Beginners Layout Question

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by Flat Dog, Oct 12, 2004.

  1. Flat Dog

    Flat Dog New Member

    I want to start model railroading and I’ve decided to go with N Gauge. My new railroading book recommends “starting small”.

    The question is, how small? Space isn’t so much a problem. But I’m a little worried that filling an 8’ x 4’ table with track, rolling stock and scenery will end up costing more in time and money that I’m willing to invest, especially since I don’t even know if I’ll stick with the hobby.

    What's a good size to start with and should I stick with a rectangle?



    “Jus’ ‘cause I lives in a boxcar, don’t make me no bum.”

    -Flat Dog Smith, American Legend
  2. Beginner trackplans tend to be ovals.

    "How Small" depends on just what you want to do with it.

    most of an HO 4x8 can be done in a bit over 2x4 in N. scale, making that the usual 'small' layout.
  3. sputnik

    sputnik Member

    Well, maybe you can build a small switching style layout, to practice techniques and get a feel for what it's about. Something like 6"x36". Or, you could start with a small 2x4, or even 2x3 oval with a few spurs. You don't have to make these complete or highly detailed if you don't want to, and rolling stock, structures, and other items can be transferred to another layout in the future if desired.

    Another option would be to come up with a basic track plan where you start with a simple 2x4 or 2x3 oval, that can connect to another section or two in the future, creating an "L" or "Z" shape instead of a rectangle. Or add other sections to make an "O" shape out of 4 2x4 sections (2 crosswise on each end, and 2 lengthwise in the middle), or 2 2x4 sections on the ends with a pair of 1x4 sections in between. If that idea appeals to you, I can sketch up some basic plans to show what I'm talking about. And you don't even have to plan the future sections at this time. You could do the small section now, and when you get a better idea of what works for you, you can then decide on the trackplan for the future sections.

  4. ddavidv

    ddavidv Member

    This question isn't as easy to answer as you may think!
    I went through this about a year ago. I'd encourage you to read some of the older posts in the Trackplanning section. Also, do a Google search for "Mike's Small Trackplans". There are quite a few good ones to choose from and are configured using Atlas sectional track.
    I think a 4x8 is probably too big. Another drawback is you can't reach across it if it's against a wall. It's difficult to get a 'N' mindset if you're used to HO or larger, as you can cram a whole lot into a small space with N.
    More important than size at this juncture is what kind of layout do you want? How important is continuous running? You may think it's the most important, but a single loop rapidly gets pretty dull. You need sidings. Maybe consider 2 train operation (on anything approaching a 4x8 you could actually put 2 seperate 'layouts' worth of trackage). It's difficult to balance between too simple and too complex, but a well thought out trackplan will give you great joy for a long time.
    I began construction of my layout on a cast-off hollow core interior door. Very lightweight, and comparable in N to what you'd probably have in HO with the proverbial 4x8. The difficulty I had is making it look like it isn't prairie flat everywhere. I was able to fit in a single oblong loop, several sidings, a small yard and allowed for expansion off the 'door' for the future.
    N is a great scale, and has come a long way in a short time. Give us a little better idea of what your goals might be.
  5. Flat Dog

    Flat Dog New Member

    Thanks for all the tips.

    Here's a related question. The book I'm reading states that a 15" turn radius is about the minimum you can do reallisticly. So doesn't that pretty much mean that your layout needs to be at least three feet wide?

    David, Interesting point about doing away with the continous loop. And that "Mike's Layout" site is great!
  6. theBear

    theBear Member

    Nope, that doesn't mean that your layout needs to be at least three feet wide. One does not have to have a layout with loops at all even when using 15 inch radius curves.

    I'm in the planing stage (well actually I'm all over the place) for my next pike. I like to operate them not watch them do loops. My benchwork will be made up of 17 four foot straight pieces of plywood. Four will be 1.5 feet wide and 13 will be one foot wide. I'll have over 2 scale miles of single mainline, a large yard, a small yard, three interchanges, and a pile of industrial sidings. No loops, just plenty of switching, building, wiring , etc....

    Small locomotives and old style rolling stock will run fine on 9.75 inch radius curves and not look out of place, I used to run a 4-8-4 steam engine and 50 foot stock on 11 inch radius curves. I believe someone on this site posted that about 75% of the N scale model railroading equipment will make it around on 9.75 inch.

    If you haven't already seen this site, it is also worth a visit
  7. Flat Dog

    Flat Dog New Member


    Good info about the small radius turns. As to the non-looping track, I think as a beginner, I want to have at least one loop so that the train can run without constant switching.




    "Don't stop. Ever."

    - The American Legend, Flat Dog Smith
  8. sschaer

    sschaer Member

    flat dog

    try to avoid any curves with radius less than 15". try to avoid steep grades. probably not more than 2.5%

    otherwise do whatever you like.
  9. theBear

    theBear Member

    I agree on the try, especially if you are going for something that looks like real life on todays rail, however there are instances in real life that allow tighter curves than that to be modeled.

    If memory serves NTrak radius minimums for the main line are 24" with branches being 18" and grades on the branches not to exceed 1.5% (not going to talk about the other lines).

    But trolley lines had much tighter turns than what 15" amounts to in nscale or 200 feet real life.

    Most of the modeling rules remove a lot of the sectional track options used by most beginners from even being considered. We won't even discuss fitting a real rail yard into the basement pike.

    Here is the only rule I use, try it and if it works for you, it is fine. In other words build it and see. A small bit of track, the engine, and a kitchen table will tell you what you need to know.
  10. Flat Dog

    Flat Dog New Member

    Good stuff.

    My book includes a photo of a train going around a small radius turn and it looks awful.

    Do you guys use software to come up with layouts or the old pencil on graph paper method?

    I DLed the free Atlas software, but it seems faster to just draw it out. So maybe its best to conceptualize on paper and then draft on the computer?
  11. theBear

    theBear Member

    There is a difference between modeling and just setting up something to run trains on.

    Screwy Squirrel said it best in his reply in this thread.

    It takes time to get used to any cad software. I'm trying to get used to xtrkcad. Before I put money down on it.

    I don't run Windows so I can't talk about the Atlas software.

    I do a rough on graph paper, sometimes I resort to the kitchen table to try a fit of a small section.

    All the paper planing seems to go out the window once the track hits the roadbed. So while the overall layout might survive the process, a number of details change. Things that look ok on paper turn out not to really fit when placed on the wood, hence trying small sections on the table.

    I've been away from the hobby for 14 years and now have the time to actually put something together. I started with O27 back in the '50s and switched to HO in the early '70s, and N in the early '80s. All of the layouts got taken apart because of moving. I still have a pile of O27 stuff in boxes, I gave away all my HO stuff, I'm recovering my N scale stuff (BTW, stuff is a highly technical term).

    Making things fit, operate, and look good are what it is about.

    Unfortunately it takes; room, time, room, money, room, patience, and room.

    I did say room didn't I?

    I am currently trying new things out on a small switching puzzle layout that measures 9" by 48" it is on a piece of wall board (easy to stick holes into, draw on, a bit of mud fills the holes, then a bit of latex makes the lines go bye, bye ... I don't recommend this for a real layout, easy to break and moisture problems unless properly sealed).

    I just recieved two new decoder equiped locomotives and a DCC system. So I had to get used to the new way of doing things, but my old code 80 Atlas sectional track is fine.

    This will be my first major modeling effort, however I have built many a layout.
  12. simonf

    simonf New Member

    I'm a newbie as well and I really like the Atlas software. Especially since I don't have a very good idea of what size layouts will be before I actually put them down, it's good to try things out in the software before actual layout. also, it is way faster than drawing, esp. once you get used to it. you can draw a simple oval with spurs and all in just a few minutes, and then you know exactly which pieces of track you need to build your design.

    i started out with a two circles of different sizes, 4 switches, and a bunch of straights. i think this is a good starting point for track stock. [​IMG]
  13. davido

    davido Member

    FD, i am building my 1st layout now. before i started "for real" i got a piece of 3/4 mdf (plywood would work) about 3'x4' and glued a piece of 1-1/2" pink foam to it. since i decide to try flex track i got out the soldering iron and practiced soldering joiners. and turnouts. then i glued down cork roadbed (3ft for $.85). i fastened the flextrack to the roadbed with track nails (no glue). most of the track joints were not soldered. i used a dowel mounted trammel(?) to make the radi (SP).

    anyway, once i was happy that i could move on to my layout i removed all of the track and turnouts to use on the layout. the practice piece only cost about $10. it was stable and mobile. i could set it on the workbench or lean it agaist the wall.

    make it fun


    EDIT: oh, i forgot about the part where i propped one end of the practice layout at different heights to see how my locos handled various grade inclines. deo
  14. Flat Dog

    Flat Dog New Member

    Thanks for the info guys,


    Cold beer and a boxcar
    Cold beer and a boxcar
    Six Pack Annie sings
    Track is clear and I ain't goin' home again soon
    No, I ain't goin' home again soon

    from "Six Pack Blues", Flat Dog Smith
  15. ddavidv

    ddavidv Member

    One thing about drawing vs software vs laying it out...
    I tried the Atlas software, and couldn't get the hang of it. Took me an hour just to make something that didn't work. :rolleyes:
    Tried drawing it on paper too. Didn't really help me visualize it.
    So I bought a whole spitload ;) of sectional track on Ebay and just began fitting it together, following some online plans, book plans and my own bit of creativity. I found this worked the best. Additional bonus was I could run trains and see if it really did work, or if it got boring too quickly. If you don't want to use sectional track, just toss it back on Ebay and recover most, if not all, of your investment (maybe even make a profit!).
  16. theBear

    theBear Member

    Now about that prototype thing is that the name and formal parameter list for a function, macro, or subroutine? [​IMG]

    Us bit benders are easily confused and when you are older than dirt like me you become really confused.

    Time for my afternoon [​IMG].

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