Small shelf layout – John’s

John’s been in touch with his small shelf layout:

“As you know, I normally build small layouts… Easily portable and inexpensive.

I also like little challenges as I love to build things.

Recently one of my little layouts took on a whole new meaning for me.

First, a bit of philosophy.

In life we often take many things for granted. We believe that the sun will rise tomorrow morning and we will be there to see it. We believe those we love will always be with us. We get caught up in life and we too often take both the mundane and the special for granted. We just believe it will always be there.

One day it all changes: It can change in a moment, in a twinkling of the eye. One minute what we always believed would be there is suddenly gone.

Labor Day, 2017. My wife, my daughter, and myself went to a beloved family vacation spot; Silver Lake, California. On that trip I took a little box with one of your print out kits. I wanted something to do when the family was resting… I like to keep busy.

I also wanted to show what is possible when one “does not have time” or “does not have room”. When I came back, I sent pictures and you posted the model.

small shelf layout

small shelf layout

small shelf layout

When we took the trip where I built that little yellow shed, I had know Idea that would be our last family trip to that beloved location. Christy and I took one more trip for our anniversary in October but it was obvious that her lungs were failing and we would not return.

Around November, David Pye, a Facebook friend, made a “dare” on the Micro and Small model Railroads page he administrates. His “dare” was to grab some spare track (we all have some) and build a very simple, one switch, layout. This was a design the late Carl Arndt called a “Tuning Fork”. One set of points, two spurs, a shunting lead. 2/2/3.

I love to build things (it is my “drug of choice”. I build to relax and to take my mind off stressful things. I build to exercise my mind. I was looking for something to do and “Dave’s Dare” was just the thing. I grabbed some spare Bachmann EZ track and “Pye’s Point” was born… Yes, I like playing with words too. Most of my layouts have some little pun worked into them…

You also featured this… It is On30 — O scale narrow gauge running on HO gauge track.

small shelf layout

How a little layout becomes something bigger, much bigger.

Of course my small shelf layout needed some scenery and the little shed I had built on that Labor Day trip was just the thing to fit in one corner by a road crossing.

small shelf layout

Yes, this all has a point…

In January, I had surgery for an umbilical hernia…My mother’s heath was beginning to fail.

I know this story is depressing but it has a point, a very important point.

My son is in the Army reserves as a medic. He was also my mother’s primary caretaker for most of 2017 and all of 2018. In June he had to do his two weeks annual training. While he was to be gone, my sister and I would be in New Mexico to take care of my mother.

Again I brought my little modeling box with me… No kit but a lot of ideas and scratchbuilding materials. Again, to relieve stress, I build.

My mother was failing and she passed just a little over a week after I arrived to help take care of her. During that week I built several buildings for Pye’s Point.

small shelf layout

When I returned from New Mexico, the structures were placed on Pye’s Point. Scenery was finished and it was made “Presentable”.

This is how it sat from June to the present.

Noting special, I took it for granted.

Christy (my wife) passed in January.

I purchased the home I will retire to in August and began a slow moving process.

This month I decided to build a simple “Roundy Round” to pass the time and again relieve stress.

My first plan was to duplicate a previous layout… But the track that I was going to use is already 400 miles away from my Southern California home.

I decided to build another On30 layout in a 3.5 foot by 6 foot space… — And use some structures I had already made.

At the time, I was also breaking up a couple of old small shelf layouts and salvaging them for their structures.. Less stuff to move that way. “Pye’s Point” was slated to be just one more layout to be junked and the buildings recycled to the new layout. Then in one moment, in a twinkling of time, everything changed.

As I got ready to pull down the layout I saw that little yellow shed… and then the other structures… Pye’s Point became a “Memory Box”, a repository of some very special memories.

I now intend to improve the presentation box to make it suitable for a special place in my new home. It will reside in my study with two other special layouts that hold different memories.

The Yellow Shed by the Crossing is a reminder of my list “happy” family trip…

The buildings on the right hand side (the “business end”) of the layout remind me of my last moments with my mother…

What fools we mortals can be. We can be foolish in the things we take for granted and equally foolish in how we choose to keep our sentimental tokens.


After I read John’s post, it did make me think of just how many of your posts include fond memories from many years ago.

John’s right. This hobby absorbs memories without us knowing. And it’s beautiful when they return.

That’s all for today folks.

A big thanks to John for sharing his small shelf layout.

Please do keep ’em coming, and if you want to take the plunge and start your layout and memories, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Please do leave a comment below if you’ve got a memory you’d like to share.

37 Responses to Small shelf layout – John’s

  1. David H says:

    John, I appreciate that you’ve shared this story with all of us. Thank you so much for that. Your little structures are quite detailed and wonderful, and are perfect to hold the memories you have assigned to them. What a beautiful tribute to those you have lost.
    I model in n-scale, some of which I inherited from my late brother after he died from brain cancer in 1986 at only 25 years old. I have not considered building something into a layout as a memory to him, but after reading your story tonight, that will change. I’m working on designing a new home layout so this comes at an opportune time. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Roy Studds says:

    That story was just wonderful. We often don’t appreciate the moment we’re in until much later, and to have created something in that moment, which at the time seems inconsequential, can have such an impact further down the line. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. A tribute to your Mother …and now memories of her each time you go to your miniature railway ..Dangerous Dave

  4. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    John, that is wonderful – linking items that ‘trigger’ memory of happier times that enable one to realise that life goes on. In a different context but of the same nature we have been going through old photographs – yes there is a tinge of sadness in some but much joy in remembering what was happening in others. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Martin Young says:

    John, I am 74 and your story touched my heart. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Graham Smith says:

    Hi John,
    It must have taken some doing to sit down and write this story but it’s great that you have and kept the ‘solid’ memories as well as your own personal ones. I can imagine you sitting in your study and only a glance will bring back all those memories, some happy and some sad. And who knows, in years to come your son may look at them and his memories of his family life will come flooding back.
    I don’t think it is foolish to keep our sentimental tokens.

  7. george zaky says:

    May you and others keep building joyful and thoughtful memories for years to come. Thanks for sharing your story and insight.
    be safe & well.
    George from LI, NY

  8. Dwight in Toronto says:

    Thank you for sharing such a touching tale.

    I just turned 65 one week ago, and for the last decade or so, I’ve been trying to remember to raise my awareness and appreciation of life’s fleeting pleasures, precisely to avoid what Roy said above – “We often don’t appreciate the moment we’re in until much later”.

    Here’s just one small example – I often take my 3 year old granddaughter on lengthy adventures through the forest behind our house. We occasionally stop at the more scenic spots along the Rouge River, prop up the toboggan, and sit on a log or rock for a snack and a drink. I always glance down and make a point of saying “Hey Jessica, THIS is nice!” ……. because it truly is.

    Oh, and here’s a note of relevance – there’s another spot where a busy, major Canadian National mainline crosses a 1000 ft long bridge, 100 ft above the river. A highlight of our hikes – we usually don’t have to wait long – is when we hear the tripleheader diesels approaching off in the distance. We excitedly watch, wave, and get rewarded with a dual horn symphony as 150-car consists rumble across the bridge!

  9. Mike Balog says:

    Hello John:
    Thank you for sharing your memories of your Mother and your wife with us all, It choked me you a bit too. Remembering Happier Times when I was a little boy and my Father and I built a Large O, O27 Lionel and American Flyer S gauge layout in the basement of our home. That took up half the entire basement. Then the large HO Scale Layout I had as a Teenager.. last layout I built especially for my Father, at Christmas back in 1982. I saw him sitting in the living room chair next to the Christmas Tree with the H.O. Layout beneath it crying.. I asked my Mother, WHY was he crying.. She said, it made him Happy that I built this layout for him and gave him some Lionel H.O. Scale engines and cars for Christmas.. he said he brought back memories of all the years he built Christmas Layouts for me as a little boy growing up.. and Now I built one for him.. Dad. Passed away of a Fatat Heart Attack not long after that in 1982.
    I also have a small 4 ft x 4 ft square H.O. Scale “Christmas” layout, I built but haven’t put up in a couple of years, cause I have a new German Shepherd Pup.. my new Service Dog, since I am legally Deaf and over 70 now. Was afraid of him, the Pup, being over curious and thinking the layout was a Large Chew Toy..He is three yrs young,, still a BIG Puppy… maybe next Christmas… Oh, I still have those Lionel H.O. Scale Locomotives and cars the GS4 Southern Pacific Daylight, the black version and one painted for the 1976 American Freedom Train… ,,, ~ Mike in N.H. U.S.A.

  10. Frederick Gevalt says:

    I agree, John. But compared with many, how fortunate we are. Whether we consider pieces of our hobby as a remembrance of other things and people dear to us, or use their construction to block our anxieties and preoccupations about the world around us, at least we have this wonderful hobby, which lets us focus on something at the moment, and sometimes at 3:00 awake in bed – something to anticipate with the new day!

    I have friends (I’m 75) who’ve nearly gone crazy during the pandemic. Unable to see their children and grand children, they’ve been staring at walls, and watching television, as another year slipped by, a year of meaningless loneliness.

    Instead I can dream about painting a backdrop, modeling a harbor, or vicariously sharing the dreams and trials (thanks to Al’s website) of all of you.

    I shall be forever grateful for the circumstances that returned me to modeling almost 5 years ago. My life would be considerably less fulfilling without it.

    Fred Gevalt

  11. Craig Northacker says:

    I grew up in Frankfurt and Berlin in the 60’s. Frankfurt had been leveled and we were in one of the first new townhouses there. We moved to Berlin in 1964 but we visited in 1960 and we walked through Brandenburg Gate before the Wall went up. My memories of Eastern Europe are in shades of gray. I decided last year to take up railroading again. I fell onto the idea of creating Berlin in the 60’s including Checkpoint Charlie with the tank standoff and the Potsdam depot with an amazing assortment of rail stock destroyed in WW2 off in the yard. The memories I have were family tempered with the reality of growing up in the ashes of Nazi Germany and in the shadow of Communism. Thanks to all for sharing

  12. just looking at your little building’s where did you get the door and little hinges and window very well done ? Al

  13. Erick says:

    Nice layout.!!!

  14. Thank you all for sharing! Learning to live life ONE DAY AT A TIME! 😉

  15. Andre Gregoire says:

    Thank you for the share, you and your family have been added to my daily prayers. Stay well, keep building…..

  16. To Albert Reining…
    In all the pictures, the only kit was Al’s shed that I built at Silver Lake, California, on that family trip.
    Everything else is fully scratch built The doors, the windows, the hinges… All paper and card. I believe that I used a strip of common 3×5 card which I painted black with a Sharpie pen for the hinges… Everything else began as soda can boxes…
    My use of card as a modeling material all began with Al’s kits.
    I have also found some stuff I plan to use to build a very small memorial to my father… This time intentionally.
    The one Al presented today was built as a layout to pass the time UNTIL… Until it became something more than just another layout.

  17. Michael Lavrich says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and your layout. It brought back memories and inspiration.

    First the memories. In the early 60s the book “Last of the Three Foot Loggers” came out about the West Side Lumber Company RR. I had a nondescript 4 x 8 HO layout at home I shared with my younger brother but wanted to move beyond that, so on a week-long visit to my grandparents, I took along a small box of tools, materials, and paints, and spent the evenings and into the nights scratch building a backwoods HOn3 engine house with an attached toolroom. Each morning my grandfather, a retired night hostler on the NYCRR, would come down and admire my progress, but now that I am in my mid-seventies myself, I can relate all too well to his comment “How can you see anything that small?”.

    So sixty years later I find myself modeling in 2 1/2″ scale, 7 1/2″ gauge, easy on aging eyes, and have three scale miles of track on my twenty acres, currently covered in snow. So now the inspiration. I miss working inside sitting in a warm, comfortable space but have thought I have no room for a layout, until seeing this post and the small box railroad preserved for memory sake. I can find that much room, and the box would protect it from my curious cats. I have an On3 Shay and Climax left from my son younger days modeling. So tonight will clear the dining room table and see what these fingers can still do on a small scale. And inside by a comfortable fire.

    For those interesting in my large scale efforts, a video can be found on YouTube by searching Brautigan Brook Lumber Railroad.

    Thanks again for the inspiration.


  18. Ward Gravel says:

    What a beautiful way of remembering the “good times”! I’m 76 and have been planning to set up my O gauge Lionels from the 50s when I return from the warm winter. I have been considering different scenarios….often at 3:00 a.m…..and, with the ashes of my wife and daughter sitting in my family room, I now plan to memorialize each of them in some scenery. So glad to belong to this group!
    Ward in NH USA

  19. AJ ROMANO says:

    Very nice little project. I’ve been doing the same. Small O gauge stuff. It’s fun and not too expensive and as is done here, you can use all sorts of objects to create your dream.

  20. Gary M from Long Island says:

    John…..outstanding……….the narrative was emotional………God Bless

  21. Francky says:

    Hello, I am French and it is 4 am. I think of my life and my brother-in-law who left us in 2019. This woman and these 2 girls alone for the holidays. I do not sleep and the train is always in my head and the memory of the great network of my Grandfather. I’m not sleeping, it’s 4am, I’m at the hotel because I’m moving my daughter, it’s a family time. To be present is to live the moments. It’s 4am and I’m looking at this page on your stories and the train and I’m reading this post, in American of course and it’s not easy (laughs). Strangely it falls at this precise moment when it’s 4am and I can’t sleep and I remember the memories of a lifetime. I am 50 years old and tomorrow may be my last day. My train module has not started, maybe it’s about time. Even this is very dear as a passion in France. Good and happy life.

    Bonjour, je suis français et il est 4h du matin. Je pense à ma vie et à mon beau frère qui nous à quitté en 2019. Ça femme et ces 2 filles seuls pour les vacances. Je ne dors pas et le train est toujours dans ma tête et le souvenir du grand réseau de mon Grand Père. Je ne dors pas, il est 4h du matin, je suis à l’hôtel car je déménage ma fille, c’est un moment en famille. Être présent c’est vivre le moments. Il est 4h et je regarde cette page sur vos histoires et le train et je lis ce poste, en américain bien sur et que cela est pas simple ( rire). Bizarrement il tombe à ce moment précis où il est 4h et je ne dors pas et je me rappel les souvenirs d’une vie. J’ai 50 ans et demain sera peut-être mon dernier jour. Mon module de train n’est pas commencé , c’est peut-être temps. Même ci cela est très chère comme passion en France. Bonne et heureuse vie.

  22. Kevin says:

    New to this site – been following for a month or two. Retiring (maybe) at 60 in 2 weeks. New grandad. Moved from CA to NC in 2020. Nice house – big yard. Always wanted an outdoor train. But realized one of the upstairs rooms would be better (less maint, etc) and can do a HO scale (I’d love to do N but hands shake too much for small scale). Thanks John for the heartfelt story. I love this site. Lots of typos or grammar errors in some posts, but people get the post and don’t bust chops for things that are really not important. Nice change from toxic and critical commentary on other social sites. I love the creative modeling information. Clever group of followers.

  23. Dale Fike says:

    Your memory story somewhat parallels mine, in that my wife died unexpectedly in July 2019 while visiting my sister in South Carolina. During my stay there I purchased two pieces of train stock and used them as a part of the memorial table at her celebration of life service.

    She was active in a model train club with me, so I used straight track on the edge of a display table with dates on the track for her life story events as displayed, and a turnout at one end to signify the change of direction that her death caused. Both of the “new” train cars were included at the turnout
    Thanks for sharing how we can keep our loved ones with us in this wonderful hobby.

    May God bless and keep you ‘on track’.

    Dale Fike
    Easton, MD

  24. John Birch says:

    Many comments above ring true to me as well. Some time ago, Alistair featured my layout “Cabin Manor to Gardenton Railway” . In it “Oliver Cromwell” plus a memorial parade of soldiers and a band were featured. OC was given to me by my wife for our first Christmas together and the soldiers and band were painted by my wife. Sadly, she died of cancer almost six months ago. When she was ill, I got on with life and was busy on a small project of installing people and lighting in an old DMU. It sits unfinished and at this stage I just can’t face the railway as it evokes too many memories.
    John talks about taking things for granted. Even when my wife was ill, it really didn’t sink home that I would lose her as quickly as I did. I have wonderful, special memories and I will get back to the railway in time. I just want to say to others – don’t take anything for granted when it comes to relationships and make the most of every moment. One never knows when or how quickly that can come to an end,

  25. Rod Mackay says:

    I am reminded of working as an operator on Frank Dyer’s magnificent Borchester Market layout, it was no spring chicken even then but various bits of scenery had apparently been re-used or adapted from its predecessor, and when running the ‘fiddle yard’ (hidden staging you’d call it in the States) you could read odd snippets of very old news on the reverse of the papiermache scenery, preserved in Shellac. Avery good way to obtain a bit of longer ‘life’ for your layout is to take it out on the exhibition circuit, it will hopefully get into the brochure, with picture if you’ve a good one, and the ideas and work may be remembered by visitors long after the layout itself goes in the skip.

  26. Mr.Ron from South Mississippi says:

    John, a beautiful story. I too lost my mom, dad and three wives. I am 88 and still trying to keep on top, but time is starting to catch up with me. I don’t know how much longer before I meet my creator, but I hope I will be well prepared to meet him. While I await, I try to keep busy with my HO layout. I am using Marklin track and locos and cars It has 20 turnouts that I am trying to wire up. I have spent a lot of time making buildings using Al’s paper buildings. I love to improvise as I build. All sorts of materials are incorporated as I build. All this keeps me alive so I don’t have to fret my past losses.

  27. Darryl says:

    Lovely stuff John. I am inspired to make small layouts with meaning! Best wishes for a long and healthy life.

  28. Tom says:


  29. Rich B. says:

    This man has certainly had more than his share of dilemma’s. Guess I have also but my own business I guess. Does top-notch work however and believe we all stand with him on this presentation.

    Rich, regarding

  30. Brian Olson says:

    Every day is precious. Every day.

  31. Trevor says:

    Thank you John for sharing such a moving story. Sad, but also inspiring and appreciative of the smaller things in life. Love your models and I absolutely loved the narrative. Thanks again and keep modelling.

  32. Steve Ruple says:

    Thank you for sharing your memories of your mother and your wife, GOD BLESS YOU. Memories never go away, they will always be there forever !!!!!!!!!

  33. robert dale tiemann says:

    very nice display, good job.

  34. Ken Holbrook says:

    Thanks John for your stories. You are 100% correct in your assessment as to the fragility of life. I survived a “Widow-maker” heart attack only because I was in the hospital hooked up to a bunch of wires. Since then, I was able to retire from corporate America and enjoy modeling a railroad. My wife of 40 years supports me 100% (even surprised me with a 2-6-0 Consolation locomotive. We truly need to reflect on the eternal things that are important to us and our family, and not focus so much on the temporal things that fade into the distance. Great work on your layouts John.

  35. Jim AZ says:

    Memories and artful modeling. Both important to keep moving forward and make the best and most of the future.

    Jim AZ

  36. Peter from Michigan says:

    The sun comes up, we do what we do, the sun goes down. Every day. We get into a rhythm that seems normal. Then something unexpected happens.
    The example of a straight length of track serving as a timeliness of our life. Turnouts become the events that change our lives.
    The comments from this collective group are masterful.

  37. roger turner says:

    Great story John, emotional and inspiring, I know your family is smiling and watching. Memories are an important part of our life,
    Like you I have incorporated some family and friends memories in items on my model RR and enjoy looking at them and remembering.
    You have done a beautiful job and I appreciate the high quality of your work.

    Roger in Kansas

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