Meet Our Team.


The majority of the construction is handled by the owner, Rick Fortin. For assistance on specialized tasks, one of our team members will be brought in. These tasks may include structure assembly, applying scenery, desiging and installing electronics, backdrop painting, final installation, and more. Most of the team members have a personal layout of their own, and some of these have been featured in the national model railroad magazines.


The level of expertise and knowledge available to construct your layout is without a doubt one of our strengths. 

Rick Fortin - founder.


Rick has been a model railroader for over 50 years, starting with a 5ft x 10ft layout he and his father built together in his bedroom when he was six years old. He is currently constructing his fifth personal layout. Originally known as the Sierra Western & Santa Fe for several years, Rick took the unusual step of renaming the layout the ATSF Coast Lines, Valley Division, 4th District, or "4th District" for short, to better represent it's imaginary place on the Santa Fe Railroad's prototypical system.


As a proto-freelanced Santa Fe model railroad set in Northern California in the 1970s, it was built primarily for protypical operations. Rick designed and built not only the layout, but also the 30ft x 62ft building that houses it. Rick hosts an all day operating session at least ten times per year for up to twenty guest operators who simulate real railroading jobs such as dispatcher, tower operator, yard master, train engineer, etc.


While Rick enjoys all aspects of construction and operation, he is well known for his custom hand-laid trackwork and has authored a number of articles and presented several clinics at national model RR conventions on his tracklaying techniques, as well as other topics.


As founder of Layout Builders, Rick has undertaken freelanced and prototype layouts in a variety of eras, scales and gauges. He has also been contracted to repair and fine tune several existing layouts, providing the owners with the reliability and troublefree operations they desired but were unable to accomplish on their own.


Rick has been a long time member and contributor of the NMRALayout Design SIGOperations SIG, and several railroad historical societies, as well as supporting the introduction of prototypical operations to new participants in the hobby by regularly hosting special operating sessions for "newbies".


Articles authored by Rick include:

  • Finding Space For a Layout - The Design of Rick Fortin's Sierra Western & Santa Fe

    Layout Design Journal/News, Winter 1998, page 20

  • 14 Layouts in 25 Days: Observations on Design and Reliability

    Layout Design Journal/News, Fall 1998, page 32

  • Hand-laying Track and Turnouts, part 1
    Railroad Model Craftsman, May 1998, page 86

  • Hand-laying Track and Turnouts, part 2
    Railroad Model Craftsman, June 1998, page 82

  • "Real" Train Operations, SW&SF Style
    Railroad Model Craftsman, November 1999, page 91

  • A Day In The Life Of A Modern Short Line, NMRA, July 2004. With Seth Neumann

Byron Henderson - Concept Design and Track Design.


Byron's first custom layout design and operations consulting was a design for the 1950s-era Santa Maria Valley Ry. for a modeling friend in 1995. An updated version of that design has been published in the 2004 issue of Model Railroad Planning. From 1996 until 2001 he was editor of the Layout Design News and Layout Design Journal publications of the Layout Design SIG.


In 1997 he moved to the San Jose, CA area and met Rick Fortin and soon became part of the crew on Rick's ATSF Fourth District layout. Byron graciously offered to develop an operations plan for the layout. Sessions have grown over the years and now include dozens of trains, 18 to 20 operators, and over 5 hours of activity.


In the last few years he has been doing Layout Designs and Operations Plans for a number of friends, writing articles, and preparing and presenting clinics at conventions and meetings. In 2004 he became a Marketing Consultant in his "day job" and now has the schedule flexibility to offer design and ops consulting services to model railroaders as Layout Visions. He is also available for editing and authoring for publishers, SIGs and Historical Societies, etc.Byron's modeling interests are focused on the Bay Area railroads, including the Southern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Santa Fe. He is currently building an N scale layout to share the garage with a family car. The first tiny test section of this layout is described in the Layout Design SIG's Layout Design Journal #29 and here. Byron is also a member of the NMRALayout Design SIGOperations SIG, and the Santa Fe Railway Modeling and Historical Society, the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society, and the Western Pacific Historical Society.


Articles authored by Byron include:

  • Flexible Temporary Staging on the SW&SF - Layout Design Journal/News, January 1998, page 17

  • Domino Designs Sampler - Layout Design Journal/News, Fall 1998, page 28

  • Bill Fleisher's Duck-under Handrails - Layout Design Journal/News, January 1998, page 44

  • N scale VCY shares a garage: lessons from a look back - Layout Design Journal/News, March 2001, page 20

  • Prototype track/industry maps as a design resource - Layout Design Journal/News, March 2001, page 30

  • Design principles for layouts in garages - Layout Design Journal/News, September 2002, page 8

  • Houston's Port Terminal Railroad in N scale - Model Railroad Planning, 2002, page 24

  • Linking unconnected decks with operations and staging - Layout Design Journal/News, Spring 2003, Page 8

  • Flying the Skylobe - Layout Design Journal/News, Spring 2003, page 13

  • Another angle on an urban switching layout - Layout Design Journal/News, January 2004, page 14

  • X-factor Staging: Adding flexibility to stub-ended staging - Layout Design Journal/News, January 2004, page 72

  • On the streets of San Francisco with the Ocean Shore RR - Layout Design Journal/News, April 2005, page 11

  • Folding belt line on a shelf - Model Railroad Planning, 2005, page 54
Dave Diondi - Backdrop, Scenery and Structures.


Dave returned to model railroading in the late 1970's.  He built the first version of his Sierra Railroad while living in San Lorenzo, CA. After he moved to Fremont, CA in 1980 he built two more layouts, the second of which is his current layout. 


Dave enjoys backdrop painting. This has been his primary focus in model railroading for the past several years.  He frequently presents clinics at conventions and train shows striving to teach others how to paint their own backdrops. 


Dave has authored the following article:

  • Modeling the Sierra R.R.'s Baldwin S-12's, Railroad Model Craftsman, October 1999, Page 50

Jim Dias - Structures and Scenery.


Jim has been modeling for over 25 years. His first  layout never got past bench work and wiring before it was dismantled due to a move. Jim has been working on his second layout, a 20ft x20ft beauty built in his garage, which is now 20 years old and about 85% done. Jim enjoys all aspects of model railroading, especially electrical and scenery.


Jim's layout has been featured four times in national model rairoad magazines:

  • Modeling the Western Pacific
    Railroad Model Craftsman, June 1996, page 48

  • Scenes Along The WP - A Visit to Jim Dias' Layout
    Railroad Model Craftsman, July 2000, COVER and page 50

  • Western Pacific Circa Spring 1938 in HO Scale 
    Railmodel Journal, May 2000, COVER and page 50

  • Jim Dias' Feather River Route, 1938Model Railroader, September 2001, COVER and page 48 

Mike Kotowski - Backdrop, Scenery and Structures.


Mike is best known for his illustrations of railway scenes, especially steam era locomotives. He was Charter member and past President of the Society of Steam Era Artist of America, and has also worked as a photographer for national and local magazines and newspapers. With his wife, Clair, he owns Vicom Services, a small graphic design studio and advertising agency in Northern California.


He has served as Senior Vice-President of the Santa Clara Valley Railroad Association, now known as the California Railroad And Trolley Corporation. Currently a Director, he continues to be involved with the restoration of ex Southern Pacific 2479, a 4-6-2 Pacific class steam locomotive that once pulled commuter trains in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mike has also served as President of the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad in Los Gatos, CA, and now sits on it's board of directors.


Utililzing his photography and painting experience, Mike has enhanced many model railroads with his scenery and backdrop painting skills. His eye for detail is a hallmark of his paintings. Look closely at the trees and fog in the lumber camp scene on Ed Loizeaux's beautiful "S" scale New York Central layout for an excellent example.


Mike was elected mayor of the city of Campbell, California, in 1985, 1990 and 2012 and is currently serving as a Councilmember. 

Seth Neumann - Electronics.


Seth is a modern-era modeler whose home layout features the Union Pacific in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999.  He is an avid operator and hosts regular op session on his “UP in Niles Canyon” as well as participating and being a regular operator at many Bay Area layouts and attending visiting ops meet around the US and Canada.


Seth specializes in communications systems for model railroads, having developed telephone systems for several operating layouts and having presented clinics on the subject at many model railroad meets, including NMRA regional and national conventions.  He also designs power distribution, DCC, signaling and other electronic controls for model railroads.  Seth, along with members of his work group, he has implemented Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) on his layout to generate switchlists.  Most recently Seth and Chuck Catania have founded “Model RailRoad Control Systems” which is an open source clearing house for Arduino based model railroad applications including Arduino based CMRI modules compatible with Bruce Chubb’s SMINI and SUSIC.


Seth is a founding Director of both the Operations SIG and the Layout Design SIG and is currently President of LDSIG.  Seth holds NMRA achievement certificates as Electrical Engineer, Chief Dispatcher, Model Railroad Author and Association Volunteer.  Seth also belongs to the Santa Fe Railway Modeling and Historical Society, the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society, the Union Pacific Historical Society and the Western Pacific Historical Society


Articles authored or clinics presented by Seth:

  • DCC for Dummies (1995-1997) with Ed Loizeaux

  • MoPac Roofing Granules Hopper (1997)

  • Tips for the Visiting Yardmaster clinic and article in the Dispatcher’s Office (2002)

  • A Comparison Of Two Layout Designs (2003) With Mike Birmingham

  • Modeling the “Occupied Western Pacific” in the East Bay (2003)

  • A Day In The Life Of A Modern Short Line (2004) With Rick Fortin

  • Advanced Yard Operations (2004)

  • Yard Design as part of the Layout Design Boot Camp at several NMRA nationals

  • Model Railroad Communications (2004 -> 2013) - clinic and 3 part article in the Dispatchers’ Office 2011

  • A South American Narrow Gauge Line (2006)

  • Planning for Signals - clinic and 2 part article in the Layout Design Journal, 2011

  • Signal Repeaters Layout Design Journal, 2011

  • 3D printing - making that unavailable detail - PCR Branch Line 2012

  • Feeders for Hollow Core doors -  Layout Design Journal 2012

  • RFID in Model Railroading (2013), with Chris Drome - soon to be published in Model Railroader

  • The Case for CMRI on Arduino (2014) with Chuck Catania

Ted Thorson - Weathering, Structures and Scenery.


Ted is a lifelong Western Pacific fan and is currently working on his new N scale layout based on the Sacramento Northern in Yuba City. He enjoys railfanning whenever the opportunity presents itself, favoring the ex-Western Pacific, now Union Pacific, Feather River Route. He has become quite knowledgeable about this unique route, often assisting local modelers with their own modeled interpretations of the area. Ted has also developed a broad knowledge of modern railroading, specifically on modern rolling stock.