Fred’s N scale

I really needed a layout to cheer me up today.

I’m feeling a bit sad about the $9 offer.

You won’t ever see it again after today.

Gone for good.

The world seems to have gone crazy and there’s just no way I can repeat this price.

I’ve left it open for anyone for any stragglers.

So what sort of layout could cheer meup and put a smile on my face?

One like Fred’s of course:

“Hi Al –

This is an update on my project. You first heard from me about a year ago, with my soliloquy about the importance of scale. So about a year later, here I am again with my progress report.

My layout (N Scale) is about 24 feet by three feet, with a “dogbone” right angle section at one end for track return under a mountain.

At the other end there is about eight to ten feet jutting inward (away from the viewing front, which forms a harbor, that accomodates a chemical tanker piered for loading at a refinery.

The other side of the harbor will have a city, with 1920 era apartment buildings sweeping up to modern 30-40 story high rise construction.

Downtown section of city measures about four feet wide, and two feet deep.

Tracks underneath eventually terminate into staging yard (in next room of my basement, which up ’til now has housed all my good wine and scotch.)

Years ago I was an architect, so I’m looking forward to building the high rise section.

The layout has a curvilinear front face, with masonite facia, so that the layout varies in width from eighteen inches to forty two, which makes it look more natural, I think.

I have two rows of fluorescent tubes behind the top facia, together with high intensity incandescent mini-spots. It is very well lit, which helps these old cataracts see what the owner is doing!

The entire length of the layout resides underneath a diorama backdrop that curves all the way up and over the layout (layout is 4 feet off floor, “sky” of diorama is at 7 feet, which I built of “Masonite,” and taped and plastered with drywall mud for mural painting.

I used to landscape paint in my youth, and felt I had a better chance of designing the backdrop to my layout rather than a photo backdrop, which might have dragged the cart before the horse.

I have been working pretty exclusively on the north (dogbone) end of the layout since I laid all the track a year ago, on a fictional rural town that looks a lot like my native New England.

“Maxwell Falls” (Grandson #1 is named Max) is the name of this town. It’s commercial, with brick shops from DPM kits, where the big effort seems to be in the painting and weathering, lighting, detailing, etc.

I found a Volmer church kit, and kitbashed it considerably to use the right hand wall of the nave to extend the visible side on the left and give it correct proportions and scale.

Landscape is plaster cloth on foam insulation. I used many latex molds to model rocks from hydrocal and plaster of paris.

Water in the river and the ravine that holds the hydro plant is by “Magic Water,” and though I leaked about half into buckets during the pour, looks very real once done. painting the rapids was a real challenge.

I have audio chips all over the place, and a speaker inside the power plant rushes with water through the turbines as I continue with this fabulous hobby.

Under Spandrel bridge, looking at power plant:

stunning N scale railroad bridge

Dam and river:

stunning n scale dam

Aerial view of Powerplant:

stunning n scale factory

The bend at Maxwell Falls: (Note the “interface” between the plaster model road, and the painted road in the backdrop. I put the bridge expansion joint right at the break, and continued with the same color acrylic paint throughout. The painted road begins right at the red van on the bridge.

stunning n scale model railroad cove

A Magic Water pond with sheep

stunning n scale pond with sheep

Scratch built late Victorian – early 20th Century station

model railroad power station

On the way from Maxwell Falls to “Port Charles” (The city)

railroad tunnel

More Backdrop painting approaching harbor

model railroad backdrop

I’ll send you more in time, but here are some pics: (If I run out of digital room with these pics, I’ll just send them with labels in a separate email)


A huge big thank you to Fred.

Now on to Pat.

He sent me the below email.

And it’s something I’m sure we have all mulled over at some time.

So I thought I’d put it ‘to the collective’ and see what wisdom we can pull out of the ether…

Please just post your thoughts below!

“I really enjoy your e-mails and many of the wonderful attachments as they are very informative and answer many of the questions I have as I return to this hobby.

I owned a hobby shop twenty five years ago but that venture did not go well in a town too small to support it and with the advent of the internet, that was sort of the final straw so to speak.

In those years since, this hobby has changed and modernized to where I feel I am really too far behind to make a correct decision on what to do next.

As I approach retirement, which is four years away, I am looking at getting back into the hobby and have spent many hours “window” shopping in my Walthers catalog and have a building list that is $2,700 long.

That was based on a layout that was five by fifteen feet.

I was under the impression that I needed to determine my industries, locate them on the layout and then lay track based in the corresponding need of the industry (one track, two tracks, or multiple tracks placed so far apart and so on.) Now I have been told that I need to lay the track then place the buildings. I am now just more confused.

Then, in reading some articles, it was suggested that a modular layout was the best to have and in some respects that does sound practical.

So what I am asking, is what is your opinion on how I should proceed. Industries first or tracks? Large layout or a modular one? Any thought and comments are welcome.


Anyhow, post your thoughts below and let’s see what we can do for Pat – and the rest of us!

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the silly $9 offer will hang around until the end of today, then it’s gone for good.

Farewell old $9 friend. You inspired a lot of people.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

24 Responses to Fred’s N scale

  1. Chuck Holsclaw says:

    Hi Fred, your layout is superb, the detail incredible! I love the dam and powerplant with the white water coming out the bottom. It looks so real !!! Good job ! Would love to see more and arunning trains video.

    Pat, I would say that you need to have some kind of plan in mind about what you want your layout to look like. I don’t think tracks or buildings should come before one another. I did build my layout with track first but I kind of had a design in mind and as my layout progressed I made changes to the track then when I’m happy with it. I start thinking about what buildings I want and where. I have looked at Walthers to give me ideas and because they provide dimensions. I can mock up the building with given dimensions and place where I want it to see if it will fit that way I know and then I can purchase , build it and put it on my layout. Good Luck


  2. Terry Plunkett says:

    With any real life rail system, the rails are laid to connect towns, ports and industries as they are developed. The routes are determined by the existing or developing needs of the towns and industries. Seems to me that at least the location (not necessarily the detail) of the proposed industry or port, or whatever, needs to be known, so that the appropriate rail link can be provided. That was my starting point, but be aware that sites can be re-purposed later for different industries or uses than the original – a layout is never finished!

  3. david howarth says:

    Nice layout there Fred

  4. Russell Carlson says:

    Pat, my approach has been to lay my mainline track first. I know where I want sidings and spurs. Then I have been placing buildings and figuring out where my industrial tracks need to be. My in process layout is 10 x 14 it is built as modules as I know at some point I will need to relocate it. Thus I am planning for that, so I don’t have to destroy all my work when that day comes.

  5. Ellis James English says:

    Fred, few words can describe your set in my mind. When you model and the results can trigger memories of a long ago past, a view captured in person, well in my mind the modeler has done his job to the fullest. Thank you, your pictures and craft brought back a lot of memories I have not see in the longest time. LS

  6. George Zaky says:

    You are the 2nd Fred with an Architectural background that made smashing layouts. The first, who I dont think weve heard from lately, did a city scene with fiber lights that just blew us all away. He had huge multi story buildings, bridges, and sounds that only an Architect could visualize.
    Your entire background is made for this Hobby and it shows in the planning and the detail. Please keep us up dated.
    IMHO use a planning program like Anyrail or SCARM to do a layout that has as large turns as possible & elevation changes no more than an inch in 4 feet first then add your cities & towns and industries. The first parameter is to get trains running flawlessly or the frustration factor will be a negative. Get the best track & best & longest turnouts for smooth transitions and a plan is required to do that right. Hey- the planning is fun. You’ll be proud later.

  7. John Bullock says:

    Fred…beautiful scenery!
    Pat… yes, as expressed by others, start working on a plan. For me the largest single factor in planning a layout is the minimum radius I would be prepared to live with. Try not to go below 22 inches. Yes you can go lower, but then you are restricted to smaller Locomotives and Rolling Stock.

  8. Joe W. says:

    This is an example of excellence and one of the best if not the best layout I’ve seen in ages . The dam and surroundings are by far outrageous in viewing . AAAA++++

  9. Rob McCrain says:

    Fred, My hat is off to you. Your layout and integration of background and foreground stun me. I don’t think I have ever seen such a fabulous work of art layout before. Your efforts are what I aspire to. Thank you for taking the time to show us what you have done.
    Rob McCrain – Farland Howe

  10. Greg Marples says:

    I am working my scenery/backdrop transition on my N scale layout now, I hope to do it as well as you have! Wonderful background painting, scenic craftsmanship, sense of perspective. Inspirational!

  11. Pete from Michigan says:

    Fred, the backdrop seamlessly combines with the foreground and adds incredible depth to the layout. Well done!
    Pat, the answers to your questions give you the direction Either or both approaches are where everyone starts. You pick the approach that you are comfortable with. You want to run trains, layout a track plan the fits your space and run trains.
    You want to build a scenic layout, then plan for towns and landscape and develop a track plan that fits your vision.
    And, figure that at some point down this road, you’ll change the plan.
    Good luck.

  12. ROGER TURNER says:

    Fred, The detail and the quality of your work is awesome and makes every aspect of your layout stand out. Keep up the great work.

    Pat, There is lots of good advice in the above post. The size of your available space is the first thing to consider in my mind, because it dictates radius, where turnouts can be and what major items can be included, such as a mine, a saw mill, a farm. Do you desire a large working train yard, do you want to run multiple trains at once. Dc or DCC?
    One big mistake I made in laying out my track plan was not enough easy access to each part of my layout, resulting in long reaches to some areas, which is not good. Another tip I would offer, is try to complete a particular scene as much as you can, before moving on to the next. You will without a doubt return to touch up a scene, but the more you do at a given time, the easier it will be. As others have said, I found it important to have a general idea of what you want to model and the era, keeping in mind the availability of buildings, rolling stock, etc. to fit.
    The best of luck to you. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, as anything is fixable, and that is part of the fun.

    Regards Roger in Kansas

  13. EARL S CORY says:

    Do both. Use SCARM or AnyRail and plan your layout. You then can place the buildings and look in 3D to see if it anything like you want before even doing the bench work. Be sure to include the bench work in your plan. That way you will not run into any surprises when you start placing switch motors. AnyRail includes many building footprints. SCARM lets you construct 3D representations of the buildings, both have a learning curve, but there are plenty of online tutorials.

    Earl on the Monterey Branch

  14. Andrew Aves says:

    Awesome Fred – Look forward to seeing more as you progress

    Pat, as others have said – I recommend a start by using a computer planning system Scarm AnyRail etc. These give you the opportunity to experiment with different track configurations while ensuring they will fit into the space available, i.e. you cannot force a turn too tight to fit . You will know how much track will be required, how many left and right switches are needed and you will be able to relocate industrial sidings, marshalling yards and station platforms until you are satisfied that the layout will fulfil your operational needs.
    Consider your preferred style of modelling. Are you more interested in the technical accuracy of your layout? Are you more interested in running trains or shunting? Is it the creativity of the scenery, landscape and buildings that gives you satisfaction? Whichever is top of your list indicated where you will most enjoy spending your time.
    When it comes to the actual build, laying the track so the trains can run is my first as they will bring the layout to life, connect the different features and show its purpose. It also provides essential guidance on placement of buildings and scenery as the computer programs do not show the overhang of a locomotive or long coaches on a bend, critical for example if you have a station platform on a curve.
    Or just jump in the deep end – there is nothing that cannot be undone and rebuilt, we all learn by mistakes, enjoy and have fun it’s a great hobby
    Andrew in Oz.

  15. Robert Brady says:

    Fantastic scenery, Such realism, great job.
    The Critic

  16. Al Otis says:

    Great looking layout Fred. Details are great and the water features are amazing. How did you achieve them?

  17. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Great looking layout love the dam and water works, outstanding!

  18. Mike Matejka says:

    Fred – Museum quality!! The backdrop, the buildings, the texture, it is all incredible — and scratch building a station in N — wow! Architecture certainly trained you well in so many dimensions.

    Pat – First, follow your heart! I’m more scenery oriented, so I like to think about the “stage” the trains will make guest appearances on. Once I’ve got that concept, then it’s easy to start thinking about mainline. I would wait with spurs and industrial trackage until you know what your industries and structures will be. Nothing more frustrating than building an intricate track system and then finding the building’s don’t fit! Even if you don’t have the structures built yet, most boxes or catalogs offer building dimensions. You can then at least mark off where various structures will go and then lay the track to serve them. Some times even using small boxes to represent buildings can give one a sense of how the scene will coalesce (or not).

  19. Fred Gevalt says:

    George –

    This is the same layout you have seen with the LED night lighting. I’m working on another large backdrop with city lighting along the coastline that allows me to go farther with some of the lighting techniques I’ve learned over the years. Looking forward to completing in the next few months!


  20. Dave Karper says:

    Pat, check out Mr. Lee’s printout buildings. With the endless possibilities you can experiment with style and placement. Also, once you purchase the printouts, you can print out as many as you need. they are designed to be cut up, altered, and bashed into anything you can imagine.

  21. Jerry Treich says:

    Hey Fred – beautiful layout, great backdrop paintings and the depth painting for the stock pond I’d remarkable! Keep up the good work!

    Jerry in New Mexico, USA.

  22. Jerry Treich says:

    Hi Pat.

    It sounds like the industries for your layout are the thing close to your heart. If I may pass along a house planning technique my first boss taught me many years ago, I think it might help?

    First, grab a sheet of paper and sketch out the outer dimensions of your layout.

    Second, draw rough circles to generally locate where each separate industry within the bounds of the layout.

    Third, get the dimensions of each building from Walthers that will define each separate industry. Use the individual dimensions to sketch out how much room each industry will need relative to where you intend to place it on the layout and the type of trackage needed to service it. This should give you a better idea of how to design your track plan, switches, grades, rail yards, etc.

    Once you have a good idea of how much space each industry requires, you can start building your table or supporting open bench work and road bed to lay your track.

    I agree that building bench work and laying the track first and getting it to run trouble-free of derailment and power supply issues is vital to the construction of a satisfying layout.

    However, if you don’t know how much space is needed to plot the specific industries that form the focus of your layout, you’ll probably be frustrated when you discover an expensive model doesn’t fit where you envisioned it.

    Hope this helps!

    Jerry in New Mexico USA

  23. william janmes palmer says:

    well done looks great

  24. Dave says:

    Gorgeous. As mentioned, with Your background, highly anticipating more !

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