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Falls Mill RR – Shortline as an HO 4X8

Focus and compromise create opportunities for scenery and ops

I believe that there is almost always a better alternative to the HO 4X8 track plan for nearly any space. Even so, some folks insist on an HO scale 4X8, though the alternatives offer broader radii, better access, and the opportunity for a more engaging track plan.


For example, a fellow who already owned a 4X8 train table (and a Central Valley double-track bridge kit) wondered what could be done to create an interesting layout on the existing table. Oh, and he had a couple of engines that he wanted to run at least once in a while that demanded 22" radius.

Because the HO 4X8 creates so many limitations, I believe successful layouts for the sacred sheet must be very selective in terms of concept. That comes with compromise, but I think it’s better to have a focused layout with a personality rather than a hodge-podge of many elements done poorly.

HO 4X8, Track Plan, Falls Mill

For this design, I decided to focus on a small freelanced shortline that served a mill (cotton or textile, lumber, etc.) some distance from the "mainline". The connection is made at Falls Mill Junction, where the mainline train sets off and picks up cars on the "Multi-Use" track. Then it runs back into the secluded wooded area to await its next appearance.
The Falls Mill RR switcher then goes to work, building its small train of cars for the mill and switching out the team track, freight house, and Co-op area. It then runs through the tunnel it shares with the mainline train (yes, I know that's implausible -- compromise, you know?) and on to Falls Mill proper.
If we imagine the run is short, it might shove the facing point cars (led by a caboose) to Falls Mill for easier switching. While switching the mill itself, the train will use the "Multi-use" track for a lead or even a runaround, depending on the rules the owner defines. Upon return to the Junction, cars for the mainline are spotted on the "Multi-use" track.
And when the owner just wants to watch 'em run, he can set a train orbiting on each oval.
The layout gives up some operational and track configuration plausibility for a mix of operating interest and wooded scenery. The two-sided backdrop and wooded ridges help create separate scenes so the layout can't be viewed all at once. This helps make the most of the 4X8 form-factor, despite the inherent compromises.
This same concept in a different form-factor could probably be even more engaging, perhaps even in less space overall. But it is one example of making the most of an HO scale 4X8 layout through narrow focus.
[By the way, there are apparently a couple of real-life places called "Falls Mill", but this layout does not in any way reflect any of them. The owner just liked the name and concept …]

Let's talk about your ideas for a layout design – no matter the space.

Track component notes added April, 2010. All turnouts are Atlas Code 83 #4 except for the four turnouts marked with a "6". These are Atlas Code 83 Custom-Line #6. The crossing is also Atlas Code 83, all other track is intended to be flex track. You may download a more detailed component view at right.

Structure notes added Jan., 2010. The client for whom this was originally designed wanted a mix of built-ups, kits, and possible scratchbuilt items. For the freight house and Co-op, the smaller building is the Walthers Golden Valley Freight House, available as a kit (933-3533) or built-up in various colors.
I think that the other building was to be kitbashed, but the Walthers Co-Op storage shed (933-3230) is a smaller footprint and would work fine. Many other buildings could be substituted.
On that same side of the layout, the Depot is Walthers Golden Valley Depot (kit 933-3532), also available as built-ups in various colors. The trackside structures are from Walthers (kit 933-3530), again various colors also available as built-ups. The small engine house could come from Pikestuff. (Modern Small Engine House 541-5000).
The gas station in the lower right-hand corner is from Woodland Scenics, but many others will fit. The other town buildings are various kits or built-ups from Walthers, DPM, etc.
On the Mill side, the two flats are two Walthers River City Textiles kits (933-3178), although other kits or kitbashed structures could be substituted, of course. The other mill building was meant to be kitbashed or built from Walthers or DPM modular components. The double-track bridge was the Central Valley kit (210-1904).

HO 4X8, Track Plan

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

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