Saturday, February 2, 2019

Sunday, February 6, 1991 was the day that I began building my HO Scale model railroad layout in the finished basement of my house.

With a modest investment of $100 for wood and screws and $200 for the initial locomotive, rolling stock and tracks, the layout was originally built to be in the main room you see here. Later that summer, the layout was expanded to circumvent my ham shack, But there was one small problem: synchronization. To explain this, please look at the following photo:

As you can see, the tracks going around the ham shack rise up in height so that they can cross above the tracks next to Motor Storage. But back then, the tracks crossed at grade meaning that they cris-crossed each other. And if it wasn't timed right, or synchronized, I would create a Gomez. What is a Gomez? Well if you remember the Addams Family on ABC way back when, Gomez Addams would run his trains towards each other with an explosive ending. For me, it meant one train T-boned the other and it was quite the mess. So, up went the track as shown below:

But now this is just the radio shack. The main room is next to the kitchen. Basement and kitchen on the same floor? Well, yes, that is correct. When my house was built back in 1955, it was known as Nana and Nunu’s Summer Cottage, named after my Dad’s parents. The basement was just one big room with a TV den off to the side which is my radio shack. A propane stove, refrigerator, kitchen counter and a washing machine were it plus 2 tables for eating. I bought the cottage which became my house in April 1982. Seven years later, I was divorced and needed something to occupy my time. At first, I had an attic-sized Lionel 027 layout but I wanted to model in HO Scale. The above date was when the bench work began.

Forward to the summer of 1991 and I remember building Motor Storage, where the locomotives are, by candle during a hurricane. Fast forward a few more years and the layout is the bench work and tracks as you seem them now.

So let’s go around the layout and see what is here. There is Zoc, the interlocking tower that is centered inside the Wye:

Which leads into the main throat track where all of the yard and Motor Storage leads come off of.

There is a neighborhood of houses, a schoolhouse and a church:

A general store 

A fire station and a 3-story hotel

A police station and a KFC restaurant

A workshop building

And the centerpiece: Union Station
A replica of News 8 that was given to me by my morningside counterpart upon my retirement:

 Further back is Coco’s B & B and News 8's TV tower

And the layout would not be complete without an AM radio station, whose call letters and frequency comes from my son-in-law along with a pair of towers for the AM array.

  There is also a dinosaur/steam locomotive display

And a very large freight, passenger and caboose yard along with a fuel depot:

The opening in the middle of the yard is for yours truly to go work on the yard. And the door handles? They help to pull me up. Knees can only do so much.

There is also a siding called PHIL that stores the material/mail handling cars used on both Amtrak passenger trains and the REA Express cars for the Pennsylvania and New Haven passenger trains. And at the end of the siding you will find the post office.

The control panel is quite big. There are 3 power packs: one for each mainline and one for the yard and balloon assembly track.

There are 24 controllers for the various switches and crossovers and control modules that take care of the power and polarity needed to run the trains properly.

There are 3 signaled grade crossings that have flashing lights that are activated by small photo cells placed between the tracks. 

When the locomotive hits the first photo cell, all of the crossing lights turn on. When the caboose of that train goes over the second photo cell, the crossing lights go out. The layout is signaled for trains running on either track in either direction. And we can’t forget the tunnels and bridges. 

Tunnel 1 goes thru the kitchen pantry closet and in back of the clothes dryer. Tunnel 2 takes the tracks from the main room into the radio shack. 

Tunnel 3 takes the tracks underneath the tracks between Tunnels 1 and 2 and back into the main layout room. 

There are 3 bridges: KIT, for kitchen, which carries the tracks from the pantry closet into the main room:

DRY, for Dryer, which takes tracks around a 90 degree curve towards Tunnel 3 plus a mirror to see Motor Storage:

And HAM, for ham shack, which carries the tracks between Tunnel 2 and Tunnel 3 and allow the trains to circumvent the radio shack.


In the radio shack are two houses complete with pine trees and snow on the tracks and yards and each house is the home to a railroad maintainer each with a Hi-Rail pickup truck.

As mentioned before, Motor Storage is where the locomotives rest until called to duty. The railroads represented here are:

New Haven, both passenger and freight; Santa Fe freight; Amtrak in 2 versions: East Coast and West Coast; Conrail freight and the Pennsylvania Railroad for freight and passenger trains.

AND we can’t forget the vacuum and cleaning trains. 

Vacuum?? Yes. One of the maintenance trains is equipped with a Union Pacific car that vacuums the dust off of the tracks. The motor is powered by 8 AAA batteries stored in the material handling car in front of the vacuum car.

And there is a cleaning train. The centerpiece of that train is a 1 pound solid brass car that stores lacquer thinner for use as cleaning solution and a pad covered with corduroy fabric that is soaked with lacquer thinner to clean the tracks. 

After much research, it was found that lacquer wipes land dries instantly leaving no residue as compared to mineral spirits or isopropyl alcohol. With a combination of nickel silver driving wheels on the locomotives and nickel silver tracks, maintenance is kept to a minimum. Twice a year, the tracks are really scrubbed to alleviate any further oxidation buildup.

And if notice something in some of the photos, those are Plexiglass sheets that I installed last winter to keep all rolling stock on the rails in case of a derailment.

And one more item before we depart:

This pine cone comes from near the snow shed of the Union Pacific's Transcontinental Railroad in Norden, California. I was on a trip with my folks to visit friends in Santa Rosa and I took a side trip via I-80 thru Donner Pass and into Truckee. On the way back, I stopped by Norden to locate the snowshed and found a bunch of these cones on the ground. I grabbed one and carefully packed it to take home and it's been here ever sense.

 So that is the layout. Thanks for stopping by.