Monday, November 29, 2010

Layout Progress - November 29, 2010

Last week I had built the base for what I'm calling the right peninsula. Over the course of the week, I built a jig to help in building the support posts and joists for the free-standing areas. Here's a picture of that jig:

I then tested this out building one support/joist combination:

Once I felt comfortable with this, I built the other 9 needed for the peninsula. I then cut all the wood I would need for each of the remaining peninsulas and supporting 1x2s. I managed to build the rest of the L-girders and 2x2s for the top plates. I then worked on building the spine for the peninsula. Yesterday afternoon, the first section of free standing benchwork was completed.

The legs are 2x4s with an L-girder across there tops and 1x2s for cross braces. The peninsula has 4 of them, each spaced 44" apart. Two more L-girder run across the tops of the legs, pointing inwards. By pointing the L-girders inwards, I get the added stability of the base platform. The actual benchwork to support each level are 2 1x2s laminated as the support post and 3 1x3s attached. Each is glued and screwed to the support post. Running across the bottom is a 1x2 which is attached to each support post and joist. Across the top are 2 1x2s laminated together and screwed into each post and joist as well. The bottom 1x2 is screwed into each leg's L-girder. Hopefully this week I can build the other two free-standing sections and begin putting the 1x3s across the front to tie all these together. Oh, and my plan on the height of everything was to get 2 of those plastic storage tubs under the layout. I completely forgot about a tool cart and cooler on wheels I had. Luckily, the layout is high enough to roll them underneath.

Look for what I hope to be a everything's up and ready for subroadbed post next week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Staging Decision

So I'm slowly creeping towards completing all base benchwork for the layout itself and need to finalize either my design, or at the very least, how many helices I'll have to build. The big question for me is what to do with staging. I've been looking at ways to have the staging below the 1st level, out in the open but looped, etc. I've probably done more designs on just my staging arrangement than most people do for their entire layout, but I think it's necessary. If towns and such are done wrong or not working, you can usually move things around, particularly on a shelf-style layout like mine. Staging, on the other hand, can be very difficult and expensive to move. I've essentially come to two options. The first is to come down a helix from both the 1st and 2nd levels into staging below the 1st level, approximately 24"-26" off the floor on the bottom shelf brackets. Here is the plan I came up with:

  • Allows for continuous running
  • All track is easily accessible
  • Creates 30 "slots" for staged trains
  • Building of the second helix
  • Potential complicated  track work at top of helix for Roanoke Line
  • Very tight curve back to get continuous running
  • Difficult benchwork on turnback to helix, under the freestanding sections
 And here is the second option:
  • Accessible area for switches
  • Do not have to build a second helix
  • Opens up area under 1st level for shelf storage, possibly opening up the rest of the basement for expansion
  • Could have continuous running if loop built around hot water heater
  • Opens access to all sides of the furnace
  • Allows for other peninsula to gain 2 ft. or fun on each sides, equaling another 4' of run
  • No way for continuous running as designed with out difficult benchwork around water heater
  • Building of swing/removable section (1st level at 40" only) to make access to Gas meter easier
  • Only has 10/11 tracks (keeping a 15" width on shelve) for staging
  • Partially difficult trackage to reach behind the furnace area
As you can see, this utilizes the "dead" area behind the furnace to the water heater. I originally was thinking of not blocking/utilizing this area to get to the gas meter. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that access to the gas meter will be needed for probably on one, maybe 2 times during the course of my layout's life. For that, the curved area of this plan could be built to be removed.

I'm starting to lean towards the second option but if anyone else has any thoughts, I'd be interested in hearing them.

Layout Progress - November 22, 2010

I had a light weekend of work this week, but did manage to build one of the 3 (for now) free standing supports. This one was for the peninsula. It is comprised of 4 legs which are 2 2x4s joined by an L-girder on top of it and 1x2 bracing. Then the legs are joined by L-girders, which are pointed inward to give a more solid foundation to the legs. The end legs are approximately 12" in from the ends of the girders and the middle ones are 44" after them. I also put threaded screws and elevator bolts into the legs to help with leveling and only had to make two adjustments once everything was together.

It's a pretty solid piece right now, not much side to side and only a little flex. The next step is to build the joist framework that will sit on top of the L-girders and legs.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thinking City Locations

 Last night, since I was still a little sleep deprived from Wednesday night, I figured it would be easier for me to do some design thoughts rather than go down into the basement and try and make things square. Essentially, I placed "towns" on the areas I would expect them to be on my plan. Here's the layout as of right now:

Labels in blue are on the lower level, and purple the upper level. The reality is, on this line, generally, there are two primary industries to serve, chemical plants and coal plants. I'll probably add some other smaller industries, like a stamping/small auto parts facility and possibly a paper/wood products company or associated type industries in Summersville or Richwood with maybe warehouses in Charleston. Here's a break down of the general industries/purpose of each "town", starting at the helix on the left, which comes up from staging.

First Level:
  • Nitro - Chemical Plants everywhere (about 4 different ones) on the prototype and some yard facilities, probably do 1 small and 1 medium size plant here.
  • Institute - Chemical Plant - prototype had a Union Carbide plant including delivery of coal for cogeneration from the Hiltop branch which connects in Charleston
  • Charleston - A few small industries on the prototype, will probably put the auto parts plant here and a few other box car facilities as well as an Amtrak station
  • Port Amherst - will be the site, as on the prototype, of a coal to barge transfer if I decide to not just have empty running
  • Belle - DuPont chemical plant, massive and will be the signature large industry on the layout.
  • Charleston TV/Dickinson - Main classification yard with engine service facilities and small intermodal yard, probably one or two tracks no more than 40". The TV yard is not on the prototype, but hey, neither is the line continuing past Cornelia either or NYC buying the Virginian and not the N&W
Into the Helix up to the ...

Second Level
  • Alloy: Union Carbide metals plant
  • Deep Water: Bridge for the Roanoke Line (ex. Virginian), which will go through the backdrop and around to a "junction" at the top of the helix down to staging
  • Gauley Bridge/Peters Jct.: Interchange with CSX's line to Clifton Forge and shortlines, primarily the NF&G, to mines. Possible Amtrak Station as well
  • Gilboa - this is a Beth Energy mine for Burns Harbor traffic and is a loop loader so on the layout the main will go hidden under the loop and mine complex
  • Cornelia - not sure I'm going to follow the prototype and have a branch or just put the mine along the main, probably the latter
  • Summersville - first town on the "what-if" line, will probably move it more around the corner and a few lumber related industries
  • Richwood - last line, a few small industries, not sure if putting an Amtrak Station here or Summersville
Staging, under the first level, about 26" off the floor - 10 double ended tracks with 3 "slots" in each, 1 through with return loop for continuous running. That's at least how I'm going to start laying down track on the plan and we'll see what fits, how close things are, etc.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Layout "Re-Focus"

As I mentioned in my layout progress post earlier today, I've been refocusing the theme/prototype of my layout. I've found, as I've visited, read about, and rethought the railroading I like, that I'm drawn towards the mountains of the east. My chosen prototype road has not changed, it's still Conrail, but the "where" to model it in the mountains, while still getting the traffic flows I want, was becoming more difficult. When someone thinks of mountain railroading and Conrail, they most likely think of the former Pennsylvania Middle Division. I did not want to do this area of Conrail as it's been done so much, maybe not Conrail, but in PRR or PC, and I didn't think I could do it justice and still have it operationally interesting. So I began looking at other lines, like the Buffalo Line, as possibilities. While the Buffalo Line would give me that "through the mountains" feel, it doesn't have the type of traffic densities I'd be looking for. So then I began to look around at other lines for "what-if" moments and that led me to the West Virginia Secondary.

The West Virginia Secondary is a former New York Central line, by way of the Kanawha and Michigan, that Conrail took over when it was formed in 1976. The line runs from Columbus to Dickinson, Wv., east of Charleston. East of Dickinson, the line continues to a number of mines, as well as interchanges with the Norfolk Southern near Alloy, Wv., and CSX at Gauley's Bridge. The reality of this line, as run by the prototype, was 1 manifest and a number of coal trains. The single manifest was really large, however, as there were/are lots of chemical and metal plants along the line.

With this knowledge in hand, I began to focus on "what ifs" surrounding this line. I concentrated on scenarios that could extend this line eastward, perhaps to a harbor in the tidewater region of Virginia. The obvious choice would be that the NYC bought the Virginian. To me, that wasn't a strong enough what-if to get the traffic densities I wanted and that purchase alone wouldn't be plausible, although, in reality, the Virginian's northern section was nothing but the NYC. The other "what-if" I found came about somewhat circuitously. For a number of months, I've thought about plausible ways to get Conrail into the Shenandoah Valley. I really like the history and scenery of that area, but getting CR into that area after the PRR sold the Shenandoah Valley Line to N&W would have been very problematic. As I began reading through some of the abandoned railroad history in Virginia, two lines popped out at me. One was an abandoned section of the Chesapeake Western, the other the Washington and Old Dominion. I decided not to pursue anything with the W&OD as the line's goal was to get to Winchester, WV, and other lines built towards WV from Winchester didn't get very far because there wasn't a great valley to use to climb over the mountains.

The CW, under variations of its name, was originally chartered to be a line built into the coal fields of West Virginia to a connection with the C&O at Gordonsville, Va. In looking into its history some more, the CW was a second attempt at another line from central/northern Virginia to West Virginia. The first, the Washington, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, was to be a narrow gauge line that ran from Alexandria through the present and former CW right of way, directly across WV (bypassing Charleston) to Cincinnati. Beyond Cincinnati, it would connect with another narrow gauge line coming from St. Louis and ultimately be a part of a transcontinental narrow gauge line. Eschewing the direct line across Virginia, I began looking at how this line might have been completed to the terminus of CR's WV Secondary. The WV Secondary followed Gauley River valley to its coal mines. The rail goes as far as Cornelia, Wv., just east of Summersville. It borders WV 39 most of the way. So starting near Summersville, I began to map out routes using Google's Terrain view and it "would" have been possible to build, very similar to the route of WV 39, across the mountains using river/creek valleys with some tunnels, out to the area around where the CW ended at the base of the mountains, Stokesville, Va.

In my version of history, the K&M and CW built these lines, each starting from their own end, to meet in the late 1890s, early 1900s. Also, with NYC backing, the CW was built towards Gordonsville and Alexandria, ultimately terminating at the junction with the C&O and close to Potomac Yard. Similarly, the NYC invested in the Virginian as well, and taking them over in the 1940s, forming the Vigninia Central Lines. Subsequent merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad would give me the lines for Conrail to get into this area. As a result, the resulting CR system map would be:
As you can see, I've drawn the line to Washington and added the Virginian's lines. Of note, the CW also bought the B&O's line from Harrisonburg, Va., to Lexington, Va. I've added that into the map as well. More specifically, the portion of the line I'd be looking at is from just west of Charleston, probably starting near Nitro, Wv., through Summersville, Wv. as the map below indicates:
There were enough online industries, like the many chemical plants, small lumber industries, and few metal/manufacturing industries, to make traffic and industrial variety. I've also been thinking of traffic flow, and the types of trains. The breakdown I've gotten to (I will post the "Operations" area later tonight) was 4 manifests in each direction, 3 intermodals in each direction, 4 coal trains in each direction, 2 auto/multi-level in each direction, and 2 Amtrak trains in each direction.

Overall, I'm happy with the approach, my modeled area will be 95% of the existing Conrail WV Secondary area and I'll manage to get the traffic variety I want. The biggest draw back I have right now as far as layout design is the "Roanoke Line" junction to the former Virginian and getting the staging right for that portion of the lines.

Layout Progress - November 15, 2010

So it's been quite awhile since my last update post. This doesn't mean I haven't been working on the layout, just haven't taken the time to document where I'm at with things. Last time, I had built two prototype shelf brackets for the second level. I realized these would take forever to build, so I scrapped that idea. At the same time, I found a listing on Craig's List for some cabinet grade plywood pieces, about 40% of sheet size, for $4-$5 per piece. Needless to saw, I bought a bunch and ripped them into pieces for the benchwork. Here are some photos as I went through the process of ripping the plywood and how it filled up the existing shelves:

After doing this, I then started building the second level benchwork, essentially building a C out of 1x3s mounted to the sides of the stud walls. Here's a really poor picture of the resulting effort along one wall:
Each bracket is glued and screwed to the stud, making the bond surprisingly strong. I had to take the hammer to the other two types of brackets I had put up last month to get them off with just the glue holding them to the studs. I don't have a picture, but I've put these up all around the room, so the second benchwork shelf brackets are up. Yesterday I built 5 more legs for the peninsula, free standing portions of the layout, similar to this leg:
An L-girder is mounted between the two legs with cross braces of 1x2s holding them as close to square as possible. I've also bought a number of bolt inserts and elevator bolts to help in leveling the benchworks and giving me the addition 1" of height I'm expecting.
I then made one of two 155" L-girders using the plywood I had ripped. The L-girder isn't as "stable" as I'd like, but I'm waiting to see how it is on top of the legs before evaluating whether my idea of shorter sections was good or not. Essentially, I ripped 45" lengths of 1x4 and 2" pieces of plywood, for the side and top respectively, and then staggered them to form the L-girder. I did put bracing between the side pieces but it still feels a little wobbly so we'll see. The more important thing is once I build the second one, I need to clear out all the crap I have in the center of the room so I can put the peninsula up and it will really look like I'm making progress. I've got some other news, which I'll put in another post, on the "focus" of the layout, but I need to finalize some details of it as well as update/verify the layout plan to see if what I want to do will actually work.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Houston, we have a problem

I guess it's always better to find things out as you do mock-ups then after actually trying to cut wood or building something. Tonight, I went down to the basement after examining my plan a little more closely to figure some things out regarding the helices, particularly the one that transitions between the 1st and 2nd level near the furnace. The aisle width between the turnback loop on the peninsula and the edge of "curved" fascia of the helix was a minimal 24". I didn't think that would be bad for one person to traverse at a time, especially considering there'd be very little traffic really going down this aisle as it'd probably be the one exception always walk with your train on the layout. However, as I looked at trying to build the base for the helix, I quickly came to realize that this aisle width would be much tighter, possibly 18" or less. To me, that is an unacceptable width for road crews to navigate, even if it is only one at a time. Also, if the assumption is road crews would stand at the top and just wait for their trains to come out of the helix and pick them back up again on the turnback loop, we all know Murphy would deem the other end of this aisle dead man's curve where no-train shall pass without a problem.

The other issue I began to think about was the branch line and its impact on switching and blocking of the aisles. After only participating in two operating sessions, I can already appreciate the time and space required to properly switch a large industry. Each of these mines were to have upwards of 15 cars. Each run would require the drop-off of the empties and the pickup of loads. Now, on the surface that doesn't seem like it should take that long, however, if one has to block cars, as should always be done when picking up cars from an industry, this can get quite complicated and time consuming. So moving the mine run(s) off somewhere else would be beneficial to the operational ease/comfort level of the layout. I am also having this same question on both the auto plant and chemical plant but from feedback I've received on the design of each, I might receive bodily harm if I change their configuration, especially the chemical plant.

As a result, I'm thinking of taking the other side of the basement, i.e., the left side of the layout plans, and doing the following:

  • Creating Branches that run on the "outside" of the peninsula that would serve, on the lower and upper levels respectively:
    • Either the Auto Plant or Intermodal yard (ala Huntsville Intermodal Facility)
    • Mine branch with a single mine
  • Creating looped staging with 18" aisle clearance between the furnace and the edge of benchwork and 18" aisle clearance between the edge of the turnback loop and center wall but also a 45"-48" "space" between the left peninsula and that center wall, perhaps to be used by the dispatcher or a workbench
  • Moving the power plant to the second level to be on the center peninsula as I think it's a very visual industry
  • I only need to build one helix which is a plus from a time and material perspective and it's in a spot that has always been designated for helix assignment
I'm working through these details and really need to get them complete in short order as I've already rip plywood into dimensional widths based on the other design and while they footprints are close, there are some subtle difference between them (like what do I do with the bracket standards now?). Does anyone have any other thoughts?


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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