many of us in the model railroading hobby, we grow and learn by
building layouts. Each one reflects our current interests
as well as our abilities. In my case, I have been doing that
for a long time! Here is a gallery of highlight of early layouts
as I wandered through this hobby.
While in college at the
University of Arizona, there was the need to run some trains.
HO gauge was the big thing in the late '50s so I built a portable
trolley layout in a box. That is, a two by four foot layout
that could be folded in half to carry to train meets or stow in a college apartment. It has
a subway station on the lower level and was designed for automatic two trolley
operation. All controls were hand made. At time there
were neither the components available, nor did this college student
have the funds to buy ready made products anyway. This layout
still exists and one day I will take it out and get it running again.
first rental home after marriage and before kids offered a spare
bedroom which was quickly filled with a permanent HO gauge layout.
Initially it was a traditional 4 by 8 footer, but was soon
joined by a four foot square extension. It never ran too well, but
the scenery and buildings were pretty well done, if I don't say
twins arrival meant the big leap, a home of our own. An upper
bedroom said to me, "I want a train layout", so the second
HO gauge layout was born. Room sized, it again looked good,
but operation wasn't too reliable. An early
experiment using Homosote for roadbed should have also included
the plywood base underneath. I soon learned that was why the
track would sag between the table supports!
About that time the hobby
was just discovering N gauge. Since I have always liked sceniced
layouts, this new, smaller size seemed to offer great opportunity.
While the HO layout was upstairs, I built a four foot square N gauge
layout, again in a box, for the family room. This time it was so the toddlers could
look but not touch. There were few American prototype trains, as
the early N gauge manufacturers were English and German. So
this layout consisted of Arnold Rapido German equimpment and German
prototype buildings. It looked beautiful and ran well,
and the HO layout disappeared. The first N gauge layout was built
in its place. It did offer wonderful scenic opportunities,
plus trains ran well.
This first layout was
dismantled when we moved from our house on Harmony Lane in Toledo
to a larger one in Ottawa Hills - the kids were getting bigger!
The pictures below are of the second N gauge layout, in a basement -
a first! All houses ought to have a basement. This was
the most finished layout I had done, and proved to be very popular, being
on the visitor circuit for NMRA meets and folks from the local hobby store
where I had begun to repair Lionel trains. More on that later.
During the last months
in Toledo, however, I made a dramatic break in the approach to the hobby.
N gauge was really fun to build and operate, but it was still in
its infancy, this was in the early '70s. I was having trouble
with reliability of the American built and some Euorpean built locomotive
mechanisms as well as switch machines that burned out on a regular
basis. Some early diesel mechanisms were so poorly designed,
I had to strip them and run locos as dummies.
At the same time I had
discovered you could buy used Lionel trains, and started to accumulate
the trains I lusted after as a kid, but never could afford (the
story told by most every tinplater). I started buying
some neat trains that had only been seen in catalogs. In those
days it also helped to learn to repair them, which I did.
Christmas saw progressively larger and larger toy train displays
under the tree. Then one day, my favorite N gauge locomotive
started smoking - even though it had no smoke unit. The motor
had fried. That was the last straw, the N gauge would go and
a Lionel layout would take its place. But six months later,
we were on the move to Phoenix and the tinplate layout was torn
down only half done.
The first Phoenix home
had a carport that could be partially enclosed and the first complete
O gauge layout soon was in place.
was a great proving ground for layout design ideas and operation.
my first try at a high rail O gauge layout, that is one that uses
three rail track, but is built with broad curves and with realistic
scenery and operation. This room was too small to accomplish
most of these goals, but the layout was fun and another great learning
that time, I was also bitten by the "collector" bug.
That is I wanted to accumulate as many examples of the different
Lionel trains as I could afford. That resulted in another
tinplater's icon, "the wall of trains" to display all
these neat items.
It was at this time that
I grew more interested in prewar toy trains. After buying
a first prewar O gauge Lionel set shortly before leaving Toledo,
a lucky find across the street from our kids elementary school introduced
me to Standard Gauge trains. We never looked back.