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I'm interested in hearing about your experiences with custom layout builders in the recent year or two, since some have retired and new craftspeople have entered the field.  Might as well restrict to positive experiences, since most negative experiences are usually due to personal differences and misunderstandings that don't always bear up to scrutiny and no need to put the OGR Forum at risk for spreading negative information that may or may not be correct.  Thanks.

My reason for interest is that it is becoming obvious to me, after 30 years in the hobby as an adult,  that I will not have the time, motivation,  skill or patience to create a layout of functionality and beauty myself.

Last edited by Landsteiner
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I do run trains.  Happily and without angst.  I'd just like to at least consider a layout that is better than I personally am capable of constructing.

As for time, there is the issue of it running out, as well as insufficiency.   I am thinking of a layout that would be available while I'm still alive.

I realize that the mere concept of having someone else build a layout for you is anathema to some folks.  To those folks, I would say hold your fire, since some of the stuff you choose to spend money on might well seem an extravagance or self-indulgent to others.  Each to his own.

Last edited by Landsteiner

I have had trains since the early fifties, and I feel I am an amateur when it came to building my dream layout.  I was fine building a three layer 'bucket list table' with dual loops on each level, and then adding die-cast vehicles and Dept 56 buildings.  But, the amateur in me choked hard on the wiring and functional 'operating' of trains.  Sectioning track (blocks?) and adding uncouplers became a problem for me.  I use gar-graves with 022 switches.  However since I joined OGRR and see what you guys have done, followed by shared photos of York...I will definitely consider professional help in the future.  Or I will strip the table and start anew, and build a simple post-war layout.  But, that one layout at York keeps popping into my head, and I remain amazed at what OGRR members have shared also.  As the neighbor lady says...."just saying"

Being a layout builder for quite some time, I have come to find numerous reasons for someone wanting to have a layout built for them.  Some do not possess the skills or tools to do the most basic woodwork to build the benchwork.  Once that has been completed, they take over the project and finish it out.  Some can build the most beautiful benchwork however, they cannot come up with a track plan that will suit there wishes, wants and desires.  That last statement is really a bummer for some individuals.  Others have a very hard time with the scenery aspect.  Then there is the time, cost, and other outside contributors that just make it an almost daunting task rather than an experience in joy and happiness.  With every layout I have helped with or designed and built, it has been a learning curve.  And I do not mean learning curve in a bad way.  We are all into this hobby for differing reasons.  We all have similarities in this hobby but the final journey is a personal one.  That is the part for which no builder can fathom or build.  At best, we ask lots of questions and listen.  Trying to get the most complete picture so that the best layout can be constructed within the confines of the space, wallet and mostly, the customers wishes, wants and desires.

I had a layout designed and built for me by a well known custom layout firm, SMARTT. They have been in business for decades and are doing well today. Just had one of their craftsmen at my home on Wednesday to do some repairs to the turnout points on the hand laid turnouts. I knew what I was getting in to, picked what I determined to be the best firm to deliver precisely the layout that I wanted, and signed the contract. I am totally happy with the layout. I could not have built this layout in 10 years, let alone just in the 9 months it took them to build, deliver, reassemble and test it.

There are all kinds of things to consider, think through and monitor. The biggest enemy of budget and schedule is the client. The Layout builders know what they are doing. After approving the plans the only changes I made were to increase the level of fine detailing in a couple of areas, that was a very minor impact. They currently have a mid sized HO layout (about 15'x25') in the shop for three years because every time the layout gets close to completion the client changes his mind and makes pages of line item changes.

I am used for a reference if a potential customer asks for one. To make it simple and organized I prepared a presentation that walks though the entire process on my layout. I have also hosted visitors to my layout who are considering a custom built layout. Every person is surprised by the construction features, neatness and organization when they look underneath.

What would you like to know?

Transportation is not an issue at all. Every layout they build must be assembled and tested in their shop, disassembled, loaded onto a van (or two or three for the really big ones), delivered, reassembled in the client's space, and tested. The extra cost for cross county shipping vs 100 miles is rounding error in the costs. These layouts are built in modules so disassembly and reassembly is part of the plan. I think the only layout they ever built in place was the new HO layout in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. They have built several large layouts for customers in Europe, shipped them in containers and then reassembled them on site. One in Switzerland was 25'x60', that client had a much larger budget than me.

I visited the shop four times during construction, one of those with my wife because she wanted a weekend in Miami. While I got pictures with the weekly progress reports nothing compares to see and touching things and speaking with the model builders. I learned a lot and was able to make some on the spot decisions that helped keep construction moving. This was S gauge, so unlike HO and O gauges almost everything had to be custom made.

The one big problem we had was when the Lionel LCS did not work when it was turned on. That story has been well chronicled in other posts on the forum. SMARTT's lead tech knew who to call at Lionel, they analyzed the data, sent us three prototype Joiner/ power supplies to install and the LCS worked as designed.  It was only a three week delay. Lionel's response was first class.

Having just (still) constructed (ing) a 4'x8' 0 Gauge layout, my thoughts follow:

1. How long do you think you will keep a layout where it is built and stored.

2. I gather you want to hire someone, do a quick collaboration of a layout.  Have him build it.

3. What size are we discussing?  0 Gauge?  4'x8' layout?

4. Where will this be set up and/or stored?

5. Where do you live?

I will give you my experience on a 4'x8' layout that I have worked on for the last 4 or 5 years.  It is running like it should.  I am still dressing it.  The basics are easy.

Christmas 1960 my dad set it up offsite and brought it in Christmas Eve.  I received it Christmas morning.  Surprise.  It was two ovals with two manual switches and one uncoupler on a 4x8 sheet of plywood.  My dad did 1x2 supports to maintain sheet integrity.  He painted the whole thing light green.  My guess is that once the base was ready it probably took him three hours to install the track, the switches, and the uncoupler.  He ran one track power point (2 wires) to the transformer, ran the four wires on the uncoupler to the transformer, plugged it in, and I was in business.

Not hard.  Not rocket science.  Basic instruction sheet included.  Wiring points identified on the transformer.  I could run it fast on the straights then turn it over in the curves.

In my old age I took that layout, added four maintenance tracks, six power remote switches, 6 track power points, 4 uncouplers, two water towers, an iron bridge, a station and parking lot, and various LED lighting features.  I had to make provisions to fold it up into the wall.  Further, I had to keep some integrity with the wire routing and connections.  It has kept me  out of jail and occupied for quite sometime now.  A positive  aspect is it provided me the opportunity to sharpen my language skills.

So give us some more specifics.  I am a rank amateur at this.  I learned on the job via internet and advice.  There are guys who have decades of experience doing various things and can help with questions and maybe recommendations.

Landsteiner,

I understand and appreciate the realness of your statement. I would look into Train Installations, who by the way is a forum sponsor. You can take a look at his web page for more info. He builds layouts in every scale but the majority of them have been in O Scale. I have had the opportunity to do some work for him and several of the people we've done work for share your sentiments.

Best wishes in your decision and I hope whatever you decide you stay in the hobby.

Dave

Last edited by luvindemtrains
@Landsteiner posted:

I do run trains.  Happily and without angst.  I'd just like to at least consider a layout that is better than I personally am capable of constructing.

As for time, there is the issue of it running out, as well as insufficiency.   I am thinking of a layout that would be available while I'm still alive.

I realize that the mere concept of having someone else build a layout for you is anathema to some folks.  To those folks, I would say hold your fire, since some of the stuff you choose to spend money on might well seem an extravagance or self-indulgent to others.  Each to his own.

Trust me, if I could afford it I'd hire someone to build my layout.   To those who can afford it, I say go for it! You only live once!  I think the backlash comes from those folks who tend to have a big head about how great "their" layout is when they didn't do anything to build it.   Fortunately, those are few and far between.

-Greg

Last edited by Greg Houser

"1. How long do you think you will keep a layout where it is built and stored.

As long as fate allows . But modular makes sense as moves are always possible, one way or the other.

"3. What size are we discussing?  0 Gauge?  4'x8' layout?"

Something between 10 x 10 and 10 x 20 so there are at least 72 inch curves for larger passenger cars.  No big steamers at present, but do have 21 inch passenger cars.

"4. Where will this be set up and/or stored?"

Set up.  We've got basements here and we've got a rather large one with next to nothing in it at present, except for two furnaces and a hot water heater that aren't in the way.  Cool in summer and warm in winter. Dry thankfully.  Central air. 

"5. Where do you live?"

North coast of NY State near one of those big inland seas .

Forum Sponsor East Coast Enterprises is the way to go. Best in the business. They built my layout and it runs flawlessly. I was in a similar position a while back when my job made it impossible to consider attempting to build a layout on my own. The owner, Rich Roman, is a master electrician, and his partner, Stan Wisniewski, is an electrical engineer. They are train guys who have been building layouts for many years. They are honest, and fair in their pricing. They are also great guys. They have an excellent crew with other specialties like benchwork, scenery, etc. They build every size layout from very large to small. They also service customers for whom they have built layouts.

Pat

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