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 An On30 Display Layout by Laurie Green

Photographs by Gavin Hince     Article by Laurie Green 

One of the buzz words going around today is ‘RECYCLING’. We hear it everywhere, and I thought I would do my part with my latest     exhibition layout.

Apart from my new found concern for the planet, I needed a new layout fairly quickly for an upcoming exhibition that I had committed to including a display.

The fastest way to achieve this was to use items I already had lying around. First requirement was a base board. So, out to the shed to see what I had that would be useful. Yes, there was a few old layouts and modules in my shed. They were stacked up in a corner with a sheet over them. The second one down was an old logging layout called ‘Cannibal Creek’, an On30 diorama / layout built when the Bachmann Shays were released. The locomotive simply run back and forward on an automated circuit. As well as the baseboard frame, the trees and buildings could certainly be used, so were carefully removed from the layout. The hand painted back scene would also be useful so care would be taken when removing items from the layout and when the baseboard was stripped back to bare timber.

That was a good start, but I didn’t want a repeat of Cannibal Creek, so decided to make this layout with a mining theme, but still in the mountains so I could use the tall trees I had salvaged from the old layout. I would use a pair of On30 Bachmann Porters, three mine cars and three side dump cars, which I had stored away in their green boxes. How many of us have a cupboard or large shelf of Bachmann green boxes? If you have, maybe it’s time they saw the light of day, even if it’s only on a small layout like this. Small layouts or dioramas are also a great way to display your scratch built or kit built structures as well as giving you a chance to get your hands dirty by doing some scenery. With such a small area, if you don’t like the result, its quite easy and inexpensive to throw away what you have done and re-do it. And each time you do this, you are learning new techniques and improving your skills.

Picking a name for the layout? This can be a difficult decision trying to think up a name that no one has used before and suits the layout and what the layout is all about. In this case, its no point calling it the ‘Grand Central & Pacific’ when its a small narrow gauge mining operation. I was pondering this problem when I noticed a 1/4” scale grizzly bear on a shelf in my modelling room that I had bought in a toy shop for a couple of dollars. And being a mountain setting, ‘GRIZLLY FLATS seemed to work just fine. The bear can be seen coming out of the forest, much to the alarm of one of the loggers!

What buildings did I have on hand that I could use on the layout? I had the four loggers cabins from the old layout and I’m sure the miners won’t mind using them. They could form a small community in one area of the layout.

I had only just completed a set of three buildings based on Thomas Yorke drawings that had been recently published in a book called “Frijole Flats Sketchbook Vol. 1” and had plans to insert them in their own diorama. But I added them to the layout as they would be the foundation of a down on its luck mountain town. I also added a couple of Outback Model Company prototype structures that would fit in nicely. To fill a couple of gaps, I used some really old small structures that I had stored away.

The bridge came from an earlier layout that was never finished, so it’s new! The only item still required was a depot, and having nothing suitable, scratch built one in the same style as the miners cabins.

The track plan is a simple oval with the train emerging from one mines tunnel mouth, running across the front sceniced section and disappearing into another mine’s tunnel. Hidden in the tunnel, under the scenery is a hidden passing and storage siding. At exhibitions a train made up of a Porter and three cars runs slowly in a clockwise direction. After a suitable time, that train is parked in the hidden storage, and the other Porter and three cars runs in the opposite direction.

What I also needed was the track. A couple of lengths of Peco On30 track obtained from the local hobby shop, two HO no.4 turnouts and some Ho track that I had on hand fixed that problem. Finally a control system. No fancy DDC system with full sound chips, but an old single H.& M. controller would do the job. Don’t get me wrong, DDC with sound is great, but with the small speakers that have to be used in the Porters, any sound is lost at an exhibition.


With this type of small exhibition layout, ways to make it look bigger need to be incorporated into the initial design. There are several ways to do this. First method is by adding viewing angles. This means that you cannot see everything on the layout at the same time. An example of this is when the viewer is forced to only see one side of a set of buildings. These will form a view block so only one part of the layout can be seen at the one time. A row of dense trees or a ridge of rocks can do the same thing. Layering is also used to make a layout appear larger.  This works by having, as an example, a row of large trees with a structure half behind them, with a row of smaller trees behind them. This is also a form perspective, where items that are normally the same size are made smaller as they are further away from the viewer. This was achieved on Grizzly Flats by using 1/43 figures and vehicles at the front of the layout and small 1/48 ones toward the back. Lighting can also be used to highlight certain areas of the layout. All or some of these techniques can be used to make a layout look bigger, and while this layout doesn’t include all these factors, they are all worth considering when designing a small layout or large diorama.


Now that all the components are on hand and ready to go, the build can commence. All the polystyrene foam that formed the scenery on the old layout was removed and discarded, as was the old road bed. A new roadbed of 6 mm thick MDF was cut to the required shape and installed on risers coming up from the old base frame. It was decided to leave the creek in the same place, so kept the lower pond.

The track work was installed, along with track in the hidden storage area, wired and test run. When all the track ran well, wide masking tape was applied to keep the track clean while the rest of the work was done over it. As before, white polystyrene foam was used to build up the scenery shape. While a messy job, foam is a good material to insert the trees in to. Real rock was used to form the sides of the creek, and while this adds weight to the layout, it wasn’t to bad used in a small area. The remaining area was coated with an egg shell of premixed Polyfiller and painted light brown when dry. Various dirts and foam scenery materials were applied to finish the ground cover.

All the various buildings were added onto foundations built into the scenery, to give them a well grounded look. The layout then had the trees, tunnel mouths, bridges, cars and figures added to complete the scene.

The layout is lit using four 100 watt globes located on the back of the layout sign. This sign and lights are hinged to the layout and fold down and in for transporting.

 This small layout has proven to be a popular layout by viewing public and proves the point that not every new layout has to be all new!