Lou raises his entire layout

There’s no two ways about it -get the height wrong for your layout and it’ll gnaw away at you forever. Or give you a bad back. Or both.

But where there is a will, there’s a way. Here’s how Lou raised the height of his entire layout.

“Just an idea for those who are interested. I have a room that is 16 feet x 21 feet with about 500 feet of hand laid track. The layout is already wired for 96 blocks of block detection. As i started working on scenery, I was thinking “man, I wish the layout was higher. It would give a much better perspective on the scenery”.

The layout was bolted to 2 walls, and the rest of the layout is on L-girder legs.

I decided to raise the whole layout in one lift, going up 10 inches.

I took a circular saw and cut the backdrop to the new height.

I bought 40 garage door hinges. The posts in the hinges will handle a 7/16″ threaded rod. I bought threaded rod and cut them to 18″ lengths. Mounted the garage door hinges at the bottoms of each leg with enough room underneath to fit a nut and washer.

I setup some temporary legs along the walls and prepared them before I unbolted the layout from the walls. Then you just started cranking away at each leg around the layout. Once done, I used carriage bolts to extend the L-Girder legs.
I was going to use jacks, but I would’ve needed at least 12 jacks with a 10″ throw. This was also much safer.


Lou was also kind enough to share a video of his layout. Looking forward to seeing this one finished!

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

That’s all this time folks. Please do keep them coming – and let us know your thought – please post your comments below.

And if today is the day you take those first steps on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

53 Responses to Lou raises his entire layout

  1. mr j homer says:

    very intresting, how you have done the scren,do you have a email address as wear to get the back drops ,

  2. Ol' Puffer says:

    It’s a good job there are still some geniuses out there…well done Lou.

  3. andy says:

    Impressive detection, what system are you using?

  4. Mike Street says:

    Good idea Lou, must have taken a hell of a time to wind up 40 nuts with a spanner though, especially a bit at a time for each one. I only realised a few weeks ago that my layout was too low for me now ( originally built for my Son ) at less than 3′ high !! Cheers Mike S

  5. Mike Street says:

    Hi Alastair, thanks for all your good work, just a quickie, your second link doesn’t lead to this item, but to the previous one about inclines. Thought I would let you know as some people will be puzzled, Cheers Mike S

  6. Ian Mc Donald says:

    unbelievable way of raising your layout on your own well done. the computer screen was amazing to watch right out of my ability.hope to see some follow up. great work its an amazing what i have seen on this site. thank you for sharing.

  7. robin biles says:

    Extraordinary. I am a perfectionist but this reaches new heights. Will it ever be finished to your complete satisfaction?.

  8. Bob says:

    There is no end to the creativity I see on this great site! This is the ONLY place to find ideas and photos like yours. Great idea!!

  9. Lou Santello says:

    The backdrops are 1/4″ masonite. I hand rolled the base blue color with standard Home Depot house paint. I airbrushed the clouds using a combination of Titanium white, transparent grays and some blue. I used card stock to airbrush “apparent lines” to create sunbeams. The rest was done just whispy. I did hear however a cool trick I have not tried yet. Take cotton batting and pull it apart unevenly. Spray through the cotton. The paint will hit the backdrop at different levels creating a more realistic 3d concept

  10. Lou Santello says:

    As far as the touch screens, there are 7 10″ touch screens around the layout. I am in the automation business. I used a proprietary control processor to control relay cards. The inputs are detected using input cards. There is no Windows or Mac PC running in the background. The system is 100% programmable to include routing, detection, signaling. iPads or iPhones may also be used as a controller. Each individual touchscreen may be locked out when a dispatcher wants full control. The dispatcher MAY allow unlocking one panel in an area where an operator may need control without allowing any others simultaneously. Each processor is capable or 36576 outputs and 18288 inputs. Initial boot up time is 6 seconds. Individual outputs or groups of outputs may be thrown based on a button press or input detections. As far as speed, we can read 18288 inputs once every second and we can throw all 36576 outputs in 643 milliseconds. Of course, that’s the electronic side,,, the tortoise motor will then take whatever time it normally does. The turnouts are detected separately so if any rolling stock is on the turnout, the system will not allow the tortoise to throw. We are also considering bringing the turnout point rails back into the system as an input. This will give us TRUE feedback of whether the rails are in fact satisfied when thrown

  11. Sach says:

    Brilliant, Lou. even though it may have taken some time to wind up the 40 nuts, it still less time than taking the whole thing apart and a lot cleaner to boot.
    The world needs more problem solvers like you.


  12. Graeme Bregani says:

    Thanks Lou.
    I will use your idea to lower my layout to a ‘sitting’ height. Very useful to me.
    What height have you used?

    Thanks again.

  13. Larry Sidener says:

    Did I miss what the new height is? I would ne interested. Thanks…

  14. Gene Turner says:


    Ingenious method of raising the layout on your own.

    The electronic side of things is fantastic and I would truly like to see a detailed article on your system in Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine or MR. But I would sincerely love to read all about your layout and particularly the automation / Block occupancy / control system.

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. paul Otway says:

    neat bench work, I like the idea of raising and lowering it.

  16. THOMAS says:


  17. Lou Santello says:

    The original height was 43″. I went up to 53″. It’s a little high, although I’m OK with it. I personally think 50-51 is really nice.

  18. IVOR HANN says:


  19. Mark Hawk says:

    Lou what a great job !!! I started my set out at 48″ so I could just sit on a bar stool and play when I wasn’t tearing up to put in something different. When I finally go kicking and screaming in to the digital era on my trains I will have to contact you or someone as experienced to help me go digital.

  20. Christine says:

    Just think how cool it will be when hes done.

  21. dave says:

    I would say he has better block control than most REAL railways !!

  22. Robert Bouskill says:

    Lou, great job on your layout and block system. enjoyed seeing a hi tech layout in operation.

  23. george ksycki says:

    that’s a very ingenious idea.

  24. theunis says:

    hi lou yes i want to asking something too everyone talks about inches but in south africa we use milimeters what is the incline in milimeters on one flexitrack please everyone got there own idea how to build a layout in mountains with curves bridges and tunnels and how do i contact u have u got a email adress please kindly theunis

  25. Lawman5643 says:

    I LOVE your layout! I’m new to the game & would love to build something similar, except on a smaller scale. How much track would I need, are those click lock tracks any good for large layouts. feel free to email me to offer any advice, help.

  26. steven stclair says:

    Layout and sidings are excellent and touch screen is superb.

  27. like what i have been using to wire things up is the pack cords form a Bailey system that was removed from a Papermill and it is color coded which is a plus and for main power i used number 10 automotive wire and THE terminal blocks from a mill that some where free others not it cost me dearly from the same mill a 40 ouncer here and there all adds up when you don’t drink any more its the terminal blocks that use the flat mounting bracket there the best i like them a bit more then the older style but much more reliable once again thank lou and big al keep them coming

  28. DANIEL o WISEMAN says:

    great work and like the rest of some folks I would like email address of any one that would like to talk about there ideas but I have asked for emails for years and have never got one from this site , thanks dan o

  29. Frank Flesch says:

    Very clever!

  30. Swampy says:

    A engineering masterpiece .

  31. Doc says:

    Please give us the program you used for block detection.

  32. David says:

    So did I miss it or what was the original height and the final newly raised height? Nice work, REALLY nice work. Congrats. David in SC

  33. Lee Barry, CEO LZPMRR says:

    my question is how rich are you people to be able to afford all those computers and the dcc systems for your engines. Everytime I turn around my computer quits working and I have to shut it down as I can’t afford to hve it worked on. Now I like the idea of controlling all my engines/turnouts/layout lights but just don’t have the thousands of dollars to invest in it. When I think back over the last 30-40 years and being in Lionel,N scale & now Z scale I wonder about trying being retired on SS a small VA hdcp check and wonder how would I ever afford those $300 to $600 Z scale dcc ready engines or not ready ones. I don’t like to say it but model railroading has gotten itself into a tizzie the same as N ASCAR, they have overpriced themselves out of the normal race fazns’ wallet. Model Railroad has done the same. I more than likely have the last model trains, Z scale (as is my layout) one MTH O gauge N&W 611 J 4-8-4 steam engine and 3 passenger cars. Afew N scale trains, Kato N scaled track. The MTH N&W set includes track,,remote and o gauge switches. Lee in SW Virginia

  34. Cary B says:

    Nice job of lift engineering Lou, Great layout, please keep Al posted with progress.

    Cary B

  35. Jerry mays says:

    The most interesting post I’ve seen yet. Good job.

  36. Mike says:

    Hi Lou, You demo of using the controlled blocks was excellent. I as I am many others would like to know how it can be duplicated, is the software an open source or purchased. Can it be programed for a smaller system – you have raised a ton of questions that I and I am sure others have. That was a great idea on how increase you bed height.
    Please share more with us. Mike in BC

  37. Terry Miller says:

    I’m with Lou in Virginia about the high costs of model rr. Most equipment is just out of my comfort zone….however to keep myself sane I have a collection of MR magazines from the 60 and 70s and like to go back to that time to see what trains costs then —and of course wish I had bought them at the time. lol

  38. Joe Touchette says:

    Hi Lou,
    Great job!

    Just building my retirement layout and thinking about the height.
    What is the final height of your layout?


    Joe T.

  39. Joe Kincaid says:

    Lou,, Nothing short of , not only brilliant, but innovative and ingenious as well. This one might very well go down as the eighth madelrailroading wonder of the world.
    I used scissors jacks and blocks to level and raise a bookshelf railroad on 12’x 1’x 1” soft pine, but that doesn’t even come close to you.
    You certainly win the WOW factor of the year in my book.

  40. Henry Betz says:

    Great solution. You have also solved the problem of leveling adjacent pieces of the layout.

  41. Scott Mandelup says:

    Great job. What height did you end up with

  42. Jeff Taylor says:

    Lou, great job on raising your layout, I’m sure your back thanks you. So I’m currently designing my layout. I really LOvE the touchscreen display and program!! Is this something that I could purchase? I have been looking for something just like that, any possibility of making the program available for purchase? I LOVE IT!!!!

  43. Stephen says:

    Very good info to have. However, you don’t indicate what the original height was, and that would be very helpful info to have. Thanks.

  44. Fred Driver says:

    I have put my entire layout on adjustable stands I bought at ALDI. Total cost of about $100 Australian, but I can have it any height I want with a bit of adjustment – but why would I.

  45. Andrew Aves says:

    Wow! How technology has advanced. I know I am a dinosaur and this amazing touch screen with track sensors is proof. But my model railway is the one given to me by my father 65 years ago and it is still running – manual points (switches) and all. Andrew in Oz

  46. The leveling system is nothing short of amazing! — that is great engineering! — it just shows that “everything great started as a single thought in someone’s mind”! — and that block system takes train location to the next level for sure!!

  47. Will in NM says:

    Great job Lou! Very clever use of hinges and threaded rods. For my small layout I just bought a motorized adjustable height desk and set my layout on top of it. That way, I can lower it to about 30 inches or raise it to 53 inches with the push of a button. Of course, that wouldn’t work for a large layout like yours.

    Lee in Virginia, I agree the model railroading hobby has gotten much more expensive in the past few decades, but we’ve also gained a lot more operating possibilities with the advent of DCC and sound and smoke capabilities that make our model railroads more realistic. Back in the 50’s and 60’s you had to build almost everything from scratch or kits or pay big bucks for the imported brass locomotives. Now just about everything is ready-to-run and built to a higher level of accuracy and detail than most of us could have achieved back then. You can still do model railroading on a budger these days but you need to be creative and do more of the work yourself like so many of the contributors to this site do.

  48. Scott in NEBRASKA says:

    Thanks for sharing this! Very creative idea using the garage door hinges to lift the layout! Well done.

  49. Michael Wilkinson says:

    So at what height did you raise your layout off the floor?

  50. Wilf says:

    Clever idea and, by the way, excellent benchwork. Looks as if you were a professional carpenter.

  51. William Orton says:

    Awesome layout and supporting electronics. One thing I may have missed in the video…what happens when another train tries to encroach a block that’s in use? I’m guessing your system will shut that train down til the block is clear. I appreciate the thought and work that went into integrating all the components. Great work.

  52. David A Gertz says:

    Very nice work! What type of block detection are you using on your layout? I was considering using load/ current type in opposed to optical, however much of my rolling stock wheelsets are non-conductive plastic.

  53. MatiSon says:

    For those who are upset that they cannot afford all of the new technology that has raised the prices of many model trains over the past few decades: You really don’t need all of those newer things to enjoy yourself. I have been using straight DC for years, and while it is slightly different than DCC, I don’t consider it to be worse.

    There’s also the used market, and you can get good deals if you constantly monitor auction sites, estate sales and other places that deal with used equipment.

    Just like with everything else, you don’t have to keep up with the Jones’ in order to enjoy things in life. One of my favorite things is to take an old locomotive apart and repair/recondition It. The hours tend to fly by while I am caught up in doing something positive, and often times, I sell these units and save towards something else that I want to buy, like a trackside model or a newer locomotive.

Leave a Reply

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