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.

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:

 photo BK-45-Original_zpsi5jdqiwm.jpg
(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!

James McNab’s Grimes Industrial Track

Many of my layout ideas are for steam-era branch lines or short lines because that’s the style of layout-building with which I’m most familiar. But there are many great examples of prototypes for achievable layouts in the modern world, too.

Even though today’s railroading is characterized by big motive power and long trains hauling commodities and intermodel traffic over vast distances, there are still plenty of examples of prototype crews spending their work day with a single locomotive, shuffling cars for a handful of customers across a territory that would make a terrific, manageable layout.

Here’s one – not presented to encourage others to imitate what the layout builder is doing, but rather to inspire hobbyists to consider the many advantages of an achievable layout design, especially one based on a prototype that still exists and is therefore relatively easy to research.

James McNab lives in Iowa and models the Iowa Interstate Railroad’s Grimes Industrial Track in HO scale in a 12′ by 18′-8″ space. He’s set the layout in 2008, and as the name implies it’s a switching operation set in a suburban area – in this case Des Moines, but with minor changes to details such as street signs, billboards and vegetation, it could be Anywhere, North America.

The layout is modest – with fewer than a dozen track switches and a one-train-per-session operating scheme. But James is observing prototype practices to enhance the operating sessions, he’s doing an exquisite job of detailing the layout, and he’s creating a wonderful environment in which to enjoy the hobby:
 photo JamesMcNab-01_zpsca49cf87.jpg
(Click on the image to visit James McNab’s blog at Model Railroad Hobbyist)

I interviewed James earlier this year for an episode of The Model Railway Show – the podcast I used to produce and co-host. You can listen to that interview as part of Episode 47. You’ll also find links on that page to James’ YouTube channel and photo gallery, which includes a layout plan.

Many things about that interview stick with me, months later, so I encourage you to give it a listen (or, a repeat listen if you heard it when it was first broadcast). But one of the lessons from that interview is that James first became interested in the Grimes Industrial Track while working within sight of the line – proving that inspiration can be practically under one’s nose.

Keith Jordan’s “The Patch”

One of the challenges many hobbyists today face is reduced real estate for their layout. As Baby Boomers age and their kids leave home, they’re downsizing. And younger modellers buying their first home either can’t afford a “huge train room with a two-storey roof” – or are choosing to buy condominiums and live downtown, to take advantage of being close to their work and the many amenities of urban living.

So I love finding inspiring layout themes – or actual layouts – that don’t require a lot of real estate, yet provide interesting modelling and operating possibilities. One such layout is Keith Jordan‘s HO scale layout of a switching district on the ATSF known as “The Patch”. Click on the photo of Keith’s layout, below to visit it now:
Keith Jordan - The Patch photo ThePatch-KeithJordan_zpsf0f72eb0.jpg

Keith actually has a large layout elsewhere in his house. This layout is built on a narrow, L-shaped shelf in his office. As this PDF of the layout plan shows, it takes up minimal space, being just 12″ deep, approximately nine feet long on one leg of the L, and about eight feet long on the other. Yet, it features two distinct operating districts – the First Street Yard and The Patch.

Since it resides in a nicely finished room, Keith took great care with the presentation of the layout. The Patch would look just fine above book cases in a condo’s living room. Have a look at how it blends into Keith’s room in the photos on this page.

Keith describes a number of operating sessions on his web site.

Keith’s plan would fit well in S, too – the legs of the L would be about 12 feet long and the depth of the shelves would widen to, perhaps, 16″.

While Alco High Hood switchers are not available in S scale, a number of four-axle switchers have been produced in 1:64 that would be reasonable substitutes – anything from a GE 44-Ton or 70-Ton engine to EMD SW-1, SW-8 and SW-9 models, to a Baldwin S-12. (And a note to manufacturers: it’s curious that the Alco S series and Alco HH series have been neglected. I think they would be great additions to the scale. If I recall, there’s an Also S series model available in brass, but none of the High Hoods has been produced.)

Have a look around. I’m sure you’ll enjoy what you see. Thanks, Keith, for sharing your work online!

(BTW, you can read more about Keith’s rendition of The Patch in Great Model Railroads 2012 and in Model Railroad Planning 2011, both from Kalmbach.)

The Peterboro Project

Pboro - Swing Bridge - Canoe
(A couple pauses in their paddling to watch CNR 7302 roll across the swing bridge)

I read something online today that reminded me of one of my favourite memories in the hobby and I thought I’d share it here.

Back in 2006 my friend Pierre Oliver and I knew each other and knew we travelled well together, but we had not worked on any hobby projects. Then we got to talking and realized we were both intrigued by the Free-mo modular standard, and decided to build a module.

We knew of no other Free-mo enthusiasts in the area (although the S Scale Workshop, of which I was not yet a member, was using a standard developed from the same principles). So we saw this as an opportunity to introduce Free-mo to Southern Ontario modellers. But we also knew that any module we built would also have to stand on its own as an exhibition layout, in case nobody else was interested.

We wanted to do something that really showed off the free-form nature of Free-mo and realized one of its strengths is the ability to replicate prototype locations, in a way that other modular forms cannot. This is because with Free-mo, the benchwork can follow the track – including a prototype track arrangement. Other systems force the modeller to work with restrictive modular specifications that make it difficult to capture the feel of most real places.

Pierre and I looked for several candidates and settled on the CNR New Yard and adjacent industrial park in Peterborough, Ontario.

Labelled street map of Peterborough.

CNR Zone Map DP-2.
(CNR map showing the New Yard and Peterborough Industrial Park. Pierre and I modelled the section to the immediate left and right of the Highway 78 overpass, and transplanted the swing bridge to the right side of the layout.)

The result was The Peterboro Project (“Peterboro” is how the CNR spelled it).

Pboro - New Yard.
(The local crew has tied up in the New Yard)

Pboro - Silent Sentinel.
(No longer staffed, the boarded-up swing bridge tender’s tower stands as a silent sentinel)

Pboro - National Grocers.
(National Grocers and the Highway 78 overpass frame the scene)

Pboro - Ragu.
(Ragu ships a boxcar load of pasta sauce. Mmm… pasta sauce!)

The Peterboro Project was a single module that consisted of a dozen sections, each a maximum of 60 inches long by 18 inches deep. In total, we had about 50 feet of module: about 27 feet represented the through route, with the balance on a number of peninsulas – including one about 12 feet long which in turn supported its own peninsula. Pierre hand laid the turnouts and produced some great freight cars for the layout. I scratch-built many of the structures.

We created two adapters that flared the ends out to the standard Free-mo modular width of 24 inches, so we could connect to other modules. But when set up in exhibition mode, we left these at home and attached a five-track sector plate to one end of the through route. We could then operate the module as a sprawling switching layout. Here’s the plan of the module, in two arrangements:

Pboro - Free-mo.
(Peterboro set up as a Free-mo module. Note the two trapezoid sections that bring the module ends out to the 24″ Free-mo standard width.)

Pboro - Standalone layout plan.
(Peterboro set up as a stand-alone exhibition layout. The trapezoids are left off, and a sector plate is added in the lower right corner.)

Peterboro’s debut was a Free-mo rally hosted by the Rochester Institute of Technology Model Railroad Club in the fall of 2006. Pierre and I had a great time but this was the module’s only Free-mo appearance. We exhibited it as a stand alone layout thereafter. (We had no problems with Free-mo – we just didn’t have any additional Free-mo opportunities.)

The module was featured in the August 2008 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine – and then Pierre and I sold it off to move on to other home layout and modular layout projects.

I took many photos of Peterboro while under construction in the workshop:

Pboro - North End.

Pboro - Looking south from Lansdowne.

Pboro - the Mainline arcs through the module on a cosmetic curve.

Pboro - the New Yard and Freight/Express building.

Pboro - Past the leads to the Peterborough Industrial Park.

Pboro - Crossing the swing bridge.

Pboro - Leaving staging.

Entering the Peterborough Industrial Park.

Pboro - an overview looking across the industrial park.

Pboro - Overview from the sector plate.

Pboro - Overview of the New Yard area.

Pboro - Looking into the industrial park from the main.

I also shot pictures at at a number of events, including exhibition set-ups at a customer appreciation day and barbecue hosted by Toronto-area hobby shop George’s Trains

Pboro - George's Trains.

Pboro - George's Trains.

Pboro - George's Trains.

Pboro - George's Trains.

Pboro - George's Trains.

… and at the 2007 Toronto Christmas Train Show…

Pboro - TCTS 2007.

Pboro - TCTS 2007.

Pboro - TCTS 2007.

Pboro - TCTS 2007.

Pboro - TCTS 2007.

Pboro - TCTS 2007.

As should be obvious from these pictures, Peterboro was never “finished” – we planned to add trees, people and details, and the module could’ve benefitted from some additional attention paid to presentation (skirting would’ve been nice). But even as exhibited in its “work in progress” state, The Peterboro Project received a lot of positive comments, and it’s gratifying to see a number of groups that now use Free-mo or Free-mo inspired standards in Southern Ontario. I wouldn’t say we introduced the concept, but we certainly gave it a push.

I learned a lot through the Peterboro exercise – especially some tricks that are invaluable when building a layout that needs to survive hours of bouncing and bashing in the back of a vehicle. I also learned that I really like sector plates for staging – something I continue to use today.

But the best part is Pierre and I spent a lot of time in the workshop together in the summer of 2006 to build Peterboro. And along the way we became really good friends. While Peterboro is now someone else’s, the friendship continues stronger than ever. And we can make each other crack up by saying things like “It’s a co-op!”, which not even our wives understand.

I’m really glad we built The Peterboro Project.