Designing & Building the C&S Northern Division

The C&S Northern Division fills a 13' x 27' space in two basement rooms.  The room on the left housed the original layout begun in 1991; the layout expanded into the room on the right in 2008.  Click here for a finely detailed PDF of the track plan.
The layout's lower level is devoted to staging yards in the original room.  In the expansion room, the lower deck is a fully sceniced scale mile of railroad.  Notice that a train traveling north to Longmont on this lower deck moves right to left when viewed — the opposite of northbound trains on the upper deck.  Again, you can click here for a finely detailed PDF of the track plan.
Track Profile & Schematic:  The expansion room's lower deck travels in the opposite direction of its upper deck.  The solid maroon line aligns correctly with the upper deck profile.  The dashed maroon line gives a reflected profile to match the schematic at the top of the slide.
The original C&S Northern Division packed wonderful scenes and operation into its 13' x 16' room.  Scenery and structures are shown as they existed just before the 2008 expansion.  This double peninsula design was based loosely on the Appalachian Southern RR track plan in 18 Tailor–Made Model Railroad Track Plans by John Armstrong.
Interesting layout features:  I wanted a seven stall roundhouse for Rice Yard, but it needed to overlap the top of the helix that takes the main line down to the South Denver staging yard.  My eventual solution is shown in this birds-eye view:  I ran the emerging helix track through the bottom of two roundhouse stalls.  The curved turnouts are handlaid.
Southbound Santa Fe train No. 53 tunnels through two stalls of the roundhouse.  The floor and tracks for these stalls are shorter than the other five.  Roundhouse workers have to watch their step.
I suspended the entire center peninsula in the original room from a floor joist above with a plywood gusset.  The backdrop flairs around the gusset just behind Hecla Mine in Louisville.  Near the ceiling on the left you can see the CCTV camera that allows the Station Operator to watch the action in Louisville during operating sessions.
This underview of the center peninsula looks from its base to its end, with Longmont staging just visible beyond the far end.  The padding on the bottom of the near fascia (top of photo) marks a convenient 16 inch-wide duckunder for nimble crew members wishing to avoid congestion in the aisle.  No comments on my rats-nest wiring technique please.
The CB&Q's two-track mezzanine staging yard is accessible through this slot in the fascia just below the Koppers tie plant at Fox.  A boxcar and caboose are at the end of Longmont staging Track 1 (bottom left).

Railroading along the Colorado Front Range

Colorado inspires model railroaders around the world with its incredible scenery and intrepid railroad history.  Living in this beautiful state, I had no doubt that I would model a Colorado railroad, but which one?  In the 1980s, Colorado-flavored narrow gauge railroads were grabbing hobby headlines, but I was most impressed with dedicated prototype modelers like Jack Burgess of Yosemite Valley RR fame.  I too wanted to indulge in industrial archeology to find and then scratchbuild the iconic structures and rolling stock that defined my chosen prototype.

Mulling this all-important which one and when choice, I came across two works that inspired me to model the Colorado & Southern Railway's Northern Division:  Goin' Railroading by Margaret Coel and Sam Speas, and The Last Steamers of the Colorado & Southern by WB Video Productions.  And the more I dug, the more I discovered a wealth of source material to support my choice — much of which is listed on the Links page of this website.  To top it off, the C&S Northern Division rolls through my hometown, which made on–site research a mere day trip at worst.

The Last Steamers of the Colorado & Southern features 16mm color film by local railfan Dave Gross in the late 1950s and dubbed with audio recordings of C&S locomotives made by railfan Howard Fogg.


The HO scale C&S Northern Division began as my attempt to capture the look and operation of this prototype between Denver and Longmont as it was in 1958 — first in a 13' by 16' room, and later expanded to 13' by 27'.  There were several scenes from photographs I wanted to reproduce, and I wanted to duplicate the train order operation as well.  I also decided to augment operations by including more passenger trains, re–opening the coal mines around Louisville (closed in the 1930s), and keeping Boulder's narrow gauge Denver, Boulder & Western Railroad in operation (dismantled in 1920).


For a satisfying layout to view and operate, I wanted the following track plan features (John Armstrong's druthers) :

  • Walk-around command control operation with no duckunders
  • Point-to-point schematic, with an option for continuous running for display
  • No peeking view blocks for more exciting train order operation
  • Plenty of staging representing real–world connections: Longmont and points north, connections south of Denver, CB&Q east to Chicago, UP connection into Boulder
  • Duplicate the prototype trackage and industries in each town
  • Match the prototype's scenic elements, including views of the Front Range

The C&S Northern Division served towns along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains between Denver, Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming.  The layout models Denver to Longmont, with South Denver and Longmont serving as staging yards.    Map by Jim Ferenc

I created the original design with a computer aided design program.  I drew 2 major designs in 26 evolutionary versions before deciding I was ready to build.  Minor changes have occurred as I've built the layout, but by and large it is version 26.  The design included curve easements as described in John Armstrong's Track Planning for Realistic Operation (visible as offsets between curved and straight track if you zoom in on the plan) and gross scenery planning.

In 2008, I expanded into the adjacent room, resulting in a 13' by 27' space.  This tripled the Main Line run and added two more passing sidings, with a scale mile between each — allowing realistic train order operation.

In 1958, Colorado & Southern engines nos. 634 and 605 simmer on the Ready Track beside the Rice Yard roundhouse in Denver, Colorado.    Denver Public Library Special Collections

More About the C&S Northern Division



Benchwork and Track Laying



Growing into the Next Room

Build a Scene


Building Clear Creek Bridge

Walk Through

Aisle Views

Walking the Aisle