HO scale Santa Fe layout

Jim’s been in touch again with his HO scale Santa Fe layout build.

It is wonderful to see a layout come together whether you’re building it yourself or not.

I love the way Jim is clearly having a lot of fun with it:

“As I hinted at the end of my previous post, now it starts to get REAL.

You have all seen the early pictures of “Veteran’s Park”.

I asked Joe if could add a soldier ( maybe O-scale so that it would be larger than all the other people) and paint a light green to resemble a statue that has been “weathered” for a few decades. This is what he came up with on my next visit.

HO scale park

The sign behind the soldier will be read Veteran’s Park, the American flag will have a spotlight at the base and be lit 24/7.

HO scale park statue

HO scale park statue

HO scale park trees

Here is a close-up of my wife’s Bakery. This is a pre-built structure and Joe just made the sign.

Later you will see the finished product.

I really like the shot through the trees.

At this stage, the scenery is becoming more REAL as well.

HO scale embankment trees

HO scale tunnel embankment trees

HO scale tunnel entrance

HO scale tunnel entrance

HO scale embankment tunnel

HO scale embankment

HO scale tunnel embankment trees

HO scale track ballast

HO scale track ballast curve

The Passenger station is lightly weathered and approximately placed.

This is the rearview.

Other structures are also being fitted and adjusted.

I was asked to see some pictures of the lift-gate access.

I did locate one picture of it under construction. If I find more I will post them.

This was their first attempt to build one, as no other client had asked for a lift.

Previously they always built a swing gate that would open outward.

That section, which is only 32′ long weighs nearly 50 pounds. But because of the gas cylinder assist, I can lift it using only 2 fingers.

swing hatch for model railroad access

The grade crossing cross-bucks were installed and wood & composite filling was added between the rails. You will also see the American Flag in Veteran’s Park.

Street details: manholes, drains, expansion lines, curbs, and street lights were added. Sidewalk expansions were also added. E-X-P-A-N-D the picture for better details.

HO scale level crossing

This is my control panel screen. As I mentioned in an earlier post I will be using TrainController software to operate my RR. I have posted the actual trackplan below for comparison.

HO scale track plan

Actual track plan below.

There have been a couple of guys that asked me how much my layout cost. My response has been that it was worth every penny. Your mileage may vary.

Here is the Pricing page from their website:

Progressive Model Design will estimate every job separately, and many factors affect the total.

Our labor rate is actually quite low when you consider the artistic talent you are paying for.

You will pay 2-3 times more for a local plumber to rod your drain.

Unfortunately, most of our modeling tasks take time (sometimes a great deal of it), and although we have applied as much automation to the process as we can, there is no way to really speed up the detailing process.

Consider a simple commercial building kit made of injection molded styrene….

Every structure kit will be painstakingly prepared by hand—trimming and sanding all pieces where necessary.

The pieces are then washed to remove molding films and then airbrushed with at least 2 coats of model paint.

After the color coat has dried, contrasting color coats may need to be applied. Windows, doors, fascia and trim often need to be hand-painted by brush. The walls will be fixtured so they remain square and then glued together. Glazing will be applied to the windows. Light blocks will have to be added to the interior if individual rooms are to be illuminated. Lamps will need to be installed and wired.

Finally, after all construction is complete, details and signage are added to the structure and mortar detail applied to the brick.

One or more final passes with the airbrush, dry-brushing with highlight colors and application of powdered chalks add the weathering necessary for a truly Proto-Realistic™ building.

And then… we still need to install it and blend it into the existing scenery base. We’re good, but this is no half-hour job.

Or how about a commercially available, out-of the-box tree by Woodland Scenics.

Sorry, we don’t use them. We do use Woodland Scenics products.

But every tree is hand selected and the branches adjusted for variety. We then remove portions of the factory foliage to give them a more ‘open’ look.

Highlights are applied using ground foam and paint to vary the uniform appearance.

The base is trimmed square and a hole to receive a mounting pin is drilled in the trunk. The pin is glued in place and the trunk is sprayed with a flat finish to knock off the shine. Quite a bit of time, when you consider the hundreds or perhaps thousands of trees that go onto a layout.

And this is only our B grade of construction I am describing!

The following numbers are just approximate and assume a ‘very average’ layout with about 10 – 15% trackage and yards, 15 – 20% structures and the balance just general, simple scenery.

Prices start at about $75 – $100 per square foot for a B Level HO or O scale layout.

This would include basic benchwork, roadbed and track. N scale layouts are about 50%—75% higher on a square foot basis. A or AA level quality will add 15% and 35% respectively.

The basic scenery portion of a layout (rolling hills or flat areas with grasses, dirt and gravel coverage) will add from $30 – $55 per square foot over the base price depending upon the amount of contouring.

Extensive rock outcroppings or cliffs/canyons will be $55 – $100 per square foot or more additional depending on the extent of vertical coverage and level of detailing.

Streams, rivers and lakes will add $45 – $100 per square foot over the base price depending upon the level of detail.

Urban areas with their high concentration of structures, roads, streets, figures and details will add $65 – $150 or more per square foot to the base price depending upon the structure types and density.

Hand-painted figures alone (which cost $3.00 – $5.00 apiece), of which there may easily be a dozen or more per square foot) make up a substantial part of the urban scene. The cost of the structures themselves is additional (see below).

Cost of structure construction depends a great deal on the brand of kit and detail level desired. For basic B level construction, and as a VERY rough estimate, you can use 6-8 times the retail price of the kit.

For example: a Design Preservation Models kit selling for $14.95 in Walther’s catalog would cost you $10.47 for the kit, and about $65.00 – $95.00 in labor to paint, assemble and detail. Level A construction may be about 30% – 50% higher and AA will be at least 50% – 75% higher.

Scratch-built Level AA structures will be quoted individually so that you can see our breakdown estimate of time and materials. Bear in mind, that each kit will be estimated separately, and factors such as size, fit, quality, type of construction, number of colors, trim, windows and doors and level of weathering will all figure in the final price.

Generally, small, highly detailed buildings are disproportionately more expensive. Densely packed, urban scenes with multiple, small Level AA detailed structures can easily surpass $800 per square foot. Fortunately, most layouts incorporate only small sections that require this level of labor and detail and the average cost for the whole layout is substantially less.

Of note is the large number of finely detailed pre-built structures showing up on the market.

Made, assembled, painted and packaged in China with their lower labor costs, Woodland Scenics is a great source for these and has an ever widening selection. These pre-builts can be purchased at 1/3 or less our cost to assemble them. This can greatly reduce the traditionally high structure costs on a project.

Based on our prior projects, and when everything is added up, an average B level layout may cost between $275.00 – $300.00 per square foot. ‘A’ level will likely be between $300.00 – $350.00 per square foot and our ‘AA’ level can run as high as $450.00 per square foot.

But remember, PMD does not quote by the square foot. EVERY project is estimated individually and we will do our very best to stay within your budget.

I will close today’s post with a video. Enjoy.Emoji

My next post will be just a bit different, here is why.

My layout build was about 1/3 complete when we put out house up for sale…

What could possibly go wrong? Has anybody else done this?


A huge, big, thanks to Jim for sharing another part of his HO scale Santa Fe layout.

I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of seeing one spring to life, whatever it’s background is.

If you want to play catch up:

Jim’s HO scale Santa Fe layout (Jim’s first post).

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you join in on all the fun, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

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

24 Responses to HO scale Santa Fe layout


    Fantastic layout and the scenery is exceptional but where are the Locomotives!!!

  2. Robert Brady says:

    Fantastic Jim ! still love the tunnel and ballast job.
    The Critic

  3. Norm Stafford says:

    I was 1/3 done on my layout when we moved. Not only did I have to disassemble the layout, I had to return the bedroom to its original purpose. We’ve been in the new house for a year now and just yesterday I completed the installation of the new ceiling lights for the redesigned layout.

  4. Bob says:

    Fantastic scenery. The layout portrays realness!

  5. George Zaky says:

    If one was to use $20/hr for the time of actual construction of all the items on a layout you would rack up quite a bill. Then add the costs of train stuff and you could say your layout costs a fortune. This excludes planning, designing, shopping, and gathering stuff. Of course you dont cost up a labor of love and like all DIY jobs it may not turn out like the pros no matter how hard you try but it is YOURS! So its yours either way- perfection by the pros or if you are gifted like so many are on this site really close to perfect or like me -hide all the defects.
    How about some trains on a fantastic layout.

  6. George Zaky says:

    I saw the video after I commented. NICE!

  7. Adrian Campbell says:

    OK I admit defeat.

    I am officially abandoning my planned HO Santa Fe layout and taking up knitting.

    It looks like you need some rolling stock Jim. I have LOTS for sale.


  8. Erick says:

    Looks pretty kool.!!!!! I hope mine turns out that good.

  9. Ruben Simon says:

    Jim, great stuff. Spectacular trees. You have my admiration!

  10. James Corradini says:

    Wow such a beautiful layout when you started this did you know you’re going to have to sell your house down the road? Do you have a new house already lined up what’s your layout going to be disassembled and moved to your new house? I wonder that people build in your layout do they have layouts have their own at home, or would it be like so many other jobs when you get home the last thing you want to see is a train LOL. Speaking for myself I think that would be a fantastic job I still want to come home and run my trains thank you for sharing all your post look forward do any updates.

  11. Rich Collins in Texarkana says:

    Speaking as a Veteran – Thank you very much for including such a beautiful tribute to the military in your layout !

  12. Bob says:

    Beautiful layout that screams personality. Great job!

  13. Jerry Kaminsky says:

    Very impressive work !!!!!

  14. Stephen Hill says:

    What an awesome layout , as well as the narrative . You’ve put a lot of hard work into that and it shows well . Really superb craftsmanship and attention to detail , most impressive. Thank you for sharing , it is a truly remarkable display

  15. Brian Olson says:

    LOVE Veterans Park. Gonna have to add one to my layout!

  16. Don says:

    nice layout

  17. TJK says:

    Awesome layout Jim. Any more info or mechanical drawings on the gas cylinder assist on the lift up gate? Thanks TJK.

  18. SantaFeJim says:

    Thank you for all the nice comments. I have added a lot more details and will be adding 12-15 more pictures and 3-4 more videos. I am currently adding some Miller Engineering animated signs.

    I will also include some before and after weathering pictures.

    I will be posting again in early April.

  19. John Birch says:

    Super layout with fantastic realism. Good to see trains running at realistic speeds.

  20. Frank Pumillo says:

    Absolutely beautiful work and the attention to small details is just outstanding.

  21. Steve Ruple says:

    That’s a awesome layout you have but for me that would be a lot of money. I’ll keep working on my layout a little at a time, I’m 77 years young and I’m not sure if I will ever get my layout completed in my life but I’m having fun. I’m glad you shared your layout with us and it’s beautiful and awesome with all the scenery, have fun with it and enjoy while you can.

  22. welder Dave says:

    Never have seen that many little details with the curb drains manhole covers and the concrete cuts(as we call them in the construction biz ) BTW there are two types of concrete concrete that is cracked and concrete thats going to crack ! 🙂 your details are great and clean .

  23. Daniel says:


  24. robert dale tiemann says:

    really nice layout.

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