Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Railroad Museum
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Size: 4'x6' (or 2'x12')
Scale: HO Scale
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 4
Min. Radius: 18"
Article by: Jim Spavins
Posted: December 13, 2016
Published: March 7, 2014
There is nothing more synonymous with model railroading than the 4'x6' or 4'x8' HO layout. Almost everyone in the hobby started with this ubiquitous footprint before moving on to their next model railroad and seemingly every magazine offers their annual take on this type of starter railroad. With a little rearranging, the 4'x6' layout can be an interesting base for the intermediate and advanced model railroader for whom space is a premium or needs to move on a regular basis.
For the sake of discussion, let's take a look at this traditional model railroad layout and make some assumptions about design constraints for the railroad.
Space: As stated, we will assume there is no place to permanently set up a model railroad. However, maybe there are places where a layout could be set up for a few hours or maybe over a weekend. Maybe the layout could be setup in the living room. Or maybe it could be setup on the dining room table. Maybe there is space on a book shelf or kitchen counter to temporarily setup a railroad. It is possible to find a place to set up a layout temporarily. The tougher constraint would be finding a place to store a layout away which could be set up and taken down easily. How about finding room under a bed or on a shelf in a closet? How about hanging from a wall or the ceiling in a basement? There are plenty of places to put away a model railroad if you think creatively.
Skills: A small compact railroad can be enjoyable for everyone from a beginner to an advanced builder. Some basic carpentry skills would be required to build a suitable base but otherwise a beginner could build a small layout. Even a skilled model builder could find lots of projects from super detailing railroad equipment to track or simply use the layout as a test bed to try a new skill for which one would like to improve.
Time: The time constraint for this railroad is that the layout can only be set up on a temporary basis. Since these small railroads are generally simple to construct, the amount of time spent building the railroad isn't much of a factor in the design. The important consideration would be to only have a few pieces which can be quickly assembled to get trains up and running - and just as importantly to be put away in a hurry.
Money: A layout this small probably wouldn't break the bank if you are considering starting in the hobby. On the high end, assuming you bought the best of the best commercial components, you could probably have this layout finished for less than $1000 - including the cost of a control system and rolling stock.
The design at the beginning of the article is aimed at someone who only has a limited amount of storage space and limited room to setup the layout. (Note, if you are really strapped for space, check out the Charter Street Heating Plant design for an even more compact layout). The sectional design allows the layout to be broken down into three manageable 2'x4' sections which could easily be stored in a closet.
In addition, the layout has two possible arrangements when setup with the track configuration as drawn. The first is a loop configuration in which all three pieces are setup. As an alternate, the layout could be set up as a linear switching layout with just two of the sections creating a single linear prairie town. Part of what will drive which you might want to use will be based on the space you have available to set up the railroad. If you have a spare bedroom, the loop configuration might fit. However, if the room also needed to share space with a bed for guests, the two section linear layout might be easier to setup and use on a regular basis.
The design lends itself to options so that if you have to move frequently, one of the two possibilities can work for the space you have available for model railroading. Since this is a small portable layout, this layout also has the potential to be shared at a local model railroad show. Maybe the three section loop can be brought out to a show to keep trains running in circles but only the two piece arrangement is setup permanently at home. The third section is tucked away in the closet until it is needed for the next show.
The alternative layout arrangement setup as a linear 2'x12' layout. | Trackplan by Jim Spavins.
Operating the Railroad
The essence of railroading this layout is striving to recreate is that of a small prairie town. The layout includes a number of the generic items found in many of these towns from the grain elevator, a lumber yard, and the train station. In either layout arrangement, all of these features are present and the operations can generally be conducted in a similar pattern.
On both layout arrangements, a crew could start with the daily local freight on the interchange track. The crew would enter town and work the two industries spotting cars as they are needed at the various industries. When the crew has completed its work, they head back to the interchange track to complete their work. This is about a 30 minute to 45 minute operating session. While this may not sound like a lot, if you factor in setup time and break down - this could fill a two or three hour time period.