Frank’s HO model railroad

“Originally my HO scale layout was located in a room I had a contractor build in our San Diego, California house attic.

As my layout inevitably grew, (evolved), I realized that the attic was too constraining. I raised the issue with my wife: “Should we move to a larger house or should I have a room built over our extended garage”. Her silent, cold, frozen stare told me that we were not moving.

Thus, I hired a contractor to build a room over our garage. What a problem! It took the contactor the better part of a year to demolish the entire two car garage which was attached to our home; drill down into the earth for earthquake proof construction, rebuild the garage, and over the new garage, construct the circa 30 by 30 foot model railroad room.

His comment: “All this for electric trains?”

Oh well.

Next I purchased an HO layout computer program and, on my desk-top computer, designed a modified “bent-dog bone” type layout with 48 inch diameter loops at each end.

I ordered and assembled about a “baker’s dozen” pre-fabricated tables; purchased boxes of 4 by 6 foot sheets of 2 inch thick, blue foam boards; boxes of HO scale flex track, boxes of cork track bed; scores of turn-outs, many boxes of track, additional transformers, rolls of various sized wires, etc. etc.

The blue foam was put over the plywood table tops but installed under the cork road bed for sound suppression. It works fine; except I had to buy a special very long drill to drill holes through the foam for track power leads. The thick form permitted cutting creeks and rivers that passed under the track, allowed for track adjacent elevated town streets, and for main-line track road-way “cuts and fills”.

Finally the hip-high, two main line, designed layout was up and running. But I wanted more trains running simultaneously. I then hired a contractor who installed a completely separate, eye level, 30 inches, and in places 48 inch wide shelf, around the layout room.

This shelf permits me to run four long freight trains on the eye level portion of the layout and two separate main line trains on the hip-high layout. Thus, now the layout will run 6 long trains simultaneously.

I like long trains, preferably freight trains of some 40 to 50 cars, snaking by parked fright cars and locomotives, across turn-outs, and through the country-side and towns. I have a built up town of some 35 or 40 structures/ buildings including various stores and a movie theater, which is reminiscent of, and named after the mid and late steam era city of Johnstown, (where the big flood occurred), Pennsylvania.

Is this it? Am I done, adding to or expanding the layout? Who knows?

Recently, my contractor quietly told me that to expand the current train room would require my wife, our dog, and me to move out of the house for about a year. NOTE: I am not dumb enough to raise this issue with my wife.

In building my layout I made every mistake in the book and scores that people never heard of.

Here are some random thoughts – suggestions – in no particular order:

Before beginning design for a new layout, determine if you love seeing long trains running, or if you prefer detail switching yards, and train “make up” activities. My layout has a plethora of yards, stub tracks, “Repair in Place” side tracks, and storage tracks, all wired up, but almost all of which I never use.

Don’t install track further away from you than ¾ of your arm’s reach. Don’t put track hidden behind buildings or scenery. Don’t put track in tunnels or mountains which have no “emergency” hand holes.

Don’t nail down or glue down track until you TWICE carefully go over it for vertical, horizontal and longitudinal alignments. Use a bubble level, to make sure the track rails are level with each other.

Repeatedly run you most de-railment prone locomotive in forward and reverse over your track before nailing or gluing it down.

Repeatedly run your most de-railment prone locomotive, forward and reverse over, through and across every turn out before nailing or gluing them in place. This is a great “pull you hair out” test for steam, 4-8-4’s and other locomotives with training trucks.

Don’t connect one piece of flex track to another section of flex track without carefully inspecting the connections for critical alignments; don’t install a turntable unless you provide for very long, straight, entry and exit tracks, half as long again as your longest locomotive.

Watch out when installing multiple interconnected sections of flex track on curves. You may end up with “locked-in” stresses which may cause the flex track and/or cork track bed to rise up and contort over time, particularly in a room that may be exposed to hot temperatures. If using white glue to fasten down track/cork road bed, try not to dilute the glue. That weakens the glue and may cause “Hold-down” problems.

Don’t buy “cheap” when buying track. Watch out for track profile dimensions and characteristics when mixing track manufacturer’s products. Don’t install a second main line paralleling an already installed main line without careful consideration of all potential obstructions, tunnel entrances; and “overhang” problems of long passenger cars and long locomotives.

Don’t over complicate, and crowd together installations of freight yards; stub tracks, and turnouts without careful consideration of necessary clearances and wiring problems.

Don’t run electrical supply wires without firmly taping a tag to each end showing where the power is coming from and where it is going.

Don’t install a shelf over your layout without appropriate lighting underneath.

Don’t inter-connect different radius turn-outs, or curved sectional track.

Don’t end up with more than one main, central, total layout control station.

Don’t end up with power transformers that are under-powered for the final electrical loads. It is wise to install “re-railer” track sections in line with turn-outs, tight curves, entrances/exits to tunnels or difficult to reach track work.

Try to have “walking access” to each side or end of your layout surface. I’m old and it really is a “Pain” to get down on my knees and crawl under the layout tables.

Railroad room: Make sure you have sufficient lighting for detailed work as well as when having guests.

Air condition the room, if possible. Watch out for aisle widths: The aisle widths in my layout room are, in places 26 inches wide – too narrow; and other areas 36 inches which is just enough for people to pass each other. Don’t have power cords on the floor of the layout room even when covered with power cord safety covers.

Try to have an adjacent space and workbench for a repair/build/ inspection area with table lighting, and space for a wide assortment of tools, glues/lubricants, etc. My railroad room has a
very convenient, and necessary, attached restroom.

Currently, my layout includes some 100 structures, many of which are illuminated. I have some 26 steam locomotives, from 4-8-8-4’s to 0-6-0’s and circa 35 diesel locomotives; 5 different complete passenger car sets and well over one hundred freight cars – bottom line: ”Too much stuff”

Frank

San Diego, California”

HO scale

HO scale

HO scale

HO scale

HO scale

HO scale

HO scale

HO scale




HO scale

A huge thanks to Frank – great pics and what a narrative too.

I did enjoy his list of things not to do.

That’s all for this time, folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And don’t forget, the Beginner’s Guide is here if today is the day you stop dreaming and start doing.

Best

Al

PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

33 Responses to Frank’s HO model railroad

  1. WOW what a great layout, if I could have half of that I would be a happy guy

  2. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    Wow Frank, a sizeable room but a lot of good advice. I bet more than a few of us have made some of those similar mistakes.

  3. You say you get off 21 houses for $63 what are they made out of and are they already painted and everything like to have some detail about

  4. Myself I have a lot of the old old old Gage one of the first steam engines worked at the tablet to make it smoke when I have a 323 digit serial number line out I also have quite a bit of ho but I have more the O gauge I would be interested in setting up a big layout with and Gage because of space at one time I had the DT and I online Inno Gage from Springfield Ohio all the way up the hill and back down to Jackson and through the tunnel to Ironton it look pretty damn good. Of course I worked on the railroad at that time a man meets the I really hate it when we had to move. I’ve been thinking for some time about going back into it but using the N guage

  5. A lot of good advice there Frank , and congrats on your layout , plenty of detail on there and a lot going on ..Dangerous dave

  6. Quasimondi says:

    Terrific piece. Thank you.

  7. Really cool frank nice!

  8. Bob Amling says:

    Great narrative and layout Frank You should expand your thoughts on each point and write a book about the how to and how not to.

    Bob in Colts Neck Crossing, NJ

  9. Léo Noury says:

    Great layout, lots of rolling stocks, my main interest is swiching opeation and freight cars of all sort also run run long train. Mainly LIONEL productsand others.

    Great narrative of problems to avoid, I have a feeling that in the near(very)future, there will be a major revamp of your set up to remove mosr of your irritants.
    As, we all know, in real life and hobby, a railroad is never finish.

    Again, great instalation, congratulation.
    Léo, Canada

  10. very nice frank, lots of hard work and I love all the steam locomotives

  11. SHELDON. PHX ARIZONA. says:

    If your just getting started this may be the best post yet..
    Follow his dos and don’ts and you will really enjoy your layout .
    Do it right the first time and enjoy running your trains. NO SHORT CUTS !

  12. Scott Hasson says:

    I helped frank a few times over the years and my son loves the trains also. I have seen them all work many times. Struggle….keeping it all clean.
    Great setup

  13. Steve joyce says:

    I love your to do list before you do a layout. Luckily for me, I did many…space for walk around nothing further than i could reach…no tons of switches as I am a long train guy. Back of mountain open. I was a bit fast in laying track and a couple of times had to pull up a small section as my curves were a bit close ( double track)

  14. Gary Manganiello says:

    Wow….great layout…….Love those long runs and trains………a lot of detail….bless you for your patience. Great narrative of problems to avoid. Unfortunately for me I committed most of them and spent a lot of time going back and redoing.

  15. Chuck Cox says:

    I have had the privilege of seeing Frank’s trains in action. What a sight to behold! His photos are great. Having read his narrative, I can appreciate, even more, the vision, skill, patience and dedication it takes to build such a beautiful large scale model. I’ve seen young scouts just ooh and aaw over it. Great job, Frank

  16. Robert Johnson says:

    A ditto to remarks that Gary made and others!!

  17. Tim Cover says:

    Very Nice Layout. I Like the Detail of about everything, that is
    on displayed.

  18. Steve Ruple says:

    Awesome layout and excellent advise to consider before starting a large layout. Thank you for sharing such excellent advise.

  19. Great layout. Love the don’t list. Wish I had that info about four years ago when I started my current layout. Live and learn as they say. Thank you very much. Perhaps some retrofitting is in order.

  20. Joe Kincaid says:

    Wow. Talk about inspiration, great tips, awesome narratives, and great pictures. You are so close, I am in Anaheim Hills part time, and Lake Tahoe the rest. As I am battling bone cancer, and I have no intention of changing my medical team, I keep the house here. Perhaps I could meet you sometime.

  21. Hi Frank, very impressive layout. I feel like I’m really there watching all the operations as they happen. I would love to see it in person as I live in El Cajon. I have an ho layout setup in my garage but nothing close to yours.

  22. A very impressive (and expensive) layout by Frank.

    AL …. THANK YOU FOR PRINTING IT!!!

    C Greer

  23. Tom Provo says:

    Wow. I am amazed at what you’ve pointed out to avoid before building. I’ve currently got a pretty good sized layout in my basement and am considering ripping it apart and starting over, as I also committed to many mistakes the first time.

  24. DJfromNJ says:

    Nice work, Frank. Lots of good effort, good results and a don’t do list! Between you & D. Dave, there is enough equipment to start your own RR!!! Well done, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t put in a word for a happy marriage and family life.

  25. Some great work!

  26. Susan Cannon says:

    Wow – just wow!! How wonderful. I was wondering if you would be so kind as to share a picture/graphic of your overall layout. I’m researching plans for a layout to build in our new home in a couple of years, and yours intrigues me. I’m also HO scale. Thanks.

  27. George says:

    Frank
    Frank,

    Wow! Your do’s and dont’s are great. You should write them up and send them to the various model railroad magazines.

    Wow, double wow! Your layout and buildings are great. Are you an acolyte of George Sellios or Jason Jansen? Wow again!

  28. Will in NM says:

    Frank, What an interesting layout and narrative. I especially liked your Do-Not-Do list, It will be a great benefit to many who haven’t yet built a layout. I can appreciate your love of long trains, but keeping all that track clean must be a hassle. To my eye, the layout is a bit too busy and I don’t understand why one would have a turntable that is too short to turn your Big Boy and cab-forward engines, but that’s just my opinion. I guess we all see things better in hindsight. You have accomplished a lot and are to be commended for your layout and your marital success.:-) Thanks for sharing both your layout and your insights / hindsights.

  29. Ross Johnston says:

    Thanks Frank for sharing! What a magnificent layout!!!! I would love to see you send in a video and possibly your layout plan. Cheers Rossco, Adelaide, Australia

  30. Norman Rosen says:

    Frank, I am in N-gauge and I made many of those mistakes also. Don’t feel bad. Beautiful layout. If you are in SD, consider AGTTA; lot of HO people in there.

  31. Bob Ambrose says:

    Frank, great layout indeed. Since you named it, are you from Johnstown, Pa? Born and raised there and left in 1960 for the AF. Graduated from JHS in 1959. Visit as often as I can although no relatives left. Favorite train watching spot is Franklin Boro., under the Michael Strank Bridge. Now it is all NS through there but very interesting as the helpers hook-up at that spot to assist trains over the summit at the Horseshoe Curve West of Altoona. Strank was from Franklin Boro., and was one of the 5 that raised the flag on Iowa Jima. Still consider Johnstown my home town. Many PRR trains both steam and diesel to chase when I was a kid.

  32. Ronald Edwards says:

    Frank,
    Great layout. My wife would agree with you that I too “have too much stuff” for the O-gauge layout that I am building – also a two level affair, top passengers and lower freights. Have violated a couple of the “Don’ts” but am hoping that I can get away with these “minor” infractions. Building the room over the garage sounds ideal – on paper at least – but I am sure there is more to the story! An acquaintance designed his basement and layout for the basement of his new house before he even began planning the house that would sit on top of it. Keep up the posts. Would love to see a video in the future of your trains in operation.

  33. Dear Al. Thanks a bunch for what you do. I archive every post which I hope to
    put into a printed book someday. Re Frank in this post……Dear Frank, You are
    way to hard on yourself. I think you need a attitude adjustment. You are having
    FUN. Mistakes do not exist, only neat stuff that may or may not need to be
    upgraded. There is no deadline. The journey is the best part of the trip. Count
    your blessings. You have the resources to do anything in your imagination.
    Think positive. Pat yourself on the back for the slick things you have done.
    I am an 80 yr old retiree, nuff said…..RJL

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