A Layout Divided

Blame Iain Rice. He taught me how to make a model railroad work in our basement.


Our basement, like so many others, is a less than ideal environment. Low ceilings, exposed pipes, uneven walls, you name it we’ve got it. But by far the biggest impediment to layout design is the need to pass through.

Turns out that the best space for a layout in our house puts it squarely between the laundry/mechanical room and the rest of the house. Therefore my design needed to make sure that home operations continued uninterrupted. It’s one thing to have to negotiate around a model railroad carrying a clothes hamper; it’s quite another to get by hauling a water heater.

Enter Iain Rice.


His book Small, Smart & Practical Track Plans features a design titled “The Linked-Up Logger”. The plan is designed for a bedroom that still needs to function as a bedroom. To overcome this challenge, Iain develops “a number of compact, discrete dioramas” (Rice, 2000, p. 73) connected by “sections of trackage that are purely functional and, in this case, easily removable” (Rice, 2000, p. 73).

Instead of a continuous track plan, The Hills Line functions as a series of interconnected vignettes. Combining them are two lift-out segments that are only in place during op sessions. The first spans the curving gap in front of the electrical panel and water meter. The second crosses the entrance to the laundry and mechanical room.


With the layout divided into three segments, it was a simple matter of dividing up the prototype into similar spaces. The northern most segment covers the Iowa River to Ralston Creek.


The second encompasses Maiden Lane to US Highway 6.


While the final and largest segment is reserved for the town of Hills, Iowa and the Stutsman Ag Products complex.


It’s how I’m able to cram 8.4 miles of railroad into a less-than-stellar space while still keeping the room usable for other functions.

Thanks to Iain Rice.

Rice, I. (2000). Small, smart & practical track plans. Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Books.


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