Hooksett, NH
A prototype modular display in S scale


In the early 2000's, before kids and farming, I wanted to begin work on some section of a future S scale home layout featuring the Suncook Valley Railroad.  I grew up in Hooksett, NH, which (unbeknownst to me until much later in life) was the southern end of the Suncook Loop trackage that swung off the NH Division's mainline, going over to Suncook and returning to the main up at Bow Junction.  After some consideration, I chose to create a set of portable sections that would represent the Village area on the west side of the river as it appeared after the current steel railroad bridge was built in 1932, but prior to the 1935 closure of the wooden covered bridges that carried the Suncook Loop over the Merrimack River north of the falls.  By building the mains to S-Mod standards, it would create the possibility of bringing this to a train show and tying in with other such modules, as well as connecting this to a future home layout.

Track Plan

I brought together a number of resources to create the track plan.  ICC Valuation Survey maps showed a good deal of detail, but the trackwork shown was obsolete due to the realignment that occurred when the new bridge went in.  However, sufficient photos exist to determine what those changes were.   Field trips to the area were simple enough and reinforced my understanding of the topography shown on USGS maps.  Fairly early in the process, I decided the area to be modeled was to include at least one span of the mainline bridge and extend northerly to the overpass that carried Edgewater Drive over the tracks.  With my initial sketches, I attempted to compress all of this into a two-section 12' module, but eventually I expanded that to 16' to avoid "excess compression," that would limit how well I could maintain the correct proportions.  All told, the distance from the northerly bridge pier to the overpass was 2500'; my representation is a bit over 1000' scale feet, including one bridge span at true scale size.  Three sections 64" long minimize joints but allow transportation in a 6' pickup truck bed.

1914 ICC Valuation Map showing area portrayed on module
North is to the right

1985 USGS Topographic Map

The tracks though Hooksett are simple enough: a double track main, a junction turnout for connection with the Suncook Loop, a mainline crossover to allow northbound traffic to move onto the Loop, and a spur from the branchline back towards the depot.  Prior to the 1932 realignment, a spur also extended from the northbound main in a southerly direction into the area now occupied by the Hooksett Fire Department; these may be portrayed as abandoned with traces of remaining ties.  In order to minimize the space that these turnouts would require, I chose to push the southbound crossover turnout and the junction turnout towards each, eventually resulting in the substitution of a single slip switch.  As train speed was restricted to 8 mph over the Loop bridges, I felt the use of No. 8 frogs would be acceptable for the speeds that would be required of crews.

Replicating the curvature though the village was important, but it also made sense to keep the viewer "in the river," so to say.  Therefor, south of Edgewater Drive, the mainline tracks swing gradually towards what will be the aisle, proceed over a considerable traprock fill accompanied by the Loop track, though a blasted cut, and then sweep back the other way.  However, after entering the bridge, the prototype line continued to curve to the west, while I chose to draw the tracks back into line in order to maintain S-Mod compatibility on the 16' module.  The curves that correspond to the prototype are 16' radii, which represent a rather sharp 5° curve, but, as a model, look sweeping.  The non-prototypical return curve south of the bridge is half that, still respectable for S scale.  All these mainline curves include superelevations of .030", or about 2 scale inches. The curve in the Loop track is only 48", however that helps to represent the far tighter curves required to abruptly turn across the river at that location.

Benchwork & Roadbed

Numerous articles in the hobby press advocate various lightweight strategies for portable modules and layouts, but I did not relish the idea of building up various members from pine strips and masonite, or any other technique.  I also recalled a home layout tour, where the owner's use of steel studs for benchwork was discussed in a sidebar.  I chose to merge these ideas.  I will try to get a couple photos posted to show the construction, but in the end I have been very satisfied with the weight and rigidity, although fastening sheets of foam to the steel frame has been a bit of a challenge.

Steel stud framework of center section

Roadbed was initially cut from Homasote sheet using a knife blade in a saber saw.  No fuzz.   Later I acquired some closeout Homabed with a 60 degree slope.  I felt this product far better represented the ballast profile I sought, so I tore out the ties and laid the Homabed on top of the Homasote which now represented a sub-roadbed.  However, in the spring of 2014, I discovered that condensation on an overhead water pipe had caused significant areas of mildew growth across two of the modules.  With the steel and foam scenery base unaffected, I decided to try out a new roadbed material, suggested to me by Jeff English.  He had purchased a densely foamed PVC material, typically used in the sign business, and cut out his own roadbed. While his had 45 degree slopes, I fashioned jigs for running the 1/4" material across a table saw.  In short time, I had an entire stack of plastic 60 degree roadbed strips.  Another jig was used to hold the strips as cross-wise notches were added in order to bend the material around curves.

Foam scenery base with vinyl signboard roadbed being applied

At the same time that I stripped off the Homasote, I also removed the Masonite front fascia, replacing it with 1/8" PVC signboard.  This eliminated the last remaining organic materials on the modules (besides the wood cross ties, of course.)


In 1930, the B&M's NH Division mainline was still only 85# rail, and I have chosen to replicate this with Code 82 steel rail from C&L Finescale in the UK.  When set alongside steel rail, nickel silver rail looks like the brass that it is.  All track is handlaid on wood ties, with tieplates and joint bars as appropriate for a First Class high speed main.  However, the junction tracks entering onto the Suncook Loop present a unusual situation.  As the main thrust of my modeling includes adherence to Proto 64 wheel and track standards, trains continuing onto the Loop require the turnouts on this module to have Proto 64 clearances.  This subsequently restricts equipment with NASG flanges to the double track mainline, which is completely adequate for operating the module as a part of a S-Mod display at shows.


Looking South though the cut towards the depot,
you can see the track arrangement and alignment
as it appeared after 1932.  Visible structures include:
ball signal, signal/switchman's shanty, warehouse,
depot, and Hooksett Water Works building.
Looking South past the Depot towards Robies.
Beverly Historical Society.

The modules will require the following structures:

Bridge #90 (double track steel ballasted though truss)
"Lilac" highway bridge
Robie's Store
Hooksett Fire Dept. (currently Hooksett Water Works)
French Brothers Beef (flat only)
Crossing tender's shanty
Hooksett Town Hall
Warehouse (owner? new freight house?)
Signal operator/switch tender's shanty
Scribner residence
Bridge #91 (steel pony truss overpass, planked deck)

Buildings that will be omitted include:

A few residences


Posted 2/25/11.  Updated 12/9/15.  Copyright retained by Earl Tuson.