N scale railroading – Fred’s

Fred’s been in touch. He’s been busy N scale railroading and shared pics of his stunning layout:

“Hi Al –

Since we last traded notes I’ve been very busy on the western end (The city of Port Charles) of my layout. I’ll send some slides and a video if i can figure out how. Hope you like ’em.

I think one of my personal triumphs was figuring out how to light up all my cars with fiber optic strands.

I’ve been using .75 mm single strand fiber optic line for all the back drop lights, so I managed to drill out the headlights of a couple dozen plastic N scale autos, pushed the strands out through the lights, and through the floor of the car, then passed them through a 1/8″ hole in the street to a light source under the layout.

In my street scene, half were drilled (oncoming) for white headlights, half for red taillights. It really provides some visual excitement to the street at night.

Together with high rise kits, neon signage, I was pleased to see my city really come alive these last few months.

My city backdrop is just a sketch at this point, but I’ve installed hundreds and hundreds of fibre optic strands to simulate night high rise windows, flashing beacons, aircraft strobe lights, etc.

I’ll send some pics for now, and try to send some more in the next day or two.



N scale railroading night scene

N scale railroading night pics

n scale skyscraper

N scale subway

model railroad bridge

model railroad bridge

n scale railroading factory

n scale railroading yard

model railroad street scene

Stunning N scale railroading stuff from Fred (his last post is here).

Here’s what I really like about Fred though. I asked him if his layout was a ‘professional’ one. Here’s what he came back with:

“My layout is just for fun. Although one of your group during the last comment session sounded frustrated with the extent of some of my detailing, I think, because he felt I was overlooking the trains. In so many words he was saying “what’s the point?”

What he didn’t understand, clearly, were my motives. I’m not particularly interested in the trains (I once was, as a boy) but rather the process of modeling.

I did a lot of it as an architect, but never had an opportunity to do it in color, or with backdrops (I used to paint landscapes in oils) and certainly never had a chance to model anything this large.

N scale is great in one sense – that it offers you the elbow room to design plausible vales and hills, rivers, cities, ports, without that dreadful look that everything has been crammed in there simply because you couldn’t bear to give something up that you really wanted to include.

The bad side of N scale, I think, is that it’s so ridiculously small that most architectural details and surfaces have to be purchased rather than scratch built. Can you imagine scoring scale brick out of plaster at 1:160? I tried, and gave in to the kits. The other thing that is frustrating about N is the fussiness of anything mechanical, and I have to say that the only reliable locomotives I’ve found are all Kato.

I think your group has a majority contingent that IS in it for the trains, which is great, but it’s just a different thing. I don’t want to diminish from their pleasure at operating trains by setting a different standard for scenic modeling which they may temporarily envy, but for which they don’t have the desire to put in the money, time, or risk. It’s about priorities, really.

If each of us can help the other with pointers, tricks, or even by inspiring, I think that’s great. But when I see comments like “I wish my backdrop looked like that,” it saddens me that I might inadvertently be puncturing someone’s ballon.

If it makes them feel any better, you can assure them that I am a frustrated model train operator who is a technical luddite, and can barely get a successful locomotive circuit of the layout without drive rods coming off, electrical short circuits form “frog juicers”that were supposed to work, and all sorts of other things that guarantee none of my friends will want to participate in an “operating session” whatsoever. The personal blessing is that it’s not why I’m doing this, so I don’t care!

So in conclusion I think this is a wonderful hobby, whether or not you view it as modeling where you employ moving parts of the model to enliven the static, or operating scale models of railroads with necessary scenic embellishments, but it is very important that we each remember why we got into this in the first place. So your question of me is an important one in the deepest sense, and I hope I’ve answered it.


So love what Fred wrote. This hobby is all about having fun – just as the Hall of Fame members (and others) said in the last post.

A huge thanks to Fred for his N scale railroading pics, narrative, and the wise words.

That’s all for today folks – except one thing – who can help John with a question on adding lights to his engine?.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you stop dreaming and start doing, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

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

model train answers

67 Responses to N scale railroading – Fred’s

  1. Keith says:

    Are any of the members told that it is a and it is for children that’s what I have been told. I have got a plan to make a layout in the shed 10′ x 5, with two viaducts
    I have already made a lot of building.

  2. Jerry Birkbeck says:

    I entirely concur with Fred’s philosophy. My interest in the railway in the landscape (think of the Pendon Museum in the UK). I am putting together a simple layout in EM gauge the aim to emphasise the landscape setting of the model. An understanding of the character of the area through which the railway passes enables the correct construction of the buildings to be modelled.. the stone of the Cotswolds, the red brick of Lancashire, the stock brick of London and so on. Hopefully by the end of the year I may have some photos to post. Of course its each to his own! Cheers Jerry

  3. Eric says:

    Absolutely amazing job Fred, those street scenes look like real life. I also love your comments about people being too fussy over the railway side of it. People that want so much detail on their railways are welcome to their side of the argument. I am with you when you say you enjoy the fun side of making the scenery, I do include a working layout on mine but it is the scenery that makes a layout for me, too many people forget the scenery and just enjoy running trains on an empty baseboard (see any of the Facebook model rail sites). Modelling should be fun and give a feeling of pride in their completed layouts, if they ever are fully completed.But as I say each to their own.
    Dave sorry to hear of your being bugged haha. Looks like Santa is on strike this year. Your new station layout looks good though, keep up the great work.

    Eric (Leeds) UK

  4. Ak Jim says:

    Bravo, great job! The neat thing about this hobby is it can very different based on what your interests are.

  5. Rod Mackay says:

    Wonderful, Fred, inspiring. I wish now I’d designed my buildings with lighting in mind, maybe next time.

    If people say to me, model railways are just for kids, I say well so are footballs and cricket bats, but you don’t give them up just when you’re starting to get good at it. And the railways are the best team game in the country, there are more different teams on the pitch, more different positions that have to be played, more complicated rules, and the equipment you need seems to have a mind of its own.


  6. Brian Messenger says:

    Fred, all I can say about your modeling, can be said in one word ‘INCREDIBLE’ especially for ‘n’ Scale. Well done and keep us updated.

  7. Kevin McArdle says:

    There are many camps out there in the modeling world, from ‘toy trains’ to ‘craftsman’ layouts where the level of realism is amazing, but that is what makes the hobby so great, that it is your railroad, your space to do with as you please, and there is no ‘wrong’ way. I myself am a ‘craftsman’ modeler, and would put working flush toilets in my models if I could, but I enjoy miniature ‘reality’, though that’s not what my wife says. Fred’s layout and modeling skills are amazing and he doesn’t have to justify anything. Therein lies the point, which is to enjoy the hobby and the satisfaction it brings to build ‘your’ layout.

  8. steven neely says:

    I agree with Fred , the motto of the local hobby shop near me is “Relax With a Hobby ” I’m a trucker and for a number of years my wife had been telling me to get a hobby so I’d have something else to do when home , and now her only complaint is my spending to much time on it , and the pile of packages of what I buy on ebay when away .
    Fred , very impressive what your doing with fiber optics , really bring the night to life , what I enjoy is doing the scenery and although people tell me it looks good I’m still learning and trying different things .
    Dave , always enjoy your videos


  9. John Reynolds says:

    Fantastic model work on the buildings.. Really superb.
    I am especially impressed that you work in N-scale…
    Also I too find difficulties understanding modern electronics… I appreciate those who can make the fancy stuff work but I too find the “Old Ways” easier on my patience… Given this, I am an old fashioned DC-analogue operator…
    John in California…

  10. Dr Julian Holmes says:

    Stunning 👍 Sure some just want trains, some wanted buildings, some put both together. Your buildings are terrriffic! I wish I could get detail at ‘N’ But am ok at OH and failing eyesight 🎶😳 !

  11. Rod says:

    Excellent layout and videos

  12. Rod says:

    Excellent videos

  13. NJ Mark says:

    I was once told that there were betters ways to spend my time and money than on model railroading. I suppose there is some validity in that but the enjoyment I get is absolutely priceless. NJ Mark

  14. Greg GELLMAN says:

    Haven’t rail roaded in many years. But think the town/scenery is more important to me than vast money spent on train equipment. Thanks Fred for opening my eyes.

  15. Rich B. says:

    Fred’s layout is much more than running trains, completely involved with all facets. Fibre optics is an ingenious solution for lighting, never gave it a thought. Hopefully more to follow on this.


  16. John Douglas says:

    Sterling work, Fred. Your architectural background really shows through.
    Yes, you are right. It’s a great big hobby with room for all preferences. You shouldn’t knock someone’s work just because it doesn’t fit with your ideas.
    Dave, thank you for all your entertaining and informative videos.
    Parting thought; If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right!

    John in Scotland

  17. Linda says:

    Fred, Totally agree that there is no “Age Specific” or “Vision specific” requirement for this hobby. It’s wonderful that each one can pursue their own desires of what they want, there is no right or wrong way. Just have fun.
    That being said, your layout is Totally Stunning. The details in scenery and lighting are incredible. Please keep the pics coming.


  18. I will be using the idea of fiber optics from under the layout instead of individual bulbs. I did something a little bit differently with using fiber optics to light up a piece of rolling stock after being inspired by the Canadian Christmas train. Took about 18 hours of using a pin drill with a 0.050 inch drill, holes spaced about 1/8 inch apart all around the perimeter, threading fiber optic cable, bundling and coupling to random flash LEDs using shrink tubing, and power pickup truck assembly (from Ring Engineering). I have had a LOT of positive comments from attendees at the public Miniature Railroad Club of York Holiday Open House but the club members have declared me “certifiable crazy”. Thanks for giving me another option for using the leftover fiber optic cable! Norm in York, PA

  19. John McKisson says:

    (New to modeling) I love the fiber optics! Any tips or sources for ‘how to’ ? I think the majority of issues is in the back shop such as splicing, connectors, attaching light sources effeciently, switch wiring etc.

  20. David Haskins says:

    I work for the Boston Commuter Railroad as a foreman in the Bridges and Buildings department. I’m near the trains on a daily basis. I own American Flyer S guage Someday I will set up my train layout.

  21. Bill Holt says:


  22. Steven says:

    Wow, I’m impressed with all the lights and tall buildings.


  23. Michael says:

    I enjoyed Freds post. I enjoy trying to get it up to the point of just being OK. I feel that it makes me happy then it is OK. I do the best I can and still have fun. That is the thing we all need to find. It may not be supper like freds but to us it is. Keep up the good work and enjoy the hobby. Mike form Texas USA

  24. Richard Scott says:

    I think it is marvelous! There is no reason to demean such outstanding work. The scenery is what makes the difference between a work of art and playing with a toy train. On my own layout the scenery gives a reason for the trains to run, switching mines, industries, carrying passengers, etc.

  25. The beauty of the hobby is that there are so many aspects. What Fred has done is amazing!

    I am at the complete other end of the spectrum, spending most of my time “below the track” with wiring, computer automation (PC/Arduino/DCC).

  26. James OBrien says:

    Fred, the detail is fantastic! Application of fiber optics to the N scale is just perfect! And Super Dave with his layout and video definitely has the best operating railroads! Great work by both of you!

  27. Randall Blankenship says:

    Keep up the great posts!

  28. John says:

    I have often wondered how one keeps a train layout “clean” from dust etc?
    I have always thought of doing an N scale layout, because of restrictions of space.


  29. Tom Durham says:

    Thanks to Al, his contributors for great ideas and his readers for their commentaries.
    Tom, Catawissa Branch

  30. Svet says:

    Thank you very ,very much for your most wonderful videos ,the most helpful and they show the priceless ideas for modellers

  31. Cary Price says:

    Stunning is right, great layout Fred and thanks for sharing. Never know what your going to see when you open one of Al’s emails. Cary in KY

  32. tom in az says:

    What an amazining layout. I agree with your entire ideas. I to love the working on landscape and buildings. Trains don`t like me, always have problems. You just made my day, thanks.Tom in Payson AZ

  33. Frank Goodman says:

    There is an expression “Whatever floats your boat”. Fred, do what makes you happy. I enjoy you all. I tend to lean more to Fred’s side. I enjoy the modeling. Just purchased a Sierra West kit, and will enjoy the “modeling” of it. It will fit in well with my logging layout, but I enjoy the building side more than the operating side. Keep on railroading!!

  34. Ted Wynes says:

    My Dad was the same way. He loved trains but he made it all blend in. You do great work Fred.

  35. Thomas Murphy says:

    Awe-inspiring scenes, Fred. While not personally involved in “N” scale myself. I do appreciate the time, craftmanship and effort that you spent in the accomplishing your fabulous work.

    Thanks to all the supporters & participants on this wonderful site.

    Regards, Tom (USA).

  36. Rob Schweitzer says:

    Fred: I’m in your class, love the modeling, ok with the trains part. You are totally correct about doing this for fun. I’m current trying to convert from DC to DCC and it’s frustrating. It reminded me why I like assembling building kits and working on scenery. Much more relaxing than wiring and and decoders. Keep,up,the good work, I really loved your photos!
    Rob from Ann Arbor

  37. I’d like to shop downtown but avoid Tony’s Bar…I think crowd outside is selling more than drinks inside! I enjoyed those layovers….

  38. Pete Evangel says:

    I think Fred’s layout is perfect the way it is. Remember, it’s “his” table so it’s :his: layout!! He can do whatever floats his boat! I congratulate him for that. Love the use of fiber optics for lighting too. When my wife and I helped her father put his layout together, we sort of did both trains and scenery! Took great pleasure in trying make the surrounding areas look ‘real or natural’. Unfortunately,dad passed away and we were forced to take down the train stuff. I now have a garage full of O-27 stuff and no room to rebuild. I’m thinking sell it all and buy N-scale!! Loved doing the modeling. Hang in there Fred. You are an inspiration for others.

    Pete-Cloudy Silicon Valley Calif.

  39. Jim Saccento says:

    Kudos on the city scenery. Looks like a New York City scene (without the traffic) That triangular building on the point looks like the historic Flat Iron building on Broadway and 23rd Street.

  40. GG says:

    Wow! Just wow!

  41. Yale Schiffman says:

    Fred’s Layout is great. I struggle with some of the same issues, since this is joint effort with my wife. She is into the modeling while I am into the operation and mechanical stuff. Lots of good ideas for my n scale layout. My buildings are only 4 stories tall and we have lots of farm land and recreation space.

    I’ll be sending some pictures shortly. Having issues with getting good quality photos.

  42. David McClelland says:

    Hi Fred. Absolutely Fantastic. You have captured the essence of a busy city at night as well as daytime. Your lighting is excellent and the depth makes it seem like a large city. The pictures have given me ideas on how I can make my future city on my layout look more realistic. Thank you for sharing.

    Conductor Dave
    Dayton, Ohio

  43. Peter Pocock says:

    Fred, your comments should be at the front of every publication about model railroading. It is a “Banner Statement”
    Your words are a excellent reminder of why we should remember that “our” hobby encompasses a vast array of interests and no one is more important than another.
    Beautifully said. Oh, I loved your city scenes by the way.
    Western Australia

  44. Robert Shuman says:

    Fred’s approach is totally awesome. And his work is too!

    Thanks Al for handling all of the craziness that this blog must bring into his life.
    Thanks everyone for your contributions and especially Al for keeping it all
    Rock & Roll!!!
    New Egypt, NJ USA

  45. Gene Fricks says:

    Fred, really impressive work. In drilling the headlights for the vehicles did you use any sort of jig to hold them? How did you interface the fiber wirh the light source under the base board?
    Decorating that locomotive at N scale sounds really amazing

  46. fred day says:

    n scale my god that is a beautiful layout.

  47. Ron Allain says:

    Thank you for motivating an old man 77yrs to allow me to bond with the younger ones of my family again.

  48. Wayne Stirland says:

    what a fantastic setup I want to shrink to gauge and move in to one of the buildings lol

  49. Ross Johnston says:

    Great work Fred! Thanks for sharing your railway again and I love when you use you mini cam. Looking forward to seeing more in 2018. Cheers Rossco Adelaide, Australia

  50. jim says:

    I know nothing about fiber optics. How do you supply the light for the fiber optics? You have inspired me. I have been using LED’s with good results. However, the fiber optics demonstration has me rethinking.

  51. louie says:


  52. robert dale tiemann says:

    lots of good work. it really shows.

  53. Macbear says:

    Thankyou, Fred for your balloon-pricking remark. I appreciate what Fred is doing and it evokes happy memories of a visit to the North American continent. As my own layout is based on the East Midlands of the UK any prospect of comparison is half a world away. Members who show their layouts in this online community show technical skill, enthusiasm, creativity, humour and, best of all, humility. Subscribers like me can simply enjoy and share – not nit-pick either the generously shared layout or reflect badly on their own. Unless I’m misled, surely all layouts are never finished, and admiring others’ can inspire.

  54. Don says:

    incredible city scape, wow what time it took to build impressive

  55. Rich B. says:

    No doubt outstanding… am I seeing a purple haze ambiance with the night sky however? And again (prior comment) this looks like black lights used to some extent with the optics. A little red dot of paint for taillights also and they would be “lit” up.

    Looks real, not saying any difference with that but the work has reached momentous level even with autos. Surprised mirrors not used for reverse deflection/reflection of backdrops.

    Need I be the only one with constructive ideas here other than “Im going to do this or that and good work” lmao. Prove me wrong😩. Too, already answered here months ago, no problem and still approve with comment.


  56. Bob Cassidy says:

    WOW What a fantastic job!

  57. Brian Olson says:

    My previous layout had cars with headlights and tail lights. It is an incredible effect if you’re patient and like working with extremely tiny wires!

    Great work here.

  58. MARKLIN ED. says:

    Please to say that it’s your layout do what makes you happy. Fred THANKS FOR YOUR LAYOUT.

  59. George Zaky says:

    I’ve worked with many outstanding Architects who by their training and the way they are wired can see things that us mechanical engineers cant. When they put us together we created beautiful & functional works of art. I found this to be the most rewarding aspect of my career and am so grateful for that. I look at your stuff from that perspective.
    When I first saw your stuff a while ago I immediately knew you had that talent and you, with a great amount of effort, put together a perfect perspective with astounding detail that only a man with your talents could do. I know the hard work you did and the perseverance only an architect can muster. Its in the blood.
    Never respond to those who will never understand. Its a waste of time.
    Use your time & talents as you wish and I hope they’re in creating more of your stuff for us to marvel.
    “Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood”– H. L. Mencken.
    Big Al
    AAhh- sunny morning, Java, and Fred. Gonna be a nice day!

  60. Rob says:

    UTTERLY STUNNING to coin a phrase. This is my favorite railroad of all the wonderful railroads that you present to us Al…except maybe for Bill in Virginia. We would love to have a cab ride over the line at dusk to see what the engineer sees. Amazing work Fred!

  61. Henry Sablone says:

    This is amazing, the city looks like Boston where
    I have lived all my life. I love the iconic CItgo billboard and how it lights up . congratulations on the job. Well done..

  62. Jim Richards says:

    What an incredible layout. Your mastery of perspective is amazing. It has a feeling of a large movie or play set… and at night it takes on a whole different look with the distant small homes lighting, the lighting across the bay and the grayed out distant building lights. That is done so very well as an artist would do. WELL DONE..

  63. Philip Pridmore says:

    It’s all about compromise. Everybody involved in this hobby has their own ideas strengths and weaknesses. Don’t let anyone put down your efforts. My strengths are in fixing broken locomotives for my own small tail chaser layout.


  64. Steve Ruple says:

    Fred, you have a very, very excellent layout and your lighting is so awesome, I wish I could do that wonderful of a job. As far as your feelings about what people have said about your layout is that I think that they are jealous that they can’t do that good. I think you have explained it very well in your comments. You have done a wonderful job, keep up the good work !!!!!!!

  65. David Mathieu says:

    Thanks so much, Fred. Your handling of the lighting and the gorgeous backdrops (which also include appropriate scale lighting) are phenomenal. Your explanation of the relatively minor role of the trains is spot on in comparison to the modeling.

  66. Eugene Wesnofske says:

    Fred.. Fantastic work! Great representation!

  67. G Kininmont says:

    A brilliant labour of love. This is a great layout full of interesting and detailed scenes. I particularly appreciate your lighting of the cars and the buildings in the distance on your back board.

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