How does it all fit?

The W&LE crossing Broadway Avenue in Newburgh.

Looking west at the W&LE crossing Broadway Avenue in Newburgh. Image from the Cleveland Memory Project of the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University.

When I talk to model railroaders about using the prototype to guide a layout design, nods of approval are typical, as is the question, “How does it all fit?” With patience and creativity, a good portion of a well-defined prototype can fit into an available space. Let’s walk through some thought processes to fit the Newburgh rails of the Wheeling and Lake Erie into my new hobby space that is 16 feet long by almost 10 feet wide.

W&LE map through Newburgh.

I’ve been advocating modeling a mile for a few years. My last layout focused on placing a few blocks in the Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood of Newburgh into an 11 x 11 foot room for an HO scale model railroad. As I am familiar with the area from my previous layout project, I am drawn to an adjoining mile of W&LE rails through Newburgh as inspiration for the next HO scale layout. I like to gather as much prototype detail as I can before moving forward on a design. I am fortunate the Rails and Trails website has a variety of resources to use, especially a 1963 track diagram book that can be viewed on line. A DjVu reader is needed to view these files and a link to the free software can be found at the bottom of that web page.

The rails though Newburgh can be narrowed down to a few pages of information and details on pages six through eleven of the track diagram book. Here’s part of one page, which is used here courtesy of the Rails and Trails site.

A portion of the W&LE track diagram.

That stretch of railroad is just a portion that tweaks my interest. I print out and review a mile or so to determine the level of operating and scenic interest. Along this segment of the W&LE the infrastructure hosts a small yard and interchanges with two railroads. The railroad also serves a variety of small and medium sized industries as it snakes through the backyards and alleyways of an urban setting. If I like what I see, then I begin doodling, but I keep it simple with line schematics so I can understand the railroad a little better. These simple line drawings help me understand where there are points to break the railroad into smaller segments. This W&LE track diagram book also includes an industry index keying businesses to specific tracks. I add that detail to the schematics.

East 93rd Street Yard area schematic.

Aetna Road to PRR crossing schematic.

Broadway Avenue to Aetna Road schematic.

West is to the left in each drawing and I included a little overlap. I originally made one long drawing but it seemed that these were three distinct areas of this Newburgh line. Milepost 6.0 is at the east end of the East 93rd Street yard while the Broadway Avenue grade crossing is very close to milepost 3.5. These 2.5 miles of railroad were pretty busy back in the heyday. The track diagrams are from 1963, but I suspect little had changed in a few decades. Industry names often change and some smaller businesses may have closed up, so this remains a good starting point to use in designing a model railroad.

From these schematics, I take the next step and create a very rough drawing to see what elements can fit into a space and if the design can capture the feel of the prototype. Again, this is a very rough sketch so I can see how rail portions can fit into the space and consider people movements in the aisles. I may make several of these as I roll along in the planning process. Click on this image for a larger look at the rough drawing.

A very rough layout sketch for the Newburgh tracks.

This sketch is not to scale but it acts as a guide for the next step, which is a rough scale drawing. I use simple tools to draw arcs, tangents and track switches. A variety of discs cut from cereal box cardboard are on hand for curves. A small plastic drafting triangle takes care of most of the tangents, while a scrap piece of sheet styrene has had angles cut into the sides for a variety of track switches. An hour or two of time can produce a scale drawing that ensures the fit of most track elements. Click on this image for a larger look at my initial scale drawing for the W&LE through Newburgh.

A rough scale drawing of the W&LE Newburgh tracks as an HO scale model railroad.

I was surprised that most of the Newburgh track fit on this first draft. There are points to iron out in a future version, such as increase capacity on the PRR interchange, but creating this drawing helps me understand the potential of this space. Not every track fits, nor do the track lengths correspond well with the prototype, but the feel of the line is there on paper to review. I did add the black backdrop line and a couple of tags after scanning the artwork.

EDIT: In my haste to post this, I forgot to note some basics on this scale drawing. The minimum mainline radius is 24 inches. All track switches to access industrial spurs are #5, or as noted. Crossovers and track switches at the ends of passing sidings are #6. The room dimensions are 9 feet, 10 inches wide, by 16 feet long. This was drawn at three-quarters of an inch equals one foot. Each small square on the graph paper is four inches square. My apologies for the missing details. EDIT COMPLETE

To recap, here are the basics I follow when designing a model railroad from a prototype.

  • Use prototype maps whenever possible
  • Create basic line schematics
  • Determine distinct areas of operational interest and value
  • Create rough drawings to plot the mainline and locate specific areas
  • Create rough scale drawings to ensure the fit into the available space
  • Take time between steps to review and reflect.

I encourage you to leave a comment. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear here. I look forward to hearing from you.

6 thoughts on “How does it all fit?”

  1. Eric,

    I really like where this design is headed. You’re taking a segment of an active railroad (in your timeframe) and are selecting the best fit industries to be included in the space available.

    Two questions arise at this point regarding design and operation.

    1) Are you planning on operating this design as a “lone wolf” or is there enough work (and space) to allow for additional operators?

    2)The center peninsula makes me think about layering the 2 ends of the layout, one above the other. This option could allow for a sector plate and staging. I’m sure that this stacking option would induce prohibitive grades over the rest of the layout, though.

    I look forward to your updates on the design as well as construction pics!

    Regards from Akron (but within an hour of 93rd St!), OH

  2. Eric,

    Checked the topographical map for your selected area. There is more than 100 ft change in elevation from the west end (near Union) to 93rd St. Yard. Most of that change occurs west of the PRR interchange. The grade is downhill westbound from 93rd St. yard. Haven’t seen an actual track grade profile, though.


  3. It’s great to hear from you Tim! I was wondering about your thoughts on this design as you are pretty familiar with the prototype. And now to answer your questions.

    1.) I think there is enough space for up to three operators. I did not mention that benchwork width, but by using 15 inch wide areas, the aisles can be maximized in a tight room. The center peninsula is 24 inches wide with a little more space devoted to the yard area than the Cleveland Worsted Mill area. I set access into the room at 30 inches and that is the width of the aisle as you enter. The people space broadens to 32 inches on the back aisle, which may not really be worth it if another two inches of benchwork will help to increase capacity on the PRR interchange tracks.

    For operators, I think one yard job that takes care of local industries and works the PRR interchange, then a two man crew to cover the rest.

    2.) A main point in the previous blog post was to keep this layout as simple as possible, which means minimal grades and minimal hidden trackage. Keeping is simple should lead to reduced build time and a quicker launch into operations.

    As I was reviewing your comments, I was thinking that the buildings on this layout could just be foamcore shapes painted primer grey from a rattle can. Loading dock doors could be a charcoal shade spray painted on using a stencil or mask. An occasional building would be primer red with light gray loading dock doors. Roof colors would stick with browns and possibly green to represent rolled roofing. Many real railroaders only recall the spot location of an industry and hardly any details of a structure. Why not do something similar with a smaller switching layout. Capturing the feel should be much easier than replicating the details. But that’s just something else churning through the noggin’.

    – Eric

  4. And I had a feeling there was a grade, but again, I want to keep this layout as simple as possible. If the room were bigger, I’d incorporate a few more prototype elements. But I gotta work with the tools I have before me.

    And for some others wondering why I don’t go through walls, we are renting this place and wall removal or modification are not options. We could be moving in one or two years, so portability and reuse are additional concerns to the overall build.

    – Eric

  5. Eric,

    Looking at this and your other plan here’s some things to think about.

    1) How much benchwork ad track that will need to be laid. The more track, the longer it will take to get everything laid before you can start running. However, the flipside is that the less track there is, the less operations that could support multi-person ops.

    2) Were there through trains run on the above main, the only reason I bring that up is because there is no real “hidden” staging, which I know you don’t have room for. However, its something that had to be accounted for in the real world, so it took longer to switch an area.

    3) For the plan above, with the yard basically being an active staging and sorting area how will you stage the car cycles so industries and the locals that serve them aren’t overwhelmed. I imagine that not every industry was switched during every turn.

    Just some additional thoughts. I like both plans. I really enjoying the complexity of the one above. It’s kind of a toss up for me and really comes down to what you want.


  6. Thank you for your comments, John. Each of your observations are important considerations in the design phase for any model railroad. This is my second small room to use for a model railroad. My last hobby room was another spare bedroom that was 11×11 feet square, but with two room entries and an odd shallow closet. The design process for each of these rooms has taught me to work for a balance of room and layout components. You point out a few of these in your comments. More track can translate into additional operating but this can extend the build time. More operating opportunities can require more people to run the layout, but small rooms are limited in capacity.

    I would not be holding four to six hour op sessions on a smaller layout like either of the room proposals, yet each design can keep two or three operators fairly busy in a two hour session. By understanding the prototype track layout and estimating distinct operating areas, a number of jobs can be created to keep a session rolling. On the Newburgh layout, I can see a job headed from the yard to the far end of the line to serve the industries clustered near the furthest passing siding and to cross the aisle to work the Cleveland Worsted mill. Another job can run from the yard to serve the industries near the PRR interchange tracks and to work the interchange. The yard job can serve the immediate industries and work as a mole to bring cars out of holding bins and onto the layout with destinations for the next job runs. The yard can also sort cars coming back from the two jobs for east-west movements.

    I agree that through trains would be a great addition, but the room parameters and my efforts to keep it simple negate the opportunity for through traffic. The Newburgh design represents a couple of miles of the W&LE mainline from Canton, Ohio to Cleveland. The W&LE also had trackage rights over the Newburgh & South Shore for easier access into and out of the Cuyahoga River valley. My operating desires have gravitated towards locals and yard work over the years, so this stretch of mainline offers quite a bit if built as it’s own railroad or as a portion of a larger layout. At some point I could institute the prototype timetable and crews would need to be wary of at least a few mainline trains. Possibly, they would need to keep the mainline clear for fifteen real minutes as a phantom timetable train passes through. And we haven’t even considered the interlocking operations at the very busy PRR crossing.

    Every model railroad layout is a learning experience and I suspect there are many future lessons ahead as I move forward with this project.

    – Eric

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