Part Two: Mistakes on My First and Second HO Scale Model Railroads that Taught Me What Not To Do

Diesel engines, train cars, trees, buildings

I have to admit, my second model railroad was more of a “get a table built so I can run trains” kind of layout than a well-designed plan. I stayed with two mainlines, and allowed for a twenty-two inch radius on the outside.

I again used Linn Westcott’s book, How To Build Model Railroad Benchwork, but this time, I used the plans for making along-the-wall benchwork. I started by making the wall braces that would hold the track underlayment. I fastened the braces to the walls with heavy masonry screws. The ends of the layout were forty-eight inches deep, the center area was twenty-four inches deep. The layout was twenty feet long.

These are the leg braces I made for the layout. They are also the leg braces I used on my current layout, which is quite a bit larger. I just extended the joists about eight inches. They are strong enough to easily hold me, as it was necessary to get on top of the bench to finish laying the curved track on the back of the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad.

The best thing about this unnamed model railroad was the ease of getting down on eye level to watch the trains roll by. I converted many of my freight cars to metal wheels, which made a huge improvement with turnouts. Metal wheels also amplify the lovely sound of trains rolling along the track.

I chose not to use cork roadbed, more because of expense than anything else. Not using cork actually made laying track more difficult. I applied white glue and drilled holes through ties and put nails in the 3/8 inch plywood underlayment. I used ballast on some of the track, but it didn’t look right without cork roadbed.

The lesson is, if you’re going to build an HO scale model railroad, do not take shortcuts with laying track. It’s not worth it! Most of the track I used on this layout was from the first that I described in Part One.

The biggest mistake I made on this railroad was at the transition point between the ends and the mid-section. In my attempt to make the back corner of the curves accessible, I didn’t add enough benchtop for the track coming out of the curve. There was actually a two-inch spot where the track was not supported at all. I cut a piece of plywood to fit the space and added support underneath. Adding patchwork because of poor planning is not a great way to build a model railroad.

I made another mistake I didn’t discover until track laying was complete. I didn’t allow enough space between the two tracks on the curve. I couldn’t believe it when two trains rolled through the curves together and the cars caught on each other. That just meant I had to be sure the trains were separated through the curves.

I suppose that every model railroader looks at their layout and sees things they could have done differently, maybe better. Model railroading is a wonderful hobby that allows tremendous opportunity for education. We can all look at the work of master builders and learn, but nothing teaches like doing it yourself.

There is quite a difference between my first and second layouts and The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad. I am four years into my newest model railroad, using everything I learned from the first two. My third is bigger, stronger, and more detailed.

After fifty-five years, I am still happy to be a model railroader!

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