Getting started on your layout…

Jim’s been in touch again (his last post is here).

This time he’s sent in a camera train video of his wonderful layout:

“Greetings, Al.

I’m really less than a novice at this but I just wanted to share and contribute to your site.


Latest ebay cheat sheet is here

And poor old Rick mailed me this:

“Due to exigent circumstances I had to get out of the radio control heli and drone hobby. I chose trains which I had never touched before in 60 years.

I did a ton of reading and studying and came to the conclusion that the Bachmann EZ Command DCC set would be the best entry level for me. All of my reading stated the #1 issue was track install.

Very carefully I did that and both of my locos ran like Swiss watches. I gave myself the set as a Christmas gift. This past Tuesday I was working on scenery while I had the locos running 45 foot laps. All was well in my small railway world.

I took Wednesday off and went back at it Thursday. Started again on scenery, put the first loco on the track, applied power, NOTHING. Neither loco would move.

I could hear the motors running but no go. I tried everything I could think of. Now its Saturday. Same scenario. My locos still won’t run. Cleaned the track. Tightened the underside screws. Nothing. NO GO.

WHAT IS WRONG? What am I doing wrong. Murphy’s Law. Any and all suggestions are welcome.


“Hi Alastair

I have followed your blog for many years and I have a question for you and your bloggers

I have a layout that I keep changing (growing) my issue is I see so many great layout plans. How many times do people change their layout it takes me years to build one?

I have attached my latest loco (n scale) and sea port for interest. Loco is a 8200 found on east pulling coal that pass my way sometimes 3 in a row.

Port is made from paint and varish for water, crush cork for rocks, Boat is 3d printed, building is a mix of card and plastic leftovers.


Sydney Aus”

“I thought that you might find these photo’s interesting.

In the past I’ve commented on making your railroad with modules. I had a 22 by 12 foot railroad started in our basement when my wife decided we needed to move to a condo. We bought one with an extra 15 by 15 foot upstairs bedroom, closet, and bath.

the first three pictures show the parts as delivered. The forth shows them in place. It was putting a puzzle together. The new layout is much different then the old but all modules were saved.

The photos show a new 2 foot square module in the corner, a 2 by 6-6 in the front left and a 6 inch piece added at the base of the angular section. A new corner section is shown next. Lastly the layout is shown in its current state. Much is left to go, but modules saved much time and money.


“Dear Al,

I never built a train layout before, even though for two years when I was 35 I managed the model train department of a large Model and sports shop in the north of England. 12 years ago I decided to build a layout in the loft of my bungalow after having it fitted out with a new floor, two velux windows, insulation and a wooden loft ladder.

I managed to build almost all of the base boards but no further . My wife was diagnosed with terminal Cancer and died within the month. I found that I could not live in the house any more and moved to an apartment. The woodwork had to be dismantled and consigned to a Skip when I sold the house. The track, locomotives, rolling stock,DCC control system had to be packed away in boxes and put in store.

7 years later I met a lady through an online dating agency and we became an item as they say. I sold my apartment and moved in with my new partner, taking with me all of the model railway gear and my precious tools. These all lived in the garage for 3 years until last September when we bought a house in Essex by the sea.

This bungalow had been kitted out with two upstairs loft rooms accessed by a wood loft ladder. Both rooms fully insulated and velux windows. At last I could start again and I am well on the way to build a large 12 feet by 15 feet layout . Track is now going down and I look forward to many hours of modelling. In the end age will stop me. I can shoot up and down the loft ladder well enough at the moment but in five years I will be 90.

I have this time built the layout in sections bolted together and the power bus will plug together so that dismantling the layout will be possible and each unit is small enough to get down the loft ladder when the time comes.

I have recorded the building process in pictures and I enclose a few.

One problem that cannot solve involves the triangle junction that connects the folded oval to the terminal station. I have purchased two Hornby reverse loop modules, but I,m not sure where to install them.

Can any one help?

Your sincerely.


My word – a big thanks to Mike for sharing his story – and it does just go to show, you’re never too old to start a layout, no matter what you’ve been through.

That’s all this time folks. Please do keep ’em coming.

And if you’re still mulling over your layout in your head, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



28 Responses to Getting started on your layout…

  1. Kevin McArdle says:

    Well done you. Eighty five years young and building a layout is wonderful, and I wish you well. Please send more photos of your progress as time allows. Cheers.

  2. Robert Brady says:

    How does one assemble track on separate peaces of wood table tops without first lining up connections? It’s beyond me me his ingenuity and constructive skills.Am I missing something?
    As I slowly build my 4×8 layout I’m constantly changing track direction ideas and waiting for items in the mail.It does keep me busy and anxious.Time is on my side though because I am retired,LOL!

  3. d j howarth says:

    Can’t help you on that one Mike , but someone will ..good on you starting again , and at age 90 able to climb those loft ladders you are doing great I am 74 and starting to struggle a fair bit ….looks like you are going to have hours of fun up there ..all the very best and good luck with the layout ……Dangerous Dave

  4. And I thought I started late at 65!
    That’s going to be a great layout when it’s finished. I’d love to see it once the scenery has been added.

  5. ian impett says:

    Hi Mike, Like you I waited 40 odd years to build a second layout, and have done so one day I’m going to post on site. great to you mate ENJOY I do. IAN

  6. Joe Cavilla says:

    Mike, great out look, stay after it. The workmanship is awesome and imaginative.

  7. Gene T Bodeman Jr. says:

    Kids, Grandkids ,dogs ,cats, fish and Gods knows what always had the prime areas while we guys had to climb into corners or put away until we need respirators to enjoy our hobbies again. We diffidently sacrificed our passion…

  8. stan brosch says:

    I bought a lay out at an estate sale, when I got it home and set it up the trains ran well for a couple days, then all of a sudden half of the track seems dead trains will not run , whats happen ?? can any one give me an answer?? H E L P !!!!

  9. Rob Richman says:

    Well now I don’t feel so bad – I am 55 and still wanting to build a layout since I was a boy but with my boys into baseball, football (American) and a wife that has pretty much taken up all the space in the basement for her crafting I have quite a mountain to climb. My 5 year old grand son keeps asking Paw paw to build his train set LOL we just need to get memaw to clean out the basement so we can. Still hoping to start before too long but I do like looking at all the displays that you all have built and enjoy – Ha – I guess it is a guy thing and bigger and better toys.

  10. C.J. May says:

    What an inspiring story! Awesome!

  11. Rod Mackay says:

    I don’t do DCC but would point out, with regard to the reversing modules, that you have two separate problem areas potentially needing one of these reverser module thingies, one on one leg of the triangle into the terminus, but the other where you have that bank of sidings at the top of the plan, some of which can be connected to either side of the circuit. I have never needed such a reverser unit myself but presume they need a clear stretch of plain track on which to register the presence of a loco and operate before the train passes onto the next section. The connections into the sidings might be too short for this? But I assume you could just have a DPDT switch connected to the turnout motor control which would feed the sidings from whichever side of the circuit the train was to enter from?

  12. Jim MacLean says:

    I’d like to direct this question to Dangerous Dave. I noticed in some of your train videos the mention of you using a Mobius 2 video camera. I’m thinking of purchasing one of them to make videos of my model train layout & to mount on my motorcycle on some of my more scenic rides. Any comments or pointers about these cameras? Thanks. Jim.

  13. yep fellas…no matter about age…..
    be it 5 or 85…..they cant stop us…..
    “we can STILL play with our trains!!!”……
    keep em runnin fellas….
    stjohn in long beach calif

  14. Paul O says:

    Mike, I’m confused.
    Your photos show double-track mainlines around the loop but your drawing appears to be a single track. If it is truly double-track, how do you plan to implement the ‘triangle’ with all those tracks crossing over each other?

  15. Chris Rohrer says:

    Mike. with the amount of room you have there, I would use the reversing modules for the whole of the station and yard areas. These with insulated connectors on both rails at the points (switches) coming off the main lines. Depending on how your turntable works, you might need another one for that. I have 2 turntables on my layout. 1 takes the power from 1 incoming road and resets itself when going past a certain position (Possibly a split ring inside the housing.,Tthe other (Fleischmann) takes it’s power from wires and feeds the power out through the table. With that I’ve put a DPDT (Double Pole Double Toggle) switch with centre off. with the 2 track wires to the table going from the centre pair of terminals and a pair of wires from the controller going to one end of the switch and swapped over at the other end. Depending on which end of the turntable the control housing is, is how I set the switch. With it set to off while the turntable is spinning.
    I understand that the new Fleischmann turntables have reverse loop modules in the them, but as mine (over 33 years old) ain’t broke I ain’t gonna change it

  16. Ian McDonald says:

    all I can say is you have inspired me to keep modelling for another 30 years.

  17. David Jones says:

    Hi Danny (I hope I have that right),

    Congratulations on setting up your layout. Especially, at the ripe young age of 90. Here’s wishing you many more years of railroading fun.

    I’m not sure if you received a solution yet, but I have a couple ideas that might help. I hope I’m being clear in my descriptions; I’m sort of writing this on the fly.

    After a career with the US Marine Corps I learned to modularize. To that point, your track loops only need to be able to be aligned across your modules, right? If so, it seems you have a couple choices. Lay everything out (track and scenery) on the two or more modules needed to fit your reversing loops through your ladder opening.

    Set up the scenery so it’s isolated to each module or so you can razor cut it. Then you’ll need to either razor cut the tracks where they cross the module connecting points or adjust your plan so a single straight or curved track segment will cross the modules and lay these segments so they can be installed during assembly and removed during disassembly. If you use the second approach you may need to add additional power connections to these track segments.

    If you choose to razor cut the track; when everything is aligned, but before you cut, drill holes through the frame walls of both modules at the same time in several locations near your track cuts and place dowels through both module frames to ensure they’ll line up the same when re-assembled.

    If your scenery for these track segments is key you may want to consider a different “puzzle piece” approach by adding a new base sheet section and cutting out the base sheets that hold the track segments crossing the modules as a singe component. The puzzle piece can be screwed into place from below on the connecting modules.

    To do this; lay a separate piece of plywood (the same as used to build your modules) that’s a bit larger than your finished size on top of the crossover area so it covers this area of both modules. Screw it down to the base cover sheets of both modules and then cut the bases and puzzle piece all at the same time. Remove the screws from these parts and place material under the new holes in your modules so it provides screw down points for the new puzzle piece . The parts you just cut from the modules can be sectioned and used to create these screw down points. Just cut the screw downs so they provide support between the modules and puzzle piece. Then re-lay your track over these areas to ensure it aligns. You’ll probably want separate power for the puzzle pieces.

    I’m not sure if this was helpful, but we used a lot of modular equipment in the service and it usually followed something similar to one of these approaches. Have fun experimenting with it.

    Semper Fi

  18. Tim Morlok says:

    Mike, to lessen the problems with wiring double wyes to the terminal , I would replace the one from the inner main with crossovers between the two mainlines on either side of the wye on the outside main. I would then isolate the whole trackage of the terminal area, from crossover to crossover, into separate blocks so that they can be controlled by either mainline’s power supply or maybe a separate one that controls just the terminal area: __:_______________________:____
    __:___\_ _____________ _/__:_____
    .\. ./.
    \ /
    \ /
    Best of luck; Tim

  19. Tim Morlok says:

    Oops, that diagram didn’t come out right. It’s should be double mains with crossovers with switches off outside main into terminal area. (:) = isolation points.

  20. Gary.e says:

    Gives me hope😀

  21. Peter Waring says:

    Hi Mike, I like your layout and had I the space I would have done something similar. To simplify things I would leave the Wye in the centre as is, with reverses, but would suggest that the access to the terminal be from top double track only and use “runarounds” to take the engine to the front of the train. If you are using steam engines then put your turntable adjacent to this area, so the loco can runaround and then change direction on the turntable. (Depends on train length required, you may need to extend into the tunnel area in the top right hand side). This gives near prototypical operation for a railway terminus, you could make the station include the top tracks giving a junction feel to the station. You can then use the central wye to turn whole trains around, or as multi-way access to the sidings. Hopes this helps. Peter…

  22. don kadunc says:

    I was surprised to see old photos of my new layout when we moved to our new condo It is amazing how neat it looks. That was three years ago. My last post was about my three removable bridges. I should take a set of photos to show my progress. I’ll work on it.

    Danny (Don)

  23. bob schildgen says:

    This is for Rick and all. With electrics, you have to be a detective and isolate. 1st, disconnect the supply wires, and try touching the wheels of an engine. Now it either runs or not. Then do the same with the 2nd engine. Both dont run, it is probably the supply. Take it to a hobby store as you don’t want to mess with it. If one engine, it could be the decoder. Get help to swap out the decoder. If both run,, then the problem is track. isolate sections and look for shorts or weak or bad wiring. Get yourself a cheap multimeter and use it to check Dcc power on AC scale, should be 14-18 volts. Dig in and find the problem. Good Luck

  24. A quick comment to Rick. What is the brand of engine you have? If it is a diesel model and you hear the motor running, check to see if the flywheel(s if so equipped) are also spinning. If that is the case, I suspect you may have a driveshaft issue, either burnished so there is no friction, or it has come out of its position. I have two engines that run in tandem but are not speed synced as you can do in DCC, and both engines failed at the same time. I suspect the running together at different speeds may have caused the issue, and one is in for repair. The other one I may depower and use it as a dummy, as they will always run together anyway.

    Good luck
    MN Dan

  25. Jon says:

    On my DCC system I can set the brakes. When I do that you can hear the engine. However when I try to move it nothing until I release the brake. I’m not sure if your system has that. It’s something to look into.
    One other thing. Be careful with liquids and tools around the track while the power is on. Could cause issues.

  26. Stephen Syfrett says:

    Mike, as mentioned by others, there are 3 apparent areas where you would need reversing circuits. These are the yard at the top, the wye, and the turntable.

    When I was building my current HO layout (in a 16’x20′ space), I tried to design by the “KISS” principle. The simpler the track design, the simpler the electrical, and the simpler the future troubleshooting. I have a single-track bent dogbone with 2 small stacked yards (2 disconnected yards next to each other giving the appearance of a single, large yard.) One yard is effectively 3 tracks while the other is 2 tracks with a connected interchange track and a shortline main track. The yard tracks are all double-end, and in a 20-ft. length there are 10 tracks in a 24-inch depth of benchwork. The shortest of these tracks (the interchange) will hold roughly 6 40-ft cars, or 8 2-bay hoppers on straight track.

    Your design shows a basic double-track bent dogbone, with a wye and yard. Let’s call the outer loop track (against the wall and aisle) Track 1, and the inner loop Track 2. These tracks are minimally connected to each other, but cross each other at multiple diamonds. You’ll be wiring both tracks with the same polarity.

    My first recommendation, based on my concept of how you envision your operations, would be to eliminate diamonds where possible. Depending on the track brand used, and the angle, they are rough spots and can be potential points of derailments, especially with shallower-angle diamonds. I have only 2 on my layout, a 30 degree and a 90 degree.

    Start at the wye by connecting the legs of the wye to only Track 1. Install crossovers on either side of the wye legs from Track 1 to Track 2, such that a train coming out of wye can cross from Track 1 to Track 2 in either direction, or a train on Track 2 can reach the wye via crossovers from Track 2 to Track 1 in either direction. Youll need a reversing circuit on one leg of the wye.

    At the yard (top of the drawing), plan on either one stub-end yard, or 2 yards disconnected from each other. If 2 separate yards, both will be connected directly to Track 2, with access from Track 1 provided by a crossover track. Depending on the space available, you will have more functional length by doing 2 yards. Yard ladders, especially if you use minimum No. 6 turnouts, will eat up a lot of available length. Again, how you plan to operate will make a difference in the design.

    For example, if you back a train into a yard, the stub track yard would work fine. If, however, you pull into the yard, you need to provide an escape track tor the locomotive so it can be moved to the other end to take an outbound train back out of the yard. That, or you’ll be doing the “5-finger” switch, picking up the locomotive to move it elsewhere.

    Another option would be to have your main yard off of the tail of the wye. You have the turntable there, so it makes it convenient for turning power and/or passenger cars as needed. It will have to be a smaller yard, but if it can work for you, that’s what I’d recommend. You could avoid need of an escape track by planning on backing all trains into the yard, which you could do from either track in either direction thanks to the crossovers previously mentioned. Again, your planned operations will be the major factor in the final design.

    Having 2 yards connected to Track 2, but not connected to each other, removes any need to a reversing circuit there. You would then use your 2nd reversing circuit at the turntable.

    If you move the yard to the peninsula with the wye and turntable, you could use the original yard areas (as drawn) for passing sidings, industrial spurs, or just a storage track. Any of these would come directly off of Track 2, with access from Track 1 via crossover tracks. Or, put an industry on one side and a small double-end yard on the other side. There are many options.

    I’m sure all of this is “clear as mud” but hopefully there is some helpful info here for you to consider.

  27. Will in NM says:

    Jim: Nice video of your layout. I really like all the BNSF locos and southwest scenery.

    Rick: As others have stated, the only way to find the problem is to isolate each component until you find the culprit. If you have a small multi-meter it can help in the process. The ohm meter setting can tell you if you have continuity in the wires and the volt meter can tell if 12 volts is getting to the track.

    Mike: My hat’s off to you for having the stamina to climb the loft ladder to your new layout at age 85. It looks like you’ve made a good start. The two wyes in the central area of the layout appear to be where you need the auto-reverser boards, but the fact that the two mainlines cross there makes the wiring a lot more complex. The way it’s currently laid out, a train arriving from one mainline track via one wye, would depart on the opposite mainline’s wye. Keeping all the polarities straight is going to be difficult. I also agree that you need a run-around in the terminal area there so the loco can disconnect from the train and get turned on the turntable.

  28. Erick says:

    Looks great.!!!! I hope mine turns out that good.

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