(page edited 5-3-10 for typographical errors and content)
Those of you who have longed for a large layout may be surprised by the following.
Although it is nice to be able to make the dream of a large layout a reality, there is a
certain merit in having a rather small layout, or just a temporary set-up. A large layout
can't be relocated easily, if at all, more maintenance is needed, and
it becomes more complicated to troubleshoot. Sometimes you may just want a simple, quick,
uneventful operating session, which may not be the case with a large layout. The location
of the layout may also pose an inconvenience when you just want to play with a train for a
few minutes and have to go to another part of the house to do so. Perhaps your train room isn't
always air conditioned or heated to suitable levels, so you first have to get the room
comfortable before you begin. Time and money could prevent you from having the space
for a layout at present, or an upcoming move will make it seem senseless to start a layout
when you can't transport it later. There are many reasons why someone can't have a
large, permanent layout. But the lack of layout doesn't equal unhappiness. There is a lot
of pleasure to be derived from setting up a temporary loop of track and running a train for
a few minutes. In fact I suggest that we should all have a little table handy where we can
set up a little loop of track for a daily stress reliving break, perhaps next to your desk in a
home office, or in a corner of a family room. How about a very small layout where the
challenge is in the detailing and fitting in as much as possible? It could be easily moved,
tucked away when certain unwanted company comes. If you keep waiting until tomorrow for the ideal set of circumstances to build a layout, it may never
Take my advice here. Although I
really enjoy being able to build animation projects, and do elaborate control and sound
effects, it can be complicated and time consuming. Sometimes it can produce more stress
than stress relief, so there is great merit in simplicity. Lately I have had the most fun just
running my handcars on a figure eight loop of track. I have simple, automatic control
system, self-contained in the crossover, where the 2 handcars can run around, and never
crash or catch up with each other. I also set up the smallest O27 loop, just barely more
than a circle, and run just one handcar. Now I am a big fan of the handcars, especially
the Snoopy and Woodstock handcar, and have added a trailing ore car to both the S&W
handcar and the Mickey Mouse and Minnie handcar. I have additional electrical
pick-up from the trailing ore cars with a Lionel electronic reversing unit in them (and a bi-polar capacitor for a flywheel effect), and 2
illuminated lanterns on each group, so there is a lot of interest and reliable operation. But
how can this compare to the large layout? The pleasure a little loop brings to me is often
greater than running the basement layout! Why? Because the little loop
is so simple and easy use, fitting the bill when I need just a few minutes of diversion.
Since I have my large layout, perhaps I know that I can run those trains whenever I want.
I guess I have already satisfied my desire for a large layout. Would I be as content with a
little loop of track if I had never built a large layout? Perhaps not. I wanted my layout to be
a tribute to our family and fond Christmas memories, including the things my parents
sacrificed so much to acquire. My layout is sometimes more like a
laboratory than a layout where I try out a few ideas. What a blessing and a luxury to have the space and time to tinker with an
animation project, however I do many projects very inexpensively. But if you don't have
the space, time or money, you still can have fun with a small layout or even just a little
loop of track!
O.K., then, how small? Well, you can easily cheat the diameter of a curve in 3 rail
O27 to 22-24 inches, and down to a 24 inch in diameter curve in HO or On30. Of
course, some testing needs to be done because equipment may be
temperamental. To test, simply bend a piece of flexible track to the minimum diameter
curve and tape it to the work surface, then run the loco. Keep reducing the diameter
of the curve until the loco derails, adjust the curve to the last successful run and you'll have the minimum curve. Chances are you
could cheat the curves quite a bit if your rollingstock has very free-rolling wheels. The other thing you want is that your string of cars will also move
through the tight turn, the truck-mounted couplers perhaps posing a problem. Testing will be most enlightening, so test the whole train on the tight curves. Fortunately there is GarGraves
flexible O gauge 3 rail track, with good-looking wooden ties. Most diesel equipment
with 4 wheel trucks will do very well. Steam locos need to have, in the case of HO and
On30, only 2 center drive wheelsets, such as a 4-4-0, 0-4-0. For O27 the center drivers
in a 2-6-4 will usually not have flanges and will handle the tighter curve, but testing is key.
Imagine an O27 layout that is only 24-27 inches deep!
This headboard idea will work for a sofa or desk, just like two end
tables connected by a shelf or sofa table, suitable for a bedroom, family room, den, office, or living room.
The morals of the story: Use what space you have; Don't fall into the trap of "the other
man's grass is always greener;" Do it now because time is precious; Keep it simple!