2017-03.1: Siskiyou Line lessons learned

08 Mar 2017

Average: 4.8 (32 votes)
43:24 - Mar 2017 Act I - Siskiyou Line lessons learned (2017)

Recently Model Railroad Hobbyist editor Joe Fugate announced that he is dismantling his HO-scale Southern Pacific Siskiyou Line.  He visits The Backshop Clinic to discuss the lessons learned in 25 years of building a basement-sized railroad - the good, the bad and the ugly.  He’ll also give us a sneak peek at his plans for the new Siskiyou Line 2.

Model Railroad Hobbyist shield logoView / participate in the discussion thread for this video on the MRH website ...

Also in the March show:
- LokSound Full Throttle steam
- Start Small, Think Big - TOMA layout benchwork construction
- Getting into prototype ops with our new Crew Call series
- and more…

Own a copy of this video for just $3.49

Act II: ESU "Full Throttle" steam demo ...

Go to Act II


Hello Joe,

Thank you for posting this video, it's very informative and will greatly help me make a sound decision when I dismantle my present layout and rebuild a new one using the TOMA aproach.

I have a question regarding the LED lighting in the valence, you mentioned "Extra Dense LED Light Strips".

I Looked around on Amazon, and there are so many types of LED to choose from; warm white, cool white, and with diferent °k and Lumens.

Can you "shed a little more light" on this subject to guide me in the right direction.

Thank you and keep up the good work.



You will find my detailed answer about LED lights on the MRH thread here ...


Tbgarland's picture


This is really exciting getting to see and hear the logic behind your decision to rebuild your layout. I can't wait to see how the first module will take shape using all of the ideas you expressed in the video. I am sure that if you are successful in your new venture many others will follow your lead. I am already looking ahead at how I can incorporate the TOMA concept into an Industrial Park lead that I will be adding to my Seaboard Central.

Keep up the great work!

Tim Garland

joef's picture

I've struggled with how to get the full TOMA potential across to folks. More than a few have said, "what's the big deal, modular methods have been around for decades" ... which is true.

But with TOMA taken to the extreme, you somewhat "throw away the book "on how home layouts have been built in the past. As you begin to apply lightweight modular methods to building a home layout, an exciting NEW way to do home layouts starts to emerge.

What better way to "put my money where my mouth is," so to speak, than adopt TOMA as I envision it and apply it to building a new state-of-the-art home layout? As I entertained the idea of doing a TOMA Siskiyou Line 2, I got so excited with all the new ideas that started to emerge that SL1 really started to look like a layout who's time has passed.

Then the idea of relocating simply sealed the notion that a new SL2 that was portable was actually a very good idea.

I'm hoping the light bulbs are starting to come on for folks as we continue to push the envelope on what TOMA enables when it comes to new ways to do a home layout.

My entire N scale layout that I started in the mid 90's and is only 6x2', so I guess I was an early adopter of TOMA, before the term had been coined.  Now, 20-some years later, it is heavily sceniced, and mostly populated with wood craftsmen kit structures.  Like many modelers , for me, it's been an on again, off again hobby while life gets in the way.  I've recently been "bitten" again and have the time, so I'm currently repairing age-related damage and bringing the layout up to current modern standards. 

I had a MRC Command 2000 DCC system from the start, combined with old-school DPDT toggles for multiple reverse loops on the layout.   It's a layout built for switching - a spaghetti bowl of track - two double folded dog bones, a couple 5% grades, and 24 switches, yes, all on a 6x2 table.  I just upgraded to an NCE Power Cab with a USB interface (for JMRI) and replaced the reverse loop toggles with DCC Specialties PSX-AR boards - WOW  - what a difference!  I have the layout lit with halogen track lighting on a dimmer. 

My main lesson learned, is I wish I had not used Atlas custom switches.  I've had continual problems with engines shorting and/or stalling on them.  I'd replace them now, but that would almost amount to a complete track-work do-over.  Also, I'd simplify the track plan and reduce the number of switches and reverse loops, which I have already begun to do. 

Things I did right:  I always bought quality locomotives (although the MRC decoders I installed in them are primitive by today's standards) and rolling stock.  I upgraded all my loco and rolling stock with Kadee or Micro Trains magnamatic couplers and installed magnets in key spots on my layout - yes I use them and they work well for me.  I also used layered homasote as the table base/road bed and that has proved to be very stable, quiet (no cork road bed required), and infinitely carve-able allowing me scenery options that would otherwise be difficult at best: like carving in a stream for water, half burying boulders, and easily carving ground contours and details that would be nearly impossible in wood.

Having an older layout, I enjoyed this video interview very much and look forward to learning which of the new techniques work out, and which ones didn't.  Please be sure to do a follow-up.

tpmarshall's picture

"It sounds like the world's worst job. 'I work at Orange Julius: I juice the frogs'."

Thanks for that Rick - I just blew coffee through my nose.


- Trevor

PS: Looking for tips on removing coffee from computer screen...

Hey Joe on light weight subroad bed you might call on custom trax he was at OKC train show in dec and has a very light and interesting approach to spline roadbed and very light would make a nice article be worth a check its not on his web you have to talk to him on phone.Hope it helps and if nothing eles might give you different ideals to try


I very much enjoyed your narrative in this video.  I model in n scale and never could see the need for heavy benchwork.  I built my sections or modules in my shop using a light weight method very similar to what you described.  The benchwork is made of 1/4 inch cabinet grade plywood.  I made "T" flanges on the cross members of the benchwork and "L" flanges on the long members. There is a small amount of twisting in the framework until you add a flat top or risers and the subroadbed.  I did not use a shadow box so I was able to construct up to 7 foot sections no wider than 24", and can easily maneuver then through the door and up the stairs to a spare bedroom. Your construction method using  "C" members for the cross pieces is intriging.  I am very interested in how it will come out so I will be following your progress.  

I might add that I did the track work and wiring in the shop, but the scenery I did in the train room.  I realized that once I turned the module on end that scenery material was bound to come off.  If you can avoid turning your finished modules on end it is probably better.  Then you can do all the modeling at your work bench. 

I have never modeled in a tight space like between two decks or in a shadow box.  Is it more difficult than modeling without a height restriction?

Bob LeMond


You mentioned that your current layout has 1000lbs of plaster but never mentioned how you were going to "lighten the load" on the new layout. What ideas are your considering? Maybe geodesic foam from Bragdon Enterprises?

New layout scenery will be florists foam and a lightweight spackling / white glue mixture. I searched all over the internet for a tough lightweight plaster for dioramas and the best answer I found was simple - lightweight spakling mixed with white glue and made a dirt color with some latex paint. The result is a quick, lightweight covering that's the right color and is rubbery tough.

That, coupled with the foam underneath should make for a lot lighter scenery.

Hi Joe,

Thank you for all the information in this video.

I have been following the discussion of TOMA and I think it is the way to go for my next shelf layout. 

In fact my original research n scale layout was built in this way for the reasons you give. Having moved (actually much sooner than I had planned) and packed it up I now want a HO shelf layout in my new home (when we finally move in).

I made the three modules for the n scale from 30mm x 25mm cypress as I had the rough sawn lumber in the yard and the equipment to machine it. The framework worked well at 600mm x 1300mm with extruded foam on top. This was very light and was rigid enough. It was easy to mount on the wall of my shed with home made brackets.

I did find that 25mm was not deep enough if you want switch machines and have them protected by the bench work.

Your approach to us plywood has inspired me and I think that is the way I will go. 

The reason I began this ramble was your explanation of the way you might hang the skirting under the bench work.

I have seen/used inexpensive single track curtain runners which seem to me to might do a good job if they were flexible enough. They would be a simpler solution for hanging and they could be opened. Just a thought.

In case people are looking at the MRH magazines for the "Reverse Running: The case for only ONE peninsula", it's not in the August 2016 edition. It's actually in the October 2016 edition. Direct link follows:


And if you haven't read it yet, have a look at it. Very informative.

Hi Joe,

I like the module concept but what I don't like is the seam problem.  How do you plan to attack this problem especially with the backdrop?  I find seams visually distracting on a layout and if your doing 6 foot modules this could become a real visual impairment to the whole layout.

joef's picture

I like the module concept but what I don't like is the seam problem.  How do you plan to attack this problem especially with the backdrop?  I find seams visually distracting on a layout and if your doing 6 foot modules this could become a real visual impairment to the whole layout.

On Siskiyou Line 1 (SL1), I like to use expansion gaps in the rails every 6 feet, so small gaps in the rails at module joints will be essentially the same with the SL2 modules. As for the methods of making strong, very small rail gaps at module joints, the FREMO modular groups have worked out methods for doing this easily and reliably. Track power will be routed via the power bus wiring and using robust connectors, again as recommended by the FREMO groups.

The scenery joint will be covered with a small bead of latex caulk and then covered over with static grass, ground foam, and whatever so those seams will go away. Later when it comes time to move, I will run an Xacto knife down the joint so the modules can be separated again.

As for the backdrop, I will connect several modules together (3-6) and then make a continuous photo backdrop of 18-36 feet in length to be mounted using semi-permanent mounting methods to the flat ABS plastic backdrop of the modules. Experiments have proven a joint between these photo backdrops disappears so that it's almost invisible unless you're deliberately trying to find the joints.

I'm also expecting to run the 16.4 foot LED lighting strips across several module sections once they're put in place.

Because these module sections are for a home layout and not intended to go on the road constantly, I can cheat a lot as to methods for hiding seams.

I will be testing and demonstating all this as the new SL2 starts to rise in place of the dismantled SL1 (dismantling is just starting now).

Very impressive Joe. Some very serious thought has gone into this TOMA design and it is very appricated your doing this and sharing it. I really like it, espicaly the C spine for the modules. A couple of questions come to mind and has me thinking how to transpose this design for O scale hand layed track as opposed to (I presume)  HO Flex track, what differences? Could you suggest paths to explore to that end? How to use the top level of the module for a seconed module and support for it. I agree the 16" backdrop height is about right even for O scale. Sturdy leg support for 54" height, thats a question and a consern. The cup hook and ice tray filler hose is good but wouldn't strips of velcro attached to the back lower side of the facia work just as well or better? If not why?  As for wireing I like it up front and easy to get too, another great idea. Though for me being dead rail mostly for lighting of structures. Really impressive with the dense LED lighting. I really look foward to seeing how this series unfolds, good show!

Regards, Leonard Davis

Hi Joe,

That is some great ideas to use to hide the joints.  I look forward to seeing you do this on the new layout.


Hi Joe,

I enjoyed the video and have taken away a lot of good ideas for future use. Having been withount a layout for awhile i recently built a 28" x 16' sectional On30 version of the "Gum Stump and Snowshoe"  I sort of went TOMA withount knowing it as we were anticipating a move.  Where the concept failed for me is the inability to get something running quickly and I found that withount doing a detailed track plan it was difficult to make transitions from section to section flow if the next section wasn't there.  On a previous layout I had used 1/4 x 3/4 inch Ash strips for roadbed splines (I found that Ash would bend withount kinking). A very large advantage was the ability to take an 8 to 12 foot piece of spline and form a curve that flowed. Any time that curve ended at a non splined section great care had to be taken to avoid disturbing that flow.  I am now hoping to use the On30 sectional layout as a mining branch and start construction on a sectional On3 line arround the wall.  I will be following  your progress and the TOMA feature with great interest.




This is like being is school again.... I need to listen to this again, and take notes this time!  Good stuff here!