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I have always loved the postwar dealer display style layouts.  A few years ago, my son and I started building our layout table, laying track, connecting power, etc.  The concept of the design was borrowed from a youtube video called the Grandpa Russ Layout.  The automated relay control of this layout is really cool, but I prefer a more hands-on approach to keep the kids engaged and having fun.  A while back, I received some help from DoubleDaz to help visualize a few tweaks to the track configuration.  Since then, I have tweaked the design in SCARM a little myself.  I haven't had the time to really be able to figure out how to add the terrain exactly how I envision, but hey that's what my two hands are for!   Thanks to this forum, I have been able to maintain and breathe some life back into some worn down old trains.  This has been quite fun and only possible because of people who have responded directly to questions of mine, or had the discussion years ago left the answer in an old thread somewhere.

The goals of the layout project:

Goal 1: Have fun with the kids and pass on the enjoyment that I experienced when I was growing up.  I want to teach them about building something tangible, working with electricity, learning the simple mechanics that make things move, and provide a fun toy (or hobby if they choose) that will be here as long as they are able plug a transformer into the wall.

Goal 2: Interesting track plan - I wanted to keep the kids interested.  While the track plan is not exactly prototypical, I enjoy the spaghetti bowl of track.   We also wanted multiple tunnels, a hill to navigate, lots of switches, etc.  I also wanted to have two independent loops, one on the lower level and one on the upper level to just let a couple trains run by themselves if we wanted.  The upper and lower ovals have reversing loops and between the upper and lower loops is a passing siding.  Theoretically, there could be 3 trains in motion at a time.  I also wanted to give the trains places to go - so in this case we have the upper mountain loop and the lower more industrialized lower level.  

Goal 3: Interactive accessories - I wanted the kids to be able to walk up to the side of the table and push a button to make the accessories operate.  Down the road, if they want to do more operational play, they will need to work together to accomplish each task.

Goal 4:  I wanted the industries to make a little bit of sense and give the layout a sense of needing to move materials from one location to the next.  This goal hasn't exactly been realized, but this will make for more fun if it is plausible and purposeful - as far as toy trains go anyway

Goal 5: Keep the costs reasonable.  I have been buying bits and pieces of what you see over time.  I only purchase when I see a good price.  For the most part, we are running small locomotives that are tough and can hold up to the occasional dive off the upper level or head on collision.  I have a few nicer postwar engines we can run in a more respectful manner which are not subjected to "enthusiastic play."    I bought a couple large lots of track from ebay a few years ago for well under a $1 per piece.  I also bought a bunch of 022 switches, most of which needed some re soldering and lubrication, but are good to go now.  Most of these switches were purchased between $10 and $15 each.  The accessories are all "runners" and were picked up at reasonable prices as well.  It all adds up, but for the most part the layout was done very frugally.


Not long after we had the layout at about 90% operational, the opportunity presented itself to move to a new home early this year.  The layout has been on the back burner (it always is, actually) while we became situated in our new space.  We have a lot of extra curricular activities going on throughout the week.  At this time of year, practices start to wind down a bit, and sometimes the weather forces you to stay inside.  Also, in preparation for Christmas I am hoping to get the train table up and running again.  There is just something so magical about having the trains running for Christmas.

Here is the track plan - - - and a possible addition.  I haven't been able to get the current table up and running, and I'm already thinking of the addition - haha!  I wanted a place to run our 726RR away from the sharp turns and steep grades of the current table.  I played around with curve easements as well to hopefully limit chances for derailments.  The main table is 5.5' by 8' while the possible addition is 4 by 8 feet.

I ran out of track pieces in the free version of SCARM, so here is the addition with a little more detail.  I wanted to add a trolley line.  Inside this oval would be more of a small town and residential area while the original table would serve as the industrial area.

Here is a picture of the table before the move.  Currently, the table only has the track remaining as all of the trains and accessories are still packed in their boxes.  I will try to post pictures as we reset the table and make improvements along the way.  We have also added a few more accessories that we will need to find a space for on the table.  

With the push buttons added:

I hope to add some more pictures of the current state and progress soon!




Last edited by JD2035RR
Original Post
JD2035RR posted:

Thanks John. Do you have any tips to get that “dealer display” look?  Which accessories does the d-105 have?


I think the main thing we see on these are a painted on base (usually a "Lionel green") with some of the Lionel 919 "grass" sprinkled on the wet paint. The 919 grass was actually a product sold by Lionel way back and can still be found on Ebay. Some folks use dyed saw dust or other something similar to get that display finish. The displays also usually had painted on road beds, in either gray or an off white. And the last step is frequently a mountain with two or more portals finished in a multi-color arrangement unique to Lionel displays.

The 105 had the following: Gateman, Barrel Loader, 497 Coal Elevator, Oil Derrick, Rotary Beacon, Switch Tower,  Water Tower, and the usual Milk car and Cattle car. Also the normal complement of track side signals...block, semaphore, crossing gate, etc.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here's a link to a very comprehensive thread here on the forum on Dealer Displays. Full of great information and pictures so you can actually see a variety of display examples.

Last edited by johnstrains

I've watched that video in the past.  I like the track plan and two train automated operation.  If you watch the film, during two train operation the switch track on the right, in your diagram changes direction so that the train coming down the grade turns into the middle track.  In the film at 19:18 it's the closest switch track to the camera.  I'm trying to figure out what triggers the change and how it's done.  

John, great tips.  I do plan on forming a mountain on the right side of the table. I think the 919 grass would add a lot to the look.  A painted roadbed would go a long way as well. In my haste, I just painted everything green.  At that time, I just wanted to get some trains rolling.

Dan, I like that aspect of the layout video too!  I believe it’s an insulated rail that is wired to the switch binding post. So when the train is on the insulated section, the common/ground is sent to the switch machine to switch it to the appropriate direction. I hope to add this feature as well. By the way, I really like your layout and all of the accessories that you have going!

Here is the sad state of current affairs:


I need to move the table across the room into a smaller nook area. I will be building some general storage shelves where the table currently sits.  Once that’s done, I can get going on setting everything up again.

The track wiring is still connected under the table, but I am re-doing the power to the two parallel tracks that you see to the far right. I wanted to add toggle switches to each siding to be able to use them as true passing sidings. Yesterday, I built a small box to hold the toggles and added a light bulb to indicate if the siding is on or off. 


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 I was able to move the table and start getting things reset.  First was adding the bridge to give some stability to the upper oval.

I got the 3656 stockyard and stockcar fixed. Still needs some tweaking. I’ll post some videos of it soon.  

The biggest project was getting all 8 022 switches operational.  Last year I went through each switch, re-soldered where needed, cleaned, and lubed each one.  If I remember correctly, 6 if the 8 had broken solder joints on the curved control rail. I also had to replace 6 of the switch controller’s wiring.  This was a time consuming process but the results are sweet! Video below.

In another forum post, someone mentioned using @TinMan3rail ‘s barrel plug to supply fixed voltage for the switch and also a separate track voltage. What a great idea.  Tinman’s service was quick and the product works great.  I daisy chained the fixed voltage and separate track voltage to each switch. I just connected them with wire nuts. It still took twice as long as I expected.

I started off using 20v fixed for the switches, but that was much more than needed.  The bulbs were getting very hot.  I moved the connection to a different transformer binding post, the switches snap nicely at 14/15 volts.  This was a very satisfying project to finally accomplish fixed switch voltage and working controllers! 

I also made a small switch box that I was going to use for controlling the passing sidings, but after getting all the wiring put together, the toggle switches were bad.  Cut it off and into the trash it goes.  I picked up some better toggle switches to control the passing sidings. Success at last.  Full track and switch power to the layout.  I tried to keep the wiring neat and orderly, but it still is a bit of a wild nest under the table. 



Old toggle box:



New toggles:



Testing the switches:

I need to clean the track and get my son to help hooking up some of the accessories.


Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em  



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Videos (3)
Last edited by JD2035RR

I had a little time to play around with accessory placement. I wanted to figure out exactly where I wanted to place the siding tracks on the upper loop, so I can mark the roadbed areas for paint at some point. 

Here are a few iterations of the placement. I wanted a good view of each accessory’s action and also wanted to be able to leave each of the operating cars, gondolas, etc on the siding track so the accessories could  be operated while trains could be running on the main lines  I finally settled on the 4th picture below  






I also decided I do want to install a control panel on the side of the table  this also went through a few revisions. Settled on this design after a some input from the forum  here:


The panel size ended up at 10 x 29in.  The left 12 inches will be static with zw. The right 17 inches will be hinged for easier access to wiring. 



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Last edited by JD2035RR

Thanks. There isn’t always as much progress as I’d like, but hey, it’s a hobby not a job. Taking the time to document the progress helps because it doesn’t feel I’ve done anything, but each little bit gets us a little closer, and the pictures and videos help to remind me. 

Biggest ‘mistake’ that I’ve made so far is painting everything green. It helped everything look better at that moment, but in retrospect, I should have painted everything the roadbed color (gray/off white/cream). Then once the track was laid, I could have painted the open areas green and sprinkle the 919 grass. 

As it is now, I’ll need to remove the track so I can paint the road bed. I hate to go backwards, especially with as little time as we get to work on it. But doing it now is better than doing it later. I’ve also considered sliding some painted poster board underneath the track for the roadbed color, but I think that will end up looking bad.

Actual ballast is an option, but not sure I want to go down that road or not. 

Last edited by JD2035RR
Ron_S posted:

JD, the panels look like they will work, just make sure your not making them so your view of the layout is obstructed by having it too high.

Thanks Ron. Good point. I plan to play with the height and angle so that it isn’t hidden behind the ZW, but also doesn’t block too much of the layout behind. 

I Started building out the elevated meter portion of the control panel. It’s high enough to easily view the meters over the zw, but low enough not to block much of the view of the layout.  I also had to be mindful of the full throw of the throttle handles so the whole box got pushed back about an inch.

Need to cut the other sides of the meter area and paint before wiring up the meters.  I also plan to mount the meter box with hinges on the left side so I can flip the whole box open to get to the wiring if needed.  



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