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Prior Layouts
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Updated: 12/27/04

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Prior Layouts

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The drawings above show the layout my father and grandfather built for me at Christmas when I was four. It was a single loop of track mounted to a 4'x8' sheet of plywood. A roll of green landscape paper from Lifelike covered the board. I had few accessories. A girder bridge, a string of street lamps, and some plastic Revell structures (HO Scale!) were the extent of it.

The following Christmas, I received one right hand switch and a #3413 Mercury Redstone flatcar. I remember adding structures made from American Bricks, Lincoln Logs, and Girder & Panel building sets. I can find no pictures of the layout. It exists only in memory now.


As my sixth birthday and Christmas approached, I had ideas for expanding my trainset. I planned to ask for a left hand switch to close the siding loop. I was also interested in adding some lighted accessories such as a crossing gate or maybe some passenger platforms. These drawings show how I would have "completed" my layout. This layout was never built.

During these years Lionel was fading as a toy maker. The company cut back on its advertising. My attention shifted to the slot cars and futuristic SkyRail monorail sets I saw advertised on television. The trains fell into disuse. Within a year, the train board was disassembled and the trains disappeared.

In the autumn of 1998 I decided to build a replica of my childhood layout. At this time I was unsure as to whether I would build an exact replica of the layout or the "ideal" version I had planned as a child. I even considered a convertible version that could be displayed both ways.


As I started purchasing items for my layout, I learned Lionel had new competition such as MTH. In a 1999 catalog I saw their Premier New Haven EP-5 and was reminded of the passenger trains I rode as a child. I immediately ordered one EP-5 and two matching coaches. 

I realized the 4x8 layout I planned would not be large enough for the locomotives and rolling stock I now wanted.  I decided I needed to construct a larger layout of 5'x9' or 6'x9' size. A single loop with a passing siding would allow me to alternate between my O27 steamer and the larger EP-5 and passenger coaches. A stub siding would create operating interest and a more interesting station area.


This plan was drawn as an alternative to the previous plan. With ever more locomotives on order, I began to consider building a multi-track mainline not unlike that of the Northeast Corridor that passes less than a mile from my home. I created two independent loops.  The MRC Dual Power O27 transformer would deliver one power channel to each loop. The inner loop would have O42 curves and a stub siding.  The outer loop would have O54 curves and a passing siding for lots of continuous running action.


As I sketched plans filling more and more of the spare room, I concluded the larger layouts would prevent me from using that room as an office. I wanted to continue using the room for my computers. There was also the problem of accessing the rear of the layout. I abandoned the 5'x9' and 6'x9' designs and began designing an around the walls switching layout.

The layout shown here was actually built and became my first working layout. As simple as it was, I could break up and sort freight cars on the two parallel sidings. I also ran a short "commuter" train along the perimeter of the layout.


The layout above shows how I expected to expand my first layout. I had planned to add another yard track and a runaround for my engines. Later I could insert one or two short industrial sidings. By adding small trackside platforms and false front structures I would have places to spot my rolling stock.

As satisfying as the switching operations were, I found myself wanting to be able to run my trains a distance before breaking them up and turning around. Not having much space, I tried extending the long leg of the layout into my kitchen. Even this effort only gave me a total run of 38', one third of a scale mile.


High-speed cable Internet access arrived in November 1999. The cable outlets in my condo are all located in the living and sleeping areas so I moved my PCs to a corner of my bedroom. The back room was no longer needed as office space and so I dedicated the whole 8'x9' room to the layout.

The open end of the U shaped layout was closed of with a 3-foot wide section. My idea was to have two loops for continuous running, a freight yard, and an elevated section for a trolley. I had only one turnout at this time so I did not connect the two loops. Despite the lack of turnouts, a few straight sections laid parallel to each other created a convincing freight yard.



MTH makes a passenger station reminiscent of many train stations found along the old New Haven RR. It is a rather large structure that only fit well after I removed the freight yard.  Having no room to expand the layout further, I made the station the focal point of my layout. 

About this same time I purchased a video showcasing a replica of the 1949 Lionel Showroom Layout. Soon after, I picked up a book of display layouts from the 50s and 60s. I was reminded of the holiday displays I saw as a child at downtown department stores such as Reads or Malleys.  These train displays were rarely larger than my 8'x9' space.

Instead of trying to design a small hi-rail layout, I was inspired to build a large display layout. I could now easily fit three concentric loops to create a busy triple track mainline  similar to the NEC near my home.  By elevating a fourth loop for my trolley line I could utilize my bridge accessories. The independent loops simplified the wiring of this layout.  The elimination of switches made for very reliable running.  I installed some uncoupler/controller sections and purchased some operating cars so I could do something more than just watch the trains go round and round.


Work began on the layout shown above during the summer of 2002.  I decided to connect my two outer loops of track in order to make operations more interesting.  The inner loop would possibly have a spur siding for set outs and pickups.  The two layout sections would remain unconnected to each other.  The MRC Dual Power O27 transformer would deliver one power channel to each section.

It was not long before I noticed incompatibilities among some of my rolling stock, locomotives, and turnouts.  In spite of modifications to turnouts and rolling stock, there were still too many derailments and short circuits for comfort.  I had concerns about the electronics in some of these new engines and so decided it might be better to go back to a switchless design.


This is the layout I am working on now. It has three independent loops. Each loop has a controller section for all my operating rolling stock.  Click here for recent images.

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This site was last updated 12/27/04