Givens and Druthers

As I mentioned, I am starting to plan for my new layout.

Two layouts ago, I made a list of givens and druthers. That term was coined by John Armstrong.

Givens and Druthers

Givens are features or limitations you must have, either forced on you by the size or shape of the room, economics, etc., or your own desires. For example, in my case the size of the room is a given. It’s not going to change and I have to live with it.

Druthers are things you’d rather (“you druther”) have, so they are negotiable. List all your druthers and accept that you are not going to get them all.

There is some good discussion about Armstrong’s “givens and druthers” here.

Here are my givens and druthers.


Room size – 20 feet by 8.5-12 feet with a door in one corner and a window on one wall
Mainline curves have minimum radius of 24″ to handle 89′ cars
HO scale in standard gauge
Capability for continuous running
DCC operation


Two-cab wiring so one cab can be DCC and one DC
Signaled operation (ABS or CTC)
Minimum 24″ aisle width
Duck-under or lift-out bridge will be required
No need to reach more than 24″ into the layout
Designed for realistic operations – this means numerous industries
Interchange(s) with other railroad(s)
Longest main line runs possible
10-12 car trains
More than adequate staging
Yard switching

Note that none of these talk about the track plan at all. It’s important to record what you want the end result to be before you figure out what to build to get what you want. You need to know the destination before you pick the route. I haven’t talked about whether it will be single level or multi-level, about helixes, wyes, and other somewhat exotic track arrangements. Those will come soon.

Did I forget anything? What are your givens and druthers?

The Nova Scotia Eastern Railway – My Druthers

In this post I will discuss how I designed the Nova Scotia Eastern Railway to achieve my “druthers”/modeling objectives, under the limitations of the “givens”.

Given that I had decided on HO scale, I had a limited amount of space to work in and a lot of operation I wanted to cram in there. I initially started with a single-level plan but realized I didn’t have enough room for staging AND a decent main line length. So multi-level it was. I shifted to a two-level design with a helix, but the helix ate up so much space in the room that it was impractical. I finally settled on a two-level design with a long, steep “escalator” track to connect the two.

I did not use any published model railway track plans, since I was basing this on the real CN Dartmouth Subdivision. I did have to make some compromises to fit the trackage in the room:

  • no space for a wye at Windsor Junction
  • no double track east of Windsor Junction (fiction becomes reality, as the double track has been removed on the prototype)
  • simplification of the Burnside Industrial Park trackage
  • gypsum facility in Dartmouth moved to staging

Since operations was a high priority for me, I included lots of switching opportunities. I set up a spreadsheet with a list of industries, what car types they accepted, and the length of each siding. This gave me an idea of how many cars I would need for the layout and how much operation could take place in one operating session. I tried to base the industries on real ones, but had to make some adjustments to get a good mix of cars.

I designed two staging yards, one at each “end” of the CN main line that the NSER interchanges with. Given the size of the room, they could not be too long, but I could stage three or four 6-7 car trains (plus engine) in each yard. That would give me enough room for a passenger train in each direction, plus a couple of mainline freights.

The penalty for having a multi-level layout was the connecting track between levels. To avoid looping around the room too much I made the track fairly steep, hence the name “escalator” for it. I think the grade was a fairly constant 4%. It became a bit of a challenge to get trains up and down the escalator, as some engines were just not powerful enough to “make the grade”. I expect that if I had continued with the layout for much longer it would have become an operational problem requiring double-heading most trains.

Another penalty for using a room of that size was the radius of the curves. I decided on a minimum of 18″ radius, which fit well into the room but did not permit reliable operation of cars longer than 60 scale feet. That ruled out modern autoracks and containers, which is a real problem when you want to model modern railways. I never progressed enough on the railway for this to become a problem, but it would have been an issue.

In the end I had the following standards:

  • Code 100 rail
  • 18″ minimum radius
  • Peco medium radius switches for mainline, small radius for industrials and yards
  • Two cabs for operation of two trains simultaneously
  • Manual switch operation using Caboose Industries ground throws

In my next post I will share some photos of the layout at its most complete, just before tear-down.