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A full view of the layout at an exhibition



The ENTERPRISE GOLD MINING COMPANY is a privately owned 2’6” gauge narrow gauge railroad which serves its own mines and processing mill located in a remote mountain area. The company utilizes diminutive 0-4-0 Porters as its main motive power, and has an odd collection of rolling stock. Much of this rolling stock is second or third hand, with some having been built by the company in their workshops, including the cabooses used on the line.

The design and building of this layout came about because of several reasons. First was the introduction of the 'On30' Porter by Bachmann (I finished up with three of them) with their excellent running qualities, which is a must for the switching type layout that was planned. The layout was originally designed to be in 3 foot gauge, as I had several locomotives and some rolling stock that was used on the BIG SKY LUMBER COMPANY (see "Narrow Gauge Downunder" -  Summer/Autumn 1997). However, because these Porters ran so well, plus the Sunbury Model Railway Club where I am a member, was building a large 'On30' exhibition layout, I decided to build the layout in 30 inch gauge, which would save me having to widen the Porters to 36 inch. As well I could use some up the 'Ho' scale rolling stock kits that I had won over the years. Second, it would give me a chance to use some of the scenery techniques that I had wanted to try out, such as the use of real rock to simulate real rock. And third, to try out some other ideas like using a mirror to make the layout seem bigger than it really was.


Designing a layout for me can often be a long process, where quite a few different ideas can come together to form the finished concept. I am continually drawing up ideas and storing them away. A lot of these ideas or concepts never get past the drawing board (or these days, past the computer screen). They can be a single scene I've always wanted to model, or a structure I like, or a baseboard construction idea. Even when I'm building a layout I'm still thinking about other layout ideas that come along. If you have an idea or see a photograph, note it down, because even if you don't use that idea or concept, it can be the start of the path to a layout that does get built!


When I sat down at the computer to design the "ENTERPRISE", and before I opened my Computer Aided Design (CAD) program, I started by listing the design criteria for the layout. These include the concept, which appears in the first paragraph of this article, as well as what I want to achieve with the layout, the physical dimensions available for transporting the layout to exhibitions, and many other things, right down to what colour the light fascias and baseboard edges are to be.

This is probably the hardest part, and its best to just list down ideas as they come to you. Then they can be added to, altered, discarded and then finally arranged in some sort of order later.

Layouts that are intended for public display at model railroad exhibitions have additional design criteria that have to be taken into account. Things such as viewing angles, height of the layout, type of layout lighting, layout name sign board, and especially where the baseboard joins are - it's surprising how often the perfect track plan has a turnout located right over a baseboard join! Other things to take into account are the position of control panels, so you don't block the view of the layout. I have solved this problem by having the entire panel on a hand held box and a long lead. This is especially handy on a switching layout. Even things such as crowd barriers must also be considered.

Following is my list of criteria that I complied for the "ENTERPRISE GOLD MINING COMPANY", in some sort of order of priority.


  • T

  • The Concept: to achieve some of the atmosphere of medium scale hard rock gold mining, and show how this ore was transported.

  • Scale: 1/4"to the foot - Track gauge: 30" or 16.5mm Turnout size: No.5's - Rail size: Code 70 - Minimum radius: 600 mm (24") - Coupler size: Kadee #5

  • Full switching layout with a customized card switching system and off scene full train storage.

  • Being a exhibition layout, it must be easily transportable and easy and quick to assemble and pull apart.

  • The layout must have a visual impact for viewers seeing it, even if they are not model railroad fans. To achieve this it was planned to have a picture box effect with a full height back scene.

  • Layout Transport: The layout had to fit snuggly into my layout trailer which is 2.1 m by 1.2 m and 0.7 m high.

  • They had to run through the scene, not in front of it. I prefer the trains to run through the scene. This gives the layout a better photographic quality, with there being scenery in front of and below the track and main structures on the layout.

  • Train and turnout control would from a hand held box with a long 25 core lead, located on the front of the layout so the operator could interact with the viewing public.

  • I also hoped that modellers who see this layout would be inspired to try out 'O' scale narrow gauge and see many of the advantages of modelling and building in this scale and gauge. Hopefully this article will also inspire you to give it a try.


Nothing looks more like rock on a model than real rock! And having seen real rock used by Geoff Nott on his Leigh Creek Railroad and on the The Red Stag Lumber Company, I decided to give it a try. First problem - the weight. Solution: Make the baseboards smaller, and thus lighter. It's all a compromise between how much rock you use and the size of the module. Second problem - which rock to use. Solution: No easy answers here. I just kept picking up samples of rock and hitting it with a sledge hammer to see how it breaks up. The ideal is a rock that breaks up into large flat plates, which covers a large scenic area, but keeps the weight down. Once I have the rock, I used Selleys Liquid Nails™ to glue them to the foam base.

                                         USING A MIRROR

Mirrors have been used for many years to enhance layouts by making them seem much bigger than they really are. However they must be positioned in a very careful way. You don't want your viewer to see themselves when looking at your layout. Plus you don't want it to have a distorted effect where it meets the actual scenery and the back scene. Because of the slight wedged shape of my baseboards, I was able to place my mirror on the heavily forested end of the layout. The angle is just enough (83º) so you can't see yourself, but not enough to distort the join with the back scene. This gave the impression that there are twice as many trees as there really are, plus they hide the join between the mirror and the scenery and back scene, as can be seen in the photograph opposite.


Any layout set in the mountains requires hundreds of trees. They can help set the right atmosphere, as well as are a great way to blend and blur the join between the three dimensional foreground and two dimensional back scene. To make my trees, I use the age old bottle brush method. This involves taking a long length of soft florist wire and bending it into a V shape. A very course rope or twine is then cut into lengths the maximum width of the tree, and unwound. Enough of the unwound rope is then placed  between the V shaped wire. Close the V, and place the two ends in a hand or cordless drill and the other end over a nail and twist the wire until a bottle brush is achieved. Trim the rope to the required tree shape, spray with a cheap brown spray paint and roll the tree armature in crushed green scenery foam. The addition of a small length of branch with a hole drilled down the middle will form a nice tree trunk. 



Much  of the design for the layout and stand system was designed with the use of a “Computer Aided Design” program called "VISUAL CADD, Version 3.0". This enabled me to accurately plan the shaped baseboards that were required. This wedged shape which worked out to be a rectangle with the two ends at a angle of 83 degrees, and was used so the baseboards could overlap each other when being transported. This allowed a much larger layout to be transported in a small space. The CAD program was also used in much of the design of the scratch built structures, including the mill seen opposite, on the layout, right down to details such as stairs and ladders. This allowed me to print out the plans for the walls, rafters, stairs etc. and use them as templates to build the models over.



As important as the overall design of the layout is, it is also important that the viewer of the layout can look into the overall scene and see small mini scenes each which tells a story. These mini scenes can give the viewer an insight into the day to day life of the location being modelled, and add life to the layout. When I am creating mini-scenes, I always pose figures, animals and vehicles at rest, rather than in action poses. All my figures and animals have a piece of wire inserted so they can be placed into the foam base where ever I choose. You can then try out different mini-scenes to find the ones you like. I position vehicles as if they are parked, and if one has a figure sitting in it, I place a standing figure nearby as if they are having a quiet chat. Figures, vehicles and animals caught frozen in a moving pose never look quite right and have a toy like appearance, and it's best to try and avoid this.


Probably one of the most neglected parts of a model railroad, but one of the most important non-railroad areas of a layout. A back scene sets the location and adds to the atmosphere of the layout. Even just a simple sky blue back scene will greatly enhance a layout. But the addition of clouds, mountains and trees will complete the illusion. Even if you have little artistic ability, you can produce a reasonable scene. Here are few tips.

After painting your back scene a sky blue, lightly mark a line where the mountains or hills meet the sky. Using a can of white spray paint, and at a very shallow angle, spray a mist of paint along this line, blending it up into the sky. Now, with a piece of foam sponge, in a rough oval shape, dab into white paint and stamp a few clouds onto the sky. To add depth, place smaller clouds toward the horizon. Mountains are added using a piece of soft sponge, and dipping into a mid blue or soft purple paint and dragging across the area below the line you marked earlier. When dry, add darker and lighter areas with the sponge or a brush to add form to the mountains. Hills are done using the same method, but with green colours. To add trees. Cut a piece of the sponge into a stamp with tree shapes as can seen at right. Now simply dab into dark green paint and stamp on trees. Note how the road is blended into the foreground.  For more details, see  BACK SCENES


                       THE SCENERY

I tend to use a combination of commercially available scenery materials, such as 'Woodlands Scenics' foliage nets and ground foams, as well as natural materials found in the garden.

The track ballast is rock that I have crushed up to a suitable fine grade, while the roads are the same rock crushed even finer. The rest of the scenery has a base covering of 'Peat Moss', a commercially available plant potting dirt. This is dried, and then sieved to take out the lumps. This is a very dark brown colour, which you can lighten by adding a beige coloured tile grout (available from hardware shops). After a covering of the Peat Moss, crushed rocks, twigs, ground foams, and foliage net were added to complete the scenery.

Below is the track plan for the "ENTERPRISE GOLD MINING COMPANY"