N scale 2×3: Mike’s

Mike’s been busy on his N scale 2×3:

“Greetings Alistair,

I’ve been an armchair modeler and avid reader of your blog for 3 or 4 years, and finally decided to “make a start”, as is so often encouraged by you and your contributors.

I’ve got an idea for an HO gauge project in a big spare room, but being a sort of “learning by doing” guy I built this diorama to just see how it would go.

I figure I would make plenty of mistakes and better to do it on a small scale.

I bought this little used N scale set on Ebay for short money and added some extra track and a switch, went to the lumberyard for foam board and adhesive and just went after it. What a blast!

I read lots of tips and advice before, but not until I really got my hands into it did it sink in: My #1 lesson?

Make absolutely sure you have your track work right before you go any further. If the train doesn’t run right it isn’t much fun.

The other thing I learned is that I, personally, really like the landscape part of the hobby and not so much the technical and wiring part.

I envision my bigger layout being long runs and great scenery, with only enough sidings and switching to make it interesting. And I want to learn more about painting clouds and sky. The concept of dead rail layouts using a battery powered r/c locomotive bears further study…

It still needs some finishing touches- I have some 3d printed livestock, wild animals, figures, wagons, etc. ordered to add some interest.

But anyway, here’s a quick video of Dry Creek Junction.

The narrative: In about 1885 some forward thinking and influential ranchers near Rawlins, Wyoming persuaded the Union Pacific railroad to put a spur line into the little town of Dry Creek.

The intention was to start breeding Hereford Cattle which could be shipped via rail car to the Eastern markets via the recently opened line to Kansas City.

The little town of Dry Creek, which was before just a single dry goods store and saloon for local ranchers soon became a gathering and loading place for this expanding cattle market and grew to include a hotel for travelers and cattle buyers, a restaurant and a much bigger saloon and brothel for cowhands and drivers, The railroad was bringing commerce and prosperity.

Note: The cattle sorting and loading facilities are yet to be constructed- its that big open space near the headquarters of the old Dry Creek Ranch.

A layout is a process, right? Still sorting out how to build an authentic period buck and rail fence and corral in N scale. My prototypes in round toothpicks don’t cut it! But what a lot of fun figuring it out. I’d be open to any good fence advice!


Griffin, Indiana and Dubois, Wyoming.”

n scale 2x3 baseboard

n scale 2x3 baseboard with mountain

N scale 2x3 baseboard with mountain

n scale 2x3 mountain scene

n scale 2x3

n scale 2x3 steam engine

N scale 2x3

There’s something about Mike’s N scale 2×3 that has bags of charm.

Now on to Jeff:

Gerald has been in touch with some sturdy benchwork.

I absolutely love what he’s done with the door area – very clever!

“Hi Al, this is a 9’2”x11’ stand alone room we were using for storage now turned into a train room.

I inherited four large boxes of trains consisting of twenty engines and numerous chars of all kinds. This has been a winter project that I will pick up again this coming winter.

We get lots of snow then so nothing else to do. I’m seventy years old now so it’s down to doing this.

The lift out section is 48 inches by 16 inches and locks in place with dowels on each side as shown. I’m almost done with preliminary track layout. Will send picks of that later. Thank you for a wonderful web site for all of us to view and get ideas.

Gerald in Northern California.”

model train wall supported bench work

model railroad wall supported bench work

model railroad wall supported bench work

wall supported bench work


scale model railroad

model train benchwork

model railroad benchwork

A big thanks to Jeff and Mike. Love what Mike has done with his N scale 2×3 – such a simple layout but looks great.

He’s made a start and that’s what it’s all about.

If you fancy following Mike’s lead, making a start and joining in the fun, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More N scale layouts here if that’s your thing.

44 Responses to N scale 2×3: Mike’s

  1. Richard Smyth says:

    Mike, I think you small layout bid outstanding. I love the simple track design with the feeling of open spaces.
    I used to be a professional photo retoucher before computers.
    Here is a simple tip for doing clouds.
    Paint the backboard with flat blue household latex paint. Take kitchen towel and tear a jagged strip ( just one edge of a small sheet) into a cloud shape. . Hold the torn sheet against the background a spray lightly with any hardware store mat white paint. Go very lightly. Lift edge to check results. Tear additional shapes to vary your clouds. Do this outside bon a flat surface. Tip . You can also buy blue foam core board from craft stores. I would experiment on scrap first.. Good luck

  2. Linden says:

    Hi Mike, you did an awesome job. You certainly learned a lot from the site. For your first layout to look to good. Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to see your full layout in the future.

  3. Greg Marples says:

    You’re doing great on the scenery! I am the same way when it comes to open spaces over crowded tracks and industries…that’s where N scale is the best! You can represent a believable pasture for grazing cattle without having a room the size of a basketball court. Long stretches of track with gentle turns through hills, forests, deserts, whatever you can imagine. I modeled the first UP hub northwest of Kansas City, so a section of the town and a downsized version of the yards were needed. The town is fun but the yards are proving to be a lot of scratch building of railroad structures without any color or greenery in site. It will give me a place to park a lot of rolling stock. HO will limit you landscape-wise as well as realistic curve radius and distance your trains can travel between things. Just something to think about, There are much better locomotives out there than that!

  4. Colin Edinburgh says:

    Mike. For your first build very well done. As to painting clouds again well done. I just wonder if you have overloaded the sky with the amount of clouds you have painted. I’m not sure the clouds coming down to the baseboard add to the prospective of distance. Perhaps to add distance is to keep the clouds higher and to reduce their size to try to show that they are distant. I would also suggest that the distant ones are less prominent by that I mean less bright and almost only a faint hint that there is a cloud there. Hope this helps it is difficult to get that distance balance and indeed few people try as their layouts tend to be less open trying to give a deep perspective. I think you’ve done a good job fir a first ever attempt at scenery
    It it coming

  5. Dwight in Toronto says:

    Well, Mike, considering all the time and effort you’ve invested in your little N scale starter set, and the experience acquired, why bother with HO?

    It looks like you might have a substantial volume of basement space available. This would enable you to construct a truly magnificent around-the-room shelf layout in N scale … nice long, flat, sinuous mainline(s), gentle, sweeping curves, with an emphasis on the incredible scenery-building options this approach offers up.

    Also, please abandon the toy train power-pack/DC approach, and embrace DCC when you plan your full layout. DCC offers truly incredible, flexible, and easy-to-achieve realistic operations (locomotive lighting & sound, consisting etc). Keep in touch and let us know how things progress!

  6. Neat simple and complex all at the same time. Looking at each detail brings back a multitude of memories, that to me is what this hobby is all about. great build!!

  7. Mike Basher says:

    Hi Mike. Great layout! To help you with your cloud painting, I would suggest that you spend a bit of time watching just about any painting video by Bob Ross. On almost all of his canvases, he paints simple but realistic, “happy little clouds”. The nice part about his technique is that you can probably do it with latex paint as well as the artist oils that he uses. Just a thought. Keep up the great work.
    Mike Basher from N.C.

  8. Cary B says:

    The diorama is beautiful Mike, what a great job you have done covering so many aspects of model railroading. Looking forward to seeing the start of a HO layout
    Cary B

  9. John says:

    What a great layout! Doing a trial layout builds confidence. Seems like you’ve got it in you!

  10. Mark T. Pianka says:

    What a job on such a small layout, really nice!

  11. Dean Spivey says:

    I new at modeling. I haven’t built a railroad yet. I can’t decide on N scale or HO. I have about half of a 13×16 bedroom for space. Any suggestions?

  12. Bob Sandrus says:

    Excellent product for someone just beginning.

  13. I am a begginer and haven’t began anything past my Christmas villages, so your work look great to me. Painting is tough, watch a Bob Riss video on you tube, so easy. I thought your scenery pictures and layout were awesome. I know I had to learn to see the picture, then paint what comes out of the brush. It makes the day much easier.

  14. Richard STAUT says:

    Hi Mike,
    You did a very good job,
    It’s nothing but railroad, it’s poetry !
    Thanks and bravo !
    Richard, from Paris.

  15. Al says:

    Is it just me or is the scale of the structures too small? Terrific job modeling and landscaping for starters.

  16. James Donovan says:

    Great job, nice mountain.

  17. Erick says:

    Nice job.!!!

  18. Rob McCrain says:

    Mike, you nailed this layout. You are so right in your comment about getting the track right. Without track that is smooth and trains that run well, the rest is just fluff. Thanks for letting us see your layout. It is an excellent example of what can be done in a very small space.

  19. Benjamin Wright says:

    What a great little layout! You don’t have to go big to enjoy the hobby. Well done sir!

  20. thanks for letting us in on it. super little layout.

  21. Red says:

    Fantastic job looks amazing!
    Can’t wait to see your HO project!

  22. roger turner says:

    Mike, I am very impressed with your first attempt at building a model RR. love your back story behind your plan, that is important. You are very correct about getting the track right the first time, makes everything else much easier. I have hunted in the area of Wyoming you are modeling, so your post really caught my eye.
    Looks like you have a great eye for detail and planning, Keep up the gteat modeling.
    Roger in Kansas

  23. David Gott says:

    Very nice job, the scenery looks great

  24. Richard H Chapple Sr says:

    How nice is this? It is pure delight and wonderful. Mike you took the right approach. I am glad to see you built a story line first, developed a reason for the railroad line to exist, it has a history. Grandeur and space in 2 x3, my oh my.
    Your choice of course whether you go HO or stay N on your next larger project, it is easy to see the advantages N scale has especially with all the quality and realistic rolling stock available now. HO much easier to handle and see, just thinking how nice of a layout you would have in HO with the same approach you took with this layout. Perhaps some HO and a little HOn30 mixed in??? anxious to see your next effort, it will be good.
    Dick (little r) from Hardin Mt USA

  25. Chris Kilgus says:

    One of the nicest small layouts I have seen. Should be motivating getting me started on something!

  26. John Siers says:

    As an old N scale guy, I absolutely love it — simple, small, but beautifully done. Makes me want to build a bunch of small layouts of my own, rather than one big one.

  27. Frank says:

    Personally, I think you should add some kind of view blocking element or something that separates areas and add a bit more track to it because it really looks great. If you decide not to keep it then you should consider giving it to someone as a gift or selling it for the cost, more or less, of the layout.

    You could even expand the base and make it a bit larger or create another 2×3 and run a train through one of those mountains or through the boards so it’s still very portable. I think you could make a fully complete and interesting layout and add a few more things that you’d like to see.

    I find small layouts very interesting because it’s proof of the old adage that “Sometimes less is more” and people tend to appreciate the details more like finding little surprises.

    Frank in Orlando

  28. Outstanding work! I also suggest using N Scale for your next layout. I have a 3X7 N scale layout that is half done. I like your town and your scenery!

  29. Jim AZ says:

    Nicely done. Great coloration with the scenery and love the “old time” theme. Bring on the HO.

  30. Alabama Mike says:

    Hey Mike, I think your layout is great. You did a great job on the scenery. I really like the mountains you made. Keep up the good work,

  31. Brian Rockey says:

    Great job Mike – very sensible to knock up a small layout in N to start the learning process by doing.
    Good luck on the larger layout.
    Brian, Wokingham UK

  32. ScenicsRme says:

    Dean, I realize I’ prejudice, but I highly recommend N scale over HO for your space. N give you the opportunity to open up the track plan for scenery and more realistic operation. You can create more than one or two scenes or areas and give the railroad a reason for being there without the typical HO around the edges look.
    The best way to go about planning is to NOT start with the track plan, but rather decide where it is, what is the time period, and what is the “back story of your railroad, i.e. is it passenger service between towns, is it a potion of a larger railroad, is it a shortline servicing industrial areas? What is the terrain like, and why did the railroad decide to come there? Remember the need for the railroad existed before the track!
    A good track planning program will help you create “what ifs”. I use xtrkcad, it’s free and has a version that will run on windows, apple OS or Linux. It is very powerful, has a short learning curve and is well supported by the creators and users alike. It has object parameters for almost any scale, brand or type of track so you can create an accurate trackplan.

  33. James says:

    I think you should travel in the opposite direction so you can back into station 🚉

  34. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Mike….what a nice piece of work……..great job…….

  35. Will in NM says:

    Great layout! I had that same N scale train set a few years ago, but decided N was just too small for my big fat fingers. I gave that set and the rest of my N scale rolling stock to my brother so he could build a Christmas layout someday. I think your clouds on the backdrop look great, but as someone else said, making them higher and farther away would give the sense of vast distance that would be mor typical of Wyoming’s “big sky” country. I can’t wait to see what you can do in HO with your big layout.

  36. Don says:

    outstanding & so realistic, well done.

  37. Brian Olson says:

    The only limits are one’s imagination.

  38. Peter Hubbard says:

    Mike, your background is well done with one small issue. A person standing on an open area will see the horizon about 15 miles away. If this person is elevated, such as on a mountain, the horizon might be 30 miles away. One your background, between the two elevations, your clouds come down to the horizon, which is the edge of your board. If you were to paint additional ground over the lower clouds to show the ground continuing in the distance, you will achieve the effect you want. Imagine you were in the diorama looking at the layout in the valley below. Then, just paint the horizon.

    Pete from Michigan

  39. John says:

    Mike, cute layout, kind of like a diorama with action. Good western US scenery without overdoing it. Nicely done, and this should encourage other model railroaders with limited space to get engaged in the hobby.

  40. Sam H. Maryland, USA says:

    Wow! If that is a “trial” run, I can’t wait to see the “real” thing. You have some talent in the scenery building. That is something I am working on.

  41. richard rudolph says:

    Alistair, Just a quick word to you contributors. A major thank you to all that have put in their two cents. You have all done a great job and all have been of interest in some way.
    And now onto Alistair. Just taking a moment to Thank You for one of the best sites out there. You have done an outstanding job.
    Merry Christmas To All and Happy Holidays To All. It has been a pleasure.

  42. Andrew Ball says:

    Instead of your battery powered RC idea, consider DCC, you would only need a decoder for each loco and a DCC controller and you’re up and running. Don’t know what you’d need for battery powered RC, but I don’t imagine it would be that simple!

  43. robert dale tiemann says:

    very nice small scale set up, love the mountain scenes.

  44. Terry Miller says:

    Gerald–I noticed that the door seems to swing inward. So when you have the removable section in front of it, do you lock the door so a visitor doesn’t create an earthquake when he tries to get in?

    Terry/ Idaho USA

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