A DIY Layout Project – Three Prospectives
By Jim Herron, Tom Lytle and Bob Mintz
We did it ourselves, you can too!
I was invited by a friend of mine to participate in a job related perk that resulted in a totally free trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. With such rich train related history, how could I pass up this opportunity?
The junket was sponsored by The Scripps Network, which owns three cable TV networks, two fairly well known, and a fledgling one. The first one is The Food Network, the other is Home and Garden TV, and their latest venture is DIY (Do It Yourself).
Lo and behold, I received a phone call from their events manager regarding my participation at The Western Show, which is a “to the trade only” event in Los Angeles. Every cable TV production tries to woo the cable networks to include their programming on their stations. My assignment was to build a “do it yourself” layout and participate in hourly demonstrations.
The three of us brought four trunks full of trains and accessories. Tom designed two independent loops, Jim got a hold of Choo Choo Cam which I knew would impress the cable people, and I drove everyone crazy. I promised to include Christmas scenes to snow starved LA people, a mountain and an underground subway station.
I also wanted to use only readily available material to keep the “Do It Yourself” theme first and foremost. We used the inside cardboard roll of the carpets that were laid on the floor, as column support for the plaster of paris mountain. We shred up Styrofoam to use as snow. I used discarded cardboard and wood to shape the mountain. By accident, we also had a peek-a-boo cut out in the mountain so one could see the subway passengers waiting on the station. It turned out we had a derailment and I had to cut a piece of the mountain away. I decided to leave it, as is, a sort of voyeuristic view of things on the outside looking in.
The Choo-Choo Cam located in the nose of the engine would do the opposite, the show attendees could see on a big screen the train entering the tunnel and see the “passengers” waiting for the train. It took the three of us 15 straight hours, which would total 45 man-hours, or an entire weeks worth of work for one person. At 4 A.M., we finished the construction and testing and were ready for the 8AM debut.
I must also say that Jim went above and beyond the call of duty, for his mother had passed away that night after a long illness, and he stayed and helped us until we could get things working properly. Hats off to him.
To tell you the truth, I don’t even have a layout at home, and have certainly never built a mountain. But I think if you take a look at the photos, you will see that our project came out pretty damn good for basically first timers. Our competition was the History Channel, ESPN, Disney, MTV and even BBC Overseas. We didn’t have the presence of female models, Beatle impersonators or Hollywood personalities (such as Don Knotts or Maury Wills), but I am proud of our work, and with a little self-confidence, hobby shop materials and imagination, I am sure you can create your own Lionelville too.
YOU WANT TO BUILD A WHAT?
I joined Bob Mintz at the National Cable Show in Los Angeles because I thought it would be another great avenue for sharing the history and memories of running and operating O gauge trains. Little did I know what was ahead!
Tom Lytle traveled with me. When Tom and I arrived in Los Angeles on Monday, we took a nice side trip to the largest train store in the area, Allied Trains in Culver City, to re-supply our stock of train accessories. When we arrived at the convention center about noon, Mentor Mintz, was pacing the floor with worry. What happened to you? Did you get lost? Kidnapped? When we told him of our detour, he understood. After all, what is a trip without a little train shopping?
We had a huge task in front of us and figured three people working eight hours would get the job done. Enter Mr. Mintz’s slight complication. “I promised them a mountain, a subway station and a tunnel.” So, while Tom worked on the MTH Right Track and wiring, infrareds and electrics, I started the scenery, accessories and building “THE MOUNTAIN”. It took thirty man-hours to complete the mountain, tunnel and station with lights, including a few hours rummaging through the garbage for materials for the mountain.
We had to make snow, add over 250 trees, landscape the board, put in a revolving Christmas tree, a Ferris wheel (that never worked), an airplane with banner, an ice skating rink, a toboggan run, a ski slope and a moving road of cars plowing through the snow (which died in about an hour after ingested the “snow”).
DEPT. 56 ANIMATED SLEIGH RIDE AND SKIERS ADDED TO THE FUN
People were then added throughout the 18′ x 8′ layout. We ran a trolley line into the mountain. At 4:00 in the morning, we finally finished that “@#$%^&*” mountain, covered with snow, dust, pine trees and plaster. We then retreated to our hotel on Hill Street in Chinatown, but that’s another story.
Bright and early the next morning we ran trains for the Scripps Network. Christmas trains, passenger trains, the Texas Special, the trolley line and the “Choo-Choo Cam” all worked. They looked great on the 54″ screens that adorned the layout area, showing the view of the layout from the vantage point of the engineer in the Lionel O gauge diesel engine.
Total of 93 pieces costing $425.95 of Lionel/K-Line regular O track.
Grand total of 93 pieces
Total cost: $425.95
(19) Lionel® O 40 in straight @$4.25 $80.75
(30) Lionel® O single straight @$1.20 $36.00
(30) Lionel® O O-31 curve 45° @$1.05 $31.50
(4) Lionel® O O-31 modern left-hand turnout @$33.70 $134.80
(4) Lionel® O O-31 modern right-hand turnout @$33.70 $134.80
(1) Lionel® O 90° cross @$7.10 $7.10
(1) Lionel® O half straight @$1.00 $1.00
(2) Lionel® O custom cut straight no price
(2) Lionel® #260 track bumper no price
It was an impressive event, well received by the viewing public and well worth the effort we all put into it. Yes, we would be glad to do it again; especially with the knowledge we gained from our first venture into a Christmas layout, complete with a MOUNTAIN.
All right, model railroad folks. You’ve always wanted to. So, just do it!
A couple of months back, I could have said this, but after a week spent doing it, I just don’t know anymore. What, you might ask, is “IT”? Building your own model railroad layout, of course! Actually, there is a lot more to the story—we built a layout in marathon style in an environment where you felt like being under a microscope. In other words, three guys, six trunks, fifteen hours. This was not for the faint of heart.
The aforementioned three guys were Bob Mintz (TCA Internet Committee Editor), Jim Herron (the intrepid former HTOS President), and myself (masochist extraordinaire). We were hired through a long series of coincidences to perform at the winter Western Show in Los Angeles by the Scripps Corporation to help promote their new digital cable network, D.I.Y. The Western Show is a trade convention where networks sell their services to cable providers for the following season. This is how cable TV networks come to your town. Our “Mission Impossible” was to construct and then run a model train layout in the Scripps’ booth, showing that we really could do it. We also wanted to showcase “Choo-Choo Cam”, a new and remarkable color camera system designed for model railroading.
After I went through a month of managing a collection of ill-conceived explanations, I finally departed Houston on a plane bound for LA. In the seat next to me were two footlockers stuffed to the brim with track, trains, and paraphernalia (somehow I lucked out of not having to purchase a separate seat for the trunks.) Upon our arrival in LA, rather than speeding to the convention center from the airport, Jim and I sped to Allied Model Trains on Sepulveda Blvd. This was a much better choice to relive the side effects of jet lag. It is a marvelous example of what a train store should be. I recommend it highly.
In a couple of hours, we finally arrived at Staples Convention Center to set up for the show. The DIY people had built us a gorgeous twelve by six wooden table out of birch for the layout. The next fifteen hours saw us descend into the depths of layout construction, but we emerge successfully. It’s just that it was three in the morning when we got there. The layout has two loops of MTH RealTrax on white felt. Jim ended up managing construction of Mintz’s Mountain. This was extraordinary for me to watch. Jim did a masterful job. He and Bob literally built the mountain out of trash lying on the convention floor. The mountain had a station built inside of it for the benefit of the Choo-Choo Cam viewers. It was topped with three Dept. 56 action pieces. Every spare inch was covered with the atrocious “fake snow”. This was ground Styrofoam—it really looked wonderful—but it got into everything. Yuck!
After three hours of sleep, we were right back where we started—in costume at the convention center. Then we got to spend the rest of the day running the layout and entertaining the public. It was a long day. And the convention routine continued until Friday. That day the show went until 1 PM. Then I had two hours to pull the items from the board and pack them. Then we had to make the mad dash in Friday afternoon traffic to the airport for a five o’clock flight. We did it. More fun than people should be allowed to have, but we did it.
In the end, I am glad that I went. We managed to promote the hobby into yet another realm. We might redeem our investment at some future point. It was a bit rugged on the time side. The lesson learned is that anyone can build a Christmas layout in a short period of time. It’s more the way it looks, not the amount of work you put in it. It is really too bad that they didn’t film us; it would have made a great special on their network.