Can you build a micro layout with one turnout?

An HO scale micro train layout with just one turnout.

The layout at a glance

Name: One
Scale: HO (1:87)
Size: 6' x 8"
Prototype: Iowa Interstate RR
Era: Modern
Style: Micro / switching
Benchwork: Foam board
Roadbed: None
Track: Micro Engineering code 70
Turnout minimum: no. 5
Min. curve radius: 19"
Max. grade: None
Scenery: Static grass
Backdrop: 1/8" Masonite
Control: Digitrax Zephyr


The August 2020 issue of Model Railroader magazine had an article by Lance Mindheim presenting a 4 square foot layout with one turnout on an 8" (200mm) wide by 6' (1830mm) long plank which he dubbed the Practise Plank. I was intrigued.

I altered the design by changing the turnout from a left hand to a right hand turnout and orienting the layout accordingly. Instead of a lot of scenery and a grade crossing I opted to include non rail served warehouses.

Using a #5 turnout instead of a #6, lengthened the sidings at the expense of decreasing the curve radius to 19", this allowed the siding not serving the warehouse to be used as a transload area.

Track plan
One overall view
This overall shot shows the layout on top of a bookcase.


I used my usual construction methods of insulation foam board on this layout to keep things simple.

Simple details like some broken pallettes and tires really help to bring a layout to life.


Instead of a plank of wood as Lance Mindheim suggested I opted instead to use some insulation foam board framed with some dimensional lumber to give it rigidity. As the layout sits on top of a bookcase, legs were not required keeping the construction simple.

This truck helps establish the era of the layout.

Track and Wiring

The track is all Micro Engineering code 70 painted with Rustoleum Camouflage Dark Earth. This color is great for representing rail and ties. Once ballasted this combination looks really good to my eye.

I soldered feeder wires to the underside of the rail to hide it, all pieces of track were powered save for the turnout which relies on rail joiners for power. The feeders were connected to a bus wire on the underside of the layout.

Track was ballasted using Arizona Rock and Minerals Pennsylvania gray HO and N scale ballast, glued down with Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement.

Paducah rebuilt GP10 sitting in the warm summer sun. I bet the crew wish they loco had an air conditioner!


The scenery on the layout consists largely of static grass. I mixed some Peco summer and Woodland Scenics light green 4mm and 6/7mm and applied this with the Woodland Scenics Static King applicator.

Ground cover for the transload area was simply N scale ballast from Arizona Rock and mineral. This gives the look of gravel in HO scale.

To create the loading dock area I used some Evergreen sheet styrene painted gray with Tamiya paints.

Evergreen sheet styrene painted gray makes the loading dock area.


The main rail served warehouse is a Walthers background building kit. I didnt care for the molded blue color so painted it a dark green and painted the bricks a dark brown. The doors were painted silver and the door bellows a dark gray. The rest of the kit was assembled as per manufacturer's instructions.

The other two warehouses are kitbashed from Pikestuff kits and painted accordingly.

Today's crew spots a hopper at the transload track.


This layout really provides a number of excellent detailing opportunites. The loading dock area is a prime candidate for some detail work using figures and details from Woodland Scenics.

The alley between two warehouses is another perfect place for some details. I used a Woodland Scenics fence to hide where the backdrop meets the layout edge and then used various details like oil drums, pallettes, trash containers and figures from Walthers and Woodland Scenics to add detail.

Backdrop and Fascia

The backdrop and fascia are 1/8" (3mm) MDF sheet. I painted the backdrop a pale sky blue and the fascia a dark green. These were attached to the layout with small screws.

The sky background here has been added in Photoshop. The detail on this locomotive is exceptional.

Rolling Stock

The locomotive is an Intermountain GP10 with DCC and sound and runs exceptionally well, the detail is excellent to boot! I added Kadee scale metal knuckle couplers.

I have about a dozen or so freight cars, the majority of which are modern era boxcars. A tank car, gondola and PD hopper are excellent candidates for the transload track.

The majority of freight cars are by Atlas and Athearn and I replaced the couplers with Kadee scale metal knuckle couplers. I dont weather my rolling stock, it's a personal preference.

This fella seems flustered for some reason?


Today's crew shoves on a boxcar pushing it into spot.

Typical operation involves staging the locomotive with one to two inbound cars on the right side of the layout and one to two outbound cars on the industry tracks. I then proceed to make the necessary picks ups and set outs, running at a relaxed and prototypical switching speed.

Final Thoughts

Despite this layout's small size and simple track plan it actually boasts really engaging realistic operation, proving that you can have an engaging layout with just one turnout. And HO scale has exquisite detail that smaller scales like N scale simply cannot compete with!