More progress in Scarborough

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(Me and Mark hard at work. Not our best sides!)

On Sunday, Mark Zagrodney and I enjoyed a day-long work session on the CP Rail Scarborough Industrial Track that Regan Johnson is building around the walls of his home office.

I’ve written previously about Regan’s layout, but the recap is that he’s building an HO scale layout that I designed for him a couple of years ago. You can read more about it by clicking on the layout plan, below:

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As I noted in the linked post, I built two in-street turnouts – serving the spurs along the left side of the plan. These are not, strictly speaking, prototypical for the spur line that’s inspired Regan. But I thought the street-running and in-street switching would add significant visual and operational interest, and Regan agreed.

Since they were my idea, I felt it unsportsmanlike to force Regan to tackle the in-street turnouts. Plus, I was curious whether I could build them. So I did – well over a year ago.

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(Click on the image to read about the turnouts)

My goal at Sunday’s work session was to finally install these two turnouts and hook them up to mechanical switch machines. Regan, Mark and I worked together on this and by the end of the day, we had two turnouts ready for the paving crews:

 photo ReganLayout-InStreetTurnouts-02_zpsuhqzphjw.jpg
(The results of a few pleasant hours of spiking and soldering. The black lines denote the edges of the road)

Regan has been very patient, waiting for this work session to take place. But he hasn’t been idle. Almost all of the rest of the track has been installed. In fact, we managed to lay the main through the street in both directions, and link it up to the team track area at the bottom of the plan. There’s only about three feet of track to spike in the upper left corner, and the mainline will be finished.

 photo ReganLayout-InStreetTurnouts-03_zpsto2ebpv9.jpg
(The roadway is 4.5″ wide – or approximately 33 feet in HO scale. That’s enough for a lane of traffic on either side of the track. A couple of truck trailers and a covered hopper demonstrate the clearances and hint at the visual for this area of the layout.)

I’m looking forward to operating sessions on this layout. The street section will be particularly fun, with the switch crew having to tread carefully down the middle of the street, bell ringing and crew ever-watchful for cars and trucks driving too closely to the centreline…

On2 slate hauler

Before I started my current S scale layout based on the CNR branch line to Port Rowan, I modelled a Maine two-footer in On2.

The “Somerset & Piscataquis Counties Railroad” was freelanced – largely because of the oddball availability of locomotives and rolling stock – but it was heavily inspired by the Monson Railroad. This tiny two-footer existed to serve a slate company in the Pine Tree State – and the first iteration of the layout focused on the quarry and various sheds where slate was turned into everything from roofing slates to curb stones, sinks and electrical panels.

From a layout design perspective, I learned several lessons when building the S&PCRR:

– I liked working in a larger scale. Detailing was fun and I could see what I built.

– The larger scale also gave me the room required for sound decoders and decent-sized speakers. And sound really brought the trains to life. It encourages operations with two-person crews (instead of one person doing both engineer and conductor roles) and helps slow down the pace of ops. That makes small layouts seem larger than they are.

– I found the research involved – even when freelancing – to be a satisfying challenge, and the resulting layout looked unique.

– Scratchbuilding structures was also really satisfying – and working within the constraints of a prototype, even when freelancing, made the models even more interesting to me..

– Picking a prototype with simple wooden freight equipment made scratch building rolling stock accessible, and gave me skills I can now apply to more complex equipment

– In part because I had to much to build almost everything from scratch, I didn’t need a huge layout to be happily engaged with the hobby. There was plenty to do on the small quarry area to keep me busy. In fact, it was only after started expanding the layout that the scope of the project became an impediment to progress.

– The very simple track plan was not a hindrance to operation. In fact, making do with minimal track actually made operations more challenging, without having to resort to gimmicks such as switching puzzles. One thing that helped here was that the main building at the slate company had spots inside the shed for eight flat cars, but each car had to be located in a specific spot. This layout really illustrated for me the advantages of industries where spot order is important.

Here are some photos of the slate works. It was a modest-sized layout fed from staging – much like the classic British “fiddle yard to terminal” arrangement. And it was a lot of fun to operate.

Number 6 works the quarry photo Number6-Quarry.jpg
(Number 6 pulls flat cars loaded with slate products out of the finishing shed. These will be hauled to the transfer yard, where they’ll be translated into standard gauge boxcars.)

Slate Mill photo MillBuildings.jpg
(The main mill building at the end of the line. All buildings were scratch-built. This one featured interior detail and lighting.)

Inspection day photo TTF2005VIII20.jpg
(A track inspector surveys the line from a converted automobile.)

Heading for market photo TTF2005IX15.jpg
(Number 8 is on duty at the slate company today. The derrick in the background is scratch-built based on photos of the ones in Monson.)

Wood shop photo TTF2005IX13.jpg
(A carpenter does everything from build shipping crates to provide materials to brace the tunnel in the quarry.)

Quarry meet photo 8and21-SlatePile.jpg
(An overview of the slate works.)

Hoist house photo TTF2005XI10.jpg
(Two workers chain a block of slate before it’s lifted out of the quarry.)

You can read more about my On2 adventures – and find the layout plan – on The Maine On2 FAQ site.

Presentation (McCook’s Landing)

Over on my Port Rowan blog, a recent post – “Roweham 2017” – generated a lot of discussion about how we present our layouts to others. Roweham is a well executed exhibition layout built by my friend Brian Dickey to 7mm scale (British O scale / 1:43). It provides many valuable lessons about presentation that can be applied whether one is taking a layout on the exhibition circuit, or planning a home layout. I encourage you to read through the comments on that post if you have not.

My friend Gerard Fitzgerald sure did. Gerard has given this subject a lot of thought as well, and shared his thoughts with me. I present them here. (Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Gerard!)

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On the question of “professional presentation” I include some photos of McCook’s Landing, the Civil War roadshow layout that Bernie Kempinski and I – plus a few other folks including Paul Dolkos – built to take to some shows a few years back. A great deal of planning went into this freelanced layout, which allowed us to introduce O scale Civil War model railroading to people at a national and regional NMRA convention.

These photos were taken when the layout was set up in my living room a few years back for an NMRA home open house. The layout was designed to be as photogenic and presentable as possible. Bernie’s mom made the curtains and also probably the red white and blue bunting.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-03_zpsp6oz4eao.jpg

Much time was spent on designing a layout that was similar to a British exhibition layout but which captured a very rare American prototype. O scale Civil War is probably even a bit smaller than the equipment used at Roweham and so operations were pretty interesting.

The layout had a small fiddle yard behind the schedule/chalkboard.

We received a great deal of positive attention when the layout was displayed and it was a very big attraction at the Atlanta NMRA National (when people could find the display room).

Putting as much effort into the design and construction of a shadowbox/display layout to make it attractive and presentable – to visitors, other modelers, and potential operators – is extremely important. Why people do not always put that much work and planning into small layouts always sort of baffles me.

One of the Model Railroader editors later said this design gave them some ideas for one of their later project layouts. For some reason I recall that at both my home open house, and the MER convention, a number of non-hobbyists wound up stopping by and were really intrigued and excited by the layout and that was quite gratifying. I must admit the layout was very impressive in person. We sweated the “window” approach with the vertical supports, which made the individual units stronger and lighter. However in operating and observing from the front you just sort of forgot about them. Bernie and I debated that approach for a while and we were surprised the supports seemed invisible after a while.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-01_zpskf2tpsau.jpg

In the USA, for whatever reason some people seem to associate “presentation” more with home crew lounges than small layouts. Not always but one can go to train shows and see some portable and modular layouts that are, for lack of a better description, unfinished. Public shows are about advertising the hobby to some extent, not to mention putting your best foot forward as a layout builder, but the small British display layout approach just hasn’t taken root in the states. Maybe someday … but I doubt it.

Sadly Bernie tore his sections down and the only section left is my Biscuit Run bridge unit, which I have downstairs along with the other benchwork components. And yes, the legs were attached and folded down and there was lighting.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-04_zpsdtvlmqmi.jpg

I need to finally write something up about McCook’s Landing and send it to Model Railroader, which I promised a while back.

You can see lots of photos and there is more information at Bernie’s blog too:

United States Military Railroads…
Home Page
McCook’s Landing category

– Gerard

Gerard J. Fitzgerald
Charlottesville, Virginia

Progress in Scarborough

Thanks to my friend Regan Johnson for sharing a photo of progress on his layout, the CP Rail: Scarborough Industrial Spur. As regular readers know, I drew a plan for Regan, and built the two in-street turnouts that the design requires.

 photo ReganLayout-TeamArea_zpspd7fnutp.jpg

In the image above, we’re looking from the room entrance along the main track next to the team yard (along the bottom edge of the plan, below). The boxcar is standing on spur 358, while spur 361 to John Inglis is in the upper left.

 photo CP-SID-Plan-01-Labelled_zpsv3dwuq0e.jpeg

Regan reports that all track is now laid up to the location of those two in-street turnouts, so it’s time for me to pay him a visit and help him install them.

Thanks for the update, Regan!

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.

 photo Cobourg-033_zpscsomnmnx.jpg
(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:

 photo CobourgON-Aerial_zpspjighshf.jpg

 photo CobourgON-Aerial Labelled_zpsj7qhx2ia.jpg

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:

 photo CN Zone KS Cobourg 01_zpsvq2qrjah.jpeg
(Area to the west of the station. North is to the right of the image)

 photo CN Zone KS Cobourg 02_zpsbhvydnlg.jpeg
(Station area. North is to the top of the page)

 photo CN Zone KS Cobourg X_zpsdfga3s0p.jpeg
(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:

 photo Cobourg-010_zpslwbieqin.jpg
(Looking east from Ontario Street, towards the runaround at KS76. The track diverging towards us at lower right is KS79)

 photo Cobourg-011_zpsr7bkilo0.jpg
(Looking west from Ontario Street, towards the General Foods plant. KS79 branches to the left, while the righthand track is the lead – KS77)

 photo Cobourg-017_zps31tizbcy.jpg
(Another shot of the General Foods plant, looking west from Ontario Street)

Now, let’s look at the industrial park:

 photo Cobourg-050_zpsi33ti3lz.jpg
(Looking north on KS32. In 2006, the switch to KS35 has been lifted but the ties remain)

 photo Cobourg-059_zpsqsugwthp.jpg
(End of track, KS35. The track is gone, but the impressive stop remains)

 photo Cobourg-065_zpsugmeonnq.jpg
(Curves at the top of the park. The closest is KS46, while the track beyond it is KS43)

 photo Cobourg-069_zpskr1zveyw.jpg
(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.

 photo Cobourg-Layout-Sketch_zpst7outvd3.jpeg

(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!)