How to create a short, narrow "O" gauge layout?

Discussion in 'G / O / S Scale Model Trains' started by eco-manblue, Feb 24, 2005.

  1. eco-manblue

    eco-manblue New Member


    :wave: I'm trying to design and then build a small oval or figure 8 layout that will be 4 or 5 feet long but no wider than 18". The idea is to create the layout on a slightly larger piece of plywood and use it for a dinner table decoration. My idea is to provide everyone (8 to 10 people who will sit down to dinner) with a control button to bring the train around to the front of their plate. Why? Because the train will have cars with the Salt & Pepper, Paper Napkins, butter, etc.

    I've long fantacized about doing this and I've finally got my wife's permission to take away her center pieces (lovely as they truly are:D ) and have this seasonal/holiday specific layout instead.

    However, I have several challenges :confused: given that I've never created anything other than an out of the box simple oval or rectangle with one connection to the transformer.

    I would dearly love :cool: some advice regarding the idea ingeneral and the specific questions below. Thanks very much in advance for helping me out!

    (1) How do I make a "O" gauge or "O-27" track turn 180 degrees taking up no more then 18 inches of width? I've heard that there is some kind of track that can be bent, but I've heard that that it is difficult to get right:( .

    (2) Having achieved the bend (hopefully);) , I need to find an "O" gauge engine that is small enough and gondola cars or flat cars that are equally small enough to make the radically sharp turns. I just won an Ebay auction for a Lionel 1615 and sloped tender thinking it would do because it's the smallest steamer that Lionel makes. But the combined length of the engine and the tender are 15"! I could buy and use a boxy looking yard switcher, but that's not the look I want. Does anyone make a shorter "O" guage steamer? And cars?

    (3) Well, if I get this far, I'll be mighty happy, but... how can I give everyone or every two people sitting around the table a simple control button to bring the train to them so they can spice up their food, wipe their lips or butter their bread?:cry: Besides having fun with this, it does solve the practical problem of reaching for those things or asking someone to pass the item to oneself.:thumb:

    (4) Assuming all these challenges can be met (and I would be in seventh heaven if it can be done!:thumb: :) :D ), what about powering some accessories? I plan for this to be a mountain scene with trees, etc. But have also thought about a couple of lighted (LEDs? fiber optics?) cabins with smoke coming out of the chimneys, one of those Hot Air Balloon Rides that Lionel makes, and a real miniature stream with a small (very quiet???!!!) pump to circulate the water over an olde tyme mill wheel or pebblely stream bed. I don't have any idea how to easily and centrally power and control them?!

    (5) If I could create the layout as described (well... I'd be fat and sassy as cooncat in heat!:p ), I would love to have one other thing and that's real train sounds. I've heard a little about "TMCC" (Train Master Command Control) and Proto sounds and Realsounds but don't know anything about them and have gotten completely overwhelmed :eek: by looking at various descriptions of these and related power units and all sorts of wiz-bang, wonka-wonka, yahootie kazootie kinds of things that make my simple brain short circut!:curse:

    Thanks to anyone capable of understanding what I'm trying to do and willing to provide some advice!!:)

    New to model railroading as a hobby,

    Scott Denman (aka eco-manblue):cool:
  2. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    I don't want to put a damper on your thinking Scott but!!!.
    If the layout is only 18 inches wide you can forget getting O scale track to make an180 unless you are making a streetcar layout. A streetcar layout may serve your purpose quite well though.
  3. eco-manblue

    eco-manblue New Member

    Hi Robin,

    Thanks for your experienced input! while it's not what I wanted to hear, it sounds a little more realistic perhaps to do a streetcar layout. So, (1) even with the track that you bend yourself, it wouldn't work? Sigh...

    (2) What if I went to a smaller gauge, say, "S" gauge? Could I make the turn then at that width? The problem with "HO" is that it's just too small and the cars are muchmore easily bumped off the track as folks reach for the S&P or a napkin.

    Again, thanks for your quick reply and insight. You're right... I just don't want to give up on the concept just yet. Any thoughts about my two other questions? Any one else have a brilliant idea?

    Greatly appreciated,

  4. Dave Farquhar

    Dave Farquhar Member

    You could bend flex track that sharply, probably, but I don't know what would run on it. 27 inches is the traditional minimum for O; maybe you could get an 0-4-0 locomotive to negotiate sharper curves but I've never tried it. It won't be happy doing it.

    S gauge tends to be built to more realistic proportions, and those 27-inch diameter circles are ridiculously sharp even for 1:64 scale. Maybe the American Flyer Casey Jones locomotive could do some sharp curves, but I don't know *how* sharp.

    What if you did it with HO track and used an On30 train? I don't know how well it would handle the curves, but...

    Personally, I'd do a dogbone-type layout in O27, either with two tracks running parallel, or as a double-reverse where the train changes direction each time it goes through. A loop of O27 fits in 30 inches, which really isn't all that much.
  5. Dave Farquhar

    Dave Farquhar Member

    To respond to your other question (sorry), Marx made lots of steamers, and they were smaller. Lots of companies made cars that were 6 inches long or so; Marx made them longer than anyone else. They aren't very realistic looking but their looks charm most people.

    The only concern I would have with an older train (Marx stopped train production in 1975) is lead-based paint.
  6. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Is it absolutely essential that you have a loop? It would be very easy to put down a single stretch of track with bumpers at either end, and have the train in the middle--the controller could move it back and forth to dispense the various fluids and minerals.

    The bendable type of track is called "flextrack." If you are using the old-fashioned 3-rail AC-powered trains, there is no "flextrack" for that, so far as I know.

    Another option you might consider is On30 scale--which is narrow-gauge O scale equipment. It is fundamentally different from most of the Lionel/American Flyer toy-train equipment--it is technically the same scale as O scale (1:48) but is intended to model small locomotives and equipment that run on 30" wide track. Check out the Bachmann website ( for a look at On30 equipment.

    Advantages of On30 in this instance: Since it runs on track that is the same width as HO equipment, you can use HO flextrack. Because narrow-gauge equipment tends to be small and charming, it will look cute and much of it can run on ridiculously sharp curves--as sharp as 9" radius, if you're careful about your trackwork. You'll HAVE to buy flextrack, but it's really not that difficult to lay if you're at all handy.

    It's not quite as big as the other equipment, and it might not be big enough for a full-sized ketchup bottle or other large things, but for small condiments, a series of small gondolas containing salt and peper crocks, napkins, toothpicks, and small contianers of your condiments of choice, it might be just the ticket.

    Check out for lots of ideas for super-small plans using On30 and other scales.
  7. eco-manblue

    eco-manblue New Member

    Thank you Dave Farquhar and jetrock!! Both of you suggested the On30 gauge which (as a novice, if you haven't guessed!) I had never heard of. It sounds like the perfect solution. Thanks jetrock for your details on the use of HO track and the smaller cars available through Bachmann and the micro layouts at Carendt. I'm headed there next.

    Again, thank you all for your time, consideration and very generous replies to my queries. This has been a tremendous help and boost to my confidence to move forward. I'll keep you apprised of what I do.

    Best regards,

    Scott Denman (aka eco-manblue)
  8. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    All we ask in return is that you post photos of your project one it's up and running! It sounds like fun...
  9. eco-manblue

    eco-manblue New Member

    Yes, I will post the pictures and a design if I do one.


  10. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Scott: there is a film/video out there showing the setup you want. I saw it at the Train Collectors Association some years ago. (The fellow's wife is using it as justification for a divorce.) Very funny. The soup comes out in Lionel dump cars and then gets dumped in everyone's lap.
  11. eco-manblue

    eco-manblue New Member

    Hi David,

    Hey, a new twist on being "dumped on" and "soup train." That's great! Thanks. I wonder if it's still around; I'd love to see it. Perhaps TCA has a copy?!

    Thanks again, David, I hadn't thought of serving soup from the train. That opens up all kinds of wild prospects!

    Keep those cards and letters comin' folks!

    Best, Scott
  12. Dave Farquhar

    Dave Farquhar Member

    Looks like 3-rail is out of the running, but, incidentally, for what it's worth, Gargraves does make flex track for 3-rail O gauge.
  13. eco-manblue

    eco-manblue New Member

    Hi Dave,

    I've seen some of it; but can it be bent into a semi-circle that is no more than 18" wide? A friend with a significant "O" gauge collection said it was difficult to get right.

    Since learning about the On30 scale, I've been to and as well as Ebay and other on-line stores to explore the layouts and models available. On30 seems doable, and not too expernsive. I wonder if Bachmann is the only maker of that scale? Bachmann's On30 colar scheme for its engines reminds me of that old Ford Motor CO. maxim: "You can get the Model-T in any color so long as it's black!"

    One question that I still need to do more research on is electrical in nature. I'd like everyone (or every two people) to have a start and stop button so they can bring the train around to their plate or just run it around the layout if they want to. Anyone have any ideas on how to achieve that or where I should begin my investigation?

    Appreciate that you folks are out there,

  14. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    I think Bachmann is the only company that makes On30 engines. They are all black because American steam freight locomotives from the 1890's on were pretty much all black--thank Commodore Vanderbilt for that particular tradition. It looks like this is the only one that isn't solid black:

    There are also the cheesy Christmas sets, but those are kind of silly.

    For the kind of super-super-tight radii you want, though, you're better off with one of the 0-4-0 or 0-4-2 Porter locomotives:

    Black, sure--most locomotives like this one were black--but cute.

    Make sure you see these trains in person before you make your decision--you may decide that On30 isn't big enough for the cargo you wish to ship.

    Of course, you can always add your own custom paintjob!

    A bunch of pushbuttons in parallel, all wired in between the powerpack and the rails, would work--when the powerpack is switched on, any closed circuit (pushed button) would send the engine on its way until the operator lifted their finger from the button.
  15. eco-manblue

    eco-manblue New Member

    Thanks, jetrock!

    Last night, I won my first On30 engine (an 0-4-0 Porter) on Ebay. I'm also watching the so-called "Bumblebee" yellow and black engine you showed an example of in your e-mail. Ah yes, great minds think alike! The parallel circuit sounds like it will do the trick; I'll look into it.

    My goal is to have this layout ready by Thanksgiving at the latest; we'll see how my schedule goes.

    With appreciation,


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