I spent half an hour with my trains last Wednesday. It felt like visiting an old friend. As I loosened the screws on a misaligned section of track, I pondered what sort of introduction I could write to explain to folks the grandiose plans I had for my layout, which at this point is still under construction.
One thing I discovered after many years of modeling, if the layout is poorly conceived and designed it won’t bring you the kind of fulfillment you are looking for and will likely be abandoned. This means spending a lot of time in the planning stages before the first piece of track is placed. A good track plan will take an ordinary train set, that circle of track that runs for a couple of weeks under the Christmas tree, and transform it into layout that will bring years of enjoyment.
Recently, we moved into a smaller house. Part of the moving process involved tearing apart my old layout. A new house meant facing the prospect of constructing yet another train layout, the thought of which made my pulse quicken! My wife knows full well when I’ve entered the planning stage of a new railroad. She has to step over and navigate around piles of model railroad magazines, which surround my favorite spot in the living room for weeks on end.
I’ve dreamed of having a large layout someday. But in model railroading terms, “large” is a relative word. The gauge (size) of the train you hope to model defines how large, “large” is. For example, an “N” gauge layout can function well on an interior door propped up on a couple of sawhorses. A small bedroom would constitute a large railroad in “N” gauge. “HO” gauge is bigger than “N,” and has historically been the most popular gauge of them all. A 4’ x 8’ piece of plywood is a popular size for this gauge. A large layout in “HO” gauge can occupy a family room or a good chunk of your basement.
N and HO gauges are nice but nothing beats the thrill of handling larger and heavier trains. I wanted to build an “O” gauge train layout (“O” gauge is double the size of “HO”). An O gauge layout can easily take up an entire basement or assembly hall. I allotted a space of 30 feet by 13 feet. My future model railroad would be considered a medium-sized O gauge layout because the trains are so big.
There is one more important factor to consider before running off and buying trains – how much is it going to cost. You will not notice much of a cost difference if you’re simply buying a train set to circle the Christmas tree. You will notice big difference in cost, however, once you start buying track, track switches, buildings and rail cars. The bigger and heavier the trains, the more you can expect to pay (for everything)!
With all the aforementioned information taken into account, I had to figure out how to best utilize the space I set aside in my basement. There were two things I wanted to incorporate into the design. First, I hoped to be able to run trains continuously in an uncomplicated loop to accommodate visitors when they came to our house. Guests, especially kids, just want to see the trains run. If they are brave enough, they might want to operate one. Secondly, I wanted the ability to operate my trains like a real railroad. A successful operating train layout is where my satisfaction would come from.