hole that allows the train to leave the scene. That answer came with a picture that I saw on a Facebook page.

While I wish I had a photo of Clark’s Yard, here are two photographs that crystalized my vision. (The third photo is my version of the scene.)

printable building pub

diesel train next to pub printable building

diesel train pub

Once I had the track plan decided and how I would enter the scene, then other things began to fall into place.

On thing I knew I wanted was a dockside scene. I have wanted to try my hand at one of these for a while and seeing a scene with a canal narrow boat taking on coal was very much on my mind.

About two years ago I purchased a resin casting for such a boat (actually three such castings because it was almost the same price for three as it was for one once shipping was included.) this layout would be the perfect chance to put one of those castings to good use.  

Clark’s yard had a coal dump for a power plant where I have put my little dock (quay) scene.

One day I want to get a Clyde Puffer (which I will name Maude Lynn) for another small shunting layout featuring a dock scene. I have the ScaleScenes print out kit but I want to finish this project and a couple of others first!

Here is the dock area as it stands right now.

I painted the foam a dirty green and then used Gloss Mod Podge to give both texture and a watery look for this portion of the scene.

The paint is cheap acrylic (actually a combination of three colors) and the Mod Podge is a curiously thick type of clear drying PVA that textures well.

Mod Podge is also available in several finishes from matte to a very high gloss.

I am going to practice making cobblestones from DAS air dry clay to add more detail to the area where the wagons with coal are unloaded for the the coal to be transferred to the canal boat. We will see how that all works out in good time.

model train canal

model train canal barge

model railway canal

While I am firming up my canal dock scene, I am also trying to visualize the rest of the scene which will include a warehouse and other structures. I have noticed that the loading areas tend to be different on layouts set in Britain than those set here in the United States.

The Street Scene:

Right now the most developed part of this little layout is the street scene.

The roadway and sidewalks are from Al’s print out collection.

When I add automobiles the had part will be to remember to put them one the correct side of the street rather than the right side. (Yes, there is a bad pun here) While I am trying for a 1950’s -1960’s theme, a Morris Minor and a Ford Anglica are must haves.

I realize they might be as out of era as my private owner wagons but — What can I say, sometimes there is no accounting for taste.

As to the five structures that I have currently built:

The small office is a much modified Scalescenes free print out kit. It is the office from their coal yard but I have expanded it and added detail.

The large stone building is from one of Al’s print out kits (one of the low relief buildings). I believe this one is called canal and it is one of my favourites. I have modified this kit two or three times now and it is very fun to work with. The roof is from Scalescenes and it is from their low relief houses and shops kit if I remember.

The building on the right side behind the track started out as a Scalescenes print but has Al’s brick walls, my own windows, and enough other changes that I do not know if anyone would catch how it started! I have lettered it for the Salvation Army as I know they used to offer some lodging services at some of their locations.

Across the track from the Salvation Army is a pub, the Rose and Crown. This is a scratchbuilt building based on the White Swan as mentioned at the outset of this story. The roof is from Al’s textures and walls but everything else is my own work.

The last building is Sandy’s Candies. Sandy’s Sweets was also a possibility but I thought about that just a little too late. It, like the Salvation Army building began as a Scalescenes shop but I do not know how much of that is left under the paint and other textures.

model railway pub

model railway shop

model railway loco

model railway loco

The first structure that I built was this little office from Scalescenes.

As I share that I will also share the larger building that I built from Al’s low relief buildings kit.

The kit I chose is a three story building. I used that kit for a pair of two story buildings on another layout.

Here it is a one story building with a roof where I used Scalescenes textures for a slate roof.

I used the straws from a couple of “adult beverages” for the chimney flues on these structures.

scrach built building

printable building

printable building

printable buidling

The roof of this building is removable and I wanted to show how i made that happen.

While it is a nondescript industrial type building without a name (yet) I wanted it to catch the eye and draw it into the total scene.

scratch built printable building

scratch built printable building

I build my structures so they are removable.  

Once I figured out how to put “glass” in my windows all my new builds have “glass” in the windows.

The key is a product that I learned about called “canopy glue”. It is a relatively thin PVA type glue that dries clear and holds plastic to plastic and other materials very well.

Besides “glass” in the windows, where I can I try and make the roofs removable as well.

The Salvation Army building sits on its own base while the pub and Sandy’s Candies share a base.

All three of these buildings are awaiting chimneys with flue pipes as well. 

printable building

printable building

printable building

printable building

I still have a lot more to do to the layout but this tells the story to this point.



A huge big thank you to John for taking the time to expand on the narrative of his layout.

Of course, I’m biased, but I do enjoy it when I see some of the printable buildings on a layout.

And there also good news on that.

I have had a handful of mails asking about the bundle deals.

I did hope to have all the printable buildings in the store by now (It’s been on my to-do list forever), but seeing as I haven’t found the time, I thought why not?

What a great way to bring in the New Year by letting the Silly Discount sale see the light of day again.

It is a ridiculous deal: $199 of printable buildings for just $29.

Have a look and see for yourself.

It’s just for the New Year though, so please grab it now if you like the sound of it.

That’s all for today folks. Hope you have a wonderful New Year and I can’t wait to see what 2023 brings.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you stop dreaming about your layout and start doing, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

13 Responses to John’s layout update

  1. Stephen Hill Woodstock GA says:

    That’s some intense determination John, very detailed craftsmanship. Look forward to seeing the next advances .
    Will that be a module that you link up with others to complete an overall display sir ? Regardless it’s most impressive, outstanding detail and dedication.
    Thank you for sharing .

  2. Brian Olson says:

    Happy New Year!

  3. George Zaky says:

    Tight space engineering. What a great hobby to keep the brain cells exercised and thanks for a great narrative to start the year off.
    Big Al
    Since I have at least 2 or more of everything you’ve sold it would be of great value to me to buy an ore mine, coal processing, and a weathered old wooden dock side building from you. I know these take a lot of effort but your fan base needs your art work. Besides CooKoo John needs work.
    All have a safe & healthy New Year

  4. Bill in Virginia says:

    Wonderful narrative and pictures of what can be accomplished in small small spaces. A model Railroad can literally be built just about anyplace .

    Happy New Year all!!

  5. Mike Balog says:

    Happy New Year AL and ALL who Visit this Site…. From Mike, In N.H. U.S.A. Across the Pond…1-01- 2023…

  6. Rob McCrain says:

    Lovely buildings and weathering on this shunting layout. It is a great size. Small enough to keep costs down and big enough for true modeling and scratch building.
    Rob McCrain – Farland Howe

  7. John Reynolds says:

    First of all, a BIG Thank You to Al Lee for his blog and for posting this narrative. That was very quick work on his part.

    Second, a very happy New Year to all. I pray this is a year of great blessing and hope.

    This little layout of mine is a stand alone shunting layout. Most of my small layouts have an American setting and most are stand alone also. Basically they are dioramas that trains can be run on and operations can keep your interest for a while.
    I have built a couple of modules for layouts and may be doing that again soon. This year I have a lot of plans and we will see what actually gets accomplished.
    And I took would like to see some print out industrial structures like a coal mine or ore tipple. A print out buffer stops would come in especially handy right now.
    All the best,

  8. Mr Ron from South Mississippi says:

    Sometimes it becomes difficult to decide what buildings to place on a layout. In my case, I chose to model actual buildings in my neighborhood. They are mostly commercial buildings, like banks, schools, restaurants, etc. I have renamed all the buildings with the names of family members in the community in which I live. Right now I have too many buildings built so I have to pick through and chose the best ones.

  9. Dallas Franklin says:

    John, I don’t think your Morris minor and Ford Anglia will be as out of era as you might think. I can remember my maternal grandmother driving a Morris Major, the grown up version of the Minor, in the 1950’s and 60’s. I can also remember the Anglias around at that time. Some stalwarts were end driving them into the early 1970’s. Go for it.

  10. JW Snyder says:

    I can’t begin to express my thanks for your emails, Al. They have helped me through a hard time in trying to get out of the armchair and do active modeling again. My thanks to you, your cohort of modelers, and their cornucopia of ideas. Perhaps I will send along a video of what I have been able to accomplish so far, and the plan for how I will document future work.

    All the best in the new year to everyone and their families.

  11. Richard H Chapple Sr says:

    A great well written narrative to begin the new year with. John, thanks so much.
    And thank you Al for your efforts to continue this site I look forward to every day..
    For those that have not yet investigated, do look up Carl Arndt’s micro sized layouts, it really gets the creative juices flowing. Carl passed away a few years back, his 3 published books I think are still available as downloads last time I looked.
    And John’s building paper building series are so good and entertaining. He definitely gives a positive lift for the day.
    Happy New Year everyone.

  12. Marklin ed. says:

    happy new year to all and a healthy new york, thanks al again.

  13. william janmes palmer says:


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