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It all started back in 1998 when my ex wife and I decided to buy a vacant lot and build our dream house. Before we even broke ground, the track plan for the 2000 sqft train room was mostly drawn. We moved in in April of 2000, but there was still a lot of construction on the house left for me to do, so the train room went to the back burner. In December of 2002, the wife decided she wanted out. Shortly after that layout construction began in earnest.

This design is a prototype based representation of the Minneapolis / St Paul area. The focus was originally  on the Amtrak Empire Builder, but expanded to encompass a lot of freight operation along the way. The plan calls for two main levels separated by 24" and a hidden storage/staging yard below that, all connected by two helixes.

This is the lower level track plan. Unfortunately it is difficult to post in a format where all the detail is visible, but hopefully you'll get the general idea.

Photo Jul 26, 10 58 31 PM

The upper level plan isn't all drawn, but it is becoming clearer in my head.

Photo Jul 26, 10 59 29 PM

I had just started building a layout at my previous house, when the decision to move was made. Those chunks were easily salvaged and reworked into the hidden yard. By late 2006 benchwork was about 2/3 complete, one helix was nearly done and a 500' continuous loop was operational. I was chuggin right along!

And then it all came to a screeching halt. I was diagnosed with skin cancer. For 6 years I didn't feel like doing anything with trains. This past May, my PET scan came back negative, and the oncologist said he didn't want to see me anymore.

It hasn't been easy transitioning from couch potato back to model railroader. I'm beginning to wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew. I just don't have the energy that I used to. I have the time and the money, but what I need is a small army.

There is a lot more story to tell, but this seems like a good stopping point. Feel free to ask questions. And if you are ever in the Twin Cities and would like to visit, just email me to set it up.

Here are a few more shots from around the room.

Photo Aug 30, 8 56 31 PM
Photo May 07, 4 41 05 PM
Photo May 07, 4 41 38 PM
Photo May 07, 4 41 53 PM



Images (6)
  • Photo Jul 26, 10 58 31 PM
  • Photo Jul 26, 10 59 29 PM
  • Photo Aug 30, 8 56 31 PM
  • Photo May 07, 4 41 05 PM
  • Photo May 07, 4 41 38 PM
  • Photo May 07, 4 41 53 PM
Last edited by Big_Boy_4005
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Thanks Earl. I don't know if I could bring myself to downsize this thing at this stage of the game. I know I couldn't tear it down. I think I would rather move forward slowly.


I had always envisioned hosting operating sessions. I've stockpiled 7 cab-1's to that end. I need to get just a little further along to sell the concept to some of the local guys. I'm not sure how much of my enjoyment of this hobby comes from running trains vs layout construction, anymore. These last 6 years have messed with my head, and I'm still trying to straighten that out.


As for my health, I'm not exactly out of the woods. I've been diabetic for 20 years and it's starting to catch up with me.

Wow Elliot, I have always dreamed of having that much room for a layout  of that size(and the time and FUNDS, to support it). Have you asked around to see if there are other modelers in your area that might be interested in helping out? If I can't have a layout of that size myself, having a good friend that does would be the next best thing. I would love to help with a layout like that, I wish you were out here in Forest Grove, OR.


 There maybe others who would be willing to help build it, for the chance to have something like that to have the opportunity to operate it. It would be similar to a club, and admittedly, there could be some disagreements, but three railers do tend to be more relaxed about details, so it likely wouldn't be to much of a problem. It would be worth looking into, I would sure welcome a chance like that.



Thanks Mike, that's the plan for this topic, to share my progress with all of you. I see that I forgot to post a picture of the helix...
Photo May 07, 4 41 14 PM

Blueline, I'm sorry I didn't start this topic months ago. I hope you're able to get back this way soon.


Doug, I have rejoined the NMRA, and am going to try to get some of them involved. They are the operators and builders. I used to be in TCA, but most of those guys don't build layouts. There was a time when I got paid to do layout work for others.


I wish a lot of the people on the forum lived closer. This thing would be done in no time and we would all have fun!


Images (1)
  • Photo May 07, 4 41 14 PM

Elliot, I will need to get my buddys from MN Free-mo to get in touch wit you, many of them have started a new club in the twin cities building a large permenate  ho layout, I think they need to slow down a bit, in one weekend they had all of the benchwork built, next weekend all of the main line spline in, the following weekeng adjustine elevation of said spline and now they are adding branch line spline


for those on facebook!/pa...Club/190419750986184


their website



I think you will have more enjoyment running and operating , life is short and when you get older , your health becomes an issue , get'er done ! If you got the $$$ hire a few competent fellow railroaders to help , they all will like the extra money and they are doing something they enjoy. Just make sure they understand this is work for $$$


I would base it on , I want to enjoy while I can , when you get sick and can't do anything , nothing matters. No fun when people come and see a half done layout , they all will ask , when will it be done . You got most of the tough stuff done .

Ace, I'm sure that my project is a lot more than most people would want to deal with, but I'm a little different.


Since I posted this topic a few hours ago, I've been thinking about my life with trains. And it occurred to me, that I don't just love trains for myself, I love to share them with others.


From the earliest age I can remember, people were fascinated with what I had created. I think my parents hoped it would go away, that I would outgrow it, but I didn't. 20 years ago it reached its pinnacle in the form a business by the name of enterTRAINment at Mall of America. Many here have heard of it, some may even have visited it. It only lasted a little over a year, and then it was gone.


That layout was more for public consumption, more to the toy end of the spectrum with lots of action. This layout is more of a personal vision, a true model railroad, but it still needs to be shared. It needs to take all the materials that were salvaged from the mall, and recycle them into something new and wonderful.


As far as my life goes, trains really are my life. My kids are in college (they don't talk to me anyway). I attribute that to my ex, and not to the trains. My parents are both deceased. My sister lives just down the road, running 24/7 with her kids. The one has little interest in trains, the other even less.


Trains are how I pass my time. Just getting all this out feels like therapy. It feels good.

Elliot, that is a BIG project, one that would be overwhelming to many, probably myself included, but I would sure like to have the space, time and resources to try something like that some day.


 I Really understand about sharing the trains with others. I would have to sit down and think about it to count how many sets that I have put together out of my collection for various, Family, Friends and even a customer, who was as much a friend as she was a customer for the company that I work for, we had many Paralells in our lives at the time, and offered each other much moral support during some trying times for each of us. Sadly, less than a year after she met and married a Wonderful man, we lost her.


 I had given my Wife and her kids a set I put together a couple years before we married, and she told me when her Father saw the trains, his first comment was "Fire em' up". Well before the first Christmas after we were married, I put together a set for my Father-in-Law, the look on his face was PRICELESS when he opened that box. He was 74 years old, and had never had electric trains as a kid. He grew up poor, and only had a wind up set, that he had to share with five brothers.


 He has gotten some extras for Birthdays and Christmases since, this year I gave him a Lionel Pacfic to go with his passenger cars (the original set was freight headed up by a Mikado jr) he runs those trains for hours a day each Christmas season.


 One of my life goals, is for there to be no Christmas Tree without a train under it, and I am doing my best to fullfill that goal.



Elliot.....what can I say....WOW!!!  I do understand your philosophy concerning the sharing aspect of the hobby.  I too feel the same way.  My layout is only about 1/3 smaller than yours and I can tell you that it is a job!!  When one is in their 30's or 40's it seems there is no end to the amount of energy one has but as age sneaks up on us, that energy is harder to find!!  If you have decided that a smaller layout is not an option and you have the financial resources, then I would seriously consider hiring someone to get it finished before your health keeps you from enjoying and sharing it with others.  If I lived up in your area I would be there helping you for sure!!  AND...I do remember enterTRAINment.....had no idea until now that you were the guy!!



Congrats on kicking out the cancer!  


As for your layout, and mine too, sometimes I just like to go sit back and run a train around for a while.  Eventually I get some inspiration and begin to work on a section or little project.  If you stand back and look at the overall.... it can be overwhelming!  But if you just concentrate on a little part, or section, then it becomes mentally manageable!  

One of the things I am grateful for is that, seven years ago, I did not go with an alternate plan to reroof part of my house so that my trainroom (28 x 15) could be 40 x 20).  I had an ambitious plan that included nearly twice as much benchwork and track as I have now, a helix, a turntable and yard - two towns -- the works.  Now, seven years later, I find my smaller layout provides all the trains, movement, and challenge I need, and that I can barely keep up: it still is not finished, and I spent a lot of time on maintenance of the portions that are.  It is a big as I need, and more important, as bid as I can handle.

I try to enjoy the (budding) layout a little at a time. Upon reflection, I may be like you in that having others enjoy the trains are a larger factor than I had thought. I also have had to re-vision what I am doing; dropping, for instance, from 16-20 car trains to 6 car trains, and a more modular style layout. I understand that refocusing in that way would be silly for you, in light of what you have already completed.


Elliot, thanks so much for sharing your story... and congratulations on winning your battle with cancer!!!


Regarding your enormous layout... all I can say is WOW!!!  We don't normally see huge double-decker O-Gauge layouts built with the works.  Those types of layouts are more commonly done in HO or N scale due to the HUGE amount of real estate that would be required to pull off something equivalent in O-Scale.


Given that you've invested so much time, energy and resources thus far, I'd definitely suggest bringing in more resources to help you if you feel your energy-level would be stressed now.  It would be very difficult to scale back at this stage of the game.


I have a few more thoughts/comments to add, but I'll do that later as I'm heading out the door now.


All the best, Elliot.





You have won your biggest battle and hopefully that is behind you now. This is your dream layout and I encourage you to finish it. Doing anything less will eventually come back to haunt you.


I will e-mail you with the name of a Forum member who does layout work. He is a master electrician as well. His fees are very reasonable.


Keep your positive attitude and you will accomplish your goals. Happy New Year to you.

Wow!!! Thanks all for your well wishes and suggestions. I was doing OK at responding to individual posts in the wee hours of the morning when the posts were few. I went to bed at 4AM and you all woke up, while I slept til noon.


Part of my problem has been, since the cancer diagnosis, I socially curled up unto a ball, breaking off contact with everyone who wasn't family. For the few years before the cancer, I was very active on the "other forum", but dropped out suddenly when I got that news. It feels good to be back talking about trains and interacting with people.


Many of you have suggested that I find people to help with the layout. I think that will be the best course of action. There is a local NMRA meeting coming up. It's probably time to drag out the track plan and the photo album, and see if anyone bites.

Originally Posted by Big Jim:


How much distance is the top level above the lower level?

It is actually 30" top of benchwork to top of benchwork. Subtract the width of the 1x4 upper deck framing and that leaves 26 1/2" of usable space.


The lower level is 42" off the floor and the upper is 72". I have also raised the floor 12" in most of the aisles, so the upper is at 60" relative.

Originally Posted by tackindy:



I'd buy a six pack or two and be over in a heartbeat to help/enjoy such an amazing layout as yours if I wasn't so far away!  I'm only 38 and still have some energy left in me!

Bingo! I was about your age when I thought this monster up. I'm 51 now. We forget to factor in the aging process.

There is a general consensus within the model RR'ing community that having a massive layout will bring and overwhelming sense of satisfaction to the hobby, when really it has an adverse affect. At 43 I have a 15' x 48' layout that will likely never be completed for various reasons. It takes many of us into our 40's before we reach some level of financial stability and acquire a space suitable for a layout. By then, many of us have a wife and children which require the first block of our time, followed by whatever else we are involved in, leaving little time for any layout much less a 2k sq ft layout. 


Suddenly the 12 x 12 room in a remote corner of the house the wifey granted you doesn't look so bad. It will likely cost less and be more practical to finish and you can dedicate more time to detail and still see the possible completion of a smaller layout.


Maybe you should consider a smaller build in another part of the house where it will be more manageable and easier to complete. Leave a couple of large loops in the basement to get the highballing out of your system on occasion.


We found ourselves at York on more than one occasion engulfed in some of the highly detailed 4x8 or smaller vendor displays that seem to bring the same satisfaction as a massive unfinished layout. There is satisfaction in finishing and finishing well. Good luck in what ever you decide. 

I actually made some progress today on a couple of fronts. I spent a couple of hours doing actual construction on the layout. But perhaps more important, I've had a couple of offers of help as a direct result of this topic.


Big thanks to Mike Slater and CGWforever. 


Perhaps it's time for a New Years resolution (and I don't usually make them).


I hereby resolve to spend at least one hour per day (average) working on the layout, with an end goal of having all the benchwork completed as well as having all the track on the lower level laid and electrified.


Complete that and scaled down operating sessions could take place.


Happy New Year!

Completing a large layout is mind over matter. I started construction of my layout in 2006 and finished it in 2011 (although one continually tweaks it). For most of this time frame, I commuted over 1,000 miles and I made the most of the weekends I was at home. During this time frame I had a very busy work schedule that required some weekend travel to conduct training session across the USA and Canada.


Like Elliot, health issues can put a damper on the progress of a layout as large as his is. I was fortunate during my construction where I had one surgery that took me out of the game for about a month. The key for me was the fact that I was mission orientated and I was determined to finish this project.

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