Model train yard layouts

Starting with a very short update from Gary today, who is doing a fine job of adding to the Model train yard layouts on the blog:

(If you want to see Gary’s last post, it’s here.)

“I am still working on the scenery for the Commissary Yard of my Sunnyside layout.

I like the pathways and the roads and the fences and will try to incorporate them into the scenes that I have built into the yard. It has taken me a long time to work on the Commissary Yard.

I am not very good at scenery, but I have sent you some pictures to show you my progress. I am working on a parking lot construction scene and when completed, I will send you some more close up pictures of the scenes in the Commissary yard.

As always, thank you. Stay safe and stay healthy during these times.



Model train yard layouts

Model train yard layouts

Next, on to Mike, who has some very sobering advice:

“I don’t expect this will be published, but I have to write it.

March 2015 a friend showed me his layout and trains moving and it caught my interest. I jumped in with both feet as we say.

I began laying track after selecting a DCC system and modeled my layout after a very busy HO layout (mine is N). It took a lot of work with 19 turnouts on 6.5 X 3.5 foot 2 inch foam. So much so that I literally became a MODEL railroader rather than a model RAILROADER. I only ran my first loco after 3-4 months of track laying and decorating.

Then it happened, I put together a 5 car train and ran it a few times around the perimeter of my complex switch yard. Shortly, after only a very few minutes of run time my loco began hesitating all around the track. I conferred with a friend and he asked when I had cleaned the track. WHAT? I knew nothing about cleaning track. HAD I KNOWN,THE ANGUISH OF TRACK CLEANING, I NEVER WOULD HAVE BOUGHT THAT FIRST ITEM.

I was not deterred and added a second table extending my layout. Long story short, I bought every track cleaning devices, yes the $179. brass car only to find limited success. I finally realized just a few weeks ago that I had not “ran trains” often enough to help with the track staying clean. Reason being is noted in the next paragraph.

In the final analysis I probably have “ran trains” less than a total of 2 hours in the past 5 years while I spent thousands of hours building a 5 by 16 N Scale layout with 3 levels of elevation, adding 2 crossovers (which always served to derail a Loco, much less a train car) and an additional 10 turnouts. I actually NEVER ran a train of rolling stock on my new addition. Just a lone loco to test and continue to test the track and finding trouble spots, which I never solved entirely.

Therefore I am selling out all my rolling stock, locos, salvaged track and tools. I will replace this hobby with a stained glass shop and a Drone.

Thanks for listening.

Mike in Southern Indiana, USA”

Thanks to Mike for sharing his pain – and I’d love to hear your comments, please do post below!

Lastly, this came in from Hall of fame member, Dave: a video of him running his trains….

“Hi Al,

just a short video… doing as it say it the title…running a few trains.

Well what can be better?



Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

A big thanks to Gary for sharing his update on the Model train yard layouts.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

Please don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide, if today is the day when you get off the starting blocks and get going on your own fab layout.



32 Responses to Model train yard layouts

  1. Bill in Virginia says:

    Really nice modeling Gary!

    For Mike it’s definitely not a pleasant experience with our hobby that you have gone thru. Not knowing all your circumstances I hope that reconsider and stay in it with a smaller layout that you can enjoy and operate. Size isn’t important, it’s setting something up and enjoying it. Track needs to be cleaned yes but simple cleaners and simple cleaning tools do the trick. Start small – nail it and grow from there.

  2. Brian says:

    MIKE – Do not despair! Do a google search for “Dead Rail Society”
    It’s possible to run your locos with onboard battery power, total game changer!
    – Fellow N scaler who gave up on track cleaning

  3. John Owen says:

    Hi Al

    I just wanted to comment on Mike’s experience as it is almost exactly my situation. I spend so much time pratting about with layout plans and changing my mind that I still have nothing to run trains on!

    My layout board is 15’x2′, fixed in place and with a foam top. It will be n gauge, US outline & DCC – a linear industrial area. That’s a big area to cover with n.

    So I’d like to thank Mike as he’s given me the resolve to get on and do something, even if I don’t immediately fill all the area available. I hope that Mike has a re-set and starts up again with something manageable.

    John (UK)

  4. Ruud de Sterke says:

    Mike did sound as if he had enjoyed setting up his layout.
    He probably learned many things by doing this as well.
    Would be a waste to throw that all away.
    Might be better to make a new layout that is easier to keep clean.
    And like set before, you don’t need expensive stuff to keep it clean.
    Personally, I use a piece of rail gum to clean the track right before running the trains.
    That costed me only a few Euro. Less than 10 dollar.

  5. dan robinson says:

    Nice work Gary, I feel for Mike jumping in full throttle, that’s a lot first off, and to learn about dirty tracks and alignment, It time learned thing I have not had layout in 30 years do to all life’s little set backs and directions, and even bought additions along the way, which I am goin to get me a full time ovals set up in N and HO to sooth my mind, and watch them run and grow, simple and fun and add on as my time allows. So keep up Mike it’s experience gained have fun.

  6. Peter Waring says:

    Mike, I feel your pain, I seem to be fighting a constant battle to keep my locos and trains running smoothly, I can spend the whole day cleaning track and locos getting them running ok, only to come back the next day to find that they are not running well. I still haven’t found the secret to consistent running trains. On top of that I have 2 locos that no matter what I do they just don’t run well, they are a couple of years old and not been used a lot after they were run in. I am going to send them back to the manufacturer to see if they can get them going well. I get a great deal of fun building and running my layout, but find inconsistent running to often mar my days.
    Regards Peter…

  7. Jim Myrhum says:

    Back in March, after our first Stay-at-home Order, one evening I went down to a small corner in the basement. There, uniquely stored, were my trains!! Nothing better to do, and after 32 1/2 years, I got them out. Set up test tracks and started getting rolling stock to re-build and upgrade. measured another part of basement and found I might be able to get a 6′ X 6′ layout. Draw track Plans!! Measure and research grades. Re-draw Track plans! measure room again – set up for a 6′ X 7′. Rebuild and upgrade ( update ) rolling stock. One night, finally decided, I could do a 4′ X 4′ layout, just to see my trains run — for the FIRST TIME!!! HO scale, but once I finish cleaning up that room, I will start a second modular unit ( yes, figured that at least I can get something to do while I sit around doing nothing ). Came up with the idea one night, build them as modular units, and expand when possible. Trains now run about half hour or more everyday – track is so shiny. Had to clean some of the track ( alcohol works best ), before is installed, but worth the effort.

  8. Robert Brady says:

    Well Mike I’m almost in your same shoes and do feel your pain. Im 71 built a 8×8 HO layout ,bought locos( Diesels) rolling stock then passenger cars. Between derailments uncoupling issues I got fed up never had a long run time. There it sits and maybe once a month I try and run. Frustration sets in often. Oh Hum!

  9. Dave is cool!!

  10. Michael Ilkenhons says:

    The issue of track cleaning is a matter of one section at a time. I have a small HO layout, 7’ x 7.5’ and on it is 110’ of track, a small yard, 9 switches and a double elevated loop to run my 85’ passenger train. To keep my track clean, I run my track cleaner each day behind a RS-2 on one loop of the track. NiAg rail is like any sterling silver product, it tarnishes and needs to be polished back up. An old timer told me a long time ago, do not use abrasives or abrasive erasers on my track. That leads to unnecessary rail wear down. Between upper and lower there are 5 loops. Another key in the long run is to eliminate all plastic wheels. They deposit black dust on the track and ends up coating engine wheels.

    A second part of total maintenance is cleaning the engine wheels and rolling stock wheels. Again, I do a few a day when I feel like it. The cleaner I keep the track and rolling stock, the better overall performance. Another point, avoid running plastic wheeled cars as much as possible until those plastic wheels are replaced with metal.

  11. James. Heck says:

    I’m afraid it’s the same question as to when are you finished.
    I am putting my 10 year old layout together (again) after moving
    Into a condo. To cheap to buy new atlas track I am removing solder
    Gluing rail down with new connections and elevations 3% is 3 in.
    In 100 (easy finally) Walk away when frustrated and come back in
    the morning. Works. every time

  12. For Dave,
    I enjoy your extensive videos and I marvel at the complexity you put in them. They appear very professional.
    How much time did it take to create a video such as the 10 minute, “Running Trains” video you just posted?

  13. Jim AZ says:

    Nice work on the parking lot, Gary. Looks really good. Once those rails are weathered, your scenes will be quite realistic.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

  14. Great video dave I love watching all your passenger trains.
    How about some more james bond stuff now that was funny !!!
    bob from florida

  15. Bill McCourt says:

    Hi Mike,
    I too tend get wrapped around the axle when working on a project. I’ll come up with a Brain Storm and work on it non-stop while the rest of my efforts sit idle. After I’ve completed what ever it was that I was excited about I’ll put it down, forget about it and move on to something else new. Don’t despair it happens to all of us from time to time.

  16. Bob From Towson says:

    Mike, May I suggest that you try again and this time give S Scale American Flyer a shot. I have AF locos and diesels that are from the 1950’s that run great all the time. I hardly ever clean track, but I do clean wheels every once in a while although not very often. You will find that there are many S Gauge trains and accessories out there as well as clubs to join on Facebook. A lot of O scale accessories will work with it too. It has been very rewarding for me and could be for you too…..

  17. Rich Wentzel says:

    I use alcohol swabs to clean track. You must just be careful to not leave debris from the swab at the joints. I also use them on the wheels. Cheap, relatively easy to use and evaporates quickly.

    Mike brings up an area I see with so many of the model railroaders: the drive to build and add or revise. My greatest pleasure is just to see the trains run. I am planning on starting a layout next year with the focus being a few loops of track for continuous running. Nothing relaxes me more than just watching the trains navigate the shiny rails. The most I have ever put in a layout was 4, yes 4 switches. I don’t care about making up the trains and switching cars or dropping them off and certainly don’t run to a fast schedule. My version was a simple ‘L’ shape platform with the long side being 4×8 abutting a 2×6 . I ran HO on two ovals and had a N on a roughly oval style track in an amusement park. I set up an auto-reversing trolley in the downtown section.

  18. THOMAS says:

    YEAH DAVE ! I love watching your trains run ! THANK YOU !

  19. Dennis Koppo says:

    Gary, you say you’re not very good at scenery? It’s wonderful!!

  20. Lester Wayne Larrew says:

    I guess I’m fortunate, but in my in my50+years of having trains I haven’t had all of the problems that a bunch of people have had. Clean my track once in a while and clean wheels on locos and other rolling stock as needed. Since 08/02/2018 I have done something with my trains only 65 days. On the 65 days I have spent an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes per day doing something with my trains building, and or running. Out of that 2 hours 19 min, the average has been an average of 1 hour and 39 minutes .

  21. Tim shirk says:

    Mike, sorry to hear of this. May i suggest if you still have layout together. You focus on one small area and prove it out. What makes it run. Run it manually. No dcc etc. Once that small line or loop works well, manually, then add dcc to work out bugs. Only then add in another section of trackage. And repeat. My guess is wiring or dcc interference or ground issues. Clean engine and wheels? Do accessories work? Seems like problem would not be dirty track at this time. Just my thoughts. Maybe others know more.

  22. Alan Shuttleworth says:

    This is for MIke, try putting a drop or 2 of auto transmission oil every few metres, this works a treat.

  23. Peter Macdonald says:

    Feel your pain Mike. This is probably not your problem but I thought I would share a similar problem I had. As my layout is in a large old garage and often sits untouched for long periods I get problems with spiders and their webs, particularly from Daddy Long Legs spiders. Attempting an ingenious solution I deployed “beetle bombs” – spray cans of aerosol insecticide that you set off in a room – kills everything! Couldn’t understand the constant problems with stop/start trains until the penny dropped. The aerosol naturally enough covers everything with a layer of “non-conductive” spray, coating all the tracks. Now I just shoot the spiders with an AK47 instead.
    To our American friends I’m only kidding!

  24. Colin Edinburgh says:

    Dave once again just love the sweeping curves you gave created during your last transformation of your layout. A very good and enjoyable video. Thanks

  25. NJ Mark says:

    Model railroading is a never ending process. There are always issues and questions. But there are always answers. I suggest to Mike to get Al’s model railroading guide. I did and it surely has helped me. When you solve your track problems and see those trains running around your layout it will be just grand. I know, I know. Cheers! NJ Mark

  26. Thank you all re my video …to answer Peter , to make the last video probably took about 30 minutes filming then about 30 minutes to edit the clips using power director, then to upload to YT about 20 minutes , so not a long job , a lot goes in to editing , and of course you can then shorten clips to make the end product more interesting …….as for Mikes problem with the tracks , yes they need to be cleaned regular , I use a product called Goo Gone ….not to be used if a loco has traction tyres …but using this by just applying with a cloth or the CMX track cleaner its really does lift the dirt , also if you run your rolling stock over the tracks whilst still damp from the product it cleans the wheels as they go along the track ….for very bad track the track cleaning rubbers are a must …….Dangerous Dave

  27. Milton Robinson says:

    While I enjoy looking at all the layouts from the simple to the very complex (and absurd), my 7′ X 11′ HO layout has features I never use. I’m not an operations guy, but sidings, yards and switches look good. I only run the loops and keep them as clean as possible with track cleaning cars, a drop or two of transmission here and there. Hope Mike gets back in trains!

  28. Bill Sparling says:

    Ahhh – – – TRACK CLEANING!! The bane of we model railroaders – especially in tunnels.
    AH-HA!! Now doesn’t that feel better? I found an answer and it works. Here is how.
    As you know, there are all sorts of track cleaning methods and cars but here is a very easy solution.
    I bought a Walthers Trainline 40′ CSX box car with a track cleaner mounted underneath with two screws and a couple of springs. After a few trips around my 4’X8′ “empire, the slightly porous track cleaner was “clogged” (for lack of a better word) as those little blocks are prone to do. It makes the useless so you have to buy new ones. So once upon an evening, dreary, I sat and pondered, weak and weary (where have I heard that before?) and I came up with a solution.
    I went to a yardage store and bought a 1/2 yard of soft denim. I had tried other materials from my wife’s sewing scraps but they all caught on the rail joints and switch points . The soft denim works perfectly. The mounting screws are about 2.5″ apart and run fore and aft (as we old sailors would put it) and they hold the block and springs.
    So, I cut a piece of the denim about 3″ or so long and about 1.25″ wide. At each end of the denim strip, I used an Xacto knife and sliced a longitudinal slot t each end (like a small button hole) the allows me to stretch the denim between the screw heads that hold the block assembly, You need to take care to leave about 1/8″ on each end where you cut the holes and also leave jut a little slack so the block won’t be lifted away from the rail heads when the denim it in place.
    Now, stretch the denim between the two screws and apply a generous squirt of denatured alcohol on the denim, right the car and place it on the tracks. Hook up an engine (use a Bachmann GP-30) and haul your new track cleaner around your layout a couple of times every week and you will find that your tracks perform as they should and when you lift the cleaning car off of the rails, you will have picked up a lot of stuff that used to clog up the block that came with the car originally.
    Also, I have what looks like a hypo syringe but with no point on it. I keep a 4 ounce bottle of denatured alcohol near my layout and I can suck some alcohol into the hypo and stop the cleaning car “light train” and squirt more alcohol onto the denim between it and the original block to “refuel” it without taking the car off the track.
    The whole lash up glides around quite well and I have never had a derailment when using it. What’s more, it reaches place I can’t – – like tunnels.
    One other little hint, be sure you use enough power on the head end because the wet denim and the spring on the block do create a fair amount of drag – more so than a normal freight car. I don’t use my track cleaner in a train for that reason. I always run it light. It also runs in either direction equally as well so sidings and spurs are not a problem.
    I may have a few other things to share in the future. If any of you are diabetic like me, there are some cool things you can make from discarded stuff and keep it for yourself instead of the land fill.
    I will also try to include some pix of my ideas so 1 picture can save me ten thousand words. (I have heard that somewhere before, also.
    Happy running.
    Bill Sparling

  29. My layout has a room to itself and has not been out to an exhibition for a year and more, I haven’t got round to doing any track or stock cleaning in that time and only run a train maybe once or twice a week, yet everything runs well. I don’t understand it, our experience with our club layout is that it needs a scrub clean before every monthly running session. Most of my stock consists of modern electric prototypes with plenty of pickups, however.

  30. Like Mike, I have problems with dirty track. My layout is in a 16′ X 12′ shed ans so is susceptible to damp. I have found that the heavier the loco, the better it runs. I clean the loco wheels using the Trix wheel cleaner which you place on the track with the loco on top and then apply power to the rails holding the loco so it doesn’t run away. I model in HO / OO but there is an N gauge version as well. I also have a couple of ROCO Track cleaning trucks as well as a Dapol motorised version and for the hard to clean areas Peco track rubbers. These help a lot as a good running session will keep everything clean.

  31. Tamara Whipple says:

    Thanks to Mike for sharing his story. I am about to make a layout. His experience will help me to start small, run my collection of N scale trains and enjoy it.

  32. alvin williams says:

    I got the model railroad “bug” 11 years ago. I first bought Lionel O scale, but went to HO after the transformer quit working after just 1 month. I built a 15 x5 HO freestyle layout, but had all sorts of problems with dirty track and connection problems. Also, keeping such a large layout dust- free was overwhelming. I then went to American Flyer S- scale, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the engines and rolling stock are very well made(as evidenced by the fact that they are still around even to this day) and it is easier to deal with these issues. I like buying older, vintage engines and rolling stock which have themes from the 1950’s and 1960’s I also bought an American Models S-scale Amtrak Superliner set which runs wonderfully. I am now upgrading to American Flyer Fastrak which run the trains well. I have downgraded to a smaller layout (5×5} which allows me to spent more time running my trains, and less time on maintenance. To make long story short, I finally figured out that( for me)—-a smaller layout with sturdy, dependable motive power and rolling stock is better than a huge, sprawling layout which consumes most of my time dealing with connection and maintenance issues. Now—I am finally able to enjoy maintaining my layout and my American flyer trains.

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