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The layout footprint is 12'-6" x 35'-4". The layout is 30” wide throughout. Easily accessing trains on the layout was very important to me so I operate from the outside looking in at the layout. 


I spent a significant amount of time thinking about and testing for layout height. I wanted to make it as high as practically possible. That makes for more storage space under the layout and easier access for wiring and repairs. There are no “kids” coming here to see trains. That can be a huge mistake when building a layout too low for “kids” that never actually come to visit or they grow up leaving the layout permanently lower than it ever should have been built.


I measured my eye level while sitting in a wheeled drafting high chair I have. I made a layout test section that was 3” higher at first then I cut it down when I measured train clearance at my armpit while reaching to the back of the layout. It was all DEEP thinking I tell you!


I am 6’-2” tall. The layout is now 54” + - to the top of rail on the mainlines which I consider to be the perfect height for me. About 4 years after the layout was built I was told about measuring “nipple height” on the builder is perfect – sort of like everyone is supposed to know that “rule”. I checked and that is completely true for my decided layout height. How coincidental was that?




Added 5-17-20

I was nudged to make a track plan of my layout. The radius are nominally 63”, 60” and 57”. Doing the plan was fun but took about 6 hours. Luckily 1 of my Solidworks computers is right next to the layout. Trying to get the plan right was a challenge.



I don't claim my layout has any real railroad track design practices. I started with 16 feet built by someone else and made the rest. It does run reasonably well. I regularly run 40+ car trains. This is likely all of the track I am going to have. Any more track then this would get too congested. There is a large addition I have had in my head for many years but that is probably not going to happen.


Unfortunately the screen shots in Solidworks are not the best resolution but I got it done. It is rather accurate in scale. I did some extensive measuring of the placement of the track.


Click on photo for larger view.

Revised 11-4-20

In November 2020 I added another mainline crossover making this the final track plan extremely likely. Too much track is not good. I have to have some room for scenery!


Layout Track Plan


The following pages are the history, designing and building of my layout from day 1. Maybe there are some design ideas you might like for your layout. The text that was written at that time is shown on the pages remains mostly unchanged even though some of it is wrong now because the plans and layout design have changed. A lot of the designing was “make it up as I went along”. There was not a master plan from the beginning followed.




On January 2, 2011 I started to make my “permanent” layout in my basement. Trains were running 10 months later after some extensive work.


Getting a house with a basement also came with a major dose of reality. The plans for my 20 + year long dreamed but very unrealistic of “Wildwood to Pittsburgh” layout died the very instant I walked down my basement steps for the first time while looking at my house in June 2009. The basement was much smaller than “the dream” but I was completely OK with that. It was truly a life changing moment at that exact second I realized this could be MY basement and what I was going to be working with. In 30 actual seconds I was satisfied and said I wanted to get the house. Reality and in some sense maturity has finally arrived.



I quickly settled in on the idea of building something generic, manageable and moveable (sectional) but not built to S-Mod Standards. It will be higher and have sections that are larger than I could easily move for a weekend train show set up. I had to get trains running in a reasonable time frame to keep my interest and progress going.

My Layout

Getting started


February 2011

This large S –Mod module was purchased on eBay on 10-7-06. It was Don DeWitt’s former Grand Arbor yard module. In January 2011 I flopped the modules down on my basement floor to see where I should start. All sections are 30” x 4 feet. The track plan was modified a bit from Don’s original design by Jack Bartman the 2nd owner. I am now the 3rd owner. These are the sections shown left to right. All tracks were code 100.  Even for the last 2 sections at right of Don’s design that remained intact I did not understand the use of #4 turnouts to enter or exit a passenger terminal.  A double slip switch just seemed like it could be a place for constant derailments as well. Rule #1 for my layout design is all my locos I own can run on any track without derailing. The #4 turnouts had to go. Since I was powering my turnouts having a crossover on a bridge would be a problem to make powered. So the decision was made to not use 8 feet of the original Grand Arbor and make all new. Those 2 sections were eventually sold. How I modified the sections are shown below with photos added 7-17-11



Original_Module_1 small Original_Module_2 small Original_Module_3 small


Original_Module_4 small Original_Module_5 small Original_Module_6 small




I am using 16 of the original 24 feet for my layout. It will basically be a large loop for now with a footprint of about 12 feet by 35 feet. That will take up MOST of my basement. My straights will be 24 feet long. A freight yard will be the basic theme of one side. A passenger station will be the theme of the other side. The mid 50”+ radius turns will accommodate every locomotive I own. The track height will be about 52” from the floor. Besides the 16 feet being refurbished everything else will be made brand new. With the work done so far I have wondered if I just should have just started out completely new but I am beyond that now. It is a rolling work and idea in progress – get trains running in my house! I am using S Helper Service flex track (Code 139) elevated on ¼ ” thick Homabed for the mainlines. Everything else is code 100 flat on the deck. “Down ramps” have been made to transition between the elevated mainline roadbed and change of rail sizes.


Both ends will have 2) code 139 mainlines and a code 100 runaround/yard lead. This will be so the mainline trains can run unimpeded while keeping switching busy. There is a “freight bypass” route on the passenger side. Of course I will be using NCE DCC with wireless handles. There will be 3 power regions with many sub-regions protected by circuit breakers. All turnouts are going to be powered with the Switchmaster/Hankscraft stall motors. They will be controlled with DPDT toggles on the running fascia track diagram/control panel with bi-color LEDs to show route direction. I believe in keeping things simple especially if visitors come over and want to run.



Here are the control panel frames being constructed.

Control Panel Frames small



Some people have asked me about the engine house. It is a plastic O Scale trolley barn kit made by Korber. I bought it from Don DeWitt after buying the yard modules. I HAD to change the sign to something PRSL.






Photos added 7-17-11

They show the sections in order left to right.

Passenger_Terminal_1 Small Passenger_Terminal_2 small


The white panels are sidewalks for where the passenger station to going to be. I am adding about 4 feet to them on the new section to the right.

Passenger_Terminal_3 small Passenger_Terminal_4 small


Passenger_Terminal_5 small Passenger_Terminal_6 small



The Corner Frames

Added 7-21-11



There are a few possible pinch points in my basement. No matter how well I try to plan everything I just don’t know for sure until I “see it live” full size on my floor. Before diving head first into making the rather elaborate frames I wanted to cut some “flop down” sheets in the footprint of the corners to put on the floor and see how and where everything will go and fit. I have heard of people using large sheets of cardboard for this purpose. Luan worked just as well which is what I used.


Since the inside frame rail is going to be curved, I could not figure how to hold everything in place with the pressure of something curved. I decided to make a frame fixture that will hold the pieces in place while the glue dries. I made a temporary 70” x 70” work table that will be an assembly fixture.


I designed the frame in Solidworks but only used 2D. Everything can be measured to 3 decimals places if I wanted. I would have NEVER been able to figure this out without Solidworks or a computer design program. I was going to try and bend plywood as the curved back rail, but decided to use 1/8” x 3” aluminum flat bar.


Corner_Frame small


Below is my work table. With the exception of the above frame plan I almost never fully plan or draw anything I make. It is usually figured out on the fly. I like to do it that way because it keeps me thinking. The pivot is a 1/2” pipe floor flange that is reduced down to 1/4” pipe. It will eventually have many braces to make it into a full holding fixture.


The below photo at right is the first sheet of luan I cut out in the footprint of the frames. I think it kind of looks like a baseball field! With the exception of the curved side edge, I cut everything with a utility knife and long steel and aluminum straight edges because I wanted all of the cuts to be crisp and straight. There was also no sawdust generated in the basement. 


The first sheet turned out to be well within 1/8” of all needed dimensions and angles.  I dare say they are within 1/16” or LESS!


Pivot small Work_Table_1 small


The “compass” is a piece of 1” aluminum angle. I was rather proud of myself when I thought of the “pencil bolt” idea to secure the pencil for its simplicity. I just ran a 5/16” nut down the pencil. Problem solved!


Compass_1 small Compass_2 small



I am starting to lay out the first corner frame. I am very happy with how it is turning out. The measurements are really close to the plan. I have to tweak some of the lengths of the frame pieces but not more than 1/8”.

Corner_Frame_1 small Corner_Frame_2 small


Added 8-11-11


This is the first corner frame I completed on 7-29-11. I photographed it in my driveway


First_Frame_1 small First_Frame_2 small


First_Frame_3 small First_Frame_4 small


Added 8-13-11

Here are the basic frames completed with the ¾” deck installed. I have all 4 of them built to this point now. I rough cut the curve with a saber saw and trimmed the deck with my router and a flush cut bit.  The corner frame fixture has since been dismantled as soon as they were completed and returned to the wood pile for recycling into future projects.

Completed_Corner_1 small Completed_Corner_2 small


Completed_Corner_3 small Completed_Corner_4 small


Added 10-16-11

In the 2 months since my last update I worked on the layout extensively without much documentation of the progress.

I just figured I would the spend time working on the layout instead of photographing and updating this page.


As of 10-16-11 all sections are up on their real legs making a deck height of 53”. All of the above frame construction photos were on a work table with the legs not actually attached to the frames at 48” high. We flipped the sections vertically and back to horizontally MANY times during the wiring process. This would have been very difficult with legs attached.


The mainline track centers are approximately 3” throughout the entire layout. While 3” was a little wider than I would have liked the main purpose for building the layout was to be able to run anything I owned on any piece of track without concern of derailing or sideswiping another train. The track centers had to be wide because of the EM-1 boiler overhang running on the inside main possibly hitting passenger cars on the outside main.


These photos are showing the laying out of the curve center lines. I did not use the compass to draw fixed radius. I used the compass to just lay out starting reference points. In the middle photo below you can see where I used long wood splines (pine cut to ¾” x ¾”) that created a flowing constantly changing radius with easements etc. I tacked in a few needed points. The natural curvature of the wood did the rest making the laying out of the center lines very easy as long as you don’t force anything. Making the 18’ long splines was annoying. They broke a few times during the layout of the lines but the results are well worth the effort.


The radius is nominally 62”, 59” and 57” for the 3 curved tracks.


Curve_Track_Layout_1 small Curve_Track_Layout_2 small Curve_Track_Layout_3 small



I should have taken photos of the underside when I got the modules. Everything was done by the previous owner in white wire. Tracing a wire was impossible. As with any project like this, especially wiring things are expected to go wrong. My friend Charlie Leonard is helping me greatly especially with the wiring and finding shorts. After truly months of trying to figure it all out I got frustrated and just cut everything off. Finding one of the shorts on one of the old sections I refurbished was particularly frustrating. We still don’t know how or why there was a wire UNDER the boards of a grade crossing. That is where the short was! Unbelievable!



These photos show the wiring the new 8’ long section showing the bare 14 gauge copper wire buss lines, turnout motor power buss, and Hankscraft 3 volt 1 RPM stall switch motors running at about 2 volts. With that gear reduction they are unstoppable at full voltage. It is rather typical of what the rest looks like. ALL turnouts are powered except 1 that is getting spiked shut. There is no need for anyone to reach into the layout for ground throws. There are now 9 wires running the entire length of the underside of the layout. 6 wires are for the DCC power buss for the 3 power regions. Three wires are for powering the Hankscraft motors as plus, minus and center tap. We have completely isolated the frogs but they are powered. The control of the motors and flipping the polarity of the frog is all done at the panel with a single DPDT toggle switch on the panel. Crossovers require a triple pole double throw toggle switch.


Bare Wire Buss

I am likely the only person that opted for using a bare wire buss. Lots of people said not to do it they have to be twisted pairs. Since I was going to solder everything and not use the suitcase connectors that I heard fail having insulation on the wires was a problem. Finding a roll of 14 gauge bare wire was a challenge at the time. NCE recommends 14 gauge is good for up to 50 running feet which I believe I have. The DCC components sit right in the middle of 50 running feet going out in both directions. The track and buss are totally gapped or insulated at the end of the 50 running feet. NCE recommends to NOT have a connected loop of DCC it could negatively affect the digital signal.


Everything that is needed to power track or turnout motors is available locally on every layout section with this buss. Track feeders are typically 6” long at the most. The buss runs right under the mainlines that they feed.



Underside_1 small Underside_2 small


Control Panels

I was asked why I was making “control panels” if I was using DCC. Simplicity! I want the learning curve to run my layout to be about 3 seconds long. Once you master the use of the NCE handles, controlling turnouts are just flipping a toggle switch. All turnout controls are shown in their actual place on the linear panel fascia. The panels are Masonite that hinges downward with auto pin striping for the track diagram. They will have bi-color LEDs to help identify the turnout route.


The 4’ long “bridge” section only has a crossover on it so it has a smaller control panel. All DCC equipment is being mounted on a shelf on this section. It is the perfect ½ way point for the power buss to go left and right. The buss will terminate at the ½ way point on the other side. I am installing snubbers to filter and correct the DCC signal in the buss at that point.


Control_Panel_1 small Control_Panel_2 small Control_Panel_3 small



With any luck I will be running some trains on my layout by 10-17-11


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Updated 11-4-20

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