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By John (‘Ski) Warren

About 18 years ago, I was shopping for Christmas gifts for my daughters and came across an MPC Cannonball Express set at Toys R Us. The girls never showed any interest in these trains, but they sure rekindled a fire in me, beginning the evolution of my forever (I hope) growing layout. My son-in-law has been bitten by the train bug however, and my 6 month old granddaughter watches the trains run – so all is not lost.

After the Toys R Us purchase, a pair of switches, and some Plasticville, all were mounted to a 4' x 8' foot piece of plywood. Our layout was "done", taking up just a small corner of my workshop. You might find it interesting to note that, not having the heart to ever tear this first layout apart, 18 years later it still remains as part of what is now the Warrenville Railroad. It, and the Closet Branchline, discussed below, are the only sections remaining with O27 curves, and my “family” train exclusively runs on it.

My “family” train is the one I want to grow the most. Then, it consisted of a custom painted/decaled Warrenville RR early Lionel AA Alco and caboose, and a custom painted/decaled hi-cube boxcar welcoming my granddaughter into this world.

Within a year, I knew that an expansion was needed but, alas, space was in short supply in my workshop. My wife had no idea what was to come when she innocently suggested that I "move the layout into the adjacent spare basement bedroom". Her suggestion was taken, the layout was moved, and a second 4' x 8' section was added. The resulting layout now consisted of two towns, Lisa-Marieville and Karentown, named after my two daughters. Today the operating accessories in this area include a barrel loader; horse platform; and operating control tower. There is also an elevated siding where one can watch several Aquarium cars and a Cop & Hobo car operate. The Lisa-Marie & Karen Sisters Circus have since been added to an inside corner between these 2 sections.

Shortly afterwards, the layout expansion need came back. Fifteen inch widths of plywood were added around the entire layout's perimeter for a new mainline. Mountains, buildings, light towers, street lights and other scenery were added.


Train shows were discovered! I came home from my first one with two shopping bags full of cars; accessories; tracks; and other assorted goodies. These items could not just be put on shelves; that expansion itch had to be scratched! More plywood cut into strips of varying widths, were added to the back and front of the growing empire, allowing room for two new sidings and a passing track. Still “itchy”, an elevated loop was soon added. A coal ramp and diesel coal loader are now located on these sidings.

Only fifteen inches of walk-around space on three sides of the layout remained, leaving no more room to expand… WRONG! A cold four day Thanksgiving weekend in 1990 gave me time to remove the doors from the trainroom's 3'x 12' closet. The Closet Branchline was created consisting of a lower loop circling Main Street and the Warrenville Zoo. The Closet Branchline also has an upper level that enters and exits the old closet via two tunnels cut into the back wall. The train on this loop travels through one tunnel, proceeds around paint cans in my workshop, and returns through another tunnel.

The following year, the trainroom's front wall and door were sacrificed to allow a 5' x 9' extension. A train pulling Lionel's space related cars circle this section, and it was dubbed Cape Warrenaveral . Scenery consists of a rocket launcher, radar tower and other military and space items. An oil field is also located here, including an operating oil derrick and oil pump. The elevated loop was also expanded around this section to accommodate both trains and trolleys. Lionel's Phantom train lurks on this upper loop.

Feeling bold, as my wife did not leave me when the old bedroom's wall was torn down, yet another expansion was planned. The Absolute yards (appropriately named as I promised my very understanding wife that it would be “absolutely” my last expansion) was completed shortly thereafter. This 4' x 12' addition both expanded the Cape Warrenaveral mainline and added three sidings. Operating accessories including a barrel loader, sawmill, milk car, another diesel coal loader, operating billboard, control tower, culvert loader, culvert unloader, animated newsstand, log loader, magnetic gantry crane, icing station, 497 coal loader a Helicopter platform and various light towers are located on these sidings.

I guess nothing is absolute, as the following year, my wife released me from my "no more expansions" promise in return for hard labor cleaning out her laundry room. 8' was added to the "AbsoluteYards" which also gave me space for the Warrenville Airport , which featured the unauthorized landing of the Starship Enterprise, and a heated conversation going on between Commander Riker, Jon Luc Picard and US Airforce personnel. It was “red alert” with spaceships landing and the US Airforce's jet fighters are taking off. Superman is also very concerned and is taking flight from his Fortress of Solitude in the background. Godzilla stands atop a mountain here, holding a Lionel gondola, ready to throw it back to the ground. The Warrenville Airport was just sacrificed and converted to an elevated park. Godzilla and Superman remain on the mountain, the Enterprise has become an amusement park attraction, and an operating carousel was added.


My first venture away from Lionel occurred when MTH came out with their Subway cars. Having been a daily NYC subway rider, I had to have it! Completed shortly thereafter was a subway, located under Cape Warrenaveral , featuring the Stillwell Avenue/Coney Island station.

The Warrenville Railroad is roughly “U” shaped. Lisa-Marieville and Karentown form a 10' x 11' square section on one end, Cape Warrenaveral is at the bottom of the “U”, and the Absolute Yards and Warrenville Park form the U's other side. The Closet Branch is opposite the main section. As noted above, the subway is located under Cape Warrenaveral , at the bottom of the U.

All track, about 500 feet of it, is O27 gauge. Most curves are O42, O51, O54 or O72 wide radius. Most switches are O42. Contrary to their reputation, I have been using Lionel O27 and O42 switches all these years with only one failure.


Track appearance is improved with approximately 2,800 balsa wood track ties, painted brown to match the existing metal ties. Kitty litter makes wonderful, inexpensive, track ballast. I love the compromise between the toy train look and realism.

Scenery consists of dressed up Plasticville and similar buildings, odds and ends, and hundreds of trees made from various weeds and other materials. Mountains and tunnels were made using several materials and methods, ranging from paper towels dipped in plaster to layers of Styrofoam and spray insulation. Streets and sidewalks are painted; fences; walls; etc.; are made from balsa wood; fish tank gravel; Styrofoam; and other goodies. I believe that people bring a layout to life, there are hundreds 100's of people on the Warrenville Railroad. I strongly recommend the Tippie Styrofoam cutting tool demonstrated in York – I've made some great free retaining walls and culverts from scrap Styrofoam with it.

Other than the Subway, all engines, accessories and rolling stock are Lionel, from 1946 through the Modern era. Standard gauge runs around my Christmas tree every year.

Power is provided by four ZW's, two TW's, a LW and two 1033 transformers. Can anyone say "Power strip"?

The spaces under the layout and all of the surrounding walls are covered with shelves housing my "collection". All trains are run, as I consider myself more of an operator/accumulator than a collector.

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