Layout Progress Update

It’s been a while since I did an update on the my progress building the layout.

Much of my modeling time over the last 18 months has been spent experimenting with different Arduino technologies and ways of doing things. I’ve renovated several key areas of the layout to improve performance and reliability, including block detection and communications.

As a result, I have developed some standardized, low cost ways of implementing Arduino technologies for total layout control. In the coming months I’ll be writing a lot about how to create an Arduino layout “system” that works reliably at any scale, from bookshelf to monster club layouts. Topics will include advanced block detection and management, the Model Railroader’s wireless mesh network, lighting both the layout and individual scenes, and adding sound.

But First…

I’ll get to all that in due course. I’m also pleased to be putting a new Nikon D7500 camera through it’s paces as both a still and video camera.  18 months ago, a cheap tripod dumped my DV Camcorder to the ground, ending my video making aspirations for a time. Although I’m still learning to use this beast of a camera, I think you’ll agree my results show promise!


I’ve also been scenicking and detailing lower level scenes. Several buildings, trees, roads with street lights and basic ground treatments have created a distinct look and feel.

The layout has evolved from this:

All Three lower level sections after track was laid.

To this:

All 3 Lower Level Sections with new ambient lighting panels.

Every building has individually controllable interior and exterior lights.  All my lighting is LED; some elements use micro SMD LED’s less than 2mm in length and 1mm in width; I’ve learned to hand solder #38 magnet wire to their incredibly tiny contact pads. Interiors usually use 2mm Cree type SMD LEDS which have relatively large, easy solder pads and produce a pleasing warm white light.

Here are just a few of the details that have been added:


Station interior detail
Farm Supply Dealer
Jax Tavern
Speed Trap!
Red Bluffs Apartments and Barber Shop
Barber Shop Interior
Module 3
I tried to give the exit from the helix a little style.
At the top of the helix the track exits through a rock walled tunnel.
It took 8 hydrocal castings using the Woodland Scenics tunnel liner mold
to create the tunnel. Not shown, interior lighting (you’ll see that in the video).
Reserved space for the Happy Daze mobile home park (left),
and the Anything Goes Lake Club (rumor has it that clothing is optional)

Ready for the video?

After a few “baby pictures”, you’ll be treated to both daytime and nighttime scenes on the layout. [For those interested in such things, the camera automatically pushes its ISO over 50,000 to get great low light shots]. So please sit back and enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Layout Progress Update”

  1. The lighting looks really good so I thought to comment on an added step to make it even better. On my N scale cityscape I have the lights gradually come on and slowly get brighter at dusk. First come the streetlights and then the first floor businesses and finally the upstairs
    apartments as the evening wears on, The chip that does it all is SparkFun’s LP55231 a nine channel I2C controller driving the LEDs with PWM. The LEDs are bright enough at 4 ma and each channel (there are 9) can drive 25 ma.

    • Thanks CJ.

      That’s a great solution; you could also use a PCA9685, connecting LEDS just to the signal and ground (no connection to the power pin). When you want to do dynamic brightness adjustments, then PWM is the way to go.

      In my newer systems I have fast clock driven, randomized, staggered on and off to simulate how things come on in the evening and off in the morning. I don’t adjust brightness on the layout LEDs; instead I like to have the environment lighting rise and fall from day to night. The two things together produce the eye impression you are talking about. I’m not using PWM for lighting generally, only for special effects. That’s because I’m using so many LEDs now that it would be impractical to throw dynamic brightness into the mix on all of them.

      Best, Rob

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