Learning How to Build a Model Train Layout with David Barrow

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Like other hobbies and artforms, the decisions behind the elements that go into each model railroad layout are guided by inspiration and taste. For some, high mountain passes, tunnels and lumber hauling lines are a necessity for a beautiful layout. For others, it’s unending cornfields and flat terrain with a blue sky backdrop. And then there’s David Barrow, longtime railfan and modeler from West Texas, who was inspired as a boy by the arid and dusty terrain over which passed the mighty Santa Fe Railway, and he soon wanted to learn how to build a model train layout.

David always knew he’d one day build a layout based on the Santa Fe, but he didn’t realize how large that layout would become. It took nearly three decades, two great mentors and a handful of talented friends for David to learn how to build a model train layout quite like the one that now runs in his studio. In this segment, David sits down with host Allen Keller to talk about some of the challenges and rewards of building such an expansive layout, and David gives some valuable insight on how to build a model train layout that’s both enjoyable and realistic to your personal capabilities.

How to build a model train layout like an expert

One of the first things you’ll notice when you take a tour of David Barrow’s layout of Cat Mountain & Santa Fe Railway is how large and open it is. According to David, the openness was by design, the size was by accident. In explaining how to build a model train layout that incorporates some elements of a prototype and some of freelancing leeway, David talks about a few of the important considerations that go into planning such a large-scale layout.

Later, he discusses what happens when you decide to build a layout that is beyond your capabilities, and gives a personal account of what it’s like planning and mapping out how to build a model train layout by committee. David’s portion of the Santa Fe was built with many sets of hands and remains operated to this day by a group of modelers, so he finishes the lesson by going into a bit of detail about what you should look for from a good group setting for a model railroad. We hope you enjoy this exclusive talk with one of the masters of our hobby!