Hand laid track – Lou’s

Lou’s been in touch with his hand laid track:

“Here’s some photos I just took. I laid Atlas track 4 months ago with 50 peco switches.

I am now removing all the atlas track and hand laying my own track along with hand made turnouts.

They are much smoother and the trains run incredible…


hand laid track

hand laid track

hand laid track

hand laid track

hand laid track

hand laid track

hand laid track

model railroad

model train track

HO scale

HO scale

HO scale

I think Lou’s layout is going to be very impressive when it’s finished. I wouldn’t have the patience to do the hand laid track. It does look fantastic though.

John’s comment pretty much sums it up:

“Beautiful work… Are the dark ties “PC Board”? That would explain their regular spacing and obvious color difference.

I have a deep and abiding respect for anyone who can hand lay track in the smaller scales.

As to Atlas Track, while I have not had any problems with their code 100 product, I find the code 83 to be more than a bit finicky.

There are many tutorials available on how to improve the reliability of that commonly used product. In my experience, PECO offers a more continually reliable product and a more useful range of turnouts (switches/pointwork)

As an added note… I have found Bachmann’s EZ-Track to be very reliable and useful when young children are about. While my son did in both PECO and Atlas track when he was about 4 or 5, my daughter crawled all over my EZ-Track when she was of that age and climbed like a home-sick angel: no damage to the Bachman track with either my son or my daughter’s not-so-gentle ministrations. What it lacks in authenticity and range, it more than makes up for in durability! This is especially true if it is fastened down to a solid baseboard.


A big thanks to Lou.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

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

model train answers

101 Responses to Hand laid track – Lou’s

  1. Don says:

    I hate to write a negative word but to me (living in the USA ) the track looks like Lionel track with the spacing of the brown ties. Maybe in the UK it is OK. From a disatance, the brown ties are all one really sees until you look closer. One does not really see the lighter ties at first. Thje scenery looks real good.

  2. Maverick405 says:

    Stunning scenery!

  3. Jonathan says:

    whats going on big mannn!!! question can these new tracks can bachmann trains runn on theose tracks??? and how much do there cost for a set!!! Jonathan tj Johnson on facebook.com

  4. Don Wick says:

    Excellent workmanship! With hand laid track, you have personal control over how your engines perform on those tracks. And you can make sure that there are no unwanted kinks in the track joins, which can cause headaches. Six axel diesels can’t always run on bad track.
    Don Wick
    West Bend, WI

  5. Dave says:

    Louis has done a marvelous job there , I wish i had the patience to do my own track , nice layout too

  6. Dr Bruce says:

    how about your secretes such as
    *what did you use as radii & turnout templates for you curves
    *rail fixings such as fish plates & expansion joints
    *sleeper details & sound dampening underlays
    *rail cross-sectional profiles, materials and supplied length,
    *DCC consideration if appropriate
    I look forward to happy snaps of your finished project
    The best of luck and lots of fun Dr Bruce

  7. Roger says:


  8. Bob O says:

    Nice….would be tough in N scale though.

  9. Virnig says:

    I have been doing hand laid track for awhile. The work is a bit tedious but the results are much better. I lay all the ties first then stain the ties. Afterward, I put down ballast. Only then do I lay the rail. I weather all the rail before spiking it down. I am still using commercial turnouts but I only select the best quality ones to use. The expense pays off in the end.

    Bob Virnig

  10. David Bates says:

    What do you mean in the uk it is OK, we expect realistic track,we are not as backward as you think we are.
    Don’t forget railways stared here.


  11. Ben Zalewski says:

    Fantastic layout!
    I’d never have the patience to make all those turnouts. Good luck with the rest of the track.

  12. John Seale says:

    nice work…looks fantastic

  13. JOhnny says:

    Cool Work. My wife are doing a huge HO layout too. Approx 20 turnouts in a L shaped 18X 10 X 8 ft tabled area. You have done a great job whether ou use the Atlas tracks or hand laid. Please post more later.

  14. real nice track will be doing same on mine one day my own version of the g&d by JHON ALLEN the man building bigger version of the original small g&d so i can run larger engines nice job looks real good.

  15. Norm Boling says:


    You truly are a dedicated and artful train modeler.
    Norm Boling……..USA

  16. paul Otway says:

    I recently removed atlas track from my layout as I found the atlas points

    were live no matter which track the points were aligned for. My Bachmann locos used to derail on them. Atlas curves are too sharp for Bachmann branchline locos , same with large Hornby locos such as the Flying Scotsman.

  17. Robert says:

    That is really nice and a great job too!! I used to do the same thing in S gage, lay my own track using brass rails and small spikes with the wooden ties, then I would make my own switches. I used to use the old cable which were used on pull chokes for the older cars with a spring return on the switch, it was tediouse work but they worked really well and never had a problem with them. I now use only gargraves track and that works much better but they just do not quite line up with the S gage electric switches but then again I also solved that problem.

  18. Ray Suckling says:

    Well done how did you get those realistic cliff faces?

  19. PeterA says:

    Not wanting to start an “across the pond” war, but (Maybe in the UK it is OK) was a pretty ignorant comment!
    The lighter track is obviously a work in progress and unfinished. Image 15 & 16 shows the ties of a more uniform brown colour. Do you really think that someone who has put so much effort into making their own track and creating such fantastic rock formations and layout, would “accept” an unrealistic tie colour?
    Having previously lived and worked in the US for a while, I can assure you that things aren’t always bigger and better in the USA.

  20. Larry Simmons says:

    Very impressive. I really like the rock cliffs and hope that you would share some tips on how you created them. God blessed you with patience that I don’t have. Larry, (BNSF conductor) USA

  21. John says:

    Outstanding work !!! I really like the big sweeping turns. Can you show us an overview of the track plan?

  22. TOM says:


  23. Well I’m glad it’s you and not me, as I had a go at making my own turnouts years back and they all ended in a screwed up ball in a scrap yard on my current layout. So my hats off to you Good Luck like to see progress photos as would others I reckon.

  24. Richard Moses says:

    I can see where hand laid track is better than commercial track, but I still like the results I get using commercial track. Fortunately, the only Atlas track I use is the Flex Track. It is easy to work with, and doesn’t take a lot of time to lay; especially on tangent track lines.
    Hand Laid is really good to use, if you have the time to lay it. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of time. I have a business to run, and it is hard to take the time away from my business to build a layout. But then, since I also do modeling in 1:1 scale, I can still enjoy the thrill of watching trains.

  25. Chris Emich says:

    You’ve got to respect someone who puts that much effort into scratch track building. The rock faces & cliffs are about as authenic as you can get. Kudos

  26. Bob Martin says:

    Just plain WOW! Send more pics of finished layout.

  27. Thomas says:

    I don’t get the light colored rail ties??

    Ties are soaked in creosote that makes them dark brown chocolate or close to Black. Unless you have a great plan to color or dye them somehow.

    Scenery looks very good though. Nice Work!

  28. Ian says:

    very impressive must be very patient theres alot of time gone into just the track work i am very interested on the retaining walls how you made them and the color scheme looks great thanks for sharing if you put a video on you tube please send the site details. Ian in Australia.

  29. Arnie Steiner says:

    Hey Lou – What a Rail Job!!
    I’ve always prided myself for patience in building my layout; and have even re-laid sections of track for better clearances and operation. But I’ve got to say that you have most modelers beat! To redo the entire track plan and lay custom tracks requires “the patience of a saint.” Beautiful job and kudos to what will no doubt be a fantastic appearing and smooth running layout.

  30. Mike says:

    It appears to me that the handlaid track in using Fasttracks Pc board ties and jigs to build the track sections. that would be why the ties looked spaced like they are. you usually paint the ties after a system check to gain a completely relistic look…

  31. ROLAND A JACKSON says:


  32. fred says:

    hard to believe that you can build a switch from scratch better than a Peco and more important it operates with no derails

  33. Tim Parker says:

    Please post some video on how you did your rock formations, etc. great looking stuff!!!!!

  34. Albert Weir says:

    those tracks are superb i am so impressed jellous even what a great job if your in Aussieland come and do mine

  35. SuffolkBoy1956 says:

    I’d love to know more about the process. Where do the rails come from? I’m guessing you can buy pre-formed rails from somewhere? Where? What are they pinned down with? It looks as though the rail is pinned to every sixth sleeper, then the intermediate 5 are slipped in underneath, right? How do you form the curves?
    Fantastic job. I’d like to do that in N-guage.

  36. Dennis says:

    Keep us posted and informed. Keep those photos coming in.

  37. Jim says:

    Wow! Are you using rock formations as facia??? If so, great idea. I may try it.

  38. kimo says:

    Aloha,fantastic work

  39. Dale says:

    I’m 72 years old and at the end (?) of an 8 year planning of a model of a rural junction in northern Illinois. I believe the most important instruction I have ever received was from my local model shop owner and friend: “Always remember, you are the President of your railroad. No one else has any say about it – It is only yours.” I embrace that idea, and I try my best to always approach the work of another with that understanding; it’s his (hers) and it is not my place to criticize. If there is something that I would do differently is of no importance to anyone.
    Lou, you have done beautiful work. More importantly, you are pleased with the result, and if the “President” is happy, everybody should to happy.

  40. Ben says:

    if the president is happy then every body is happy
    there 3 ways to do things
    1.the right way
    2. the wrong way
    3. and my way { great job }
    Ben neb. usa

  41. John Tiffin says:

    Marvelous work, amazing detail. I’ve been debating laying rail over ties for a garden railroad, this is a convincing argument in favor of that. Being outdoors may introduce some expansion/contraction issues, but we’ll see. Thanks for the posting.

  42. John Duryea says:

    It looks fantastic I love the track and the rock formations I like it more then any others I have seen you should be very proud of that layout

  43. Larry v says:

    beautiful job. Maybe u can give some tips on how u carved ur rock formations. Awesome work.

  44. Mike says:

    Would love to see an overall track plan and also love to know if your rock faces are carved (man made) or if it is bark or cork. If man made could you do a “How To” ?
    Mike in Oz

  45. Steve Rowe says:

    I’m fighting with whether to hand lay track on my layout or not. Saw comment earlier about the dark ties. Checked the pictures by zooming and seeing that the dark ties are printed circuit board ties to keep everything in gauge. Excellent. Once everything is painted and ballasted it will look great.

    Good job.

  46. Enough comments on the rails. I am extremely impressed with all of your rock work. It is the best I have seen. Would love some tips on how you did it.

  47. builder Kim says:

    very nice work.

  48. Alex says:

    Lou’s workmanship and attention to detail is a sight to behold. The double curves are simply stunning. However, and I by no means am being critical, but there is something I don’t understand. What is the purpose of the dark brown ties every six or so ties? The track work would look so much more realistic without the darker ties and with only the lighter ties or with all darker ties. Can you explain why it is hand laid in the design it is in?

  49. Calvin Walker, Architect says:

    The track is truly awesome. I can’t imagine the time involved in creating such detail. I really would like to see the details of how your rock formations were created. They are very nice! Hope to see that info soon.

  50. dan o wiseman says:

    hey guys this all very good stuff for what it is I think is still about running the trains the tme spent on back ground is was to much for me, thanks

  51. Don Stanley says:

    What a fantastic layout. You’ve done an excellent job on the rail laying as well as the scenery. I would love to see the whole layout when you get everything finished. If the rest of it is as good as the rails and rock faces, I’m blown away. Thanks!

  52. Denis (N gauge) says:

    Great trackwork!
    For those who want to lay their own turnouts of any dimention you cant beat a bit of ‘TEMPLOT 2’ software you can create your own curves and angles and then print out an exact template, to scale.
    I must admit, I thought that the layout was American: given the coaches/Cars in the later pictures.
    It seems as if copper clad PCB has been used every 6 sleepers/ties or so and wooden sleepers/ties {Could they be matchsticks} for the rest.
    What-ever! Keep up the good work.
    Denis (British N)

  53. James says:

    Well said David, do you think the here in the UK we accept inferior stuff. .

  54. sundaram says:

    Dear Lou,
    Fantastic!. The rock faces are very realistic.
    What gauge are these? Are these ready made tracks (preformed). If so where do you get the tracks and tiles and how are the tracks anchored to the tiles?

  55. Harley says:

    that looks great….. I wish I could do that….. Harley

  56. Bill Lawrenson says:

    I started with Trix twin track in 1958 but soon graduated to Peco track and points. Since then I have moved locations and relaid the same track and points for differing layouts. Having now moved my layout from the loft to the garage due to my advancing years I am still using some Peco turnouts ( points) and point motors that have survived for up to 40 years but mixed with some replacements. What I have found is that as long as you don’t rush lifting the old line or the track relaying and ballasting, the points and track can be both realistic and efficient. You obviously need to have a lot of time on your hands to go to the length of making your own track and points but that is the point ( sorry ) of the hobby. Here in UK we have some really good products so I use them and thus have spare time to run trains and build more fiddly little things to fit into the landscape. Love the rockface, have you thought of a couple of climbers ?.

  57. Tim says:

    LOU is using the FAST TRACKS JIGS to make track I also use there jigs and related products I love there products simple and fun to use.

  58. MICHAEL GLASS says:

    I live in Chicago iL , at the MUSEUM of SCIENCE & INDURSTY , there is a layout called THE GREAT TRAIN STORY. Your layout reminds me of that. The railroad is HO it is modeled of Chicago & Seattle.

  59. MICHAEL GLASS says:

    your layout is BEAUTIFUL .

  60. tom says:

    Where do you buy the materials? Please can you give some detailed instructions? I never heard of this laying scratch track! Very good job Love your landscape work.

  61. Vic Heffren says:

    You are an artist . I love the stone work! It has given me some ideas THANK YOU VIC

  62. John Ebert says:

    Great job Lou !!!

    Wondering if you used plaster/resin molds for the rock cliffs, hand carved them, or some other method ??? They look awesome!

    The overall layout is outstanding !!!

  63. Kevin says:

    Great job, and great patience. There are just too many track manufacturers out there to make laying your own track feasible. Micro Engineering and Peco are two of the best and leave nothing to be desired. I want to get trains up and running. I hope something is published on his scenery.

  64. Donald Kadunc says:

    Of course the ties will be stained. DAA! It is a beautiful layout. I also really like the rocks. A how to on the rocks would be helpful.

  65. What scale are we talking here ?

  66. Ray says:

    Absolutely beautiful work in progress! Love the different levels and open spaces in the layout.

  67. Bill says:


  68. David R. McClelland says:

    Laying the track would be hard enough to manage. Then scratch building switches, I don’t even want to think about that. GREAT JOB, LOU!!!

  69. Paul Schwartz says:

    Forget about the materials, I want to know where you got the teeny, tiny men who laid down the track for you?
    Just kidding. Fantastic job!

  70. neil says:

    Teeny, tiny men is sexist, women work on crews too now. At least on this side of the pond.

  71. Chuck says:


  72. Robert Rolfe says:

    The mans work is GREAT, track, rock work and so on. If you do not see this is work in progress ( as in it is not done ) ( this is to all that had stupid comments and or questions) I think you all should shut up or show what you have done.
    NV Bob

  73. Stephen Gispanski says:

    I have to agree with Bob, fantastic work. I have not even started mine, makes me wonder. I would like to show my work of starting from the get go but coments like those, I don’t know. I have a room, a 10 x 10 room so to get most room for a buck, I am going to go around the room. I wanted to have my O gauge up front and my H O gauge in the back ground. So now I am going to have two to go around the room. O gauge on the top and the H O on the bottom. My wife is going to hate it but now I have to pull all my train boxes out to start making a table, excuse me, two tables. Lol Lou, keep up the great work. I wish I could post pictures or do I have to mail the info in?
    Thank you, Stephen

  74. Stephen D Gispanski says:

    I found how to keep everyone up on my progress. I also have been reading everyone progress on there on lay out and how to’s. So I would like to thank everyone’s input on how to’s. It seem that everybody has there on way of doing things but the end result is all most the same. One thing I love to accomplices is in the detail. I can’t wait to get started. Until next time, have a great day.


  75. William Hudson says:

    Nice work Lou. It’s easy to see the time and effort involved to date. My only comment is in regards to your thoughts on atlas flex track. I have been modeling railroads for 63 years and have run the gauntlet while trying different ways to do things. I have gone from snap track to flex track and hand laid track and back again over the years. Although hand laid track to me offers much more visual reality than commercial flex track I don’t believe it offers any better reliability over properly track whether it be flex or even snap. The key being of course the word “properly”. Unfortunately, beginners as well as experienced modelers tend to want the layout up and running rather than meticulously laying track.

  76. Allen Montville says:

    The rock formations are amazing!!!!!!! Nice layout>>>>>>>Farmer AL

  77. Earl Jones says:

    Great work Lou! I’m new to model railroading and/or a little thick. What did you use to make the rails? Can one purchase long strips of rails. Please explain the process you used. Regarding the “UK acceptable” comment. I think the remark was simply a poor choice of words and not meant to offend. When I looked at all of the pictures, I also wondered how you were going to make the ties look realistic.

  78. Rich says:

    I have done my share of modeling and find that not all things seem as they appear. There are novice and prototypical modelers. I find that something can be learned from all. Someone starting out wouldn’t have the foresight to see the finished product, but they may have a better approach to do various tasks. That’s what modeling is about. Sharing experience, knowledge and friendship. You can get further by teaching than by criticizing. I am an ‘ERIE Lack of Power’ N Gauge modeler. I am in the planning stages of a G Scale garden railroad. I hope to have this up and running in the spring. I’ll try to share my progress as I mover along. Happy modeling to all!

  79. William Koehler says:

    I started my layout 40 + years ago. I hand laid all my visible track and built my own turnouts. Ties were spaced using a jig and turnout ties were cut and spaced using a paper turnout template. Ties were glued down to the homasote and stained. Code 100 NS rails were rubbed with “Blacken It” to darken the rails. Rails were spiked in place approx. every 6th tie and spaced using a track gauge. I used BK frog and point assembly’s for my turnouts. I used a NMRA gauge for turnout rail spacing along with filing and soldering the rails. I used a plexiglass template to maintain a minimum radius. This is hand laying track.

  80. Robert (Bob) Wayne Slusser says:

    started HOn3 in 1959, all hand laid. Completed a large Layout in the 70’s, about 850 lf, all hand laid, again HOn3. Today working on a city street layout, HO standard, again in code 70, laid and soldered on PC ties. Remember to slit the copper on the ties at the center to isolate the rails. Should be able to do N scale as track widths are similar to HOn3, using PC ties code 55 rail would be good, assuming wheel flange clearances work out–code 40 would be very tedious. NMRA gauge OK, but recommend a three point gauge for track laying with the NMRA gauge as a follow up. The three points holds the rail during attachment and on curved if the two points are placed on the outside curve allows for a small extra track width which will assist large fixed wheel based loco’s thru curves. Pardon my slaughter of the Kings English.

  81. John Bennett says:

    I would like to see a video of your layout, it looks fantastic.

  82. maghi cat says:

    The observation that the track ties are different in color is accurate. While many realize that this is a work in progress and once ballasted they will all look the same is not self evident to the beginner. So cut the some slack and move on. Handlaid track is not better or worse, it is simply a choice. It certainly is beautiful and requires great patience for that we can always admire.

  83. Edward says:

    tremendous looking layout.
    I would like to know what material was used for the rails and how they were spiked down.
    Would also like a closeup of actually doing it if possible.
    Again, tremendous looking layout.

  84. I think I am like most ppl, love your dedication to the hobby, making all those ties. Plus that’s not your typical layout! That’s a monster layout! Oh, the rock scenery is just beautiful! I can’t remember seeing a rock scenery that has blown me away as yours has! you should be proud of yourself!

  85. TONY DAVEY says:

    My first layout that i built in the 70s i hand built all the 70 turnouts, a labour of love
    Just starting my forth layout this time in N scale and now im thinking of building my own turnouts again as you cannot buy Peco at the moment because of Covid
    Lovely job your making of it sir, respect

  86. John Perini says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I am stunned at how beautiful and realistic your hand laid track and rock formations are. Any derails on how you produced this wonderful layout would be deeply appreciated. Please continue to update us on your progress with more pictures, and videos would be most appreciated.

  87. John Perini says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I am stunned at how beautiful and realistic your hand laid track and rock formations are. Any details on how you produced this wonderful layout would be deeply appreciated. Please continue to update us on your progress with more pictures, videos would be most appreciated.

  88. Dwight in Toronto says:

    To those of you who have become curious about hand-laying track, and how folks build their own turnouts, simply google “Fastracks”. This small company provides everything you need, and their website has plenty of instructive, informative videos on exactly how it’s done. It makes for some fascinating and educational viewing, and will leave you convinced that it’s not as hard as it seems.

  89. Greg Marples says:

    Great work! I hand laid my N scale main line turnouts to allow my big steam locomotives to run through easily with great success. On a side note, I watch those big Union Pacific diesels powering in and out of the yards and across the river bridge on my morning walks here in Marysville, Kansas, so I have no need to model them! I do 1920’s era steam instead.

  90. John says:

    An excellent layout, the thoughts and intended result astound me, I am still laying the tabletop so looong way to go for this level of expertise. Well done from AUSTRALIA.

  91. val says:

    hi lou,. I’m just remarking on tim parkers comment on your rock formations.what a fabulous job you’ve done. they look so real it’s just beyond my imagination as to how great they look. I to would like to see a video or photos as to how you accomplished what you’ve done . I’m just getting started on my ho layout,putting down the pink foam, to build my hills and mountains.. your expertise on doing the rock formations would be greatly appreciated.. again a really great job . thanks so much!! val in utah

  92. Bob Meriam says:

    Really great work and very impressive. Wish I had the patience and steady hands to do it. You are a real craftsman.

  93. Bobby R Duggar says:

    John Allen who built the Gorre and daphitid hand laid his own tracks as well I always wondered if that is the answer to a lot of track issues. i model in N so I’m sure it would be a frustrating chore to do this.

  94. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Lou…… great work. I am curious how you did the frogs. I would love to see close up shots of the turnouts. Fantastic job.

  95. James G Violante says:

    Love your trackwork and scenery! I have been handling for years using fast tracks and every type jig FastTrack has building all types of turnouts. 3 way, double slip, double crossover etc. Thanks to FastTrack I can build fancy yard throats and every turnout imaginable. Peopl criticize without waiting for finished product as stained ties. Great job as I know what it takes to handlay and build turnouts to custom fit. Great job! I have taken much heat but some like constructing buildings or whatever, it is all part of the modeling adventure.

  96. Timothy Logan says:

    Stellar workmanship here Lou and definitely museum quality. I thoroughly enjoy looking at and appreciate all your extra efforts in your photos. I have handlaid some trackwork in HO on my last layout and probably will again to some extent on my new build.
    I think everyone should experience this part of our hobby and expand their horizons even if it’s only for a short section, on a bridge, a few turnouts or a crossing.
    Keep up the Good Work and share more of your progress with us

  97. welder dave says:

    Would be nice to see the tools used and how its gauged and fastened really nice painstaking work !!

  98. Arthur Joseph Romano says:

    No doubt a labor of love for the hobby.

  99. robert dale tiemann says:

    really cool track work.

  100. Jerry in New Mexico USA says:

    Hi Lou,
    I plan to use Atlas code 100 flex track on parts of my Märklin layout. I’m wondering what you found problematic with the Atlas track (presuming the code 100 flex track gave you trouble). Thanks – Jerry in New Mexico USA

  101. Gary Thornton says:

    That rock work might even be more impressive than hand laid track, if that is even possible. Very well done.

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