N Gauge - California-ish Railroad Layout

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Active Member
Hi all,
I am new to the forum, and just come back to N gauge modelling after a large number of years away. I am UK-based, but have a keen interest in the modern day US railroads. Appreciate that may not appeal to everyone, but does to me! I am fortunate in having an area which is around 21 foot x 11 foot for a layout that can portray long freights running at realistic, not slow, but steady speeds. The area is currently being cleared of rubbish etc, but I am hopeful of getting some track (especially in the hidden sidings) down by Christmas.

The idea is to portray a three different kinda of scenes across what should be around 100foot of scenic running space. Each scene will be separated by a scenic break in some way. The first being something of a canyon area, with the railroad hugging the rock face, which drops down to the river below, another will be a decent sized classification and switching yard, and the third I am looking for a bit of help with. A couple of 'must-haves' are a switching industry, grade crossing for road traffic, and some form of busy town scene. Can anyone offer any suggestions of suitable industries or prototype locations that could work? I am currently thinking that some kind of scene with a couple of warehouses, and box car deliveries could be the option.

With a very keen interest in keeping my feet on the ground, I don't like much more than a few foot distance between them and the ground, flying is something of a no-no so ever getting over to the US to see these things for real is unlikely! But through the modern day world of webcams I am able to keep a finger on the pulse so to speak. I do tend to have the Barstow or Tehachapi webcams on in my home office whenever possible, so train consists and power will follow a similar theme - mainly UP and BNSF, with 'hired' power from KCS, NS, CN, CP and CSX making the occasional appearance.

I am lucky in that the area available can be used almost entirely for scenic modelling, with the hidden storage sidings being located on a lower level. The eventual aim is to have fun operating it, perhaps introduce a small amount of computer control (being Digitrax DCC that shouldn't be too difficult) and be able to both switch cars while at other times just enjoy the trains passing by.

I would welcome any views and comments. I'm happy to share the layout, so if there's any interest, I will post pictures and updates as things progress.



Hi. I have one thing you might like: On YouTube go to "DJ's Trains". He's a real, now working, engineer. He has fantastic videos from his drone over real in-use, contemporary, US trackage and explains what you're seeing / is being carried out...He's also an HOer... M, Los Angeles


Active Member
@MHinLA Thanks for the heads up, a fascinating YouTube channel, that I shall watch more on, but that has given me a few ideas!

What do people recommend as the steepest grade to use in N gauge with modern day trains? US model railroading has an advantage over UK railways as it is rare to see more than one locomotive on the front of a train, so in many respects, the grade with a longer train, gives a purpose to having multiple locos up front! Although the grade will not be visible on the scenic area, I don't want to over step it, so any comments from N gauge modellers would be welcome, in addition to the switching industry query above.



Far as maximum grade, the scale, N, HO, OO, S, O, makes no diff... Ideally no more than 2.5 or even 3% is the norm. Obviously the lower the grade the better. 100 ft rising 1 foot is a 1 % grade. 100 inches rising 1 inch is a 1% grade..50 inches rising 1 inch is a 2% grade.. 50" rising 2" is a 4% grade, no matter what scale. Do note that if the grade also curves, the curve adds drag to the train; the train now behaving as if it's climbing a steeper grade. If the train is only an engine and say, 4 cars, it wouldn't matter.. An engine pulling 20 cars up a curved grade will likely start slipping. BUT ! This situ gives you an excuse to add more power up front (on the point) from the get go, or having a pusher joining in at the rear to get the train up the hill....


Active Member
Hi guys,
Sorry for the radio silence. I decided to go with a small layout to start with to practice some scenery and the like, still keeping the Canyon theme.

Operationally, its very simple and possibly unexciting, but it will allow practice and some trains to run. So, this is Rock Creek Canyon in N gauge. Using a couple of baseboards built for a small project previously, but never used, the scenic area is 6ft x 18inches, and the route will represent a single track main line running through a deep canyon, alongside a river.

RCC Track Plan.png

Entering the scene from the left, will be the main track and siding (the US term for a loop). This will then come into a single track, shortly before the end if the first board, before swinging away towards the back of the second board, crossing over the Rock River on a girder bridge and running off scene. The aim is that it provides a chance it run some of my American stock, multiple locos (lash-ups as they say in the US) and long freights. To make it work, the fiddle yard is along the back of the layout and single-ended. Off scene the 180 degree curves are tighter than I would like, or normally consider, but it is only a short-term layout with stock running at slow speeds, so hopefully it will be ok. I am limited with space, as it has to be split into five separate boards (two scenic, two ends and a fiddle yard) and taken down between running sessions. Geographically, I am imagining it to be California somewhere, but in reality of course it could probably be anywhere, allowing a variety of RR companies to be operated.


Originally, the intention was to remove the current solid base, screw risers to the base frame and create a lightweight open frame baseboard. However, I did such a good job of gluing the cork down two years ago when the boards were built, that there is no way it will come off, so there is no access to the screws securing the top board! Instead, I have raised the trackbed up two inches to provide some relief and variance from the river level. This has just been completed for both boards, so the next task will be creation of the scenic skeleton.


The aim, as you will see from the plan is to create a ‘hidden’ valley that can only be seen by looking through the bridge to provide some depth, which ‘viewblockers’ will hopefully make the layout seem longer and bigger than it is, also removing the need for a back scene or bridge/tunnel at one end. It is being built in between work and family life, so progress may be slow, steady and/or sporadic!


The brown paper here is purely to aid planning and gives in impression of how the canyon rock sides will look on this section, with a couple of pictures showing the photographic opportunities when completed.




BN Modeller
Hi Richie,
A good friend of mine did something very similar to what you’re planning, it can be seen here: http://cprailmmsub.blogspot.com/2016/08/thompson-river-canyon-n-scale-layout.html
He sold this to another friend who has it now.
I’m looking at your plan and thinking it would be very easy to connect the line to the right loop for continuous running as well as how you intend to operate.
Imagine a train sitting at the switch waiting as another thunders by on the main, yowza!


Active Member
Thanks Rico,
Yes its certainly similar, I am hoping the water will play a bigger part in what I am planning, but I actually like the idea of having a single track connection to allow continuous running. While I don't like to see the same train going past all the time (I like the variety as if you were actually there) it could be useful for running in new locos and testing. I'll have to look into that a bit more!



Active Member
A light-hearted round up of things, where we are and wants to come!

Welcome to the ‘Rock Creek Chronicle’.

As a bit of background, Rock Creek is a small community, well hamlet of one, but the plan is the Chronicle will keep everyone in the hamlet up to date with what’s happening. The Editor of said journal, Mr Updar Creek, is also the reporter, photographer, typesetter, printer, proof reader, distributor chap, gardener, and not to forget the most important job - making the tea in the office for him and the cat, a small black and white moggy called flash. So named, as every time a mouse is around he’s nowhere to be seen, having gone like a … well you get the idea. Rumour has it, this Editor isn’t very good at what he does, so I doubt this paper is going to be a regular thing, but you never know, you might possibly get another before the end of the year!

(If your reading at work, the above PDF is safe to open!)



Well-Known Member
I'd agree with GeeTee, and to consider something like the Western Pacific in the Feather River Canyon, particularly to include something like the Kadie Wye and yard. Also, I'd consider something like Glennwood Canyon on the Rio Grande in Colorado, or even the line over Tennesee Pass to Pueblo.


Active Member
Feather River Canyon is a good idea. Another prototype scene of a railroad along a canyon wall with the river below is the former North Western Pacific's Scotia Bluffs.


There is also Island Mountain.


What is not shown in the previous photo is that the rails leave the truss section and immediate go into Island Mountain Tunnel.


The bridge washed out in 1964 and is being rebuilt.

Along the route were various gravel & rock quarries, of course logging & lumber mills and for the southern 3rd of the NWP Apples (out) & feed grain (in) for the numerous dairies and poultry farms in the Petaluma & Sebastopol areas of CA.

I am trying to figure out how to build these scenes in HO limited to a 7.5' x 10' bedroom. I wish you the best on your endeavors, N scale and my eyesight and unsteady hands don't go together.


Active Member
Thanks for the input ... so much food for thought! I am glad I started the small layout first to have a 'dummy run' at it, but the suggestions and images are giving me plenty of ideas for the eventual bigger model railway! Plus it gives me time to build the rolling stock up ... model railroads aren't cheap things are they!!



Active Member
Evening all,
Well a good couple of days working on the layout Thursday and Friday. Things always take longer than you imagine they will.

Firstly, the Kato double bridge structure has been secured in place on the boards.



It needs a slight 'tweak' to take out a kink in the track between the two bridges, but that should not be a major issue to rectify. The bridge has been secured by making three wooden supports that are a tight fit within the plastic supports. These have then been screwed from below and mean that the bridge is now quite solid, and at the right height for the track to be laid. The small holes in the cork will be covered by the river and the surrounding ground when the scenics are done.

I have also got two new LED light units fitted to the boards, which are superb. Each is £23 from Amazon, and gives a broad light range over the whole of each board. There is a defuser to be fitted which gets rid of the arch style to the lighting.


These units have an alternating warm LED and cold LED arrangement, meaning that a warm light, daylight or cold light can be displayed. They are both covered by the top pelmit when at normal viewing height and as the rocky canyon is created, the backscene will not be visible anyway. The left hand one has been positioned towards the front of the layout, where the railroad is, while the right hand one is more centre aligned.


Finally on Friday, the new wood work for the right hand 'return loop' baseboard was built. The timber supplied by the new timber merchants I have used is superb and puts many places like the high street chains to shame. Its straight and well priced, charged a minimal amount for delivery ... and no charge at all for cutting it all to size! Very impressed.


This is the outside frame with one timber support in place, placed on top of the 'complete' track layout for this board to check that the timber supports were not colliding with any pointwork.

I should stress, that these sidings are intended to hold locos not working on the layout, and likelihood is that not all of them will be laid, certainly initially. However, it has occurred to me that, this board offers the potential of two layouts in one, with the off-scene loco yard being able to be developed as a small industry switching site or actual loco depot that could be used independent of the main scenic boards in the future. So that could be a win-win!

The framework was finished on Friday, but I forgot to take a picture, so that is one for next time. To put the track layout into position. The single track at the top left, leads on to the scenic part of the layout at the bridge end. The next road across is the return off layout back to the staging sidings. The next line to the right which curves away across other lines, is the through running line, which is positioned two inches above the staging sidings, and the other roads are entry into the staging yard board on the baseboard level. Hopefully next week, I'll get the track base down on this board and things will make a bit more sense.

In other related news, a package of goodies has been dispatched from the US (yes I gather the bank manager is calling on Monday to discuss my model railway budget after I went a little OTT!) that should be here at the end of next week, so some encouragement to get the track down now! But still, all in good time, but we are getting closer to being able to run some trains!



Active Member
Morning all,
Well Modelling Thursday became baseboard Friday this week. For those not actively following this thread, you may recall from the last update that the new framework had been completed for the right hand end board - this provides a continuous loop on the upper level, a downward grade to the staging sidings, and several engine holding sidings. Well this was where we left it last week - the photograph I forgot to take!


I had taken the opportunity to purchase the SCARM software and design and printout a 1:1 drawing of how the track would fit. The only major advantage I can see to using Peco, over hand-built track, is that the design is simpler! There is a lot more flexibility with hand built track of course, but the key with this layout was time, a) to get trains running and enjoy it, and b) to progress with the signalling. The SCARM print out can been seen under the frame in the last picture of the previous post.


So yesterday, it was stuck to the top board, and out came the jigsaw. The original plan was to create some form of pivoted arm to give a smooth continuous curve to the cuts, but a lack of mounting points on the jigsaw brought and end to that idea. Note to self, next time I buy a jigsaw it needs to have mounting points!! So I went with a freehand approach, keeping as best as I could to a fixed distance from the curved lines. To be honest, it worked out better than I thought it would.


With the main flat section of the baseboard cut out and screwed to the framework, the next stage, which was where I got to yesterday, was to start positioning and fixing the risers for the upper section. This will be completed next week, and then the following session (hopefully I can get two days back to back) will allow the upper track base to be fitted along the back of the board, at which point the next session will be the start of tracklaying!! Yay!


In other news, my goodies box was moved by Fedex from Florida to the UK, via Memphis and London Stansted Airport, I was amazed that it left Florida last Friday lunchtime, and arrived with me on Tuesday lunchtime. Four days, including passing through Customs, was truly remarkable. A couple of items were requisition by 'the local authorities' on the grounds of being Christmas presents!! But a couple of the auto-rack wagons are pictured below, these will add to the length of the manifest working.




I also found a model shop that was shutting down, with 50% off the cost of decoders, so I splashed out a bit more than I intended to do, and acquired enough to cover the current non-DCC fitted fleet. I am staying with non-sound decoders for this layout. Partly to keep the cost down, but also because the size of N gauge locos mean that some milling or cutting of chassis blocks is required, which I really do not fancy doing!


Thats it for now, hopefully the posts will start getting a bit more interesting from next time!



Active Member
Well this weeks update was a little delayed ... a glimpse of what is to come in the weeks/months ahead to start with, well on one board anyway ....


Work has continued this week on the right hand end base board, with the risers now all in for the upper level return loop, the upper level track base has been screwed in place and is rock solid. I am very pleased with how that has worked.



The downward grade from the upper level to the staging sidings has been loosely put in place, next task will be to sort the risers for this.



Finally, an overview of the board itself. The middle area within the curve will be used for loco stabling between trains.


I have also sat and worked out which locos need DCC fitting to them, so hopefully that will get done in the next few days, following the decoder arrivals a fortnight ago. Then there will be some work needed once I have a continuous run, to get them all running at the same speeds, which makes consisting far easier. That task however needs me to remember how to use the decoder programming software on the laptop!



Curse You, Red Baron!
Staff member
RICH - I like your style of work, but you seriously need a countersink so that the screwhead fits flush.
I use one of these when I do not want to drill a screw hole too.

Or this - best of both worlds ...



Active Member
RICH - I like your style of work, but you seriously need a countersink so that the screwhead fits flush.
I use one of these when I do not want to drill a screw hole too.

Or this - best of both worlds ...

Thanks Sherrel,
Yes, the ones that are in the top level are only temporarily in at the moment, and yes they do need countersinking so that they do not interfere with the trackwork. I'll take a look at those eBay options tho, cheers!


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