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Trolley Museum Track Plan

Minimalist Model Railroading Case Study #3

Apple Creek Trolley Museum

Essence of a Trolley Museum

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: Trolley Museum
Layout Type: Portable Layout
Size: 24"x72" (Two - 24"x36")
Scale: On30 (O Scale - 30" Gauge)
Era: 2000s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 36"

Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: February 23, 2016

For this case study, let's take a look at how to apply the design techniques of Minimalist Model Railroading to a freelanced railroad.  The idea for this layout is to capture the essence of a day at the fictional Apple Creek Trolley Museum.  Before we dive right in and start making sketches, it is a good idea to ask ourselves, what elements capture the essence of a trolley museum? For that, we need to look at some prototypes.  Around the United States, about 25 different trolley museums can be found.  Most of these museums have some similar elements which include the following:

As I approach the design of the layout, the most important piece will be to make sure each of these three elements is represented in some form on the railroad.  If one piece is compromised away, the layout will move away from its goal in representing a trolley museum.  This doesn't mean these need to be the only components of the final layout - but these elements are the critical pieces. Since this is a freelanced layout, making sure these components are included will help make the finished layout feel more like a prototype based model railroad.  To start the process, I've laid these elements out on a basic schematic which will be referenced as the final design is developed.

Schematic Diagram of Trolley Museum Elements

Schematic of trolley museum essential elements. | Diagram by Jim Spavins.


With these essential elements in hand, the next step of the design process is to identify the design constraints of the layout to figure out the form and shape this new railroad will take.  These constraints include the space, time, money, and skills needed to actually build the layout.  These constraints are unique to each layout builder and for this railroad my constraints are as follows:

After identifying the design requirements and determining the essential elements to a trolley museum, it is now time to head to the drawing board to create a plan for the layout.  The first big decision is to determine the footprint of the railroad.  Since my space constraint was limited by the amount of layout I can comfortably fit into my vehicle, a 2'x6' layout - comprised of two 2'x3' sections will be the canvas.  While this is by no means going to challenge any layout size records, it will actually fit comfortably with my other constraints of time, skills, and money.  In some ways, by limiting the footprint, I can move ahead with the rest of the design a bit quicker.  One of the challenges when creating a design for a larger layout space is the almost infinite number of arrangements the layout could form.  Sometimes this can cause a bit of decision fatigue as having too many options to evaluate slows the process. In this case, having the restricted footprint helps move the process along as we know the design must fit inside the box.

One of the next big decisions is to decide on the scale to build the layout. Since one of the requirements is to stretch scratchbuilding and detailing skills, HO or O scale would have the slight edge.  An N scale layout would probably be better if the interest was creating a longer scenic ride for the trolley museum but that is a low priority.  After a bit of searching, I came across the On30 Bachmann Spectrum United Street Car which is quite compact but is very similar to the trolleys operated by the Issaquah Depot Museum in Washington state and the Waterfront Trolley up in the Yukon. The latter trolley is even still operating in its narrow gauge form. Having such a small piece of rolling stock makes the possibility of an O scale layout a reality.  Amazingly, by using On30, the space requirements aren't much different from a standard gauge HO layout.  While the footprints of some of the buildings would be smaller in 1/87th, the track widths are the same and even the trolley equipment is about the same length. 

With these decisions checked off, it is time to start sketching.  Referring back to the schematic drawing earlier, the idea is for one end of the layout to have the trolley museum area and have a mainline extend to the other end of the railroad with a small platform or station for museum attendees to visit.  I created a blocking diagram to show how this will be laid out. 

Blocking Diagram for Wood River Branch Trolley Layout

The blocking diagram for the Apple Creek Trolley Museum layout. | Created by Jim Spavins.


Using this as a guide, I began to arrange the various essential elements into the space.  I attempted several different arrangements including a no turnout layout with the trolley barn at the end off the run - similar to the layout of the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, but decided that it shortened the run too much.  I eventually settled on a design which incorporates the trolley barn into the trolley museum building as well as the trolley ride platform.  This frees up the rest of the layout to include a bit of a run to the other "station" area at the opposite end of the line.  This mainline is broken up by several transition scenes including a grade crossing and a small river.  This will help add some visual breaks which creates the feeling of a longer trolley ride.  At the other "station," passengers could exit to take a hike, canoe ride, or maybe have a picnic.  A few hints of these activities could be added along the front edge of the layout.  In theory, the trolley would operate back and forth all day so riders could catch a ride back to the museum when they are done with their activities.  The final design can be seen at the beginning of the article.

Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum

The Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. | Photo by Jim Spavins.


The two sections will be built so they can be set on top of a typical 30"x6' fold-in-half table.  Each section will also have a cover which will allow the two sections to be protected as well as stacked when being moved from place to place. I did build a mockup of the benchwork (which was eventually used for the base of the MacLeod Central) in which the covers were designed to be flipped upside down and the layout placed on top of the covers to give the layout more height.  With the addition of a few bed risers under the four legs of the folding table, the mainline was about 45" above the floor.  This allows for a nice view of all the potential detailing on this layout. 

The benchwork for the Apple Creek Trolley Museum layout.

The mock up of the Apple Creek Trolley Museum. The covers can be seen flipped upside down with the layout resting on top to add more height to the railroad. | Photo by Jim Spavins.


While the operations of the layout are fairly straight forward (and should be automated - this is a traveling display layout after all - it would get quite old running the layout back and forth eight hours a day), there are a lot of fun scratchbuilding and detailing projects for this layout.  For example, the museum and house could all have completed interiors.  These should all be lit with various LEDs.  In addition, automation projects, like the train control as well as grade crossing flashers would add to the finished railroad.  Of course, the single trolley needed for the layout could be scratchbuilt and heavily detailed.

As can be seen, the trackplan includes all of the essential elements - plus a few more - and meets the design constraints set for the layout.  Even though it would be freelanced, the Apple Creek Trolley Museum will feel like many of the prototype trolley museums from which it drew its inspiration.

For Track Plan Tuesday's, I am digitizing all of my old track planning notebooks and sharing the designs here on the website.  To see all the plans, visit the track plan home page at: jimspavins.com/jimstrackplans.

Minimalist Model Railroading Case Studies

Capturing the Essence of Railroading

Introduction - Minimalist Model Railroading

Case Study #1 - Claremont Concord Railroad
Scale: O Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #2 - CP Rail's Kicking Horse Pass
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #3 - Trolley Museum
Scale: O Scale        Size: 2'x6'

Case Study #4 - N&W 611 Excursion
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #5 - CS Industries
Scale: O Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #6 - Sono Tower
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #7 - Boston and Albany Railroad
Scale: N Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #8 - Central Yard Engine Terminal
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #9 - Iron Horse Railroad Museum
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #10 - MM&R Timber Co.
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #11 - Springfield Metro
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #12 - South Station, Boston, MA
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #13 - Canaan, CT
Scale: N Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #14 - Chas Chemicals
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #15 - Westerly, RI
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #16 - Connecticut River Drawbridge
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #17 - Valley City Viaduct
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #18 - Wood River Railroad
Scale: O Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #19 - Portable Shortline
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #20 - Charter St. Steam Plant
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 8"x15'

Case Study #21 - Eastern Scenic Railroad
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #22 - West Springfield Yard
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #23 - Good Ol' 4x6
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 4'x6'