Some railroad layout questions


Thank you for your wonderful blog. I enjoy it very much.

I am 63 years young and finally have a room in my house dedicated to model railroading. I had a DC HO layout back when I was around 25 or 26 years old but when the family grew I had to give up my train room to make room for kids (7).

So between the time that I put away my trains and when I was able to restart the hobby, the advent of DCC was born. Since I was starting over from scratch I decided to go the DCC route. I am modeling a combination layout not representing any particular place but more modern times with some old times thrown in.

In 1982 I was fortunate enough to be able to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in southwest Colorado during their 100 year anniversary. I had always enjoyed watching movies showing views of the trains winding their way along the highline overlooking the Animas river. So when Blackstone made some D&RGW K-27 locomotives I decided that HOn3 had to be a part of my layout.

I also resided for many years in the San Bernardino area of southern California which was very important to the Santa Fe railroad (AT&SF). I spent much time watching the trains wind their way up and down the Cajon Pass. Soon Santa Fe and Burlington Northern merged into the BNSF.

Since I spent a lot of time around the BNSF I also have HO scale on the same layout. My biggest theme is around the BNSF for most operations but have the HOn3 as a ‘tourist’ train.

Ok, enough of the background, here is my problem.

Attached you should find a hand drawing of one section of my HO portion of the layout. I have a Walthers Shinohara double crossover and can’t seem to figure out where to install my track breaks so that I don’t short the 2 polarities of the DCC.

The purpose of the double crossover is so that I can switch the direction of the trains so that they can travel both directions on the track without having to remove the locomotives and move them to the other end of the train.

I have DCC Specialties PSX-AR auto reverser so that it can sense the polarity change when the crossover is thrown and not cause a short or overload in the power.

Can anyone tell me where to install my breaks in the track so the auto reverser can perform its magic? Nowhere else in the layout do the tracks come into contact with the other polarity (see inset).

The locomotives I am using are InterMountain ES44DCs and the maximum number on the trains will be 3. So, if my thinking is correct I need enough section to allow for all 3 to be in it before the auto reverser will kick in?

I would appreciate any help on this problem. My email is

Thank you very much!

Sheridan, Wyoming, USA”

“I have heard many people say they have problems drilling plexiglas, or similar material, because it cracks so easily.

You may want to pass it around that the best way to drill plexiglas is with a step drill. See below.

You start by drilling a small (1/8”) hole, then finish with the step drill. The beauty of the step drill is that it does not have teeth to chip the plexiglas. Rather, there is a smooth transition from one diameter to the next. You then stop drilling when you reach the diameter you want.


“Greetings, Al. Your site is better and better every week, Great that the new folks are getting into or back into this hobby. They have great ideas and limitless imagination. And the effort is truly remarkable.

Thought I’d send some more pics of the town.

Best regards,

Jim from AZ”

“Hi Al,

I’ve been following your site for a while getting ideas as I slowly build my first real HO layout. It’s taking a while.

I had to start by actually building a separate room in my basement. I’ve had to learn how to build stud walls, anchor them to concrete floors, run power and build bench work on my own. It’s been a challenge with a lot of swearing sometimes. 😉 I;m proud of what I’ve built. My room it tight enough I get no dust even though my husbands hobby is very dusty. And my bench work is solid as a rock.

Thankfully I’ve had a friend who’s been able to come help occasionally. I have two levels, steam above and diesel below. So far we have the first circuit of track running on the steam. Right now I have most of the foam underlayment down for the diesel level. Once I finish the swing gate I can finish the foam and then the real challenge of serious track planning.

I don’t have a specific rail line I’m reproducing or era. Once I really have a layout running and don’t have the building costs I might start focusing down more. Right now if I can afford a working engine and some nifty cars I buy them.

Farm Wife”

A huge thanks to everyone that has got in touch – and especially to Christie – what a room! I’m envious of all that space. And it’s another great example of what needs to be done to build a layout: claim some space of your own and just making a start.

Of course, I’m biased, but the Beginner’s Guide is a good next step too.

That’s all this time folks.

Keep ’em coming.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet here

26 Responses to Some railroad layout questions

  1. Dominic P. DeMonte says:

    I to am envious this space is huge, boy could I stuff this space with a lot of action in Nscale. Keep up the good work.

  2. Keith Willoughby says:

    Great train room Christie, my wife let me have our small bedroom for my layout so I know what it’s like to have the space!…. I’m in ‘Z’ gauge by the way.

    Also I’m not to sure what plexiglass is but I have heard a lot of people have trouble with cracking when trying to drill it. There is another product on the market called Makrolon, it’s a polycarbonate see through sheet that comes in various thicknesses can be drilled and machined quite easily, it can also be shaped using s hot air gun.
    Worth a look.


  3. Patrick Talley says:

    Way to go Christie. looks to me like you know as much as some of the pro’s…

  4. Jerry Wagamon says:

    I am going to have the same problem with the double crossover. Suggestion read linn Westcott book on wireing page 37, this may help. This is an OLD book 1958.

  5. Charlie says:

    Great proiect, Christie !!! It is obviously a wonderful achievement – keep expanding !

  6. Moe Callison says:


  7. Wylie Johnson says:

    Sometimes the easiest way is the simplest. Put painters tape on the area you intend to drill, it keeps the vibrations to a minimum.

  8. Lee Barry, CEO LZPMRR says:

    super nice. But that is the reason for so many Z & N scale layouts. Most of us do not have that “spare” room/bedroom that we can commandere as a “Our/Mine” model railroad room totally dedicated to that purpose,so the N/Z scales work to our advantage. Would love to have it the “other way”. As for mine it is a conglomeration of Z scale 3’x4′ layout and a workshop ( most wouldn’t call it that ) and sleeping quarters and just plain old “junk” hoarding. Never buy or rent a 2 bedroom HOUSE/MOBILE HOME/or APARTMENT, the third bedroom is just too expensive commodity to do without. Of course I understand the inflexibility of living on a fixed income or a low paid job, I did the same thing about 90% of my best working years, my social security checks can testify to that fact.

  9. Juan J Cardona says:

    There is another product on the market called “Lexan” it’s a polycarbonate see through sheet that comes in various thicknesses can be drilled and machined quite easily, it also polishes very nicely on the edges by wet sanding.
    I am very impressed with the work all you folks present in this forum.
    Keep the great work going, I learn something new every day I read the articles.
    You all take care.
    Juan J Cardona

  10. Lynn Taubeneck says:

    Welcome aboard! Women are so creative, I love it when they get into the hobby. And the desire that is so great one will build a room and benchwork to have their layout. WOW! I look forward to seeing the “farm wife” layout when it is further along.

  11. Skip L. says:

    One doesn’t have to go to the smaller N or Z scales for lack of space, unless you really like those scales. I collect and run older O gauge Marx tinplate and my layout is on a 3X6′ recycled dining room table. Using 027 tubular track, I’m able to operate trains on a dual oval within an oval, with a single track crossover, and a short 2 stub track yard in the center. Granted It’s not super realism but I’m into the impressionist (and delightful) toy trains look, and the operations are quite sufficient and much fun……
    Skip L.
    Freehold, NJ

  12. Robert Rolfe says:

    I have some drill bits that are for drilling Plexiglas, they have a very sharp edge and and the point is probably around 50 degrees. They very well but you still need to go slow. I bought them years ago at a tool only store.

  13. MICHAEL GLASS says:

    your layout is BEAUTIFUL.

  14. Rick D says:

    I’ve drilled holes in Plexiglas lots of times. Here in Toronto< Ontario it is referred to as Lexan. When I replaced the windows in my full size real race car that is the product I used. Whether or not it's the same stuff, I don't know but the Lexan has never given me any grief. If you are using a hand held drill, it will break every time, because you cannot hold it steady enough and it will wiggle in the hole. I use a bench mounted drill press, I place a piece of softwood, pine, spruce etc on the table of the drill press, place the piece of wood down, then your material, use a sharpie to mark the hole position. Then slowly , very slowly, turn the handle so the drill bit (titanium only) comes in contact with the Lexan. Then again slowly let the bit do the work as it lowers into your material. Once the hole is done pass it through a few times to clean out the junk and there you go. A beautiful, perfectly drilled hole with no chips or cracks. I hope this helps and if it works for you, you are welcome to contact me anytime. (rick)

  15. dave says:

    Lexan is super tough That’s what is layered in bullet resistant glass like on my light armored F 150 the problem I have ever had drilling of cutting Plexiglas is that it got hot and gummed up the jigsaw bit I then took it out side put it on saw horses clamped the garden hose to it on a trickle and finished cutting it the whole time thinking I am going to be eltrocuted !! I guess with a cordless saw you wont have to worry about that .Oh BOTH of those layouts are great !!

  16. Robert Rolfe says:

    I have seen a lot of people state negative things about other peoples work on this site. However this post should never have been posted, who cares how big of a state you live in ( I live in NEVADA ) and or how many people live there? My house is 2400 square feet with a 4 car garage and a 1 car detached garage and 5 storage sheds, does it matter? Oh Ya my lay out is only 5 X 8 in feet, don’t know metric

  17. Robert Rolfe says:

    In my last post I forgot to state that the post I am pissed about is the one from Wyoming
    Sorry it just pissed me off

  18. John Reynolds says:

    Lexan vs Plexiglas…These are different products although both are clear plastic. Plexiglas is cheaper and a lot more brittle than Lexan. Lexan is often used for “bullet proof glass”…

  19. David R. McClelland says:

    Christie, fantastic job!!! Keep up the good work. My wife is very skillful in artistic crafts and I am going to encourage her to assist me on my future layout. It’s a nice project for both of us to work on.

    Conductor Dave.
    Dayton, Ohio

  20. Robert Rolfe says:

    This is way off model train stuff. however the post on Lexan (bullet proof glass)
    Is not true , in some cases, (in a copper jacked bullet it may be) In armor piercing rounds. it will not stop the bullet. I state this only because I do not want anyone to feel safe behind a sheet of Lexan, well unless it it over 3 inches thick, at this point it would take a 50cal, well 50cals do not care.

  21. Richard Sommery-Gade says:

    Love the realistic blend of all years as you find in California. After all those years and hard work raising a family, you deserve to play at what you have postponed for so long. Great setup.

  22. Richard Horton says:


    What was wrong with the posting from Wyoming? I am not sure what was stated that would upset anyone. Please feel free to email me and let me know what offended you so that I don’t say something in the future that would offend you or anyone else.

  23. George says:

    You will find one in every crowd guy , I think the lady has a great room and deserves to build what she wants no matter what any one thinks of her choice .
    I know a few ladies in the model aircraft crowd and they are able to compete
    right along side with the men and win contests and I know a lot of ladies in
    the wood working hobby that can run rings around some of the guys !
    I say go you to all of them !
    I love it when my wife works with me in the wood shop !
    keep up the good work Mam ! Be well and stay safe and have fun !!

  24. Ian McDonald says:

    great room everyones dream happy modelling looking forward to updates.

  25. Bob Schildgen says:

    This is a resonse to the reverse loop with two double crossovers. You need to gap both rails going and again coming from the loop. You might have to do the same on the other side. Only one reverse loop control is needed and it will cover either direction of operation and any position of the doublecross over switches. Hope this helps. Any layout is a good one because you did it and it is not up to an observer to comment on your layout. Great that you are getting back into model RR action. Good Luck. Bob

  26. Tony says:

    I believe you would be in good shape if you broke both inside rails on both ends. In a routed position (through the crossover) you would power across the points from the outside rails. Then for the straight position you would need to drop leads between the breaks. The polarity of the rail will match on both sides because it is on a loop. If it gives you trouble you could always put the leads between the breaks on a snap relay so they aren’t powered in the routed position. I hope this helps, wiring is by far, the most fun part.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *