Toy Train Layout

When I was a child, I didn't have a layout--I built railroads on the floor and took them apart when I was done (photo). Now that I am an adult, I seldom have enough time to build a railroad before running trains--and my middle-aged body no longer takes kindly to me lying on the floor to play--so I have built a layout.

(Please note: the layout changes over time. The photos and the drawing on this page do not represent a "snap shot" of the layout as it existed at any single point in time. Buildings and accessories move from one end of the layout to the other or are completely removed to be replaced by others as the mood suits me.)

The benchwork is an off-center "T" formed from plywood sheets framed with 1"x4" or 1"x2" strips and covered with artificial indoor-outdoor "grass" (drawing). The overall size is 8'x7'. Nearly all of the O-27 track is recent-vintage Lionel and it sits on gray-painted cork roadbed. The layout is designed for counter-clockwise operation.

All the turnouts are early metal pieces by Marx. I've found that these older-style all-metal switches work significantly better than the newer plastic switches, particularly with the lightweight 6" tin rolling stock. Currently, there are three #608 manual and two #1590 remote switches on the layout.

Four Marx #1624 auto-uncouplers for use with eight-wheel plastic rolling stock are located on the layout; two are on the industrial spurs and two are on the main at the entrance to these spurs. (See my Hints & Tips for more about the #1624 auto-uncouplers.)

A black Marx #0605 lighted bumper (photo) is located on the end of one of the industrial spurs and the K-Line version of the same piece is at the ends of each of the other spurs. All of the spurs are electrically isolated from the main, allowing me to park a locomotive on a siding while running another train on the main.

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click to enlarge

The passing siding utilizes the two #1590 remote switches and can be electrically isolated from the main.

An original trigger (photo) for the Erie log-dump car is located on the layout. This piece is mounted on a piece of Marx track--the Lionel track won't accept it.

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click to enlarge

Track power is provided by a home-made power pack consisting of a step-down transformer followed by a Variac. This device was built by my father in the early seventies after my original Marx transformer died. Since the original aluminum box he used was worn and ugly, I have re-packaged the unit in a wine-bottle box from the south of France. The buttons are for the two whistles on the layout. The knife switches controlling current to the spurs and siding might be overkill but they certainly look impressive.

The transformer is conveniently located in one angle of the "T". From here I can easily see and reach the manual switches while leaving one hand on the throttle.

Illinois Central girder bridge -- click to enlarge homemade truss bridge -- click to enlarge Great Northern girder bridge -- click to enlarge nighttime freight passes through Moundsville -- click to enlarge
click to enlarge

There are three bridges on the layout. All three are located such that a portion of a passenger train sits on a bridge when loading or unloading passengers at the stations. (I think this looks really cool!) A Marx 18" Illinois Central girder bridge and a Marx 12" Great Northern truss bridge (photo) span the small canyon on the route between Girard and Hyde Park. A home-made telltale (photo) on the approach to the girder bridge reassures the train crews that no portion of their train will strike this bridge. A home-made truss bridge, constructed of foam-core board, spans a canyon near Moundsville formed by the left side of the "T".

The layout features three passenger depots: a Marx GIRARD whistling station, a Marx whistling UNION STATION, and a pre-war American Flyer HYDE PARK STATION (AF #90, photo). The UNION STATION is the small one with the battery-powered whistle; since the original on-the-station button is incomplete and non-working, I have wired the whistle to a 3 vdc power supply with a button located on the transformer. The GIRARD whistle is powered by a Marx #1239 50-watt transformer located on the layout.

The UNION STATION serves the town of Moundsville. Not surprisingly, the GIRARD station and the HYDE PARK STATION serve the towns of Girard and Hyde Park, respectively.

A tin-litho barn by Ohio Arts is located near Girard. It is positioned to hide the Marx #1239 transformer that powers crossing gates and whistling station in Girard. This barn was missing the tin-litho base when I purchased it. Currently, it sits on a base I fashioned from foam-core board.

Moundsville -- click to enlarge

Hyde Park -- click to enlarge

Katydid Petroleum -- click to enlarge

A home-made tin-and-paper petroleum industry, KATYDID PETROLEUM, is served by the spur between Moundsville and Girard. This spur is protected by a Marx #413a switchman's tower. Two auto-uncoupling track sections are located to allow me to leave the back of a train on the main, drop off or pick up a tank car or gondola on the spur, and then re-couple to the back of the train.

KATYDID PETROLEUM features a home-made bubbling oil tank fashioned from a bubbling Christmas night-light (646kb Quicktime video), and a flaming waste-gas burn-off stack (photo and 650kb Quicktime video). The proprietress of the facility proudly flies a home-made 48-star American flag.

The spur between Moundsville and Hyde Park features a Marx #412 derrick loader and a Faux Toys YARD OFFICE (photo). Currently, this spur serves small lumber and coal industries.

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click to enlarge

A municipal water tower constructed from the remains of a damaged Marx rotating beacon tower, a steel can, and a home-printed paper wrap-around serves the water needs of the town of Girard. For the safety of aviation, the tower features a blinking incandescent bulb on top.

Many of the buildings that can be used on the layout were made by me from paper. All of the paper buildings used with my toy trains are laminated to cardboard or foam-core board during construction for increased ruggedness and to prevent warping of the paper. I can swap these building around to change the feel of the layout.

MILES' TRAINS (a toy train shop specializing in Marx trains), WILLIAM McFADDEN PHOTOGRAPHY, and VICKIE'S DINER were custom-designed by me and are based on paper buildings available at Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. A small railroad shed is an enlarged OTTO'S GARAGE from Looks-Like. THOREAU'S CABIN is from Fiddlers Green, slightly enlarged.

Girard -- click to enlarge

The EASY-TO-MAKE PLAYTIME FARM, EASY-TO-MAKE FIREHOUSE IN FULL COLOR, EASY-TO-MAKE VILLAGE, and THE NEW PRETTY VILLAGE are kits by Dover. These kits are very nicely done, easy to construct, and are appropriately sized for use with Marx trains. THE NEW PRETTY VILLAGE is a re-print of a turn-of-the-previous-century kit by the McLoughlin Bros. and seems particularly appropriate for use with 6" passenger trains; the town of Hyde Park is made up of these buildings.

I am slowly making my way through the CUT AND MAKE GI PAPER SOLDIERS by Dover. As published, these soldiers and their equipment are approximately 1/32-scale. I scanned the book and printed them 75%-scale for a better match to the layout. The tank looks nice sitting on a 6" flat.

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The K-Line paper COCA COLA CIRCUS, a reprint of a 1902 Coca-Cola adverstising promotion, looks very good with THE NEW PRETTY VILLAGE and 6" tin trains. I haven't cut the original; for use with the trains, I have scanned and re-printed the components at a slightly reduced scale. (If I had enough junker 6" cars, I would build the Faux Toys circus train to use with this set.)

I have two candy-tin carousels, one of which is a CHURCHILLS from England, and the other is the HERSHEY PARK CAROUSEL. I also have a wind-up ferris wheel, a Chinese version of the much more expensive German toy. These three items look good with the COLA CIRCUS. (I also have half-a-dozen or so candy-tin buildings, all of which are decorated with printed-on snow, that can be used on the layout or on the under-tree Christmas layout.)

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I have been scanning and reprinting an original unbuilt Marx #151 "34 PIECE RAILROAD and VILLAGE CONSTRUCTION SET" for use on the layout. I have built the shopping district (photo), the fire station (photo), the railroad station (photo), the ranch house (photo), and the two-story house and garage (photo). The shopping district is printed full-size. I enlarged the station so that it can be slipped over the UNION STATION in Moundsville in order to change the appearance of station while not losing the whistle functionality. The fire station is similarly enlarged to better match the scale (such as it is) of the trains and the other pieces on the layout. While the original kit was printed on matte-surface cardboard, my re-prints are printed on glossy photo paper and closely resemble the look of lithographed tin-plate pieces.

The layout is lit by a pair of Marx #72 goose-neck street lamps, a pair of Marx #74 street lamps, and numerous K-Line #K-0105 street lamps; the K-Line pieces are the same as the #74 pieces by Marx but are black instead of grey. The lights are powered by a 12vdc power supply located under the layout.

Until recently, the layout featured a Marx rotating beacon tower which, true to form, refused to rotate and had two melted lenses resulting from bumps that left a lens resting on the bulb. I have replaced this with the recent-production K-Line #K-0132EX, a piece that is made from the original Marx molds but has a vibrator motor for rotating the head; it rotates quite nicely, thank you, while still maintaining the feel of the original Marx piece. I have found that the annoying vibrator motor buzz of this unit can be completely eliminated by careful adjustment of the bulb within the bayonet socket.

The streets in Girard and Moundsville were cut from matte-board and were spray-painted flat black. The lines are cut from white paper, the white helping to create a pre-war feel to the layout. The brick streets in Hyde Park were cut from matte-board onto which I glued printed brick pattern I found here.

The small residents of my layout drive various 1/43-scale models of vintage cars and trucks by "Dimestore Dreams" (image) and "Road Champs" (image) depending on my mood and whether I am running 6" tin or the scale plastic rolling stock. (The Dimestore Dreams vehicles seem particularly appropriate for use with the 6" tin.)

A pair of Marx #438 metal operating gates protect the grade crossing in Girard; they are activated by insulated track sections and are powered with direct current for very quiet operation. A Marx #409 twin light crossing flasher ("Caution High Speed Trains") and a Marx #317 manual crossing gate protect the crossing into Moundsville on the other end of the layout. A #406 single-lamp crossing flasher and a Marx metal crossbuck sign protect the grade crossing at KATYDID PETROLEUM.

When I'm feeling more whimsical than usual I run my wind-up Schylling Lionel Lines Rail Zeppelin (photo and 900kb Quicktime video).

When my son feels whimsical, Godzilla visits.

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No--this layout doesn't provide much opportunity for prototypical operation, but--just as when I was a child--I greatly enjoy watching a train run around the loop, hearing the sounds of the steam locomotive and hollow cars on hollow rails, and smelling the aroma of warm motor and smoke oil.