HO freight trains – Frank’s

Frank’s been in touch – he likes running HO freight trains – and my word, he’s created quite a space to do exactly that:

“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 model 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 like running my HO freight trains. 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 HO 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 HO 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 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”


San Diego, California”

HO scale cinema by tracks

HO scale model railroad shelf layout

HO scale model railroad steam locomotive

HO freight trains


HO freight trains

HO freight trains

HO scale engine house

HO scale track

A huge thanks to Frank for sharing his HO freight trains – great pics and what a narrative too.

(I should really add it to the page of HO scale train layouts.

I did enjoy his list of things not to do.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you join in 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.

model train answers

58 Responses to HO freight trains – Frank’s

  1. Fred Driver says:

    The main thing you left out was how much did the demolition and new building cost, are you to scared your wife might see it. The main reason I ask is so I can say to my wife – “see, I could have spent THAT much”!

  2. Stephen White says:

    Nice layout. Any chance you could do a (Dangerous Dave) video? Or even a hand held video around the layout. Speech is optional, I just wanted to see it better.
    Stay well.
    Steve (Syd)

  3. Colin edinburgh says:

    Frank a great looking railway. Good tips not just for beginners but experienced builders. There is so much going on. Well done.

  4. Peter bayley-Bligh says:

    Fantastic do’s and don’ts – one or two of which I had never considered … so thank you.

  5. Would love to see a video of the trains running…..

  6. DJfromNJ says:

    Easy to see that lots of time and effort went into your fabulous layout. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.
    Should you/anyone put $$$ amounts in describing your project, TIATWO – think it all the way out.

  7. Jim says:

    Great looking layout!


    wow…all for trains. i recently moved a had a 30′ x 40′ garage
    built which houses a rav4, tundra pickup and a 19’boat. i have
    a 9’x13′ train room i built with a u shape layout. your 30’x30′ room
    is amazing. i am a retire carpenter and understand building costs. california is the highest in the country and the most
    regulated. how many banks did you hold up ??? how long haveyou been working on this project ? when the trains are running you probably causing power outages ! just joking !
    my trains were packed away for over 50 years. my collection
    of trains are all wood burners representing the late 1800’s.
    i love doing scenry and i built all my buildings and bridges.
    it will be some time to fully complete i work a few hours a
    day and enjoy getting conected to my boyhood hobby my
    father exposed me to when i was 7 years old.
    advice to you…burn all receipts so you wife never knows
    how much….good luck

  9. WOW!…and DOUBLE! THAT, my friend is one helluva busy layout!! I’ve flown over many a city and lesser town and never saw anything to match your layout. I’m in the process of designing a layout that will feature the railroad lines in and around Philadelphia (3oth Street station and Reading Market Street ) with track going up to Norristown and returning. Your post will allow me to ease up on the many extras that I “thought” I would want to incorporate into the layout. Please don’t get me wrong…You’ve done a phenomenal job, and your own self critique is of great value to many model RR fans! Thank You for your candor!

  10. All I can say is WOW! How much did you spend? Fantastic layout.

  11. Elmer Banks says:

    I made every mistake you list. But, being a lonely soul, I simply use the complete basement for my layout, which is a combination 2 ft by 20 ft n scale, and a 24 x16 ft HO. Controlled by a bachmann DCC power unit with 5 amp assist for the HO. The n scale pike is digitrax zephyr. No real plan, so I have to remember which switch machine operates which switch track, And there are many. No wonder your wife gave you the cold stare. My lady would have taken a short trip to a gun store. By the way, very nice pike.

  12. Robert Brady says:

    FANTASTIC, Love to see video . Hope you have an engineers hat when operating those trains
    The Critic.

  13. Rob McCrain says:

    Fabulous layout. Good narrative.

  14. Erick says:

    Pretty Kool.!!!!

  15. wayne says:

    everything is ho scale how about n scale

  16. George Zaky says:

    WOW! I hope you have a lot of people that can come and enjoy this extravaganza. So much effort has gone into this. Your words of wisdom were received with a yep, yep, yep— . You must send a video of those long freights. Awesome!!
    I so appreciate your narrative and pics. Please keep embellishing this blog.
    Be well & safe
    George from LI, NY

  17. Richard Weiss says:

    I have 30 engines on my 2 O gauge layouts. I have an inventory list with replacement values that I sent to my insurance agent, who recommended I purchase a rider to my insurance. Coverage is now $25000. Trump’s tariffs probably effected the values of your engines too. My daughter lives in Del Mar, so it is not surprising to me that someone from the SD area does a first-class job with any endeavor they might undertake. I am coming to SD (from Indiana ( 3172014331)) in Sept – would love to see your layout.

  18. Dave says:

    I did every one of the don’t do things. I regret every one of them and had to rip out mountains and track. He must have a large bank account and understanding wife.

  19. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Frank….. what an impressive layout…….. a lot of activity going on. I love the engines in the third and fourth pictures. And your scenery detail and weathering on your structures is excellent. I have printed out your blog with all your do’s and don’ts. I wish I had this list before I started my layout. Great work.

    Would love to see a video of some of those engines running.

  20. Robert Prouse says:

    Consider yourself VERY lucky. 900 sq ft is the size of our entire apartment! But I still have a layout!

  21. Norman Rosen says:

    Every one of your points is valid and of critical importance for smooth operation. There are a number of model railroad clubs in San Diego County and I hope you will consider joining one or more, including the All Gauge Toy Train Association; despite the name, we have numerous HO and at lest one N gauge modeler (me).

    Dave, I know the feeling….

  22. Great Layout!!

  23. Wonderful design……………

  24. Bill in Virginia says:

    Excellent layout and excellent advice/lessons learned! You covered the gauntlet in your discussion. Well done for sure 👍🏼

  25. Steve Kurtz says:

    I am very impressed Frank! You have a lot of trackage and a lot of engines with cars. I like the upper level just as much as I like the hip high level. You have a lot of Trade Secrets you shared and I appreciate you taking the time to share with us what you have. Thank you very much

  26. Patrick Cancilla says:

    Love your layout! Love the steam. My biggest question is; did your train room cost as much as you paid for your house!?

  27. James Johnson says:

    Absolutely amazing! This the dream layout I’ve been considering for my basement for way to long. Not getting any younger, I’d best get on it. Thanks for the inspiration.

  28. OMG What i wouldn’t give for a 30×30 layout it looks Awesome
    I do hope we get some more pic or little vid of the lay out
    thanks for sharing with us

  29. Mark T. Pianka says:

    very impressing!! like the layout, great buildings! great job!

  30. Chester Karlewicz says:

    All I can say is WOW!!!

  31. Tony Zagaros says:

    Wow is right! Thank you so much for helping educate fellow model railroaders! Your layout is fantastic and thanks so much for sharing it as well as your wonderful story!

  32. Very nice layout Frank! I wish I could put my layout in the attic. I definitely have the room for it but I would have alot of construction to do to make it happen. I’ll just stick with my 10 x 16 ho layout in the garage. I love the detail of your layout. You have done an exceptional job. I would love to see it. I live here in El Cajon.


  33. Anton Bruce says:

    Yea…you DEFINITELY DO NOT approach your wife about moving so you can have more space for the layout….unless you LIKE the idea of spending the rest of your life sleeping on the couch.

  34. Sam Mazzucca says:

    Video of trains running please.

  35. Darn that is one heck of a layout.

  36. Gibbo says:

    Thanks, really appreciate all these lay outs, getting ready to start mine but it is hard to find anything resembling the Amtrak Northeast corridor. Wash DC to NYC

  37. Rich says:

    I am so impressed! Great density. Guess I know how you spent your 12 hour days. Great job.

  38. wayne russell irwin says:

    nice. too much to handle and take of.

  39. John McCloud says:

    I’m soooo jealous! What a layout. Not only are you blessed enough to have an incredible setup but you are conveniently located near one of the best HO train operations in the country there at Balboa Park. Frank, I hope you realize how envious we all are.
    I almost forgot to mention about how lucky you are to have a wife with so much understanding and good communication skills.

  40. Raffy in Ottawa Canada says:

    Well I definitely envy your railroad and your narrative was very good. I see a great game plan and you executed it very well. A video would be awesome. I have zero negative to say except to say I wish it was in my place. Thanks appreciate your list of errors as well.

  41. Kenneth R Fox says:

    Frank said it, NOT me…”Too much stuff”. Way too much detail and overdone. Would it be worth having a hobby that you have to be inconvenienced by tearing down garages, making your wife mad, devoting All of your spare time working on, disrupting your life for a year…”oh well”. It would take all of the fun out of it in my opinion, but it’s his layout. Hope he is enjoying it.

  42. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    Wow, particularly recognise the ‘dos and don’ts’ as they are/have been common to all of us railroaders at some time or other and well worth mentioning again.

  43. Glyn Jones says:

    Great layout Frank and a salutary narrative for us all. I’ve made many of your mistakes and echo your warnings for any neophyte entering the hobby- excellent advice.

  44. Don says:

    extremely well done, love the movie theater & the double decker railroad system he developed & the old city charm.

  45. Bob Cassidy says:

    wow, that is a rather busy model railroad!! Do you control it all by yourself? i think i would be lost within the first two minutes. Great job!!

  46. Rich B. says:

    Taken to the extreme, not much else for a life-style in CA? Climate control has got to be mandatory out there… hope the grandkids like railroading. Must be some sort of speciality car in garage down under? I can’t say anything and am labeled as eccentric myself- that’s a good thing (wife’s label though).🤭

    Rich, Regards

  47. Delmar gene Servoss says:

    all i can say is wow i like to see that one run

  48. Brian Olson says:

    Great layout! The only thing better is the story behind it! Would make a great motion picture. Suggest Chevy Chase for the lead.

  49. Jeff says:

    I’m impressed that you built a room just for your layout, I’m even more impressed that your wife let you do it! lol! My question is why put in windows? I’m setting up my layout in a 12×14 bedroom. And i wish i had a bigger room. I have a typical 2 story house with a 20×30 family room off right side. I’ve considered putting on a 2nd floor over family room just for my layout. big expense, as well as tear up my beautiful lawn. Gorgeous layout, great workmanship.

  50. Peter John Bullock says:

    Frank… Great advice on what you “should not do”. Sadly, I have done a number of items on th no-no list. Love your story!

  51. MatiSon says:

    You have a very nice layout: professionally done! I’m still stuck on hiring someone to build a garage with a train room above. Unfortunately, the funds still haven’t appeared, and may never do so. My tiny place has very little room for a layout, but I can always dream…

  52. Norman r Rosen says:

    I smiled as I read through your ‘don’t list’ as I had made many of the same mistakes you did. I might add the following comment: Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is a model railroad; don’t rush it.

  53. Wayne Rybak says:

    Hello;, thank you for your layout. Quite impressive, but also has made me aware of who I am and what I like. You captured the urban scene quite well and it made me anxious. So well done. I dont like urban settings because of that, that anxious realization. Too much going on, but that’s what urban life is. So thank you for helping me know who I am. And great job again.

  54. John from Canada says:

    G R E A T Layout!!!
    Could you share your power control for track, turnouts, lighting, etc.? I think it is DC, right?
    Could you also share a “layout plan”, however simple, not to scale, or whatever?
    T H A N K S for sharing all your work, fantastic results, AND your FANTASTIC list of “I wish I had not done that!”

  55. Jim AZ says:

    Oh so much room. Just envious. And a lot going on. I can’t imagine what the maintenance must be; track cleaning, dusting, keeping track of all your locomotives and rolling stock. But it all looks great. Enjoy.

    Jim AZ

  56. Gary Thornton says:

    I am in awe! I looked and looked and looked to find something you were missing only to find out you had EVERYTHING! Great layout and well done. I suspect the most expensive part of the layout was the diamonds you had to purchase for your wife in order to continue expanding your hobby.

  57. Steven Gregory says:

    Alrighty then. I guess I’ll try RC airplanes for a new hobby. No inside rooms needed. Lol. Only kidding. Have modeled HO and N scale. Looking at garden G scale now. Have the equipment. No room inside.

  58. robert dale tiemann says:

    i would love to have that much room to rebuild mine. very nice job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *