Will I be able to do a decent layout with 4 X 6 or so?

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by DENNISJR60, Jul 27, 2006.


    DENNISJR60 New Member

    I want to do a HO set for my son, but I don't have much room to put it. It will have to be something I could move or put away easily that's why I will most likely go with styrofoam or something similar for my board. I was thinking about a 4 X 5 or 4 X 6 for the size. My question is will I be able to make an "ok" track layout rather than just a boring circle? Nothing too complicated just not too simple.

  2. wickman

    wickman Member

    I would say yes you can . Perhaps you can do it as modules so as the room comes avail you can expand to it. :wave:
  3. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    A 4x6 layout is enough room for a loop of track and a couple of switches and maybe a passing track. It is always possible to expand an existing layout to fill a larger space, so if you decide that the "bug" has bitten you and you want to expand, you can. Small layouts have their own advantages--because they are small, they are less expensive, quicker to build, and eaiser to maintain. They also provide ideal "test beds" to learn the skills of model railroading. Many people focus entirely on small layouts, or expand them into larger spaces later.
  4. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I've had a total of 3 HO layouts so far over the years - 2 were 4x6, one was a 4x8. I enjoyed each, but others might be frustrated by the limitations. Suggestions for enjoying small layouts in HO (conversely, if you can't stand these ideas, reasons you won't be happy with a small layout in HO)

    - short trains. A train 30" long (short engine and 4 40ft cars) is about the longest practical train able to do more than watch it chase it's tail. It's also about the longest practical passing track you can fit on a 4x6 ft layout. You can run one longer train on those occasions when you just want to watch a train run.

    - short locomotives. Why waste train length on a large locomotive? Small locos will llook much better with your short trains and on the sharp curves. Small locos will easily handle the number of cars you can put in a train.

    - use short cars. Again, the shorter the cars, the more you can put in your train. Anything longer than 50ft (7 inches) is going to look out of place on the curves. Use shorty passenger cars (60ft and smaller).

    - model an appropriate era and prototype. To me, trying to model modern day Class I railroading with 100 car trains being hauled at 60 mph by giant diesels on a 4x6 is an exercise in frustration and a waste of good modeling $$. The older you go, the smaller locomotives, cars, and trains were. There is one exception - the early diesels (1940s and early 1950s) were often smaller and less powerful than their modern steam (1910 onward) counterparts. Car length held pretty steady from about 1910 to the early '50s. Picking a specific era and/or prototype to model helps limit the "buy some of everything" at the hobby shop, and helps prevent having too many cars and locomotives for a small layout. Selection for eras older than 1940 becomes more limited but with a little searching every era can be modeled without building from scratch in HO.

    - keep your roster small. Reality is that 2 decent running locos are all you need. A dozen freight cars and 3 passenger cars are about all that will fit reasonably. Anything more ends up being stored off the layout. The small roster lets you spend time building and modifying kits, further reducing your $$/hour for the hobby. You can also concentrate on making those few cars and locos really nice ones.

    - build at least one dramatic scene such as a tunnel entrance, a dock, an overpass, a trestle, or something similar. The idea is to be able to watch your train run through a scene you particularly enjoy, one you'll want to take pictures of and share.

    - consider using a mix of sectional and flex track. It is not easy to get consistent 15" and 18" radius curves with flex track, so I recommend using sectional track in those areas. But replacing the smaller "fitter" track pieces and straight track with flex will make your track smoother, fewer joints, and flow better. Also switches (turnouts) are not sacred, they can be shortened. You can cut the portions beyond the frog (where the rails cross) or before the points without harming the turnout. By shortening the turnouts where needed, you can make many more track arrangements practical.

    - if you are going to run more than one train at a time, consider using DCC for control. Keeping block toggles sorted for 2 train operation on a small layout takes the fun out of running a train. On the other hand, if you are only going to run one train at a time (except maybe on rare occasions) avoid the extra expense of DCC and the hassle of installing decoders in your locos.

    - design a layout with switching opportunities. Since multi-train timetable ops are going to be quite limited, providing freight car switching is the feasible alternative to watching the train chase its table.

    - consider an expansion off an end or side. Some real fun-to-operate small layouts come from adding a town or yard as a 2x6ft (or 1x5 or 2x8) extensions to a table layout.

    - if you have the room, expand to 4x8 or even 5x8. Makes a huge difference in the track plan options. Using foam construction will keep it light enough to be moved easily. Build in 2 sections for the ultimate in portability.

    Some 4x6 track plans I really like:

    - Morgan Valley. At Atlas web site. Track will not fit as shown, need to use flex in place of small curves and straights. Excellent switching opportunities.

    - Tidewater Central. Dec 1956 Model Railroader project. Needs a couple of spurs added to improve switching opportunities. Great scenery possibilities. One of the ones I built

    - East Haven and Wharf. Early '60s in Model Railroader. Good switching with a wharf for interchange.

    - original Gorre and Daphited. In 101 Track Plans. Although 4x7, it offers a twice-around, over-and-under with limited switching opportunities.

    - Simplicity and Great Plains. At Atlas web site. Needs to have spurs rearranged so they don't all face same direction.

    Hope this helps

    DENNISJR60 New Member

    Thanks for the advice. Like you said I can always expand it later if needed or wanted.

    DENNISJR60 New Member


    Thanks for spending the time to go into detail as it is much appreciated.
  7. MilesWestern

    MilesWestern Active Member

    pgandw: So, when can we publish your article? That was really good advice, that's precise, and to the point. That's a rare post to see. I HIGHLY suggest you try and submit that to a modeling magazine, I bet you'll get it submitted!
  8. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

    If you have the funds for a larger layout but not the space would you consider a table that folds down from the wall? At that point you could make quite a large table top layout. If you are in a mild climate it could even go in a garage or carport and be quite large indeed.

    If that's not an option then I have to agree with the previous posts. Creativity is your best bet, and keeping everything small is definitely in your favor. Small engines and small cars will help make the most of the confined space.

    DENNISJR60 New Member

    I live in Las Vegas so the garage isn't a good idea. I like the idea of doing the 4 x 6 & being able to expand it if I would like. I don't know about the wall idea yet, but I will keep it in mind.
  10. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    If you are mdeling modern diesel, or fairly modern diesel railroads, use a couple of switch engines. An Athearn Sw 1200 or 1500 or for a little older an Athearn Baldwin switcher would work well. These locomotives would work well with a late 40's to '50's layout. You could run 40 foot cars, and even some 36 foot two bay hopper cars. I think the goal is to keep the cars as short as possible. Another thing to make the layout look bigger might be a removable backdrop running diagonally accross the layout alowing you to have a city scene on one side and a country scene on the other side. Also since this is to share with your son, a Thomas set will also work on the short radius curves. In fact, if you hold your car lengths down below a scale 40 feet with small switch engines, you could run 15 inch radius to make the layout seem larger.
  11. brakie

    brakie Active Member

  12. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    Thanks for the compliment. I may just take your advice and work into an article for submission. Get the copyright permissions for the layout drawings, and give it a whirl. Thanks again.
  13. MilesWestern

    MilesWestern Active Member

    Great! I'd love to see it. :)
  14. Collyn

    Collyn Member

    4X 6 Is plenty of space I Started out with 4x6 then added another foot. I have a city, Trolley, turntable with round house, and a small area to swich. Here are some pictures at my website http://www.rankinwoodturning.com/trains.htm
  15. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    A great source for small plans is 50s and 60s Model Railroader magazines. Seemed like every month they'd have another one.
  16. fsm1000

    fsm1000 Member

    My layout is 4 by 6 and in On30. I have 2 turntables. a small yard, two levels and moutains, warehouses and a mine and resort etc etc.
    I think you could get some fun out of that area yeah. :):):)
  17. petey

    petey Member

    Hello Dennis,
    I'm sure you are building the layout by now.
    I developed a rather nice 36X72" design. It had the required oval; a 3 track yard w/depot; a single, shortish engine house lead; a short branch line that ended in a small frt/pass station, on one leg, and another leg ending in a cement facility. I also incorporated a view block mountain, which hid some of the layout from the main operating station.
    I'm not using it, as I have moved to a somewhat larger layout. It's amazing what you can accomplish in these smaller spaces. If your interested in it, let me know, off-forum.
  18. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member


    Unless you already have the HO equipment, it might be better to think about N Gauge/Scale. A 4X6 in N scale is like a 8X12 in HO. The down side is that small kids seem to like bigger trains. (Rule of thumb: The smaller the railroader, the larger the train...)
    Good luck!!!!

    Gus (LC&P).

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