HOn3 18 inch radius works for Dave

Dave’s been in touch – he found a HOn3 raduis worked well for him and the space his has:

“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 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.

HOn3 scale model railroad mine

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.


HOn3 scale buildings

HOn3 trestle bridge

HOn3 shops

Hon3 18 inch radius

18 inch radius HOn3 trestle bridge

HOn3 water tower

HOn3 steam train tunnel

HOn3 factory

HOn3 steam train tunnel

Hon3 steam train freight

A huge thank you to Dave. I’ll bet he’s glas he stumbled upon his HOn3 18 radius – how many of us have been frustrated by the space we have? 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.

Hope you enjoyed that as much as me.

Whenever it comes to HOn3, Brian’s posts always spring to mind, like this one.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, 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.

model train answers

82 Responses to HOn3 18 inch radius works for Dave

  1. Michael says:

    I love the name & the pictures are beautiful.

  2. Brian Messenger says:

    Dave, I think your layout is fantastic for someone that has only been at it for 3 years. You have really captured the narrow gauge feel on your layout. Love the Blackstone locomotives and rolling stock. Well done. From another HOn3 guy.

    Brian – the HOn3 Guy – Knysna RSA

  3. TONY DAVEY says:

    At last a truly great layout, beautiful modelling and not just a bunch of tracks going round and round with to many buildings in the middle
    Well done Sir

  4. Steve says:

    Stunning! Fantastic blending of scenery into the backscene, excellent write-up and great photos. Well done!

  5. Fred says:

    A truly exceptional layout and superb modelling Dave

    Regards Fred

  6. James Marek says:

    Wow! Awesome detail work! A+

  7. Dave, Very nice. I like the bridge and I aggre with Tony Davey. It is a “clean” layout.


  8. Brian Moretti says:

    Wow!!! Where did you get your skills from !!
    It’s one of the best layouts I’ve seen on here in a long time
    Wish you were my neighbor, we would have a blast
    My Ho layout is 25×8 but has no where near the detail
    Do you have a full track plan
    E mail me a way we can share more information
    Thank for sharing

  9. Don Poitras says:

    That’s a layout!

  10. Brian Rockey says:

    Fantastic scenery, so realistic Dave. Well done.
    Wokingham, UK

  11. John Frye says:

    This is probably the best “whole picture” layout I’ve seen since the late – great modeler John Allen’s Gore&Dipheted. Well done.

  12. Gary says:

    Wow. Just wow. Truly one of the best I have seen on this page.

  13. Bill D N&W Steam Only says:

    Incredibly realistic scenery and buildings. What a great layout!

  14. Bill in Virginia says:

    Great narrative and a beautiful layout. Keep up the great modeling!

  15. Chester Karlewicz says:

    Best scenery I’ve seen yet, looks so real

  16. Jerome Alter says:

    This guy’s good!!

  17. Kurt Dotson says:

    Absolutely Amazing!
    Makes Me Want to toss all of My Stuff Away, And Just Look At Yours All Day. Incredible!!
    -Kurt, California

  18. Dave
    What others have said is dead on accurate.
    The quality of your work is amazing and it is hard to believe that you have only been in the hobby three years now. Not sure what you do for a living but you have an exceptional skill set when it comes to modeling.
    I love it when I read that someone has scratch-built their structures. That you have built so many, so well detailed, so well finished, and in such a short period of time is astounding to me.
    Good job all the way around.
    CA USA

  19. Glyn Jones says:

    Stunning layout and beautiful workmanship Dave! Looking forward to seeing the additions. Congratulations.

  20. george zaky says:

    You sir are a talented, artistic, and master of modelling. Your detail is so spot on. Please keep us posted with any updating and let us know some of the techy stuff. Would love to see a video and an overall view. Many thanks
    Be well
    George from LI, NY

  21. John Bullock says:

    Lots of pleasing detail. You should feel proud.

  22. Erick says:

    Great work.!!!!!!!

  23. SHELDON. PHOENIX. USA. 🇺🇸. 🚂 says:

    VERY well done ! 👍

  24. Steve says:

    WOW !!! What an amazing layout!

  25. Al Otis says:

    Great layout, very nicely sceniced and detailed. Good job

  26. Jim AZ says:

    Very nice. You have exceptional modeling skills and your scenery is quite realistic. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

  27. Bob From Towson says:

    Dave, I’d have to say that you have the skill of an architect or at the least an artist !!!!! Stunning!!!

  28. Fred Gevalt says:

    Dave –

    You have the touch, and you certainly have the eye! Well done.

    The trees, the colors, and the sparse mining town structures all give off a tone that is 100 percent authentic and reminiscent of the best professional dioramas and museum exhibits.’

    “ not really knowing anything about model railroading” indeed!
    So what are the rest of us going to do when you’ve finally learned something? Blow our brains out???

    Fred Gevalt

  29. Frank says:

    That is some serious and beautiful work. Detail is outstanding! Bravo!

  30. Gerry says:

    Very nice layout, you have a good eye for detail.

  31. Gerry says:

    I truly love your energy in the video of making buildings…

  32. John Marshall says:

    Dave, Fabulous layout, with wonderful detail. I am getting ready to model an area similar to yours, and that will require lots of trees. Yours are some of the best I have seen. Did you purchase them or make them from scratch? I have had some success making fir trees from furnace filters, but it’s a bit labor intensive. What’s your secret?

  33. Louis F. Caputo says:

    I have rarely seen such craftmanship! The rock outcroppings, sagebrush, trees and other greenery are blended in such a way to appear as if the observer could walk among them. Can’t wait to see addition of the population and vehicles . . . should be rated an outstanding lay-out when “finished”!! (Hoping to see wiring diagram.)

  34. James Davis says:

    I cannot add to what has been so adequately and eloquently stated by others. However, I would make a statement about one of your pictures. You show a locomotive numbered 465 with a tender labeled Rio Grande. No such locomotive existed on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The K-27 series of fifteen locomotives ran from 460 thru 464.
    Two of those still exist today. 463 runs on the Cumbers And Toltec Scenic Ry. I’m not sure exactly where 464 is, today, but it still runs. For many years it sat in the yards in Durango, Colorado.
    Other than that, what a layout! Mine is nowhere near that fine!

  35. Jeff says:

    First layout looks amazing. You have a lot of talent and should be proud

  36. Ruben Simon says:

    Absolute perfection! Love the details on how you chose to work. Best I can remember seeing the background “blending in” since it was the source of what comes in front! Just fantastic. You are an amazing workman in every way.

  37. Old Ben says:

    Disney could not do a better job!!!!!!!!!!

  38. Johnny says:

    That is just all of the good things when you make a Great Effort. I love it, great job and enjoy your Layout

  39. Dave Karper says:

    Dave, I for one, realize the Nickle Creek and Western has its own system of locomotive numbering. May I suggest the two rule rule book? Rule #1. It’s my railroad. Rule#2. If there is a problem, refer to rule#1.

  40. Ted says:

    Very nice layout!!!

  41. Ted says:

    How big is the entire layout Dave? Is there anyway you could include a track plan with the pics? Outstanding work and detail! Love the backdrop too. Where did you get the backdrop pics from?

    Thanks, Ted

  42. Alabama Mike says:

    Dave WOW what a layout. It is so beautiful.

  43. David Housteau says:

    Thank you everyone for your kind comments. It has been quite a journey and it isn’t over yet. I honestly cannot say how I was able to do what I have done so far, because for my entire life I have never shown any form of artistic talent. I cannot paint, draw, sculpt, play music, or sing, nothing. My talents have always been more on the technical side of things. Yet somehow this happened.

    I was asked about the trees. They are all made and not bought. The pine type trees are a mix of three types. One is the simple asparagus fern that was dried, shaped painted and flocked. The dead bare trees are also of this type. Another is the furnace filter type. Those have a lot of steps and take time, but often turn out really well. The last type is what I call the bottle brush method. These are made from strands of rope twisted between two wires. I have used an actual tree making machine as well as a simple hand drill to make them. They can also turn out really well given the time.

  44. Great Layout !
    Wonderful attention to detail. I’m envious.

  45. JBird says:

    Absolutely beautiful…what an eye for detail!

  46. Julio Bird says:

    Wow!! Best I’ve ever seen.

  47. Nice work for sure. The buildings are interesting modeling and can work well.

  48. Ronald L Montgomery says:


    I usually do not comment but your layout is fantastic. My sincere compliments on your imagination. Perhaps it is better than reality.

  49. Cary B says:

    Hello Dave,
    That’s one beautiful layout, your modeling skills are to be very much admired. The detail and sights are absolutely amazing
    Cary B Maryland

  50. Richard H Chapple Sr says:

    Wow!!!!! Would love to see this layout in person. You have made everything come together so well. It truly is stunning! Fantastic work.

  51. Brian Rockey says:

    Dave – you’ve only been doing this 3 years! You’re scenery modelling skills are brilliant. Premier League.
    Best to all.
    Brian, Wokingham, UK

  52. Colin Edinburgh says:

    Hi apart from the actual layout the photography is outstanding especially the clever use of lighting to create long shadows to add to the realism. Certainly one of the best layouts we have had submitted. One of course should remember that we can’t all be experts but take heart and enjoyment from our own work

  53. Reginald Hafner says:

    That is one of the best I’ve ever seen, fantastic!

  54. Greg Marples says:

    I made the mistake of building my foreground first on one end of my L shaped layout, trying to choose a background to blend with it. Your way is much better and should be the first rule in every beginner scenery manual! Fortunately the other two thirds of the L will have the background up before the scenery. Your work is beautiful!

  55. Jim says:

    Fantastic. Can see heaps of effort in both the planning and cnstruction.

  56. Kevin McArdle says:

    Beautiful craftsman layout and magnificent scenery. I have an HO & HOn3 layout, and the cost of rolling stock and locomotives is not inexpensive, but the narrow gauge is really great visually. Love the trestles. Thanks for sharing

  57. Erick says:

    Wow that amazing? I hope mine comes out that good.

  58. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Dave……one of the best……detail scenery is superb……. Great job.

  59. Gerald Edgar says:

    Great job of blending backdrops with actual ‘scenery’. Truly a superb layout!

  60. Richard says:

    All I can say is Wow! Incredible for a first effort. You must contact the railroad magazines because this layout is well worth publication!

  61. Al Otis says:

    I’m at a loss for words. Superb work, stunning scenery. Nicely done, thank you for sharing.

  62. Elmer Banks says:

    Sorry. I refuse to believe that you’re a 3-year model railroader. I’ve been doing TRAINS on AND OFF for 50 years and have yet to reach anything that resembles what you have done. I’m mechanically sound working on DC engines and I have Ho ,Ho n3, N, 0 27, and G. Haven’t figured out DCC mechanics, but have many newer engines in DCC as I have a genius at our club, who converts DC to DCC. YOU ARE GOOD.

  63. richard rudolph says:

    Good lord. Fifty years and cant come close.

  64. Fred Gevalt says:

    Dave –

    First rate – the kind of layout that used to grace the covers of model railroad magazines when I was a boy! I agree with you about the visual priorities of scenery /backdrops first, then middle ground, foreground, etc.

    You’ve done a fantastic job….keep sending more!

    Fred Gevalt

  65. Beautiful! Great job!

  66. Mark T. Pianka says:

    WOW!! Great layout!!!! Like it all.

  67. Stephen Hill Woodstock GA says:

    Dave , thank you and WOW , what craftsmanship. Simply amazing stuff sir . I’m in awe and dumbfounded, don’t know how you make it look so realistic. Truly remarkable talent . Great insight as well with your approach to the whole project. Will be considering those tactics upon starting my next display .
    Thank you for sharing your work , it is really something to be proud of … this stuff isn’t easy , it requires great patience, talent , resource and imagination , you indeed have gathered those components . Great display sir .

  68. Larry K Schweitzer says:

    Great detailing! Could fool people into thinking they were seeing real life, except for the figures of people.

  69. Tony Weisbecker says:

    Outrageous layout love those trestles especially so . Wish it all be mine .

  70. Jeff W says:

    WOW!!!! What an awesome job!! I am just now starting my N setup on a 84″ X 42″ base that will be set in the desert southwest with UP equipment. This gives me inspiration! Thanks my friend!

  71. Thomas B Kemp says:

    I am in awe of Dave’s incredible skills. The attention to detail in the buildings and backdrops is truly outstanding. It’s as if I am viewing pictures of a real railroad. His research helped uncover his latent genius. A dream layout. Kudos.

  72. Don says:

    very nice, love the rock quarry

  73. Pete from Michigan says:

    Dave, in your reply to questions, you mention you have a ‘tree making machine’.
    What is that?

  74. Kevin McArdle says:

    Amazing craftsman layout. Visual interest abounds, and there is so much to see. I have been constructing a small layout (5×9) which has two scales, HO and hon3. At some point I will post but not as of yet. You got my creative juices flowing, and have inspired me, thank you.

  75. robert dale tiemann says:

    thumbs up. quarry, steam engine, layot, all very nice.

  76. John W Richmond says:


    Please make a video someday so we can all see your entire layout. It looks so real the pictures look like you took them outdoors.

  77. Steve Ruple says:

    Awesome pictures of your scratch built buildings, I would like to see a diagram of your layout. Also I would like to see your tree making machine.

  78. George Bartholomew says:

    Wonderful! I’d like to see a track plan. Thanks.

  79. william janmes palmer says:


  80. Andrew Aves says:

    Superb modelling Dave
    Andrew in Oz

  81. Arthur Romano says:

    Well David. I think you’re a pro and you’re pulling our leg.
    It’s a wonderful layout.

  82. Dr Jon Blake says:

    Now this guy did an awesome job with his landscape and also how he blended buildings into the layout. I have watched a lot of posts and a lot of them don’t weather the buildings which I don’t care for…..

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