PAGE 52 – AUGUST 2006

Small Layout Schematics

While prowling through past issues of this Scrapbook, looking for items
to feature in the “Not Quite a Blog” issue (#50), I noticed several recurring
patterns in the small layout designs shown over the last four years of publication.
Being a pattern person, I tried to capture them on paper … the essential elements of
design in each layout — the Layout Schematics, so to speak. There are surprisingly few!
Here they are. These are the basic track patterns you can use to design a small layout
that wll give you satisfying operation as well as good scenery and fun in building.
If you can think of any other small-layout schematics, I’d like to hear from you.
To begin with, there are two basic types of small layouts: Continuous and End-to-End.

The Tireless Performers

The Endless Loop
C1. The Endless Loop


The simplest possible continuous layout schematic also happens to be the world’s most popular design — the Endless Loop, which in its simplest form we call the “Pizza”. Perfect for hobby displays and model exhibitions, the trains tirelessly chug around this circuit, passing through the scene as often as we wish. Notice that this schematic applies even if the track circles the baseboard two or more times.

Moose Steak PizzaThe hollow rectangle indicates a center of attention–a station, a major industry, or a landmark. In issue #31 one focus is a large model moose, in Jon Songøygard’s Moose Steak Pizza!

Wharf Scene Many modelers will insert a view block across the center (indicated here by a blue line). View blocks range from an actual backboard to a row of buildings or trees, a cliff, and many other ingenious methods. In #49, Tad Dowdy uses a double-sided backdrop — a cliff on one side, and wharf warehouses on the other.

As in Tad’s case the opposite side might be another center of attention or, as indicated above by the blue rectangle, a backstage fiddle yard where train consists are adjusted and cars are added or removed from the layout. There are several good examples of viewblocking and hidden fiddles in #37.

Les Cimes pizza Of course, the track need not be a perfect circle, and one can add spurs for switching anywhere on the circumference. An ingenious example is François Meunier’s Les Cimes in #49, where several segments of the pizza circle are actually sector plates that rotate to connect with sidings inside the circle. Turnouts for stub spurs can also be added anywhere, without affecting the basic schematic.

Getting the Runaround
C2. Getting the Runaround

We can add complexity by inserting a runaround siding, called in the U.S. a “passing siding” and in the U.K. a “runaround loop.” This extremely popular design allows a single locomotive to handle switching chores in sidings facing both directions, located at the runaround siding or along the line. Add spurs to taste!Arpafeelie Mining Co.A good example of this schematic in #44a is Steve Holland’s South Arpafeelie Mining Co., which is a compact twice-around layout with a single runaround siding. (The schematic plan is unaffected by the number of times the line circumnavigates the baseboard.)

Trains often originate in a backstage fiddle yard on the other side of the oval, as shown

in blue on this schematic. The visible switching area can represent a small town station, an industrial park, a single large factory, a mine, a quarry, or whatever else you can dream up!

Round and Round Plus Up
C3. Round and Round and Up

The next advance in complexity is to add a branch line to the basic oval with runaround siding. Most often, this branch runs up and over, as shown here; but there’s no reason why it can’t run down and duck under — as if it were a branch from a mountain line that ducks down to serve a seashore industry.

Original Gorre & DaphetidNotice that John Allen’s original twice-around Gorre & Daphetid RR as well as Frary & Hayden’s Elk River Line (both shown in #4) follow this schematic. It’s extremely popular, and justifiably so–it provides remarkably good operation in a very small space!

The Wyes Guy
C4. The Wyes Guy

Perhaps the most complex schematic possible in a small layout (under 4x6ft or 120x180cm) is this one, The Wyes Guy. It adds a branch line, reached by a wye track formation (a “delta” in Britain). The branch can lead to another station, an industrial location, or even (as indicated here) a backstage fiddle yard. Z-scale planA good example is Jonathon Scott’s Z-scale line in a suitcase, described in #34.

Jonathon has added a return loop (balloon) at the end of the branch line to streamline operations. This basic schematic enables very sophisticated operations, as well as a choice of continuous or out-and-back train routing.

For Endless Switching Action


Here to There
E1. The Here to There RR

Here to There is the classic point-to-point layout. In its simplest form, this layout schematic can be a single length of track with no turnouts or sidings. This is perhaps the smallest possible operating layout schematic!

Green End QuarryExamples abound, from my tiny El Dorito Mine (and others on the same page) to such G-scale lines as Bob Hughes’s Green End Quarry in #41. Admittedly, some rather special planning is required to provide shunting opportunities in such simple layouts — but there are many possibilities.

Bernard Junk's Quarry LayoutIn more elaborate designs, the visible station can have additional spurs for switching. Just one spur is shown in our schematic drawing, and Chris Ellis has dubbed this special case “The Fork” — there are several good examples in #44. A classic version is Bernard Junk’s Quarry Line, shown in #4. For an extremely compact switching pike, this schematic is hard to beat.

Sean Sunley's HO InglenookAdding a second spur leads to the famous Inglenook design for switching games. This pattern is discussed thoroughly at several places on this site, including the Micro Layout Gallery and Scrapbooks #38, #44 and #51. And of course, adding a runaround siding at one end, along with spurs for shunting, yields the classic British terminus-to-fiddle-yard arrangement.

Sampson Vale Rly Note that the opposite end of the line, shown in blue, may be a fiddle track or yard, or may be another station (a true point-to-point schematic)! A good, small example of the latter is Graham Watling’s Sampson Vale layout in #41.

Passing Through
E2. Passing Through


This variation of the Here to There schematic puts the visible station in the center of the line, between two hidden fiddle yards. Trains can run through the scene to the other side and back again (after some fiddling). Pausing to switch cars at the midpoint provides lots of operating possibilities, and scheduled timetable “meets” are available in this option.

FellburnSome designs for the Passing Through schematic can be seen in #49a — in both Paul Gallon’s Fellburn and Sam Hyde’s design for a South Australian narrow-gauge station.

Nottery QuayNeedless to say, additional stations could be added in place of the fiddle yard at either end (or both ends!), producing a complete and workable railway line (and possibly growing beyond the limits of small layout design!). There are a number of good, smallish examples of this type of design in #49a as well as in #46. Chris O’Donoghue’s Nottery Quay is shown here.

Fiddle in the Middle
E3. Fiddle in the Middle


Just the opposite of E2 is the schematic where the middle is hidden (perhaps housing a fiddle yard) and each end has a station. This can be a very interesting operating pattern if the fiddle yard is complex enough to furnish a variety of trains in both directions.

Port Petiot-Fort GofiotA very small and simple example of this schematic is François Fontana and Denis Fournier Le Ray‘s Les Tramways de Port Petiot à Fort Goffiot.

To and Fro
E4. To and Fro


This schematic is the classic switchback [zig-zag] arrangement. Without the dotted spur, it’s a Fork pattern (E1); and with the spur, trains can travel a route from the fiddle yard to the station on the dotted line by backing and filling. The To and Fro switchback pattern provides a somewhat longer mainline run between stations at opposite ends of a very small space.

Spanish Gum Stump lineThe best-known example is Chuck Yungkurth’s Gum Stump & Snowshoe RR, shown in #4 and featured with several variations in #38a. This classic layout plan climbs from a low-level terminus to a higher level station via a switchback arrangement that includes a very attractive overbridge. Ignacio O’Callaghan’s version is shown here.

All Yard
E5. All Yard


Finally, this “shelf switcher full of track” can provide a large amount of shunting fun in the space of a bookshelf. There are many possible track arrangements for the All Yard layout, but most of them are variations of one sort or another on the schematic shown. A fiddle yard is often included (indicated in blue), but is not essential for good operation.

Switchman's NightmareThe grandaddy of nearly all these layouts is Linn Westcott’s Switchman’s Nightmare, shown in #4 along with John Allen’s Timesaver and C. J. Freezer’s Minories — the latter two being good examples of variations within the schematic. Jack Trollope’s classic Box Street Yard is another good example.

Ross County Short LineThere have been many other excellent versions across the years, including recent examples by Stephen Christopher (#42 and #51), Eric Kirkland (#42) Fabrice Fayolle (#42 and #45a) and Jack Trollope (#45a and #47). Jack’s Ross County Shortline (shown here) is an interesting variation that substitutes a car ferry for the fiddle yard as a destination for cars being shunted off the layout.


In a nutshell, those are the basic schematics I’ve found underlying the minimum-space layouts I’ve seen (and there are over 600 of them on this site!). These diagrams should be very useful when you sit down with a blank sheet of paper to begin designing your next small layout. Here are the possible types of track arrangements that will give you satisfying operation of the kind that best suits you. Different people will favor different approaches, which speaks well for the future of minimum-space layout design.

You can have some fun with this idea by paging through the past issues of Small Layout Scrapbook, archived on this site and indexed here. See if you can spot which of the schematics is used in each layout design, and what the designer has done to amplify or distort the schematic idea in order to enhance good operations in a specific track plan. You should end up with a hatful of ideas for your next small layout!

Carl Arendt
26 July 2006


  1. Rick says:

    This is one of my favorite pages. Lots of useful information. I really enjoy the website and the books. 🙂

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