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Classic HO Layout for Engine Display

"Switchman's Nightmare" inspires loco service and a little ops

Linn Westcott's classic "Switchman's Nightmare" (Kalmbach's 101 Track Plans, 1956) is an HO shelf switching layout that has been the basis for probably hundreds of designs. 

Linn Westcott Switchman's Nightmare 101 Track Plans

HO, about 1'6" X 6'0", #6 turnouts

But in this case, I applied the basic concept to a different sort of layout. My client wanted a long narrow shelf layout upon which to display his collection of diesel locomotives until he has space to build a larger layout. He also wanted to make use of some engine service area kits he had accumulated, if possible. And if we could add a little operation to the track plan, all the better.

Most real-life diesel engine service areas are designed for straight-line efficiency, with engines flowing through with a minimum of reversing moves. But the client's shelf length and depth were limited, so I thought it would be interesting to try the Switchman's Nightmare as a basis. 

My client thought Westcott's design looked neat and he was intrigued by the possibility of incorporating this classic switching track plan. Even though the central runaround wasn't an absolute necessity for handling locomotives, it does add some operating flexibility and options for handling fuel and sand cars.

HO shelf switching layout engine terminal switchman's nightmare

Click image for a larger labeled Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) view in a new window

The final 1' 6" X 7' 6" HO design was driven by some key standards. The client's longest two-engine consist would be about 150 scale feet long, so that set the lengths of the tail tracks at the upper left and lower right. The Walthers kits on-hand for the Diesel House, Fueling Pad and Sand House further defined track spacing and arrangements. Walthers #5 turnouts and wyes (they call the wyes #2½) would easily accommodate all of his equipment. All of his engines are DCC-equipped, so we didn't have to worry about creating many short blocks as we would for DC.

While the main purpose was a realistic display of locomotives and engine service structures, a bit of operation is also possible. At the start of a "session", the "Ready Track" at the upper right actually holds incoming engines to be serviced. These may be moved to the fueling area and then on to the Diesel House. Meanwhile, engines that started in the Diesel House or the fueling area can be moved to the Ready Track for "departure". A Walthers #4 was used for the fuel and sand supply track.

Incoming sand hoppers and oil tank cars may also begin the session spotted on the runaround in front of the office. When more than just a couple of engines are moving around, the runaround also can be a good place to stash an engine or two. Many more engines can be displayed than can be "operated" at once, since it’s not much fun just moving an empty slot around.

The client may choose to incorporate the completed shelf layout into a larger layout someday, perhaps making connections at the upper left and lower right at least. So I arranged those tail tracks perpendicular to the edges of the shelf.

Not a typical model railroad, but this HO shelf switching layout does a good job of achieving its goal of realistic locomotive display with just a smidge of operations potential. If I can help you achieve your model railroad goals with a custom track plan large or small, please contact me today.

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