Big model railroad layouts equal big headaches to move, small or micro layouts lessen the brain strain!

With the possibility of a house move, even a long distance one, always threatening on the horizon, I had only recently finished the scenery changes to an extension to my Dolton / Illinook / Barr / Blue Island layout to bring it to a total size of about 4.5 metres x 2.5 metres, and I had the scary thought “now you will be moving”. Ever since that thought I have been somewhat concerned about moving the layout. Even though it is modular, and relatively easy to move (with the right trailer attached to the car) I felt that if we moved a long distance away (eg, more than about 2 hours drive) then it would be a painful process. Add to that the very real possibility of not having the same sort of available space to have a model railroad layout as I have been blessed to have so far, and the size of the current layout presented a real problem.

I started thinking of different possibilities to overcome the perceived problems. I considered a “V” Scale (ie, virtual / computer-based) model railway, but in the end I didn’t really like that idea too much. I started looking through model railway magazines and track plan books, and perusing the internet looking for ideas for what to do. But I couldn’t find a track plan that I thought would be suitable for the sort of operating I like to do – industry shunting / switching.

For years I have known of the late Carl Arendt’s “micro layouts” website, and I visited it a number of times during the process of deciding what to do. I also purchased the 3 ebooks Carl Arendt wrote: “52 Micro Layout You Can Build”, Small Layout Scrapbook” and “Creating Micro Layouts”. I also looked at a number of videos on You Tube showing what could be done using short British locos and rollingstock. I decided as a bit of an experiment that I would build a small (600mm x 600mm) “pizza” layout to see what I could do a small space continuous run layout in HO scale in that size and whether it would be able to accommodate American locos and rollingstock. A “Pizza” layout is a small square or round layout that often has just a single circle of track – a very simple track plan. The scenery makes or breaks a “pizza” layout as it is the major element. As it turns out a 600mm x 600mm square “pizza” layout can accommodate small American locos and rollingstock! And quite well too, all things considered. I managed to build the small “pizza” layout and some reasonable scenery.

A Bachmann DCC-OnBoard Alco S2 and 3 22 foot ore hoppers and caboose handle the sharp curves very well on the Pizza Layout.
The scenery on the Pizza Layout, not yet complete, but gives an idea of what the scenery will be like when finished.

The “pizza” layout has a large-ish mountain in the centre, with a gravel road. At one end of the layout there is a single lane wooden bridge and at the other is an open area where there will eventually be an aggregate loader over the tracks which will be the only real industry on the layout. But I am planning to add other scenic elements that suggest industries that were previously served by the railroad but no longer are. The plan is to add some extra trees and undergrowth and other scenery features found in mountainous areas.

While in the process of building this layout I eventually decided on what to do for some more intense shunting / switching operation in a more portable space. As a result I plan to build 2 micro layouts, both 1200mm x 300mm (4 x 1 feet) in size. Both will be based in urban areas of the USA, representing industrial areas served by small switchers. The two plans I chose were: a slightly extended version of “Boxer Shortline” track plan in the “Creating Micro Layouts” book, and something very similar to the “Pier 39 Yard” track plan in “52 Micro Layouts You Can Build”. The two layout will be able to be built into a “box” for transport making them very easy to move, store and set up.


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