Tom’s layout

“Heres a few of mine stage 1 almost finish track is 6.2 mtrs long each side x 3.2 mtrs wide 5 mainlines and 15 branch lines ..all dcc controlled trains,points etc with all trains having dcc sound cards to their own proper sounds…………….thanks


“Hi Al, I have been asked by numerous guys on your page about my track plan.

Here it is as it stands today in a layout room 22 foot by 9 foot in HO scale 3 foot narrow gauge ie: HOn3 drawn in 3D on a program called Autocad Lite.

I am sure than the guys can pick up what goes where from the many photos that have you kindly posted for me. The Red Hook Wharf scene is at the bottom right. The block in the top right is my work desk (a roll top desk that my wife had made for me 25 years ago). In the photo, the Red Hook Wharf is on the left, out of the photo.

I must edit a short video of my two HOn3 Heislers (logging locomotives) numbers 2 and 3 double heading on the layout.
Heisler number 3 can be seen in the photo pulling a log train just off the trestle.

A friend helped me set up the double header on my Lenz DCC system. As soon as it is done, I will forward it to you.
Next for set up are my two Shay locomotives (also logging locomotives) and my two K 27 locomotives. The reason for the double headers when needed, is to push either a wedge snow plow or a Rotary snow plow. Lots of power is needed to clear snow from the track.

I will send photos of the snow clearing equipment as soon as I take them.

Brian – Cape Town”


I love Barry’s scenery and I am working to achieve his quality. But there is an easier way to get the base for the scenery set down.

I use spray insulation in a can. You just spray it in place and let it grow and harden in into a free form shape. I buy the cans when they are on sale. One note is when you start using a can you should finish using the whole can. It is possible but difficult to store and reuse the can. Also protect track and other scenery, the stuff is very sticky and messy. Do not touch it while it is soft.

The basic technique to shape the hardened foam is to use a hack saw blade without a handle, just tape the end to protect your hand. You can adjust the length by just breaking it off. Other tools such as files, Dremel tools, etc can be used to get the shape you want. If you do not like the shape you can spray in more foam.

Now for the big secret, to finish it use a course wire hand brush to go over the shape horizontally to create strata. Be rough and work it hard.

Some of the foam will be smooth where you do not brush but most will be porous from the wire brush. You will fill this in with a base coat of white latex house paint. I let a second coat just dry to the touch yet soft enough to blend in the top color coats.

I do not know about your shop but I have plenty of latex house paint stored from old projects.

For the final touch I use the Leopard Spot Method for painting. Again using different colors of house paint. Watch the last two minutes of this video. Finish with a black ink wash.

Here are photos of my unfinished work in progress while I learn to use this method.


“Hi Alastair

A model train tip that will save a lot of frustration: Leave room around your baseboard so you can reach track and rolling stock on top and wiring underneath. In a confined space make an operator hole in the baseboard to achieve the same object. I recently designed a new baseboard and discovered that I would not be able to reach the wiring.

Best wishes


That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

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



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

19 Responses to Tom’s layout

  1. Brian Messenger says:

    Hi Ed, I have used foam from the spray can with great success. In my photo above, the finished foam scenery is just behind the curved trestle. I used the same method that you use and paint it with acrylic paints. It works for me. As I alway say to my modeler friends – it may work for me but may not work for you, do what works for you.

  2. Nice layout you have there Tom , and a good track plan there Brian …looks to work well

  3. Jaaques Shellaque says:

    As always, great pics and tips. Brian’s wife made him
    a roll-top desk (She’s surely “a keeper”-both wife and
    desk). js

  4. Bill Fitzpatrick says:

    Hans , and everyone else as well!!!!! DO NOT USE ZONOLITE !!!!! It is vermiculite. It is LOADED with ASBESTOS!!!!!!!!!!! This stuff is so bad that it’s removal is recommended for professionals. It is considered a hazardous waste and cannot be thrown out with your regular trash!!!!!! This stuff is very bad news to be around. PLEASE get rid of this stuff, but do it PROPERLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    ………………………………VERY sincerely !!!!!
    ………………………………..Bill Fitzpatrick (from near Philadelphia PA.)

  5. fred says:


    I have used the foam as a base for plaster cloth. It is great for planting trees where some of the forsest floor is visible. I will be trying the wire brush route as well

  6. Jimmy Economou says:

    I am just starting with model trains and I am having a tough time getting started. I am trying to lay as much track as I can on a 4 X 6 layout. It appears to me that I can get more HO track if I use the regular track as opposed to the Bachmann Easy track? Is that true or am I kidding myself?? I think the curves are tighter with the regular track.
    Thank you,

  7. Carl Halgren says:

    For Hans’ Zonolite formula above, try replacing the zonolite with sawdust. For color, mix in latex house paint – brown for soil, grey for rocks, etc. I use a mix of sawdust and white glue diluted with water and paint.

    Still in Training,
    Carl in Kansas

  8. Tim Morrissey - Fargo, ND, USA says:

    Echoing Bill’s advice here to all. Do NOT use Zonolite insulation material for anything! It contains a microscopic hook-shaped fiber that embeds into the lung air sacs, causing scarring of the lungs. (And other ailments.) Zonolite is the root cause of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, which left hundreds of people in Libby, MT, with asbestos related disease. My employer has the federal Medicare contract which serves these people. I worked on that desk for two years, and know the suffering. Do NOT use Zonolite!

  9. Jan says:

    Hi Jimmy,

    Don’t try to cram as much track as possible into a small space with tight curves. You will regret it later.
    Less is more… Try to be inventive when creating a track plan so you can shunt and run some trains but avoid concentric circles in whatever form or shape. It’s boring.

    I’m going to take out as many curves with a radius of 415 mm (16.3″) or less and replace it where possible with 500 mm (19.7″) or in worst case 450 mm (17.7″) to get smoother running trains.

    I’m not the greatest scenery builder and I love running trains 🙂


    (Mr) Jan
    From Ternat in Belgium

  10. nice layout you have built Tom ..Dangerous dave

  11. Mike Balog says:

    Regarding the use of Spray Foam in a Can… This is Very Hazardous Material, Flammable! You should wear a face mask to avoid breathing in fumes. AND Very Difficult to get off any exposed skin or clothing. The product’s maker recommends you use plastic throw away gloves using this material. For scenery, you could also use cheap latex caulking in a tube, Also sheetrock mud that you can spread like butter on a ground material base or hillsides. I used to make a plaster pancake batter consistency using a paint brush onto plastic or metal window screen, or newspaper base for hills or mountains. Painting it onto the base in several coats to build it up… hard plaster shell method. Also can use the same method on insulation board material.

    Another thing, I would like to mention to other modellers… To Use Clear Flat Matt Finish Spray on bridges, buildings and use a brush on “people” to lose the unnatural reflective scheene that appears in all Photos of modellers layouts. At station platforms with “clear glass roofs” you could use clear flat clear coat to cut the reflections. As you know, People are not naturally “Shiny”, nor are their clothes. Unless they are in direct sun, and have oil on their skin like at the beach. Use a Pin to paint in “eyes”, “ears”, “nose” and “mouth” on figures.. That would make the figures look more like real people in photos. Also, Cut Off the plastic disks that are on the bottom of feet or shoes of the figures. It would look more realistic standing in a road, or on a sidewalk. Otherwise it looks like they are either on a hoverboard or standing on a manhole cover.
    I have used the ATLAS HO Scale Model Turntables for years. In order to make it more realistic looking, besides repainting it in dull colors, you could either build up the yard base around it or cut an outline in the table or foam board to countresink it, into the layout base. Use the spackle compound painting it on fill in pieces between the tracks to smooth the ground appearance and paint it using concrete color or use spackle or plaster to fill in, and smooth the cracks.. Use ground foam or colored sawdust on top of the wet surface, Color it the same as the rest of the yard base material. At the end of sidings, you can use railroad ties piled up instead of expensive track bumpers. ~ Mike in New Hampshire, USA.~ Tues, May 5, 2020.

  12. Tim Shirk says:

    Hey Jimmy,
    My first table was all track. Two mainlines, two branchlines, two sidings and elevated reversing loop. Could run two trains simultaneously. Later squeezed in 4 bldgs and 3 ft piece of road. Loved running the trains. Fit some track so close the trains nearly touched. Cut and straightened curve track to get it all in. Modified old switches to accomodate todays cars and engines. Amazed myself. Smile. No where to go or reason to, i discovered. Then it got boring and frustrating. Was not fun to just run. Sigh! I set it aside finally. Remodeled, ripped up track, kept the parts i really liked, am changing sections to accomodate humanity. Cuz they are why trains exist. My table is 5×10 ft and using 027 track in O scale. Original track plan might have worked with HO or better with N scale. Hard to plan when not sure of what you want. Good luck. It can be modified later.

  13. Will in NM says:

    Tom, That’s a very nice layout you’ve created. I especially liked your cement plant scene. It sounds like you’ve mastered everything you need to know about DCC.

    Brian, Thanks for the track plan and photo. It helps to understand the photos you’ve posted previously. Looks like a great layout. I look forward to seeing your videos/photos of double-headed climaxes, shays and K27’s.

    Ed, I’ve used spray foam in construction projects, but I dislike that it is so hard to control the expansion of the foam. I’ve more recently found that they make some “minimally expanding” foam that works better for sealing cracks, etc. without having excess foam ooze out of the sealed area. I don’t know if that would work any better for model railroad scenery base … just thought I’d throw it out there for consideration.

  14. Herman Crauwels says:

    Hello Jimmy,
    Great layout beutiful scenery.
    HC Treintje Belgium Herman.

  15. Mike Bifulco says:

    Wise words from many on this site. When I set out to build on three 4×8 foot tables I bought far more track and switches than I would ever need. Once completed, the layout was so cluttered with track that there was hardly any real estate left to develop. So I started a major reduction operation, got it down to three main lines and a few sidings for activity. Much more fun to build scenery and buildings. Now of course I have enough leftover track and switches to build another layout but wife is not yet convinced to give up more space in the house. But I am having fun thanks to Al and all the great tips I learn on this site!

  16. Hey Brian, good to see many of your pics taken from eye level! So much more real than all aerial shots. Other posters please consider!


  17. Gerald Edgar says:

    Superb ground rock work!

  18. ScenicsRme says:

    The expanding foam had a hidden quality not mentioned: It will continue to expand for several days normally, or even longer if suddenly exposed to heat. If your train room has sunny windows and no AC or is in a space that gets quite warm at the change in seasons the new expansion can distort track laid over the foam.

  19. Stephen Hill says:

    You can buy blocks of foam at most art and craft stores , many sizes and shapes , these are consumer safe and easily crafted and molded to desired shapes . They accept paint well and glueing . Safe to use , I use them for all sorts of things on my display … cut out to fit into gondola cars , paint it black and shake the top it looks like coal . Great for filling in gaps here and there .

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