Plum Hollow N Gauge US based layout

Plum Hollow, Illinois, USA.

This is my latest layout attempt being built using N Gauge, commenced July 2017, and this page will be a general outline. The updates and build blog will be described via posts in my blog section with associated links added below. As key stages are passed this master page will then be updated. Links to the update blogs will appear at the right hand side of the page and also as hot links from the page foot.

Picture of basic layout

A picture of the tentative track layout.

Although the track shown in the image is the pre-build, tentative draft, it does show the origins of the layout (The bases from Reindeer Landing) and the intended track layout of the depot area. The bases have now been finalised and a third box added at the far end during the build.

The completed three box structure is 1180 x 590 mm in the surface length and breadth  or 46 1/2″ x 23 1/4″  in imperial measurement.


I had bought some N Gauge US prototype models intending to use some of them, as bought, on the standard half of the split scale Reindeer Landing with others to be stripped for their chassis or underframe/bogies. That stock can be seen below.

Picture of rolling stock

The rolling stock (mostly) to be used on Plum Hollow in use on Reindeer Landing..

As outlined on the RL page that layout is no more but I liked the idea of trying to do an N Gauge US outline layout. Since buying the original N Gauge items I have also added a further bogie diesel in Conrail livery and two US steam outline locomotives, an 0-6-0 switcher and a 2-8-0; the latter can be used on both the 09 layout to represent 15” gauge miniature locomotives and on any N Gauge layout as is.

The final spur to doing this, overhauling and upgrading my daughter’s old roundy-roundy layout for my grandsons to use, and realising I quite like just letting the trains roll! The seeds were therefore sown for a layout of my own with a circular track plan.

Research and observation.

I knew very little of the detailed aspects of USA railroading but did know they have scenic railroads with mixed traction, the equivalent of the UK/European preserved railway so looked further into these for possible prototype inspiration and to avoid making obvious newbie howlers. Viewing contemporary film on You Tube of short-line railroading, and of particular note the Great Scenic Railway Journeys series, identified several features to be considered as set out below. That research also identified some additional questions that I managed to get answered via the excellent RMWeb internet forum, and wish to record grateful thanks for the answers received. I also bought the PECO modelling US Railroads e-book.

  • The standard gauge scenic/tourist railways are located in both desert locations and greener areas.
  • The majority of these lines appear to use their own liveries although a few do operate stock in the original railroad colours.
  • In the USA there is still some street running, both in fully open and segregated footprints.
  • Most of the scenic railroads run close to rivers and several have significant bridge crossings.
  • Locomotives appear to be predominantly diesel although there are some with steam workings. The Boone & Scenic Valley (Boone, IA) also adds in electric trolley operations.
  • Passenger stock has greater variety than on UK preserved railways; several railroads operating various styles of open-air cars in addition to closed carriages, some air conditioned, with caboose vehicles as observation cars etc.
  • The Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire operate an 0-6-0 switcher on their tourist trips so although a 2-8-0 is more common my smaller engine has a surviving, operational prototype.
  • Looking into the operations of these American tourist orientated short-lines identified that two, either currently or previously, also worked a limited amount of commercial freight traffic. These are the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad (Boone IA; current) and the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City, NC: formerly)
  • The tourist timetable operations are generally much less intense than in the UK
  • On short-lines there seems more volatility in what lines do run and where and when but there are also line re-openings based on commercial market fluctuation.
  • The trains on the scenic railways all seem to run fairly slowly.
  • Although my bogie diesel locos are relatively modern some have cascaded down to short-line operation.
  • Although 4-wheel diesel switchers are not common in the USA they did exist.
  • US railroading only makes limited use of catch-points, it is also common for the spurs (Sidings) to descend from the running lines to prevent any run away fouling the main. Derailers etc., are used where such slopes don’t exist.
  • Most freight consists are air braked and do not use a caboose.
  • Trains on double tracks, and through passing loops, generally adopt right hand running.

Finding a name location, scenic treatment etc.

The research proved that the type of line I wanted to operate was a credible scenario so the next decision was where to locate it and what to call it?

The card fruit boxes I used for bases were delivering plums (2x) and peaches (1x) with other card sourced from cycle delivery boxes. A mix of urban and rural scenery from observation of scenery in the areas west of the Appalachian Mountains seems appropriate therefore. For a name I searched for something that sounded appropriately American and had (however tenuous) either a family or plum related connection.

In tracking down free to print buildings based on US prototypes older urban styles are available; several from prototypes in Illinois, thereby suggesting that a location in the more rural area of Illinois state  would be logical. It also reinforces my earlier decision to avoid a desert location, not least because if it this layout is ever good enough for a magazine review or an exhibition attendance I feel that the use of standard gauge equipment will jar with observers seeing a desert tourist line location and expecting it to be running 3ft gauge D&RGW stock albeit there is a standard gauge railway close by. For a name the current working idea is Plum Hollow, Illinois. The connection generating the name was actually triggered by discovering the Canadian story of Elizabeth Barnes, a Georgian era lady able to read tea-leaves, with origins in County Cork the same as my wife’s forebears, and she lived in the settlement of Plum Hollow. That Plum Hollow is actually near Athens in Canada but it fits and sounds sufficiently touristy, so Plum Hollow it will be. Although the actual location and any back history will be fictional a look at Google Earth indicates that somewhere in the region of the actual town of Shelbyville IA, is appropriate from a terrain perspective. Shelbyville remains rail connected, originally with the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, and currently UP, so a connection to Plum Hollow remains plausible too.

Regarding the freight cars I own the selection was bought randomly and has actually not worked out too illogically and aids the decision on what commercial uses to add in scenically:-

  • the caboose, use in a passenger rake.
  • The 2 x gondola cars – remove the coal load and convert to open-air cars for a passenger rake (Repaints will also be required).
  • What I originally thought was a tank car is a dry-powder vehicle in Schaeffer Chemicals livery. Make the spur a powder unloading facility plus a dry goods loading point for box cars. To assess whether a fruit processing plant would need/receive bulk powders delivery requires further analysis – perhaps sugar (or chemical sweetener alternative) deliveries.
  • Box car (and possible future box cars) general merchandise.
  • The 4 x four wheel side tippers, use on the O9 line only.

For the other two proposed sidings therefore also add in a repair and maintenance site for the railroad company’s own stock. By running to a schedule switching can also include re-marshalling and juggling passenger stock for different trips, e.g., diner train, scenic open air train etc.


Update 1 – Constructing the bases (July 2017)

Update 2 – Limited progress  The completed size dimensions were also edited into both Update 1 and the layout’s into’ page. (6 November 2018).

Update 3 – Status review (18 November 2018) latest status included in a post on another project.