hoist HO layout to ceiling in garage

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I tried searching the HO forum for this topic but came up with nothing. So I will throw this question out there for all to read and possibly let me know if they have seen this done or how to do it. I would like to be able to use my garage to build my HO layout, but also use it for my car in the winter. I would like to know if it is possible to do this safely. Any feedback will be welcome. If there are any articles written on the subject I would welcome that too. Thanks for listening. Albie44


5th Generation Texian
Did it myself few years back. Am on iPhone now and can't type much, will post how I did it later whe I have a decent keyboard!!!
I'd say if you built it on a metal frame and used a good block and tackle system you could do it. I would have a seperate locking system when it is rasied.

Anything is possible.


5th Generation Texian
ok, i've got a real keyboard and a few minutes, let's see what I can remember....

mine was 8x12, 3 sheets of plywood worth. I used 2x4 on edge framing, and then used 2 2x6 on edge as the lifting bars (these ran under the entire layout from side to side and extended a few inches out from under the edges. The lifting ropes/pulleys attached to these.). Thin plywood since it doesn't make it any stiffer, and more cross members 'cause they do....

1st you need space above the opened garage door. I had a very tall garage so it worked. Remember, the layout has to lift and fit in the sapce above the garage door as it opens! This space has to include the lifting ropes and mechanism and hills, crossovers and scenery on the layout! Mine had almost 3' above the garage doors to hold the layout.

So assuming you have the 'headroom', let's talk about the mechanics.

The layout is heavy. Very heavy, deadly if it falls on someone and major damage if it falls on a car. You need something to hold is securely when it is suspended. Lots of cross supports to make it stiff and not flex too much. Plaster scenery is not a good idea. Foam and papier mache is flexible. Hint, hint.

For the lifting mechanism, I used a hand crank boat wench bolted to across 2 studs in a wall...spread the load. 4 ropes ran to it from 4 lift points. Mount it low enough on the wall where you can really put your back into it. It's a workout....

On the ceiling were 4 double pulleys, and 4 double pulleys on hooks that attach to the layout. double pulleys mean that the weight of the layout is spread over 4 lengths of rope. Your muscles will need to lift 1/4th the weight of the layout. It means that for every inch you lift the layout, you will wench in 4 inches of rope from each lift point (or 16 inches for every inch you lift). Get a big wench to hold lots of rope....

The ceiling lift points were suspended from eye bolts, not lags. The eye bolts were attached to 2x4 cross pieces in the attic, each of which were layed across 2 joists, so that each lift point was loading 2 joists, not just one! The eye bolts were secured using large fender washers to futher spread the load. Double nuts locked the bolts securely.

As security, I added a 2nd set of ceiling lift points (using 2 different joists) and attached a short loop of rope. This loop was looped over the ends of the 2x6 main supports when the layout was fully lifted. This allow me to remove the strain from the wench when it was suspended above my car...I had a long stick to manuver the rope loops in place once it was up there.

If I made any errors, I erred on the side of over-engineered...I am an engineer so it comes honestly...

I used this layout for a couple of years, but a southwest facing garage and S Texas summers conspired to minimize the enjoyment.
Thanks Kenw, I am glad you answered, as I was hoping to get somebody as safety minded as myself. I was hoping to use an electric winch which I saw that holds up to 1000 lbs. My concern was just what you said, I wanted to secure the layout at the ceiling and relieve the stress on the cables. That is the part that I did not know how to do without climbing a ladder to insert a pipe or other material through loops hung from the rafters. Your idea of running the 2 x 6 the length of the board and sliding a looped cable or rope is ingenious. It will be easy to do, since I do not have any insulation over the garage ceiling and it is about 12 feet high. I don't have a garage door opener on one side of my two car garage, so I have all the space above that I need. I will still be able to get a golf cart under the layout. That is why I wanted to know how to relieve the load from the winch. You have answered my question completely, now all I have to do is get the table built. It is only going to be 5 x 9. So I don't think I will have too much trouble lifting that size. I do prefer to use foam and papermache instead of plaster, great tips.
My dad done it in his garage, 4 heavy 1/4" cables that go up thru the ceiling to a winch that is wired to a switch, he can lower the table all the way to the floor or go up to about 7' off the floor, I have some pics that i will post shortly.
Here are a few pictures, the framework of the table is made of heavy guage metal studs that are all spot welded together, the only wood in the table is 1/2" birch for the table top, the brackets that the cables are attached to are welded into the studs to they will never come loose, the cables then go up into the ceiling to the winch and each cable has an adjustable link installed before they all hookup to the main winch cable, allowing you to adjust each cable as needed, my dad also removed the standard garage door opener and installed one that mounts above the door on the wall to get it out of the way. My dad when he finished the table gave it a test by standing on table (250 pounds) at each cable and nothing moved, he recently weighed the table and it came in at just over 600 pounds for a 13x16 table with a 4x5 extension.
The key is to use the heaviest cable you can get, buy a good winch(his is over 1000lb capacity) and solid table construction.
If you have any questions let me know. Clint

Top side

Bottom side framing

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I didn't do my train board but fixed my panel saw so I can raise and lower it. I used a electric hoist from Harbor Freight rated for 880lb. they have one that is for 1300lb too. I fixed it with a auto stop, and used sliding pipes to lock it in place. I use a pole with a wire extension about 18" long to slide the locks on and off and also hang the control up out of the way. Dale
Hi cg51 Brakeman, That is one awesome job. Your dad should be one proud Railroader. As I stated my layout will be a mere 5 x 9 foot job and I will not be able to make a metal frame as you have done. I will be using benchwork with L beams and a plywood top screwed to the beams. I would sure like to know how the 4 cables are joined in the ceiling to work on one winch. Does the table stay level when it is being raised and lowered? Also when it is in the raised position, can you lock it there and relieve the strain on the cables and the winch? I was concerned because in the winter I will have the layout mostly in the raised position with a car or golf cart below it. I do not feel safe if there is not a locking mechanism to keep the table from falling. I don't think my table will be anywhere near the 600 lbs of your dad's, but I still want to use a strong winch and strong cables. Thank you so much for your photos and input. Albie44
Thanks for the comment, the cables go into his Attic and go into the adjustable eye bolts like the ones in this ebay listing i found, basically from the winch you have one large adjustable eyebolt that 4 cables attach to then you put one of them on each cable so you can adjust all 4 cables as one unit or adjust each individually allowing you to level your table one cable at a timeand it does stay level during raising and lowering, as for locking the cable all you need to do is put a safety switch or cut power to the winch and you will not have to worry about the table falling, the winch has plenty of strength to hold it as long as you don't exceed the weight limit which it sound like you will be ok on that, my dad has never had any problems. For your 5x9 wood will be strong enough just use some good 2x6's or 2x8's as your main carriers and frame off of that, attach your cables to the main carriers and it will be fine.

Here is that ebay listing for the eyebolts, there available at Home Depot and Lowes among other places, just buy the biggest you can.

And a rough drawing of how the cables are set up in the attic. Hope that helps a bit
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Rather than four pulleys, wouldn't it be easier / cheaper to have the 4 (or 6?) cables that are attached to the table run to a central cable which would feed through one pulley?

Sorry, didn't take the time to make a sketch. Sort of looks like a stickman... Anyway, I've never done anything like this so ignore this post if I'm way out in left field here...
You could i suppose, just depends on where rafters and other obstacles are located and how much space you have to work in, the system may need to be modified to fit your space, the sketch is just a basic idea of how to make it work.;)


5th Generation Texian
to reduce the load on the wench, use double pulleys. It will take 4x the amount of rope/cable, but the force needed to lift will be 1/4 as much. See fig 4b in the Wiki article . double pulleys, like shown in 4b, are available at Home Depot. Basically it is 2 pulley wheels in one. The ones I used were about 1" in diameter.
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Active Member
just a word of caution - careful with those anchors to the ceiling joists. layout can get heavy and when they built the house chances are they did not factor it that kind of point (possibly) load.
Hi Brakeman, thanks for the sketch, that really makes sense. So simple when you see a pic of it. One last question, what kind of bracket or frame work is required to mount the winch? I am sure it has to be strong, as the entire weight of the layout is being transferred to the winch via the pulleys. Will that load have to be spread out over a number of joists or is there a simple way of doing that also? I was hoping to use a pipe mounted to a number of joists so the load is transferred along the pipe and not on one or two central joists. Let me know if I am on the right track. Thanks again for your valuable input. Albie44 in Barnegat NJ
I thought that having fold-down legs,from the underside of the table, might be a good idea, for when the layout is fully down to stop side to side swaying.


5th Generation Texian
To mount the wench, bolt a 2x4 or 2x6 to the wall and have it span several studs. Use lag bolts to secure it to 3-4 studs, then mount the wench to that 2x4 (or whatever).

The rope coming from the wench should go straight up and to a pulley(s) mounted to the ceiling joints very close to the wall. This will make the forces prevent pulling the wall out into the garage.

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