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A DIY Layout Project - Three Prospectives
By Jim Herron, Tom Lytle and Bob Mintz
We did it ourselves, you can too!
I was invited by a friend of mine to participate in a job related
perk that resulted in a totally free trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
With such rich train related history, how could I pass up this
The junket was sponsored by The Scripps Network, which owns three
cable TV networks, two fairly well known, and a fledgling one.
The first one is The Food Network, the other is Home and Garden
TV, and their latest venture is DIY (Do It Yourself).
At one breakfast, we were shown a video that included a montage
of their cable television series, one of which included a segment
on toy trains. After their presentation, I spoke with their management
and offered my future assistance, not thinking that I would ever
hear from them.
Lo and behold, I received a phone call from their events manager
regarding my participation at The Western Show, which is a “to
the trade only” event in Los Angeles. Every cable TV production
tries to woo the cable networks to include their programming on
their stations. My assignment was to build a “do it yourself”
layout and participate in hourly demonstrations.
I would need top-notch key personnel, I contacted E*Train Feature
Editor Jim Herron who in turn contacted fellow TCA member Tom
The three of us brought four trunks full of trains and accessories.
Tom designed two independent loops, Jim got a hold of Choo Choo
Cam which I knew would impress the cable people, and I drove everyone
crazy. I promised to include Christmas scenes to snow starved
LA people, a mountain and an underground subway station.
I also wanted to use only readily available material to keep the
“Do It Yourself” theme first and foremost. We used
the inside cardboard roll of the carpets that were laid on the
floor, as column support for the plaster of paris mountain. We
shred up Styrofoam to use as snow. I used discarded cardboard
and wood to shape the mountain. By accident, we also had a peek-a-boo
cut out in the mountain so one could see the subway passengers
waiting on the station. It turned out we had a derailment and
I had to cut a piece of the mountain away. I decided to leave
it, as is, a sort of voyeuristic view of things on the outside
The Choo-Choo Cam located in
the nose of the engine would do the opposite, the show attendees
could see on a big screen the train entering the tunnel
and see the “passengers” waiting for the train.
It took the three of us 15 straight hours, which would
total 45 man-hours, or an entire weeks worth of work for
one person. At 4 A.M., we finished the construction and
testing and were ready for the 8AM debut.
A “LIVE” TELEVISION
IMAGE PRODUCED FROM THE CHOO-CHOO CAM
I must also say that Jim went above and beyond the call of duty,
for his mother had passed away that night after a long illness,
and he stayed and helped us until we could get things working
properly. Hats off to him.
To tell you the truth, I don’t even have a layout at home,
and have certainly never built a mountain. But I think if you
take a look at the photos, you will see that our project came
out pretty damn good for basically first timers. Our competition
was the History Channel, ESPN, Disney, MTV and even BBC Overseas.
We didn’t have the presence of female models, Beatle impersonators
or Hollywood personalities (such as Don Knotts or Maury Wills),
but I am proud of our work, and with a little self-confidence,
hobby shop materials and imagination, I am sure you can create
your own Lionelville too.
A SLEEPLESS ENGINEER
JIM HERRON ADMIRES OUR WORK
YOU WANT TO BUILD A WHAT?
I joined Bob Mintz at the National Cable Show in Los Angeles
because I thought it would be another great avenue for sharing
the history and memories of running and operating O gauge trains.
Little did I know what was ahead!
Tom Lytle traveled with me. When Tom and I arrived in Los Angeles
on Monday, we took a nice side trip to the largest train store
in the area, Allied Trains in Culver City, to re-supply our stock
of train accessories. When we arrived at the convention center
about noon, Mentor Mintz, was pacing the floor with worry. What
happened to you? Did you get lost? Kidnapped? When we told him
of our detour, he understood. After all, what is a trip without
a little train shopping?
THE LIONEL TROLLEY PASSING OUR
LIONEL CHRISTMAS TREE
We had a huge task in front of us and figured three people working
eight hours would get the job done. Enter Mr. Mintz’s slight
complication. “I promised them a mountain, a subway station
and a tunnel.” So, while Tom worked on the MTH Right Track
and wiring, infrareds and electrics, I started the scenery, accessories
and building “THE MOUNTAIN”. It took thirty man-hours
to complete the mountain, tunnel and station with lights, including
a few hours rummaging through the garbage for materials for the
THE FERRIS WHEEL FROM HELL THAT
ENDED UP AS A STATIC DISPLAY
We had to make snow, add over 250 trees, landscape the board,
put in a revolving Christmas tree, a Ferris wheel (that never
worked), an airplane with banner, an ice skating rink, a toboggan
run, a ski slope and a moving road of cars plowing through the
snow (which died in about an hour after ingested the “snow”)
DEPT. 56 ANIMATED
SLEIGH RIDE AND SKIERS ADDED TO THE FUN
People were then added throughout the 18' x 8' layout. We ran
a trolley line into the mountain. At 4:00 in the morning, we finally
finished that “@#$%^&*” mountain, covered with
snow, dust, pine trees and plaster. We then retreated to our hotel
on Hill Street in Chinatown, but that’s another story.
A BIT OF WHIMSY WITH BIKINI
CLAD BABES GRACING OUR LOS ANGELES “WINTER”
ENGINEERS TOM LYTLE AND BOB
MINTZ DEMONSTRATE THE LESS THAN A DAY OLD LAYOUT
Bright and early the next morning we ran trains for the Scripps
Network. Christmas trains, passenger trains, the Texas Special,
the trolley line and the "Choo-Choo Cam" all worked.
They looked great on the 54" screens that adorned the layout
area, showing the view of the layout from the vantage point of
the engineer in the Lionel O gauge diesel engine.
Total of 93 pieces costing $425.95 of Lionel/K-Line regular
Grand total of 93 pieces
Total cost: $425.95
|(19) Lionel® O 40 in straight @$4.25 $80.75
(30) Lionel® O single straight @$1.20 $36.00
(30) Lionel® O O-31 curve 45° @$1.05 $31.50
(4) Lionel® O O-31 modern left-hand turnout @$33.70 $134.80
(4) Lionel® O O-31 modern right-hand turnout @$33.70 $134.80
(1) Lionel® O 90° cross @$7.10 $7.10
(1) Lionel® O half straight @$1.00 $1.00
(2) Lionel® O custom cut straight no price
(2) Lionel® #260 track bumper no price
It was an impressive event, well received by the viewing public
and well worth the effort we all put into it. Yes, we would be
glad to do it again; especially with the knowledge we gained from
our first venture into a Christmas layout, complete with a MOUNTAIN.
All right, model railroad folks. You’ve always wanted to.
So, just do it!
A couple of months back, I could have said this, but after a week
spent doing it, I just don’t know anymore. What, you might
ask, is “IT”? Building your own model railroad
layout, of course! Actually, there is a lot more to the story—we
built a layout in marathon style in an environment where you felt
like being under a microscope. In other words, three guys, six
trunks, fifteen hours. This was not for the faint of heart.
The aforementioned three guys were Bob Mintz (TCA Internet Committee
Editor), Jim Herron (the intrepid former HTOS President), and
myself (masochist extraordinaire). We were hired through a long
series of coincidences to perform at the winter Western Show in
Los Angeles by the Scripps Corporation to help promote their new
digital cable network, D.I.Y. The Western Show is a trade convention
where networks sell their services to cable providers for the
following season. This is how cable TV networks come to your town.
Our “Mission Impossible” was to construct and then
run a model train layout in the Scripps’ booth, showing
that we really could do it. We also wanted to showcase “Choo-Choo
Cam”, a new and remarkable color camera system designed
for model railroading.
THE YELLOW AND RED “U-BOAT”
UNDER THE TOWER CONTAINS THE “CHOO-CHOO CAM”
After I went through a month of managing a collection of ill-conceived
explanations, I finally departed Houston on a plane bound for
LA. In the seat next to me were two footlockers stuffed to the
brim with track, trains, and paraphernalia (somehow I lucked out
of not having to purchase a separate seat for the trunks.) Upon
our arrival in LA, rather than speeding to the convention center
from the airport, Jim and I sped to Allied Model Trains on Sepulveda
Blvd. This was a much better choice to relive the side effects
of jet lag. It is a marvelous example of what a train store should
be. I recommend it highly.
In a couple of hours, we finally arrived at Staples Convention
Center to set up for the show. The DIY people had built us a gorgeous
twelve by six wooden table out of birch for the layout. The next
fifteen hours saw us descend into the depths of layout construction,
but we emerge successfully. It’s just that it was three
in the morning when we got there. The layout has two loops of
MTH RealTrax on white felt. Jim ended up managing construction
of Mintz’s Mountain. This was extraordinary for me to watch.
Jim did a masterful job. He and Bob literally built the mountain
out of trash lying on the convention floor. The mountain had a
station built inside of it for the benefit of the Choo-Choo Cam
viewers. It was topped with three Dept. 56 action pieces. Every
spare inch was covered with the atrocious “fake snow”.
This was ground Styrofoam—it really looked wonderful—but
it got into everything. Yuck!
ENGINEER BOB WISHES ALL TCA
MEMBERS AND THEIR FRIENDS, RELATIVES AND AQUAINTENCES, A
VERY HAPPY AND HEALTHY HOLIDAY SEASON!
After three hours of sleep, we were right back where we started—in
costume at the convention center. Then we got to spend the rest
of the day running the layout and entertaining the public. It
was a long day. And the convention routine continued until Friday.
That day the show went until 1 PM. Then I had two hours to pull
the items from the board and pack them. Then we had to make the
mad dash in Friday afternoon traffic to the airport for a five
o’clock flight. We did it. More fun than people should be
allowed to have, but we did it.
In the end, I am glad that I went. We managed to promote the
hobby into yet another realm. We might redeem our investment at
some future point. It was a bit rugged on the time side. The lesson
learned is that anyone can build a Christmas layout in a short
period of time. It’s more the way it looks, not the amount
of work you put in it. It is really too bad that they didn’t
film us; it would have made a great special on their network.