What do I want from a Layout?

I have a small space in a finished basement, so I have restrictions. It shares space with the family desk so this must be accessible to all in the house. This eliminates the possibility of a shelf style layout that could form a loop and allow for continuous running. Continuous running is something I want from a layout. Although not as popular, I am more of railfan modeler, I want to see my models running by in prototypical scenery. I guess it goes back to the “Train Garden” layouts I visited at Christmas time  in my earliest years. Operations do not entertain me as much. I built a switching layout a few years ago, it just didn’t do it for me.

The prototype I chose to model, the B&O’s Old Main Line (OML) was more of a through route by end of WWII, it still had some customers and a way freight that went from Baltimore to Brunswick one day and back the next; operating six days a week. The 1951 or 1952 version of this local was chronicled in the January/February 1992 issue of the BORRHS The Sentinel magazine. The photos and the story are my primary source and will allow me to do a little operating (as conventional wisdom suggests is the way to get maximum enjoyment) while being able to run through freights. Passenger Service ended on the OML in 1949, so I am foregoing that operating and train watching opportunity by focusing on a summer day in 1950 or 1951.

1952 OML Overview
The Old Main Line in 1952
1954 B&O Form 6 for the eastern portion of the Old Main Line

As stated in an earlier blog post, a location I have researched and wanted to model is Ilchester, MD. The OML comes through a tunnel from Baltimore and immediately crosses the Patapsco River.  This was always envisioned to be one end of the visible layout, shown in the right of the layout sketch below.

My initial thought was to use the full width of the 2’x 4′ modules for the mainline to run once through the scene on a shelf layout with the a helix or some arrangement at one end to return the trains back to staging out of sight on the right.

early shelf style design with helix

This led to a lot thought about how to get the return track back to staging. The staging would have to have the same type of return loop, be it a helix or steeply graded 180 degree return curve. No great inspiration struck me and I kept coming back to things that have already been designed and those led to too many compromises or too much cost for me to consider. I also realized that most of ideas would have have my models running out of sight more than in view, so that didn’t make sense for someone who wanted to watch trains.


Some of the sketches above were an attempt to build a support structure to have the hidden return line only be a few inches below the front visible line to remove the need for a helix.  As the two foot module width available for visible scenery was being reduced to 18″ to accommodate the hidden return track, I realized it might be easier just to make the return track visible with some simple scenery elements.  That led to my “final” sketch below.

September 2018 Final Layout Sketch cropped photo
My “final” sketch for the overall layout before starting the first three modules. September 2018.

I moved the shelf layout a few feet from the wall and decided the former hidden mainline could represent a relatively straight section of track west of Gaither, MD.  There will be a similar return loop on the right side in the unfinished portion of the basement beyond the finished wall. It will incorporate staging to support through freights that will run both ways and a way to reverse trains to support the local freight that heads west one day and back east the next.

This will get me started, I should have enough lumber build the first three 2’x 4′ modules on the right.  This will give me a chance to develop techniques for track and scenery, build some structures, and run some trains.  If I revise my vision for the rest of the layout, I still have lots of flexibility. These modules could become a peninsula for a larger layout that is primarily a shelf layout taking up more of the living space. It could be a point to point or pushed against the wall if I don’t progress to building the return loop. Time will tell.

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