Sunday, December 27, 2015

Traffic Flow

My last post focused on the grain industries found online. As I still await borrowing my in-laws truck to go get the rest of the items I need to finish off the room and base for the benchwork, I focused on the traffic flow. One thing I know is that my current roster is going to need to be overhauled. When I was focusing on Harrisburg, I bought a lot of intermodal items. When I changed to West Virginia Secondary, I loaded up on coal cars. Now, obviously, those cars aren't going to be needed so I'm going to start jettisoning them shortly. But I needed to research the traffic flow across the prototype.

The Ft. Wayne Line in this area really was the cut-through for trains and goods form Conway and points east it served with the South and Southwest gateways in Cincinnati and on the way to St. Louis (through Columbus and Indianapolis, respectively). In order to help with the research, I turned to what every Conrail modeler should when doing traffic flow/source research, Conrail Commodities. While it gives a general overview, one can deduce certain movements from it. Using grain as an example, as export grain (usually to Baltimore) dwindled, grain shipments became short hauls in Ohio and Indiana to southern markets. This would mean many would go towards Columbus for points south to NS and CSX. Auto parts traffic is another interesting development. Conrail used Columbus and Toledo for parts and vehicle distribution networks, however, parts also flowed to Indianapolis. The plant on my modeled portion was a GM plant which sent parts to Lordstown assembly but, in looking through the Automotive section of the book, quite possibly sent part to an assembly plant in Indiana as well as potentially GM plants Shreveport, La., and Arlington, Tx, as well as one in St. Louis. These parts would be forwarded to Avon (Indianapolis) for sorting into the 2 or 3 originating trains there for the westward connection. The one item I can take away from that is this plant could have a mix of Auto Part boxcars, mostly CR, but could conceivably have UP or predecessor road cars to offset per diem charges on their end. The results of this research can be summed up in the image I drew up below:

So with the above information in hand, I have an idea of the cars and road names I would need for cars coming online for delivery/shipment as well as "over the line" blocks.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Grain Movements and Industries on the Line

As I slug through the semi-room prep and benchwork base, I've been using my time to evaluate my freight roster versus the industries on the line right now targeted to be modeled. Being in Northeast/North Central Ohio, the grain industry is to be heavily represented. In looking at the "elevators" on the modeled line, I came up with the following list:

  • Sun Mark Limited in Mansfield, Oh (now Town & Country Co-Op)
  • Agri Mark Farmers Co-Op (now also Town & Country Co-Op) in Loudonville, Oh
  • Conagra Mills (now part of Ardent Mills) in Loudonville, Oh
  • Cargill Feeds in Wooster
  • Land O' Lakes/Landmark in Wooster
Of the five modeled, according to NS's grain customer site, all but the Agri Mark Co-Op is rail served, however, I think the Land O' Lakes one is also no longer rail served, at least directly. Because the grain industry is so diverse, I decided to delve into each industry and using the power of the internet try and determine what each of these industries really did. 

I'll start with the largest one first, Sun Mark Limited in Mansfield. 

This is a terminal elevator which, even during Conrail's time, was a source for grain for use in a unit train.  In looking at Town & Country's site and Norfolk Southern's customer page one can see it's still a terminal elevator to originate loads out (and maybe some in). Needless to say, this should be a major customer on the line. One note is that on the NS page you can see that the Ashland Railway is indicated as the switcher. This might make the ASRY local that comes into Oak Street yard from staging have a little more play value then simply a out and back operation.

The next one to look at is the one that's probably most mysterious in this, but that may be because I'm expecting what it is to be larger. That is the Conagra Mill which, according to Wikipedia, is a flour mill.

NS's customer page also lists them as Wheat Flour Mills. While wheat isn't a main crop in this part of Ohio, it is grown. What I'm not sure is whether this collects or produces flour. The history I can find on this location is that it looks like it produces flour and based on the pneumatic trucks seen in the map above, it must still (I can't imagine wheat being transported in those trucks). This leads me to believe that it is a producer and receives both local and, more likely, rail wheat for operations.

The next one is also in Loudonville, however, it is no longer rail served., the Agri Mark Farmers Co-Op (as outlined in the ZTS I have read), now part of Town & Country, on the east side of Loudonville.

Looking at Town & Country's site again, it looks like this is an animal feed facility, although it is also listed in the grain storage/delivery page as well. This would mean that the ingredients for feed would come in by rail and truck and feed would be delivered to local customers. According to the ZTS, this had both a loading spout and a unloading hopper so it is conceivable that it might ship some feed or byproduct out or even perhaps local grain shipped out since there appears to be some separation where the loading/unloading could occur as well as the facilities for each.

As we travel further east, we enter Wooster where two of these industries are located. The first is relatively easy to identify, the Cargill Animal Feed elevator on the south side of town.

This is still served by NS and has a capacity of 5 and is labeled under Animal/Poultry Feed. You can go to street view and see the truck loading building so it's I'm going to guess that feed or feed ingredients come into the facility and are packaged up and delivered to local customers by truck.

The last one in Wooster, Land O' Lakes (now Land O' Lakes Purina Feed), is the interesting one.

According to NS, it is still rail served, although they may be listing the office only as you can see no rails go into the facility. It is listed as an elevator but further searching indicates it is a storage only feed elevator. So perhaps, unlike the Cargill facility, this facility receives feed loads only and stores them for distribution by truck to customers.

The main take away from this for me is that I need to invest in covered hoppers and the resulting products in and out can help with how the cars will be routed on which trains and ultimate destinations.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Takedown then Back Up, only better

So after sleeping on it and then taking another look this morning, I decided to remove the shelves and put up some masonite strips I had from the previous benchwork. Luckily, they were just the right height to go from the bottom of the standards up to the header 2x4 so I used them instead of buying more/cutting the larger pieces I had. First thing I did was take a few 1x3s and screw them below and touching the standards from before. I then laid the the hardboard on top of them (working alone) and screwed in the hardboard:

Once that was done, I went about putting the standards back up:

and then the shelves themselves, realigning so the fronts line up this time and one doesn't jut out from the other:

I must admit, it does look better that way. Luckily I have 3 more strips this wide which will give me the coverage I need, lest some corner work, for the other 2 walls,


Monday, November 23, 2015

Progress with Pics

So I was finally able to clean up the side of the basement the layout will be on. This included moving things to the center, sweeping then vacuuming up all the debris that had collected over the last few years. So here is my blank slate, once again:

This past weekend, I took the opportunity with my NFL team playing horribly to start on the construction along the walls. I decided I'd do the valance first since I wasn't sure I would really want or need one. I also wasn't sure the height it would end up at would work out. I did want to have a shelf above the layout, hidden by some masonite on the front to act as said valance. I was able to get one wall done in a little less then 30 minutes of work before family stuff moved in.

My thoughts are a 1x3 screwed to the front of the shelves then hardboard over that to give the valance a good look and somewhat hide the shelf. Before that happens though, I will most like begin migrating some of the wood laid out on the other side of the basement so I can fully disassemble the previous staging yard while constructing the rest of the benchwork. I'm looking forward to the 4-day weekend to see how far I can get with initial construction.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Progress, Kind of

Got the layout area almost back to square one:

Hopefully by this time next week, everything is finished being cleaned up and organized. The plan is to go through and throw out any wood not needed (some of it is leftovers from woodworking projects no longer needed), move the shelf standards up, possibly getting a few more for a valence, and then laying out the benchwork for the around the walls portion of the plan before engaging on peninsula construction.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Update - No PIcs

It's been a while since I've posted anything on my efforts. I have been trying to find time to get the basement cleaned up and organized. I had a November 1st deadline in mind for all of this and I'm getting close to completing it by then. In addition to getting the shelving and like together, I also needed to vacuum and clean the basement area. I was pretty good at vacuuming up sawdust and the like after doing woodworking projects but there is still some on top of boxes and under where the old layout was, I guess debris from taking it down and/or the mods I did way back when. Finally, I've ported Bob's plan over to XtrackCad and started layout out the benchwork configurations so I can start construction in the upcoming month or so. Hopefully the MER convention this weekend helps kick in the motivation (and the end of the kids' soccer season will help).

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.

Monday, January 5, 2015

(De)Construction Lessons Learned

So as I deconstructed the benchwork this past weekend, I paid attention to how solid or un-solid the benchwork was that was coming apart. First feedback I want to give/emphasize is


So I used quite a bit of these. Some worked fine and others didn't. I will say, everywhere I used them I also had glue support if it was structural, like along the center peninsula. That worked out ok but the glue really didn't bond as well between plywood pieces as I would have thought. I'm not sure why. Also, if you do insist on using drywall screws, use the longer kind. I had a mix of 1 1/4" and 1 5/8" (I think) and the longer ones held much, much better, almost as good as the 1 1/4" wood screws. But if you can, use the wood screws as that's what they are made for.

Second, if you can afford it and/or have one already, use pocket holes for everything. The last few updated sections I did, I used pocket hole screws from my Kreg Jig. These were the most solid joints in my benchwork and were also easy to undo. I also used it for my last few L-girders, eschewing using glue for them. This enabled me to reuse both of these pieces of wood as well.

Finally, be careful of using "scrap" wood. I gained access to almost a pallet full of half-sheets of cabinet grade plywood. I ripped these down to the 1x3 size I was using. While the 9 or 11 plys allowed for added strength, it appears, after about 4 years in my basement, that the glue itself seems to be delaminating. This usually means it has dried out. For the most party, my basement has been pretty damp except for the winter months and even then it's not bone dry, hovering around my 35%-40% setting on the dehumidifier. I think it was stored outside for a while before I got it. Meanwhile, the "hardwood" plywood I purchased from both a local lumberyard and local big box stores seemed to be just fine and were as solid as they were when I put them up. I'll probably use the gift cards I just got for Christmas on buying a sheet or two to rip down to new 1x3s and 1x2s for the new benchwork lattice.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New Layout

Happy New Year!!  As I mentioned in a previous post, I had contemplated whether or not I wanted to continue with the double deck layout or switch to a single deck. With addition of our 3rd child, I'm realizing space is at a premium in our house. As is time. I had one of those "talks" with myself and concluded that if I want to have something running or operating over the next year or so, it won't be a double deck layout. So, as of the day after Christmas, I started dismantling the benchwork. I've seen some people take a panoramic shot of their layouts on the 1st of each year. I think I'll start that this year as well. Here's my shot below:

Here are two other shots as well:

As you can see, the top level is gone completely as are all the backdrops. I'll probably remove the peninsula items later this afternoon and readjust the shelf brackets to the new base height of the layout, which I'm going to attempt to put the railhead around 53". I'm nominally 5'9" and according to the "proper layout height" diagram pervasive in the model railroading press, my preferred layout heights range from 52" to 41". Most of the layouts I operate on are somewhere in that range. The areas on the layouts I most enjoy operating on are on the higher side. Two in particular are set at 52" and the other's upper deck is 54" for railhead height. These are HO layouts so i think the 53" will be good in N scale as well.


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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