Thursday, December 31, 2020

Make Only New Mistakes Video

A recording is now available of the LDSIG’s Make Only New Mistakes clinic offered via Zoom last November. It’s a distillation of the four-hour Layout Design Bootcamp featured at most NMRA National Conventions, including answers to some of the participants’ questions.

Here’s the abstract of the session: Discover how to refine vision, concept, and purpose; select layout footprints and schematics; draw accurate and useful plans; create efficient and engaging yards and industrial areas; make best use of staging tracks; maintain space for people; and avoid common track planning errors. The session was presented by me and other members of the Layout Design SIG. 

The LDSIG expects to present this again live at some time in 2021, along with a number of other sessions, some of which will be for LDSIG members only. Start or renew your membership here.

Monday, December 28, 2020

LDJ-68 – Railfan, Display, Scenery, and Fantasy Themes

After a much-longer-then-expected delay, Layout Design Journal #68 is being distributed now. It includes: Beautiful On30 display layout recreates Disneyland classic in 5’X7’. Large HO layout focuses on Santa Fe and Union Pacific in Victorville, CA in the transition era. Grand Scale (5”-to-the-foot) fantasy design for rugged desert landscape. Remembrances of Jack Ozanich. And more!

Sam Towler's article on his On30 display layout of Disneyland's Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland was a favorite of mine this issue, just as the original attraction (please don't call it a "ride") was one of my top E-Ticket experiences. To see more of Sam's work, check his blog and the layout's Facebook Page. But I enjoyed learning more about all of our authors' ideas.

To download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-68 and other recent issues, visit this link:

To begin or renew your LDSIG membership, visit this link:

Thanks to the authors and volunteers who made this issue possible. We're working on LDJ-69 now and expect to distribute it in March.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

LDJ-67: Multi-deck layouts large and small; Manitoba branch line; more

The most recent Layout Design Journal published by the Layout Design SIG brings together a nice variety of articles (including a couple of my own).

Articles include: Compact HO switching multi-deck layout based on prototype car-ferry service between the US and Canada. Pro-railroader’s multi-deck HO design uses spirals and loops to climb through four tiers with no multi-turn helix. An alternative history breathes new life into a Manitoba branch line. HO Passenger switching action in 10’X11’: Somewhere West; The Family Room; and the Keyhole. Modern transload Layout Design Element includes single-car switching for a variety of commodities and railcar types. LDSIG upcoming meetings: St. Louis NMRA; New Jersey

To download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-67 and other recent issues, visit this link:

My article contributions were the HO passenger switching layout and the modern transload facility, which is based on a real-life California site.

Even if you are not a SIG member, we welcome contributions  on layout design topics, including from first-time authors.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

LDJ-66: Structures and Switching; Bridge Selection; G&D Challenge; more

I enjoyed working on the latest Layout Design Journal, being delivered to Layout Design SIG members by surface mail and email now.

This issue includes: Compact HO switching layout shares home office space and boasts scratchbuilt structures based on real-life buildings. Pro railroader describes lessons learned from choosing the “wrong” bridge for his layout. Mountain challenge design by real-life railroader replicates elements of John Allen’s Gorre & Daphetid. Four mid-sized switching layouts in N and HO. As seen on tour: More Benchwork and Human Factors ideas from NMRA SLC LDSIG tour. Design Challenge: model railfanning, public display, scenery presentation, and/or fantasy in any space. LDSIG Annual General Business Meeting Minutes and upcoming events.

To download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-66 and other recent issues, visit this link:

We are now working on LDJ-67 and expect to distribute it in February; so renew soon if your membership is expiring. To begin or renew your LDSIG membership, visit this link:

Friday, November 01, 2019

New LDJ Design Challenge: RDSF

Attention layout planners! For the next Layout Design Journal Challenge we’re asking designers to create track plans and stories for publication in the magazine. The theme this year is layouts whose purpose is one or more of the following: model railfanning, public display, scenery presentation, and/or fantasy-inspired ("RDSF").

Challengers may use *any* dimensions – from a few square feet to a large basement (or any one of the past challenge spaces).

Entrants need not be members of the LDSIG. Our target date to receive the first entries is January 31, 2020, but later entries will be accepted!

Read much more in LDJ-65 or on my website.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Changeable Plates, Building Rooms, more in LDJ-65

The Layout Design SIG's Layout Design Journal #65 is in the mail now. On-line delivery emails are also going out now.

This issue includes: Changeable plates allow a layout to go back in modeled era and/or change prototypes for photography. Tips, tricks, and surprises in specifying a layout room in a custom-built home. Design Challenge: model railfanning, public display, scenery presentation, and/or fantasy in any space. Modern-era Switching Challenge layout based on a long-ago Fallen Flag. As seen on tour: Benchwork and Human Factors ideas from NMRA SLC LDSIG tour. Free on-line US topographic map source and use. LDSIG News and announcements, including Board of Directors Election.

You may download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-65 and other recent issues.

To begin or renew LDSIG membership, visit this link.

The new Design Challenge is open to anyone, not only LDSIG members. I'll post it here in the next week or so.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Death of Expertise, Part 2

For those keeping score at home, we can now add “International Trade and Tariffs” to the list of things that people on Model Train Forums think that they know a lot about – but don’t.

Another depressing example of the Dunning/Kruger Effect brought to us by the Internet.

Monday, June 10, 2019

See You in Salt Lake City

I’m excited to be participating in the Salt Lake City NMRA convention beginning July 7. Seth Neumann and I will be presenting the Layout Design SIG’s four-hour Layout Design Bootcamp "super clinic" Monday morning July 8 beginning at 8am. I’ll also be presenting my one-hour Small Layout Design – Beyond the Timesaver clinic Tuesday evening July 9 at 6:30pm. (Clinic handouts are on my website here, I may have slightly updated versions posted after the convention.)

In addition, I’ll be offering help sessions as part of the LDSIG’s free help program in the SIG Room. Sign-ups are on-site beginning on Sunday. All of the LDSIG activities, including the Wednesday General Meeting and self-guided Layout Tour, are found here.

As I have said here before, I hate that the NMRA continues to schedule Conventions at the peak summer heat times. It’s a dumb practice both in terms of that being the seasonal nadir of model railroading interest for many as well as offering unpleasant weather pretty much anywhere in the US. I’m not sure how many more years I’ll put myself through it … but SLC in 2019 is a go!

Monday, May 27, 2019

30 and counting … LDJ-64

Years before I began editing the Layout Design SIG’s Layout Design Journal, I was an avid reader of the magazine and its precursor the Layout Design News. The LDJ is a venue where track planning and design ideas are examined, often in considerable depth.

I was the editor of the LDJ for a handful of issues beginning late in the last century and returned as editor in 2011. Along the way, the magazine became full-color (a huge improvement!) and on-line-delivery options have become available. I try to encourage authors to contribute the same sort of thought-provoking articles that intrigued me when I was a reader.

While looking up some reference information for the recently published LDJ-64, I started counting the LDJs for which I have been editor. I was a bit surprised to find that it totaled thirty LDJ issues! (I also edited a few additional issues of the LDN before taking over the Journal).

Many thanks to the LDSIG leaders, Editors Emeritus, readers, our dedicated LDJ volunteers, and (especially) authors who have supported my work.

Layout Design Journal #64 includes: Award-winning exhibition-style mini-layout mixes fine modeling with animation. Real-life railroader’s Cajon Pass Mountain Challenge layout design explores ‘50s and ‘60s themes and concepts. Designing layouts with a plan for layout capacity based on prototype experience and concepts. Switching Challenge: Port of New York Jersey City passenger and freight rail-marine terminal features CNJ and LV operations. LDSIG News and Announcements, including LDSIG activities at SLC NMRA 2019.

To download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-64 and other recent issues, visit this link. And join or renew LDSIG membership at this link.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


I mentioned my Model Railroad Planning 2019 article on designing switching layouts inspired by Clackamas, Oregon in both HO- and N scale for two different clients a few weeks ago. In that post, I noted that a friend was independently planning a 2-rail O scale layout for the same area.

I had a little time, so I proceeded to sketch up something to fit his roughly 16’X20’ space. He’s building with sectional track and benchwork sections (mostly 2’X4’), so that added a little complexity to the task. (Not to mention the demands of the large scale in terms of siding and spur length.) But he and I were happy with the results.

Click here for a larger view.

He needs occasional access to closets along the bottom edge of the drawing by rolling away the benchwork sections, so I tried to incorporate smaller track sections at those joints that could be easily removed and replaced. I gained some flexibility by wrapping the runaround along three walls. And the long, narrow strip of benchwork on the right wall was great for extending the main lead and imagined connection to Portland.

As with any design for a larger scale in a relatively small space, arranging things so that the larger industries may be represented by flats keeps down the square footage demands.

He indicates that he might swap the designations of the two Fred Meyer tracks to allow the bakery to be the longer track where a variety of car types might be spotted (hoppers of flour, tank cars of oils or sweeteners, box cars for packaging, etc.). He may make additional revisions as he builds, but this gave him a good starting point for his design.

I can’t remember ever designing three layouts in three different scales for the same real-life location. But it’s been fun!