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Author Topic: My "retro" HO-scale layout!  (Read 15853 times)

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« on: September 14, 2013, 02:57:50 PM »

I am both a (currently) budgeted model railroader, and that I also enjoy classic HO-scale train stuff (especially from Bachmann, Tyco, IHC, Life-Like and Atlas.) So I thought that for my basement model train layout I can use a lot of that stuff, yet still continuously update it for the new millenium. So far, I have my trains running mostly on Atlas nickel-silver track, a mix of Code-100 and Code-83 (some of it is True Track.) A little of it is steel, but I am not going to bother with brass track on my layout. Right now it is a Standard-DC layout with blocking, but I will also probably eventually upgrade to DCC (I will probably so so by getting the Bachmann E-Z Command train set or something, but retrofit my layout to work with the DCC controls and locomotives.)
Like many model railroaders typically would, I usually like to vary in manufacturers of products, so that it isn't entirely a Bachmann layout, or a Tyco layout or whatever. This makes the layout seem more realistic.


Overviews. I have it set up on a 4x8 sheet of plywood, because that's all we have room for, but you can get a lot done on a 4x8 layout anyways. The track plan is partially based off some of Tyco's "Layout Expander System" track plans. I refer to this land as "Sheffingtown." The main railroad I use is BNSF.

The controls. Note the Tyco blocking switch and buttons for "action" accessories. It should be noted that during the 1970s and early 1980s, Tyco was pretty much Bachmann's biggest rival when it came to HO-scale trains, so I use quite a bit of both.

I got this in today; the Bachmann action caboose! It was made some time in the late 1970s or the 1980s (latest I know it was still available was 1987.) I want to try and replace the X2F couplers with knuckle couplers, but this has extended talgo trucks, and they have unusual horn-hook couplers that must be screwed in and the holes are in a weird size, compared to other manufacturers' couplers, and I don't really want to take the body-mount approach with this caboose.

Residential area of my layout, including the nice little Plasticville Cape Cod house.

Life-Like downtown business center next to a Pola/Tyco/IHC Loew's movie theater with a customized marquee.

Plasticville post office. I got this because just about every town needs a post office, and I like the small size of it.

Plasticville school house. I plan to add a playground behind it (probably the Bachmann playground accessory set), and maybe even expand the building so it's not so small (or at least add a portable, like some schools do.)

Every town should have a fire station, too. I went with the Life-Like one because it reminded me quite a bit of the fire stations we have in my hometown of Brockton, MA.

A smaller, second train is parked on this inner loop - the "B" block. I still do like the classic look and feel of steam when it comes to model railroading. Maybe some day I'll get a nicer Bachmann steam locomotive.

Plasticville switch tower, at a rather convenient location.

Even though this is a "retro" layout, I mostly try to use more modern locomotives, like this Walthers Trainline ATSF Dash 8-40BW. It came with X2F horn-hook couplers (one of them was damaged), so I replaced them with E-Z Mate couplers, because I prefer knuckle couplers over the X2Fs.

Tyco crane car and maintenance tender, made some time in the 1970s. Very similar to Bachmann's current crane car and boom tender (which was introduced in 1979, apparently to compete with Tyco's version.)

A modified Life-Like KFC building kit. Since I like their chicken, I couldn't resist. Plus, it's a great attention-grabber on my layout anyways.

Used car lot, operating coal tipple and general store, all mostly from Life-Like. (Unlike several of you here, I started my model railroad using Life-Like products, which is why I also like that company's offerings  Cheesy )

Tyco diesel switcher locomotive, again Santa Fe. The front coupler I found really difficult to remove, but I was able to replace the back coupler with an E-Z Mate knuckle coupler, to make it more compatible with my rolling stock, which I also mostly retrofitted with knuckle couplers (Tyco and Life-Like stuff mostly gets the SceneMaster knuckle couplers from Walthers.)

Tyco freight unloading depot. You press a button and hold it down, and the little plow scoops a pipe section off the flatcar. Very interesting, and it's too bad Bachmann never made a similar version.

Tyco piggyback loader/unloader and steam whistle billboard. Unlike the Bachmann electronic steam whistle accessory, this uses an electrically-operated air whistle, similar to the whistles found in old Lionel steam engines, that is activated via a pushbutton. It also sounds better than Bachmann's diesel horn storage tank accessory!

Life-Like dual operating crossing gate. Very similar to Bachmann's version they've had since 1976. This will only work with Life-Like's Power-Loc track (it came with my Life-Like "Freight Runner" train set), so I used special Power-Loc adapter tracks to connect them (these adapter sections will also work really well with E-Z track.) I am thinking of modifying it some day so the lights will flash and the gates will be motorized.

Tyco operating crossing signal from the early 1980s. It works slightly similar to the crossing gate, but when the train runs over the pressure sensor, it activates a small wind-up bell housed in the loading dock, and the lights flash alternately. The lights don't really work right now, but the bell does, and is pretty neat.

Tyco pressure-operated pipe loader.

A small accident scene I staged on my layout.

Life-Like stock pen with cow and pig figures. I haven't gotten around to painting some of the human figures yet.

Tyco lighted freight station. This was made some time in the 1970s, and is very nicely detailed.
Life-Like "Snap-Loc" train station building kit. This was introduced in the late 1990s, obviously to compete with Bachmann's Plasticville snap-together building kits. It came with my Freight Runner train set, and looks very nice (I also have a Bachmann Plasticville suburban station, but right now I don't really have any room for it...)

A small fruit stand next to an apple orchard.

Note the Tyco billboard in the background.

My other locomotives I often use on my layout. The blue-and-yellow one is made by Mehano, and I plan to replace its X2Fs with E-Z Mate couplers. The two Life-Like engines on the left are a bit low-end, but do look nice (the hi-nose GP38-2 came with the Freight Runner set I mentioned), and the other three have more powerful can motors and smooth eight-wheel drive. Once I get more cash, I might get a good-quality Bachmann (BN)SF locomotive of some sort, or maybe once I make the move to DCC or something.

Any comments/questions?
A Derailed Drag Racer

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« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2013, 03:15:03 PM »

Given what you're working with, I think you have done a fine job.



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« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2013, 05:38:46 PM »


Don't you recall Athearn from the 70s and 80s?

                                                              -- D

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« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2013, 06:56:28 PM »


Don't you recall Athearn from the 70s and 80s?

I'm actually considering a classic Athearn locomotive as well... maybe their Santa Fe F-7 or something. I am also thinking about getting a newer Athearn engine, along with a Santa Fe Proto 1000 F3A locomotive.
Unlike old locomotives in many cases, the old low-end rolling stock will still usually look good on freight trains, particularly if they are weathered. (I'd do that, but I don't have the time and stuff to do so.)
And for the heck of it, I am also thinking of getting a classic Santa Fe or Union Pacific Bachmann GP-40. But like I said, many of those old Bachmann X2Fs cannot be easily replaced due to their somewhat proprietary design (I think). Unless maybe an E-Z Mate coupler with a small makeshift adapter is used... Until then, at least I have a few "conversion" cars; in which they'd have an X2F coupler on one end and a knuckle coupler on the other. This was often used back when knuckle couplers were somewhat of a premium back in the 1980s and 1990s, instead of being the norm like today.
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2013, 12:43:33 AM »

This looks like fun! Cheesy Operating HO accessories aren't exactly common place, I puts a grin on me thinking about them Grin There's nothing like hands free loading and unloading, at any age Wink Cool

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« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2013, 07:56:25 AM »

I recognize that grass matting Cheesy

Here's my piece on Athearns wiley, there are plenty out there on EBay.  My suggestion, especially if you have plans to possibly convert it to DCC in the future, is to get one that has the gold "can" motor with brass flywheels as opposed to old "classic" motor with grey flywheels.  The gold can motor draws less and would be easier for you to go DCC.  Now, regarding "new" Athearns, there is the Genesis with have muchco detail and expense-given what you are working with, that might be like driving a Mercedes at the local dirt race track, if you know what I mean.  The Athearn Ready to Run is less expensive but has many features and some improvements over the Athearn "blue box" series.  The motor is close to the same gold can motor, but with different drive shaft configuration and is mounted to the frame with screws instead of the old style push in motor mounts.  They still have the long spring clip that gets power to the trucks and either the Ready to Run or blue box series should be changed up so the trucks are wired directly to the motor's top copper clip (for DC operation only) for better running.
The new Bachmann locos are light years ahead of the old ones, some have flywheels and some don't but even ones w/o flywheels run smooth.  The downside I see in those, is they don't weigh as much as the Athearns or Atlas' for that matter and will have trouble pulling several cars up a grade.  But, I see your layout is flat and therefore this should not be a problem bc they pull fine on level track.
Good luck!

Keep Calm and Carry On

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« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2013, 10:47:41 AM »

Got to admit I really like your layout.  I think you will be happy with more modern Bachmann (mechanicly spreaking that is) but I love the concept.

CNE Runner

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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2013, 10:53:21 AM »

Nicely done bit of nostalgia. You might want to consider purchasing Kalmbach's "The HO Model Railroad That Grows" and build that very classic layout ('was my first 4' x 8' layout). This publication has long been out of print; but should be available on eBay.

Regarding Athearn locomotives of the 50s, and 60s: Avoid them like the plague! Athearn motive power of this era contained "Hi-F Drive" which consisted of two motor shafts - driving rubber bands. The first model locomotive I ever had (in HO anyway) was the Athearn Little Hustler. I had forgotten how awful it ran and some time ago decided to purchase one on eBay. The Little Hustler had X2F couplers and Hi-F drive (believe it or not those rubber band belts are still available) and goes down the track like a guided missile...not the best choice for a switching locomotive. The Little Hustler now resides on a display shelf.

Good luck in your efforts to recreate the 'days of yore',

"Keeping my hand on the throttle...and my eyes on the rail"
Terry Toenges

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« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2013, 02:51:46 PM »

Good job. There are a lot of neat little things that yo have to look for on the layout.

Feel like a Mogul.

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« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2013, 05:49:08 PM »

A real "blast from the past"!

You've really done a great job with this equipment, and it proves you don't need the latest stuff to have a nice model railroad.


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« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2013, 05:51:24 PM »

I forgot to ask, is that white car a Lincoln Cosmopolitan?

Jerrys HO
« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2013, 06:06:56 PM »

Very nice work. And to think some of us want to get rid of the old stuff, you make it all come together so nice.

Johnson Bar Jeff

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« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2013, 01:54:53 PM »

I can't view the photos here at work (and sometimes they won't download at home  Sad ), but from what I'm able to read here, I like the "retro" concept. Since I don't have any permanent scenery, I indulge in it myself from time to time. In fact, Wiley, I've done exactly what you've suggested, use the Bachmann playground equipment to create a playground for the Plasticville school. I have a number of Plasticville structures that have been in my family as long as I have; others I remember going with my dad to buy (I also remember my dad losing his temper and gluing all the buildings together permanently so they wouldn't fall apart if someone bumped the table  Cheesy ). These old family pieces hold a lot of innocent, happy memories, so it's fun to haul them out from time to time and use them temporarily.

I was never big on operating accessories, but I do like to use more "modern" motive power to pull consists of "vintage" cars, for example, a red and silver Warbonnet Santa Fe F-unit, equipped with a flywheel, to pull a passenger train of early 1960s Mantua/Tyco streamliners.
Johnson Bar Jeff

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« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2013, 09:38:32 PM »

OK, I finally got to see the pictures, and I love it that the movie theater is showing Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  Cheesy

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« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2013, 05:46:28 PM »

Here's some more updates!

Tyco auto carrier car. It does look neat, but not as realistic as Life-Like's. I'm also planning on getting Bachmann's tri-level auto carrier car from the 1980s, so I can combine the three to make a full auto-carrying train!

The school finally has a playground!

I outfitted a few of my locomotives and cars with IHC "Magic Mate" couplers. They were a bit cumbersome to work with at first, but after a while they turned out to be pretty good! They are designed so they can connect with knuckle and horn/hook couplers, and sometimes makes a handy alternative to "conversion cars."

I got this in yesterday; it's a vintage Bachmann 0-6-0 Santa Fe steam locomotive with slope tender! It was a bit damaged when it arrived, but I did some repairs, and now it runs pretty well.

Here's another vintage HO steam engine I haven't shown yet: Tyco's Chattanooga 0-8-0! The motor is in the tender car, so that makes performance a little off. But it is nicely detailed!

Atlas water tower. As long as I'm using some steam power, this is a nice addition to the layout.
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