Zwergenland (N-Scale)

Trains parked at the station at Zwergstadt

Needless to say, my own model train layout features almost exclusively steam trains. Zwergenland models the German railways of the 1920’s. Included are locomotives from the old Prussian and Bavarian state railways as well as the Deutsche Reichsbahn. I try to capture the magical character of the German landscape, including mountaintop castles, half-timbered houses, and ruins. The name of my layout, “Zwergenland”, reflects that magic.

Of course, life in Germany during the 1920’s was far from easy. But nostalgia focuses on the romance, not the problems. As a result, my layout is somewhat inaccurate with respect to the economic and political problems of the time.

Trains arrive regularly at the station in Zwergstadt. These include commuter, local, and medium distance passenger trains, as well as freight. Arriving passengers walk through a tunnel under the tracks from the platform to the station building, The station is situated on the main square of the town. At the other end of the square sits a large church with doubled spires. Behind a hotel near the church is one of the last remaining towers along the old town wall.

Departing from Zwergstadt is a daily mixed local train that takes you to the village of Gleisberg. The spur line climbs the mountain through a tunnel. Tourists taking the train can enjoy the hospitality of a hotel overlooking the Gleisberg station. From there, you can reach a castle on foot with an even better view.

This spur line also carries a train that takes coal from the mines, across a two-level stone viaduct, through Gleisberg, and then down to Zwergstadt. From there, the coal train takes another spur line down to the docks alongside a canal. (Trains going further risk falling off the edge of the world. More work needs to be done in this area!)

Gleisberg station
Gleisberg station.

Overall view of Zwergstadt.

Some freight sidings at Zwergstadt
Some freight sidings at Zwergstadt.

Layout Plan

Module 1 Module 2 Module 3
Module 4


Layout size: 365cm x 305cm, N-Scale

Phase 1

Phase 1 is dominated by the town of Zwergstadt. The station consists of passenger platforms alongside four tracks, two sidings at the locomotive shed, and five freight sidings. A castle overlooks the town and a stone viaduct crosses the tracks at the rear of the layout.

Phase 2

To the right of Zwergstadt, branch lines veer off the main line towards the mountain village of Gleisberg and towards the docks alongside the canal. Another castle and a hotel overlook the small station at Gleisberg.

Phase 3

On the upper level, the mountain branch line from Gleisberg crosses the canal on a two-level stone viaduct as it heads towards a coal mine. On the lower level, the branch line circles down towards the docks alongside the canal. This line leads to the beginning of a freight station.

Evolution of Zwergenland

Phase 1

Like many railway modelers, I planned a layout for many years before putting a saw to wood. I bought train books and magazines to help plan my empire. I drew many designs, but many suffered from being too ambitious. It’s fun to let your imagination go free, but you can be easily discouraged when you add up the costs of your dreams!

The design I started with was, therefore, intentionally modest, but with the potential to grow. Since I lived in an apartment, sticking to a small size was important, which meant N scale. Even in a modest start, I still wanted a loop of track, a station with freight and passenger service, and a locomotive shop. In the spring of 1991, I finally dove into model railroading.

Borrowing from N-Trak techniques, I began with a modular design with two modules, each 122cm wide by 75cm deep. As construction progressed, I decided that the layout was missing a bridge, so I added a track at the back of the layout above the main level. At first, this track had no connection to the rest of the layout and was there only to provide a purpose for the viaduct.

Module 1 Module 2

Phase 2

Even before the first two modules were complete, I started work on a third module. This was a corner unit 122cm by 90cm. (I found that a depth of 75cm was too limiting.) This module allowed me to add more freight sidings to the Zwergstadt station as well as a small station on the upper level track. More importantly, it provided a link from the main level to the upper level track.

In 1994, marriage put a hold to work on the layout. By 1995, though, we moved to a house. (Of course, one of the criteria for choosing a house was the amount of space available for a layout!)

Before beginning the next major expansion, I added a modest section from scrap wood lying around in the workroom. This throw-away module (not shown in the plan above) features a reversing loop connected to the upper level track as well as a couple of setup sidings.

Phase 3

In the winter of 1997, I began the current stage of expansion. In this section, the upper level track crosses a canal on a two level stone viaduct, typical of the Sachsen region of Germany. This track services a mine and disappears through a tunnel.

The track from the main level crosses the canal on a more modern series of steel girder bridges, circles around the mountain, goes into a tunnel, and reappears under the stone viaduct. This track then reaches a set of sidings alongside the canal. Further along, the track reaches the beginning of a station, which will be built in yet another phase of the layout.