Gib’s 2×4 model train layout

“Hi Al,

I really enjoy your site and look forward to every days post.

I recall you enjoy seeing some start to finish (never finished) layouts so I’d like to share mine.

As a youngster, I had my Lionel train set and as a teen I did some HO on a 4×8 sheet of plywood but it didn’t amount to much. So many years ago, because of space and time limitations, I decided to construct a 2′ x 4′ N gauge railroad.

I used a 2×4 sheet of 1/4” plywood attached to a frame of 1×3 boards.

The track plan was laid out on the plywood and where grade changes and elevated track was planned, the plywood was cut with a sabre saw. Not all of the cuts can be seen in the photo below but some do appear as darker lines.

model train base board

The next photo shows how the cut areas have been raised and supported to form various grades and elevated track areas. Cork roadbed has also been installed.

model train baseboard with incline

Now Atlas flex track has been installed and ballasted as well as a store bought viaduct and tunnel portals. Mountain construction is underway using a corrugated cardboard web hot glued together being covered with plaster cloth. Old school but I had fun.

model train mountains

The mountain and raised areas are done and background paint applied to “soil” areas.

The rock texture was created by pouring a very thin layer of plaster onto crumpled aluminum foil and placing a piece of plaster cloth in the wet plaster for reinforcement. When cured this was removed from the foil and pressed against the mountain. It was thin enough to crack and conform to the mountain profile and hot glued in place. After placement, the cracks which are not very big, were filled with spackling compound.

model railroad N gauge mountains

The rock faces have been colored with washes of gray, yellow and brown. I made a novice mistake and didn’t prime the mountain face before coloring. The alkalinity of the plaster changed the color of the washes.

model train mountains N scale

The tunnel portals after coloring.

model train tunnel

The landscaping getting under way.

model railroad N gauge figure 8 with inlcine

As of now. Still lots of scenery work to do.

model railroad N gauge figure 8 with inlcine

Hope you find this of interest.

Gib
Lebanon, Ohio, USA”


A fantastic layout from Gib – and I loved his narrative, you really can tell he had bags of fun with his layout.

And he’s right, I do love seeing them come together from nothing more than a bare base board. It just goes to show, it’s all about making a start – and if you want to make that start, grab the Beginner’s Guide right now and make it happen.

That’s all for today, folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

Best

Al

PS Latest ebay cheat sheet here. Still bagging deals.

26 responses to “Gib’s 2×4 model train layout”

  1. John Tipper says:

    Better-designed and more interesting than many layouts 5 times the size; well done, Gib.

  2. Keith Miller says:

    That is a very nice set of photos – they show the progress in sensible stages and give a really good idea of how you created the ‘final’ result. I was quite surprised when I scrolled down to the last photo – very impressive. It’s good to see that small layouts can be worthwhile. Now, Gib, can we see a video of a train climbing that gradient?

  3. Carl Halgren says:

    I see Gib has used one of my favorite tricks – after laying the cork roadbed, paint it a shade darker than the ballast you will be using. That way, if ballast chips off, the roadbed will still look like old ballast on the bottom.

    Trick 2 is to paint the entire surface grass green and dirt brown to quickly give the layout a finished look, and to visualize varying terrain. In my case, I painted the entire foam base a dirt brown – it looks a lot better than foam pink.

    Gib, well done except for one minor detail. Your road leading away from your buildings crosses three tracks, but after the third track, the gravel road ends and becomes grass.

    Still in Training,
    Carl in Kansas

  4. Gopal Daga says:

    Hello Gibs, I need to complement you on you very neat, small and well designed outfit. It’s gives a wonderful view to the readers. Keep your good work on. It will take you miles ahead. Regards,
    Gopal Daga / Australia

  5. Ramsey Arnold says:

    Gib,
    Most motivating, excellent layout, (coming from a modeler currently building the bench work for his 2 x 4 layout, after being away from the hobby for 60 years (16 to 76)). I have your book, Al, and enjoy rereading sections as I go along. Thank you for your wonderful email presentations I look forward to every day.
    Ramsey, Montrose, Colorado USA

  6. Andrew says:

    Fantastic!

  7. William says:

    Very nice. You did a great job!

  8. NJ Mark says:

    I agree with the writer who stated you design is better (much better) than one 5x the size…like mine. You inspire. Cheers! NJ Mark

  9. Robert Brady says:

    what if a train derails in the tunnel? great looking layout .
    Robert B

  10. Lester W Larrew says:

    After the third picture, a key statement as there “I had fun” and that’s what model railroading in any gauge is all about. Fantistic layout.
    Lester in GA, USA

  11. Robert Brady says:

    what if a train derails in the tunnel? great looking layout .Open back?

    Robert B

  12. John Roetman says:

    Love reading your emails and looking at the different layouts. Keep up the good work.
    John R

  13. Dan says:

    Nice small layout. Shows don’t need a lot of space for a layout..

  14. Rich B. says:

    I like this, believe it could of been conceived from a ’50’s Atlas cookie-cutter plan. When small, grownup over next street had this I’m going to say exact layout in HO, was mind boggling. With the tunnels, track and mountains arrangement. It was long ago, don’t know if it ever reached finish stages and he’s long gone by now. Hope to see more here.

    Rich

  15. Rob McCrain says:

    It does look fun, but from an operational standpoint, the incline looks a bit steep for rounding a curve that tight. I would be very interested in a running video. I would recommend nothing steeper than 2% without curves and 1% with curves. If the board is 2 feet wide, the outside curve must be less than 1/2 the diameter (2 feet) yielding a less than 12 inch radius on the outside. From experience, that is quite tight for N scale.
    Rob McCrain – Farland Howe

  16. John F Down says:

    Nicely done for a small layout. I hope you have built accesses to your tunnels, because if not, you are going to have a hard time retrieving derailed loco’s and rolling stock. Some modelers cut the mountains horizontally and lift off the top half for access to clear derailments and clean the track. Others build side accesses by cutting or building openings where not directly visible to a frontal view of the layout.

  17. Norman Rosen says:

    What you did in that little space is shear genius.

  18. Arthur Rago says:

    Nice compact layout.

  19. Steve says:

    What size & how many N track did you use curve, straight, turn outs l

  20. Dave says:

    Nice size for a small area there is a lot there the ones asking about tunnel access there are no back pictures of the mountain but I bet its open in the back to clean and fix any other problem ? one day I will get started with my out door elevated G scale railway its all steel to look like a viaduct and will be a minimum of 24 inches high to get the push mower under it for yard work the uprights are 2×2 box steel set in concrete . the rest is 1×1 angle steel for the roadbed the curves are rolled on a mill . Dave

  21. Rand Martin says:

    I recently subscribed to Al’s website and rekindled my love for trains that began in the early 50s when dad worked on the MKT in Denison TX. Recently retired, I have accumulated enough N Scale track and trains to start on a 2′ X 4′ layout since subscribing. Things are now quite different than when I had an HO layout in the mid 80s. I blame it on Al and also thank him.

  22. Brad Squires says:

    Nice Work!! put some TRAINS on there!! Thanks for sharing!! enjuoy the weekend!!

  23. Rand Martin says:

    I would like to know the radius of the inner and outer track. I am starting an N Scale layout on a 2′ X 4′ piece of plywood as well. Great small layout Gib.

  24. Don in Seattle says:

    Excellent work all the way around!!

  25. Very clever. Well done.
    John from California

  26. Al says:

    I really like that that was quite an undertaking in the way it come out looking good, Al

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