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Model Train Layout, A Photographic Guide For Beginners


H.O. Model Railroad Layout

We are creating a 1970’s era H.O. layout on an 8’ x 4’ sheet of plywood. This hub’s purpose is to help the beginner learn how to do the set-up procedures so that the chosen configuration lies in a realistic landscape.

Build Sawhorses

The person building the H.O. model railroad needs to decide the height of the layout he or she can comfortably work at. A 38-inch-high layout might be a comfortable height for a medium-tall railroader. When you are putting in hours at your train hobby, you do not want to strain your back, so be careful in determining the height you choose.

Build your sawhorses to the height you want to work at.

Build your sawhorses to the height you want to work at.

Get yourself some 2” x 4”s and appropriate brackets to build the sawhorses when you go to purchase the 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood.

When you are ready to begin work in the room you have chosen to build your layout, cut the 2” x 4” wood to the height you want your table to stand. Screw on the brackets, stand up the sets of ‘legs’ and place the 4’ x 8’ on the top.

8' x 4' plywood sheet set atop two sawhorses.

8' x 4' plywood sheet set atop two sawhorses.

Preparing the 4' x 8' Plywood Sheet

If the 4’ x 8’ (or 8' x 4') has a finished topside, you need to rough it up a little with sandpaper.

Apply one coat of acrylic paint to the top side of the plywood sheet. This prepares it for the bonding adhesive which you next apply so that you can place the grass mat on top.

Woodland Scenics is one brand of believable-looking grass which comes in mat form. This can be purchased through Walthers or any number of dealers. Alternatively, you can buy different shades of artificial grass which you sprinkle on to a layer of glue. Sprinkled grass in light, medium and dark colors is effective and useful when creating a smaller scene or H.O. diorama. But a grass mat works just fine on a large flat area.

Matted Grass Wouldn't Place Well on this Diorama


Need to Back Up a Little

Digressing a bit, if the 4 x 8' plywood sheet is not finished smoothly, it will have knots in it. You can use LePages’ Polyfilla to cover the knots and cracks in the wood. Apply the Polyfilla before the acrylic painting is done. Let the Polyfilla set for an hour. When it has set, sand it smooth and brush the surface clean. You will notice that the Polyfilla doesn’t set ‘rock hard’ which is important because you might have trees and other pieces of scenery with which you will be puncturing the surface.

Apply the Pollyfilla to the Plywood

Plywood with Polyfilla applied.

Plywood with Polyfilla applied.

Paint it, Glue it, Lay the Grass

Once you have smoothly sanded the 4’ x 8’ plywood sheet and painted it with acrylic paint, let it dry for a day. Next, paint on a layer of white glue so that you can lay the grass mat in place. The glue has a two hour set-up time, but you can apply the grass mat within a minute and it will adhere strongly.

It is a three-person job to lay the grass mat in place carefully on the large piece of plywood, corner to corner.

The cork board shown on top of the mat of grass will be cut in pieces and used to heighten structures to the level of the tracks.

The cork board shown on top of the mat of grass will be cut in pieces and used to heighten structures to the level of the tracks.

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We have a lot of work yet to do on this 1970s era H.O. model layout, but the fun is in the journey -- not the destination. All Aboard!

We have a lot of work yet to do on this 1970s era H.O. model layout, but the fun is in the journey -- not the destination. All Aboard!

This layout was created in the 1980s -- before the E-Z Tracks were invented.  This is not how our new layout will look.

This layout was created in the 1980s -- before the E-Z Tracks were invented. This is not how our new layout will look.

Thank you for Joining Me in this First Phase

This is the first phase of the 1970’s Era Motive Power H.O. Layout we are building. Initially, we are building it small -- on a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood. But with the Bachman E-Z Track, we will be able to add a perpendicularly-abutted 4' x 8' plywood sheet to the layout any time our hearts desire.

We have never used E-Z Track before nor the simple grass mat method. We have always done our layouts in the laborious and painstaking ways, giving untold attention to every spike in the tracks and every sprinkle of colorful grass. This is our new adventure in the basement. We hope you will join us for the next phase. We'll give you a shout when it's ready.

We'll call it, "All Aboard!"

Postscript: The collective 'we' in this hub is my railroading husband who does 99 to 100 percent of the work -- and me -- the one who likes to make the trees from scratch when natural materials are available.

Below is a link to a website which has many different shapes of layouts. Free software is available on the site so you can download your desired layout.

Great Little Website to Visit

With a little bit of Glue and Elbow Grease


© 2012 Pamela Dapples


Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on March 27, 2013:

You sure are a busy guy. I don't know how you fit all of this in -- plus Hubpages and your other writings.

I haven't had any time for anything I like to do lately. You must know how to prioritize.

My husband doesn't like to do kits, but he really appreciates the work and detail that other people put into doing kit models. Bob just likes the scenery aspects and the placing of all the stuff. I'll be showing him your comment on the weekend when life slows down a bit. Thanks for stopping by, alancaster149.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on March 23, 2013:

Hello once more Pam, I've been working on mineral hopper wagons - seven plastic kitbuilt Parkside - 21t British Railways (BR), Shildon-built in the early 1950s. They'll run in rakes with the older London & North Eastern (LNER - nicknamed London & Nearly Everywhere Railway) late 1930s 21t steel Shildon-built 21t hoppers and late North Eastern Railway (NER) 20t wooden hoppers. The 20t wooden hoppers - 2 examples seen in their original livery at Goathland station on the NYMR - were built between the turn of the century pre-WWI and post-WWI eras - and the 4mm plastic kits were brought out by Slaters in the 1990s. The 4mm LNER hoppers were brought out by Dapol in the 1990s. Both kits and proprietary models have been modified with Smiths 3-link couplings, Alan Gibson 6" (wagon) sprung buffers, liveried for early BR era and weathered to look rusted and battered.

Just lately I've been working on unfitted LNER- and BR-type brake vans (the real thing also Shildon-built), adding two-way lamps, red to rear, clear to fore according to rule book for unfitted mineral traffic on branch lines. speaking of branch lines, I've got a Bachmann Branchlines (4mm UK prototype) unfitted brake van to do next.

When I've done them I've a few proprietary vans and wagons to butcher (modify) before I can get back to the few kits I've got left and then (too bad there's no italics available in the comments boxes) back to scenery on Ayton Lane Shed, (real) cinder ballast, outbuildings, vegetation on dry stone walls, 'bedding' the signal cabin and adding signals.

Is it ever finished?

Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on March 22, 2013:

I try to understand what it is my husband likes about model railroading. Whatever it is, it's catchy as far as the grandchildren are concerned. They love everything to do with model railroading -- and real trains, too, now. I like to look on Kijiji or Craigslist sometimes to see if there are any good old collections for sale. I like the 1940s era.

Thanks for commenting.

Eric Calderwood from USA on March 13, 2013:

I loved my old HO scale model trains. I had some nice ones back in the 1970s, including a bicentennial train set. Sadly, I sold them when I was in college. I wish now that I would have saved them for my kids, and for myself!

Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on June 29, 2012:

You're right. My husband just put this one together sort of fast because we were only going to be where we were -- temporarily -- and it all comes down so easily with the materials he chose this time. He usually does everything the long, drawn-out method -- not the easy-lay grass, and easy tracks. Thanks for reading and commenting.

emdloco on June 28, 2012:

I noticed you used unsupported plywood on sawhorses. plywood has a tendency to sag and warp if not properly supported. Better to build a frame out of 1x3 or 1x4 to add strength and prevent warping.

Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on May 17, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by and reading, Sparrowlet.

Katharine L Sparrow from Massachusetts, USA on May 17, 2012:

How cool is that? Made me think of the Christmas train diaramas that were built every year in a Boston department store when I was little. My mother used to take us to see it. Voting up!

Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on April 10, 2012:

alancaster149, I'll pass this along to my husband when I see him next. I know he's done a lot of embankments and stuff on his dioramas. This time he's trying to make it simple for the grandchildren to help him and be allowed to play with it (supervised). I know he'll enjoy reading your comment. Thanks.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on April 10, 2012:

Another idea you might consider some time is the 'organic' approach to trackbed building. Instead of a flat area across the board, think of making a 'box', with cross struts holding the box together, longi-tudinal struts to hold the ends onto the frame, corner pieces screwed on and vertical supports for the trackbed itself. How wide your trackbed and station/depot environs are dictates the number of verticals used to support the tracked. Then on either side of the flat area create 'ribs' to support an embankment or cutting. Across the ribs you build up a 'cross-stitch' of card strips, this will in turn support the modroc surface that you spray paint in matt earth. THAT is what your scenic scatter lies on after spreading a thin layer of diluted pva/woodglue. After that comes '.tree-planting'. If you provide an address I can send an exploded diagram of what the structure would look like. You could support the frame(s) on your saw-horses, linked end-to-end by coach-bolts with metal strip on each unit end to carry over the track connectors. It works a lot better than overall 'plain flat' and can be convincing when the scenery has been applied.

Welcome to the world of railway 'modelling'

Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on April 10, 2012:

This is great information you've given me. I'll show it to my husband, too, and we'll take a look at Thoraldby's hubpage and the RMweb Gallery and Blog. Thank you, alancaster149.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on April 10, 2012:

Nice set-up for a beginner. I've lost count of the layouts I've put together for myself, not forgetting one I built for my son - and inherited it back when he discovered girls and computers - called Kirkrigg and kept for reference (scratchbuilt and kit-bashed buildings). You get better as you go on...and on. It can be addictive, I warn you, especially building wagons! Have you seen the 'Thoraldby' hub-page? There's a first-rate Web-site called 'RMweb' where you can add your own Gallery and Blog pages to, with a forum for modellers to exchange comments or ask for advice.

Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on April 09, 2012:

Prasetio, how exciting if you've been to see that huge miniature wonderland in Germany. There is one modeled like it in British Columbia, Canada. It is H.O. scale and is in a big building in Osoyoos, BC, but it is not as grand, of course, as the one in Germany. Thank you for taking the time to read the hub.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on April 09, 2012:

I love train miniature. You remind me about "Miniatur Wunderland" in Germany. A place where we can find the biggest train miniature. Thanks for writing and share with us. Rated up!


Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on February 22, 2012:

J.S. Matthew, I love Christmas village train scenes -- especially of the 1940s era. Thank you for sharing and for commenting.

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on February 21, 2012:

This is a great guide with great photos! I have never built a model rail road but have always been intrigued with them. Maybe someday when I retire (a long time from now!) I will be able to make one. I had an ex girlfriend who's father used to make a Christmas village every year and he included a nice rail road. It was different each year and he made it bigger and bigger every year. I wonder how it looks now after 10 years have passed? Great job here. I am looking forward to making this someday. Voted up and SHARING!


Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on February 07, 2012:

Thank you, tirelesstraveler. I am glad you enjoyed it. I think grandchildren are what make it all so fun to build. Just to see the joy on their faces when they rush in the house to see Grandpa's train -- is worth all the work.

Judy Specht from California on February 05, 2012:

Wonderful memories of brothers setting up their trains. This could be fun to do with our grandson when he gets a little older. Can hardly wait for "All Aboard"

Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on February 04, 2012:

Eiddwen, thanks so much for the read. I hope you are doing well. I've always enjoyed your hubs and I will be stopping by to catch up soon.

Eiddwen from Wales on February 03, 2012:

A great well informed hub; my partner is in the process of setting up his model train layout so I will show him this hub tonight.

Thanks for sharing and here's to so many more to share on here.

Take care;


Pamela Dapples (author) from Arizona. on February 01, 2012:

androidgoogle, diogenes and alocsin, thank you very much for stopping by to read. I shall look through your hubs, diogenes, to see your article about electric trains and your sore point. It sounds interesting.

Thanks again.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 01, 2012:

I'm excited to see another hubber address model railroad projects. I have quite a few model railroad hubs but know only one other hubber who writes on it. Looking forward to your build. Voting this Up and Useful.

diogenes on February 01, 2012:

I skimmed through this very useful and unique hub.

Electric trains are a sore point with me, but that's another story! (on HP)


androidgoogle from Romania on January 31, 2012:

Beautiful models you have here.

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