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One Room, Several Railroads

Rather than filling this spare room in my house with one medium sized layout, I built several smaller ones creating a "layout gallery". Doing so allowed me to explore several themes. On the left is an HO scale, modern era, Los Angeles Junction model. On the right is an N scale, 1940's Brooklyn waterfront project.

The traditional approach to planning a layout is to evaluate your available space and then find a way to creatively shoehorn your vision into it. One room, one room filling layout with trains traversing a canvas that represents a portion of a transportation system. There’s a big assumption here, however, and that is that ALL modelers get their primary enjoyment the same way, from watching trains in motion. We enter a slippery slope, though, whenever we apply the everybody thinks the same way/wants the same thing point of view. They don’t.

Sure, many modelers do put watching moving trains as their primary way of enjoying the hobby. It’s what separates us from the other modeling avenues such as aircraft, marine, automotive, etc. Many is not all though. When you take a step back and watch how people approach things you’ll notice a very large segment that derives most of their satisfaction from simply building things. Watching trains wind through their creation is fun but for them months go blissfully by when no trains ply the rails and time is simply spent building structures and forming scenery.

For those that fall in this group, and there are a lot, an opportunity presents itself. If modeling a miniature transportation system where trains go from A to B to C is secondary, then you don’t need extended main line runs. Taking that further you don’t need one layout.

Rather than filling your room with one large railroad, you now have the opportunity to fill it with a number of smaller ones. The layout room becomes a layout “gallery” of sorts, something similar to an art gallery.

For the “builders” in the crowd this offers a number of advantages:

1. You can model several themes. If you have a number of areas of the country or era’s that have always interested you, this is a way to have all of them.

2. You can focus on more detail within a given layout since it isn’t as large.

3. You’ll get the smaller layouts finished faster than one large one.

4. You can approach your vision in small achievable segments, one layout at a time.

5. You can explore multiple scales.

Let's look at how this might play out by looking at the graphic examples below.

Shown above is the typical approach of filling a basement with one single space filling layout.

Now, let's take the same space and see what it would look like if we filled it with a number of smaller models creating a "layout gallery".

There is a natural tendency to associate small layouts with situations where you have limited space, a condo dweller for example. There is an equally common tendency to associate large spaces with just one larger layout that fills that space. Such doesn’t need to be the case. Food for thought.

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CR Boston Line
CR Boston Line
Sep 20, 2021

This is an idea that hits a chord with me. I have ADHD, and my interests in different railroads changes as often as the wind changes direction. As you say, this is a way for someone to have model many railroads, all of which are achievable!

Jan 16, 2022
Replying to

That's a very interesting thought! I too have ADHD, and have many different railroads that interest me. My interest can tend to wax and wane. I do however, have one favorite railroad that I love most of all, and I've always held a strong interest in it.


Loren Clarke
Loren Clarke
Aug 04, 2021

I am currently modeling a city scene (36" x 90") in northeastern PA but when more space becomes available have always wanted to have a harbor scene as well. Though far from feasible without considerably greater space thanks to this blog post it is now within my grasp.


Jan 02, 2021

Great topic Lance, I’m considering something like this for my office. If the scales are the same, like the two Sn3 layouts shown below, the “unused” layout can double as hidden staging. If the scales are different, staging cassettes will be used to span my desk.


Jan 02, 2021

For me, this was a very timely article. I’ve been giving this some thought as of late since multiple smaller railroads would allow for different operations of a common (proto-freelance) shortline operator.


Jan 02, 2021

This is a very cool concept. Everything is reduced, manageable and allows you the flexibility of multiple scales in a single space.

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