Layout design – redux – different voices – simple layout, complex operation

The third post, a long way behind the traction ones, is about small, switching layouts.

Another interesting voice in the layout design world is Lance Mindheim, who most originally posts at


He has built a number of very interesting layouts.  The first was a 20×20 foot N gauge layout of the Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville or as it’s usually known, the Monon in Indiana in 1955.

He then moved to modelling modern-day Miami in HO.  The small East Rail was a 10×10 foot L-shaped switching layout.  Simple, but lots of operation.

ZopsSmall images

The room-sized Downtown Spur occupies the full 20×20 foot of the railway room.  It is wonderful modelling, and a couple of photographs in a recent Model Railroader article really could have been the real thing.

Ant300 CourtyardSouthThumb

So, what are the design points we can learn from Lance’s brilliant modelling?

  1. The ordinary makes a good model.  It’s better to model a realistic square concrete box of a warehouse, than some fancy, and unrealistic, building.
  2. Switching takes time.  There’s the time at each road crossing.  There’s the flares to light at ungated crossings.  There’s the time to uncouple or couple the wagons.  There’s the time taken to walk from one end of the train to the other.  There’s the time taken to unlock points and relock them after switching.  It all adds up to a slow procedure if its done realistically.
  3. One siding can act as three or four, if there are a number of different industries, or different doors on a single building, that need cars spotted in front of them.

Lance’s blog includes a number of deceptively simple switching layouts.  But if operated as the prototype, even a couple of sidings can offer an hour or two’s instant entertainment.

(All pictures, from Lance Mindheim’s website)

Lance Mindheim continues to build small switching layouts.  His latest is an HO model of the Los Angeles Junction Railway.  Read about it here.  It’s another L-shaped plan, and as with his earlier work perfectly captures the run down modern freight branch.  Only two points, but plenty of operation.

Lance describes the ethos of his plan…..

As we zero in our target of planning a layout that meets our personal interests, consideration needs to be given to that subtle component called time.  Time, in all its aspects, plays a dominant role in whether we are blissfully content or miss the mark.

  1. How much time do I have to spend on the layout?
    Which activities do I want to be engaged in during that available time?
  2. How long do I want an operating session to last?
  3. Do I want to spend my available time covering a small area with high levels of detail or larger areas with a more basic/representative detail level?
  4. How long will I live in my present home?

So, to answer everybody’s questions, no the LAJ layout isn’t a test bed but rather the result of my answers to the above questions.  I want a highly detailed urban layout.   I want to fulfill my lifelong interest in finally modeling at least a portion of the LAJ.  I want a design that can sustain thirty to forty-five-minute op. sessions (but really doesn’t need to sustain anything longer). My available hobby time isn’t what it used to be and I need to factor that in if I’d like the layout to be mostly complete in the next eighteen months.   When I pick up my throttle I want to feel transported to the dry heat of LA and run under the palms and past iconic art deco structures.  That’s what I’m up to.


And would you believe this is a model?


(Photo, Lance Mindheim website)

About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
This entry was posted in Inspiration, Jon's layout ramblings, Layout design and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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