OO gauge layout

John’s post on his OO gauge layout really has struck a chord with a lot of you – have a look at the comments below!

“Dear Al

It seems that many write interesting stories about their layout, so here goes. Hope others find it interesting.

I started model railways when I was at school in South Africa and managed to buy a Lionel set from a classmate (much to his dad’s annoyance I found out later!). Half my room was taken up by my layout. University and work followed with little happening to the railway.

In 1973, shortly after my wife and I were married, we had walked along the Thames and gone into a Café for refreshments, when a little boy and his parents came in and he was carrying a Hornby catalogue. My casual comment about how I’d love to start a railway again resulted in my opening my Christmas presents (our first Christmas together) and finding Oliver Cromwell, five “blood and custard” coaches, a few wagons, H & M controller and some track. How exciting! That was 45 years ago and it started many happy years of us modelling together. I do the main construction work while my wife paints the people, plants trees, etc.

As we moved house from time to time, various layouts were started (is one ever finished?). Children arrived and space was needed. About fifteen years passed with everything stored away neatly. About six years ago, the boxes were opened and it was like Christmas all over again as I discovered things that I had forgotten that I had.

Our children are married, we now live in a lovely house with a large garden, in the New Forest. I started out enthusiastically building a garden railway but this came to a sad end during the notorious storm of a few years ago. I also realised that English weather was not the best for 00 scale outdoor railways, although I did run trains in the snow! I lifted the terminus that was housed in a wooden cabin, moved it into the garage and started all over again!

My 3.6 x 2.25 metre (approx 11’9″ x 7’4″) OO gauge layout is now in a garage, attached to a hoist and is raised to allow the car to escape the winter frosts. About three years ago, my son gave me a Dynamis which opened up the whole digital world to me. Sadly the Dynamis decided that it would no longer programme locos and the cost for Bachmann to look at it before any work is done, meant that I needed to look elsewhere.

My final choice was NCE Power Cab and, so far, all the reviews have proved absolutely correct. It is a joy to use, although I think that a major improvement would be a dial to access locos, instead of scrolling. If anyone says that old locos can’t be changed to digital then don’t believe them. One of my finest runners is my original Hornby Oliver Cromwell, bought in 1973 for that first Christmas. You can see it in action hauling a rake of maroon coaches on the video.

There is still a lot to do – more carriage lighting circuits to wire up, ballasting of track, building and installing signals, etc. I am 78 and, apart from still working, am also an organist, so time is limited. But it does provide hours of fun, when I can get to it, as it gradually takes shape. It is not based on anything in particular and a purist would frown at it. However, I enjoy it and just focus on what I like, while trying to capture the character and mood of English villages and countryside.

Great fun!

Diagram of track plan – not to scale. Cabin Manor is on the level above the four, parallel tracks (up and down main, up and down loop)

Best Wishes


model railway track plan

OO gauge layout

OO gauge layout

OO gauge layout

model railway

OO gauge layout

OO gauge layout

Latest ebay cheat sheet here.

A big thank you to John for sharing his OO gauge layout – what a wonderful narrative. It just goes to show this hobby really is a life long affair.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, 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.

54 Responses to OO gauge layout

  1. Alan Batcheldor says:

    Looks fantastic John and is giving me a bit of a shove to get on with mine. It just seems to be taking forever!

  2. Very nice layout you have built there John , a hobby that returns to a lot of us as we get older …like your story of how it all started ….Dangerous Dave

  3. Robert Brady says:

    Very entertaining ,great job,great layout.

  4. NJ Mark says:

    John Fabulous, simply fabulous!! You are so lucky to have your wife share in this life-long experience. The video was great as well as your narrative. This was a joy for me and thank you for sharing. Cheers! NJ Mark

  5. Bob Filipiak says:

    Love the Regimental Band and the back ground music. The whole layout feels full of life and activity. Great job on the scenery.

    Bob in Virginia

  6. Eric says:

    Nice work John, looks really well done with lots of interesting scenes along the way, especially like the military band.
    Eric (Leeds) UK

  7. george Zaky says:

    What talent. Please expand some more and describe the electronics and the lifting mechanism. Cant get enough
    George form NY

  8. Tony Bruno says:

    Great video- thanks for sharing! I really like that you have added plenty of people for realism- and excellent job of lighting the buildings- that’s not easy!

  9. Henry Betz says:

    Wow! What a great layout and loved the Song of Norway, had not heard it for years. Somehow it beat train sounds.

  10. Sam says:

    John, sincere thanks for sharing your “layout journey” in word and video! (and to Al for posting this!) As a recent “pensioner” I’m inspired, your ingenuity for a hoist system in the garage is the “7% Solution” I’ve been looking for to build my first layout since having “train days” as a young lad with my dad.
    To my novice eyes, you’ve done a great job of capturing the spirit of village life!

  11. Paul F Verhil says:

    John, Your layout might have inspired me to leave the pub for new adventures.
    Nicely done. Thanks much for sharing.

  12. Hemi says:

    ALWAYS NICE to see A LOT going on, on others Layouts, and this one is GREAT for the amount of “A LOT” thats seen in the pics! NICE work man!

    Keep up the GREAT work! ~Hemi

  13. Ernie Stammers says:

    What can I say that hasn’t already been said.
    I started with OO gauge when I was a young lad.then as time passed and other things happen in life, marriage, motorcycling, scuba diving, then old age, I went back to trains with G gauge in my garden, older age prevented me from bending a kneeling down etc. So now content myself with my O gauge Lionel trains with Legacy command control.
    But no where near as elaborate as yours.
    But somewhere to go and play, have a glass of wine or two and enjoy living.
    (I am now 73 and have heart failure and lung problems, so life is for living.)
    Enjoy. And thanks for sharing.

  14. FranK Cortese says:

    John, this one of the best layouts I have seen. Love the details. Congratulations to you and your wife. Thanks for sharing.
    Frank, near Mickey Mouse Florida

  15. I prefer life over purist… because the purists have first to proof that they are (still) alive, because how come the lovely and lively scenes in the corner with the marching band, or the women chit-chatting relaxed in the front yard – and the cats listen – and the church – is there a wedding? – To both of you: keep going, including doing modeling! – m

  16. Richard H. Meyer says:

    John, just beautiful! Don’t I know whether I enjoyed the video or the background music more. Great selection. (Grieg’s piano concerto.) Who was the pianist? Your details and scenes are really great. I loved the marching military band.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Richard Meyer
    Columbia, Missouri, USA

  17. Rob McCrain says:

    You have created some very interesting scenes. It is also a good track plan. I am intrigued by your lift mechanism. I would like to know more about it. Rob

  18. Bob Bouskill says:

    This layout is definitely a “royal” effort. I love the attention to detail such as the pall bearers at the end of the line and the soldiers marching through town. One of the best videos posted!

  19. Dave says:

    Love the whole set up The brick buildings are wonderful not seen that much great detail before in them .

  20. Michael Hunt says:

    You captured the period exactly, the cars, the clothes, the names on the shop fronts – magic!

  21. Warner Smith says:

    Very very nice demonstration. Your attention to detail and layout is superb. thank you for putting together one of the nicest videos I’ve seen.

  22. John says:

    Awesome layout!! Thanks for sharing.

  23. Al Allison says:

    Very nice layout with a lot of detail. I also enjoyed your background music during the video.

  24. Jim MacLean says:

    Fantastic layout! Beautiful scenes! Great music! Captivating video! I’m in awe! Jim from CB.

  25. Marklin ed says:

    Great stuff, your wife looks like quite the artist. Enjoy your story of your life and your railroad.

  26. Eugene Rizzardi says:

    Beautiful workmanship

  27. Don says:

    Wow! One of the best setups I’ve ever seen, This must have cost thousands of dollars, but anyway what a great job you did John!

  28. Brian Rockey says:

    That’s a fantastic layout John – well done. I love the Guards Band especially as my son is the Bandmaster of the Irish Guards – where do these bandsmen and guardsmen come from??? I’m planning on building a castle on my elevated section – would be nice to have a guards band there as well. Keep modelling. Brian

  29. Terry Foster says:

    Love the detail thanks for showing,great.

  30. Andrew says:


  31. ian McDonald says:

    a very fine layout. it has every thing. it is a video you can go back time and time again to get ideas from. thanks for sharing.

  32. Wm althaus says:

    John great model railroad! You’ve done great work! Bill in Virginia

  33. walt emerson says:

    Very nice layout! Very much enjoyed the video (nice music–NO -SHOW YOU WHAT I GOT TRAIN SOUNDS!) Nice scenery–top shelf, your wife did a great job with the people painting and I’m sure much more. You both did a great job. walt

  34. Tim Davies, near Melbourne Au says:

    Great layout John. Must be near the best use of figures to be seen. And excellent use of the “Warsaw Concerto”!!

  35. Gary Freeland says:

    Hello John,
    Great Job!! Q, I would like to know more about your hoist system for lifting the layout in your garage. If you are willing, could you send more information.
    Thank You Gary Freeland

  36. John Birch says:

    I want to say a very big “Thank You” to all who gave feedback. I feel quite overwhelmed by all the very positive and kind comments.
    To answer a couple of queries:
    The guards and band were bought as yellow plastic kits about 45 years ago. They were carefully cut from their mouldings and painted by my wife (who didn’t stretch her skills far enough to add the correct groupings of buttons on their tunics!) I removed the manhole covers that they were standing on, drilled a tiny hole up on of their legs and inserted a fine, trimmed panel pin which was then inserted in the road to give stability. I actually assembled that whole corner on the dining room table before putting it on the layout. I have no idea if they are still available to purchase and can’t remember who produced them.
    To comment about the “thousands of dollars”. I don’t know haw much has been spent on the layout but really not that much. As a school teacher and bringing up three children, I have never been plush financially. I say this to encourage other modellers. I have always improvised and often made things myself because I couldn’t afford to buy. Also, much of what you see is an accumulation of years of collecting and birthday/Christmas presents. My wife even gave me a Rolls Royce for Christmas one year! (It appears in front of the manor house!)
    A number of readers have expressed interest in the hoist. I did learn a few things along the way and at one stage rebuilt it completely into its present form. I will compile a brief history of errors and improvement with some diagrammes and photos.
    Thanks again for the interest

  37. Chris Rohrer says:

    What a lovely little layout. Superb.

  38. Allen Wortman says:

    Great layout. Enjoyed the video and the music was just the right sound. Please provide some information on your hoist system. Must be pretty special given the size of the layout.

    California, USA

  39. Brian Rockey says:

    Hi again John!
    Thanks for the feedback on the band. From the timescales you’ve mentioned the figures are from the Airfix range of HO-OO figures. The band was released in 1960 and a couple of years later, the Guards Colour Party. Amazingly they can still be picked up boxed on e-bay! Your wife’s painting is excellent and your drilling up through their legs to fit a pin – very impressive! Great job. Brian

  40. John Birch says:

    Thanks Brian. I think you are absolutely right. Airfix rings a loud bell!

  41. John Holt says:

    That was very good,John did a great job. I really liked what he has done. Thanks for letting us see what you have done, great job..

  42. Terry Lowe says:

    Enjoyed a very therapeutic ten minutes watching this properly English scene going by….lovely!

  43. Bruce Buchanan says:

    Hi John: I found your life story interesting, and your layout excellent. In a way my story is similar. I am two years younger than you, and also began, with a friend, by building an HO layout in his garage with a hoist system. This was in Cape Town in the 1950’s. I moved to London and married an English girl in 1967, we then moved to Canada, and she bought me my first N scale set, Postage Stamp Trains, in 1971. Since then I started collecting, and keeping them in boxes until 2013, when I started my layout, which I finished last year. We now live in Indiana, USA.

  44. JW Snyder says:

    Inspiring! It reminds me of the village near Downton Abby. You catch the sense of life there.

  45. Jim AZ says:

    Nicely done. Interesting and well detailed scenes abound. A cab ride view video be great. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

  46. Michael Bruce says:

    What a wonderfully detailed layout!! I particularly liked the military band and the music that accompanied the video as I am a retired United States Air Force Bandsman. Thanks for sharing your story and the video of all your hard (but I am sure fun) work.

  47. Kevin McArdle says:

    Beautiful layout. The flats look like Clapham, where my in laws reside.

  48. Cary B says:

    Hello John,
    The still pics are amazing but the video was awesome. Such detail on your layout is to be admired.
    You certainly have a wonderful layout that covers all the bases of model railroading.
    Thanks so much for sharing
    Cary in New Market Maryland

  49. Bill Holt says:

    YES, Excellent Detail, GOOD JOB !!

  50. James says:

    Superb layout with interesting detail features! Great video!

    Note to people who include THEIR OWN life story along with their comments: STOP IT! SAVE IT FOR WHEN YOU ARE FEATURED!

  51. Brian Rockey says:

    Lovely layout John (and your wife of course!).
    Nice paint job on the Airfix Guards and band.
    Best to all
    Brian, Wokingham, UK

  52. Macbear says:

    Absolutely fascinating and inspiring. We have some things in common: I, too, am a retired teacher and an organist [I wondered if the figure emerging from the church at the wedding is the organist]. You tell a story with your layout, the poignancy of the funeral, the organised chaos of the builders… and the imagination creates the sound of the military band approaching the memorial. The trusty “Oliver Cromwell” shows that is possible to run old stock successfully and evoke happy memories.

  53. Mike Balog says:

    Fantastic fully detailed layout.. With all the mini scenes drawing in your eye and enjoyed the musical background as well. Ties it all in together. Liked the Night Scenes with the Passenger train going past the lighted buildings in the background and the lighted station in the foreground. Well Done….Mike in N.H. ~ U.S.A. across the Pond.

  54. Will in NM says:

    You are a lucky man to have such a talented wife to share your model railway hobby. I’d guess that she is mostly responsible for all the wonderfully detailed scenes of weddings, funerals, the marching guards with all the watching bystanders. Yours is one of the best layouts I’ve seen in that regard. It feels alive, unlike layouts that have beautiful trackwork and structures, but hardly any people.
    Loved the video! Thanks for sharing your story and the great photos.

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