An Illinois RVer transforms a basement-storage bay in his fifth-wheel into a model-train depot

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When I got my Jayco Eagle HT 28.5RSTS fifth-wheel and posted the first picture on Facebook, a friend joked that now that I had such a big trailer, I should build a model railroad in it. That seemed like a pretty good idea, and talking around the campfire one night, my son suggested that I should model the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad where my father served as a docent in Nevada City, California, when he retired.

Not wanting to let a good idea go to waste, I was soon hard at work on the railroad. My first purchase was a sliding trunk tray to house the layout in the pass-through storage compartment. The tray slides out under the awning, making it an ideal modeling space. I work in N scale, which is small but detailed, allowing me to pack a lot into a 28-by-42-inch area.

Steve Knoderer's Jayco fifth-wheel with railroad tray tray extended at campsite.
A work in progress, Steve Knoderer’s N scale model of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad slides out from his fifth-wheel’s storage compartment. As a foundation for the miniature railroad, Knoderer installed a sliding tray to fit in the compartment. The RV’s awning shields the railroad during a 2019 visit to Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg Campground.

I typically spend an hour or two working on the railroad during weekend campouts and a little longer on vacations, and I hope to spend many more years completing it. So far, my expenses have included the sliding tray ($400), track ($50), locomotive ($90), Hydrocal plaster ($20), craft wood ($15), and a transformer, wire and solder ($80).

Some of the railroad features I’m incorporating are not available commercially, and I’m finding it necessary to scratch-build things like the Bear River Bridge and the Empire Mine skip head. When complete, the layout will feature mountains, forests, a river, tunnel, vertical and horizontal mine shafts, and who knows what else will come to mind over the years.

Yellow bar showing $700 investment in Steve Knoeder's model railroad project.

Collage of Steve Knoederer's model train project with grandson in top right.
Steve Knoderer’s grandson Hayden lends a hand painting the model railroad’s landscape (top right). It now features mountains, a tunnel, the Bear River, a bridge and a horizontal-shaft gold mine. Knoderer says he expects to keep tinkering with it for years to come.

Have you modified your RV or remodeled it completely? Tell us about it in 500 words or less, including the total cost and time spent, and email your description to [email protected]. Include an ample selection of photos illustrating the project, along with your full name and mailing address. We’ll pay $50 for every RV Makeover we publish.


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