Richard’s 2.5ft x 8ft layout

My word, what a week.

Last Friday I told you all I was hanging up my boots, because sales didn’t cover costs.

I thought a closing down sale may save the day, but it fell short of the mark.

But then some bright spark asked why the sale was only running until Monday – I know, it sounds obvious now – so I kept it open.

What’s more, the same bright spark also asked why the print-out-scenery wasn’t in the sale. So I added that.

And guess what?

Although I’m not out of the woods, it means the blog is going to make it into the New Year, and then some.

However, the bright spark (my new best friend) also pointed out that unless I change a few things, I’ll be in the same mess again, very shortly.

So, I’ll be mailing everyone who bought the Beginner’s Guide or the print-out-scenery, and asking them to help me out with a very short survey, which should point me in the right direction.

Thank you to everyone who supported the site.

And thanks for all the kind comments and emails too. I’ve had lots – just like this one:

“Dear Al, this is basically a (huge) thank you note.

In one respect, I want to thank you for all you have done for so many of us around the world who love trains. I’m not sure when I started with your blog, but I think it’s close to 8? years. I think everyone should have the right to stop and take a breath and figure out what they want to do with their life.

Everyone has their own set of motivations. The thought process obviously needs to consider economic factors as well as others. Hopefully your current strategy will soon allow you to check the ”economic box”! Of course if it’s a membership fee or some other mechanism which allows you to continue, I’m in!

Speaking for your “members” I can guarantee you, that the service you provide does more to help people all over the world, than you will ever know. You keep people going and you keep them interested. Your service allows so many to feel a sense of accomplishment with this wonderful hobby. How many people can say that about what they do for others? Of course you also put smiles on the faces of so many including our kids and grandchildren!

I send you this photo which I took a few years ago when my wife and I visited Wales and England for our 45th anniversary. We rode a number of the Welsh narrow gauge railways. What fun and what great memories. Here’s hoping that you’re looking at this photograph wondering what’s over the next hill or around the next curve, for your blog.

Although if you’re looking at it from the caboose, I wish you nothing but the best, as you have certainly done more than most to make the world a better place!

Gratefully, Jonathan

From Pennsylvania”

A wonderful mail, and everyone I’ve had cheered me up. So thank you all.

Now let’s get back to trains.

Richard has been kind enough to send in this fab narrative:

“This begins a story that covers 35 years. I started designing this railroad in the early 1970s based on my love of train layouts I had as a child and began construction in the latter part of the 1970s.

My childhood involved S Gauge American Flyer trains but this project had to be more than just a circle of track on a 4 foot by 8 foot layout so I chose to build my current train in N Gauge to allow for a more realistic model in essentially a 2.5 x 8 foot space.

The plan was to have block and sector control for almost every 3 feet of track from a control panel with multiple DPDT rocker switches with a center off position. This concept predated many of the advanced control systems of today. This allowed for multiple power supplies to service up to three trains simultaneously.

The railroad concept was to be a logging and coal distribution layout from the forest and stone quarry at one end and coal mines at the other end to a distribution yard location in the middle section.

It would have passenger service provided to move workers to the forest and mine locations as well as a through route to distant cities.

The railroad is an extended helix design that travels from one end of the layout to the other while rising in elevation to service the two industries. The railroad project was photographed throughout the construction phases to highlight the elements added in each phase. A layout sketch is shown in Figure 1 and the actual control panel is shown in Figure 2.

model train control panel

Figure 1 control panel sketch shows turnout controls at the top and bottom and block and sector switches placed throughout the layout. Dotted lines show track in tunnels.

model train control panel

Figure 2 shows the actual control panel. The green, blue, orange, purple labeled tracks are stacked above each other in the upper tunnel areas to conserve lateral space.

A number of lighting features and turnout labels on the actual right of way would be added later The first construction project on the railroad was to build two wooden high mountain trestles to span an open valley as one of the central themes.

It was designed and constructed as two balsa wood structures built from scratch resembling high mountain structures of the 1930s and 1940s in the US. I built the two long bridges in Figure 3 by estimating the span based on the railroad plan and sketch I had settled on much earlier.

The upper shelf in Figure 4 shows the planned location for the stone quarry and logging and lumber cutting industrial site.

A vertical panel is planned for the back side of the entire layout and would be removable to access tracks for maintenance within the mountains in case of derailment.

The upper shelf in Figure 5 shows the planned location for the coal mining operation.

Figure 6 shows the back side of the layout with the cover panel removed. Tracks are stacked as part of the extended helix configuration and the block and sector wiring is routed and taped to the vertical risers that support the tracks.

At this stage of construction, train and turnout operation was checked before adding screening and plaster scenery so corrections to the layout could be made without undue disassembly.

Unfortunately, career obligations, vacations to most of the US National Parks and biking for rails-to-trails recreation limited the time available to continue the railroad construction for at least 30 years until I retired.

After retirement, I was eager to begin working on the model railroad again. The delay, however, caused excessive track corrosion which impacted train operation. Track cleaning was taken on as a major unplanned event and seemed to solve the continuity problem and I moved on to creating my empire.

N scale trestle bridge

Figure 3 trestles located in the middle of the layout with no screen or plaster scenery.

Figure 4 shows a shelf on the left side of the layout for the logging and lumber industry. A cavity beneath the railroad contains the wiring for all tracks and features.

n scale coal mine

Figure 5 shows a shelf on the right side of the layout for the coal mining operation.

Figure 6 shows how the tracks are stacked at the back side of the layout before installing the back panel.

Nylon screening was chosen to support the plaster and was screwed to free standing support posts and to the existing railroad superstructure as shown in Figure 7, 8 and 9.

model railroad train bridge

Figure 7 support posts for the screen and plaster

Figure 8 coal mining region with screen mesh in place.

model train logging factory

Figure 9 stone quarry and forest logging and lumber region with screen mesh in place.

About 40 pounds of uncolored plaster was added over several months to give the railroad a mountainous terrain as shown in figures 10, 11 and 12.

model train quarry

Figure 10 stone quarry and forest logging and lumber region with plaster in place.

Figure 11 coal mining region with plaster in place.

Figure 12 complete railroad with plaster in place.

Ground color, buildings and selected regions of grass, bushes and trees were added to bring the railroad closer to a final presentation.

Figure 13 shows the completed stone quarry, forest logging and lumber cutting industry. A shipping dock and crane tower were added to facilitate movement of raw and cut lumber. A small rail station and hotel service the workers at this industrial site.

The log saw mill is high on the mountain top along with a green seemingly water tower on Lambs Knoll. Lighting has been added for a night operation.

model railroad

Figure 13 a stonequarry, forest logging and lumber processing region.

The trestle bridges were stained a more reasonable burnt orange as shown by Figure 14.

A coaling tower and coal dump station were added in Figure 15 to the yard location with an unlikely covered bridge to allow heavy trucks to move to either site. Colored posts were added to each turnout location as labels identical to that on the control panel for ease of operation. Rail cars have found their way into the yard at Trestle Junction.

Figure 14 stained railroad tressles.

Figure 15 railyard and coal processing region at trestle junction.

Figure 16 shows the coal mining region. It started out with a small coal mining operation and soon flourished into a major coal processing facility accompanied by a general store, hotel and rail station to service the mine workers.

The white tower at the far left in Figure 16 is a hardened but abandoned microwave relay antenna tower at Cross Mountain. Tropo-scatter communication antennas are shown on the right side of Figure 16 for the Hearthstone Mountain facility.

The radar dome was added for color but does not exist in the real environment just like the actual coal mining facility due to the high power transmitting site. Lighting has also been added to the night time operation of the modeled coal mining facility.

Figure 16 coal mining operation and lighted turnout signal towers

figure 17 extended helix railroad with lighted features.

Figure 17 shows the completed railroad. Track conductivity was again becoming a problem and the cleaning process is now more difficult even with access to the tunnels.

Phase II

The Extended Helix Railroad is being modified to include another 2.5 foot by 4 foot section beyond the coal mining facility but at a lower level to enable trains to change direction without traveling to the top of the mountain and back down, a short coming in the original design.

Secondly, the deterioration of the track conductivity has led to a bold step into the future of model railroading. Research has led to the concept of battery power for train operation.

“N” gauge is quite small and limiting when trying to shoehorn in a battery power system into freight and passenger cars to electrify the engine motor when the battery cannot be integrated in a steam or diesel locomotive. A control chip and speaker must find their way into the tender of the steam locomotive or into the “B” unit of a diesel locomotive.

Both the steam locomotive tender and the “B” unit must be permanently connected together along with the battery powered freight or passenger cars. This means the train must always be configured with at least two or more battery powered cars.

Lithium Ion batteries have been made small enough to package two batteries into a passenger cars for a passenger train but must be configured in four freight cars or four flat cars for a freight train. Four batteries in series are required for a 14.8 Volt at nominally 1.5 A/hour. A controller must radiate the signal that controls the pulse width modulation used by the motor in the locomotive to efficiently control the use of battery power.

Lithium Ion Batteries have been procured for a 3.7 V and 1.8 A/hour rating. Military grade connector pins have been ordered to conveniently connect the cars together and charge the batteries when needed. The next expense is for the control system offered by Ring Engineering.

A follow report will document the expansion of the railroad and operation under battery control.


A huge thanks to Richard – I can’t wait to see his update. Fab stuff.

That’s all for today folks.

But don’t forget, now the books are balanced, I’m putting the prices back up.

So this is your last chance to grab the silly discount sale on the print out scenery.

And the same goes for this fab offer on the Beginner’s Guide too.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS Got the Beginner’s Guide and not had your login details? Please mail me.

19 Responses to Richard’s 2.5ft x 8ft layout

  1. Guy Boyling says:

    Good luck Al for the future. PLease don’t go away, I need all the advice I can get as just starting.
    I did get the “Beginners Guide” but am looking for UK scenery and buildings.
    Hope to hear from you, and all the other global contributers for the next forseable future.

  2. Hello everyone,
    If we want to save all that which Al has already foreseen (and this is a lot), it would not be good to all pay $ 1 or € 1 to Alastair Lee Ltd, I think we can help a lot more this way!
    Herman Crauwels

  3. DJfromNJ says:

    Love it! Richard should use his layout as his resume, should he desire working for Disney.

  4. Richard should about DCC control instead of batteries. Less trouble and there are engines already on the market in “N” scale.

  5. Bob From Towson says:

    Richard, WOW!! It seems that you have an infinity for roller coasters…Your layout reminds me of one when i was a young boy at Gwyn Oak Park or maybe it was Carlins park??? Beautiful Work !!!

  6. george zaky says:

    Big Al- the kiddies pal
    You make my day each AM to a great blog, with mind blowing layouts and creative, nice, and real peoples contributions. I refer to myself as an old kid myself and I consider you as my pal who plays with me and my trains. I do not play with MRA because they are always pounding me for money and do annoying things for cash. I know that you have expenses and have to exist which costs money. I once advised that you have a club with a modest fee- I consider a range of $10/ month-$120/yr a bargain for the service you provide. You can still market train related stuff as an adder. I fear that a higher fee would turn off a lot of us old guys so quantity at a low price is the key. It is essential you keep going.
    What ever you do- I wish you the best.
    George from NY

  7. Rob Schweitzer says:

    I agree with Herman about funding of the blog. In the states we have “go fund me” which allows people to donate to a person or cause. Al should accept donations to keep the site open. Perhaps if he told us how much he needs to keep the blog going for a year at a time, his fan case could cover the costs via donations.
    Robs Ann Arbor, Mi USA

  8. Gary Manganiello says:

    Richard….that is quite a project…….. a lot of work and a lot of patience.

    Great job..….love the detail……

    Gary M

  9. Joe Gennari says:


  10. It depends on how many views you have and how much you need a year. Divide the number of uses into how much you need to keep going. If you can tell us that we will know how much to send you.

  11. Chuck Bushey says:

    I really enjoy the blog, videos, and how-to’s that I see on this site. I never thought about the fact that it might cost something to do. When I heard that it was shutting down I was quite sad. I’m also into classic cars and the site I am a member of there is closing down – us older guys I guess are wearing out.

    I have been interested in trains since I was 8 when my father found out that his father was still alive and was a conductor on the Montrealer in New England. My dad bought me my first train when I was 8 and I still have it. I also have my grandfathers pocket watch that he used while riding the trains.

    I am now retired and looking forward to getting into the modeling phase – kids now all gone and my dozen or so trains sitting in boxes have been calling my name. I purchased the beginners’ guide a few years back and also the Big Kahuna sale a while back. However, I hadn’t figured out what I was going to do for a layout. Watching what others have been doing has been helpful and I think I finally determined what I am going to do for mine – hopefully getting started soon. I live in TX currently in a town that has the most active rail crossing in the state, but plan to retire somewhere where it’s not so HOT!

    I have a numbered reprint of the rail station in St. Albans Vermont where my dad grew up and my grandfather rolled in and out of all his life. The first time I met my grandfather was when the train rolled into our town of Essex Jct., VT and my dad took us down to the station to see him. My mother’s mother also worked the diner at the station for a number of years – I have pictures of all that. Because of all that, I am thinking of doing a layout based on the St. Albans rail station – will probably have to create from scratch the actual station based on the old photographs, but woodworking is also my hobby so it should be fun. Where the station is was also a large switching yard with one of the biggest round houses around.

    Seeing here what Richard did (and the immense details – I’m blown away!) I have gathered ideas as to how to make my idea for my layout to be able to have a continuous loop and not just back and forth through the switching yard and rail station.

    I’ve never contributed to this site – this is actually my first response to anything, but if it stays open I will try to share my stories as they unfold. If you move to a membership fee or related, I too will participate as this has been the best place and most consistent place I have found ideas and HOPE!

    Chuck B in Hallsville, TX

  12. Franz Halaschek-Wiener says:

    I agree with the donation/user contributions approach to secure the continuation of the blog from here on out. Al, let us know a number per month or per year and we, the beneficiaries of your wonderful service will chip in.
    I know this will solve this crisis.
    Marietta, GA, USA

  13. Rob McCrain says:

    I’m with Perry Torregano. Rob McCrain – Farland Howe.

  14. Leonard Hanley says:

    A nice contribution from each train party of $15.00 a year I believe would be a great starting point for you. You can adjust costs up or down as you desire.

    Car magazine, wood working magazine subscriptions are about $15.00 to $18.00 a year. Yours would be a great fit.

  15. Terry Foster says:

    Hi Al,Thanks for the inspiration and energy,great products over the years,the regular blogs etc[Dangerous Dave s ] the hints and help just fantastic. Please hang in as theres always an answer,a way forward,if it is a member fee im in.Regards Terry [Qld Aus]

  16. Carl Halgren says:


    I like the idea of battery powered trains. I have yet to see anyone suggest my idea of adding a recharging module to the engine, and recharge a smaller battery pack from the track. The track could be powered by any source of about 15 volts. It would be a kind of hybrid system, where the recharging module weight and size would replace of some of the battery pack. This would increase run time to days, and a few feet of dirty track would not hinder operations.

    Still in Training,
    Carl in Kansas

  17. Peter Stilts says:

    Hi All, as some of us live in the U.K. can we have your prices also in English please. You have a great site; Hope it continues. Regards Peter.

  18. So much talent on the layout. So much talent with Al making one of the best sites around.

  19. R says:

    Love your site! How does one go about sending money to keep you afloat? I’m usually in the shadows, lurking in the background so to speak. There must be many others like me. Make it easy for us to send you financial support and you surely will receive it.

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