top of page

"Switchman's Nightmare" as an HO 4X8

A classic switching layout reworked for the "sacred sheet"

As I discuss elsewhere on the website, I've found that there is almost always a better alternative to the HO 4X8 track plan for nearly any space. The alternatives offer broader radii, better access, and the opportunity for a more engaging track plan. But if you've already built a 4X8 train table, are there still options for an interesting HO layout?

One of the many problems with the HO 4X8 is that the two end curves take up so much of the length. So if you are willing to forego the continuous-run in the single 4X8, it can make for a better switching layout. Let's begin with Linn Westcott's classic "Switchman's Nightmare" (Kalmbach's 101 Track Plans, 1956), a very well-thought-out design.


Linn Westcott's "Switchman's Nightmare" (1956) from Kalmbach's 101 Track Plans

As we reconfigure the Switchman's Nightmare for the 4X8 space, we can include all the key elements by wrapping the design around one end of the "sacred sheet". The end curve is otherwise wasted, so we'll use it for the runaround that is necessary to deliver cars to spurs facing in opposite directions.

HO 4X8, Switchmans Nightmare, 101 Track Plans

We'll keep one of the yards (at the lower right) to be our interchange yard with another railroad -- our staging yard, in essence. That's how we can imagine our cars go from our on-layout industries to "somewhere else", adding realism. The capacity of the yard is 15-20 freight cars, depending on their lengths. But it would probably be best to keep the yard less than completely full, to give the crews room to work.

In the extra square footage available in the HO 4X8 space vs. Westcott's original, we can add an engine terminal and storage areas ... since so many of us (even beginners!) have more engines than we need. The enginehouse lead is short, but adequate for the type of power that will fit on the Atlas HO turntable. The Atlas unit was chosen because it's so easy to install, the small PECO turntable is a better looking alternative.

Moving around the layout to the other side of the curved, two-sided backdrop, we come to the industrial area. There is plenty of room for good sized structures. Although structures A, B, and C could be individual industries, they could also be one large complex (brewery, papermill, etc.). This looks at first glance like one of those troublesome switchbacks, but in this case the switchback lead is dedicated to switching this industry or holding cars during switching the D,E,F industries -- there's no need to disturb cars at any industry to switch the others. The industry A, B, C area could instead be a team track, perhaps with freight house -- this is a very good alternative and offers lots of operating flexibility.

Industries D&E can be "facsia flats" along the aisle, or simply loading docks or tank car racks, imagining the industries to be in the aisle. Again, D&E could be combined with F to create a single larger industry, which can be more realistic.

With DCC or a number of DC blocks, two crews could work the layout without getting in each other's way too much ... but they would need to coordinate the use of the runaround tracks between them. One crew can work the yard, while the other focuses on the industries. Or one person could do the two jobs in turn.

[By the way, if you just feel you must have continuous-run, you could add a pre-cut 2'X4' "Handy Panel" at the right-hand side (making the overall layout 4X10). But by the time you get that large, there are definitely better alternatives, if you are willing to cut some wood.]

I believe that there is always a better alternative to the HO 4X8 ... but if you've already built the table (or just can't get over your irrational fear of cutting wood), this might be a way to get more operating interest out of the "sacred sheet" than just the typical "two spur, two siding" HO 4X8. The flexibility and operating interest Linn Westcott designed into the "Switchman's Nightmare" in Kalmbach's 101 Track Plans back in 1956 shines through in this adaptation.

Would you like a fun and engaging track plan for a small space? Contact me and let's get started on a custom design of your own!

bottom of page