Nano Industrial

A switching layout in one square foot?

Nano Industrial is an N scale switching layout in one square foot.

The layout at a glance

Name: Nano Industrial
Scale: N (1:160)
Size: 24" x 6"
Prototype: Baltimore and Ohio RR
Era: Early 1960s
Style: Micro / switching
Benchwork: Foam board
Roadbed: None
Track: Peco code 80
Turnout minimum: no. 4
Min. curve radius: 9 3/4"
Max. grade: None
Scenery: Static grass
Backdrop: 1/8" Masonite
Control: Digitrax Zephyr


I wondered if you could build a layout in 1 square foot, given this constraint, N scale seemed like the obvious choice. The modeled portion of the layout occupies 1 square foot and comprises a section that is 24" x 6" deep. A staging cassette that is 24" x 2" is used that also acts as a switch lead.

I wanted a long low relief structure against the backdrop to function as the primary industry for the layout, one with multiple car spots that could handle a variety of car types.

I decided on a flour mill as it can ship flour in a small airslide hopper or bags of flour in boxcars. Other smaller industries are a coal dealer - ideal for small 2 bay hoppers and a team track which can handle a variety of different car types.

Nano Industrial Track Plan
Nano Industrial overall view
This overall shot shows the layout and staging cassette set up on a small table ready for operation.


Construction of such a small layout is rather easy and went rapidly.

A B&O layout would be incomplete without the famous wagontop boxcars


Given that the layout was designed to sit on top of a table or book case, it has no legs. This made construction of the base very straighforward. I used some 1.5" thick insulation foam board for the base and placed this on top of a small frame made with dimensional lumber to add some rigidity.

I used the same materials to create the staging cassette so that it is at the same height as the layout. I painted the staging cassette black and the ends of the layout were also painted black.

Track and Wiring

The track is all Peco code 80 because that's what my local hobby shop had at the time. The turnouts are small radius and the rest is a combination of set track for the curves and flex track for the straight sections. The minimum radius of the curves on the sidings is 9 3/4".

I soldered feeder wires to the underside of the rails prior to laying the track. I simply poked small holes where I wanted the feeders through the foam base with an awl and proceeded to feed the wires through the hole when laying the track. I joined the feeders to a small bus wire under the layout.

Finally, I painted the track and ties with an airbrush using Vallejo acrylic Dark Earth color.

The flour mill

I kitbashed a Walthers Red Wing Flour Mill kit by combining 3 of the four wall sections into 1 long wall and bracing this with some Evergreen strip styrene. The fourth wall was cut into three equal sections and the middle section tossed, the two end sections became the end walls of the mill. I moved the head house down to the side and used the smoke stack to hide where the structure meets the backdrop. All the walls were painted a matt concrete colour prior to assembly.

The head house was moved to the ground next to the main building
The smoke stack helps to hide where the structure meets the backdrop

The truck loading dock was narrowed so that both docks are the same depth allowing a straight section of track to service both. The roof initially intended for the truck dock was painted black and raised to allow a box car to pass underneath it.

The windows and doors were painted dark gray, the fire escape black and the dust collectors and overhanging roof silver, the rest of construction was as per the instructions provided by the kit manufacturer. I placed the decal on a small piece of styrene and then glued this to the front of the structure, this ensures that if you mess up the decal you dont ruin your structure!

Silos from another Walthers kit were kitbashed by cutting in half lengthwise, painted the same matt concrete as the rest of the structure and added to the other end of the mill.

Silos from another kit were added to this end of the mill allowing a covered grain hopper to be spotted. The roof had to be raised from its intended position to allow rolling stock to pass underneath. The decal was added to a small piece of sheet styrene.


I ballasted the track with Noch and Heki products, I decided on 3 colors for variety and to signify different spots: gray for general trackage, cinders for the coal dealer and some buff for the team track area.

I used some static grass for the patch of grass applied with a Woodland Scenics Static King applicator - this device works really well. I used a uniform color and length which gives it a manicured lawn look - not good. Lesson learned! Next time I'll use different colors and lengths.

Different colored ballst was used to signify different areas
Static grass was used to create this small patch of grass

I scratchbuilt the coal unloader for the coal dealer using Evergreen Styrene. To the naked eye it looks quite good but in close up photographs it is a bit clunky. N scale is a bit tricky with details and close up photography.

I added track bumpers from Walthers to the ends of the sidings. Figures and other details are all by Woodland Scenics and the vehicles are from Busch and Woodland Scenics. Small details really help to bring the layout alive.

The coal unloader was scratchbuilt
Small details really bring a layout to life

Backdrop and Fascia

The backdrop and fascia are 1/8" Masonite, the backdrop painted a flat sky blue and the fascia painted a forrest green. They are attached to the layout using small screws.

The backdrop is a pale sky blue and the fascia a forrest green

Rolling Stock

I have one locomotive and about a dozen freight cars - that's the beauty of a micro layout - you dont need a large roster of rolling stock. Given the micro size of the layout and the tight radius curves, I opted for short 30 and 40 foot freight cars and a small four axle diesel electric switcher for motive power.

The layout hosts a variety of car types despite its small size. Here the crew spots a tank car at the team track soon to be unloaded by a truck and taken to a nearby fuel dealer.

The locomotive is an Atlas ALCO S2 with factory fitted DCC and sound, she's a real beauty and a very smooth runner. The rest of the freight cars are from Athearn, Atlas, Exactrail, Fox Valley Models and Microtrains. My favorite cars are the wagontop boxcars from Fox Valley models!

I didn't swop out couplers or wheelsets and everything is stock. Occasionally I get a car that's stubborn and refuses to couple - some light encouragement with a finger is all that's required. Other than this I haven't had any issues with the stock.

I dont weather my rolling stock, it's a personal preference, I just cant bring myself to gunk up my prized models.


Operation is fairly straightforward. I stage the loco with one or two inbound freight cars on the staging cassette. I decide upfront which cars are inbound and for which industry or car spot and which cars are outbound. I then proceed to make the pick ups and set outs accordingly, ending with the loco and outbound cars on the staging cassette.

I do not make use of any paperwork, switchlists or car card and waybills. Instead I use a simple scheme based on obvious car routing. A coal hopper obviously goes to the coal dealer. A grain hopper or airslide hopper obviously goes to the flour mill. Tank cars and reefers go to the team track. That leaves the ubiquitous boxcar which can end up at the flour mill or team track - I simply decide upfront where each boxcar goes.

Some cars are to remain in position simulating that they are still being loaded or unloaded - this can add complexity at the flour mill as a car may need to be temporarily moved to gain access to other cars and then the car moved back to its original position.

Final Thoughts

For the most part this layout is deemed complete, there's nothing more I wish to add or do to it. I could add loads more details but given its small size it wont be long before I tire of the flour mill and look to other opportunities.

Despite its size this layout offers a lot of operation and is a joy to operate. I hope that it shows those with limited space that they can build a layout in the space they do have. A Nano layout is better than no layout in my humble opinion.