Layout Design general discussion

traingeekboy Jan 2, 2019

  1. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    just gonna babble away a bit here...

    There a have been several discussions on layout design here recently. Several were merely asking about shelf track plan designs. I think many of us have been doodling track plans for many decades now, and the whole idea of the track plan seems like a very personal aesthetic choice.

    There is also the whole aspect of what the model train media and culture says about what one should do, and what you want to do.

    Part of why I quit reading model train magazines is because the editorial staff moved more and more toward a low imagination super high -supposed realism- format.

    I'm 55, and my initial exposure to model trains was via the more mixed variety of layouts and articles I saw in the 70's. Most of our books were still coming out of the 50's and 60's too. For me, my sort of formative stage was a combination of scale modeling AND toy trains. Thus all the super detailed giant layouts I see in most mags simply bore me. It's just all the same.

    As I keep repeating in many discussions on here, if you have nowhere to run trains, then maybe what you should build is a really simple and portable oval layout. And I am not just saying this for the OP, I am saying this for everyone. One should own a small tester track for those times that the master layout is undergoing maintenance or hasn't reached complete operation yet.

    Another thing I would advise doing is tacking some track down in either a Inglenook, or Time Saver, and trying that out. Reading about the different types of layouts has nothing to do with actually running one. While I am ok doing a little bit of switching action on a layout, I really just like to run my trains like toy trains. I can do the roundy roundy for hours and feel very content. Unless you try both having an small oval AND having some switching -- How Would You Know Your Own Preference?

    Years ago I built an HO switching layout on a shelf. It was about 12 feet long. It had tons of operational potential. I took advice from magazines and built it at chest height. DCC with a sound decoder. Blah Blah Blah... I ran it for about an hour and never got back to it. I learned something by doing that layout.

    This is all subject to one's own experience as a model railroader. Yet, not doing starter layouts can often lead to failure layouts. If you get stuck on any one stage of a layout build, you might never build a layout at all.

    Anyway, I thought I would post and we could all engage in a general discussion about layout design.
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  2. chandlerusm

    chandlerusm TrainBoard Member

    I’ll agree in part. I’ve been away from the hobby for decades. I don’t have room yet for any sizable layout. I am building a bookshelf switching layout to enjoy and to learn from.

    When I can, I plan on an L or U shaped layout and I am waffling on an out and back, a point to point or something with continuous running along with some switching. At this point I’m not positive what elements are more important to me at this point in time, let alone what will be important to me then.

    If I can, I’d like to have a point to point that allows for a continuous running option that fits in my space. Or that’s what I want today. Time will tell.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
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    BNSF FAN TrainBoard Supporter

    Babble, hey, I am good at that! :D So, here we go.

    I agree in a way as well. The model magazines have always driven my desire to have that big dream layout. It is a cool thing but it's not for everyone and not everyone will ever have room to do it even if that could. I also am not a huge fan of the trends in the magazines toward being prototypical and using less imagination. Aren't rules 1 and 2, it's your layout and have fun?
    Funny thing is, I have had two bigger sized layouts now and I'm actually feeling like going back to the starter size layout is going to be better for me. Hoping maybe it will spark some of that imagination I've lost over the years. Don't get me wrong, big layouts are great and present a lot of challenges. My problem was never not having something to do but just the opposite, having so much to do, it was hard to decide what to tackle next.
    Late last spring, I took down my bedroom sized layout and crated it up with hopes of reassembling it in our new home someday. Reality for now is in the new home, the room I can use for trains also has to be shared with my home office and workbench so not really room for an around the walls layout like before. Still maybe in the future someday but who knows so for now, the crates will stay in the storage closet. Also, I'm just not sure I have another "big" layout in me at this point. So, with that said, I do have room in the center of my space where I could go as big as a 4ftx8ft layout. While I would like more than just a basic oval, I am thinking I could start with that which will allow me to just run trains while I am working on other parts of the layout. I also want to make a small 1ftx3ft shelf that would be a test track and DCC program track and could also maybe double as a small time saver type set up.
    My last layout was DC with some simple wiring and blocks that were set up to allow some flexibility with DC cabs but also easily able to run DCC by turning on all the blocks and hooking up my little Digitaxx unit. All was atlas flex track and switches but this time, I am thinking Kato unitrack. I have heard so many good things about it.
    For now, it's all just thoughts in my head and some free hand design drawings on a notepad. Dreams, wants, expectations, era, elements, RR, and many more design and development steps to cover.
    Will start a separate thread for this new layout in the N scale section when I do start to work on it.
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  4. in2tech

    in2tech TrainBoard Member

    After trying to build my dream layout for years, which was a complicated 4 x 8, only having space for a 2' x 4' layout with another under a bed so at times I can have an L and a large layout, was the best thing that ever happen to me. As a 2' x 4' I can manage, and even that can be large at times, but I love the size of it versus the larger one. Less expensive too as not as much area for scenery, track, buildings, etc... But that's just me. Some people want a huge layout and they should have that. Just not for me at this point!

    Enjoy whatever layout you choose to build!
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  5. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Where are you guys getting your plans, or did you somehow devise your own?
  6. Chops

    Chops TrainBoard Member

    I am in agreement with the Less-is-More philosophy, in so far is that it works better for me. The more complicated, the more turnouts one wedges into a given area, the more likely things will go wrong. I've tried various track plans, and most of them bored me silly after a few hours. I've tried just laying
    out available track and just let it take me where it would, that had some interesting results. Then there is the local model train club, which started
    its layout in 1986 with modest modular six footers in an oval, that expanded over the next decade to a withering entanglement of track, much of
    it subterranean or otherwise inaccessible. That being said, it is what it is, and we are fortunate to have a large HO layout to run longer trains, even if they do routinely derail under a deep mountain.

    The trap I fell into, and many of my model railhead friends, is that we always want a bigger layout. Over the decades, I've become increasingly
    curious about what one can do in a minimum space, and some of the results are astonishing. On this Forum, Nicola built an HO micro layout that
    measures, if I remember, about 30" by 50". It is more the astonishing as the small dog bone encloses a small spur set up for switching and out of
    a quarry, and it all looks amazingly finished and polished.

    Hats off to the craftsmen with big bucks, and the skill to go with building big layouts. I remember seeing a video of this guy's layout in Germany, I think an heir to the Porsche fortune or something, and it was like two solid miles of single track threading through a Bavarian forest under catenary. I swear I was frozen to my chair in a catatonic state of boredom. That's fine, for them, but the ingenuity of a small layout that bends the rules and come out shining are the ones that really captivate my attention.

    Here's a little video of a 2x6 I built while doing some apartment dwelling some years ago. It's not finescale, but I had fun doing it and its been to quite a few exhibitions:

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  7. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Chops, some good points in your post.

    The whole "must have bigger layout" thing is interesting to me as well. I know there are those who are very dedicated to their layouts. But to be honest, the bigger I got the less I got done. It's really easy to plan mega layouts these days, but they require real time and effort and money.

    Do you have link to Nicolas layout, and also, your link won;t let me see the video. It says something about blocked content.
    EsK likes this.
  8. jdetray

    jdetray TrainBoard Member

    Early on, I bought Model Railroader's 101 Track Plans book, which was useful to the extent that it exposed me to many different types of layouts. It took me a while to figure out that some of the track plans in such books are not very practical, but the ideas are helpful.

    The Internet is full of track plans, of course -- thousands of them! You can spend weeks using Google to find interesting track plans.

    For some basic theory of layout design, a good starting point is the Layout Design Gallery on the LayoutVision web site:

    Among other things, it shows why the typical rectangular table is often a poor choice as a layout platform.

    If you look at enough track plans, you eventually find one -- or a combination of two or three -- that accomplish what you want to do.

    When I got to that point, I found layout design software to be helpful. I ended up with XTrackCAD, which is free and includes track libraries for all major brands of track. I created my track plan in the software and tweaked it until I was happy. I then printed my track plan in full size and using it to construct my layout. XTrackCAD:

    - Jeff
  9. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    I guess, that was what I proposing, was to go against the grain of many of the common design rules.

    But, you should know them before you break them. ;)

    Armstrong's realistic layout planning book is always a must read.
  10. txronharris

    txronharris TrainBoard Member

    I have to say I'm agreeing with most of you. I model N-Scale and while I'd like to say I'm an accomplished modeler with a publication worthy super layout, the reality is the only layout I've actually ever completed was my one N-Trak module which consisted of a single siding and a grain elevator.

    I struggled with the feeling nothing I would do could ever measure up, then after taking a step away for a while came back with the mind set that I should build something manageable, that fit my interests, and that I can enjoy and be proud of. That's led me to switching/shelf type layouts, thoughts of modules (currently in the discussion list is my modern grain elevator idea), and the realization I can make something that fits my style, enjoy, and can be completed without mountains of cash and lots of time that I don't have so it will never be completed.

    I've really looked at lots of ideas from across the pond and how they crate vignette layouts in small spaces that are high on realism and operations. No, I won't be running long unit grain trains, but if I feel the need to do that, I can join my local club and go to the monster layout once a month and get my fix. I have to fight the urge to get bigger and bigger each time I look at a plan I like, but I feel like I can be high on operational realism, detail, and other things that are important to me in a limited space, and then focus on weathering, painting, scenery, etc so I can still get the opportunities to model lots of things, but on a manageable scale.

    So pick your poison based on what you think is the ideal, then ignore the critics, do what makes you happy, and remember that while some may strive for things that make them happy, you should strive for what makes you happy. In the end, we're all just a bunch of overgrown kids playing with trains because it makes us happy. I can appreciate the smile from a kid if they are looking at a super detailed layout or a T-Trak module made from Legos, because I still smile just like a kid when I get to play trains.
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  11. Chops

    Chops TrainBoard Member

    Sometimes the audio get blocked, try this one, I try to use royalty free bumper music, but sometimes that gets tedious, I am not sure this will work.

    Here is the link to this guy's HO micro layout.

    Um, I suppose I have to say the obligatory thing that everyone's approach is good, so as to not risk ticking somebody off. I am speaking only of
    personal preference. I just happen to find great interest in what a modeller can do in a small space, as those efforts are typically home grown to
    the surprisingly unique. I've seen the debates about 4x8 vs. 40x80, and I don't find they add a whole lot to the general discussion. Txronharris rather sums it up: "pick your own poison."

    What this guy did in the above link really pushed the limits for operations and realism in a small space.

    From my perspective, a model railroad is an example of Folk Art. Somebody is reaching into their personal experience of life, and in some manner
    recreating it.
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  12. Chops

    Chops TrainBoard Member

    TrainGeek, I've added you to my list of people I follow. Very interested in your lines of thought.

    I see that you in live in the Denver environs- one of my favorite places. Not so much the 14th Street Mall, etc, but the preponderance of bike trails, forests, and streams, many of which accessible by using light rail, another bonus. Proximity to those extraordinary mountains with the weather rolling in with such intensity is what rang my bell.

    On one of my trips, I toured the Golden Railway Museum. Needless to say, it was a thrill to ride upon the Galloping Goose. Like a kid on the merry go round, they could barely get me off it. I rode in the front, I rode in the back seat, I rode in the back. It really is a 1:1 train set in all respects.

    What is your experience of model train clubs in the Denver area? The Golden Railway Museum, lived up to its name- "golden." It looked quite exclusive and I would only guess it has handsomely expensive dues to keep it that way. Are there others that are more middle-of-the-road?
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  13. Chops

    Chops TrainBoard Member

    In my first effort to try something compact, I ended up with this:

    It was a three track mainline. The trap I fell into was too many turn outs too close together, using a three main lines, which became much more of a problem when I wanted to expand to longer wheel base coaches, beyond four wheeled wagons and four wheeled coaches. I also tried to wedge in a small fiddle yard, which was very problematic and never worked well at all:

    After two years of spending more time trying to make it work reliably, I pulled it all up (that took all of 45 minutes) and relaid it modifying a larger track plan; retaining its two track main line, and its intersection of the two mains- but not joining them, I came up with this, and now spend more time running trains and less time fixing stuff, which is a great pleasure in and of itself. NOT to say this approach is superior to any other plan, merely that it works better for me and my skill set:

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  14. WM183

    WM183 TrainBoard Member

    I think the model RR magazines (at least in the US) have done more harm than good to the hobby. They depict these amazing basement filling layouts built by people who must make more money in a year than I will likely make in my lifetime, full of immaculately decorated brass engines and resin kit built cars; I cannot fathom the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars some of those layouts must cost. Add in the ever increasing prices for RTR locos and cars (50 dollars for a freight car, 30 for an N scale truck? Seriously?) and it frightens people away.

    I think smaller layouts are better, and are certainly the wave of the future for most of us. I am so grateful for learning about the types of layouts they build in the UK; it gave me a much needed new perspective on what I wanted to build, and how much operation is possible even with a modest track plan and size.
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  15. Chops

    Chops TrainBoard Member

    At the risk of creating dissension, WM183 has a point. My favorite section of MR was "Student Fare," and they appear to have done away with it a long time ago. In fact, some decades ago, I sent in an unsolicited article entitled, "Less is More," and hearing nothing back from MR, was doubly astonished when they published a small article using that title and my theme under a staff writer's byline.

    As stated before, my style of track planning and layout design is superior: for me, myself, and I. All due respect to those who have the skill and sheer engineering ability to build large layouts.

    Would there be any interest in starting a thread with the criteria of featuring layouts, any gauge, any skill level, 8' x 4' and smaller? Typically, when I go on line, I am searching for precisely those layouts, as it reflects my personal interest.
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  16. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Chops, I will have to post about Denver train experiences somewhere else. Gonna try to keep this on topic.

    WM, I would say that you have some good points. And it's not about saying this is better that is worse when it comes to individual modelers.

    Part of why I began this General Design thread, was the idea that we see things in the model media. Yet what we see may not match out personal reality. I like to admire a huge layout at times, but I truly miss the smaller layout articles too.

    Our hobby used to be divided by two type of modelers: Craftsmen, and Toy Train Runners, with those who fell somewhere between. And cost was in the Brass loco range. I gotta agree with you WM, buy that one loco you love just because. I did that a while back with my Life Like 0-8-0, iot was just a kind of loco I loved no matter what scale. used to eye the old Kids in O scale for them actually.

    And again, I also think we used to be fantasists about our layouts in general which allowed for a bit more freedom.

    Chops, I like your collection of British Stock. I have a couple of British outline models myself, though my main interest until about a month ago was continental trains.

    In these new posts, I suppose my question is: Do we see master level work in magazines and then we aren't up to it yet?

    Side note: One of my favorite old articles was a student fare featuring a 5x9 switching short line.

    Another favorite article was a guy who decided to check everything he owned and then build an operating layout in a short amount of time. He set aside the models he had that did not run well on standard Atlas c100 type track, and built his layout to what seemed to be basic toy train set standards, yet it all ran smoothly.

    So my other question would be about consumerism. Our products are much more geared toward a scale model culture now. No one is going to leave those old Tyco, Bachmann, or Life Like cars on the layout. Is part of the problem that it's more about buying things than making things?

    I spent nearly a year collecting things for a future layout, and then I somehow got sucked into doing a test project. So built that and it;s sort of 95% done. And then I built some other things. I am doing more model railroading without a layout these days.

    I have started thinking about making a layout and when I do that I get into perfectionism mindset. Will it be enough layout for me? But I like about 5 different track plans and I want all of them. So that is my Big Question for a lot of the people who might visit here and not post. Do you have a layout, or have you always wanted one but just never were able to fulfill your inner desires in that regard?

    And how many people have actually had a running layout that was very simple? It seems like a lot of people have planned layouts, yet no where to run. And this is my agenda, is to convince people who come here planning a super layout, is to ask if they've ever made a semi toy train layout. And as some of you have pointed out, it's more fulfilling to stay within one's skill level, or life reality level, and have a layout!
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  17. WM183

    WM183 TrainBoard Member

    Oh ack! My bad; I meant "better for me" when I said "I think small layouts are better" earlier. I also think showing more layouts that can be completed at more modest price and time investment points would benefit the model magazines, and the industry as a whole. I like my prototype freight cars and steam engines, but I think nothing of owning and running NYC, B&O, C&O, and any others that tickle my fancy on one layout just because i like the models. People can and will get inspiration from the magazines and such, but in the end all of us should only ever build, buy, and run what we like.

    I do wish the loco manufacturers would make a few less Challenger and Big Boy models, and a few more prototype models of smaller steamers. Half of the locomotives on the NYC, for example, were 2-8-2s or 0-8-0s, and they had hundreds of 2-8-0s fairly late on the steam clock too. These can run on much more modestly sized layouts than huge Niagaras or Mohawks. Small and mid-sized 4 axle diesels are insanely popular; small Alcos and early Geeps sell like hotcakes. Small and reliable steam locos would too. More modestly sized locos look and run so much nicer on smaller layouts!
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  18. Chops

    Chops TrainBoard Member

    TrainGeek, you and I are on the same page. Your questions are very interesting. Here are my views, not intended to one up, one down, or anything other than engage an interesting conversation:

    1. Consumerism. An consumer study a few decades back demonstrated that a $5 purchase could be as psychologically fulfilling as a $5000 purchase. Additionally, a fascinating expositon, A Brief History of Humankind, (Harari: 2014) discusses at length a sociological concept of the "Index of Happiness." Basically, being happy is wanting what you already have vs. wanting something bigger and better.

    2. One of my driving motivations for model railroading is nostalgia. We had very, very limited TV reception growing up (thanks be to God for that blessing) and so we read, and I read and created miniature HO empires in an unheated and un-airconditioned barn annex, alternating beating my hands to stay warm or wiping sweat out of eyes. May and September were pleasant respites.

    3. Like you, I find the intense focus of hyper-realism detracting from what I can reasonably do. I suppose I could sit in front of DIY tutorials and practice, practice, and practice, and maybe get a hang of it, but that is not an efficient use of my spare time and really, for me, not terribly interesting. I glance at the hyper-proto-real stuff on occasion, but it very quickly leads to the effect of having eaten too much cheesecake and my attention wanders badly. I hear the latest is Kadee couplers with magnetic glad hands on air hoses that automatically attach and detach, precisely scaled, of course. Perhaps we shall live to see bonsai Ponderosa's in precise 1/87th scale. Or maybe an onboard commode flushing upon an EMD SD70MAC.

    4. Tyco, vintage Bachmann, and vintage AHM: I confess. I am guilty of secretly gloating when my Tyco flyer skims about the Club layout on exhibition days flawlessly for hours, whilst my companions struggle to get the remote controlled pantographs to function on their GG1, or their precisely modeled, individually numbered freight cars silently uncouple trundling up a grade with half the train turning into a runaway. As an added bonus, when a rugged old Marx falls of the rails, no big deal. When a $100 rivet proto freight car, with its scale flanges, tumbles down and embankment, the howls and curses regarding prototypically rent piping and brake wheels almost makes me want to giggle. No class envy here, I just like what I got.

    5. I, too, in past years, have struggled with that old Enemy of the Good: Perfectionism. Some guys achieve great satisfaction from achieving it, and again, hats off, and I am glad for them. Still, I have met many, many modelers, good, bad, but none indifferent, over the years and it is rare that I meet one who does not carefully cherish his boyhood Tyco in the back of a closet.

    6. I am astonished to see starter sets DCC equipped. I guess it serves as a hook. I've done DCC, and had a lot of fun operating five trains at once, with additional operators, on a layout that spanned a two car garage. That is to say it was fun, until a micro layer of grime caused the decoders to fail, having to shut down operations entirely whilst the entire line had to be meticulously wiped down. That limited sessions to 45 minutes, 30 minutes of cleaning, followed by another 45 minutes of operating, and so on.

    I am debating to add a little DCC to my OO layout, some of the pieces are plug and play, so that reduces the risk of screwing something up royally (like the time I cross wired a dual motor Spectrum 44 tonner, adios to that one). I figure if I start with one PNP locomotive, that would allow the other two to run analog as the two mains are electrically and mechanically isolated from one another. One PNP and one analog on one line, one analog on the other line.

    The main question is how much do I want to add complexity to my model railroading, particularly given how much time I have spent getting it work reliably? Even when I walk away from my 4x8 Tyco layout, "Armadilloville," (posted under HO Thread), invariably some tiny connection warps from the heat or the cold, some rail joiner gets loosened, or some new kink in the rail requires straightening. At least I can trouble shoot, and fix, these issues PDQ.

    Thank you for your most interesting views.
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  19. Chops

    Chops TrainBoard Member

    I would hasten to agree, WMS, and it never appeared other than your own point of view. At least stateside there appears to be an abundant number of light and medium steam locomotives (see "Long Time Gone" under HO thread). As ever, one must be exceedingly cautious before plunking down one's hard earned ducats. That featured Mogul lasted all of an hour before it seized up stone solid after a mere hour of running, having been carefully broken in by reverse running for a good 30 minutes. Not the first, either, of that manufacturer, who's first letter is B. Jimmy and I sent that piece back to Philadelphia three times and each time it was simply replaced with a new one, and each time something else failed- the side rods fell off, the DCC board froze, or the motor seized, all while trying to break it in or use it, cautiously.

    Other chums have had similar and consistent experiences. Once bitten, twice shy, I say.
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  20. Chops

    Chops TrainBoard Member

    A micro layout I did a while back. The kitty to the left used it as a scratching post and obliterated it. Bad kitty. Bad. Next one I'll definitely go with a hollow core door.

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