Ken’s American Flyer layout

“Hi Al,

Some time ago I wrote you about the American Flyer layout I was working on. It’s running now so I thought I’d send along a story and pictures.

In the mid-1950s, my Dad got a pre-war Lionel Standard Gauge freight train. He built a figure 8 with connecting tracks and mounted it all to a board he could raise up to the basement ceiling with ropes and pulleys.

It would come down regularly for my brother and I to play with. But the old Lionel proved to be a bit fragile and I remember my Dad soldering together broken pot metal parts. Eventually my Dad sold the set-up and we were without a train.

In the early 1960s, my Dad bought us boys an S gauge American Flyer set. It was a simple figure 8 with a trestle set. We were older now and spent most of our playing time seeing how fast we could do the figure 8 without coming off the tracks. We were getting ready for bigger toys – cars!

The train got packed up and I took it when my parents moved. In the early 1990s, I had a son and decided to set it up once again. Being pre-internet and eBay, we’d go to train shows in the Chicago area and buy equipment.

We built a fairly large set-up, but I made several mistakes. Altho I worked on several sheets of plywood built in a frame, the boards were only a couple of feet off the floor.

A couple of years were spent fixing old equipment, building and wiring, something I really enjoyed (being an engineer) but wasn’t all that much fun for my son. By the time it was running, the train was competing with video games and was once again packed away.

In the 2010s, I built a house in Wisconsin with a large basement. I had a grandson and decided to build a new layout (my enjoyment) for him and his eventual sibs (one more grandson now) to run. I wanted a train set that was big enough and strong so they could handle and enjoy it.

This time, I built a 12’ x 14’ board at the proper height and planned the layout. My brother has a company that manufactures high quality connectors so he built all the electrical connectors for me. With eBay, I bought various old operating equipment, engines, etc.

Some of the buildings are “Tramp Art” made out of old cigar boxes. You’ll see the station and power plant say “Wilson Park”, a nod to the northwest side of Chicago.

As you can see, the layout is very “old school”. In no way does it compare with the beautiful scenery and towns you show every day on your daily emails. Being an engineer, the joy for me was to repair the old equipment and have it run again. The AF equipment from the ‘50s and ‘60s is well designed, simple and well built. A few electric motors are used for everything. And unless it was played with extensively, almost everything can be rebuilt.

Ken
Ephraim, WI”

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american flyer train layout




A huge thanks to Ken for sharing his layout.

I do love reading about them – especialy when I recurring theme pops us: recapturing that childhood fun and magic.

And there is a line in Ken’s narrative that really struck a chord with me:

“In no way does it compare with the beautiful scenery and towns you show every day on your daily emails. Being an engineer, the joy for me was to repair the old equipment and have it run again.”

I know exactly what he means and it got me thinking. I’m always banging on about this hobby is about making a start. But I’m going to add to that from now on:

Your layout can be whatever you want it to be – it’s your world. Have fun.

Let me expand on that a little bit. Here’s an email I got from Uwe, commenting on alayout from a while ago:

“Hi, its a common problem in model railroading but very apparent in this one, there is virtually no room above the tunnels so that trains are thundering through the basement of houses.

Regards, Uwe”

Uwe is right – technically. But I think the fun of creating your own world is logic and physics no longer apply if that’s your wish.

Yes, it’s a real joy to see a photo realisitc layout. But I also enjoy the other ones.

I’d love to hear your comments on this – just scroll down to the bottom to let me know your thoughts.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide is here if you want to create your masterpiece without all the mistakes.

Best

Al

PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here

34 Responses to Ken’s American Flyer layout

  1. David says:

    Rule 1 always applies!

    It is your railway have it as you wish. There are many levels of sophistication. Some layouts you will love , others not so but it is the enjoyment they give that is important. I am having lots of help and advice from an experienced modeller, so I will not be able to claim it is all mine but the pleasure is in the creating.
    The big buzz is when the trains run no matter what the scenery looks like.

  2. JACK F MASARIE says:

    Love to see what folks do with the larger scales (I’m Lionel/”O”). Enjoyment is the
    key. That others enjoy/appreciate is just a nice “plus”. Creativity, through “”making
    do”, improvising, repairing are what keeps us thinking, moving, LIVING. Including
    the youngsters (regardless of video games, etc.) is an expression of love for them,
    as well as our love of “the hobby”. I AM HAPPY AND PROUD TO SAY: “Yes, I
    still play with trains”

  3. Graham Smith says:

    I love stories like this, when people revisit their childhood and build the layouts they wanted but couldn’t have then. It’s all part of the fun of model railways where you can build what you want.

  4. Eric Rayner says:

    Al. I totally agree with your sentiments re: being happy doing your own thing with your layout. What I hate about some peoples views, is they tell you you’ve done something they don’t approve of, sorry this is my layout not yours, if yours is so perfect why not show it to the rest of us so we can criticise your layout. I love to see all the different layouts shown on your amazing site, no matter how big or small they are. I try never criticise others efforts and will always try help others if needed. Well said Al.

  5. NJ Mark says:

    Those photos brought back some fond memories. My brother and I shared a Lionel set in the mid 1950’s. We had a few buildings and a tunnel. Most of all we had fun. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. Cheers! NJ Mark

  6. Chris Sylvester says:

    That’s a very cool layout going old school with the trains takes me back when they made model trains better. Thanks for sharing.

  7. jacques zanin says:

    you can build a lay out any size to any scale for any price. the thing that makes it good is the love that you build into it .

  8. RalphBerry says:

    That is the secret of it all, making it how you want it.
    There is a precedent for trains running through the “basements” of houses.
    The line into Grand Central Station in New York City runs through what would otherwise be the basements of buildings in Park avenue.

  9. I totally agree with your sentiments!!
    I love stories like this, when people revisit their childhood and build the layouts they wanted but couldn’t have then!
    That is the secret of it all, making it how you want it.

  10. Bill Garity says:

    Love the layout.
    I have a similar layout built with my grandkids. My Lionel 027’s from the 1950’s and 60’s are once again coming back to life. With the help of the internet and Train Shows, parts are being replaced and these old relic’s are running again.
    The “boundary commission” (my wife) has granted us a “permit” to establish an L shaped layout in my “man cave”. Basically 2 sheets of plywood gives us 2 loops and a point to point with turn around loops. The later has a half set of treasles to elevate one of the turn arounds to an elevated section thru “the mountain”.
    The mountain is all “old school” . Plywood slab for the elevated train loop with screen and plaster for the scenery.
    Just like the 60’s when I was a kid.
    Next visit from my grandson, we will paint the mountain and lay out Plastic-ville.

  11. Larry Mlynek says:

    Great layout. you should be proud of your results.

  12. Bruce says:

    Thank you Al.
    I have had layouts since 4 yrs old. Most were small to mid-size for our children and grandkids. But the large one to be built is vivid in my mind and I enjoy it.
    Family moves, retirement and the given layout area in each location simply allow ones imagination to create endless layouts.
    Now in our “retirement?” home for a couple of years, I have allocated an area to clear of packed boxes. Now it’s time to create another new train world.
    Long live the enjoyment of model trains of all gauges.
    Thank you again Al.

  13. Dwight says:

    I too had a rather extensive American Flyer train set as a kid back in the sixties. I recognize the moving cattle yard! I also had the moving people passenger station, a mail car that would snatch a mail bag from a trackside pole, etc. Unfortunately, my brother and I were pretty hard on the S scale, and I ended up giving the remnants away to a vendor at a train show, just last year. Good memories!

  14. Sid Pratt says:

    Looks like you have a very busy basement but you made room for your trains and that’s good. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Bob Baselice says:

    I love the simplicity and playability of this layout.
    Something the kids can put their hands on and not destroy.
    Just having fun with it, is what this hobby is all about!
    Very well done!

  16. Bob Melville says:

    I enjoyed seeing a layout that reminded me of the Lionel trains that my brother and I had as boys. Just a few Plastic Ville buildings two turnouts, a crossover, and a train set sparked our imaginations and we had hours of fun. Alas, we sold it all in 1960 for the princely sum of $5.00 to move into the more modern gauge of HO . Recently I bought a new Lionel train set that I set up on the dining room table when my nieces and nephews come over. They enjoy the train as a toy even without scenery. Imagination and a train equals fun.

    Keep up your great work Al. I enjoy seeing all the layouts you post.

    Best regards.
    Bob Melville

  17. Richard Coerse says:

    Model railroading is a hobby that offers many different pleasures to many different individuals. I am currently scratch building a hobo shack to add to my layout. It will require some planning to rearrange a place on my layout to “find a home” for this structure. I am enjoying the challenge of finding scraps from my trash box to make my creations unique. Working in N-scale offers new challenges for a senior citizen of 78 years. As an example, I wanted to put a sheet metal patch on the hobo shack roof. I was going to use a scrap of aluminum foil but aluminum foil had a thickness that did not look right. Where can I find something else to use? A couple of days passed and I saw a child opening a pack of chewing gum….aahhh, that’s it, I asked him if I could have his Juicy Fruit gum wrapper. It was VERY THIN aluminum foil laminated to an equally thin paper. I tore a patch of proper size to cover the hole in the roof, glurd it down and used some of my Testors acrylic weathering paints (engine grime and rust colors) which I watered down and the gum wrapper was now a roof patch. These are the kind of challenges that I enjoy in the hobby

  18. Tony, Kitty Hawk, NC says:

    Ken-
    Fantastic old school layout! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Rob McCrain says:

    I think it is a terrific layout. It looks fun and rugged enough for even small children to enjoy. Every layout is different, they reflect the person’s history and imagination.
    Rob McCrain Farland Howe

  20. Philip pridmore says:

    Just a remark on Uwe’s comment about basements. In Great Britain not all houses were built with cellars/basements. They were and still are built on concrete slabs. Some of them do have trains thundering along under your feet.
    As you say, it’s your railway kingdom and you can do what you want.

  21. Dan Hulitt says:

    I believe our first trains were AF, then adding Lionel. My favorite AF was my Blue Comet diesel. If was fashioned after an Alco PA, still one of my favorite engines. Some of the benefits of these larger scales was the availability of operating accessories. and I see Ken has several featured on his layout. I still have some fuzzy bottomed people that would vibrate in and out of the car at the station. Thank you Ken and Al for a trip to yesteryear.

    MN Dan

  22. Ross Kerr says:

    Great to see an American flyer layout like this that is basically trains and buildings, very light on the “scenery”. I am there now also after pulling my original set out of storage a few years ago. A nod here to my wife who has encouraged me. Have added way more to it than I had expected, but the fun of setting things up and operating can’t be beaten. It’s a hobby, not an investment. The operative word is “fun”.

  23. Mike Matejka says:

    You should be proud – well done, very old-school, but the multiple routes and loading and unloading accessories will make this one a lot of fun and memorable for not only yourself, but the grandkids. It’s all about fun, not perfection, and however you achieve it is wonderful. I’m envious of your first photo with the wiring system — I’ve never been able to move beyond twisted spaghetti wiring!

  24. Richard H Chapple Sr says:

    Such a very nice layout, a work of good art in its own right…well done.
    And great comments too. I have always said I like trains even if it is Fisher Price trains. My very first trains were wood shaped blocks with litho paper glued to the sides and no real working wheels. Even simple trains I made with the old American Bricks, 2 long bricks represented a box car, 2 long bricks turned over was a hopper car, one long with one short in the middle was a tanker, one long with a short on the end was a caboose, One long brick alone was a flat car, turned over it was a gondola. and one long brick with a short one moved one set of knobs back served as a diesel, putting together a long and a short with another short and long on top was a passenger car.. I then had switching freight yards. We also made trains from manilla folders like old paper building kits, drawing the cars out, cut, fold, and glue. Creativity, imagination, all manner of skills, sharing, loving, learning, teaching, staying active mentally and physically, I still believe this hobby is among the greatest of hobbies ever.
    Ken’s layout is inspiring. I can’t wait to see who Al publishes next.

  25. Art Romano says:

    I too was a ‘Flyer Kid’. My dad and I had a 10 x 10 board in the basement with at least 3 trains running at once. Mom would have to yell down at us to come upstairs for dinner but it was so loud with all the chuffing and other noises we didn’t hear her most of the time. So much fun.

  26. Gary Mohigh says:

    Thanks Al for sharing this American Flyer layout. My parents purchased AF trains for me as a child. I still have all but one of the engines, all of the other trains, and all of the Plasticville buildings. Over the years, I have added more AF engines, cars, and accessories. I have fond memories of the 10′ x 16′ layout in the basement of our Chicago NW side home. It was simple, but it was my corner of the world. Thank you Mom, Dad, and Uncle Al for introducing me to the Model Railroad hobby.

  27. Fred Svoboda says:

    This reminds me a lot of my Lionel layout of the 1960s, which never got to the stage of having beautiful scenery but that did have a lot of switching and operating accessories. (In one version it actually hung from the ceiling above my bed, let down by a winch when I wanted to play with it.)

  28. Joseph Plankinton says:

    Ken, It is a great looking layout. I also run S and O gauge. I agree with the other comments , it is what you want so enjoy it. My looks a lot like your layout and I enjoy my. Joseph

  29. Hendrik Gelderloos says:

    I totally agree that your layout can be whatever you want it to be!! It should be fun to build and to run trains. It is based on your space, resources and imagination. It seems to me that some train modelers take the hobby too serious and expect perfection in scenery, timeframe, and operations that are specific to a real town or scenery and are copied from pictures. Some will criticize layouts that don’t follow their rules or standards. I like seeing how people use their imagination to create their own layout with minimal resources, space and money and enjoy the hobby. Please continue to show all the different layouts from diverse backgrounds. Thanks for sharing pics and videos with all of us.

  30. I enjoyed his AF layout. I had one also, it brought back fond memories. I’m starting an HO layout myself. It’s still in the planing mode. love the beginners guide.

  31. Peter J Accardi says:

    Ken
    Most happy to see a layout, I can honestly really relate to. I myself, am a
    “beginner again” with a starting point of track a transformer,, two trains, and some purchased buildings and other accessories such as lights and trees.
    (Some would say a rather good starting place.)
    Before I even lay a foot of track, I have to ready my new “man cave” the upper level of a garage.( insulation, wallboard, heat- a/c unit, all need installation first)
    so yes, a rather challenging starting place. At this point, cannot even work during the winter months. Will keep everyone posted. Pete

  32. I like this layout very much. It looks like a fun setup. It looks highly operational and one that I would be glad to have. I was given a Lionel 027 set for Christmas when I was eleven(1947). I still have it and it runs around the top of the walls in my train room. I decided to go with HO for my table type layout, Some day I will present my layout for the group to see,

  33. Andrew.Aves says:

    Your model railway may be a simple toy train going round in a circle on a table top or a precision engineering masterpiece. It may be an accurate photograph of reality or it may be artistic fantasy. There is no one size, shape or style fits all and that is what makes this such a great hobby. A big THANK YOU to Al for bringing so much of this diversity to our computer screens – Andrew in Oz

  34. Richard Boyd says:

    Enjoyed seeing this layout. I too am a Flyer collector. Had a layout with my brother when we were kids and spent many-many hours running them. Gave it all away to a neighborhood kid when I was 24 and regretted doing so a hundred times. When I was 35, I found a small AF set in a trash can at the local dump and took it home, set it up and it ran!!! At that point, I have been adding to my collection whenever I find something in S,O27,or O. After 35 years, now age 70, I’m ready to build a layout in a space above my new garage. It’s nice to hear so many people still do this. (My latest thrill was to see the Big Boy 4014 running)

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