Progress & Development of Greg's Layout

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In the beginning:

I got interested in LS trains just a little before we decided to sell our house and get a new one. This means I was able to plan a bit, but still a newcomer to the scale, not the hobby.

I did an experiment with 3 different manufactures of brass track, and that failed, significant track cleaning was needed each day, due to my nearness to the ocean.

So, since I had to do the front yard landscaping within 6 months of moving in, I set up a test track that would get an additional soaking every day, trying out stainless steel rail, from the only supplier at the time: H&R Trains out of Florida, boy was it expensive! I had the landscapers make a 10 foot diameter curb. My back yard landscaping was delayed, so you can see the plants here are about a year old.

full front


So I found out that there was no track cleaning needed, but that stainless rail was slippery. Since I run standard gauge locos, adding more motive power is ok, more fun!

Now that I knew the type of track, track power DCC and a way to run fairly long trains.

I also read (and knew) that you want to build in phases, so you can get trains running sooner, and possibly modify future phases as you learn:

  1.  Small inner loop around the grassy area in the back yard.
  2.  Larger loop that at least ran to the side fences and the back wall.
  3. A switch yard somewhere.
  4. Some future, most likely portable, way to go all around the house.

Inner Loop:

This is the small loop. It's 10' diameter curves minimum with some 14'. It's small and curvy but it's integrated with the landscaping and I have been able to run 40 car trains on it. This picture is basically standing at the entrance to the switchyard, and you can see how the track circles the small piece of grass.

whole loop


Outer Loop:

The outer loop was something I had not completely worked out. I had a retaining wall at the back of the property to run the track on, and figured to run the track out to the edges of the property.

So there is a crossover from the inner loop at the south end of the property that will follow the retaining wall at the East side of the property, the back fence:



You can see the outer track curving left and just climbing onto the retaining wall.

The grade on the back wall is 3.4%, but long trains go up just fine (double heading, yay!).

So this is a shot of the outer loop heading up the grade, and to the left you see the inner loop which curves to the left in front of the raised patio:



For a long time all the track did was parallel the inner loop next to the house, follow the south wall to the back wall and head north to stop near the property line.

Here you can see the grade from the other direction as the train climbs, and the spa is in the foreground.


There is a bridge here in the foreground for access to the spa electrics. The spa is now gone and is a raised deck. Also the electronics you see are NCE and the latest system is Zimo.


Here I got stuck for a while, I had planned to turn left and go through a low planter, but the track was too visible and crossed near the fireplace where a large palm tree was blocking it's path and the curve was too tight.

I came up with the idea to bore a tunnel into the planter next to the property line, and then make a "canyon" in that planter. This worked out very well, and had gentler grades and better integration with the landscaping. See "Tunnel Thru Planter".

first hole


And now, after another hole "out" of the planter, the track can continue on the north property line, behind the fireplace. (the fireplace is the white object in the background)



Whew!, now what? The track is 21" in the air, so how to get back down to the ground and the back of the house to complete the loop?

You can see my idea about a helix to get to the ground. I mocked it up, but it was turning out to be too tight and too steep, so that only short trains could run, defeating the purpose of having a larger and longer outer loop for longer trains. You can see my experiments in "Building a Helix".

In the mean time, I developed the switch yard and in 2018 modified it and moved it a bit and changed the entry. The Switchyard link documents this.

Still no good solution to complete the outer loop and get back to ground level, I had the good fortune to have a friend visit from Georgia who looked at the situation and figured out an answer in about 5 minutes! (Of course it is the "Ace Track Inspector" R.J. DeBerg, who worked on the real railroads!)

The idea was to the track follow the North property line and then make a horseshoe curve at the gate on the North side yard, and then follow the house back East, where it reconnects to the track at the back of the house. By using the "length" of the house for the grade back to ground level, I complete the outer loop, and I have the ability to walk along the train for the entire loop.  See this in "completing the outer loop"

General construction information:


I originally put the track right on the cedar bark, and pushed it under the track to get the basic track heights.

I replaced the bark with pea gravel from home depot. This stuff is mostly smaller than the spaces between the ties, but definitely over scale. But, being larger, it locks together well, and track leveling consists of stomping on the rail, or pouring ballast on it, and lifting the track a bit. It is working well. Note this gravel has sharp edges, and locks together well, some "pea gravel" is rounded and no suitable for ballast.

Note: my personal opinion is that scale gravel is problematic, the main reason is that raindrops and people's feet are NOT 1:29 scale! It washes out from rain, seems to move more. Many people have tried to glue it in place, which causes more problems. Here in Southern California, we do have what is called DG, short for decomposed granite, and it does lock together well and can be small pieces, but it looks too much like dirt to me, and it locks in place almost too well.

Clearance checking:

  1. USAT container car (with 2 containers) - my tallest car
  2. Aristo Mallet (big overhang on back of cab roof)
  3. USAT streamliners (very long cars)
  4. Aristo Heavyweights (long, and different truck pivot points than normal)


Click the links below to go "deeper" into details on the progress and development of my layout

  Inner loop  Outer loop East side   Tunnel through planter    Idea: Helix? 
  Completing the outer loop     Switchyard    Layout videos       Layout videos
  Bridges    Storage tracks in garage  
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