Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Plan

And with a few emails at the end of a July 4th weekend, we have a plan. I can't thank Bob Sprague enough. He's been great in this whole planning and taking the prototype information and applying to my space. And without further adieu, here is the plan:

 Next up, get that basement re-cleaned and organized and start building this thing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Seek Assistance

I was going to wait until everything is finalized, but I'm too excited to wait. When I was going to do the Harrisburg Line, I reached out to Bob Sprague right after he had his Hershey Plan published in Model Railroader. We didn't get very far before I kinda moved off in a different direction. Well, as I worked on some other things, I reached back out to Bob regarding whether he had any time to possibly come up with another plan for the Ft. Wayne Line between the Mansfield and Alliance areas. I sent him the stretch I was looking at and filled out some of the information on the questionnaire from his website. We're still going through the finishing touches but I can honestly say we've gotten further in this process then any of the many meanderings I've ever accomplished on my own. It is definitely going to fit the things I want in a layout in my last post as well as hold to the simplicity aspect/build-ability aspect that I definitely need. Can't wait to show the finished product in the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reflection on Layout Wants - Design and Operations

So I've been reading the books by Lance Mindheim as well as a few chats at recent operating sessions and have begun reflecting on things I would want in a model railroad layout as well as what I actually have time to build and maintain. I've come to the conclusion that, for me, a layout I would maintain interest in both in building and operating, would include the following:

  • Off Layout staging - trains have to come somewhere
  • Continuous Run - both for me, my kids, and I'd like to show off the layout without having to think about operating it
  • Area to drop off and pick up blocks of cars as well as originate a local or two
  • At least one concentrated switching area
  • One major industry
In addition to understanding scope of the layout, one thing I'm becoming more aware of seeing others building layouts is to keep operations in mind from the beginning. This is being affirmed with a little more digging into layout design, especially those who focus on the more modern layouts of which mine would technically be considered (i.e., those after cabooses were no longer required/first round of mega mergers). With that in mind I listed out my few operational wants:
  • Want to be able to operate on my own or with kids - impromptu sessions
  • Host regular operating sessions lasting no more then 3 hours
  • Max of 5 people, most likely only 3 or 4
  • Prototypical operations
Now, I know that first bullet is going to raise some eyebrows. I don't know who penned it, but the whole "don't operate your layout between sessions" never made any sense to me. I mean, you put all this time into building a layout, improving rolling stock, install and figure out DCC decoders, etc., to just let the layout sit for a month or two at a time between sessions? I do believe some of it has to do with the operations setup of the 4-cycle waybill. Now, I'll be honest, I do prefer that over switchlists, at least the kind I have been exposed to. Lance's books give another kind of way using what I'll call a work order. It's combination switchlist and train info worksheet. Basically, it lists the cars to pick-up, set-off, respot and anything else that may be of note to the train operator. I've also seen other layouts use what's called spot cards so each industry on the layout gets a certain number. These are then placed in car cards for delivery and each car card has a "return to" on it for when it goes off layout.

That brings me to my next desire, to have more prototypical operations. As I read more and more, I think some of the setups I see across the hobby are a little off. The number of cars that can be delivered should equate to the number of delivery spots available at that location and not from any other kind of measurement. For example, a warehouse with 3 doors but a spur length that could hold 5 cars, should only receive 3 cars. It's why thinking about operations, and as a result, industries and the to-be structures, is an important part of planning. Another example used is some type of food processor. They can receive reefers, corn syrup tanks, covered hoppers, etc. Just putting those cars onto the spur isn't prototypical. The reefers should go in front of loading doors or docks, the tank cars as the spots next to their pneumatic hose connections and the same for the covered hoppers or over an unloading pit.

The other thing is, not every car gets moved every day. In fact, when I look at old freight schedules for Conrail, manifests run almost every day (or at least every weekday), but locals may only run every other day, or if they did run each day, sometimes it is one direction one day, and another direction the next. Lance and others confirm this in their writings that reflect observations of the modern prototype. Combine a car that's still be "unloaded" with a car that has to be spotted at a specific spot, and you now have to make an extra move or two to get that car to the right spot.

All of the above helps lengthen a work task and, as a result, the session overall. Also, there are a whole slew of other things like not blocking a crossing, perhaps stopping at a crossing if visibility is low or it's unguarded, always coming to a stop to throw switches, etc. I've started to do this a little bit when I go to other layouts to operate. The two ones I definitely attempt are the cars to the loading door/dock and stopping to throw switches.

In the next post I'll talk about the design I've been working on and how I plan to use some of the stuff in my IT background to help tackle the building of the layout.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Possible New Direction

So I've been doing more research the last month or so. The more I do, the more I'm being drawn into an area, and specifically, a line in the Conrail system that has been suggested to me countless times, the Boston Line. The other one most often mentioned when I talk about what I like is the Buffalo Line but in Conrail's day that had very little operating interest with only 1 manifest and 1 ML in each direction. As I mentioned earlier, the first spark in all this was an article written by Jeff Wilson from the October, 1993, Model Railroader. The only reason I found it is that, being a subscriber, I have access to the online archives. I've found a bunch of other things too, but more on that later. I have a few Conrail books at home and they all devote a few pages to the line. The more I read, the more I liked it, I mean, it has

  • Mainline freight including intermodal and auto (Multi-Level) traffic
  • Interchanges with 4 railroads - Pioneer Valley, B&M, CV/NECR, and MCER
  • Decent sized industrial switching area in Indian Orchard section of Springfield
  • Amtrak trains, although, in the model world this might only be the Lake Shore Limited due to space constraints
  • And picturesque scenery
I make no bones about it, but from afar, I really admire the Cascade Subdivision by Mark Lestico. It was the first issue I got in the Layout Design SIG followed by being in N Scale Railroading. It's an operations oriented layout with fantastic scenery, simplified benchwork construction, and simplified trackwork/plan. I need to figure out how to work out the details, but areas of interest on the layout would be:
  • Paper mill of some kind representing Woronoco 
  • PVRR Westfield interchange, salt distributor and quarry
  • West Springfield Yard
  • Springfield Station area
  • Representative area for Indian Orchard industries, former Athol Industrial and Athol Industrial tracks
  • Palmer and it's interchanges with the NECR (nee CV) and MECR plus one or two industries
  • West Warren because of all this
So now to reach out the few people that have helped me doodling track plans and the like and see how we can fit this in to the area I have available for the basement.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Where to Next

So the blog has been quite. Reality is the entire benchwork has been taken down. The basement area is a mess of stuff I saved and stuff I moved in the dismantling process, plus those stupid plastic bins I now need to move around or find a permanent spot for (more on this later). The other thing I've been questioning is area/locale to model, again. In going simpler, I had mentioned that one of the things I missed with just about any of my previous plans was coal operation and/or mountain scenery.

A fellow modeler said I should look at the Reading cluster up in Hard Coal Country. This became tempting, very, very tempting. In fact, I had looked at the plan Byron Henderson had done on this area. It could fit my space and a few adjustments could be done but otherwise it would've worked. Unfortunately, I love mainline, heavy duty railroading just as much. I tried to come up with good plans adapting from this but never found something I really liked nor was I into it that much to really find a good solution.

With the release of ModelRailroader's Digital Archive, I realized I had access and went back through old issues. Two plans/layout write-ups jumped out at me based on Conrail or former Conrail. One is Bob Sprague's Hershey Plan which can be found in the September, 2013, Model Railroader.  The other was a write up on the Boston Line by Jeff Wilson from October, 1993.

Whenever I've described what I kind of like in my model, more than most will say why don't you look at the Boston Line. It's single-tacked, good amount of rolling stock, has many interchanges, a few yards along it's route, etc. It seems to be a good modeling subject. The article definitely shows that to be the case and access to some ZTS charts for the area also shows it would be good prototype to model.

However, I keep coming back to the Hershey area. While I was going off looking at the steel industry, one of the things I liked was the ability to keep someone busy at just that industry during an ops session, and if done well, they might have to avoid other traffic through the area as well. Well, with there being 3 major plants and a few storage items, Hershey's complex would fit that bill as well. That's something I probably didn't really look at initially but have become more attuned to with operating. Also, one of the drawbacks I've had with these plans is trying to get the Harrisburg area itself into the plans, thus requiring some kind of second deck, which we all know I just took down. Bob's plan incorporates the more modern TV terminal at Rutherford. I believe I could move some things around and leave myself enough room, first by eliminating the M&H peninsula, and incorporating a peninsula that could include the quarry in Annville and a condensed version of the Lebanon area. This would allow for more expanded operations.

Operations is another aspect I'm looking at simplifying. While I am part of a group of operators, it's becoming clear that there are going to soon be more operating layouts then space available on a calendar. I'm also the last person to have joined the group so when it comes to roster's, I'm the AAA call-up and as a result only are only 2 or 3 regular crews. While I understand it, trying to come up with a layout design that could keep 7 or more operators probably isn't really needed. I could do one that could keep a handful busy and call it a day, operating whenever I think it would be ok.

So that's where I'm at, still cleaning and planning. Hopefully as the weather gets nicer and we get adjusted to having the 3rd kid, I'll get more focus on what I'm doing moving forward.


Welcome to the my Conrail Model Railroad site. I will document the research, design, construction and operations of my N-scale model railroad based on Conrail's Ft. Wayne Line in Ohio.

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