Expert Tips and Lessons for Model Railroad Builders

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In Part 7 of his behind the scenes tour of the renowned Stony Creek & Western Rwy with owner, Gil Freitag, Model Railroad Academy’s Allen Keller hears about some of the lessons learned from one of the hobby’s most prolific model railroad builders.

Gil has built almost 95% of the layout himself – handlaid track, roadbed, scenery, structures and wiring. But he admits he’s had help from his very tolerant wife who has helped cut the wooden ties and even built her own garden railroad in the backyard!

He said that building a model railroad the size of his layout benefited from the fact that he locked in a track plan, and rarely varied from it except for minor changes to add a scene of branchline. Gil admits that he bucks current model railroad convention by featuring two levels of track on different grades within the same scene. With his level of scenery, the viewer hardly notices the second track.
The highest point is railroad is 54” high, and the sidings are 36” and 32”, but he gets more total feet of running and switching by running a train the length of the layout between towns, and then doubling back through the same scenes at a higher grade.

Here are some other tips on how to design model train layouts.

Gil said his biggest regret is not being able to walk alongside his trains the entire lengths of travel, but had to compromise in order to have a 22” grade change as the trains climb through tunnels, gulches and passes.

As a frequent national contest award winner (the first at St. Louis NMRA, 1970), he advises modelers to build structures as if they’ll be contest entries. That way they’re assured of doing their best and testing their skills with every structure. Later, in order to expeditious, shortcuts can be taken in model building, such a