There haven't been subway trains crossing the Queensboro Bridge since 1942, but having the trains cross the bridge as shown above was so much more graceful than having them plunge into a tunnel on the Queens side of the river for their underground trip to Manhattan as the actual subway trains do now. 

I have seen nearly photo-realistic models of bridges in other model railroads, but the one shown above is no more than a bare-bones representation.  I am not going to model the entire bridge, nor is it necessary to do so, this project has always been about representing memories in three-dimensions, not about re-creating the entire city in detail.  We remember for the rest of our lives what we see and experience up close, what was further away becomes just a sketchy memory without any details.  Thus the bridge and skyline as you see them here.

On the far right, we see an example of the plywood walls surrounding the project.  These walls eliminate the abrupt end to the scenery found on other layouts, and serve to protect the entire project from accidental damage.  They also prevent a derailed train from falling off the side.  



There are several locations throughout Queens (as well as Brooklyn and Manhattan) at which a passenger can transfer from the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to the New York City Subway, a New York City Transit bus, or in the case of Queens LIRR Station, to a privately run bus line. 

Here we see a Long Island Rail Road station reminiscent of Kew Gardens or Woodside (right of photo), and a typical elevated subway station, underneath which (above the red bus) is the fare-control (turnstile) area. 

The subway train with the red stripe is a Kato Keiyo line train, modified to look somewhat more like a New York City Transit train. The subway train with the blue doors is an Images Replicas R36, which is a collector-grade model which only comes out for photographs.  The LIRR diesel train was hand-painted and lettered in 1990s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) livery.


Karl Heidenreich                                          ACEFilmCo.com                                          Contact: acefilmco@aol.com     

There are several design concepts that have stayed with me from my original plans through to completion of this project (1991 to present). 

Including horizontal and vertical layering as dramatically illustrated in this photo, many of the concepts are similar to a stage setting.  In photos, I do not ever show the raw back wall of my basement, I do not have any fall-offs at the edge of the diorama (there are plywood walls surrounding the project which are blended into the landscape) and all of the lighting is located and adjusted to look natural to the time and place (evening in New York). 

There are white and colored (red and yellow) floodlights overhead, wired into the ceiling, above the viewer and on the sides.  Within the scene, lighting is provided by streetlamps, building interior lighting, a miniature floodlight shining onto the Brooklyn Bridge, and light strips showing through the windows of the Manhattan skyline.

Photographs are this project are best taken just above roof-level, in person, peering onto the various scenes and vignettes are most exciting right at street level.

Almost all of the interior spaces in this project have interior details as well as lighting.  Even in person, it is almost impossible to see the interior details clearly, but a viewer just senses that there is something going on inside.

Here, patrons enjoy happy hour at 'The WRONG NUMBER Cocktail Lounge,' the awning taken from a photo of a (now closed) notorious mob bar in Brooklyn.  I try to use generic place names (such as 'Queens Theater') as much as possible, but some of the signs and awnings were just too perfect to pass up. 







In the real world, the lack of space to spread out horizontally (as happens with any large city with boundaries such as rivers and oceans) is solved by building vertically, be it up as in the case of tall buildings and elevated railways, or down as in the case of a subway system.  In this project, look specifically for the use of layering, be it front-to-back for visual interest, or up-and-down to simulate urban vertical expansion. 

There is a subway line running deep under the street-level of this model, as well as a 'Main Boulevard' business district (movie theater, diner, shoe store) behind the first row of businesses. 

The GM 'New Look' (or 'Fishbowl') bus (light blue) was introduced in 1959 to replace the retroactively named 'Old Look' buses, the most noticeable difference between the two was the much larger front window of the newer model.





Occupying the lowest level of the diorama is an almost entirely separate model railroad. The street level seen in all of the previous photos forms the roof of the subway, and the subway tracks are laid out on their own 4-foot by 4-foot plywood base. The walls of the subway rise from subway-track-level to the underside of street level, and the entire carpentry project is bolted together for much more strength than would ever really be needed for an N-Scale project. 

Behind the back wall of the subway station is an area which contains all of the 12-volt DC wiring.  This compartment is accessible by shimmying under the lowest level and reaching up through a hole in the project's plywood base.  The entire project is bolted to sawhorses, and could be moved if desired. 


I have noticed that many model railroads under-utilize the extreme corners outside of the main loop of track.  To counter this, I created detailed vignettes for the extreme corners of the diorama, separated from the main scene.  In the case of the LIRR MP54 passenger, it is located at the very front right.  The scene above is in the very front left.  Surrounding the diorama are the previously mentioned plywood walls, in some cases, these walls have small openings so that the viewer can specifically access certain vignettes.  Here we are looking through an opening in those walls into a small corner of Willets Point, Queens.  See the following caption for a description of the scene.


Who would have thought that an entire New York City borough (and New York State county) could fit into a 4-foot by 4-foot space?

Actually it's not even that roomy; an unseen area of the diorama four-feet wide by one-foot deep located behind the skyline is taken up by transformers, 120-volt AC wiring, and the flood-light that creates the setting sun against the red curtain on the back wall.

Working our way forward, the skyline and river are another sixteen-inches of depth, which leaves much less than two feet of depth for the part of the Borough of Queens depicted in this model.



Looking past the first row of businesses toward the residential area of Queens, we see several commuters waiting for the bus on Main Boulevard (green bus, center of photo). One of the last scenic elements I completed was the hotel fire escape.  You cannot have a New York City scene without water towers and fire escapes. 

On discussion boards, people comment on how Main Boulevard intersects the side streets at odd angles, and how that reminds them of the streets of Queens.  Several of the buildings were modified and assembled to accommodate the odd-angles of the intersections.

In this photo, we can see how the LIRR tracks are running lower than the street-grade, separated by 3/4-inch plywood which creates the surface of the city streets.  Running in a 'cut' is is common for the Long Island Rail Road in Queens (and the NYC Subway in Brooklyn).  At many locations in both of those boroughs, the railroad tracks go under a street viaduct, at some others, they go above.  There are a small number of at-grade LIRR crossings in Queens, there are no at-grade subway system crossings anywhere in the city. 

The classic view under the 'El' on Main Boulevard, Queens.

Each of the vignettes/scene elements included in this 4 foot by 4 foot layout (more accurately a diorama) represent actual scenes from my life experiences and observations in 1970s through 1990s New York City.  My family moved from Brooklyn to Long Island in the late 1970s, at which time I thought I would never look back.  After college, working in the technical field for a few years and then grad school, I did, in fact, return to the city as a teacher in the mid 1980s.  I would remain at that career until moving to upstate New York with my wife and three children twenty years later. 

My first (temporary) teaching assignments in the mid-to-late 1980s were in Long Island City, which is the geographic region represented in the diorama entitled 'Queens, New York City in N-Scale.'  More specifically, the area of Queens along the East River from the Queensboro Bridge south to the Mid-Town Tunnel.  My permanent teaching assignment was in Woodhaven/Ozone Park, did that affect my design choices?

Other than the general location of Long Island City, I try not to answer when I am asked if certain elements of the layout are based on any specific locations.  Which they all are.

I prefer to keep that information to myself, and for each viewer to see what they want to see, and to base their reactions on the confluence of the scene elements and their own memories and experiences.  That is the reason the place names are so generic (Queens Station, Queens Theater, etc.) and the specific vignettes are not realistically organized as to their actual locations in the real world.  Kind of like a jigsaw puzzle of Queens, completed, but with the puzzle pieces in the wrong places.

Even though I prefer each viewer to have a fresh, unbiased look, I will reveal (admit?) that one vignette within the layout is specifically a real location...  the view under the 'El' of the main boulevard. 

That is Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven. 

Or is it Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park?  Or is it 31st Street in Astoria? 

No, wait, it's Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside...

Photo #1 - Cover Photo

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I searched for images of movie theater lobbies, and then printed out and glued-in-place the image on the back wall of the (one-inch-deep) theater.  We cannot see it clearly in this photo (nor in person) but it still creates the ambiance of a theater lobby, perhaps simply due to the colors used.  The movie poster is accurate, it depicts the scene in which Popeye Doyle shoots the Frenchman with his snub nose revolver.

My suggestion to would-be urban modelers is to leave no surface unblemished by the ravages of time, intensive use, and neglect, as happens every day in an urban setting.  Brick walls should have contrasting color mortar which has gotten dirty over the years, sidewalks should have layers of grime, old signs should be replaced by new signs, and the old ones left hanging in place.  Lights shine from the windows and street lamps, furthering the dimension of the scene by hinting at unseen activity.   People work, argue, commute - in our miniature world - this creates a 'lived-in' look as we observe our N-scale residents in snippets of daily life.

The first row of buildings closest to the viewer (the grocery, hardware and candy stores) are models built as they were designed, but the structures behind that, the row of stores on the Main Boulevard business district shown in this photo, are only about an inch-deep.  This shallow depth allows the LIRR trains to complete the back-end of the loop unseen, behind the row of buildings, similar to a tunnel in a rural layout.  The buildings in these scenes have lighted interiors, shelves of product, signs in the windows and other details that bring the scene to life.



In the rear left corner of Queens, along the river (the river is behind the three trees) is a New York Police Department station house, and a set of stairs reminiscent of several of the abandoned LIRR stations in Long Island City, Maspeth and Woodhaven.  On those stairs is a woman who has found her husband passed out drunk. 

The road switcher emerging from the tunnel wears the 1964 World's Fair gray and orange livery (the Worlds Fair was in Queens) which was also known as the Goodfellow color scheme after the LIRR president at the time.  The yellow circle at the front of the engine is the 'Dashing Dan' logo.  To the left of this scene we see the diorama's protective walls, in this example, roughly disguised as a neighboring building.

A privilege sign is a retail store sign provided by a manufacturer, with the manufacturer's branding on it. The most common were the green-ish signs with Coca Cola logos on each end.  These signs may be provided to the store at no cost, in return for the manufacturer's advertising on the sign. 

Signs and awnings in your layout accomplish several tasks in bringing these projects to life; they locate us in a certain place and time, they identify the function of the building and the activities of the people present, and they evoke memories, bring the viewer back to a time when those signs were part of the fabric of our lives.


Creating/adapting the rolling stock for this project was another, entirely separate task unto itself.  There is very little available in N-Scale urban rolling stock, to a point you could almost say there is 'nothing' available.  So you have to get clever.  I used the Kato Keyio line (red-stripe) trains to create my workhorse elevated trains.  The stainless steel R36 trains - the ones with the blue doors - are only taken out for photos. 

The subway trains seen here are hand-made from very rough resin shells, and the lead car has a Tomix motor inside.  The trailer cars have a hand-made wooden floor, with the trucks gently screwed in place - just right - so that the cars are stable enough not to wobble and derail, but flexible enough to make all the bends.  

No depiction of Queens (or any major city, especially in the 1980s and '90s) would be realistic without the inevitable 'societal ills.'  Not to pass judgment of the individuals involved, but the activities they were involved with were part of the fabric of (semi-) public life back then, and contributed to a certain seedy ambiance.  Today, these activities are so much more hidden due to the internet.  Included in Queens, NYC are drunks passed out, gay men cruising public parks under the Queensboro Bridge (man in yellow shirt and man in red hat, above), and the 'tunnel bunnies' who lined the sidewalks at both ends of the routes in and out of Manhattan (photo far above).  (This caption is for photos 14, 15. 16)

One of the few place-names that made it into the project, a commuter boards a Long Island Rail Road MP54 at Hunterspoint Avenue.

Even though the MP54s were considered modern when first delivered in 1908, I rode these beasts as a child growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and very early 1970s. I wondered for many decades why they were so miserable to ride in. They had a motor at one end of the car only, and some still had friction bearings. If they were going too fast (top speed around 55 mph), the engineer had to lay off the throttle and not re-engage it until the train was doing less than 30 mph.

They were also often interspersed with newer, heavier cars that produced an overall bouncy, wavy, nauseating ride.

They were also old, dirty, and stank of cigarette smoke. The engineer sat behind the 'owl eye' window in the vestibule, on a fold-down jump seat. He operated controls that were installed after the car was original, as these cars were first intended to be diesel-hauled coaches. This vestibule was often cold, windy, and more miserable than the passenger compartment.

My mom would be in the passenger compartment and I would stand at the middle window pretending to help the engineer drive the train. What a view of the tracks from that window - and the comically decrepit stations of the 1960s!

I would do anything to go back for one last ride.

Queens Subway Station is typical of the more modern IND (Independent - 1932) rapid transit lines, with one main branch (E and F lines) stretching far into Queens.  The IND stations are characterized by large intermediate levels (mezzanines) which contain fare control (the turnstile area) as shown in detail above.  The other, much older branches are the IRT (Interborough - 1904) and the BMT (Brooklyn & Manhattan - 1923) transit lines.  The three branches - which up until the merger in 1940 were independent companies -  were unified in that year by the NYC Board of Transportation, which in 1953 became the New York City Transit Authority. 

Don't ask me why a much shorter IRT (three doors/side) train runs on an IND (four doors per side) transit line - artistic license runs rampant in this section of Queens.  People my age (60s) grew up with parents and grandparents who referred to the three separate transit branches their entire lives.  Young people today have no idea what the acronyms mean.