Model railroad canal scene

Jim’s been back in touch with his model railroad canal layout. It’s HO scale and 6×4:

“Hi Al;

Work on the railroad is winding down, i.e. it’s getting warm outside! I previously sent pictures showing the canal I had made of the Miami-Erie canal of western Ohio in 1908 as well as the area around it.

NW Ohio was a hot bed of the industrial revolution in the US at that time with oil being the largest industry and auto making, engine manufacturing as well as gas production all beginning to play major parts. The canal was no longer the major method of freight transportation but very much in use until a massive storm wiped it out in 1913.

The attached pictures show the completed oil well and canal boat which will fill out the scene of this part of the 6 x 4 HO layout.

The canal boat shown is based on actual diagrams I found at a local museum and is scratch built from basswood, balsa wood and modeling styrene. The scene is fiction as it shows my wife and I at the landing with our Ford model A and dog meeting our friends who at that time supposedly run a floating gaming boat. I love adding friends and family into the layout with stories made for each.

The oil rig is supposed to be part of our son’s growing oil empire, Gordy Oil. The 4-4-0 in the picture is a Southern Railway coming to visit. Eventually it will be bought and lettered Holland Odessa!

I’ve tried to provide larger pictures then last time. Hope you enjoy traveling back in time.


model railroad canal scene

model railroad girder bridge

model steam train and oil rig

HO scale 4x8 model railroad

model railroad steam canal scene

Just loved Jim’s pictures – model railroad canal scenes are few and far between. You can see how he started here.

And now on to Chris. Can anyone help?

“Hello Alastair,

Question about track fitting together.

We are building this layout using brand new o27 three rail Lionel track.
When joining two together, should they meet? or is the slight space (pins showing) normal.

Experimented using a drill bit to spread (gently) the three openings, solves the issue however this makes for a loose fit.
My impression, is to simply fit them come what may…

I’m 58 and have not spent time with trains since 1972…..

Looking forward to your advice….

Thank you,


O27 lionel track plan

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

A huge thanks to Jim. His last post really does show this hobby is all about making a start. So if you feel it’s your time to shine, the Beginner’s Guide is here.

That’s all for today folks, please do keep ’em coming.



42 Responses to Model railroad canal scene

  1. Rod Mackay says:

    I’ve never had sight of any Lionel layouts, but depending on where your railroad will be living, you might be very glad of a little room for expansion. Attics get awfully hot in summer and garages very cold in winter, for instance. On the real railway this used to be taken care of by small gaps at railjoints and the fishplates were regularly greased to allow the rails to slide slightly within them without losing alignment.

  2. AL PANGERL says:

    There should be slight gap in 0-27 track can be bent a little bye the pins as I do ! Love your set great job AL .

  3. dangerous dave says:

    Very nice Jim , that canal boat and canal is first class, makes you fell as though you have gone back in time ….with such detail ….and as said Christopher better leaving a very small gab on the rails a, leaved room for expansion , usually just put a piece of card between this will be big enough gap , then when fixed take the card out …Dangerous Dave


    Regarding the lionel track, I would expect that the pins of one section should slide into the openings of the next section so that the rails but together.

    AC Gilbert american flyer track was built on this same design which I have and the rail ends come together.

    I see you are using AnyRail to design with…me too. Best software for this effort.

    I placed a surface first, fitted to the dimensions of my benchwork. I was then guaranteed of not running off the edge during my design effort, so that it would not run off the benchwork. 027 is an ambitious scale for such a small layout. good luck.

  5. Dave Wiechecki says:

    I have done layouts with Lionel Super-O track. It had plastic RR ties that also snapped together at each end (like a ball & socket). This also left a small gap in the outside rails. Center rail (brass) for electrical had a much larger gap, was joined by a brass clip. Based on this I assume it was for expansion as well, as stated above.

  6. Dave Wiechecki says:


    Great pictures of the canal layout. Is there any chance of a track plan and/or pictures of entire layout. I have an area about 5 x 7 and I am thinking of incorporating canal/harbor area. Always looking for ideas. Thanks for the pictures you provided. Great detail.

  7. Mike Palumbo says:

    Really like the canal scene, great detail, especially the water near the front of the boat looking as though it’s flowing around it. Great job!

  8. Skip L. says:

    Beautiful canal scenes… Jim, you sure know how to make a scene really pop and be highly interesting with your fantastic detailing! Even blowing up the photos to the larger format only adds to one’s interest in the scene’s details. I swear I could see that canal boat moving!

    And as for the 027 track; as an avid collector and operator of Marx trains on 027 track, I cannot emphasize too much how you NEVER want to have “loosely” connected 027 tubular track!! Not only will it keep pulling apart and cause derailments, you will also have a great many problems trying to keep consistent current running all thru your layout!

  9. Jim Kolich says:

    Very nice layout, Jim. FYI, the car is a Model T, not an A. A’s didn’t come out until 1928. All you need now is JD Rockefeller in his fancy suit offering to buy out your son’s oil

  10. Jim Donovan says:

    The track plan is actually an old Atlas sectional track plan called ‘The Dispatcher’. It will fit on a 5 x 7 with room to spare. You can find the plan and parts listing on the Atlas website. I set up blocks so I could turn off the sidings and inner rail as needed. I use the siding nearest the front as my program section for DCC by turning all other sections off. Finally, I changed out all switches for turnouts to toggle from the Atlas snap style as they are far more reliable.

  11. Jim Marek says:

    Wow, extraordinary detail work! So nice! ✌🏻

  12. Skip L. says:

    On the 027; I’d also like to add that I think your layout design looks interesting as it gives a long run-around for the train. However you might find difficulty fitting it in your allotted space using the standard 027 length tracks. But then you can buy 1/2 length 027, and of course you can always cut your own lengths. I found I had to do this to fit in all my curves on my 4×7 board… But, as stated, the tracks need to be snugly connected. Another way to do this is to get some of the old Lionel 027 track connectors. These fit over the end ties of each track and definitely help to hold the tracks and their pins tightly together.

  13. James E.Richards says:

    WOW!!! Stunning scenery. Your water effect is incredible. Amazing.

  14. John Bennett says:

    The water is fantastic, as is the rest Keep up the good work.

  15. Jerry Birkbeck says:

    Excellent backdrops.. photographs on to a sky scene? If so how fitted?
    Thanks Jerry.

  16. Jim says:

    Very nice Jim. Great detail and very realistic scenery. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

  17. Marty says:

    Wow Jim, fantastic !! The red touring car is a Model T. Excellent workmanship.

  18. Perry Torregano says:

    May be he got the year , may be it is 1928.

    Why O-27 track? With better track available to day.

  19. Bruce Swanger says:

    I enjoy your web site I think I am going to get back into putting up another layout. I had one and it was stolen but this time I’m going HO because not enough room. I am 73 and on April 4th I am going to have another back operation which this will be number 29, so I think the trains will help me out and give me something to keep me busy. Hope you have a beautiful day talk to you later.
    Bruce Swanger from Pa.

  20. Marshall Roath says:

    If that is a Ford it is a Model T. Best modeling and photographs I’ve seen in a long time.

  21. Mike Richardson says:

    Jim, I am totally amazed at your modeling skills. The canal railroad is absolutely beautiful and so real looking. You have apparently put in a lot of time and work to create it.

  22. Brad says:

    Love the canal scene(from Akron,Ohio originally).Very well done.I would however replace the Southern loco with something that was popular in the area,in that era just to add to the realism.Excellent work

  23. Minnesota Dan says:


    Very nice work, your wife is quite the looker…you on the other hand….ha ha. Loved the Model T, but while Ford had several color options, Fire House Red was not one of them I believe, and the other colors all looked black. But, hey, it is your railroad, and the red makes the scene pop, as does the boat, the water etc.

    Kudos to you.


  24. Thomas Murphy says:

    Nice work Jim, your detail work is amazing.

  25. Lynn says:

    Jim, I love your canal. I live in N W Ohio, Lima, to be exact. I am familiar with the history of the canals, oil production and the industrial strength of this region in the early 1900. I visit the Allen county museum frequenty, and always learn a little more about all of that each time. Lima actually is located in a portion of the Black Swamp you mentioned.
    Great work. Keep the updates coming.

  26. Richard Scott says:

    Absolutely marvelous. Any chance of getting an overhead shot showing the complete track layout?

  27. RD Reske says:

    Just for your interest, “Brass” Model T Ford production ended about January 1916. However, red Model T Touring Cars were produced from 1908 until 1912. Of course, Jim’s time-period can logically be anytime from 1908 until now. Even though a storm devistated the Erie Canal in 1913, portions still remain today!

  28. Richard says:

    I have not left a reply before and I have yet to start on my own layout. I have observed many great photos and videos here and I have to say I am impressed at the work that Jim has down, looks like Jim took his time and put in an effort to detail, job well done. Make me want to start my layout real soon.

  29. dave says:

    What is the brand and model of that green locomotive?

  30. Jim Donovan says:

    The locomotive is a Bachmann Modern Spectrum 4-4-0 ‘American’ with DCC and Sound Trac. They come up for sale at special pricing in the US from Trainworld from time to time which is when I bought it for $150 US. The ‘Odessa Florida’ part of the layout, when I get that far, will feature this engine once it’s repainted with the right name (and I figure out how to do that). I also have a black B&O 2-6-0 which would have fit better in the photo but the Southern 4-4-0 just looks cool.
    When it came It was in a new box and all wrapped up but the literature said 2014. It did not run smooth so I looked at blogs and learned about a spray called DeoxIT F5. It is made primarily for electrical music instruments to improve electric connectivity. The blog said to spray it on the pick ups and wheels. I did and it now runs great…most of the time.

  31. JIM
    you are fantastic with that canal and your work really shows how well you pay attention to detail !
    I think I will try making a change to the layout I am working on for my Grandson
    to include some type of water works
    Al. I will try to make a nother instalment to John soon !
    Hope all are safe and well !

  32. John Reiskytl says:

    I have worked with Lionel 027 tubular track, then O31 for years. When new, simply insert only one of the 3 pins of the track into the next piece (eliminating the gap). Pull apart, and repeat. Do this for each pin separately. Then when you slide the two pieces together( 4th time total), they fit snugly together without a gap. Do not drill. Rarely would I see a slight gap, usually on curves. I like tubular as it reminds me of the layouts I used to see in the windows of stores at Christmas. John

  33. Dr. Bob says:

    Hi Chris! Love the layout you have. I have used LIONEL 3 rail since the 50s and over the years, the track keeps getting better and better. The pins are usually the problem with not pulling the track together. I have found that the pins can be trimmed slightly to assist in closing the gap. You don’t want gaps any further than 1/16″ of an inch because of derailing issues. The tighter the better. Some gaps will be unavoidable due to climate changes with the substructure of your base materials, this is normal and unfortunately a nightmare with sectional track. Dr. Bob

  34. Charles Hill says:

    Living near the C&O Canal in Maryland I really like this work. Good Job!

  35. Franco says:

    This is far and above the best of any artistic application on any layout I have ever seen. “The absolute BEST so far.”

  36. Kevin McArdle says:

    Beautiful job. Is the water a woodlands scenics product? Is the oil derrick a Campbell’s scale model kit. I have that kit about 30% built, but seeing it complete spurs me on to finish mine.

  37. Paul DeGrey says:

    What ever kind of car it is, it is pre 1916 as it is showing a brass radiator and they were pretty much gone by 1916.
    Beautiful layout and nice scenery work.

  38. Christopher Clarkson says:

    Your layout is so fantastic! I would love to have a layout similar to the one that you have. I have an HO scale train set, and I think that the layout that you have is bound to attract attention.

  39. Bob Horn says:

    Beautiful work on the entire layout, especially the canal. In earlier days the canal boats were pulled by horses. My great uncle piloted a canal boat and I played in part of the canal that was dried up in Sharonville, Ohio. I even found the remains of an old trunk that had fallen off one of the canal boats.

  40. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Jim that is one great looking canal outstanding job!!! Great scenery!!, Chris nice looking set up on your o27 as for the track I use tubular that I had for years along with Gargrave with wood ties you will find a slight gap. If you ever design a layout and have to cut track measure a couple times to insure you’re not making a short cut then forcing it to fit, I had a good size layout then moved and had to down size, I like the tubular track the newer is much nicer but it will cost a lot more, Let’s see your progress when completed check out OGR forum when you have a chance. God Speed!

  41. Jim Marek. Chicago says:

    Jim you did a beautiful job on the canal your attention to detail is just fantastic good job well done

  42. Ted Martin says:

    Fantastic layout. Everything looks perfect. The one thing that grabs me is the water in the canal. I’ve seen that water in canals all over the northeast. What did you use to make that water and how did you do it???

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