Monday, December 15, 2014

Go West Young Man!

So a few things happened recently. As you could tell from an earlier post today, I've contemplated going back and forth on simplifying, knocking stuff down, etc. Well, the first thing that happened in this questioning was removing the idea of a gate. I then designed a loop under the helix to the second level to go under the layout and back to a run through staging. I had even lowered the shelving to accommodate this and reattached the subroadbed above. The more I looked at it, however, the more I realized that the 2nd deck really had nothing to do operationally with the first and was almost a 2nd railroad in need of the same operators as the 1st level. This didn't really sit well with me so after some consultation with the others in my operating group, I decided to shelve the plan to go to Lordstown and Warren, including the GM plant and the WCI Steel Mill and concentrate solely on the Ft. Wayne Line. I kicked around a few spacing plans and came up with a pretty good plan from Alliance through Crestline. Here's level 1 from Alliance through Orrville:

Note that things have been flipped around and the Canton Yard is simplified and now across from the Republic Steel plant which has also been slimmed down some. I rearranged some of the other industries as well. Here is level 2 from Wooster through Crestline:

This plan shows the space between Wooster and Mansfield dominated by a couple of large elevators as well as the GM plant on the outskirts of Mansfield. This plant is on the old Erie mainline. I also tried to keep the plans simple with most industries straight-lined off the mainline, with the Wooster area the exception due to it being on a corner. That worked out ok because those industries are in an industrial park that loops back in on itself.

I feel both of these plans add a little more "dead" space around the layout in areas where non-railroad items could be modeled. So if I stay with everything as is, this will be the intended plan going forward.

Subroadbed Update

So while I contemplate simplifying, I've been adding subroadbed to the layout. On my last construction post, I had only done the one side. Well, I've made it around most of the rest of the layout. Below are some quick pictures of each area:

Dead-end aisle
Peninsula side
Wall Area across from end of peninsula

I also attached the other side of the peninsula and now I'm down to connecting the areas with small pieces of plywood as well as a big 4x4 piece I'm cutting up for the turnback loops. I also have some design updates which I'll post shortly.

Simplify? Get Larger?

I've actually made decent progress on the benchwork and subroadbed top (more to come on this), but since our 3rd addition to our family, I feel like I may never get this double deck layout up and running in a decent amount of time. As a result, i've been looking around at "simpler" layout plans online and in my magazine/book rack. Basically, I got advice on this from a few of my local operators that, other then just put down track, said go around the walls and then figure out if you want a peninsula of the main line, switching, both. So with that in mind, I played around with a few configurations for a single-deck layout. The first is an HO scale layout based on someone's design on, I think, a thread on the Model Railroader forums. I had to adjust it to meet my smaller space, but still have the flow.

Basically, a train would start in staging, go around into the yard, then run a loop around the walls, pass the yard again, then go back into staging. In looking at the plan, there are 2 large-ish switching areas outside of the yard, which I would imagine having industries behind it, and two smaller ones in the short peninsula and the other over at the bottom of the stairs. Obviously being in HO, not sure how much I'd be able to put in each area, but I'm sure I could find help in designing something there. I'm the only N scaler in my operating group so moving up to HO would allow me to have assistance on things like building construction, DCC wiring, etc. I'd also be starting from scratch so any purchases I made would come with knuckle couplers, DCC ready locomotives, etc., and there wouldn't be a large backlog of that work to do in my current N scale collection. Downside is I'd be selling all my N scale items and that could take a while.

I did this outlay first and then said, what about this as a footprint for an N scale layout? So I did a rough in sketch of the same twice around loop.

In this case, I'd separate the two scenes on the one wall. My thoughts were a yard on the front with perhaps a road or some building separating and maybe a TV terminal on the back. The two lines would be separated unlike the HO plan, totaling about 3 scale miles of track. There would be 2 switching areas on the long peninsula, 1 more then is probably doable in the HO plan, and the short peninsula would obviously have a larger industrial base then the HO. Same with the switching area at the bottom of the stairs. Basically, the layout could have what I call 3 mainline switching areas and 4 industrial complex type/branch switching areas. The more operating I do, the more I like the concentrated switch areas where you bring in a local and then do some jigsaw puzzle figuring out to move the cars on the train into spots and the cars in the spots to the outbound train.

So these are some of the thoughts I'm having right now as we approach the holidays and a few days off.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Getting There

This past weekend my daughter came downstairs and helped me put up the first 16' feet of sub-roadbed, 1/2 plywood on top of risers. I decided to do it in a way that would make putting it up quicker. Over on the staging side, I was putting up a riser on every support. Mentioning this to someone at my operating group session on Friday night, told me what he did to make it go quickly, do every-other one, put the sub-roadbed down, then go back later and put in the filler risers. Doing this made this 16' go up in about 45 minutes, about as long as I could keep a 5 year old entertained. This section is going to the Orrville area/representation. Here are some pictures:

Risers connected to plywood by pocket hole screws

Plywood top

2nd one
I stopped where I did because I had to figure out the rise at the end as from Orrville to Massillon I need to gain 1/2 of my elevation change needed for the swing back from Alliance into staging which goes over the line at the west end of Orrville. I went down last night and figured it all out. I plan to use the Woodland Scenics 2% starter kits and just start from the height that matches. Anyways, I figure I need 1 7/8" from the top of the plywood to the bottom of the plywood. I tested this using one of my auto racks. As I, most likely, won't have double-stacks, this was my tallest car. I could've gone another 1/8 or slightly more, but decided to give myself and extra few 1/16" to be safe. Basically, I now know that my plywood top needs to be 1 3/16 higher at Massillon then at Orrville. I'll work on those risers the next few nights as I complete up other work around the house (it's amazing what you can do when you finish various tasks around the house, just part of the momentum). I'd like to have all of the tops for the 1st level in by next weekend. The upper level should go much easier as there's no change in the elevation (that's planned). Ultimate goal is track laying starting Labor Day!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Subroadbed Construction Commences!

The first riser was installed last night:

I put up another 13 of them before hitting a wall rest wise due to tiling a bathroom for the past week. Hoping to get more done this weekend.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More Benchwork Work

If you couldn't tell, I'm in a building kinda mood. I've been dedicating a minimum of 30 minutes and no more then about 1 1/2 hours each night to doing something layout related. Tonight (last night?) was no different. I removed the 3" I needed on the sections of benchwork using my trusty cordless Kobalt Sawzall. Seriously, this tool is awesome, highly recommend. Here's the resulting benchwork:

I think I mentioned this previously but I've had some of the wood have moldy looking spots on them. I remember seeing this on one or two pieces of plywood that I ripped into these 1x3s. I really didn't think anything of it at the time but obviously when I saw it on the layout on more then one piece, I started cutting and throwing stuff out. Well, today I discovered the main culprit. The piece in the bottom picture above had nothing but that mold/mildew spots on it as well as this big long streak UNDER the primer/sealer I had put on. I immediately tossed it. I'm hoping that's the last of it. On a bright note, I found a whole bunch of 1x3s I had cut up that I forgot I had since I had cleaned the basement and stacked them all nicely under the benchwork. I don't know about everyone else, but I can never find anything after I clean. Moving along, I put up one of the fronts, reusing the good one from the set I took down.

I then laid out the rest of the fronts mixing and matching the sizes I need to finish. After I did this, I realized, these are last pieces, except for any angled pieces I need and whatever goes in for the helix, of benchwork I need to put up before I can start with risers. I'm very excited. Hopefully by Saturday everything is up and we're talking about risers starting to pop-up. Here's a panoramic view of the remaining work to be done.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Staging Rebuild

I realized I hadn't updated the site with my work on the staging and mill areas. Here are a few pics of my updates over the last few weekends. At first, I had to rebuild the area to go from 15" wide to 24" wide on both the upper and lower areas and then put backdrops. First the upper level which is where the blast furnace and coke plant will be:

And then the lower level, which will be staging:

I then put the fronts up.

I used my Kreg Jig for all of this. The shelves are really, really solid, which is great for the upper level. I also worked on the other side of this wall. Next steps are to fill in some holes in the backdrop where 10' of backdrop was needed but I only got 8' long strips.

I will say this, getting small steps done each week is really good. I still have a goal of being ready for track laying come this fall.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Update and 2nd Level Plan

Work keeps going slowly on the benchwork reconstruction. I've got all the pieces cut for the staging and steel mill complex. I only got a few up and will work this week on getting the rest up. I then played around with the 2nd level plan. The one thing I wanted to at least try to do is keep some resemblance of prototype setup as well as see if I couldn't reduce the upper level benchwork back down to 12 inches wide. The bottom level is 15" and so is the upper level around 2 of the 3 walls. It's 12" on the wall above what has always been the yard area. But before I took out the sawzall (which all the guys in my operating group say is my favorite benchwork building tool), I needed to make sure the plan would fit the reduced width. I came up with a slight compromise as only where the BOF and Continuous Caster are would I need to be 15" wide, due mostly to the width of these buildings or supporting structures like adhesive shed or scrap shed. Here's the resulting plan:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Backdrops Up!

Over the 3-day weekend, I took one day and said I'm doing a bunch of things with the layout I need to get done. Well, that really turned into only 1 thing, putting up and/or cutting the backdrops I needed. After putting up all the remaining strips I had on hand, I went around, figured out how much more I needed then went over to my local HD and got 4 sheets of 1/8 Hardboard. Once home, I used my cordless circular saw and ripping guide and ripped the remaining items needed to width. The end result is about 75% of the backdrops are in place with the remaining hopefully being put up this weekend. Here are some photos of the installed ones:

The other item I've been working on is my car inventory. I'm glad I'm doing this as I will be jettisoning quite a few cars as a result of being out of era or not appropriate for the selected prototype operations. For example, I have a ton of Bathtub Gondolas which, while were ubiquitous on Conrail, they wouldn't have been on my line or used in delivery of Coal/Coke to the mill or coke plant, respectively.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Benchwork Repair

In my previous post, I used my Kreg Jig to create the replacement L-girder for the helix base. In this post I show how I used it for repairing the sections I had to take out because of the mold/mildew on the wood. In the system I bought, there is what is called the "repair jig". It's the main jig but with clamps and a spacer, you can use it to drill pocket holes in various pieces of wood to reinforce pieces of wood. The big example shown on the Kreg website is repairing furniture that's come loose. In this case, I needed to reattach the front of the grid benchwork so I figured, to make things easier, I'd use the portable jig to make reattaching them easier.

Here is the first end that I'm going to attach the new front section to.

Here is the clamp that also came with the Master jig set. You use it to either clamp pieces of wood together or the jig to the work piece.

Here it is clamped to the work piece and the jig.

As before, I drilled the pocket holes. The jig comes with 3 pocket holes. The 2 outside holes are for 1x3s and above. I forget which two are for 1x2s.

Now I clamped the piece using the same pocket hole clamp as before. This was a little tricky as I had to adjust each side and once I got it, I went ahead and clamped it down.

I then went down each pocket hole and screwed in the pocket hole screws, resulting in an extremely solid open grid

I gotta say, after putting this all together, the grid is solid now, more then it was before using drywall screws. I have a few new sections to put up for the expanded staging and the extending the 2nd level in two areas. I'm going to build out those grids using these pocket holes/screws. Everything should be solid as a result.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Glueless L-Girders

I've been fighting mold and mildew on some of the benchwork. I think there was some on the plywood I bought a few years ago and now it's just manifested itself. The wood had been stored in a shed so I think I'm seeing the remnants of that storage now, particularly after the sump failed for a brief time. Anyways, this required me to rip out a set of legs and an L-Girder. When I was building the L-girders before, I didn't really like using all the clamps while the glue dried or trying to get the screws in to hold both pieces in place. I figured there had to be another way that wasn't that hard. My other hobby is woodworking and I recently purchased a Kreg Jig that assisted me in making drawers for a dresser. I had also used it for the table top of the dresser as well as attached other pieces together for various parts of the dresser. I thought it would be a great tool to use to create a new L-Girder.

First, there are a few various jigs available. The one I used was the workbench jig which includes a base that can hold the Kreg Jig itself. The base also has a clamp and I had attached the vacuum attachment but realized I didn't have the right nozzle to hook mine up to it. I placed the long board into the base and clamped it down.

Jig from above
Jig from the side

I then took the cordless drill with the extra long bit that comes with the set and drilled through one of the holes in the top of the jig shown in the top photo. Below is the first pocket hole drilled for the long board.

 Here are the others for the rest of the board

Next up you put the board together as show  below.

The jig comes with a clamp that is used to join two pieces of wood that will be placed together using the pocket holes.

Below is the setup. I didn't notice it before, but the ends weren't flush together like they should be so the L-girder wasn't flush on that end.

Here is a look from the front.

With one of the pocket holes clamped, you then use the special, square bit to screw the Kreg made screws into the pocket holes and repeat for all the holes.

 The finished L-girder without any glue.

Here it is installed in which it will be the base for the helix.

You can see my mistake on the flush sides with the clamp.

Overall, this whole process, if I wasn't taking photos, would've only taken about 5-10 minutes. In my next post, I'll show how I used the jig to fix sections of benchwork I had to take out due to the same mold/mildew issue.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Risers and more Risers

I spent last night cutting risers, lots of them. I need something like 200 for the layout and cut up probably 70. But like I did before with the support structure, set up a quick jig, i.e., a piece of wood clamped to my mitre saw at 5" and started cutting up the left-over ripped 1x3s. Next up is to drill all the pocket hole in them. I have a Kreg Jig that I use in wood working and have gotten a lot of use out of it in a relatively short time (mostly fixing stuff I cut wrong or short o had the wrong wood for, but that's another story). My thinking is putting two risers on each cross-brace and screwing pocket holes up into the 1/2 plywood roadbed. I'm going to have to make sure everything is level and the like. I do need many more risers so I'm probably going to be buying a few 2' x 4'  handy panels of 3/4 plywood and ripping them into 1x3s for use in either riser construction or more supporting structures.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Plan and more

As of this past Sunday, the basement floor has been cleared of anything on it and mostly cleaned up but I should probably do another vacuum/mop of it. This came as the result of our sump once again not turning on and my wife happening to go down into the basement to get some milk out of the refrigerator down there. Had that not happened, who knows how much water would've been in the basement when we came back from our day full of activities. The good news is I had most of the basement cleaned anyways, I just happened to be able to call a bunch of friends over to help me remove the rest of the junk. Also, I've been attempting to get the first-level plan done because I'm at the point now I have enough wood, track, turnouts, and wire to get started on the next phase in this journey. I managed to play around with some things and extend the cover of the prototype line to Orrville, home of Smuckers (at least it used to be). This will let me use the corn syrup cars I originally bought for Hersehy here. I also found out that they received crushed grapes in these cars too. Who knew? A couple other hangups on industries in Alliance and the Republic Steel representation prevented me from getting everything figured out but with the help of Google Maps and Bing Maps, both of which should be an everyday tool for model railroaders like an Razor saw and soldering iron, I found the industries to model in the areas I had available. They won't match the prototype locations 1 for 1 but will in operational flexibility and hopefully some in actual appearance as best I can. Anyways, without further ado, here is the new, first-level plan:

One other item I discovered while researching the prototype, my railroad will essentially be 2 separate ones as only 1 train (to/from) will traverse the helix, COLT and LTCO. Most of the trains feeding the steel mill came from Haselton Yard in Youngstown and/or unit trains using the Youngstown Line from Pittsburgh and Ashtabula.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Proto Location - Finally

Over the holidays I cleaned up the basement. In respites of that, I continued to formulate what I wanted to do in the basement within the context of the existing benchwork. I talked a number of times with one of the members of the operating group I participate in, Chris Conaway, as I thought he has a nice setup. Chris has a double-track mainline running around his lower level with thru staging and a branch line that runs off to a second level. You can see pictures of the layout starting here. I've operated on this layout a number of times and really like the setup even with some of the tightness in the aisles. Chris has done a great job of getting an operating layout in his basement with all of the obstructions and extremely low ceiling.. I talked with him about how/why he designed it the way he did. Chris said he always had the double deck in mind and it wound up that the lower level was a good height for his kids and friends to run the trains on and the branch ended up being good for him to run on. He had built the layout more with different scenes and industries in mind then a specific area. I remember visiting it in 2008 before I knew any of the guys I currently operate with and it was a PRR "located" on the Northern Central. By the time I joined the operating group in 2010, Chris had changed the location of his layout based on the PRR Panhandle line through Newark, Oh., with the Branch running towards New Lexington. The towns actually lined up nicely and he had interchanges already setup and/or planned where they were on the actual line. The industries aren't modeled as faithfully, but where appropriate, provide accurate names of the industries for the towns they are in, consider it a proto-freelanced layout driven by operations.

What does all this have to do with me? Well, Chris suggested I sit down and just map out where I wanted towns and the like, and, if possible, find a closely-resembling area of Conrail for the layout to be set in. With that and figuring my layout was setup perfectly for the same type of setup he had (we both have/need a gate for continuous running). So with that, I drew out what I wanted or what I could think would fit and labeled it on a string-line diagram.
So what I came up with was an East-West line with a branch that headed north to a steel mill. This sent me on a search around the Conrail system. This actually led me to two areas. The first being the Chicago Line in northern Ohio with the Steel Mill being Lorain. The branch off to the NS line wasn't as long as my upper level would be so I didn't pursue it much further. The other area was looking back towards a previous area of the prototype I researched 6 months or so ago, the Ft. Wayne Line. The Lordstown Secondary comes off just east of Alliance and runs north towards the Youngstown area to serve a pair of GM assembly plants. Further north of those plants, it connects with Conrail's Niles Secondary which served over the course of its time a number of steel mills. Just west of this connection is the town of Warren, Oh. Located there, during my modeled period, was the LTV Steel Mill (then WCI, then Severstal, now closed and most likely going to be demolished) as well as a coke battery that is now owned by ArcelorMittal. Looking at this area, it is almost too perfect to model as an integrated mill. There's only 85 batteries in the Coke Oven, which through compression could be reduced in half and still be believable, one blast furnace, one Basic Oxygen Furnace, a continuous caster, 2 rolling Mills, and an interchange yard. When I saw the layout of the plant and its components, I knew I had my prototype inspiration. This mill combined with the auto plants could give the branch line the heavy industries that would make its existence through Conrail's life believable as well as provide for interesting movements. As such, I modified the above line diagram putting real places on the map based off of this information.
Now, looking at the map, I had a few dilemmas. First, 90% of the traffic coming from Pittsburgh would've taken the connection in Alliance to Cleveland and not continued on the Ft. Wayne Line. Second, some of the interesting industries in Canton don't line up 100% in the order I had planned things around the yard. After some quick doodling, placement and analysis, I figured for operational purposes, I could just model the trains that traveled the Ft. Wayne Route, about 8 manifests and 4 Mail/TVs, and not worry about any of the Cleveland traffic. COLT/LTCO was the main manifest that went up the Lordstown Secondary and actually had a number of cars on it for a refinery all the way out in Pennsylvania. To add some more interest, this could be brought over to the branch line to add some more operating instances and perhaps add another local or manifest to the mix. Another study in all of this was that Canton was a mixing point of these manifests and locals that would set out and run miles for switching the industries. For example INPI would drop auto parts box cars in canto for COLT to add for delivery and vice-versa on the way back. This would make Canton a perfect model railroad size yard as only locals originate/terminate from here, everything else block swaps. With that, I played around with the locations on my benchwork and as it relates to the overall basement to come up with the following layout/space usage:
and once liking that layout, I produced a schematic that would help in doing more detailed planning that I am about to embark on:
There are some really cool scenes along this route, including a picturesque bridge in Massillon, Oh. Other crossings/interchanges will definitely add to the ops facility. I must say, when I kept coming back to this area, I knew it was calling me and while to add operations I'm adding a few things or taking liberty with some (like assembled autos really went out on CSX not Conrail), I think this area will meet everything I'm looking for out of a layout.


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.

Conrail Ft. Wayne Line © Header image from J. Alex Lang Template Nice Blue modified by Indian Monsters. Original created by