Many model railroaders base their first layouts on 4 x 8 sheets of plywood, for obvious reasons. A flat tabletop is a lot easier to build than L-girder benchwork, and almost any home has room for a 4 x 8 table at one side of a bedroom or den.
Great things have been done on a single sheet of plywood. However, that shape does impose certain limitations. In HO scale, a plywood sheet restricts you to a few variations on an oval or figure eight. And being able to see your entire layout from a single vantage point limits the realism.
But what happens if we cut that plywood into three pieces, and reassemble them in a different shape? This track plan uses a few cuts of a saber saw to open up the possibilities locked in a 4 x 8, while keeping the benefits of compact size. Supporting and splicing together the odd shapes resulting from our jigsaw-puzzle technique will require a bit more involved benchwork than a 4 x 8 table does, but it pays off in much greater visual and operating interest.
The Indiana & Aurora RR
This layout represents a diesel-era short line serving a Midwestern city and the surrounding farmlands. Sliding apart the sections on either side of the S-shaped cut yields a layout table that is still compact but has room for 24″ curves needed by larger, more modern equipment.
Although the cutoff track leading past the grain elevator provides for continuous running, the staging tracks hidden behind the backdrop allow it to be operated as a point-to-point. A train could originate either in the staging yard (Chicago/Gary) or in the yard in front of the Rockland station. As it travels around the layout to the other end, the train would pass through the same urban scenery twice, but since the track is not connected at this point, for operating purposes it can be treated as two separate cities.
While Rockland has a couple of industry spurs, three station tracks and a team track, Fort Garth’s two lineside industries share one double-ended siding. Switching these will require some careful planning by the yardmaster. On the other side of the layout, a farm, a couple of agricultural industries, and the flag stop station at Waynesboro represent Indiana’s rural countryside.
Fort Garth’s flour mill and brewery, both modeled as low-profile background buildings, and the businesses on the agricultural side of the layout, a grain elevator and a feed mill/farm supply dealer, represent the line’s agricultural theme. The industries in Rockland – a bulk oil dealer, a small agricultural implement factory, and a team track – provide operating variety.
Though there are two depots on the layout, a line set in the 1970s like this one would see little demand for local passenger service. A short line like this might not have rated an Amtrak route, but you can increase operating interest by adding a coach or combine to turn a daily local freight into a mixed train.
This layout is a natural for future expansion. Simply cut the track plan apart at the top and bottom of the D-shaped operating pit, pull the halves apart, and add new sections of benchwork and track in between to extend the main line. The tracks leading past the grain elevator and the seed and feed dealer could also be the connections for new branch lines.
Track plan at a glance
Name: Indiana & Aurora Railroad
Scale: HO (1:87.1)
Size: 6 x 7 feet
Locale: Northern Indiana
Mainline run: 40 feet
Minimum radius: 24″
Minimum turnout: no. 5
Maximum grade: none
Hoosier Mills: Wm. K. Walthers 933-3160 Centennial Mills
Arrowsmith Brewing: Wm. K. Walthers 933-3193 Arrowhead Ale, George A. Nickels Milling & Feed: Branchline Trains 692
Waynesboro depot: Woodland Scenics 239 flag depot
Gibson Implements: Design Preservation Models 106 Laube Linen Mill
Rockland station: Wm. K. Walthers 933-2841 Clarkesville Depot