Everything on model trains, model railroads, model railways, locomotives, model train layouts, scenery, wiring, DCC and more. Enjoy the world's best hobby... model railroading!

Helix Construction

Reader Bob models S scale and asks:

“I have an open helix to a shelf at the moment.  I would like to cover the core of the helix and make it look like the train is climbing a mountain.  The helix has a flat circular top to finish off too.  What would be a couple of methods to accomplish this?”

9 Responses to Helix Construction

  • Anna noesays:

    Following! I’d like to do that too!!
    My layout is the back lot of like universal and Disney so I’d love to add that man!

  • Frank Bsays:

    It would help to add a picture or diagram of the layout so that we can see the present situation, but here goes on what we’ve got:

    Some levels can be snow sheds or rock sheds, some parts could be bridges across rivers and ravines, on some sections the track comes out of tunnel across a narrow ledge and back in, and other parts could be interior “cutaway” views of tunnels through outcrops.

    At the top, the train can arrive at a tiny remote station. Cap it all with a snow-capped mountain peak.

    I look forward to seeing your pictures.

  • Richard E Aubelsays:

    Unless the radius of your helix track is constantly reducing inwardly as it rises, you cannot make it look like it is climbing a mountain. The usual helix dimensions would make it look like it is circling a large diameter pipe. Trying to make THAT look like climbing a mountain would take up too much space under the track to allow the trains to clear the supports. If you truly have a helix, then it’s not going to look right. If you have a constantly varying radius, you could do it but the radius at the top needs to be the minimum that your trains can navigate.

  • Randall Styxsays:

    I’m going to assume that you have a standard helix where each layer is directly above the one below. Shortly clear of where the track comes out from under the top layer, you can have your track exit a tunnel. All layers of the helix below that point will be inside the mountain. The area inside the circle could be the mountain, or it could be a plateau with a small village or lumber camp and the higher portions of the mountain could be outside the circle. You could have two peaks, one on either side of the village/camp. You can still have the track go through shorter tunnels on its top layer. You will need to be careful when you have bridges for creeks to run under the track so that you don’t interfere with the clearances needed on the next layer of the helix below.

    As a novelty, you could have a section of the helix exposed similar to the way old US Highway 30 was along the Columbia Gorge in Oregon, USA. (See attached photo). But this could easily be overdone and you would still have to be careful for clearances.

    • Bob Schwormsays:

      Hi Randall,

      Thanks for the reply. The helix is 2.6 revolutions on a 46″ diameter, rising to 13 inches, to my shelf. The construction is 8 vertical pilastars, supporting ‘L’ brackets, under each deck. So the train and track is totally exposed to the exterior…no vertical supports between the viewer and the train. About 60 degrees of this spiral faces towards the rest of the benchwork . It sits on a flaired out end at one end. So the viewing will be best looking along the benchwork or right next to it. The “front side is also open, but at the edge of the bench work so viewers will just watch the trains spiral. The opposite side is also against the edge with full access. This is where I will reach in to service any issues.
      This is a 2 rail deck system, both up and down…with drop feeders on each flex section. The grade is about 2.8 – 2.9. This is american flyer S scale at 1/64 inch. Rails are apart 1 inch.

      So – – -I am considering a poster board liner around the central column as a backing to that side of each deck. Then attaching low loft batting material to this surface to give the “back” of the deck a brown earthy appearance. A vertical wall, if you will. Then add ground cover to this surface – -no plastering for weight reasons. Finally perhaps some small stones and scenic foam clumps on the side of the track. Not sure what to do about ballast – may not be necessary- perhaps only where you can see.
      The structure is built and now laying the track deck by deck, and out across the shelf. shelf is 24 feet long and flairs out to a 4′ x 4′ turnaround in order to return. Low profile town across the back. Programmable LED lighting under the shelf to highlight the main bench work.


  • Randall Styxsays:

    Another idea occurs to me. If you want a kind of children’s story book mountain effect and you have enough room at the bottom of your helix, you could skew the vertical centerline of the helix so that each layer of the helix is offset some from the one below. (by having a short straight section or broader curve each layer on one side of the helix) That way a portion of each layer of the helix will have nothing above it and could be modeled as visible trackage and scenery. Where the track of each layer goes under the layer above, the track would enter another tunnel. You might be able to expose about 1/4 of the helix this way, or slightly more.

    • Randall Styxsays:

      This would also allow you to have a very deep canyon for that portion of the helix to cross and a kind of stairway of bridges over the chasm. A dramatically deep basin inside the helix could also be modeled in scenery. It wouldn’t model any real place in the world, but it could model a fun fantasy locale.

      • Randall Styxsays:

        To take this to an extreme, you could expose not only the front 1/4 of the helix, but also the back 1/4 and have the track in tunnels only where there is a layer of helix directly above it. The track in the back could be climbing the back wall of the basin and the track in front bridging the gap that forms the opening of the basin.

  • David Stokessays:

    Hmm. If a standard straight helix, each visible level could have 3D scenery curving from the front top of each, to the rear, creating a half pipe of scenery curving up the levels., or the inside could be lined with poster board as posted above, and painted with scenery. As the normal viewing span could only be about 30% of the exterior then each scene only needs to be that wide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add a photo or image related to your comment (JPEG only)

Mining Town Plans

scale model mining town models

N Scale Track Plans

Watch Video

Everything DCC

Download Your Free Catalog

Use Tiny Railroad Micro Controllers

A micro controller is basically a small programmable computer device to help the model railroader “make things operate.” It is clever way to realistically replicate the movements, actions and functions you are likely to see on a full size railroad.


Submit Your Model Railroading Questions!

Before you submit your model railroading question please add some feedback, answers or comments to other postings on this model train blog. What goes around comes around... so if you can help others in the hobby, someone else may help you.

Important - Please add plenty of supporting details to any question you submit (eg. scale, solutions you have already tried etc.) , as the clearest and best questions usually get the best answers. Also, please check your spelling and punctuation as all questions need to be approved by the blog moderator prior to publication. Approved questions are normally published within a week (if not sooner).

Submit your model train questions here.

Watch These Club Videos

Club members access helpful new resources each month: diagrams, video tutorials, articles, track plans and more. Watch the tour videos here.

Scenery Techniques Explained



Model Train Help Ebook

Scenery & Layout Ideas

Share With Friends


Submit Your Article

Would you like to write an article and have it published?

Preference will be given to articles that help others progress in the hobby, maybe suggesting an idea for their layout, a quick tip or two... or perhaps a little bit of good advice based on your model railroading experiences.

We are all in this hobby together, so the more we can do to share ideas and help each other, the better.

Submit Your Article Here

It’s YOUR Railroad!

Your rolling stock and locomotives might actually be the center of attention on your layout, but the scenic features that surround and envelop your layout is what's likely to make your train setup stand proud of the rest. Your selection of scenery and structures will add an element of customization that will make your railroad truly unique.

Scenery, structures, and fine detailing is a fundamental aspect of any good model railroad, particularly if it is intended to replicate a true-to-life railroading scene. How realistic or authentic you make your railroad is entirely up to you... and you alone.

Some enthusiasts like to replicate every tiny detail so as to accurately depict, in every aspect, a miniaturized version of a real life scene.

Others in this hobby adopt a more "free-style" approach and choose to mix and match accessories and features they personally prefer. Even though the purist will possibly be unimpressed with unrealistic or out of context elements, it is YOUR railroad layout so you can make it anything you personally want!

Model Railroading Blog Archive

Reader Poll

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.