TM's Lionel OO Studio Layout

by Joseph Stachler

There has been a dramatic surge in Lionel OO collecting over the past few years. One reason for this is the natural progression Lionel collecting has taken. Both Standard and O gauges have been so thoroughly picked over, remaining gauges like OO and HO are now attracting new interest. Neither reproductions nor reissues of complete Lionel OO products exist. OO itself is not a well-used model railroading gauge in America. Although some reproduced parts do exist for Lionel OO, a collector can be fairly certain the piece he or she is buying is 100% original.

Running one Lionel OO set is rare enough but running two at the same time is unheard of.

For the video A Century of Lionel Trains, we wanted to include every type of train Lionel produced in the last 100 years, including OO. It was the beginning of 2000, and all we had at the studio was a modified (semi-detailed) Hudson with three freight cars, a detailed scale Hudson for 2-rail, and a small loop of 3-rail track. This would suffice if need be, but we really wanted to show more.
I had been looking for some OO on eBay. Prices were fairly high and pickings were slim. When a Lionel OO item did show up, it was like someone threw a hamburger in a barrel full of starving piranhas. I noticed one buyer in who seemed to bid on everything. I sent him an email, explaining who I am and what we were trying to do. I asked him if we could borrow any OO from his collection. He was very gracious and accommodating. His name is Dick Kuehnemund and he is well-known and respected among OO collectors. Dick sent us everything I asked for, and some items I didn't know existed. The items Dick sent to us included a Hudson, some freight cars, a pair of very rare switches, and an oval of 2-rail track which is almost impossible to find.

The 48W Whistling Station looks pretty good with the OO trains. The HO block signal is made by Marx. Obviously we weren't too concerned with prototypical signaling as it shows green for an occupied block.

Rare beyond compare: this OO dealer display was basically the landscaped layout Lionel used to produce. Note the billboard-style sign on the left.
About the same time, Tom McComas and I went to Carail, home to the vast train collection of Lionel Chairman Emeritus Richard Kughn. We needed to shoot a lot of prewar items and Carail is one-stop shopping for everything Lionel produced. Tom found a OO dealer display in one of the rooms and asked Mr. Kughn if we could borrow it. Dick not only let us borrow the table, but his entire OO collection which included the 1938 scale freight set.
Now we were in business. Tom designed the OO layout which consisted of a 4' X 6' black ground cover, an oval of track with the switches providing a route through the middle, a siding, and four lines of straight track assembled to create a yard. I marked the undersides of  Tom's OO track with a yellow grease pencil to keep it apart from anyone else's collection. It didn't take long for us to build the layout. The track was gently fastened down to the black-painted homosote. I was careful to leave some play in the track because the bakelite roadbed of Lionel OO can be brittle and crack. 

We considered using black roads but the dealer display had beige roads that looked better. So we changed ours.

The roads and lake are painted and so is the ground cover, but it wouldn't stick. We used three coats of water/glue mixture to try to get the shavings to stay put.

Shooting the OO trains operating was a thrill for us. It was the first time we had ever seen these trains run. They were surprisingly smooth. Although by modern HO standards, they probably seem like coffee grinders on wheels. Still they performed well and didn't need much coaxing to get going. One thing Tom particularly likes is when we show something few people have ever seen. During a series of shots featuring five OO Hudsons lined up next to each other, TM was beaming. "No one has ever seen this before," he said.

The fifth Hudson I acquired for my own collection at a local train show, along with a few cars and some track. Now I was into Lionel OO.

The Century video was released and surprised a lot of Lionel collectors with the amount of trains shown in operation, including OO. Later in the year, our video on Lionel Hudsons was released. Again, OO was an important part of the impressive fleet of Hudsons. Having exhaustively shot the OO on the black layout, we wanted to use a new layout for the new video.

I noticed in TM's Lionel Collector's Guide, Volume 3, that the picture for OO included a small 192 Bungalow. It looked almost perfect scale-wise. This led to the idea of creating a landscaped layout, basically a 4' X 6' scenic plot as if it were produced during the late prewar years. We have a number of the privately reproduced plots so I carefully scrutinized the decoration techniques of them, especially the ground cover and duplicated that look as best we could. The dealer display we borrowed from Mr. Kughn inspired the roads and lake.


This picture inspired the use of plots and villas on the OO layout.

Time for another coat of watered-down glue.

I put this circle in the middle of the road because the dealer display had something similar. For the landscaped layouts, a tree was placed in the center of the circle. For this layout, we put a Marx Trains American flag.
First, the homosote needed to be painted. I drew in the roads and lake. Green paint for the base coat was a flat medium forest shade and was applied to the remaining areas. The ground cover was made for us by a model landscape specialist. We described for him what the old Lionel plots look like. Basically, they are green-dyed pencil shavings. Applying this to the homosote proved a lot more difficult than expected. I had sprinkled a decent amount of the "grass" on the wet green paint. After the paint was dry I applied the usual Elmer's glue and water mixture (with a drop of dish detergent to settle down beading). After this dried, the ground cover still wasn't holding too well. We've learned to live with it. The roads were painted a cream, similar to what was used on the display layout. The lake was painted blue.
The track plan was simple: two loops. The outer loop had no switches. The inner loop had a pair of switches that cut through the middle. I wired the outer loop so that one could run both 3-rail and 2-rail trains on it. All the rails of Lionel 3-rail OO track is insulated from one another, except for the curved terminal section which connects to the transformer. I didn't use the terminal section, just a regular insulated curved section. I soldered a line to each rail under the track. The middle rail was connected to post A on a ZW transformer. One outer rail was connected to post U. The other outer rail I connected to post B. Since we don't have a 2-rail locomotive with a whistle, we didn't need the whistle button that post A provides.

The 308 signs look good with OO, even though they were designed for O gauge.

We tried this track plan because we wanted the middle area to incorporate two plots with villas. The turnout didn't look very good between the lake and the road so we switched. The plots ended up along the far edge of the layout.

The 0072 Automatic Switch is one of the more rare Lionel OO products.

Some of the accessories are placed along the layout. The ground cover looks like it is still drying.
Then we laid out the accessories. I had been talking to a collector who said some people use American Flyer HO accessories to go with Lionel OO. The best of these is the HO Mystic Station. It is tinplate, illuminated, and colorful. You can find them for about $50.00. Luckily, TM happened to have one. We added Lionel plots and villas to the layout and a 48W whistling station. Marx HO block signals look perfect as well. They are sturdy and added much needed light to the layout. The semaphore and gate both operate and also look perfect next to the Lionel OO trains. The custom model trees we purchased from a dealer. They work a lot better than the packaged trees used for HO.
As I stated earlier, we enjoy the OO layout very much. It brings to life Lionel trains that are just as good as the bigger versions of the prewar era. We still run the layout today, not for work but for personal enjoyment, like they were designed to be used for. Hopefully, we aren't the only people running Lionel OO.

Running Lionel OO was a lot of fun. We ended up incorporating OO into three videos over the past year.