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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