Model Railroad Plans were brand new to me when one of my grandchildren reached about seven years old and showed an interest in some old HO train cars we found stored away in the garage. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of the long time passion I have for our model railroading hobby today.
My first plan was to build a simple oval track layout on a 4 x 8 sheet or plywood and get a few cars and a nice engine. I lived in Burlington Ontario at the time and I was told the best place to buy HO trains was at Modeller's Choice in Hamilton, just a short drive from my home .When I went to the store John, who handles the train section asked who the train set was for and when I told him about my grandson's interest, he made some great suggestions. The first thing he said was that at 7 years old he would just try to get the train going fast enough to fly off the tracks and crash which would most definitely wreck a good engine. His recommendation was an inexpensive starter set which included an engine, four cars, a caboose and enough track to make a nice size oval. His point was well made and from there I added a couple of switches and extra track for an inner loop to complete the layout.
Once we started building the layout I purchased a copy of Model Railroader magazine as I was told it was the best source for train information. One of the articles in the first issue I read, mentioned using 1 ½ “Styrofoam to cover the plywood and provide a base for the track bed. That worked really well and served several purposes, as it can easily be grooved to simulate a river bed or culverts under tracks and absorbs the train noise. It also allows you to glue the cork track bed in place. I also built a mountain out of Styrofoam pieces which we carved to simulate rocks and ridges before painting.
The layout worked very well and was a challenge for my grandson. He was keen on painting the scenery and the building of the tiny structures was good for his small muscle control. It also helped him to appreciate the value of what he was creating and the "smash up the train phase " only lasted for a short time before it became the "work on the project phase".
We worked on the train almost all winter long and into the spring. But as summer drew near, we were faced with a new challenge. The train layout was housed on the laundry folding table at our resort, Sandpiper Cottages and Suites in Prince Edward Island where my grandson lives. Weekends are very busy around the Sandpiper with our visitors coming and going and the laundry is the first priority. Every time we turned around, our train layout was dismantled and standing in the corner! We had to come up with a solution for that and fast!
As the saying goes though "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" and I eventually came up with an ingenious idea to allow us to play any time we wanted. I purchased some pulleys, hooks and nylon rope at Home Depot in Charlottetown and fastened all four corners of the plywood sheet train layout to the roof joints pulleys. This allowed us to hoist the train set up to the roof whenever it wasn't in use or when someone headed for the laundry room. A hand winch from Princess Auto designed to winch boats onto trailers worked great and handled all the weight of the layout so that even my grandson could lower and raise the train when he wanted to.
We continued working that summer and added freight cars and buildings to the layout. We were, with the help of articles from Railroad Models Craftsman magazine, able to create a river bed and small lake with boats that looked like real water and a stone lake bed. There are all kinds of ground effects, including trees as well as different sizes and colours of gravel and grass available from Woodland Scenics. The layout comes alive as you add the detail and scenery.
The 4 x 8 sheet of plywood oval train layout worked for a few years but it wasn't long before we wanted to expand and do more. The main drawback with the small layout was that only one of us could play with the train at a time. The setup had a single DC power supply which would only power one engine at a time and could only pull five or six cars. My grandson was able to amuse himself with a little army base that he created as one of the dioramas on the train set while I played and then I would work on the scenery while he ran the train.