Friday, October 7, 2016

Ops Session at Mike McNamara's Northeast Kingdom Model Railroad

At the end of last month, I had the opportunity to operate on Mike McNamara's Northeast Kingdom railroad. Mike models many New England roads that converge on St. Johnsbury, Vt. He's posted pics of his ops session here. His railroad will also be open in November as part of the Model Railroad Open House schedules for the Mid-Atlantic.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Family Layout Build

Feeling in the groove as my health improves, summer winds down, and honestly just taking the time to enjoy time with kids, I started with my oldest daughter building out the Model Railroader Family Layout series. I bought her an Emily train set a few years ago when the Worlds Greatest Hobby On Tour came to the Oaks, Pa., expo center in 2014. The family layout is a quick, easy way to get something down that's more than the standard oval. Here are some shots of the point to getting the track down:

Woodland Scenics grass mat with adhesive applied.

Foam with mat adhesive applied to it

Grass mat on top of foam with some weighting

Base that the foam/mat will sit in. A few 1x2s glued to a hardboard base.

Caulked down and weighted. It took overnight to adhere fully.

The track laid out and the mat scraped away where the caulk on the track will be applied and set.

Weigh down all the track!
Looks like as of this morning, the caulk finally took to the track and there's a good bond between it and the exposed mat. Now it's up to my daughter to design roads and select buildings to put on the layout and we'll go from there.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

East Riverton IT - Roadbed Down

This afternoon I started putting down the cork for the roadbed. Now, in the book, Lance just puts his directly on the foam subroadbed. Since I'm trying some things out, I figured I'd put the track up off a little bit from the subroadbed. I had intended to use the "Camper Tape" from the couple of articles in Model Railroaders and "How To Build Realistic Reliable Track". The issue was I wanted 1" wide roadbed and the kind I bought was 1 1/4". The adhesive was so sticky that I couldn't really cut it. So instead, I'll go with one layer of cork under all track and one layer up on the main, tapering down to the sidings. Anyways, here's my step by step on how I did it.

First, I printed the plan into 1:1 and taped the sheets together

Then I put it down on the layout.

I used push pins to keep the plan in place. I then used a little hobby knife to cut slits in the plan on each side of the push pin. I then lifted the plan off the layout, leaving only the push pins.

Then I connected each push pin with a ruler and straight edge. This gives me my centerline to lay the cork later.

For cork, I think N scale cork roadbed is too wide. I reached back into my browsing archives and pulled up an article done by a modeler taken too soon from us, and followed it to produce 12 strips of cork, plenty in this case.

Glue, pin, glue pin, cut, repeat, etc. led to the first layer down:

A couple of quick thoughts. First, since I had sheet cork, I should've just traced the turnouts and cut out the roadbed for them. I definitely will for the second layer. Second, creating my own actually went quicker then I thought. Finally, I need more push pins or I over did it with them, but can never be too safe, right?

After about 2-3 hours of letting the cork and wood glue dry, I put on the second layer, using full sheet to cut out turnout and then patching together about 4-6 inches for the siding transitions. I'll end up sanding them down probably tomorrow night. Completed cork roadbed:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

East Riverton IT - Ready for Track!

I got the fascia finished and backdrop painted. Amazing what you can do between conference calls and waiting for code pushes. Anyway, here is the pick of the shelf all ready for track markings and then roadbed and track!

East Riverton IT - Painting Ground and Fascia

I went to an operating session last night but when I came home, I went down to the basement (eventually) and decided to paint the layout a base color of Nutmeg brown. I use an acrylic craft paint from Walmart. It's a little dark but I think it'll be ok for the base color for the layout:

Then this morning since it's a work from home day, I taped off the top and painted the fascia a Black Onyx Grab-n-Go, semi-gloss, from Walmart. I think it looks good but we'll see if I need another coat in an hour or so:

Who knows, maybe tonight I paint on the sky and we're ready to lay track tomorrow night!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

East Riverton IT- Fascia and Backdrop installed

Spent this afternoon cutting up some tempered hardboard and got the fascia and the backdrop attached for the switching layout:

Now to put some base coats of paint on and then to trackwork!


Friday, August 12, 2016

Free Flowing Crossovers

Thursday night was supposed to be a "soccer team paperwork" night but since parents didn't give me all the information I needed, I ended up deciding to experiment with reducing the spacing of crossovers using a handful of turnouts I bought which were previously used. That's important because the first one I did was wrought with gobs of solder and solder rail joiners (PLEASE STOP DOING THAT PEOPLE!). Anyways, I dug out my Pelle Søeborg book, Rebuilding a Layout From A-Z, as I remembered he had an article in that. I followed his instructions except for one step, and it cost me some ties. Here's the first attempt:

Not bad, I could run a 53' box car through it no problem. I should've put flex or sectional pieces on the other sides just to see stability wise. This one took me like 30 minutes to do. The next one took me about 10 minutes and I decided to join them together.

There's a slight bend but that's probably to be expected since there aren't straights to anchor on either side. I tried to arrange them so the headblock would be in the right place but the other side was a cut soldered track joiner. I'll experiment a little bit more as I think there's going to be a set "cut here", take away this many ties type work as well as a little bit just getting used to cutting rail and ties smoothly. Of course, working with brand new fresh minted turnouts will probably help as well.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mansfield Updated Plan

So while I got the hardboard to finish the base of the switching layout but need a few free hours to finish the cuts for the switching layout as well as a family layout I promised I'd build with my daughter 2 years ago, I've been taking Bob Sprague's design for Mansfield based layout and transferring it over to Xtrkcad.

A couple things I noticed was I apparently gave Bob the wrong dimensions for the long wall. What I gave him was the length of the wall that I built. Unfortunately, I neglected to remember that I put the end wall inside that wall so the available length was 3.5" less. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it kept messing up my transfer measurements. Anyways, while doing this, I also kept looking at the Wooster switching area and felt I could "cram" a few more industries in there. An operationally interesting aspect of Wooster is for some reason CSX retained during my time frame about a 2 mile section of track that came off the Ft. Wayne line at CP Big Run. This was part of a longer line that ran apparently from Millersburg, Oh, through Wooster to Lodi, Oh. After much scrapping over the years, all that was left was this small branch line. In 2002, it was sold or leased over to RJ Corman but the operations were still the same, CSX would bring a train into Massillon and then enter the Ft. Wayne Line at CP Mace, travel to Wooster to CP Big Run to get up the little branch to server customers. Searching online, information from 2005 indicated the following customers:

  • Firto Lay
  • Advance Drain (plastic)
  • Midway Supply (pipe)
  • Buckeye Supply (pipe)
  • Wooster Iron & Metal (scrap metal)

Looks like most of these are still served in some manner, maybe not the two pipe ones unless they are a laydown area like for Advance Drain at the run around. I also think there is a grain elevator back there. Anyways, I decided I wanted to include this operation and have room in staging as CSX and ASRY could share the same staging track. I decided to remove "Ohio Power" and put in Frito Lay as the backdrop flat. This will make switching fun as there are specific spots for specific cars. I also added a track along the front that will serve two purposes, first a laydown area for one of the pipe vendors and then across the road an entrance to the scrap dealer. This will give 3 customers for the CSX local to serve. I also added a 3rd track through Wooster as there was a "siding" called the Wooster Industrial Lead on the Conrail ZTS that paralleled the mainlines which was used for access to these specific interchanges and industry leads.

Anyways, here's the updated plan:

While I'm building the little switching layout, I'm going to keep cleaning the basement up a little at a time (unless my local operating crew wants to come over for beers and trash bags). Hopefully come Labor Day weekend I can start construction using the same method as the switching layout, assuming my Crohn's is still under control then.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Build Something

It's been a while, I know. Well, life and health got in the way that is only being diagnosed and treated now. I don't think I've ever mentioned this, but I have Crohn's and I've only really ever had 2 active sessions since being diagnosed 20 years ago, 1 that led to surgery, another that led to scaring. Well, I'm in the midst of a 3rd but it's being treated at the moment and I'll be going through the normal round of looking at my guts to figure out location and best treatment. Anyways, that's one of the primary reasons nothing's happened on the layout or anything really.

I have friend though who always says just build something, anything, to get even 1 car and an engine moving on track. Well, today I took that plunge. I'm a fan of Lance Mindheim and I bought most of his books on operation, switching layouts, and various plans. I decided to do something small to start out and will be doing my interpretation of the layout he builds in How to Build a Switching Layout. He calls it "The Palmetto Spur". I'll call it something else, eventually, but for now, here are some progress shots. First up, here's the design:

In the book, the HCD sized is 16" x 80". A direct reduction to N scale would be just under 9" x 43", so I went with 9" x 48". I decided on the 48" length because I had bought a few 2x4 handy panels at Lowes or Home Depot, can't remember. These were 1/2" plywood so I decided to give it a shot.

The technique I decided to use is one I've watched Mark Lestico use on his former Cascade Sub and current HO Port of Long Beach. Last Black Friday I bought a Kobalt portable table saw and decided today would be the day I worked it out.

This thing rocks, btw. If you have the opportunity to get a portable 10" table saw, do it. It wasn't too hard for me to get up out of he basement and setup was easy, I even read the manual and realized I could store everything within it when folded up!

 I cut out 1 9" wide section, a couple 4" wide sections, a couple 1 1/2" wide sections. The 4" wide sections would be the "wings" supporting the bench work as well as one of the stringers. The 1 1/2" wide sections would be a stringer as well as setup for the staging cassette. Here's the obligatory I cut everything out pic:

So basically with glue and some pneumatic finishing nails, I was able to build out the basic benchwork for the layout with the cassette. The finished product below, along with the wood glue and pneumatic finishing nailer for affect:

I need to go get either 1/4" thick wood or plywood for the fascia and backdrops. I may stay away from hardboard here, but I have to see what my local big boxes offer. Hopefully get them on quickly and start the whole painting stuff, laying track this up coming weekend.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Marion it is!

So I did a little more consulting with friends and family the last few days. Ultimately, my heart is still in N scale and I've invested a lot. However, that doesn't mean I'm not going to be liquidating a bunch of my collection. Haphazardly buying rolling stock over the years has lead me to have collected a number of items that really have no place on any of the areas I've looked at modeling (NJ Transit F40 anyone?). Also, I purchased a bunch of locos pre-DCC days so they aren't ever going to see the layout, I can jettison them as well. As for the kids, a family member suggested get my layout up and if the kids want something, build something below the layout. This would be very doable for me since along the walls I'm using slotted shelf brackets for along the walls with a depth of 18". Either some flat plywood or a HCD along the walls would give them something to put their HO sets run around on at a height more appropriate for their size. If I built an HO one, it would be at a good operating height for me, not them, so having this option available is going to be better anyways.

So I'm going to go with the Marion branch as I really like the simplicity but uniqueness of it and the casual operations it can provide.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

50/50 and Walls Going Up

So I'm inching ever closer to make the jump full on to HO. The more I look at my inventory, the more it looks like the following:

  • 20% Locomotives
  • 20% Coal Hoppers
  • 20% Intermodal
  • 10% Passenger
  • 30% Rest of types covered hoppers or box cars or other freight
In reality, as I begin to liquidate the unneeded locomotives, Intermodal, and coal hoppers, I'm going to be left with making a rather large investment in more covered hoppers and auto parts boxcars. As such, I emailed back and for to a few friends an idea for a HO switching oriented but still got my continuous loop for mainline running track plan. Here is what we came up with:
Possible HO layout
As you can see, there's a small yard and two branches. A lift out or gate in the bottom left allows entrance into the layout area. Each branch has one large, very much spot oriented industry and a few other smaller ones. There's also a switching area along the wall on the opposite side of the yard and a small engine terminal in the yard. My thoughts would be mainline trains run the loop, drop off and pick up blocks of cars and the yard originates 4 or 5 locals for switching the various areas. The runarounds on each branch aren't long enough that if every car needed to be picked up that one local could do it, it would probably take two.

As of right now, I'd say I'm 50/50 between this and the Marion Branch plan. On another front, I've put up solid hardboard sheets and still only have the 3 sections to do off of another one to give me some walls:

Once I get those other sections up, it'll be tape/mud/prime/paint and then it'll start to look like a room for a layout, just have to figure out which one.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Marion Branch

So I had indicated I was seriously looking at going into HO in my last post. While that hasn't completely subsided, I'm most likely not looking to go in that direction anymore. I actually priced out some things and with the cost of HO rolling stock, including locomotives, plus track, even the simple Lance Mindheim plan I linked to would run me about $1200 out of the gate and that wouldn't include any expansion of it or structures, etc. However, the concepts and feedback you gave me had me looking at a few other things. First, I liked the footprint of that plan. Mostly rectangular, easy to build, no turnback loop, etc. Also, a few friends on the side offered some advice on going down the road of a switching layout. While I think I would enjoy that to an extent, I'd still want that mainline action, even if it is just grabbing a cold one and relaxing watching trains role through a scene.

With that in mind, I set out to look for a more natural prototype in the Conrail system, one with some mainline action but with switching opportunities or branch lines that could be modeled off said main. This research led me to a back issue of the Conrail Historical Society's Quarterly magazine. The feature was on Conrail's Marion Branch. The Marion branch was a former NYC line that at one time went from Benton Harbor, Mi., to Lousiville, Ky. Over time, this scaled back to the Marion Branch from Goshen, In., to Carthage, In. The line connected the Chicago Line and Indianapolis Line, in Adnerson, In., and was an important route for Michigan auto traffic coming to/from the SSW to get to Elkhart for distribution.

Another interesting fact was that the main yard for distirbuting locals was actually on the former PRR Panhandle mainline from Columbus, Oh., to Chicago through Logansport, In., Goodman Yard. This yard is adjacent to a GM stamping plant in Marion. What made this even more interesting is that road freights did not typically pick-up or set-off cars in the yard, they would instead, for a lack of a better term, drop and pick up at an interchange-type yard in Marion at the former diamond. In essence, the yard could be on a peninsular with the interchange yard along the side. I started doing the move the LDEs around and came up with this concept:

The Red Key Secondary is the former PRR main that only went as far as Red Key, In., and served two container plants, two glass factories and a large elevator in Dunkirk, In., to the east, and Goodman Yard and the GM Plant to the west. Industries on these lines were light but enough that 2 or 3 locals would originate out of Goodman yard as well as 2 or 3 over the road freights bringing and picking up cars from these locals. After doing some more flushing out of the actual mechanics, here was version 1 of the plan:

As you can see, it's a basic around-the-room design with what's been called X-factor staging giving a continuous run option. Since only 3 manifests, at most, traveled this route, only 4 staging tracks would be needed on each side. Also, since this particular line goes though farmland, no more then 12" of layout width would be needed (I mean, how much cornfield does one really need to model?). I did have an 18" depth requirement for the storage around the walls so this worked out to 6" for staging and 12" for the layout. This, combined with 18" width of yard peninsula would give over  36" of aisle space. I also looked at the plan and, as Mike alluded to in his previous comments, this plan could be build in quick stages:

  • Mainline and X-factor connection loop
  • Staging areas
  • Industries off mainline
  • Red Key secondary branch
  • Marion/Goodman Yard peninsula
Overall, it's a rather simplistic plan with many operational opportunities. I am currently revising the branch and the paper mill in Wabash for better flow, but I like the overall aspect of it.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The HO Bug

I'm not going to lie, progress on the layout is just inching forward. Some of that had to do with family commitments over the holidays and some of it trying to get the basement setup to house both storage for a growing family and a layout but I'm increasingly finding another item getting in my way, HO. Ever since my dad said I could have a layout in my parents house but it had to be in this small corner of the basement, I've concentrated on N scale. As such, I've bought (collected?) a ton of rolling stock and, lately, track. I also realized over the holidays that a lot of this rolling stock doesn't fit the era or theme of the layout and that I'll be selling of parts of it over the next few months (like a bunch of Amtrak stuff I bought because AMTRAK!). I know people jettison their collections all the time but 25 years of buying stuff has a strong appeal to see it through to a layout.

One factor is every other layout in the area I operate on is HO. More of the owners are adding sound to their diesels and I love the sound they make. While I've heard some of the new ESU Micro's inside a N scale C44-9W, and it sounded friggin' awesome, I've looked at the instructions and basically go that's going to take up a lot of time to add in, time which as my kids get slightly older is becoming less and less. I know the guys kid me about N scale all the time, there is encouragement as I think some are genuinely interested in operating an N scale pike so it's not a strong contributor but it's there.

A second factor in all of this are my children. N scale is nice, but for children, it's harder for them to relate to, they like the bigger trains and sound and the like. I want my kids to come down to the basement and enjoy running them like they do the Christmas train set. This weekend, I took them up to a Greenburg show (should be renamed everyone's Lionel junk). I came home with another HO starter kit and the track I need to finally help them build out the Model Railroad family layout from their video series, but it made me think even more about doing HO in the basement. In fact, my dad even talked about converting from his B&O collection to doing a small switching layout or shelf layout based on his hometown MN&S. That really gave me pause in thinking of what I'm doing in the basement.

Another factor is the type of operation I enjoyed. When I started out designing the original layout, it was really from a railfan perspective (and overly optimistic too). As I operate more and more I've found I like two types of operations, yard and local (yes, I know over the road trains are needed but if you get stuck just doing that in a session, it's usually not an enjoyable one). With that in mind, enter in the musings of Lance Mindheim and others in regard to the simple, prototypically operated modern(ish) layouts. The approaches taken to come up even with an 12x20 layout (I couldn't find his series write-up on building it) are more along the line of my type of operational interests. I could see myself being able to build something like that with my other time commitments.

Finally, that last piece, the time and resource commitment. I "think" doing something in HO would be quicker then doing the N scale layout but I'm not 100% sure. There'd be less track to lay but benchwork construction would probably be the same. Filling out the roster for what would be needed for a layout of my space would definitely take less in HO (at first) then it would be in N (hello lots of auto parts boxcars and covered hoppers I don't currently have). But at the same time, I can get 3 N scale locos and probably 2 freight cars for the cost of 1 of each, respectively, in HO. I guess I'd have to do some analysis on that.

So that's kind of where my mindset is at right now in regards to the layout. Of course, this could just be traditionally hemming and hawing one does after going through the holiday season with its breakneck speed, little free time and usual outlay of resources.


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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