TM Super O Gauge Studio Layout

by Joseph Stachler

The main goal of the Super O layout was to represent Lionel products made between 1957 and 1966 for the Century video. I had built a Super O layout for Toy Train Accessories, Part 2. The inspiration for that layout came from browsing through TM's book on Lionel Advertising and seeing the photos and ads for display layouts Lionel used to build for hobby stores. I used an available 4' X 8' table and created a basic loop with a siding. After the video was completed I dismantled the layout, thinking we'd never need it again.

When the opportunity came to produce the Century video, I regretted the loss of the Super O layout. I set out to basically rebuild it on the same table. The most important goals for the layout were for it to be accurate era-wise with the products placed on it and have those products arranged for better-looking video images. By that I mean no matter where we pointed the camera, there would always be many interesting pieces to look at. Shots were very easy to find as a result. Tom McComas found a small 4' X 4' table and secured it to the end of the 4' X 8' table, making it a 4' X 12' table. I wanted to have two trains run on this layout but wasn't comfortable with having the two lines running only on the outer edges of the layout. I considered an upper level but it would've been a pretty tight fit. 

Finally, I decided to have an upper level partially on elevated trestles and partially on an upper ground level. We had the additional ground level built by Paul Pedzinski. It was calculated to be high enough for a bottom level train to pass under, and for exactly half of an oval of track to be secured to. This design increased the layout dimensions to 6' X 12'. The 110 Trestles had to be mounted on wood blocks cut and painted to look like cement foundations.

As for the scenery, I knew we would use applied flocking for ground-cover but wasn't sure about what to do for the gap between the two levels. Tom suggested we cut sections of insulating foam board and cover them with drywall compound. Tom can be seen at right using a stripping bit to create realistic rocky formations in the foam board. After being covered in drywall compound, they were then painted by his wife Charyl using mostly gray tones. There are six of these sections placed together on the layout and they really look great. Three of them had portions cut out for track to go through. Each of these holes has a 920-2 Tunnel Portal placed in them.

The rest of the scenery was easy. I piled on model trees, especially around buildings and along the edges of the layout. For roads I used sandpaper sheets cut to six inches wide. These were glued to the layout surface. On the edges of the roads I glued small clumps of model tree foliage. The vehicles on the roads are Lionel auto-loader cars.

The accessories were all chosen based on era of production. Anything made between 1957 and 1966 was put on the layout. Only one item used was a modern era reproduction: the 452 Gantry Signal. For a brief time we had a repro Arch-under Bridge but replaced it with an original midway through shooting. If you look carefully in the video sometimes there's the original and sometimes there's the repro.

The crossing signals are all activated by insulated track sections. The block signals are all connected to manual single-pole/double-throw switches. Jack Lane is shown at right wiring things up. The layout is powered by a ZW transformer for all the track power and two KW transformers power the accessories.

The track was all mint or like-new Super O track. It was mounted on cork roadbed made by Midwest Products and secured with track screws made by Atlas. Three automatic switches and one manual were placed at different places to add sidings and yard areas. On the top level there is an independent line with bumpers at each end for the motorized units such as the 52 Firefighting Car and the 69 Maintenance Car to utilize. The yard area features the 350 Engine Transfer Table, the 352 Icing Station and the Culvert Loader and Un-loader.

On the other side of the yard is our Military & Space section. Here we placed the appropriate accessories connected to this unusual aspect of Lionel production. The most spectacular of these is the 175 Rocket Launcher. It's also nice to see items like the 443 Missile Firing Platform and 197 Radar Tower placed in the same vicinity along with the 89 American Flag Kit.

The result is an authentic late-1950s Lionel toy train layout. The only other Super O layouts I have ever seen have been the Dealer Displays owned by Richard Kughn. Since Super O has a reputation for damaging contact rollers, we didn't run things for very long on it.

It was a lot of fun to run catalog sets from the era of Super O. Among the many trains we borrowed from various collectors were two 746 N&W Js, one long stripe version and one short. The Military & Space products were also nice too see in their environment, so-to-speak. I think I must have shot about thirty takes of the Helicopter car before we got one that had at least some vertical lift.

When you see these trains running on Super O track past items like the 192 Control Tower or 1047 Switchman you feel like you've been transported back in time to when they were brand new.

In the next issue we'll report about the Lionel OO and HO layouts we built in the studio.