John’s U shaped HO layout

“Hi Al

This is my first post. I have been building my first railway in Hornby 00 and am looking for ideas on how to build a canal scene with lock. I have purchased the lock walls with the double gates from Langley Models. However my imagination for model building is not good so I am looking for help from your readers.

Here are a couple of photos of where I’m at. It’s building the lock I’m struggling with. How to build around it to show the different levels. Hope someone can help.




Well, finally got started on my HO layout after 10 years of planning in my head, and some on paper.

The eventual layout will be “U” shaped and be 15′ X 11″ or so. I’ve started building it in sections in my shop, but the main portions will be built in place. It will be Appalachian mountain railroading, Virginia and Kentucky, in no particular time period. Coal mines in the mountains, and factories in the cities.

My goal is to have the railroad look like God made the landscape first, and then people built railroads instead of the other way around, with all the engineering problems the real railroad guys had.

So far I have started on what I think will be a center-piece of the scenery, a valley which goes from 40″ high to nearly the floor, and three bridges which go across it. So far 1 bridge is 90% done. My inspiration for this first module is the American iconic railroad scene known as “the Keddie Y” in Keddie, California at the end of the beautiful Feather River canyon– a picture attached. I’ve been there a few times and it’s an engineering marvel.

The tracks are nearly ready to be secured to bridge 1, but no landscaping, trees, bushes, dirt etc. is done yet. The scenery is hard-shell plaster, actually dry-wall compound, over “recycled” metal window screen

If you are interested, I’ll be sure to send you more as the module is completed, I’m on travel for a few months, so the updates may be slow in coming.



Baltimore, MD”

A big thanks to Bob, Steve and John.

Loved the imagination behind John’s layout – can’t wait to see the updates.

That’s all for today folks. Keep ’em coming.

And don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide if you want to get going on your own layout.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

24 Responses to John’s U shaped HO layout

  1. Tom Lawton says:

    Lock for canals are more than cuttings and bridges for railways. They happen where the hill gradient is so great, that the engineers had to change the levels. Often, they will have done the cutting/embankment thing before they get to the lock. But, of course, there can be no gradient (at all) on a canal, so the embankments are more common.
    So, having stated the obvious, you will need a hill, but can have the hill localised to the canal if that helps with the shaping. The high end tends to be On an embankment , and the low end in a cutting, while the hill slowly conforms to the canal level.
    Interesting problem, thanks for bringing it up.
    Regards, Tom
    Ps check the real world for examples, of course!

  2. Lucas de Wet says:

    Bob, if you can get find the TV series “Canal Walks with Julia Bradbury”, you’ll get a lot of inspiration and examples of how the locks were built and used on the canals. As far as I can tell it was broadcast on BBC Four, but not being in Britain, I cannot watch them on the BBC site.

  3. Rudy says:

    Fantastic! I wish I had the talent.

  4. Frank White says:

    Bob, you seem to have your canal on one level. You need to raise the upper length and make an embankment down to the rail track. don’t forget to add a tow path on one side of the canal, best on top of the embankment. also, you appear to have you’re lock gates pointing in the wrong direction. The gates should open towards the upper level so the upper water pressure will hold the gates shut. The gates open into a recess in the side walls of the lock.
    Hope this helps. regards, Frank

  5. Richard Standing says:

    The Kennet & Avon Canal is above railway level near Monkton Combe (the bridge carrying the canal over the railway can be briefly seen in ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’!) – you may find some inspiration there regarding appropriate scenic treatment. BTW – is the arch in the background a bridge or a tunnel? The arch looks too big for a tunnel, and I wouldn’t expect a down lock just before a canal enters a tunnel.

  6. Chet Karlewicz says:

    Nicely done!

  7. Floyd Buwa says:

    I like the pictures of the small details. That is great and helpful. But you talked about the layout and I do not see a layout. That is the whole point. I would like to see one picture. I can appreciate that. Thank you for all of the helpful hints.

  8. Roy Forbes says:

    Really love that scary bridge. Even on Halloween I wouldn’t care to go over it in real life. ha ha.

  9. Mike Pettruzzelli says:


  10. david loree says:

    would like to know where John got the material for the girders,etc. in his bridge. nothing like that available in Canada, and have not seen anything like it on the web. would appreciate an email from anyone that has that info. excellent bridge structure.

  11. Leonard says:

    Know what you mean about all the planning. I’ve been playing with a “virtual” layout in AutoCAD while collecting bits and pieces. Love the high bridge! Planning a deck truss myself.

    You might google the Soo Locks in Michigan on the St Mary’s River. There’s only a 20 foot difference so you might be able to work that in.

    Thanks for the pics!

  12. I like the fact your modeling the Keddie area as there is some very good modeling challenges especially the Y’ itself. looking forward to your follow ups and enjoy the travelling.

  13. Lawrence Phipps says:

    Hi Bob
    As said in the other comments your canal is on ONE LEVEL to make it easy you could cut away the base board on the lower level on the shape of the canal, then fit the cutout back but about 1-2 inches lower than the actual baseboard, this will give you your two levels
    Best of luck and love the bridge

  14. Paul Selwyn Otway says:

    Nice bridge

  15. Barry Read says:

    John, that bridge is a masterpiece. Credit to you and your skill.

  16. Gareth Andrews says:

    Outstanging work John.

  17. Tim Morlok says:

    Great pictures All. John’s bridge and parts look similar to those available from Micro Engineering of Fenton, MO 63026.

  18. Matt says:

    Very nice. Can we see a layout diagram?

  19. Rod Mackay says:

    The lock gates are facing the right way, assuming the higher level will be in the foreground where the jar of ballast is sitting. Those sorts of gates with the aperture under the balance beam, are usually meant to act as backup weirs (although there’s usually a small weir in the canalside above the lock and a bywash channel running round it to the lower level) so this determines your maximum water height above the lock. I have used various things for water: perspex sheet painted watery colours underneath – looked too hard and shiny even for a canal; liquid resin – found its way out of the masking through the tiniest cracks, took weeks to set and smelled like rotting fish, but pretty good result as it was meant to be clear lake water; and hardboard painted and varnished and rippled and stippled as it was setting – too smooth for sea, the ripples all flattened out, but probably OK for a canal, also quite cheap and easy.

  20. Bob Lipscomb says:

    Thank you all for the responses regarding the canal issues. I liked the idea of cutting away the base board but unfortunately the board is attached to a work bench around three sides of the shed so not sure that works. However I’ll keep at it and send photos with an update.
    Thank you all

  21. Robert Brady says:

    Talk about a gorge great creativity. Love it!

  22. Don Jennings says:

    Two things; 1. why do bridge supports HAVE TO be on land?
    ” I ran into problems with where the bridge tower legs would land (can’t be in the water!)”
    2. your bridge shows it at steep incline ?

  23. June says:

    John, Noticed scenery. what are you using as a back support? and how is it attached to the benchwork? I am just starting out on this long adventure.

  24. Scott says:


    The Mississippi River has several locks and dams without the need for steep gradients. Check out google earth for alma Wisconsin for a real world example. Keep dreaming and model it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *