HO Scale helix layout

Mark’s been back in touch with his his HO scale helix layout:

“Hi Al. Thanks for the kind words. Here is some more info. Feel free to edit it for size and reader interest.

The layout, physically located in the Las Vegas, NV area is a freelance fictional short line RR “Sweetwater & Thunder Mountain” which shares track rights with the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific and Western Pacific Railroads.

The time frame is roughly from the 30’s & 40’s which allows Steam operation through approximately the late 70’s for medium Diesel Power (depending on what I feel like running at different times) The inspiration comes from the Sierra Nevada Mt. Ranges along with the Alaska RR.

Lots of tunnels, bridges, granite rock, trees, vegetation, sheer cliffs etc. It has five major towns, Sweetwater, Eagle Mt., Sheridan Yards, Thunder Mt (which is the connecting point to Dunsmuir, CA) Boyd City (hidden) and several whistle stops – Red Rock Station and Camp Carroll. There is an operating turntable and roundhouse in the SW Yards.

The layout is in an area approximately 22’ x 20’ which includes the workshop area. The construction is open grid with risers starting at 4’ and rising to 5’ for track and just over 6.5’ total for scenery.

It is basically an around the wall scheme with a free standing 4’ wide peninsula which allows operators to “walk the canyon”.

The scenery is all done using plaster cloth over pillows of newspaper and using real rock from my back yard along with some molded and rubber rock.

There is one elongated helix and one standard helix both hidden under mountains.

Our favorite saying here is “What happens in the Helix, stays in the Helix”. However, I do have emergency access. I have some guys over and we can actually run timetable operations with a full passenger service in about 6 hours Fast Clock Time or 1 hour real time.

Electrically, there are five control panels located in strategic areas so local switching can be accomplished along with mainline passenger and freight service.

Nickel-silver, code 83 rail is used throughout with a minimum 18” radius (this fits the smaller wheel base equipment timeframe)

All turnouts are electrically thrown using Tortoise machines and most coupling/uncoupling is done with under track magnets. Control is accomplished using North Coast Engineering, is all radio controlled DCC with hand held throttles. 98% of all motive power is DCC and Sound equipped.

One really cool feature is that the Sweetwater Yards are designed to not only function as an operating yard, but can also be used as a John Allen inspired “timesaver switching puzzle” You’d be amazed at how moving 4 boxcars around into proper locations with a stopwatch running and bring grown men to their knees with exhaustion! Model Railroading is FUN!



HO signal box

model train tunnel

HO scale turnouts

HO scale helix

model train mine

HO scale helix

model train freight

HO scale helix

HO scale brake car

model train laying track

model railroad room

HO scale model railroad

A huge big thank you to Mark for sharing his HO scale helix layout.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

Oh, and don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide, if today is the day you start your railroad adventure.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layout here if that’s your thing.

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

91 Responses to HO Scale helix layout

  1. jeff says:

    Great layout

  2. Ji m says:

    Beautiful layout. Fantastic wood trestle. Western country scene is what I would like to do also.

  3. CAUFFMAN says:


  4. James Stevens says:

    Now this is what I am talking about when I say, “Detail can make or break a layout.” The detail in your layout is stunning. It makes me miss my layouts and the days when I could work on mine even more. Great job Mark.

  5. Mark Allen says:

    stunning work Mark !!

  6. longovince says:

    Seriously Amazing. Congrats on a great Layput.

  7. Mike Street says:

    Just one word, STUNNING!

  8. Jon says:

    Beautiful, one of the most detailed, realistic layouts I have ever seen. Attention to detail is just amazing. A stunning layout. We need videos. Great job.

  9. Ken S. says:

    One word, AWESOME!!

  10. Tom says:

    Part of America in miniature … how wonderful!
    Enjoy your model railroad forever!
    Thanks Mark for sharing … thanks Al for bringing the railroad to us.
    best regards,
    PS: That wood trestle bridge … the mountains … rock outcroppings … my favorites and in that order. Nicely detailed and neatly done. I was in Vegas
    for a week really enjoyed my stay. Weather was fantastic! Sierra Nevada Mountains are beautiful and majestic!!

  11. George Bauschelt says:

    The best I’ve seen. Scale, colors and detail make the composition. Great work.

  12. Stuart says:

    That is stunning, wonderful to look at. well done

  13. StJohn says:

    fantastic layout….’open grid’ construction….terrific..my fav kind of build……and the scenery is over the top…foliage is extremely life-like…..what a stunning layout and the time/period detail is perfect!!

  14. Mike I says:

    Fantastic ! I live in a small condo,so I’ll have to build in”Z” scale

  15. Michael says:

    Takes my breathe away!

  16. John says:

    Wow! Very nice! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Bob Rickert says:

    Wow!!! I am in awe. What a fantastic job Mark. I love the detail even right down to the local KFC. You have done a splendid job of putting your layout together and I hope you get to set back for a moment and enjoy it. Well done.

  18. ANDREW BURTON says:

    That’s real funny Mark my wife and kids see this and ask me why doesn’t yours look like that it’s better than cool it’s ice cold.

  19. Bullfrogeh in Ontario says:

    A fantastic layout !!! I’m currently constructing a 16′ X 16′ area for my next RR, and yours has provided further motivation to get underway. Your mountain construction is particularly enviable. And – ‘Thanks Al’ – for keeping the window partially open !

  20. John Gibson says:

    Wonderful layout. Gives us all something to strive for.

  21. TJ says:

    Very, very nice Mark. How about a movie?

  22. Bill says:

    Great layout but I’m puzzled by the KFC?

  23. Chris says:

    Amazing layout. Very impressed, the scenery and attention to detail is awesome.

  24. Robert Gevert says:

    One of the most detailed model RR’s I’ve seen in a long time!! Bravo!!

  25. john wisnieski says:

    Absolutely SUPERB !

  26. John Bos says:

    WOW is right! And this layout begs for a video Mark. A supreme example of a great layout.

  27. Bobby says:

    Great looking layout. Your attention to detail is right on. Keep it going.

  28. Gary O'Connor says:

    That is simply sensational!

    The detail is stunning. I love it all but the abandoned coal mine is my favourite part.

    You have inspired me to strive for a lot closer to perfection than I have been achieving so far.

  29. Dave Croley says:

    Very impressive layout — I can not imagine the work that went into creating such a beautiful work of art.

  30. Ralph says:

    What a splendid layout, I particularly like the abandoned tunnel and grounded maintenance car. Gives me some ideas for using some junk box stuff.

  31. One great layout,I can see you put a lot of work in to it.

  32. You have one great layout. Makes you feel great,when you step back,and look it over. Great job.


  34. MadDogBurger says:

    G-Scale? Looks like built in your Garage – What size layout are you doing? AWESOME JOB – Great Detail
    I’m just starting one – Inside & Out, Like to get some tips….
    Thanx, Mad Dog Burger

  35. MadDogBurger says:

    Love to see more pictures of ur Layout – for ideas
    Mad Dog Burger



  37. Tad Heath says:

    You should pat yourself on the back and you really should he proud of yourself cause that is a perfect layout!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  38. THOMAS says:


  39. Sam Pennise says:

    Hi Mark – A wonderful job resulting in a great looking layout. Is it possible to get a diagram of your layout? You have several scenes I would love to incorporate into my layout and having some plans with dimensions and elevations would help.
    Once again, great job. You should be very proud!

  40. Ed says:

    Great work Mark. Hard to get good modeling that shows well at track level. Our local club has a picture gallery. We are just getting started and take inspiration from this web site. View us at: ncfrailroadclub.weebly.com

  41. Bullfrogeh in Ontario says:

    What a magnificent layout. I too have an abandoned mine site; but not as nice as your presentation. I especially enjoy that ‘exposed’ helix – a great way to present some excellent quality trestle work.
    Thanks Mark, and Alex, for sharing great pieces of genuine modelling ‘art’ to us amateurs. – Dave

  42. George Ross says:


  43. Jan B says:


  44. Joe says:

    Wow !!! what a wonderful layout with natural beauty lots to learn and thanks for sharing with us

  45. paul Otway says:

    It looks so realistic.

  46. Robert says:

    I got to say this is one fantastic layout & you should try to do a video of it, would be nice too se the trains running, thanks for sharing.

  47. Jack says:

    Mark. Fantastic layout. Can you show the track plan?

  48. Ron Schultz says:

    very nice . as to the “fast clock. time I need some one to send me a copy of the scale time in HO. example 1 hr = ? HO 1/2 Hr = ? 15 min = ? 10 min = ? and o
    down 5-4-3-2-1 ??

  49. Robbie Ganzer says:

    Great layout.
    Al thanks for the e-males this year and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  50. Chris says:

    That’s one very serious train workshop you’ve got there. Looks pretty organised too – puts the rest of us to shame!

  51. sundaram says:

    Breathtaking, stunning layout. The trestle bridge is a magnificent piece of craft work.

  52. Don Rock says:

    I copied the picture of the Portal at the side of a mountain for my O Gauge. It turned out better than expected. Then I glued it to the 4″ construction foam I used for the mountain. I’ve done several scene settings like this, but this is my best to date.


  53. Austin Wilson says:

    Outstandingly very well done layout. Super amazing.thanks so much for sharing the stunning photos. Love it and I really don’t know if I ever create a layout like this one. Merry Christmas everyone. Austin in Eastern Canada.

  54. Tommy says:

    Some of the best that I’ve ever seen !

  55. Bedros Anserian says:

    Very nice and real looking scenery. Good job. Thanks and wishing you Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

  56. steve albee says:

    absolutly georgous, you are the lebron james of the model railroading scenic world. the best of the best and ive seen some nice stuff

  57. Dan says:

    Wonderful layout. I live about 100 miles south of Las Vegas on the Colorado River and have learned to love the desert. I hope your layout continues to get widespread coverage.

  58. Jim says:

    Some really great and realistic modeling. Great work.

    Jim AZ

  59. Rick (in Tomball Texas) says:

    Great layout. I am building my layout in “N” gauge with a lot of details like yours. You have given me some great ideals. Thank

  60. David McClelland says:

    Mark, it’s a work of art!!

    Conductor Dave, Dayton, Ohio.

  61. Charles Hagerty says:

    The attention to detail is specular. You are a true craftsman. Well done.

  62. Peter Theodore says:

    great work Mark! Nice everything. 2 rail ‘O’ myself. Thx for sharing. Peter in Virginia

  63. Hemi says:

    Absolutely GORGEOUS Layout man! NICE job on EVERYTHING!!!!!! VERY impressive! LOVE it. needs more STEAM on it tho! HE HE HE HE

    Keep up the GREAT WORK! ~Hemi

  64. Stephen Hart says:


  65. DJfromNJ says:

    WOW, what an excellent RR you have! Be wary of “ground contact” pressure treated. In the past, I’d used the stuff for landscaping around our house. Bottom line, it rotted. I wish you better luck than I had!!

  66. Jimsan says:

    Wow! I am from Colorado and the scenery is exactly wha can be seen west of Denver towad Fairplay/Leadville/Durango qnd Silverton areas, with old mines and narrow gauge track that was layed down in the 1800’s. The trestle is awsome, similar to the Georgetown Loop that is still in use today as a tourist ride. Seeing this drives a deep desire to take a road trip from here in Fort Worth to Denver and go four wheeling into the old mining town / ghost town areas.

  67. Mike Balog says:

    Beautful Layout, Fantastic Details,, The Warren Truss Bridge, the Trestle are inspirational. Wish you had a layout diagram so we could follow the route of the railroad. Feel sorry for the railroad worker who is stationed in raised tower in between the merging tracks in the mountains. Think in reality, the train and block orders, route schedule would govern the switch positions. Unless this was at the yard or town lead in tracks, it would be difficult of a railroad worker to reach his job site without having to ride a train there. Just an observation. Like the attention to details of the old mine and abandoned tunnel. A rusty gondola or hopper car under the chute rusting away would add to the scene. No Coal would be on the chute in an abandoned mine unless the Ghosts of the Miner’s long gone are still operating the mine Or Indiania Jones and his nemisis are operating out there. .

  68. Jerry Treich says:

    Mark, you’ve a truly excellent layout! I am curious about your switch yard, though. The turntable shot looks great but doesn’t help me visualise the yard relative to the boxcar switching. Could you send Al some pics of the yard layout or track plan? Or if they’re in your prior post, maybe Al could add a link in this one? It sounds like your yard would be a great example to help solve the issues I am starting to find with my design. Thanks & fantastic modeling!

    Jerry in New Mexico.

  69. Tim Cover says:

    Very Nice layout. I Like the mountains and the Very impressive HO trains.

  70. Ken G says:

    There are certain layouts you just want to walk into their “world”. This is one of them. Nice!

  71. Mark T. Pianka says:

    What else can someone say but FANTASTIC!

  72. Absolutely amazing scenery!

  73. Paul Francis White says:

    I live in Henderson, NV would like to stop by and see the layout. Please call 702-677-1528 if you like.

  74. Thomas Danieli says:

    Superb layout!

    I’ve been building model RR layouts since before I was 5 (1951). Your modelling surpasses anything that I have ever built!
    Tom D

  75. Mark, you’ve a truly excellent layout!
    The attention to detail is specular!!
    A video of you all at work would be good!

  76. Ken Clarke says:

    Fantastic work then add lin your beautiful photos..jaw dropping !!

  77. John Birch says:

    Stunning layout. Fantastic detail.

  78. Texas Hoosier says:

    Incredible layout, terrific detail. The number of hours spent to do this must have been off the charts…..Texas Hoosier

  79. George Zaky says:

    Thank you, thank you for that wonderful narrative describing exactly what you used for track and stuff. Your layout ranks in the top tier with all the greats and now I know what it is comprised of. Awesome!!
    Be safe
    George from LI, NY

  80. Erick says:

    Look pretty kool. I hope mine turns out as good as your.

  81. Ruben Simon says:

    Excellent work! I especially appreciate the vegetation, and that all the trees point straight upward. Living in the woods, that one thing makes or breaks a layout for me, for leaning trees reveal that it’s a model. This layout – magnificent!

  82. Bob From Towson says:

    OK Mark fess up!! These are pictures of real places, right?? Nobody and I mean nobody can make scenery that realistic !! Just kidding…Your work is absolutely amazing !!!!

  83. Craig says:

    Inspiring!! Great work!

  84. William Orton says:

    I’m in awe. Had to keep reviewing the pictures to take it all in. The job you did on the backdrop makes the layout look huge. Great work

  85. Pamela Bambula says:

    Your layout is awesome. I’d like to know how you built the curved bridge and what scale it is or was it a kit? Plus, where to buy one, if a kit. I’ve built a few, but not that big. Just curious.. thanks for sharing the awesome pictures.

  86. Kevin McArdle says:

    That curved trestle is a work of art.

  87. Roger Ringnalda says:

    Mark, your layout is the best! The scenery, the detail, the trestle, the buildings, and the multitude of other things that have been mentioned by the others. But my favorite picture is your work area. It reminds me of my work areas with every inch used and covered with pictures, storage cabinets, boxes, stacks of stuff, and it looks like no room left to work; but I’m sure you know exactly where everything is by your own “fiiling system”! Congratulations on your outstanding work… would love to see a video.

  88. Marklin ed says:

    Ed upstate NY

  89. Steve Ruple says:

    AWESOME LAYOUT MARK !!!!!, Beautiful scenery and loaded with ideas that can be added to my layout. Thank you for sharing this beautiful layout.

  90. robert dale tiemann says:

    lots of bridges and tressells, love it.

  91. Larry Schweitzer says:

    Class act! Shows devotion to detail.
    Thanks for sharing.

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