The Executive Switching Layout
A very simple, easy to build, and fun to operate, N scale Inglnook switching layout that you can put together with about an hour of work.
I was spending a lot of time in the garage working on building some trophies for the upcoming Pine Wood Derby in my son's scout troops. Since I had a lot of wood laying around and the power tools out, I figured why not spend a little time building a small switching layout while waiting for the paint to dry.
So, I grabbed a 48" by 6" piece of clear pine along with some half inch by two inch poplar boards and framed up a very simple layout base. The poplar trim serves two purposes. On the short ends, it serves as track bumpers to keep freight cars from going over the edge, and it also helps to prevent the pine board from warping. Likewise, on the long side, the trim keeps any derailed cars from falling off the layout, and maybe onto the floor, but mainly keeps the pine board from warping with temperature and humidity changes.
I glued and tacked on the poplar trim, then sanded everything with medium and then fine grit sand paper. Once that was done I used a walnut stain to give the layout a nice, rich color.
The track plan is very simple. It uses one Kato #6 right hand and one #6 left hand turnout and a collection of other track components that you can see here. All of this was track I already had in my various Kato track bins. So, you could use different track components to get the same results, but this arrangement at least works on the 4-foot board and allows for a layout capacity of eight 50-foot freight cars.
To install the track I just put some hot glue under the rail joiners and a few other spots along the track and pressed it onto the pine board. I added one set of terminal rail joiners to the end of the track, which I passed through a hole in the trim board. I have a Rokuhan battery-powered throttle Velcroed onto the end of the layout but I can also attach an adapter cable and connect the layout to a DCC system if I want to do that. I'm not doing any scenery for now, so it is just a clean and neat shelf switching layout that can be a great fit for any office. Eventually I may add some simple scenery, but I like it plain and simple like this as well.
I set this layout up to use eight 50-foot freight cars, and so I purchased Athearn box cars to fill that role. I went this route because I like to have all my freight cars in different colors and/or road names so I don't have to worry about trying to read the tiny car numbers on N scale cars, and Athearn had a wide variety of such cars available at the time. These Athearn cars have nice detail, good weight, and importantly for a switching layout, body mounted couplers. I like cars with truck mounted couplers when building tiny layouts with tight radius curves, but for switching operations, body mounted couplers will give you much better reliability, especially when pushing them through turnouts. So anyway, these are great cars, and I'll have a link below to where I picked them up.
Some of you already know how I do my operations, but the way I do operations on my simple switching layouts is to run them like a game. I take a picture of each of the freight cars that will be on the layout, arrange the pictures in a word document, and print them out on some full sheet labels. I stick these to an old file folder or other heavier card stock, cut them out, and then I have a set of picture car cards.
So, here is the layout ready to go for operations with all the freight cars on the layout and the picture cards ready. To operate the layout I shuffle the deck of cards and deal out the first five cards. The goal then is to sort the freight cars on the layout in the order represented by those picture cards and put all those cars in that order on the longest yard track. You can think of this as sorting freight cars to put them in the order needed for a switching crew to drop them off at industries as efficiently as possible on a job. Or, you can treat it as needing to put all the cars at specific car spots for industries that might be located on these tracks.
You can watch an operating session on this layout during the second half of the video below.
If you want to try some switching operations, give a layout like this a try. It took about an hour to build over the course of the weekend, and even less time if you don't stain the wood which requires you to wait a day for it to dry. You can always go back and add scenery later, but just having a nice stained wood base and no scenery can look great too.