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A Road of Your Own

a road of your own

A Road of Your Own




by Jeff Junker








Philip Albarado grew up along the Mississippi River in the outside of Plaquemine, Lousiana where the Texas& Pacific mainline goes through the heart of town. Like a lot of youngsters he had a model railroad in the house. After junior high, the railroad was stored in the attic, replaced with other interests. Twenty- five years later, his father stumbled across the relic and asked him what to do with it. The younger Albarado, who now works on a real railroad, decided to try his hand at the model railroad once again. Recreating the pine covered stomping grounds of his youth was the route that he took.


When designing your own railroad there are two interconnected aspects of that design to consider: operations and the visual aspect. Are you going to model a certain type of terrain and section of the country or did you want to emphasize running the trains. Most railroaders blend their artistic and creative abilities with the operating scheme to reflect the way a real railroad looks and feels.



a road of your own “Personally, I’m operations minded. I want to be able to switch and run, compressing scenery to get operations in. I have also “moved” actual rivers to gain interesting features on my layout,” said Jason Ciastko “My biggest pieces of advise is pick an era and location you like, and don’t bite off more than you can chew for your layout. By picking the location and time frame, you will enjoy building and operating more.” (Photo by Philip Albarado. The most commonly asked question he got about it from his associates at the “real” railroad was “Where’s that trestle located?”)



Ciastko went on to say that his layout is at shoulder height so his rail empire is viewed as close to “ground level” as possible. In addition, the structures, scenery, and backdrop help “tell” the story he wants told.


“To me both the visual aspect and operational end are very important. Although my Great Eastern is freelanced, it doesn’t look freelanced. The scenery, road vehicles, building styles and even building signage as well as the locomotives and rolling stock should combine to give the feeling that you’re looking back into to the 1950s and into the rolling hills of southern Quebec,” according to Roger.


“When I back-dated my railway from 1972 to 1958 I not only removed or repainted locomotives and rolling stock that didn’t fit the new era, but also removed vehicles, buildings and changed any signage that didn’t fit. I’ve seen too many photos of model railways portraying the 1950s with rolling stock and or buildings lettered using, say Helvetica, a type face not invented until the mid 1960s. I even renamed some of the industries to more “1950’s” sounding names. In the 1960s it became fashionable to coin a “modern” sounding name from a business’s long-standing traditional name. Tony Koester’s “Westvaco” coalmine was a good example. “Westvaco” of the contemporary Midland Road became “West Virginia Coal” when he backdated the railway to the 1950s,” he continued.


a road of your ownJack Priller, who has a trolley car layout, offers this: “I don’t know how important it’s being a ‘showcase’ is. Although it will probably be seen by very few people in the flesh. I still want it to be acceptable visually, even though many of whom will see it have no idea what-so-ever about what it is I am trying to build. Building a model railroad is an artistic endeavor, at least in the sense that it IS folk art. (Phil Novak photo of a crossing at the Crescent City Model Railroad Club outside of New Orleans.)


Donald Kennedy suggests answering a laundry list of questions to consider when planning a model railroad: “What do you like? Do you want to detail locomotives and cars? Do you have a place in mind? Do you want certain industries? How much space to you have? This will also help decide which scale you will be doing?”


“After answering these questions then you can go to the next step: How much money do you want to spend a month. Make yourself a budget. Place the items that you really want on a list with the prices and how bad you want the item before other items. Save money from budget to buy the top item. If you can not afford to buy an item, then you have to live without it until you do.”


Kennedy continues, ” Start out slow. You will find that having a real small layout that you can add to later is better than looking at a huge space that never seems to get anything done to it. Now I am not saying that you cannot have a complete run around the room layout, but maybe just have one mainline with just track going around the room so that you can work on the same layout and expand on it.”



a road of your ownA consensus about the size of a layout seems to be to start small and expand as your skills improve. Too ambitious a plan or too large a layout could prove intimidating, resulting in a running start and eventual abandonment of the project. (Ricky Buyatte photo of his Fast Fruit Express crossing a lake.)



Ciastko has the final word: ” As for biting off more than you can chew, many people I have known want to build a huge pike the first time out. Start small and, as your skills, improve you can add on. If your pike is huge, it will seem like you will never finish. If you start out with a small area, with room to grow, things will get done and if you don’t like something, you can change it easily.


What I mean by this is if you have a large area, say 500 square feet, build only a 100 square feet first. You can then “complete” this small area, then add on another 100 square feet or so. If you fill the whole area with benchwork at first, it will look like such a huge project that will never get finished. By having a smaller area, you’ll see more progress and are less likely to get discouraged.


Hopefully you have answered the biggest layout questions in my book. They are 1), what kind of operations do I want. Do I want lots of switching (industries, yards, etc) or do I want to watch trains run (mainline operations). Switching layouts are a bit easier to design in they may not need to have any reversing loops, connections with the other side of the layout. Mainline running will need some sort of revering, weather that is a wye, dogbone, what ever.


2) Do I want a single deck layout or a multi deck layout. Some of this will have to do with the allocated space for the layout itself as well as the type of operations you want.


a road of your ownFor a multi deck layout, you need room to build a helix or some other type of grade to get from one deck to another. Personally, I feel that multi deck layouts are good for mainline running, while single decks are good for branchlines. (Jason Ciastko photo of the #82 steam loco on the St Joseph Valley Model Railroad Club.)


Era and type of operations also need to be thought about during the design phase. Branchlines and industrial areas will have smaller switches and curves than mainlines. So if you are in a tight space where you will need small switches and tight curves having an earlier era with smaller cars and engines, or a branchline that will go slower may be the key.”