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Building a 50s era Lionel Train Layout

Updated on April 4, 2017

The Ricky Railroad, A Story of Envy and Revenge

Every year I dreamed of finding an electric train running under the Christmas tree but Santa always brought a wind up train, oh! the disappointment. Bruce, the kid next door, had a Lionel electric train which he ran on the carpet. I could watch but NEVER could I touch the transformer. He was the engineer. A couple of years later we moved to our new house, Ricky lived a few doors down the street and had the most wonderful train layout that ever existed outside a department store. It was a green painted 4x8 piece of plywood. It had 2 turnouts, an operating cattle corral and operating cattle car. Not to exaggerate; It was magnificent. I remember the steam locomotive as a 2-8-2 but I now know Lionel did not then make a Mikado so it must have been a 2-6-2 Prairie, I do recall the freight train had a brown automobile box car and a tank car. Further research leads me to think it was the 1945 outfit number 463w. The set had a Prairie locomotive, a black gondola car, a freight car color automobile car, a single dome tank car and a caboose. Ricky, like Bruce, was the engineer, so I had very limited time at the controls.

The years passed, school, girls, work, marriage, kids (you know the drill) took priority over my toys but interest never totally faded. Now I had the time a layout better than Rickie’s could be made. Bench work came first, I scavenged the legs and basic framework form another project, the 2X4s made the table quite sturdy; my son joked that a tornado shelter was being built. The table was low so that the grandkids could play without climbing on furniture or stools. On top of the frame was a ½” piece of 4X8 plywood and on top of that was a ¾” piece of Homosote. Homosote is a product often referenced in train magazines but rarely found, I have only seen it once for sale. I was lucky to happen across it at a Home Depot.

First Draft

A field of green

Great thought was put into the next step. What to do with the plywood (Homosote) plain? Paint would not do, Paper Mache, plaster, even bottled grass and gravel was beyond the bounds for essentially a toy railroad. Home Depot again came up with an answer. While exploring for inspiration a display of indoor/outdoor carpeting was found. Unfortunately it was gray, not the best color but an idea was hatched. Further exploration led to green outdoor carpeting on a 12 foot roll. It was perfect except how to get a 12 foot wide length of carpet home, well the stuff is thin, very flexible and can be folded up and thrown in the back seat of the car, and it is cheap. The plywood plain became an unblemished field of grass.



The next thing to obsess about were the roads and sidewalks. Roads near the edge of the table were essential to provide play value for the grand-kids. I had used paper and paint in the past but that would not work with the carpet. Again Home Depot, I found 2’x2’x3/16” plywood sheets which could be easily cut to road size pieces on the Dremel scroll saw. The roads were given a coat of rust-oleum gray primer which was sprinkled with roadbed gravel. Once dry the roads were given another coat of primer. They turned out a bit bright, but satisfactory. The sidewalks turned out particularly good. They were made by covering pieces of plywood sheet with fine sandpaper then drawing the “cracks” with a felt tipped pen.

Track and Roads

Second draft

Now the fun part. The grass has grown, the roads were done now just to set everything in place and run the trains. The track, switches, roads, sidewalks, transformer, track locks and grade crossings (found at a WBA mini-meet) were laid in place. The carpet pile held the track pretty well and nailing did not seem to be necessary. The roads were nailed in place, with less than perfection, maybe to be improved upon later. The all-important cattle corral was put in place and wired, department 56 style ceramic buildings were placed along with vehicles, animals, trees and people. The Ricky railroad has been bested. The new layout has 3 switches, roads and buildings. It has a textured base not paint.One of the best features of the layouts design is it can be easily changed to accommodate new ideas or an added accessories.

No more thoughts of the Ricky Railroad, now the Chesapeake Western Shore (CWS). The black SW1 switcher on the on the side track is a Lionel/MPC 6-8460 originally marked for the MKT. It was repainted, remarked for the CWS, an antenna added along with window glazing. The hideous marker lights were removed and plated over. The CWS is more or less done, long live the Chesapeake Western Shore.

Almost done

A final thought

As a final thought. When I was 7 or so Uncle Jerry provided the ultimate Christmas gift, a 3 car American Flyer set headed by a 290 pacific locomotive. A happier kid there never was. The original set was a victim of history but thanks to York it has been reconstructed.

The ultimate Christmas gift


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