Mark DiVecchio's Lionel O-Gauge Train Layouts

1992 Layout Page

2006 Layout Page

2009 Layout Page

P&LE Postcards by Howard Fogg 

Plasticville Buildings

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Train Clubs

Bing Track

Remote Train Control Program

YouTube Channel

OOK Radio Support

Technical Videos

3D Prints for my Layout

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ADPCM - Playing clips from .mth sound files

P&LE McKees Rocks Locomotive Shop
3D Printer Project

White Tower Restaurant
3D Printer Project

RFID Train Detection

Engine and Car Operation
Hints and Tricks

RFID Tag Programmer using PN532

RTC Control Language - Scripting

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RTC Control Language - Signaling

2009 Layout (2009-??)

This Page last updated on .

Train layouts are always under construction!

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Nov 2011 - Grandchildren Hailey and Austin Rones operating my train layout

In our new house, I had more room for a real train room rather than just a bedroom. I took over the rear of a two car garage.

Here is the temporary wall going up in the garage to separate me from the cars.

Wall board being installed. Cars on this side, Trains on other side.

This is the benchwork from my 2006 layout from our old house. I basically chopped it in two and had the movers move it.

My work bench

Got shelves up on the wall.

Still piles of boxes - now they are under the layout.

I reassembled the 2006 layout table (with a different track arrangement) so that I would be able to play trains while thinking about the new layout.

More shelves on the wall for display of my Postwar Lionel collection.

I installed track lighting on dimmers to go with the flourescent lighting already installed.

Its looking like a train room.

Trains from my childhood. On the 2nd shelf from the bottom - on the right - is my first train.
Received for Christmas 1950 (according to my Dad) a 2046 Hudson steam engine, tender, boxcar, hopper and caboose. Not a cataloged set - probably just made up by Sol's Store in Aliquippa, PA, my hometown.

Trains from my adulthood - actually these are Postwar Lionel trains made in the 1950's. My parents could never afford to buy these for me so I had to wait until I "grew up" and I bought them for myself.

At this point, I disassembed the temporary layout and started to build benchwork for my new 2009 layout.

Designing the 2009 Layout

The first step was to do some planning. I bought a copy of RR-Track layout design software (I installed it on my computer on 10 Apr 2011). Click on each image to see a larger version.

I started off with this layout featured in the May 2001 issue of Classic Toy Trains. Called "Thrice Around the Room" designed by Ray Stuber, I liked it because of its long mainline run - 3 times around the room. It also had a lot of sidings which would make for a good switching layout. There are even two reversing loops in there. All of the switches are 072 and curves are 042, 054 and 072

So I started to see how it would fit into my train room. The room already had some bench work in place from when this garage room must have been a workshop. I wanted to incorporate that into the layout as a large train yard with run-around tracks.

I'll call this version 1 - the file on my hard drive is dated 25 Apr 2011.

I could see the first problem - access.
Much of the layout would be more than three feet from the aisle - not good for an old guy....

I realized the second problem - the mainline uses 042, 054 and 072 curves.
The 042 radius will prevent me from running a couple of my favorite engines.

So I attempted to open up the layout, making most of it closer to the aisle. I also incorporated the benchwork from my 2006 layout (on the right).

Some loops were 072 all the way around, some were 054 using 072 for the first curve as an easement.

Here you can see, with RR-Track you can move track, add and delete sections, and try a lot of possibilities. The track hanging in the air is just being saved as I tried different routes. I could not keep the 3 times around room idea, I probably would have had to go a three level layout instead of two level.

Over the course of three months, this layout developed pretty well. It turned out to be a "Twice Around the Room" layout. I was able to use the workbench table as a yard. I put in a "Wye" where I could turn trains. I could reach most of the layout and only had the one duckunder (the green box) which carried over from the 2006 layout. Actually the bridges can be lifted out when doing significant work so that the duckunder isn't one anymore.

This is version 13a. The file is dated 19 Jul 2011.

This version has Lionel 072 switch tracks. I bought a dozen on eBay. Used Lionel 022 and 042 switches in the yards.

I actually built this benchwork and put down the tracks (photos below).

About this time, my layout philosophy started to change. Up until now, my layouts were all set solidly in the postwar era. I had large control panels with a bank of ZW transformers. As I thought more about a layout that was built for operators and learned more about hi-rail layouts, my layout started to change into a more modern layout using modern "electronic" engines. I decided that the layout was going to attempt to model the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad which ran through my hometown of Aliquippa, PA. Motive power was going to be exclusively MTH. Read more below about this.

All along, I was running my MTH engines to see how they handled the track layout. It became apparent that the 072 switches were not going to give me a good running track system. They were good switches for a postwar layout but not able to handle the larger engines and rolling stock of modern MTH. About this time, I learned about a new line of switches offered by Ross Custom Switches called "RossPlate". They are switches that use tinplate rail. but are more like Ross' hi-rail switches. I replaced all of the Lionel 072 switches with #4 RossPlate switches and one 072 RossPlate switch. The curved part of the #4 switch is 072 and curved part of the transition track is 096.

The one entrance/exit from the main yard still seemed an operational bottleneck.

This is the layout as it existed in December 2012 with the RossPlate switches and a few tweaks. All of the Lionel 072 switches were sold on eBay and I'm sure will live out a full life on a postwar layout.

This is layout version 22. The file is dated 8 Aug 2012. Almost 14 months from when I started with the RR-Track layout program.

Probably pretty close to final-final. I made three changes to the yard : 1) I added a second entrance/exit, 2) I added a balloon track at the far end of the yard and 3) I replaced several 022 switches with #4 RossPlate switches so that my larger engines could run around their consists. The "Wye" still exists but now its a little harder to see.

According to the RR-Track program, there are 295 sections of track, 11 RossPlate switches, and 14 other switches (either 022 or 042).
Total track length is 252 feet and the mainline is 120 feet long (just over 1 scale mile).

The entire mainline, the "Wye", a double-ended siding, the two entrances to the yard and two yard tracks (with run-around) are all 072 or 054 track with RossPlate switches. One yard track, the balloon track, a double-ended siding and three spurs off the mainline are 031 (using Lionel 022 and 042 switches). This means that I can run my larger engines that require 054 track on the mainline but have to use smaller 031 compatible engines for the switching work. I could not keep the layout to all 072 track, the room is just not big enough - so no running that 4-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-4 that Lionel or MTH is sure to come out with one of these days.

There is no control panel. The layout is designed as a walk-around using hand-held controllers. Controls for each switch track are mounted right next to the switch on the layout. Some are electronic, some are 022, and I'm slowly converting all those 022 to 042 manual switches. Just like in the real world, I'm going to require a brakeman to manually throw the switches.

I've chosen MTH's Digital Command System. I'll tell you why below.

The RR-Track layout software was a great help in creating this layout. Don't even think of starting a large layout without software like this.

Why I choose MTH and the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad.

First, let me tell you about two railroads:

Aliquippa and Southern Railroad (A&SRR)

The A&S was a short-line railroad owned by the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation in my hometown of Aliquippa, PA. My grandfather and many cousins worked for the A&S back in the day. Its gone now along with all the steel mills. Aliquippa is just northwest of Pittsburgh on the west side of the Ohio River.

According to the Beaver County Historical Society web site, the A&S had 91 miles of track in and around the steel mill which lined 5-6 miles along the western bank of the Ohio River.

Builder's Photo (ALCO)

Pittsburgh and Lake Eire Railroad(P&LE)

The P&LE was a wholly owned subsidiary of the New York Central (NYC). It ran from Youngstown to towns south of Pittsburgh to service the steel mills of Western Pennslyvania. It ran right through my hometown, Aliquippa, PA, next to the steel mills. It delivered coal and iron ore to the mills and carried the resulting steel products to market.

Link to the P&LE Historical Society.  The P&LE Message Group on Yahoo!.

Link to the New York Central System Historical Society and its information about the P&LE.

Link to my collection of  P&LE Postcards by Howard Fogg .

26 Feb 1966  P&LE 2806(U28B) in Youngstown, OH  photo by Chuck Zeiler

A dozen or so model train shops in the Pittsburgh area formed the Pittsburgh Model Railroad Retailers Cooperative. This group, working with MTH, produced dozens of model engines and cars lettered for fallen flags in the Pittsburgh area.

When I learned this, my way was clear, my model train layout was going to feature engines and cars that very well may have, at one time or another, passed through Aliquippa.

So what you will see on my layout will be pieces lettered for the A&S and the P&LE. You might see B&O passenger trains which had trackage rights between Pittsburgh and New Castle. You might even see a Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) piece once in a while (The PRR ran along the eastern bank of the Ohio river which included the famous Conway Yards across the river from Aliquippa).

From MTH:

A&S 0-8-0


P&LE (NYC) 2-8-4 Berkshire

This engine started life as an MTH Union Pacific Doodlebug. I had it repainted and renumbered to P&LE Doodlebug #M-40. The work was done by Nostalgia Train Works out of Escondido, CA. The repaint (done in early 2015)  is based on a photo of an ex-P&LE doodlebug. Recorded 23 Feb 2015.

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In May of 2011, I started building the new benchwork

The first new benchwork was a connector piece between the mainline and the yard.

New bench work being built upside down.

The benchwork is straight from the book "How to build Model Railroad Benchwork" by Linn H. Westcott.

Here are the main new pieces of benchwork.

The completed benchwork for the yard entrance.

Starting to lay down the track.

Here is the end of the yard in a very early configuration. It's changed a lot since this photo was taken.
All the while I was building the bench work, I was running trains.
When problems showed up, I redesigned the track to take care of it.

Since this is supposed to be a walk around layout, I used many Lionel 042 manual switches.

This space is reserved for the Space & Military items that Lionel made around 1960.

This photo shows something new for me. I used a foam riser system from Scenic Express to move between the two levels of the layout.

The risers are available in 2% 3% and 4% grades. I used the 3% grade (Lionel's 110 trestle set is a 5% grade). For my second level at 6 inches high, this means an 18 foot run. These risers are actually made for HO but work just fine for O-gauge tubular track. This photo was taken before I glued down the risers.

Here, I'm double-heading the A&S SW1200 and the A&S 0-8-0.

The Lionel 072 switches are still in place in this photo.

The Farm. Here is one spur where I always had a Lionel 042 switch.

An A&S SW1200 sitting on a spur in front of the main train station.

The balloon track at the end of the yard (O31 gauge track).

The RossPlate switches are installed.
Over the years, I've bought a lot of glued Plasticville to use on the layout.

The Farm


The first public display of the new layout to the grandkids. This was November of 2011.

Me with granddaughter Hailey Rones.

Here is a P&LE U28B pulling a work train. All P&LE pieces by MTH.

Me with grandson, Austin Rones.
On the spur, an Aliquippa & Southern 0-8-0 switcher.

This is the track layout as of December 2012.

Here is a view from the other side of the room.
The Plasticville are either glued vintage pieces or newly manufacutured pieces.


In February of 2013, I had my bicycle riding group over for a lunch after a bicycle ride. I didn't get any photos during the open house, but here are a couple of updated photos of the layout.

There goes my bicycle riding group now - TTBikers.

The main train station.
Across the track is the local factory. P&LE box car being unloaded.

The town.
Bank, fire station, police station, school, postoffice, supermarket, apartment building, church, gas station and diner.

The Farm and the Farmer's Market.
In Western Pennsylvania today, we don't have oil wells anymore but now its fracking natural gas wells.
On the siding is an A&S train transporting J&L slag to the dump.

The local gas station, next door to the supermarket.
Over the previous year, the population of my layout has exploded.


It underwent a few more tweeks. The sidings in the lower middle and inside of the balloon track were expanded. A staging yard was added on the left.

(As my thoughts about the layout developed. I realized the need for staging tracks. This is for when I actually try operation.)

RR-Track Version 28, 12 Feb 2014
The workbench is now partially underneath the layout.

Here are some photos as the staging tracks were built. You will notice that I added some sky blue paint and cloulds (and a few mountains). Painted directly on the walls.

So here is the final view of the new staging yard.
A trick I learned from Model Railroader, I added a road overpass at the yard entrance to make a clean break.

I changed the arrangement of the balloon track and added sidings.
All of the track going into the new staging yard is 054 or 072 so that all of my engines can be staged.
The actual balloon track still uses 022 switches and one O31 curved track so only shorter engines can actually turn on the balloon.

Here is an overview of the layout as of Feb 2014.
You get a good view of the sky and clouds in this shot.


These photos were taken by my wife Sally in December of 2017  to make me a calendar as a Christmas gift.

Overview of the layout

Another view

Yet another view



Residential area

Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp Tank Cars

P&LE McKees Rocks Locomotive Shop

Industrial Spur - future home of the J&L Steel Corporation

View from above


Doodlebug taking a rest

Aliquippa passenger station

Plastic manufacturing ?



Raccoon State Park

Fun at the park

My favorite outing - estate sales


Farmer's Market

Fracking in Western Pennsylvania

Caught in the act

The final station stop on the railway of life.

Downtown West Aliquippa

My first major 3D printing project - a White Tower Restaurant

School yard

Another view from above

A few homes and a playground

My Homies trailer park

School crossing - Gru is keeping eye on the kids crossing the street

Service station

Yet more workers. The area around Western Pennsylvania is sometimes called the Pothole Capital of the World

A old covered bridge

An industrial area

A pond in a backyard

The local cat (and dog) house

Watering the cattle

Twins milking cows

P&LE GP38-2 #2057

My staging tracks

A&S SW1200 #1208. My grandfather worked for the A&S.

Heinz factory, a Pittsburgh landmark.

P&LE GP7 #1501. This engine pulled the last scheduled passenger train on the P&LE between College and Pittsburgh.

P&LE Berkshire #9401

A freight station with a few passengers

Switching tower workers

P&LE caboose #517

A&S moving coal to the blast furnaces

Another view from above


Rockets in Western Pennsylvania  ????

There were Nike anti-aircraft missile sites around Pittsburgh.

Hospital and Church. That's me on the bicycle.

Urban park with a statue of President Eisenhower

The local TV station

Tribute Displays

I've built a few special displays in my trainroom.  Here are photos or links.

1969 Miss Olde Frothingslosh

1959 Pittsburgh Railway Company Special to the Allegheny County Fair staring Annie Oakley and Sky King

O Scale - S Scale - HO Scale - N Scale - Z Scale

I managed to find examples of box cars decorated for the P&LE or the NYC painted in jade green.
You see the relative sizes of the different gauges.
I'm looking for a Large Scale/#1/G Scale box car to update my display.

To hightlight the differences between postwar technology and current technology, I've displayed a postwar steam turbine made by Lionel along side a 21st century electronically controled steam turbine made by MTH

1946 Lionel #671LTS Steam Turbine
Open frame motor with double worm drive
E-Unit reverser
Voltage controlled speed
Smoke originally produced by an ammonium nitrate based (explosive) formula - synchronized with main drivers
(later changed to a secret waxy compound called meta-terphenyl)
Air whistle in tender - air blown by open frame electric motor - remotely controled
Electromagnetically operated coupler
Original price about $35 ($524.63 in 2022 dollars)

2002 MTH #6200 Steam Turbine
Precision flywheel equipped can motor with single worm drive
Electronic reversing
Electronic locomotive speed control
Smoke produce by mineral oil - synchronized with main drivers
Constant voltage headlight
Electronic whistle and bell
Electomagnetically operated coupler
Original Price $199.95 ($324.87 in 2022 dollars)


As I mentioned earlier, my plan is to model (simplified) operation on my layout of a portion of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad between Pittsburgh and Youngstown. First job was gathering information about the P&LE's operation. Reading about operation, I decided on operation using timetable & train orders.  I found these two documents:

Sections on "Movement by Train Orders" and "Forms of Train Orders".
Also has sections on signals - "Manual Block System Rules" and "Automatic Block System Rules".

Employee Time Table

A cornicopia of information about day to day operation. Includes a timetable showing all of the trains running along the line. Other sections "Engine and Car Restrictions", "Speed Restrictions", "Railroad Crossings at Grade" (suprisingly, there were 11!),  and what to do if a fatality occurs on the train or on the right-of-way.

On the back of the Time Table was a system map.

These documents would give me a of operating information from the late 1930's and 1940's which is the operational era I was aiming for. Next, I had to map this track layout onto my layout as well as I could. The P&LE was double tracked for a lot of its route and in many places there were four tracks. I could never model that in 1:48 scale. So, lets use our immagination.

I looked at the P&LE route map and asked - Could my layout be fitted to this map. After a lot of thought, I found that the answer was yes. I could model the portion of the P&LE between Youngstown and McKees Rocks - Called the P&LE Division. These locations would fit along the route - Youngstown (as staging tracks), East Youngstown, Campbell, Struthers, New Castle, College, Brady's Run, West Aliquippa, Aliquippa, Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation - Aliquippa Works, and McKees Rocks (as staging tracks).

Here is the route map I came up with (click on the route map for a much larger version):

Certain switch tracks and crossovers will be covered with some sort of overlay so that those track are not used. The route then ends up as a point-to-point layout. But when I'm showing the layout to visitors, continuous running will still be possible.


at Youngstown, interchange with the Erie RR to Cleveland
at Youngstown, interchange with the NYC RR to Astabula
at New Castle Junction, interachange with Erie RR to Sharon and Ferrona
at McKees Rocks, interchange with the B&O RR

From McKees Rocks, the P&LE runs to Brownsville and Connellsville (called the Youghiogheny Division). This portion of the route has an interchange with the Western Maryland RR at Connellsville and with the Monongahela RR at Brownsville.

The Layout as a Single Track

Here is a view of the layout. It is a drawing of the layout stretched out to be the single track road between McKees Rocks and Youngstown. Of course the P&LE was 4 track during it's heyday but you can only model so much in O-scale. Click on the thumb image below to download the full size drawing. In running the railroad "for real", this view represents the real world a little better. The main line is shown in red. There are three loops (including the Lionel-Ives Block) used to run the railroad in "open-house" mode.

Useful books:

Useful Micro-Mark Products:

Waybills and other forms to implement a freight car routing system.

Additional Bill Boxes - you will need a slot for each siding or spur on your layout

Form 31 Train Order

Form 19 Train Order

What's Next

Scenery! I'm not good at scenery. I have all the books and plenty of cardboard strips and plaster cloth. I have about a dozen rock molds that I bought at the OERM swap meet in 2011.

My first attempt at doing "real" scenry.
This is a small lake with fishermen and bathing beauties.
Base is 2" pink foam insulation. The brown wall is covered with Sculptamold. There is no water in the lake, boats and shark supported by posts.
The people are a mixture of MTH and Presser (true 1:48 scale).

This site prepared and maintained by Mark DiVecchio

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This site will be under construction for a while.