TM's Prewar O Gauge Studio Layout

If you've been reading our books and watching our videos, you're probably familiar with a term we often use to describe a common approach to layout building: wish fulfillment. Our studio Prewar O gauge layout is in many ways the wish fulfillment of Tom McComas. He was the principal designer of this layout, which measures 12' X 16'. Although that is not very big, it is being built for the upcoming video A Century of Lionel Trains. Layouts do not need to be that big for a video.

Instead of using indoor/outdoor carpeting or detailed simulated grass, Tom wanted a bright "accessory green" painted ground cover of homosote. This was to be a toy train layout, not a hi-rail layout. That track is Lionel tinplate track, of course. Our friend Carl Wilmsen gave us a box of black painted wooded ties to fill the gaps under the track. 

We fit as many independent loops on the layout as we could, four in all. The two outer loops use O-72 diameter curves. The next loop uses O-31 curves and has some intricate winding routes. The inner loop is a basic figure-8 with two 042 switches. The idea was to use every type of track section Lionel offered at the time. We fastened the track down on cork roadbed, which really sets the track off nicely. It gives it a grade and helps distinguish the track from the bright green base of the layout.

The accessories were fun to assemble together on the layout. Big stations and operating signals were installed all around. Up to this point accessories from all eras of Lionel production were used on various studio layouts. This time no piece dating after 1942 would be used, except for the two Bascule Bridges. They are Postwar because we don't have any Prewar 313s. The various street lights were installed next. This was the job of young Jack Lane, who found that helping to build a layout was a lot more fun than wrapping packages to be shipped.


"The key to photogenic layouts are the lights," said Tom. "The Prewar ones in particular, with the big bright white bulbs, are functional since they actually illuminate the layout."

Another wish fulfillment aspect for McComas is the arrangement of 156 Station Platforms in front of a 115 City Station.

"Anyone who grew up seeing this scene from the 1949 Lionel Showroom layout - whether it was in catalogs, advertisements, or in person - has never forgotten it. I love seeing trains like the Flying Yankee and the 226E pass through this recreation. It's wonderful."

The other accessories were carefully placed in order to create the best shots on video. The "Classic Four" accessories, the 97 Coal Elevator, 164 Log Loader, 165 Magnetic Crane and the 313 Bascule Bridge were all placed close together on one side of the layout because they all look great together. Crossing gates, some 152s and some 47s, were installed at various locations and operate by insulated track sections.

John Potter, a collector and operator of vintage Lionel prewar, leant us many pieces out of his collection for use on the layout. These include the 154 Highway Crossing Signal with Hiawatha orange base, original scrap metal for the 165 Magnetic Crane, 025 Illuminated Bumpers, 308 Road Signs and a 927 Flag Plot. We've also shot extensively at John's layout to represent Lionel's prewar era of production. 

Three Lionel Z transformers power the layout. We use only the C and D terminals. The first two transformers power the four independent loops and the third transformer powers the accessories.

This layout will be featured extensively in our upcoming production of "A Century of Lionel Trains" which will be released in June 2000. In our next issue of Toy Train Revue On-line, we will give you a tour of our Super O studio layout featuring Lionel products made between 1957 and 1966.