Minimum HO scale track radius

Dave has been in touch with some good advice on minimum ho scale track radius:

“I am very new to the hobby having started right around three years ago not really knowing much about anything involving model railroading.

My only real exposure was back when I was very young having a very typical DC train set. My new interest got sparked after seeing some different video’s on YouTube which re-introduced me into that world.

I first began by collecting photos off the internet of scenes that I liked and doing a lot of research into, well, everything.

The first really important thing that I learned was that the maximum/ minimum HO scale track radius one can fit into their space determines everything.

In other words, how large can you make your curves around the layout? That radius is the limitation to the scale you can work with and the type of track plan you can have. It is not just a mechanical limit to what can physically run, but also to what looks proportionally correct.

My space is a very small spare bedroom. I had considered HO to be my ideal scale to work with, but I figured that the broadest curves I could have were based on an 18 inch radius, due to the need to round a peninsula. So, it was N scale that would work perfectly with that radius limitation. It was far too sharp a curve for HO.

So, I spent several months learning different aspects of N scale and creating possible track plans all without any real understanding of how real railroads work, or what their operational needs were.

I then started to gather more photos of scenes that I liked and found a common theme to most of them. Nearly all of them were of narrow gauge railroads. I didn’t even know what that was. Once I had looked into it I found out that I could indeed model in HO scale and still stay within the track radius limits of my room by going with HOn3.

HOn3 works fine with 18 inch radius curves since the engines and cars are smaller and the track used is very close to N scale in width.

One other very important aspect that I picked up on looking at my gathering of preferred model railroad photos, was that the visual backdrops were of primary focus and not just an afterthought.

So, when I started actually building the layout the backdrop was the first thing installed and later all the scenery would expand outward from them as an extension creating visual depth.

I did my layout in stages choosing to nearly fully complete each section before moving on to the next. This way I felt the mistakes I would make in the track, scenery, etc. would be isolated to just that section. So, in theory things would improve as I moved along.

My railroad is DCC running the JMRI Operations software and called the Nickel Creek & Western. It is as freelance as one can possibly get. It doesn’t model any specific place, or time just a general feel of the Northwest sometime in first part of the century.

I consider it a facsimile of a reality rather than reality itself. So far I have basically gone with what I feel looks nice and not worried about counting the rivets.

A lot of my structures are scratch built from either my imagination, or from photos of what others have done. It isn’t finished. I still have a few small sections to complete as well as adding in a lot more detail such as people and vehicles everywhere.


minimum ho scale track radius

HO scale coal mine

HO scale scenery

Minimum HO scale track radius

Minimum HO scale track radius bridge

HO scale old town shop

minimum ho scale track radius

HO scale shops

minimum ho scale track radius

HOn3 scale water tower

HOn3 locomotive

HOn3 factory

minimum ho scale track radius

A huge thank you to Dave for sharing his adivce on minimum ho scale track radius. And what a layout!

The pics are stunning, but for me, it’s the narrative that stands out.

It just goes to show how a little planning can go a long, long way. Spectacular stuff.

That’s all for this time folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if you want to make that start on your very own layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here

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

77 Responses to Minimum HO scale track radius

  1. Colin edinburgh says:

    Is this the best railroad ever featured. ?, I hope he will send in the photos of the finished layout.

  2. Keith Miller says:

    Well – another Dave! We see a lot of good work here, quite a lot of excellent work, but rarely do we see quality approaching, or even equalling , the wonderful work of Luke Towan (well worth a YouTube search). Very inspirational Dave. Thanks for sending it. Dustyk uk

  3. Keith Hicks says:

    I would like to see a track plan – Keith

  4. That’s a nice looking layout, I love that little detail.

  5. Gary Gray says:

    OMG!! Absolutely top shelf work. The backdrops are amazing.

  6. Rod Mackay says:

    That’s just gorgeous, and stunning for such an early effort, I do like the approach of selecting scenes and situations you liked and blending them. I’d encourage people to think the same way about what sort of operations they find engrossing, such as way freight switching, division point engine changes, commuter passenger services or whatever, and plan those in too.

  7. Joe Graffi says:

    WOW! I am sooo impressed. Your attention to detail is flawless. I have seen many layouts featured in the RR family of magazines and yours stands out above a number of them.
    That high, curved trestle around the really tall mountain is amazing as well as many of the other scenes. You have done such a great job with everything around it that my eye is not distracted by the mountain itself, but it is there, just like real life.
    I have been in this ‘game’ for many years and built a 12’x8′ HO layout that has had pics published here but you have gone way past what most of us ever do.

  8. Dave Bannister says:

    Congratulations Dave, an impressive layout.

  9. Stephen Fetzer says:

    More than nice.

  10. Chris Sylvester says:

    Nice job on your layout great job on the details of the layout!!!Thanks for sharing Chris

  11. John Frye says:

    Dave, this layout and modeling is right up there with the legendary modeler John Allen. Please keep us all updated with changes in your HOn3 world.
    John from Baltimore

  12. Wes Eakin says:

    Congrats on a VERY impressive layout Dave!
    Could you share with us the technique you used to create the ‘clouds’ on the backdrop?
    Also: How you made those trees???
    Looking forward to more pics of your layout!

  13. george zaky says:

    Another OMG moment! Phenomenal detail, artistry and workmanship. Please send more pics/videos so we can see the whole picture. Your narrative was great.
    Not finished? When you are the pictures will be even more realistic.
    Great work
    George from NY

  14. bob linnell says:

    Fabulous detail, and I would also like to see a track plan with an overall picture, if you have room to take one. Thanks

  15. John Bullock says:

    This is a great story and an even greater layout. Yes to the track plan please and thanks!

  16. Jon B says:

    Oh my. I don’t normally post but your layout compels me to do so. First, the backdrop is fantastic, blends into the layout perfectly. Attention to detail is way above the norm. As Al said, just stunning, spectacular. Really appreciate your work along with the narrative. Please share more, perhaps a video with some trains running.

  17. Ed Lustigman says:

    Nice work Dave, really enjoyed reading and looking

  18. Chet Karlewicz says:

    The nicest detail I have ever see , excellent!

  19. Kirk says:

    WOW Dave…this is the first time that I have saved all the pics from any layout! What an inspiration, albeit beyond my skill level. Thank you for sharing such magnificent work and please keep ’em coming!

  20. Sheldon Phoenix USA. 🇺🇸 says:


  21. Gary Manganiello says:

    Wow…. Your layout is beautiful and the detail is fantastic. I am amazed and impressed that you did all that in 3 years. I have been working on my layout for 2 years now and only 1/3 finished. You did great work.

  22. John Birch says:

    Great layout and great detail. You have captured the atmosphere extremely well and your attention to detail is fantastic. Congratulations!

  23. Ruben Simon says:

    Best I’ve ever seen!

  24. Totally AWESOME!!

  25. Boz says:

    This layout is one of the nicest I’ve seen… Stunning!

  26. David Back says:

    The level of detail is amazing – the mine , the loose boards leaned here and there, the patched roof and peeling paint on the drug store. And look! Even oil stains in the parking spots next to the drug store!

    In a word: WOW!

  27. David Back says:

    My Mistake: The parking spaces are next to the general store, not the pharmacy.

  28. Marklin Ed. says:

    Wonderful layout, great, great, yes the track plan would be good to see. Thanks. Makes me want to redo my ideas of my layout. Got some important information on finding stuff I need for my layout.

  29. Jim AZ says:

    Very nicely done. One of the best of the best on this site. Your modeling skills are truly remarkable and you should be very proud of your work.

    Jim AZ

  30. Robert D. Bouskill says:

    Simply Stunning !

  31. Bob Weskamp says:

    I have been reading Al’s comments for about 2 ~ 3 years, and he does use the word “Stunning” often, but in this case it seems entirely apropos. You said that you have been interested in the hobby for about three years recently, but you certainly didn’t generate this layout without some other modeling background. Where did you pick up your knowledge and craftsmanship?

  32. Stunning indeed. What a labor of love!!!

  33. Ben Olson says:

    Dave, this is jaw-dropping….absolutely outstanding detail and workmanship! The pictures are awesome and I really appreciate the narrative as well, outlining your thought process and planning details. Thank you so much for sharing!

  34. Neil says:

    I am disappointed when we don’t see the whole layouts look like

  35. Bill in Virginia says:

    Beautiful layout! Scenery is fantastic!

  36. Chip Aderholdt says:

    Fantastic! I hope I can detail as well as this. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful layout.

  37. Bob From Towson says:

    Dave, Your not fooling me, these are actual photographs right?? Just kidding. This is absolutely amazing and, I cant wait to see what you come up with after a few more years of experience in model railroading!!!

  38. Al Allison says:

    Great scenery and weathering. Many of your photos look like they were taken of actual areas. I would love to see a track plan.
    Al Allison

  39. Richard Guhl says:

    D&RGW forever!

  40. Beautiful layout! Buildings and scenery amazing!!Great job!!

  41. Kevin McArdle says:

    Dave, all I can say is, Wow! Beautiful work.

  42. Dave Housteau says:

    Thank you everyone for your kind comments and questions. I will put together some follow-ups that should help to answer these questions.

  43. James Yuille says:

    It’s rare I comment about any layout, this one is stunning. Very well done.

  44. bob says:

    My God, this is truly the best scenery layout i have ever seen. i would be afraid to put vehicles on it but people definitely. to quote Al, “The pics are stunning, but for me, it’s the narrative that stands out.

    It just goes to show how a little planning can go a long, long way. Spectacular stuff”. It really, really is.

  45. Bernie Glynn says:

    One could be forgiven to think that this was not a model, but photographs of real life. Your lighting is superb. The layout is so detailed it hardly needs trains on it, in fact unless they were weathered superbly they may give the game away. It’s the details, always the details that enchant me.

    Superb work everywhere, and very enviable artisanship on display from every angle.

    Bernie from Sydney, Australia.

  46. The most realistic layout I have ever seen. The integration with the background is nothing less than mind-boggling; how did you do it?

  47. Warren Ferguson says:

    Just stunning! Please let us know where you learned your craft. I would love to see an update when time permits!

  48. Richard Roberts says:

    Great looking layout. Beautiful job blending the landscaping with the background.

  49. Wow! This is one of the most beautiful layouts I have ever seen. The photographs are excellent. I have always loved narrow gauge railroads and railroading. There is a casualness about it that is most appealing. Also the areas served by narrow gauge were mostly remote, wooded, mountains, white-water creeks, small settlements for mining or logging. So much detail here. True artistry!
    D.J.Radanovich, Milwaukee.

  50. Gary A says:

    I very rarely post a comment since I’m just learning and taking in all of the great tips and ideas I find here. However from all of Alastair’s posts I’ve seen in my short time here, I’ve NEVER seen anything with this sort of realistic detail and must at least leave a comment. It is absolutely stunning! If almost any one of those photos were simply displayed without any narrative a person would not be able to tell that it was a model railroad. Hats off to Dave. What an outstanding job!!!

  51. Steve says:

    How do you build those bridges and the screens with mountains and trees, wow!!!

  52. CARL ANGDAHL says:

    This is your first layout? Who knows the quality of your “next” layout. This is fantastic.

  53. Robert Brady says:

    Layman to this hobby?I think not.The forest looks so real i was looking to see sasquach.Come on two boards fall from fence because of rusty nails.What newbie would think to do that.Man you have some talent sir.Love to see more,ASAP.

  54. Everett Nichols says:

    Great Work Dave!!! Not only are you a master modeler, you are an excellent photographer as well!!! I can tell that you understand the nuances of lighting.

  55. John Richmond says:


    By chance do you live in New England. I would drive 200 miles or more to actually see your layout. The scenery and detail are fantastic, and I am sure many of us that follow this website would like to actually see your layout.

  56. Rick Eggleston says:

    The best I have seen in a long time…congrats!

  57. Frederick J Mallon says:

    Layout is great. Could you pleas post the track layout.

  58. Jerry Barto says:

    Fantastic work !!!!

  59. Thomas says:

    Thanks for the great pictures. I’ve been looking for examples to help fill in areas of my layout and you’ve given me what I been missing. Thanks for the inspiration.

  60. Soren Lippert says:

    Hi Dave!
    Beatiful photographs and uber-convincing details! With this truly outstanding level of model craftsmanship, you really should make a few dozen ‘how-to’s for us everyday mortal modelers. Like so many of the other commenters I would very much like to see the entire track plan. Video with trains running would be much appreciated as well!

  61. Larry May says:

    Dave, excellent work so far! Can you send a track plan? I, for one, would like so see what you have done track wise in s small bedroom. Thanks! Larry

  62. fred says:

    oh my well have a inductee into the hall of fame here. he has my vote. that is so good

  63. Brian Rockey says:

    Absolutely stunning scenery.
    Brian, Wokingham, UK

  64. You said it all Al …Stunning ..Dangerous Dave

  65. Bob says:

    A lot of hard work and it shows great layout

  66. dr. al says:

    Just stunning!

  67. Dave Housteau says:

    Once again, a huge thank you to everyone on your very kind comments. I have put together a follow-up that shows the requested track plan along with several videos that were made during construction. In a later follow-up I will do an in depth explanation of my choice for the track plan. You should see the first one soon.

  68. Ben Dickmann says:

    Absolutely amazing!

  69. Jim Donovan says:

    John Allen smiles

  70. Absolutely realistic!

  71. Cary B says:

    I’m just amazed, this is a absolutely beautiful layout, the details are so realistic. Your modeling work it top tier.
    Keep on modeling
    Cary B

  72. Richard H Chapple Sr says:

    You are definitely a Master Model Railroader. I must agree, your work is even with John Allen with his famed Gorre & Daphetid RR. WOWOWOW!!!

    I sure look forward to seeing more of your work and possibly your how to do’s.

  73. John Marshall says:

    Dave…the best tree work I have ever seen. How and where did you do all those great-looking trees? I see so many photos of great layouts with outstanding structures and rolling stock, and the trees are an afterthought that look like a window display at Menard’s. In other words, they ruin the rest of the layout. I’m going to use some of your photos for inspiration and to rethink my commitment to HO. I too suffer from space issues, and I have a lot of structures and landscape material that fits HO. I’m thinking HOn3 my be the answer. I’m looking to model a turn of the century (20th) logging community in the west. Keep up the good work.

  74. Ray William Suckling says:


  75. Jeff in Seattle says:

    beautiful work and a job well done, bravo!!! would love to see a few photos of your entire layout from a distance to give us more perspective

  76. John Fraim says:

    Certainly one of the best I’ve seen on this site. A natural modeler. The photography is also beautiful and tells me that Dave knows something about photography. This should definitely go into the sites Hall of Fame. John Allen would be proud of you!

  77. Brian Rockey says:

    Good grief! Spectacular scenery modelling – that forest, wow!
    Best to all!
    Brian, Wokingham, UK

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