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Xmas Fantasy | Susque. S Gaugers

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About The Layout

S Gauge Fantasy Layout

Below is approximately the same text that appeared in the S Gaugian magazine article.  

How It Started

It all started (again) in 1985, when after Christmas dinner with friends, I said "Hey, we should get out my old trains from when I was a kid." So we set up my American Flyer set, with my 21185 Engine and several freight cars in a standard oval of 12 curves and four straights on the kitchen floor. My small children and the two women looked over our shoulders as they cleaned up the turkey dinner. Over twenty years later I am still faithfully laying out a Christmas display that now consumes my living room.

Continuing The Tradition

The second year began with a 4x8 sheet of plywood, which eventually grew to the present day 5x12 platform, with a 4-foot extension to complete an L-shaped configuration. My goal has always been to create a Christmas yard, which was a tradition in my family when I was growing up. My grandmother and my brother were usually in charge. That tradition started with my father's No. 1 gauge Lionel set, but transformed into an American Flyer set in the early '60s.

Focused On Fun For The Kids

My Christmas layout has been focused on fun for kids and the toy aspect of American Flyer trains. When my oldest daughter Cara was seven, we started having her schoolmates come over for a caroling party and a train run afterward. This established the goal for when the platform needed to be completed. Thanksgiving weekend signaled the beginning of the mad rush to create a new Christmas fantasy.

The Whole Family Participated In Construction

As I worked on wiring new accessories or section of track and tried to work the bugs out of the 40-year old engines, my family began the daunting task of resetting the village scenes. This process began with decorating the Christmas tree, which always stood towering over the layout. Cara and Devin's favorite part of each year's build was laying out the farm scene. Devin had an eye for detail, such as breaking spaghetti into "corn" for the Plasticville corncrib, and cutting down a drink umbrella to shade a couple relaxing on the beach. Cara talked about the personal lives of the people as she placed them around the platform.

Accessories Selected With The Kids In Mind

I enjoyed stepping back and letting the children run the show. As the layout grew I always kept in mind what the kids would like to play with. I purchased a cattle loading platform first, and then a year or two later, the car unloader. Next came the rocket launcher, the biggest hit of all. Then I added several side-dumping 716 hoppers, filled with mini-M&Ms. I devised a chute that caught the M&Ms in a dish at the front of the layout.

Expanded Out Then Up

The first few years were spent in flatland. I expanded the layout to 5x12, all on one level. It was a typical Christmas yard. As I kept expanding my collection, I worked to have as many trains running at one time as possible. So when I ran out of space horizontally, I figured I could get more action out of expanding vertically. One level one year, then two, then three, until finally four different levels, in three separate locations, with Santa's mountain and a circling sleigh.

Nine Loops

At present, there are nine separate loops, and usually 8 to 10 separate trains operating. There are four sets of switches, and one single siding switch. There is approximately 150-feet of original American Flyer track, all of which is on original rubber roadbed or trestles.

Ten original American Flyer transformers ranging from the large 30B down to the modest 1 _A now power the entire layout. Also included are a 15B and several 8B transformers.


At the layout's inception, I would use cheesecloth strips dipped in Plaster of Paris to form the mountains. My technique later evolved into carving blue foam and "Great Stuff". The buildings have always been an eclectic mix of Plasticville, metal, wood, ceramic, and ceramic structures. Ground cover has always been "Life-like" earth and grass, which is laid down fresh annually a spoonful at a time.

The scenery is finished off with an equally diverse collection of "Life-like" trees, bottle brush pines, and many trees hand crafted by interesting vegetation from around my house.

Mostly AF Rolling Stock

The engines range widely, but include the following; a 21185, several 290s, a 322 S.I.T, a 342 S.I.T, a Franklin, a Silver Bullet, 302s and other miscellaneous engines. The girls' favorite, a custom silk-screened engine called the "Anderman Express" was delivered one year by Santa himself. Later additions included the barrel loader, a log-loader, and the loading platform with boxes and milk cans.

The train configurations are constantly changing, and consist of about 100 different freight cars and 15 different passenger cars.Everything on the layout is original, pre-Lionel American Flyer, both link and knuckle couplers. The only exception to this is two SW9 diesel switcher engines and approximately 20 S-helper billboard reefers, usually running as two separate trains.


Over the years many beacons and other accessories added animation and a spot of color to the layout. Some of the other highlights are the animated pond with oversize ducks and swimmers, the real water waterfalls, animated merry-go-round and Ferris wheel, moving kite attached to a girl, and circling airplane. These items are powered with a variety of motors including hobby motors and discarded microwave turntable motors.


Through the years my wife Doris has been an active and enthusiastic participant in my train collection and Christmas platform adventure. This year, marked the end of an era. With our girls grown, the caroling parties have ended after 16 years, and our new focus is continuing to entertain neighbors and friends of all ages.

This page created Nov 2005, last modified 5/14/2007 by . . James R. Ingram