N scale steam

John’s been in touch with his N scale steam layout:

“Al, here is some stuff on my permanent, ancient N gauge layout.

It is in a basement space it’s N scale 25×12. That space also include my shop, the boiler, water heater, electrical and water services.

Five power packs run the railroad, spread over the two rooms.

Running a train takes some time and a bit of walking between rooms. There is room for only two or three guests at any time. But five operators can work the line, and it can mimic operation of a 1950’s class 1 system.

It has local and through freight services, commuter services and through passenger services.

It is point to loop, thus trains go somewhere and come back. When they get to the eastern terminal they must be switched to go the other way.

As many of your readers have already established, N gauge gives you the opportunity to do a lot in a relatively small space.

My house is not large thus, the basement is somewhat confined and “she who must be obeyed” allocated only one half of the space to my toys. Thus the lay out had to share the allocated half with in the furnace, water heater, electrical service and my shop.

When we moved to this home, the material which arrived with us included the remains of a 4×8 layout first built 1968 in Washington, DC. Port Jervis Yard and part of Hornel Yard of the current lay out are made from that original effort.

The New York, Erie and Western, was installed in the basement in 1977-78. Its general track lay out has not changed much in all that time. Most of the scenery is that old. I am not a good photographer, an issue less important with standard gauge, so Al you may not wish to use this material as the photography is poor. It is very hard to photograph small things and get the background in focus. I have generally not succeeded.

That said, here it is, my n scale steam layout.

The E&W is a point to loop railroad based very loosely on the Erie, the line I worked on during the summers from 1959 to 1965.

The layout has a main line which is about 7.5 scale miles from the terminal to the mid point of the loops.

It is two tracks in commuter territory, about 1/4 of the line, and single track with passing sidings beyond. Thus, it is more like the New York Susquehanna and Western than the Erie, but no one is left to know the difference.

There are five holding loops at the west end and three yards. A branch from the eastern yard reaches the port where, as with the Erie, lighters and car floats complete the trip to New York City, one of the few major cities in the World to remain isolated from direct full access to a continental rail system.

Running west, the line crosses over two major rises causing both east and westbound trains to tackle significant long grades.

Starting from the west.

n scale steam valley train

Eastbound freight exiting the western loops. Most through trains need two locomotives. Trains are limited to about 17 cars due to tracking issues on curves on grades. The glory of N gauge is the ability to produce scenes like this, with trains looking small.

n scale steam train bridge

This is the Lake City Limited eastbound west of Hornel, site of the western yard. The dark line in the scenery is a window which, in theory, opens. There has been no need for over 35 years.

n scale steam shunting yard

Hornel Yard has an engine terminal and two major industries, this grain elevator and a glass factory.

A local freight from here services lineside industry to the east. Unlike the displays I build for shows, modified circles, this is a model railroad and it is built to reproduce the operations of a class one as of the mid 1950’s when first generation diesels still mixed with steam.

N scale steam:

Much of the activity is related to some degree to my own experience on the Erie, though I missed steam by a few years.

In the yards west of the Hudson River we broke up arriving trains for delivery in the City of New York, via car float, and for delivery on numerous branch lines radiating form the terminal yard at Croxton. The operation of the E&W is similar but abbreviated. Even in N gauge a 50 track classification yard does not fit in a small basement so East End Yard has a five track hump yard.

n scale steam model train mountain descent

Eastbound freight leaving Hornel. The mountain is made of Styrofoam covered with a layer of plaster mixed with latex paint. Plaster does not adhere to Styrofoam, thus the paint.

A light second layer of pure plaster simply allows consistent coloring with surrounding scenery.

This mountain can be removed to access the five loop tracks below.

There are three lift out sections on the railroad to access hidden track, the rest of the scenery is plaster, but rather than screening over a wood frame, used on larger scales, this is generally corrugated cardboard framing with 3 x 3 “ bits of newspaper dipped in patching plaster and laid over a grid made of masking tape.

Additional layers of plaster were painted on for strength and a final layer was added and carved where rock facing was needed. The base earth color is achieved with boiler sludge from my steam heating system applied with a plant sprayer. Plaster sucks up water, and thus the rust in the sludge. It is an indelible stain.

n scale steam timber yard

This is a westbound freight at Lawrenceville. The local freight from Hornel services several industries here as well as an interchange with a short line.

6 cargo train

Along the Delaware the Erie had two tracks the NYE&W has one to allow space for scenery.

7 nscale loco

A local arriving in Port Jervis, the mid point of the railroad. Through trains need to change crews here as the eastern half of the railroad runs from a different control panel than the western. Trains pass between the boiler room and the shop three times between East End and Hornel. This train, an eastern division local terminates here. East End and Port Jervis are in the shop. Port Jervis is between two heavy grades, the real division point is at the bottom of one steep hill and at the eastern end of the line along the Delaware.

8 n scale factory

Westport, the west end of commuter service. This is the westbound Lake City Limited’s first stop. A commuter local is waiting on one of two holding tracks west of the station to head east. The Y used to turn commuter locomotives, mostly Pacifics, can be seen converging by the water tank. When push pull trains took over the services of the former Erie, the Y at Waldwick fell out of use. But the early diesels were RS 2s and 3s and they generally ran long hood first, so they also turned on the Y,

9 nscale station

A westbound local approaching Garfield, the second commuter station west of the eastern terminal. A local freight based in East End yard services the lineside industries as far as Westport.

10 nscale shunting

This is the N scale steam East End. The passenger terminal is to the left, harbor facilities, almost empty car float are in the center and the eastern end of the freight yards are also seen as is the long distance passenger yard. The commuter yard is out of sight to the right. Both are accessed by double slip switches on a single ladder track. The beginning of it is just ahead of the departing commuter train. It passes through two of those switches to reach the westbound main. Due to the complexity of double slop switches that ladder is not ballasted.

The backdrop here was my first attempt at a painted scene. It took all summer many years ago. I used water paint and colored pencil on a spare piece of plaster board. The water in the harbor is plywood covered with a thin layer of plaster covered with boiler sludge covered with several coats of spare maritime varnish, critical to both the appearance of water and to holding the base together. a thin layer of plaster, needed only to get the color right, will not survive otherwise. This method is similar to the Delaware but without the sand bars and rocks of a shallow river. This is the Hudson at New York Harbor of the late 1950s deep and far from clean. Boiler sludge is about right.


Wow! A big thanks to John – a wonderful narrative, and his n scale steam layout is a real stunner.

But there’s a but! It’s all getting very professional at the mo, with today’s post, and Glyn’s from the last few days. Please, please don’t forget this site is for everyone.

So if you’re sitting on a layout that you’re proud of, please do share it. It doesn’t have to be a N scale 25×12. It most definitely doesn’t have to be magazine standard. In fact, it doesn’t have to be any standard at all: if you enjoyed creating it, and you’re proud of it, we’d love to see it.

You’ve only got to flick back through the older posts to see it’s all about sharing tips and ideas. That’s what makes the site.

And if any of the posts have motivated you to get started, then that’s even better. That’s what the site and the Beginner’s Guide is all about.

Keep ’em coming.

And here’s a load more N scale layouts if you’re after them.



PS Ebay cheat sheet still going strong. Latest one is here.

71 Responses to N scale steam

  1. Patrick Hanlon says:

    Awesome layout. I haven’t worked on my layout in awhile but looking at yours it has inspired and modivated me to get back into my cold garage and continue the scenery. The details are off the chart. I really like how you did your scernery just along the tracks. The dead trees and wood debris is just great. The tree selection and how you arranged them is perfect as well. I tip my lid to you.

  2. John Meehan says:

    Wow! That is a beautiful layout! Inspirational! Well done!

  3. Steve from New Jersey says:

    This is an unbelievable layout. I look at other people’s layouts and try to find the little details that make the difference between a good layout and a great layout. Well this is great layout. The little details are all over the place. You truly have the eye for reality. You gave inspiration to work harder on my layout.
    Keep the posts coming. That’s how we learn.
    Steve from Toms River

  4. Lynn Taubeneck says:

    Another outstanding layout.Very nice work John. I knew a man in Snohomish Washington who had an N scale layout that filled his entire basement! It was about 30×40 feet. I guess that is where my fascination with model railroading began.

  5. david howarth says:

    Very well done John ….not the easiest of tasks with n scale …Dave

  6. Bill Fitzpatrick says:

    That is a fine layout John. Your photography needs no apologies. As a retired HVAC tech, I know about boiler sludge! It is absolutely indelible! It might even make a good stain for ties and roadbed if used sparingly.

    ……………………………..Fitz ( from near Philly)

  7. Jim says:

    What an outstanding N scale layout. Attention to detail is wonderful. Has a GREAT look to the entire layout. The city scape across the water is fantastic and adds so much depth. Excellent job.

  8. christine says:

    Very nice, wonderful layout.

  9. Mel says:

    Wonderful layout, Great detail and scenery work. I lived in New York City when the car floats were still in operation. I still remember the tugboats with the tall skinny smokestacks that moved the floats. N-scale can’t be beat for running 35-40 car consists, as I do on mine.
    Mel from Bethlehem

  10. Tony Tesoriere says:

    Great layout! While I am in three rail and building a new 18X24 foot layout I really like your modeling the Erie. Having grown up in Passaic in the forties and fifties I remember riding behind steam power to New York, then taking the ferry across the Hudson river. My family also used to take the train in the summer to Allendale to go swimming and picnicking at Kresswood lake. Also, in your scene of Garfield did you get the Dundee canal included?

  11. Jerry Kolwinska says:

    Very impressive layout. Nice work with the scenic details.

  12. whoa John…. wotta killller layout…and 35 years old and older….
    dynamite N scale !! I still dont know how you N scalers do it…my patience would run out quick….
    your scenery is fantastic
    and your photography is superlative
    keep em runnin fellas
    StJohn in Long Beach Calif

  13. oh yeh John….and ‘boiler sludge’ as your base color
    whoda thunk it?…..
    how incredibly genius

  14. Chris says:

    Very impressive layout

  15. Glyn says:

    Beautiful work – such superb attention to detail and beautifully realistic modeling- as someone said earlier that is not easy to achieve in N scale! Congrats on a superb achievement and thanks for the tips and inspiration. Glyn

  16. Franco says:

    This is another unbelievable layout. I look at the detail and cannot believe it is really “N” scale, but I know it is. The smaller the scale the harder the background work must be. Another example of a “Master Craftsman” at work. It take a lot of dedication and hard work to get this good at something. You got to love what you are doing to accomplish this much detail. Super job! Well done!

  17. Roy says:

    Hi John, great layout again and great size too, mines 8×12 in n gauge but British trains 1965 onwards, I have always like steam engines. Great photos so keep them coming. Roy Somerset England.

  18. Pete Evangel says:

    Most impressive sir. One request. Could we get a photo or two showing the entire layout? I love the close ups, but would dearly love to see the entire layout in all its glory. Very fine job.

    Pete-Finally Wet Calif.

  19. Don USA says:

    What can I say but WOW what a layout.Would really like to see a Video on this one.

  20. paul Otway says:

    A beautiful layout.

    Paul from Down under

  21. Robert says:

    That looks great, more pictures, Please!

  22. Daniel says:

    Beautiful job! Awesome scenery work. I am motivated to stop procrastinating and get to work. It gets dark now at 4:30 pm.
    Daniel – Massachusetts

  23. Sundaram says:

    Fantastic layout and the scenery is mind boggling. Should be a great deal to maintain it. It would be nice if you could share with us as to how you maintain the layout against dust and insects.


  24. Peter P says:

    Well done John, a very convincing effort. I wouldn’t be too worried about your picture quality, they certainly get a clear message accross.
    Great stuff.
    Pete (another down under!)

  25. John Reynolds says:

    Wow… Amazing, Awesome, Brilliant!

  26. Ken Goldenberg says:

    What detail! I would love to see an overall view of the entire layout.

  27. Jim says:

    I’m really impressed with your layout and it’s detail. I would also love to see a couple of photo’s of the entire layout, Please! Thanks! Jim

  28. Ian Campbell says:

    Gongeous stuff. I love how the layout looks bedded down in the scenery. Very naturalistic.

  29. Mike says:

    Looks great and plain to see that it took a lot of work and time. good job and an awesome layout !!!

  30. bob in UK says:

    Absolutely marvellous, especially the fallen trees which make it very real.

  31. Jim Sulkosky says:

    Looks very nice good job

  32. kathy olesinski says:

    It looks terrific.. I have one question? Can I do a sheet of 4×6 strofoam for the top piece of my layout or must i use plywood? My platform is build, but it would be easier for me to use a 4×6 sheet 1/2 inch styrofoam. Do i have to seal it or paint it first before I lay my track?


  33. Rod Mackay says:

    I just love it – the sense of a real railway going to real places and performing a useful function is just tremendous, well done!

  34. Dean Lippincott says:

    Your model railroad is a wonderful piece of art and the city scape is fantastic. Any chance it could be reproduced? I’d be your 1st customer. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Dean Lippincott says:

    OK! Pic 10 is now my desktop background, So inspiring. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Dean

  36. Robin Hallam says:

    lovely to see from the late seventies and still going.

  37. ARNIE STEINER says:

    Hi John – A truly beautifully modeled and superbly detailed layout with artistically integrated scenery and backdrops. Odd to see a massive basement layout on this site; but absolutely welcomed. And it’s amazing longevity speaks to the quality of design and execution. I too am a long time N scaler. Thanks for sharing the photos and story. – Arnie

  38. Glenn says:

    A true labor of love.

  39. Steve Roberts says:

    Great job John, absolutely brilliant. wonderful work all round and a functional one at that, not just running trains.A definite labour of love. SteveR UK.

  40. Jim says:

    Nice. Your scenery and landscaping is outstanding. And so are your modeling skills. You should be very proud of your layout. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

  41. Kevin McArdle says:

    All I can say is “wow”!

  42. Peter Waring says:

    I stand in the shadow of model railway giants! What a great detailed layout, reflecting years of work and attention to detail. Thank you for sharing this with us mere mortals. Peter…

  43. Dale Popula says:

    A really wonderful layout. I would like to see your track plan. I would also like to see the hump yard and how you handle the uncoupling on the hump.

  44. Raymond says:

    When I saw the first photo I thought you were tricking us with a photo of a REAL railroad. I’ll NEVER be able to match that realisticness. Would love to see a video of it in action.

  45. Ross Johnston says:

    Thanks for sharing John! A really impressive layout. Well done! Cheers Rossco, Adelaide, South Austyralia

  46. Gary M from Long Island says:

    John….amazing layout…… great pictures and great detail. I don’t know how you can work with N guage…….I went from O scale to HO scale and it has been difficult for me to work with that kind of size and detail. Great job.

  47. george zaky says:

    “She who must be obeyed”, beyond awesome layout, artistic talent, 1/2 of a basement, shop- who’s got it better than you? N scale no less!!
    You are the man!!!
    All be well & safe
    George from LI, NY

  48. Ruud de Sterke says:

    Especially the harbour backdrop is very nice 🙂 I like it.

  49. Mike Balog says:

    Fantastic N Scale Layout.. Very Well Thought Out, designed for stunning scenery and operation. Like the consists with double heading stream locomotives. You picked as Good Era with the beginning of Diesel replacing the King Steam. Like the background scenes blending in with the foreground of the actual layout. Appears you use of brass track, actually ages the rails visually. Really liked the Harbor Scene. Where did you get the Merchant Ship Model from? I have all HO Scale, so I still am searching for a HO version of that kind of Merchant Ship. You dd an outstanding job in N Scale.. CONGRATS. From Mike in N.H.

  50. Albert Molter says:

    PORT JERVIS! Wow! Been there a hundred times. Great memories!

    Al – Bethlehem

  51. Anton Bruce says:

    I REALLY wish I had the time to work on the QVRR (my Quail Valley Rail Road) that most of these folks have. My little 4×8 would probably look FANTASTIC if I did.

    Either that, or my wife would find others things to do with all my free time…

  52. Tim says:

    To Kathy O..
    Your table top must have ribs or bracing to support either. Plywood or Styrofoam. The foam has no strength at 1/2 inch and needs at least 1/4 inch plywood to support any weight. I would suggest you could easily put you hand thru a thin foam sheet by accident. I used 1 inch foam over 3/8 plywood which allowed me to excavate a declining track under an overpass for clearance. The foam can be painted any base coat of latex paints. Including for roads and outline of track… Easy to simply paint over if you change you layout . have fun.

  53. Kurt F says:

    What a great layout! Very impressive detailing. I must say how much I enjoyed the narrative as well. I grew up in Bergen County NJ and the Erie Lackawanna line ran through my hometown of Ridgewood, so I am very familiar with many of the place names John mentions. Thanks for the great pictures and for taking me on a trip back home!

  54. Erick says:

    Pretty Kool.!!!! Keep up the good work.

  55. Wonderful work

  56. Ron says:

    A stunning layout to be sure. The scenery is awesome and could be mistaken for photos of an actual scene.

  57. Fred Gevalt says:

    Really nice layout, John! While several have complimented on “detail,” I will compliment you on being “spare” – i.e. having the sense of where and whether to put anything at all – in other words, “the eye.”

    Your harbor backdrop is beautiful – a piece of fine art, the scenery has a really genuine look, and the scale and color are perfect. The only giveaway might be that the very few cars and trucks are a bit too brightly colored – a problem I’ve been having in my layout, which gets better as time and dust settle on them. I don’t know, maybe a dusting of grey spray paint?

    All in all, a fine layout, fit for a model railroad magazine, and your photography is just fine!

    Fred Gevalt

  58. Chuck Bolner says:

    Wow! That is an incredible layout! The scenery to track ratio is great and the scenes are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  59. robert dale tiemann says:

    love the scenery, also the bridges, good stuff.

  60. Arthur J Romano says:

    Mentioned all the New Jersey towns I live near and drive through. Wonderful layout.

  61. Don says:

    excellent & love the passenger train & the mountains.

  62. Brian Olson says:

    Why someone, thankfully, invented the word “Awesome”

  63. John Birch says:

    Stunning layout. I love the realistic scenery and sense of space and reality.

  64. Jeff in Seattle says:

    Exceptional work, nicely done. I love to see the closeup photos with all the details. One photo of the entire layout helps to put it all into perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  65. Dave in AZ says:

    Looking at your layout it is hard to tell if it is real or a model. I just looks so real. Great work.

  66. Frank Pumillo says:

    Beautiful payout, lots of great detail!

  67. Steve Ruple says:

    Awesome layout John and I liked how you explained each picture. If I could, I would like to see a picture of your 5 track hump yard, I’m interested in how you planed it out. Keep up the excellent work

  68. Dan Piccolo says:

    Fabulous, truly fabulous.

  69. Andrew Aves says:

    Wow John! – A superb layout. Thank you for sharing and would love to see more.
    If you had not been limited to half the space – we might have seen Amtrack coast to coast! LOL.
    Andrew in Oz

  70. John Hauser - LINY says:

    John: Very nicely done, a labor of love obviously. N scale does allow one to use relatively small spaces to create spectacular model railroads. Well done! John LINY

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