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California Dreaming in an HO 4X8

Modifying a published plan to reflect an industry and locale

Although I always try to educate folks who come to me for layout design help about why there are usually better alternatives than an HO scale 4X8, there are those who already have a 4X8 train table and who won't be dissuaded from using it.


Sometimes it's a matter of wanting to start small: Like the fellow who started with an HO 4X8 to re-enter the hobby and then moved on to a basement-sized layout (see my article on the Visalia Electric in Model Railroad Planning 2009).


In that case, I adapted a popular layout from Model Railroader magazine, the Red Wing HO 4X8 from the December 1994 issue. He may even incorporate it into the larger plan, although that was not the original intent and the always-too-tight end curve of the 4x8 constrains the larger layout somewhat (see the MRP article for details).


A year or so after that first adaptation, another client wanted a California citrus-themed HO 4X8. I did my best to shift him to a 5x8 or 5X9, which would certainly have fit his space just as well and offered many benefits. But no, once again the 4X8 monolith table was already built … so I further modified my earlier adaptation of the Red Wing layout.


The HO 4x8 is a fairly tight environment in which to work, so I had to set priorities and stick with them: 1) reflect the California citrus industry as a dominant element; 2) include an interchange track and small yard; and 3) maintain a continuous-running option.

The small yard and interchange track at Amargosa is located outside the continuous-run oval, allowing the single-ended implementation to be a little longer. The paired tracks at Citrus Valley, with multiple packing houses and a box shook factory, certainly communicate the locale. (Names are freelanced; they don't reflect any real locations)

Dividing the layout with a curved backdrop (or low hills) helps isolate the multiple scenes and allows a spot for some sort of typical California natural resources industry at Robles (gravel, cement, oil, etc.).

The short run-around at Citrus Valley might be just long enough for handling cars bound for the freight house and team track without a long run around nearly the whole layout. It's also a good place to stash cars "for now" during switching.

Industries are a bit larger than typical on an HO 4X8 layout (a good thing), but every spot wouldn’t be filled at every session to avoid overwhelming the small yard. Seasonal and session variety would allow a moderate number of cars to provide lots of operating interest.

There was a desire by the client to occasionally have two trains active without too much fuss with DC wiring, so a crew can work the yard and interchange on the outside track while another crew works the industries from the inside track.

The minor changes to the Red Wing track plan such as eliminating the unrealistic industry switchback and increasing the sizes of the industries provided a plan that hopefully can offer interest for the longer term.


It's worth noting, though, that nearly all layout spaces would allow a different approach that might better support the desired concept. Even though this HO 4X8 track plan adaptation does its best to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative, in the minimum 8'X10' space required for this 4X8 and its aisles, one could achieve much more with an around-the-room track plan. This approach allows broader curves and more room for industries -- all in the same space!

Island style, around-the-room, or something else to fit your specific needs, contact me and we can custom design a layout for you.

A number of folks have said they would like to build my modification of the Red Wing layout as an HO 4X8. (Since it is set in California, should we call it "Alo Rojo" instead?)

I always suggest that it would be a much better island-style layout if built in 5'X9' or 5'X10'. That would allow broader radii and provide for moving tracks in from the edge of the layout a bit, as well as other benefits. And I've found that many spaces where a 4X8 and its aisles will fit can hold a 5X9 or 5X10 as well.

But I know that the siren song of the 4X8 sacred sheet is strong, so I've added a downloadable "component" view showing how the HO 4X8 is laid out.

Note that the design is based on flex track to eke the most possible from the 4X8 sheet and would require some significant revision to be built with sectional track.


Click image to view round-the-room layout alternative

HO 4X8 Red Wing HO Scale Model Railroader Atlas Code 83 Layout

Click image to download an Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file with layout details

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