It´s all about operating…the house of cards

Why do we build model railroads? For operating, aren´t we? Ok..there may be some model railroaders who only like to plan, to build and to regard their own creation. But, tracks are made for switching… Take “Sioux Falls” for an example (find more here, if you want). The first you need is a set of cards to represent your set of wagons. At “Sioux Falls” we play with five freight wagons. It´s not difficult to print five cards with the pictures of your wagons. Here we go… If you are a perfectionist don´t hesitate to design more elaborated cards. You will find a lot of prototypes in the internet. To be honest, the simple version works either…Ok, now riffle and pull out three of the five cards. That´s the order in which your train should appear. Considering that the five wagons are in random positions it may be a tricky problem to solve. Take your time to think over the next manoeuvers and you will probably avoid useless moves. Competitive switchers may set a deadline or compare the number of moves…you don´t have to, but you can, if you want. With the help of the photos below you can follow one switching session in “Sioux Falls”. It took about 15 minutes to complete the train. For more informations about switching puzzles visit Adrian Wymann´s superb website.

Let´s switch again!

Gumstumping! Zigzag offers long lines…

Early in the 60th Chuck Yungkurth created the “Gum Stump & Snowshoe Railroad“. I copied this ingenious micro layout using some stock of “Märklin-M-Tracks” and renamed it as “Sanspareil”. Ok, please connive the old-fashioned trackwork…just have a look on the trackplan. And yes…that´s a switchback. The train – starting front right – has to change direction twice before reaching it´s destination one level higher on the left hand side. In this way we are able to add a distance of approximately five (!) meters. Not bad for a plank with a total length of 2, 10 m!

Kaltenholzach Gumstumping
…an H0-adaption of the original “Gumstump&Snowshoe RR” with an additional  runaround track…


The problem of gumstumping are steep grades. Nearly 10 % are challenging even for short trains. If you forget about the railroad flyover in the foreground you will come to a plan like below. My “Darjeeling & Himalaya RR” (0n30) zigzags through an indian landscape using Peco 0n30 trackwork. For more informations about the famous Indian “Toy Train” see the Website of the DHRS.

Darjeeling Switchback Trackplan
…the “Toy Train” in 0n30 – zigzag in India…


Save Your Time – Take A Switching Tour

Sioux Falls 2012 Signal Box

That´s one of the iconic micro layouts: John Allen´s Timesaver. Originally designed as a non-scenic training ground, the Timesaver transformed more and more into a scenic switching layout. My attempt was to build it as a small narrow gauge terminal somewhere in the Midwest of the USA. Once more I used 0n30 (1:48). The advantage of this narrow gauge scale is obvious: short trains but big scale. My Sioux Falls & Crater Lake Railroad tried some innovative techniques: a completely non-wood all-styrofoam baseboard as well as a mirror to fox the spectators. The styrofoam construct was very cheap, had a very low weight and was  – I have to admit – not very stable. The impact of the mirror trick was ambivalent: on the one hand the layout seemed to grow into the infinity, on the other hand the problem of perspective (as you can see). The trackwork was by Micro Engineering, locos and waggons came from Bachmann, all buildings were scratchbuild.
See you!

…out of sight – out of mind …the mystery of sneak-off tracks

Compact bookshelf layouts have one problem in common. If you are not satisfied with a naked switching puzzle, you will need a track leading your trains into the big, wide world. Hmm…not an easy desire to fullfill, espacially on less than one squaremeter. Anyway…let´s try it. Our first approach is “Mainlände” (speak: Minelanda) in H0. The shelf measures 165 x 35 cm (meanwhile you are familiar with that, probably), the trackwork ist PECO Code 175. “Mainlände” is a small terminus near by a small river port in Bavaria. The line disappears under an elevated street. To protect you from switching in the dark tunnel (what may be really uncomfortable) I added a track from which you can reach every other track. Ok…if a train disappears under the bridge there is no possibilty to form a new one in the backstage area…sometime you have to restore it…

Mainlaende 001
“Mainlände” in H0 – trains and a harbor, not the worst idea

Should we try the same in gauge 0? “Curiouser and curiouser!” would Alice in wonderland cry… And here we go…”Lauenstein Süd” is a shrunken inglenook designed for PECO Code 124 trackwork. The sneak-off track works in the same way like it does in “Mainlände”. Ok…the headshunt is very short. To serve the industry (front left) you have to make some switching moves, and yes…the track only holds a short loco and one (!) freight wagon. To be honest, that may make switching more exciting…The platform is good for a short DMU (VT 98 of Deutsche Bundesbahn e.g.)…

Lauenstein Süd
OMG! – A 0 layout on a 165 x 35 cm shelf? “Lauenstein Süd”

Last but not least…let´s try a more elaborated one. “Westerstrand Hafen” is a harbor at the North Sea. A train coming from somewhere appears from right under the bridge, then wheeling into the headshunt on the left and finally moves right for reaching the platform. As you realized already: that´s a switchback…So you found three different layouts with three different versions of hiding trains.

“Westerstrand Hafen”: Mock up for a H0 layout

Heavy Metal at “Schnakenhoern”- a retro-style micro layout

Let´s have a look into the junk box. Wow…a lot of old H0-tracks made of metal and made by the famous german model railroad producer Märklin. Time to create a retro-style Micro layout. “Schnakenhoern” (ok…hard to pronounce for non-german speakers…sounds like “Shnukenhearn”) is a small (fictitious) harbor at the North Sea coast of Germany. Once more I used a “sneak off track” for better operating. As you can see, the entire layout is completely woodfree…everything was made of styrofoam – except the trackwork, certainly! Lesson learned – don´t dump all old stuff, may be you can use it some day… By the way, “Schnakenhoern” has been sold some years ago.

…the unfinished…”The Sioux Falls and Crater Lake RR”

Perhaps you now this: a fulminant start followed by fading and at last building freeze…My SF&CL RR was such a unfinished site. As you can see, it was another inglenook, supplemented by a additional platform track. The 0n30 trackwork was by Micro Engineering.

See you!

When in Rome, do like the Romans do…”Stazione Montelupo”

Bella Italia! If you don´t have the time to spend your holidays in Italy, an option may be to build your next layout in italian style… “Montelupo” was my try to have the attractive mixture of ancient ruines and ordinary industrial buildings on 165 x 35 cm. Especially the aqueduct – made of styrofoam – was my favorite fixed idea. I´m not quite sure that there are such situations in italian reality…but it could be… After three Inglenooks it´s obvious that Montelupo belongs more to the category “lots of tracks”. In the northeastern corner you can find a rudimental staging track. The rare passenger trains took advantage from the single platform (please recognize the palm trees, which are signalling: “yes, that´s somewhere in the south!”) and  the scooter factory provides a lot of wagonloads – enough work for the operator. The trackwork was Piko A.


…”Sioux Falls”…inglenook once more…

…the trackplan of “Sioux Falls”…

“Sioux Falls” represents another possibilty to use a 165 x 35 cm bookshelf. 0n30 scale seems to be a good compromise between size and space saving. The third inglenook in a row comes up with an additional siding and  gentle curved tracks.

See you!

“Grub am Forst”…another inglenook…

210 cm x 45 cm ist a bit too large? Ok, let´s have a look on somewhat less. To be honest, that´s H0, 1:87. Not surprisingly, we now need only 165 x 35 cm (5,4 x 1,14 ft). The smaller scale is both a blessing and a curse. Older railroaders need stronger glasses to see details (ok…may also concern younger hobbyists), but – wow – we gaining space for a “sneak off track”, which enables the operator to spirit trains away. Despite to the track plan the spur was´nt covered by buildings…as you can see, certainly. The small Terminus “Grub am Forst” (I borrowed this name from a small town in Northern Bavaria) could handle the well- known 3:3:5 wagon inglenook configuration and short passenger trains. Not bad for only three points…should be suitable also for your bookshelf, I suppose…


“Krumme Fohre” – shelf switching on 210 x 45 cm

KF Vogelschau quer sw
..that´s all – really! “Krumme Fohre” a little big layout

No space – no model railroading? If you think so, there is good news for you! Even a gauge 0 layout (1:43,5 or 1:45 if you want) fits into tiny space. And 210 x 45 cm (6,9 x 1,5 ft for our friends from oversea) is really tiny, isn´t it? 0,94 squaremeters of model railroad will probably find a place in a small living room as well. You don´t have to build a new house nor to kick your kids out to generate space for a model railroad. What about time and money? Ok…it depends. Certainly it´s possible to spend a lot of your salary and most of your free time for model railroading. If you want…and if there are no other hobbies like family or traveling you may do so. If not, try a compact layout or micro layout, how the late king of compact railroading, Carl Arendt, named it. For sure your roommates will thank you…

KF Panorama schmal
…ok, you´ve seen it already…but not in colour…

You are not yet convinced that compact railroading is best for you? Ok, I will try my very best…First have a look on some more impressions of “Krumme Fohre”.

Hmm…only two points and four tracks. Obviously “Krumme Fohre” is not a busy big city terminus. Short trains, some Diesels and a handful of grotty freight cars – enough rolling stock to have a lot of fun. What you perhaps have recognized already – “Krumme Fohre” is designed after Ian Wright´s famous “Inglenook layout“. That means, there is a lot of work for the switchman. If you want to learn more about “Krumme Fohre”, please stay tuned…

See you…at “Krumme Fohre”!