Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Trolley Museum
Layout Type: Portable Layout
Size: 24"x72" (Two - 24"x36")
Scale: On30 (O Scale - 30" Gauge)
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 36"
Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: February 23, 2016
For this case study, let's take a look at how to apply the design techniques of Minimalist Model Railroading to a freelanced railroad. The idea for this layout is to capture the essence of a day at the fictional Apple Creek Trolley Museum. Before we dive right in and start making sketches, it is a good idea to ask ourselves, what elements capture the essence of a trolley museum? For that, we need to look at some prototypes. Around the United States, about 25 different trolley museums can be found. Most of these museums have some similar elements which include the following:
- Short trolley ride
- Museum building
- Trolley barn
As I approach the design of the layout, the most important piece will be to make sure each of these three elements is represented in some form on the railroad. If one piece is compromised away, the layout will move away from its goal in representing a trolley museum. This doesn't mean these need to be the only components of the final layout - but these elements are the critical pieces. Since this is a freelanced layout, making sure these components are included will help make the finished layout feel more like a prototype based model railroad. To start the process, I've laid these elements out on a basic schematic which will be referenced as the final design is developed.
Schematic of trolley museum essential elements. | Diagram by Jim Spavins.
With these essential elements in hand, the next step of the design process is to identify the design constraints of the layout to figure out the form and shape this new railroad will take. These constraints include the space, time, money, and skills needed to actually build the layout. These constraints are unique to each layout builder and for this railroad my constraints are as follows:
- Space: The plan for this layout is to go on the road to train shows in the future. With this design desire, there are actually three space constraints. The first is the space where the layout will be set up at home. The second space is in a vehicle to transport the railroad from place to place. The final space is at the train show itself. Using myself as an example, for working on the layout at home, I have up to a 12'x15' space to set up the railroad. This is plenty big enough for a fairly large representation of a trolley museum. However, the vehicle constraint is a little more difficult. Since the vehicle to transport the layout is fairly small, a big layout is out of the question. Based on lots of measuring, about two 2'x3' sections could fit inside the vehicle. As far as train shows go, building a 2'x6' layout would work well as most shows can provide a 30"x8' table for the layout to be placed on. This smaller layout size also means it might be reasonable to be invited to more shows. Being a member of the Mohegan Pequot Model Railroad Club's HO modular layout group, our smallest layout we can reasonably set up is about 12'x24'. This is really too small for our group but is too big for some venues which limits the number of places we can take the layout. Therefore, a smaller layout in the range of 2'x6' would be ideal for both the transportation and train show space constraints.
- Time: The layout is small enough where spending a few hours a week should allow the layout to be completed in a year or two. If you start to list out all the tasks that need to be done, even on a layout this small, it can reach several hundred items to complete - especially if you plan for extensive detailing and animation. My guess is that if the modeler can set aside a couple of hours a week, this layout could be finished in a year or two.
- Money: The construction budget for this layout shouldn't break the bank. While the plan would be to build a heavily detailed layout, some of the typical "big money" parts of a model railroad - like large rolling stock or locomotive fleets - won't exist on this one trolley layout. This should help keep the total costs of the layout construction under control and leave a bit more budget to be spent on "tour" - transporting the layout to far off places and model railroad events. (Apple Creek Trolley Museum Present The Electrification Tour!)
- Skills: This layout would be meant to provide a challenge to improve scratchbuilding skills as well as rolling stock construction and detailing skills. However, the scope of the project is a small enough where most people could complete all the projects to a high level. If the first attempt (or first several attempts) at a particular project don't go well, the losses in both time and money should be minimal and the final layout could eventually reach the point of satisfaction.
After identifying the design requirements and determining the essential elements to a trolley museum, it is now time to head to the drawing board to create a plan for the layout. The first big decision is to determine the footprint of the railroad. Since my space constraint was limited by the amount of layout I can comfortably fit into my vehicle, a 2'x6' layout - comprised of two 2'x3' sections will be the canvas. While this is by no means going to challenge any layout size records, it will actually fit comfortably with my other constraints of time, skills, and money. In some ways, by limiting the footprint, I can move ahead with the rest of the design a bit quicker. One of the challenges when creating a design for a larger layout space is the almost infinite number of arrangements the layout could form. Sometimes this can cause a bit of decision fatigue as having too many options to evaluate slows the process. In this case, having the restricted footprint helps move the process along as we know the design must fit inside the box.
One of the next big decisions is to decide on the scale to build the layout. Since one of the requirements is to stretch scratchbuilding and detailing skills, HO or O scale would have the slight edge. An N scale layout would probably be better if the interest was creating a longer scenic ride for the trolley museum but that is a low priority. After a bit of searching, I came across the On30 Bachmann Spectrum United Street Car which is quite compact but is very similar to the trolleys operated by the Issaquah Depot Museum in Washington state and the Waterfront Trolley up in the Yukon. The latter trolley is even still operating in its narrow gauge form. Having such a small piece of rolling stock makes the possibility of an O scale layout a reality. Amazingly, by using On30, the space requirements aren't much different from a standard gauge HO layout. While the footprints of some of the buildings would be smaller in 1/87th, the track widths are the same and even the trolley equipment is about the same length.
With these decisions checked off, it is time to start sketching. Referring back to the schematic drawing earlier, the idea is for one end of the layout to have the trolley museum area and have a mainline extend to the other end of the railroad with a small platform or station for museum attendees to visit. I created a blocking diagram to show how this will be laid out.
The blocking diagram for the Apple Creek Trolley Museum layout. | Created by Jim Spavins.
Using this as a guide, I began to arrange the various essential elements into the space. I attempted several different arrangements including a no turnout layout with the trolley barn at the end off the run - similar to the layout of the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, but decided that it shortened the run too much. I eventually settled on a design which incorporates the trolley barn into the trolley museum building as well as the trolley ride platform. This frees up the rest of the layout to include a bit of a run to the other "station" area at the opposite end of the line. This mainline is broken up by several transition scenes including a grade crossing and a small river. This will help add some visual breaks which creates the feeling of a longer trolley ride. At the other "station," passengers could exit to take a hike, canoe ride, or maybe have a picnic. A few hints of these activities could be added along the front edge of the layout. In theory, the trolley would operate back and forth all day so riders could catch a ride back to the museum when they are done with their activities. The final design can be seen at the beginning of the article.
The Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
The two sections will be built so they can be set on top of a typical 30"x6' fold-in-half table. Each section will also have a cover which will allow the two sections to be protected as well as stacked when being moved from place to place. I did build a mockup of the benchwork (which was eventually used for the base of the MacLeod Central) in which the covers were designed to be flipped upside down and the layout placed on top of the covers to give the layout more height. With the addition of a few bed risers under the four legs of the folding table, the mainline was about 45" above the floor. This allows for a nice view of all the potential detailing on this layout.
The mock up of the Apple Creek Trolley Museum. The covers can be seen flipped upside down with the layout resting on top to add more height to the railroad. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
While the operations of the layout are fairly straight forward (and should be automated - this is a traveling display layout after all - it would get quite old running the layout back and forth eight hours a day), there are a lot of fun scratchbuilding and detailing projects for this layout. For example, the museum and house could all have completed interiors. These should all be lit with various LEDs. In addition, automation projects, like the train control as well as grade crossing flashers would add to the finished railroad. Of course, the single trolley needed for the layout could be scratchbuilt and heavily detailed.
As can be seen, the trackplan includes all of the essential elements - plus a few more - and meets the design constraints set for the layout. Even though it would be freelanced, the Apple Creek Trolley Museum will feel like many of the prototype trolley museums from which it drew its inspiration.
For Track Plan Tuesday's, I am digitizing all of my old track planning notebooks and sharing the designs here on the website. To see all the plans, visit the track plan home page at: jimspavins.com/jimstrackplans.