Prototype inspiration: Cobourg ON

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(Welcome to Cobourg – an ideal subject for an achievable layout.)

Sometimes, everything for a layout just comes together in one place. My friend Bernard Hellen reminded me of that recently when he posted on his Quebec Gatineau railway blog about a visit to Cobourg, Ontario. (My friend Chris Abbott and I visited Cobourg a decade ago, which is when I took the photos for this post.)

This small city, about an hour or so along the highway east of Toronto, sees a lot of railway action. That’s because it’s on the Toronto-Montreal corridor for both the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific – in fact, Canada’s two major carriers parallel each other through the city, just a stone’s throw apart.

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(Looking southeast from the VIA/CN station parking lot towards Division Street. That’s the CPR on the overpass.)

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(The parking lot – south – side of the VIA station. The CNR main runs along the north side of the structure. The CPR track is behind me.)

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(An eastbound CP Rail train rolls behind the VIA station…)

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(… and then across Division Street. Ahead of the train can be seen a small yard where the two railways could interchange traffic, although I don’t know how often this was done.)

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(West of the depot, a westbound VIA train accelerates away from its station stop on CNR trackage. Down the road, one can see the gates for the CPR line that parallels the CNR)

The CNR had a small yard across the tracks from the station, some of which was removed a few years ago, when VIA installed an overhead walkway and second platform on the north side of the mainline. When Chris and I visited, the yard was still there – and held a string of covered hoppers:

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(Chris inspects the scene)

These were destined for one or more customers in the adjacent industrial area. Yes, industrial area! In addition to the parallel mainlines, a layout based on Cobourg would also offer plenty of switching opportunities. Let’s get oriented with a satellite view – straight up, and labelled. Click on the images to view larger versions:

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You’ll note there are a lot of “KS##” labels on the second map. These are track assignments, from a CNR track map from 1984:

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(Area to the west of the station. North is to the right of the image)

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(Station area. North is to the top of the page)

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(Customer assignment list)

The “play potential” for this area should be obvious. The industrial park – in the upper right – has several customers and is quite organized, while the jumble of tracks to the left serve a large, multi-building complex that belonged to General Foods/Kraft at the time. Let’s look at some photos of the area, starting with General Foods:

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(Looking east from Ontario Street, towards the runaround at KS76. The track diverging towards us at lower right is KS79)

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(Looking west from Ontario Street, towards the General Foods plant. KS79 branches to the left, while the righthand track is the lead – KS77)

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(Another shot of the General Foods plant, looking west from Ontario Street)

Now, let’s look at the industrial park:

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(Looking north on KS32. In 2006, the switch to KS35 has been lifted but the ties remain)

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(End of track, KS35. The track is gone, but the impressive stop remains)

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(Curves at the top of the park. The closest is KS46, while the track beyond it is KS43)

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(Looking east. KS43 is at left, while to the right are KS46 and, behind it and leading into the building, KS44)

A layout based on Cobourg could be easily built in N or HO. It would fit around the walls of a rectangular room, with the station area along one long wall. Here, one would face south, looking at the station from the CNR side and with the CP Rail running along the back of the scene.

A peninsula into the centre of the room would accommodate the General Foods industrial trackage, while the industrial park in the northeast corner could wrap onto benchwork built away from the long wall opposite the station area. Behind the industrial park (preferably accessed by a separate aisle against the wall, and separated from the park by a backdrop) one would build a double-ended staging yard to feed the two mainlines – one for CNR/VIA trains, the other for CP Rail trains.

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(Literally, a back of the envelope sketch of a possible layout. Not all track shown. Click on image for larger view)

This would be a great layout for three or four people to operate. Obviously, the focus would be the local job that switches the industrial park, and this would keep a conductor/engineer team occupied for a session. A third – and possibly fourth – person could polish the rails on the CNR and CPR with manifests, locals to switch the interchange and yard… and, of course, VIA passenger trains.

Thanks, Bernard, for reminding me of this great location!

F Units in Woodstock – in 2016

Last week, Bob Fallowfield, Barry Silverthorn and I visited Woodstock, Ontario to do a bit of rail fanning. We saw many things, including a pair of F units working in revenue service – in 2016, no less:


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

These covered wagons are designated as “FP9u”. They were originally owned by the CNR, and later VIA Rail. VIA upgraded the locomotives (hence the “u” suffix) with new prime movers and other changes to extend their useful service life. The diesels next went to Rail Link, and are now owned by the Ontario Southland Railway.

The OSR is a model railway enthusiast’s dream: A modern short line offering personalized service with an eclectic collection of locomotives. Any of its operations would make an ideal subject for a layout.

Spend some time on the OSR website and see if you don’t agree…

(NOTE: The three of us were shepherded by an official from the OSR. Don’t trespass while rail fanning!)

CNR – Purina mill in Woodstock

Last week I joined my friends Bob Fallowfield and Barry Silverthorn in Woodstock, Ontario. Bob is modelling Woodstock on his HO scale home layout and was our guide for the day. We saw many things, including a Canadian National Railways local crew switching the Purina feed mill. I only captured a short video of this work (see below). But it was enough to confirm that this would be an ideal subject for an achievable layout:


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

The mill spans the tracks, and on a layout the overhead conveyor could act as a scene divider into staging. So too could the pedestrian overpass that I stood on to record this video. The mill itself (specifically, to the right in this video) would make an imposing backdrop, if one positioned the viewing aisle to the left of the scene. Tall trees further frame the scene, while there’s plenty of detail to model in the mill and the track.

Sound makes a big impact in my video. The throaty prime mover and the squeal of flanges bring home the mass of railroading. To that end, building this layout in a larger scale (Proto:48, anyone?) would put the viewer right in the scene. One of the O scale “Red Caboose” geeps would provide ample room for DCC, other electronics, and a big speaker – while the new “Full Throttle” decoder files from ESU Loksound would deliver the perfect atmosphere. Check out this Loksound video, shot on Bob’s HO scale layout. In particular, listen to the GP in the video and imagine what that would sound like in an O scale model with a much larger speaker:

Beyond engine sounds, I would add a flange squeal device to the curved route through the turnout. Iowa Scaled Engineering makes a great flange squeal module.

And, I would add environmental sounds – especially birdsong. I’ve done this on my own layout, using Dream Player Pro kits from Pricom Design. It’s incredibly effective.

A layout like this would be a showcase for fine model-building – including a lot of scratch-building. But the prototype shows that inspiration can come in small spaces, even if one wants to work in larger scales.

Titus and Gene on the(ir) future

I recently ran across a couple of interesting blog posts that address the future of the hobby from two perspectives.

The first, by Titus (my apologies – I don’t know your last name) touches on a number of issues about which I’ve been thinking a lot lately. And several of Titus’ thoughts are directly applicable to the Achievable Layouts that I encourage others to embrace.

Have a look at Model Railroading, Media, and Trends and join the conversation on Titus’ blog. I have.

The second post that got me thinking is by my friend Gene Deimling, a well-known Proto:48 modeler who in the process of downsizing his hobby. Have a look at OPINION: Getting Older? – and, again, join the conversation on his blog.

Both of these modelers are expressing thoughts about the future of their hobby. In Titus’ case, it’s about the future for everyone, while in Gene’s case it’s about the future for himself. Despite those differences in approach, I feel that both are defining what for them will be an Achievable Layout (or, possibly, no layout at all).

If you want to do this as well, I think the first step is self-awareness.

Be honest with yourself about how prolific you are in the hobby. At the same time, be honest about the investment required (in terms of in time, money and other resources) in order to build a layout to your standards (whatever they are). Then match your layout ambitions to your resources.

I’ve provided several examples on this blog of what, for me, are Achievable Layouts. I’m confident that I could build any one of these, given the space they require, to the standard that I demand of myself. Your milage may vary – but until you do the calculation, how will you know?

Algonquin Railway plan and tour

My friend Ryan Mendell has shared a layout plan and photos of his excellent (and achievable) Algonquin Railway. You’ll find them on his blog by clicking on the photo, below:

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I’ve written about Ryan’s layout previously on this blog. Follow this link for more.

Thanks for the plan and tour, Ryan – I’m sure many people looking for achievable layout ideas will appreciate the information and inspiration!

Switching Putnam

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(Putnam: A layout-within-a-layout)

On Saturday night, some friends and I ran trains on the excellent CP Rail layout built by Bob Fallowfield. I’ve written previously about the layout on this blog, but I want to focus on one town in particular – Putnam, Ontario.

As part of the session, Ryan Mendell and I worked a turn out of Woodstock to St. Thomas. Putnam was part of our assignment, and Bob warned us it would take about 90 minutes.

Really? That’s hard to believe, given how simple the town’s track arrangement is. Here’s a schematic, drawn from memory, of what’s there on Bob’s layout:

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(Click on the image to view a larger version)

What the schematic does not show, however, is how much time is required to block and move cars per prototype practice. Putnam offered several challenges. First, that long track for the mill complex has three distinct spots, so it’s not what Bob refers to as a “blow and go” industry: You can’t just shove a cut of cars in and be done with it.

In our train, we had cars for certain spots, and other cars to be held at Putnam until the mill needed them.

When we arrived at Putnam, we also had a number of cars sitting on the run-around. Some of these needed to be spotted, while others were to be held.

Furthermore, we had lifts to make – but while we would lift these on the outbound trip, since Putnam’s spurs are trailing points when headed to St. Thomas, we would leave the lifts at the east end of the run-around (at right in the photo below) to collect on the return trip to Woodstock.

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(Cars to spot, cars to lift – and cars to leave alone)

Further complicating matters – but in a realistic fashion – is the other customer in Putnam: A propane dealer.

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(The west end of Putnam. The spur at right leads to the propane dealer)

Propane cars are dangerous – whether empty or full – and needed to be handled in specific spots in the train. Rules include not spotting the cars next to either locomotives or the van (whenever possible), and not marshalling next to open-topped loads that might puncture the tank car should a derailment occur.

Ryan and I spent at least 90 minutes switching Putnam – and it never felt like “playing trains”. The work was realistic, and therefore real to us. It was satisfying to accomplish this safety, and efficiently.

As we worked Putnam, it occurred to me that this simple place – just four turnouts – could be the basis for an entire layout. A train staged on a single track at right on my diagram (above) would enter the scene from Woodstock. The crew would spend 60-90 minutes sorting out the mill and switching the propane dealer, then prep its outbound cars to be collected on the return trip.

The train could then head west (left) to St. Thomas – in reality, another single track staging area. There, it would be switched with the 0-5-0. Cars for St. Thomas would be removed, while cars returning to Woodstock would be re-ordered behind the locomotive.

The train could then reappear in Putnam from the west (left) and do its eastbound lift – just to complete the sequence. As Ryan and I found on our return trip, we had to do some re-ordering of our lift in order to protect an empty propane tank car from some open loads we’d collected in St. Thomas.

Such a single-industry layout would be particularly impressive in a larger scale, like O, where one could experience the presence of a cut of grain hoppers rolling into place next to a truly massive structure. Bob’s HO scale rendition of the elevator was already imposing, as the photos show.

Thanks for the ops session, Bob! I had a great time, and it gave me an interesting insight into the potential of single-industry layouts. With all cars looking essentially the same on the outside, it just hadn’t occurred to me how much switching could be involved at such a mill. But of course, it’s what’s inside the cars that counts…

In-street turnouts for Regan

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(I recently designed a layout for a friend based on CP Rail’s industrial trackage in Scarborough, Ontario. Click on the image to read more about this design)

Nothing says big city industrial railroading like trackage in the street. So recently, when I designed an achievable layout for my friend Regan Johnson based on CP Rail’s industrial trackage in Scarborough, Ontario, I added a bit of street running, including a pair of in-street turnouts.

The prototype did not have any street running, as far as I can tell – but it could have. More importantly, the stretch of in-street trackage will be a highlight on the layout – visually and operationally – so it was an idea too good to pass up.

That said, it also meant Regan would need in-street turnouts. And since I’d never built any, I thought I’d like to give it a go. So I did:

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(The finished turnouts, ready for Regan’s layout)

The turnouts are both Number 6, in Code 70. They have a single point, and I used Code 70 to create full-length guard rails throughout the turnouts. These guards will allow us to pave the street without getting plaster (or spackling, or whatever we use) into the flange ways.

I started with a Fast Tracks turnout building fixture and other tools, and built as much of a normal turnout as I could using this gear. This amounted to both stock rails, the closure rails, the frog, and one point:

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(Out of the Fast Tracks fixture, and ready for customization)

From there, it was simply a matter of cutting lengths of rail to use as guards and fitting them in place by measuring off the running rails. An NMRA track gauge worked fine for spacing the guards while soldering them in place.

The throw bars required special attention. I soldered the single point to the throw bar, then used spare PC ties to trap the throw bar under the opposite rail so that it could not waggle back and forth. Finally, I built up some dams out of styrene to keep the paving out of the throw bar – and used a length of photo etched Farr grille for an EMD F-unit to represent an in-street grate over the throw bar. This is removable so Regan can install and service the turnout, as needed.

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(Closeup of the throw bar area. The single point is the middle rail on the left side)

This was a fun project that required a lot of problem solving on my part, and each turnout required three to four hours of pleasant time at the workbench. Anybody who can build a standard turnout using Fast Tracks tools can do one of these as well. They’ll help set the scene on Regan’s layout, so I’m glad I included them in the design.

Roweham by Brian Dickey

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Yesterday, my friend Brian Dickey displayed his British 7mm scale exhibition layout, Roweham, at an area train show – and he asked Pierre Oliver and me if we would like to help him out.

We both jumped at the chance – and we’re really glad we did.

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(Brian (L) discusses his layout with a show visitor while the Auto Train arrives at Roweham)

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(Pierre uncouples a wagon carrying materials to build a cattle pen at the far end of Roweham. Almost the entire layout is visible in this view. Like many classic British exhibition layouts, Roweham is designed to be operated from the back. The sturdy backdrop provides solid support when coupling, and protects the structures and scenery from errant elbows)

This was my first opportunity to operate on a 7mm British layout, although I have seen many in print and a few at shows. Brian has done a spectacular job, as I hope the point-and-shoot photos I’m sharing here convey. And he’s done all of this in just two years.

As the description below notes, the layout is 16 feet long by 19 inches deep. It’s built in four-foot sections. Brian designed the layout so that everything required for exhibition fits into his Prius v:

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The first – rightmost – section contains has a three-track sector plate / fiddle yard. This is hidden from view by a nicely finished panel:

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(Brian at work behind Roweham. Note the level of finish on all aspects of this in-progress layout. The layout sections stand on short legs that fold into each section for transport and storage. These in turn stand on a set of venue-supplied “banquet tables” to bring the layout up to a reasonable viewing and operating height)

The remaining three sections create a small branchline terminal on God’s Wonderful Railway (otherwise known as the Great Western Railway). There are only four switches, plus a cosmetic derail. The entire layout, left to right, can be seen in the following views:

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(End of the line and site of the future stock pen. A railway water tank will be added to the right of the stock pen in this view)

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(The Roweham depot with high-level platform. The not yet built railway water tank will be at the lower left in this view)

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(The main is in the foreground, with the turnout leading to the run-around loop at the front of the layout. A spur – we’d call it a “team track” in North America – comes off the main at left and serves multiple customers, providing several car spots and plenty of juggling of wagons into proper spot order. A loading gauge to the left of the goods shed acts like a height-checker on underground parking garages: It ensures that wagons loaded by the crane can still fit through tunnels and bridges on the line)

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(The mainline disappears under a stone road bridge, as it so often does. In the back, a wagon is spotted at the coal dealer at the end of the team track)

Brian was inspired by two sources – an article on a layout with a similar design, in 00 scale, and a book on the Abbotsbury Branch of the GWR:

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Despite its simplicity, Roweham kept Pierre and I entertained for several hours, and as a bonus I came away with several thoughts about layout design. In no particular order, they are:

Three-link chain couplings are fun in 7mm:
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I’d never used them, but they were surprisingly easy to master. Brian has made up coupling/uncoupling tools similar to my Galvanick Lucipher, with a fine brass hook instead of a magnet at the business end of the tool.

Further thoughts:

– There are never any false couplings – e.g.: uncoupling then moving the train in the wrong direction and recoupling.

– There are never any false couplings – e.g.: thinking you’ve mated couplers, but when you pull away, the couplers separate. This isn’t usually a problem with Kadees but it’s definitely an issue with Sergents.

– Delayed uncoupling to shove a wagon into a spot is a snap. It’s the default condition.

– All places where one must couple or uncouple must be easy to see and to reach. Carefully consider structure and tree placement and how they would affect this. Brian’s layout is at an ideal height for working with three-link chains, while the 19″ depth meant we were always able to look down on the job – not try to do it from the side.

– You can neither couple nor uncouple while laughing. So cut that out.

The locomotives are beautiful. We operated with a GWR pannier tank engine from Lionheart Trains on the goods train, and a lovely 0-4-2T from Masterpiece Models, hauling a Loinheart Autotrailer. Both locomotives were factory-fitted with DCC and sound. The 0-4-2T’s decoder even provided appropriate Autotrailer sounds, including guard’s whistle, carriage doors slamming shut, and the warning gong.

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The control over the locomotives was astonishing. Never mind the lack of need to thump the table: When Pierre and I were shunting wagons, we could ask the engine driver to give us slack in the chain – and the engine driver could back up so slowly and precisely that one could provide slack without hitting the buffers on the wagon. Basically, one could creep back half a link at a time.

7mm British modelling is an ideal size for an exhibition layout. The models are big enough that they have real presence at a show. At the same time, they’re small enough that a nice exhibition layout can be built without requiring a gymnasium to set it up. With the exception of the Autotrailer, which was quite long, all the equipment on the layout compared in length to what one would find on an HO layout that ran 50-foot freight cars.

Presentation is important. While those in the UK may be used to layouts that exhibit some thoughtful and professional presentation, I find this is rare in North America. Brian has done a wonderful job of finishing the layout. The benchwork is nicely painted. There’s a drape to hide the legs (and the DCC system, and a camera or two, and lunch, and…) – plus another drape to hide the venue’s banquet tables. There are some nice signs to tell punters what they’re looking at, and so on.

Operating from the rear of the layout was a new experience. I know there’s a debate in UK circles about operating from the back vs the front. The argument goes something like this:

– Back: Exhibition layouts are like a theatre stage, with the trains as the actors. The people who bring the theatre to life – the director, the stage manager, etc. – are backstage, in the wings, so they don’t take away from the performance.

– Front: Exhibition layouts are like a TV talk show shot in front of a live audience. The trains are the guests, the layout is the stage – and the presenter is out front, where she/he can engage with the audience.

– Back: I don’t agree with you.

– Front: I don’t agree with you.

– Back and Front: Let’s grab a pint.

That said, I enjoyed working from behind the scenes – although I also made a point of talking over the backdrop with the punters. The narrowness of this layout – just 19 inches – definitely helped in that regard.

From a practical perspective, the sturdy backdrop was important, given that we had to reach into the layout frequently to couple and uncouple. It protected structures and trees from our elbows and gave us a place to steady our arms so we could hook a link.

I need to learn more about British railways, particularly operating practices that one can adapt to a model. For example:

– What sort of paperwork is used to move wagons? Did the GWR have waybills, and what did they look like?

– When and how was the locomotive whistle used? (UK locomotives, in general, do not have bells.) If I recall, a “long-short” is used when emerging from tunnels, under bridges, or other sight-limited situations. But the 0-4-2T had two whistles – a high-pitched one (with long and short function buttons) plus a lower pitched “warning whistle” (with long and short function buttons). When would I use each of these?

– When was the Autotrailer’s “Warning Gong” used?

– What language was used between engine driver and the guy on the ground (what we’d call a brakeman here) to communicate shunting moves? Is he a brakeman in the UK?

I’d love to find out more about GWR operating practices to help bring Brian’s layout to life at shows.

I would love to see more quality layouts like this at exhibitions, as opposed to layouts that emphasize quantity. A huge, poorly-conceived and poorly-executed layout leaves me cold, but smaller, well-done layouts like this are a delight – regardless of theme, scale, or prototype.

Thanks, Brian and Pierre, for a terrific day out in GWR country: I look forward to future opportunities to run trains to Roweham!

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CP Rail: Scarborough Industrial Spur

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(Peter Newman shot this photo of a CP crew working the Scarborough Industrial Spur in 1975. This is an ideal prototype for an achievable layout. Click on the image to see a larger version, with Peter’s story, on the Railpictures.ca photo site.)

My friend Regan Johnson recently asked me for ideas for an HO scale layout to fit around the walls of his home office. He wanted something based – or at least inspired by – a prototype. He wanted space for lots of structures. And he wanted it to fit existing benchwork for a layout that he has now outgrown.

About the same time, the Toronto Railway Historical Association published a track map and customer list on its Facebook page for CP Rail’s Scarborough Industrial Spur. These can also be found on the Old Time Trains website, so I’ve reproduced them here, along with a Google Earth view overlaid with the track maps from the Southern Ontario Railway Map project:

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(CP Rail in Red, CNR in Green)

This short (3.4 mile) spur in Scarborough – now the east end of the amalgamated Toronto – served a number of small industries, a couple of larger customers and a small team track facility.

I shared the track map with Regan and he thought it would make a suitable prototype. We exchanged several emails and as a result, I developed a plan to give us a starting point for a discussion over dinner. Turns out he liked the plan, so we’ve moved directly to plans to build this in his home office.

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Given how modest the space is, the layout plan is “inspired by” the Scarborough Industrial Track, rather than a faithful reproduction of it. The idea was to capture some of the typical operations of a suburban switching spur, along the lines of those advocated by Lance Mindheim, but with a southern Ontario aesthetic.

In the plan above, the structures are pencilled in as the final positions would depend on the kits or plans Regan wants to build. And since he requested it, I swapped out IBM for a brewery.

Regan wanted the option of continuos run so he could have a train circle the home office as he worked, so I’ve accommodated that by including a lift-out section to bridge the entryway. At other times – including during formal operating sessions – this would be removed and the track along the right wall would become a spur serving Warden Lumber. An extension could be fitted, as shown, to provide more room for spotting cars.

In normal operations, a train would start staged on the main at lower right. It would enter the scene and then use the main and storage track to sort its cars. Rather than switch everything at once, it would work in zones – perhaps working the lumber yard, then the brewery, and then returning any lifts to the storage track to exchange for cars destined for the warehouses at 351, 353 and 361. Finally, cars for the facing point spurs – the scrap dealer (344) and team yard (356, 358) – would be handled in a third trip along the spur.

With the benchwork already in place, construction should start early in the new year with a turnout-building party, using a Fast Tracks Code 70 #6 fixture. The turnout to 344 is in the street, and will be fun to build. We’ll likely start with most of a turnout built in the Fast Tracks fixture then add longer guard rails to represent trackage in the pavement, finishing off with a single point switch.

Even in a modest space that’s used for other purposes in addition to the layout, it’s possible to develop a plan that’s at least inspired by a prototype and without overcrowding, that will offer a couple of hours of entertaining switching. I look forward to operating sessions on this layout!

45 Original Track Plans

I don’t often publish reviews but I’m making an exception here.

In track planning books, it’s rare that the plans can be built as presented, because it’s highly unlikely that the reader’s space for a model railway will correspond exactly to the spaces used by the plans the layout designer presents. So, these books should really be judged on their value as inspiration for a modeler to design a layout for their own space.

At the same time, the plans presented should be grounded in reality – they should have realistic curve radii and turnout sizes for the scale and types of equipment to be run, adequate space for structures and scenes, excellent access to all track, aisles that are wide enough to make building and operating the layout comfortable, and so on.

From any measure, Bernard Kempinski has hit the target with his latest book, 45 Original Track Plans from Kalmbach:

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(Click on the image to visit the Kalmbach store online)

These 45 plans – never before published – present many great ideas, from small shelf layouts to empires that will fill a large basement or special purpose building. There are also some plans designed to take advantage of popular modular standards, or to be exhibited as self-contained layouts. Truly, there’s something for everyone between the covers.

And for the purpose of this blog, several of the plans would build into what I would call “achievable layouts” – layouts that can be built and operated by one person, with a modest annual investment in time and financial resources, while still providing a lifetime of construction and operating enjoyment. In particular, I encourage people to look at the following layouts (plan number in brackets):

– Canton Railroad (1)
– American Can (2)
– Bear Island Paper Mill (4)
– Menial-La-Tour (11)
– Fort Miles (13)
– Victoria Crater (15)
– West Bottoms (17)
– SNE Air Line (19)
– Ballard Terminal Railroad (25)
– Sunon Motors (26)

The above represent my favourites in the book, because I think they’re all highly achievable layouts. Some are simple shelf switchers, while others fill a modest room.

Some of my favourites would be even better than they already are if they’re built as-is, but in one scale down. For example, the O scale West Bottoms layout (plan 17) is a 10×20-foot U-shaped layout that features 48″ radius curves and #5 turnouts. If one were to do it in S scale (or even HO) on the same benchwork, those 48″ radius curves would look spectacular and the builder could bump up the turnout sizes to a more prototypical #7. At the same time, the structures would be that much more impressive (and could even be slightly smaller, to provide more open space between each). Car capacity would increase, without the need for additional trackage. And so on.

Each plan is accompanied by a photo or two of the prototype (or prototype inspiration) and a description – about a page worth – that provides some background and highlights the key features of the plan. The plans are nicely rendered and the text is very readable – and provides just enough information to start the reader on a Google-powered adventure to find out more about the plans that most inspire him or her.

I particularly like Bernie’s introduction – and recommend that every buyer read it. In about a page, Bernie details his criteria for drawing plans, and they’re good concepts for anyone to adopt when designing their own model railway. Those who do will find their layout gives them maximum pleasure and minimum frustration.

I also appreciate that Bernie has presented a set of plans that cover a wide spectrum of interests.

– As one would expect, there are many examples of traditional steam/diesel transition era railroading, as well as modern railroading. But there are a number of plans based around less-modelled eras, dating back almost to the beginning of railroading.

– What’s more, while most of the plans are of North American themes, there are plans based on prototypes in the UK, Iran, France, Peru – and even on Mars. (This last, while futuristic, is not fanciful: as Bernie notes, it’s based on the ideas presented by Robert Zubrin in the book, The Case For Mars. And Bernie’s timing could not be better, with the book’s publication taking place just ahead of Hollywood’s release of The Martian).

– And finally, Bernie has explored a range of scales – including N, HO, S and O, in standard and narrow gauge formats.

There are many track plan collections that feature layouts that would frustrate anyone who attempts to build them, or result in an unrealistic layout that’s not very far from “toy train under the tree” status. Some designers are notorious for this. Readers of this book will not have that problem. All designs have been created with construction in mind.

If I have any criticism, it’s of the phrase “track plans” in the title. These are “layout designs” – because they consider everything from the placement of structures and key scenic elements, to the availability of the key locomotives and rolling stock required to bring the finished layout to life.

Highly recommended!