First Layout

Overview of the Layout

Planning & Requirements

In late 2019, I started planning for setting up my Christmas Lyonel 'under the tree' layout, something I had not been able to do since I was in my childhood home.  This got me into looking at other layouts, designs and even scales.   Long story short, I decided I really wanted to have a year round N-scale layout.  

Requirement #1 - small space:   Original research was heading me down the 'half-sheet plywood' designs, or maybe the 'door' layout.  Both of these have a small enough footprint to fit in the space I had, but both seemed to be a little daunting for a first layout.  Eventually I learned about "shunting [switching] layouts".  One great site I found for this was The Model Railways Shunting Puzzles website.  From my understanding, the UK modelers are quite fond of the 'plank' layouts, and do an amazing job of applying 'theater' elements to a model train layout.  

Requirement #2 - interactive:  While I do occasionally like to just watch the trains go around in a circle,  having that as the main element did not excite me.  I even remember finding a really great looking layout that was basically a folded dog bone layout with great use of tunnels and scenery in a small enough space.  But it was still just an oval - just well hidden.  It was a great 'let trains run' layout but no operating potential.  The idea of a cassette or fiddle yard intrigued me (may still  come back to that one day), but the "Inglenook" layout was right up my alley!  I am a fan of puzzle games, the ability to add scenery that is prototypical, and the potential to keep size and cost to a minimum.  Seemed like a 'win - win' for me!

Requirement #3 - low cost:  With this being my first layout (other than the one my dad had in my childhood home) I did not want to sink a lot of money into it.  The small space would help limit costs, but it seemed to me the Inglenook layout helped out even more.  The need for a small switcher locomotive, only 8 cars, and the fact that scenery tended  to be simple single location (a warehouse, a refinery, a factory, etc) all seemed like a good way to keep costs down.

The Breakthrough  - Apple Valley Farm Supplies:    The one problem I was having when looking at various switching layouts was they were all long and skinny.  it seemed like they would be troublesome to move, and since I was pretty sure I would have move mine around / in and out of a storage location, the 'longness' seemed like it would be troublesome.  Also the 'long and skinny' led most of the layouts to have a very similar  look:  a back scene with a low-relief building with one track serving the building directly, and then two more tracks just in-front of the first one.  But then I found "Apple Valley Farm Supplies" by Ian Holmes.  

While my final layout does not follow this track plan, Ian's plan pointed me in the right direction (at least 'right' for me :-D  ).   Suddenly I realized I could have a square footprint (not so long), with track going into a building, and that same building  being the scene break or part of the scene break.    While playing with this plan, I also realized I could make it a full circle, giving me a pseudo-'run-around' track.  Now I could just 'watch my train go around' when I wanted, but also do some proto-typical operations, or just 'play' with the Inglenook puzzle. 

Image found on Carendt site.  


Early in my research, I came across the Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad (TCKR), a shortline that had operated in the area around where I grew up.  The TCKR was owned by Dura-Bond, a pipe fabrication company.  When I dropped the idea of modeling the whole shortline, and came the "Apple Valley Farm Supplies", I realized I could just use one of their yards.    

Final layout and plans took some 'artistic license' and combined the Duquesne & McKeesport locations.  The McKeesport location became the major inspiration, while the fields of green pipe seen at the Duquesne location, and the barge access got incorporated into the final plans. There are tracks at the McKeesport location that head down to the river and show that there was barge access here at one time back in Union Railroad/USS steel days I assume.   The age of the tracks that are still there lead me to believe it was back in the 60s or 70s when barge access was last used.   

Prototype Photos

Below is a selection of photos I used as reference from the Prototype.  First three are from Google Maps.  The last three are taking from the  McKees Point Trail.

three-quarter view of river side

Back (river side) View

Overhead View

three-quarter view of river side

Side view with Storage Yard in foreground 

Side view with Storage Yard in foreground 

(Includes truck and flatbed for shipping)

Final Track Plan & Parts List

Here is a final track plan, as it sits in the fall of 2023.  A removable cassette track has been added to the top left corner to facility some "real world" operations.  (The cassette track represents the mainline that serves the plant).  The track plan includes all the Kato track parts labeled, and here is the parts list

These parts are all part of the Compact Line (CV sets)

Build Photos

Below is a selection of photos from the build process.  All these photos, and more, can be seen in my full Google Photo Album for this build.  

Dry Fit of Track with cardboard building to help visual layout. 

 (Mar 2020)

Rolling Mill building coming along nicely 

(Nov 2020)

Filling in the Yard grounds 

(Nov 2020)

Ballasting track 

(Jan 2021)

Getting some ground skatter in place

(Oct 2021)

Retaining wall in place at the controls

 (Nov 2021)

Closer to done 

(Nov 2021)

Closer to done 

(Nov 2021)


The layout is primary designed as an Inglenook layout.  The inside two tracks are the "3-cars sidings".  The top of the circle serves as the "head shunt" and the bottom of the circle is the "5-car siding".   I then use my Car Cards to "draw 5" for what cars need to be placed on the front siding and in what order. 

With the circle serving as a type of "runaround" track, I also picture doing some other operation ideas.  I have 4 'set out' locations: Inbound track, Outbound track, To Mainline, and To River lines.  I plan on playing around with some waybill operations, and/or some 'train game' operations.  I imagine that having the run-around also being two of the set-out locations could lead to some puzzling sessions! :-D (The space between the two turnouts would serve as 'holding' line for those two locations while performing runarounds?  I am also aware that I might have to drop the "to mainline" location and use the interchange track.  ).    

Rolling Stock

Locomotive:  The layout uses the Kato "Pocket Line" track, giving the layout a very small minimum radius of 7".  This lent itself to using one of the "Pocket Line" locomotives, or at least the engine chassis.  After seeing someone's work at customizing the Pocket Line Freight engine, I knew I could do the same.  So I modified the engine to give it the feel of TCKR's 55-Ton switcher.   More about the customization can be see on my Custom Switcher  page.

Freight Cars:  With a puzzle layout, I needed all cars to be same length.  And the overall layout size required them to be relatively short lengths.   I have been able to grab 8 different colored 42' gondolas.    Three of them are Bachmann 'coal load' gondolas, and five are Atlas "bottle car" gondolas.  Each one is a different color to make it easy for anyone to identify the cars.  Most of the cars also have had their load replaced with scratch built pipe loads or rolled steel loads (and 3 are just left empty).  

Featured In DJ's Trains Video

How exciting!!!  My layout was featured in a video by DJs Trains!!  His videos had been a big help to me when working on this layout, so I was more than excited to see him feature my little layout on one of his great videos.

Inglenook Operations

In Nov 2021, I did a "Virtual Open House" of my layout for the Iron City Facebook group.