The Port Rowan turntable

Port Rowan turntable installation

This past week, I decided it was time to tackle the Port Rowan turntable. It’s now built, and ready to be installed on the layout.

I kit bashed my turntable, starting with an HO scale kit for a 90-foot turntable from Custom Model Railroads* that I picked up back in October. A 90-foot turntable in HO works out to about a 65-foot turntable in S – close enough to the prototype’s 60-foot model. That extra five feet will make it that much easier for operators to spot a 10-wheeler on the bridge – there’s not a lot of room for error:

Port Rowan turntable - tight squeeze for a 10-wheeler

The CMR kit is laser cut from acrylic and creates a deck girder bridge. My prototype had a through-girder arrangement, so to replicate this, I added sides created from HO scale bridge components from Central Valley Model Works. I used two packages of HO scale, 72-foot plate girders (part 1903-1). I cut away the rounded ends and spliced the girders to get the length I needed for my turntable bridge. I carved away all the detail below the angled braces on the inside of the girders, then attached them to the CMR turntable deck by adding a length of .060″ x .250″ styrene strip to each side. (Sorry – no in-progress photos. I was too busy making progress!)

The prototype turntable had an air-operated engine at one end, which crews could hook up to their locomotive’s air brake system. In Steam Echoes of Hamilton, author Ian Wilson notes this was used if the pit rail was slippery – perhaps from too much crushed Queen Anne’s Lace. I modelled this engine using a white metal kit from Keystone Models for a stationary steam engine. I rearranged some of the details and mounted it on a pair of Evergreen styrene I-beams, then glued it to the side of the girder. It worked out perfectly and adds a great detail to the turntable. I also added a pair of armstrong handles using brass rod plus some strip wood and wire for the blocking and U-bolts that secure these to the bridge girders.

The CMR kit features a removable bridge, which – among other things – allows one to get it out of harm’s way when working on the pit. I’ve sprayed the pit base with random swirls of black and rail brown and whatever else was coming out of the airbrush while painting and weathering the bridge. It’ll eventually get covered with dirt and weeds:

Port Rowan turntable pit base and ring rail

I built the cribbing from Mt. Albert Scale Lumber bridge ties (also used on the turntable bridge and the three bridges on the layout). I only did a partial wall, to hold back the earth at the approach track, because the “pit” at Port Rowan wasn’t really that well defined. The railway elevated the approach track – easier than digging a proper pit – and I’m duplicating that by raising the roadbed by 3/4″ on my turntable lead. I’ve glued down and sanded some ties at the end of the lead to help with final installation of the turntable. That’s going to require a second set of eyes and hands to get everything level. I’ll add more risers under the approach track at the same time.

The CMR kit is powered by a slow-motion motor – I’m not sure of its original purpose but probably as a display motor. It’s not the kind sold as a stall motor switch machine. The label says it includes gear reduction of more than 7000:1 (yes, seven thousand to one) and it does move darned slowly. CMR did a nice job of making everything serviceable – there are several places where one can loosen a grub screw to pull the bridge, the shaft and the motor.

I’m really pleased with how this project turned out.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

Port Rowan coal dealer

Coal bin at Port Rowan.

Trackwork has been progressing on the layout but in order to finish the track in Port Rowan, I needed to build and install the coal dealer’s bin on the elevated track. And I kept putting this off while I debated how to approach it.

The problem that vexed me was whether to build a fully-detailed model of the bin, when the most interesting side – the opening under the track – would face the backdrop and never be seen by layout visitors or operators.

Normally, I would’ve gone ahead and built the structure with full detail, even on the backdrop side – because one never knows, a future change might make that side visible. But then it occurred to me that there was more at stake than appearance.

The problem is illustrated in this photo of a test train on the coal delivery track, taken back when the layout was still in its plywood subroadbed stage:

Test train on the coal track photo Roadbed-PtR-TestTrain.jpg

To elevate the siding, I used the cookie-cutter method: I laid in a large sheet of 3/4 inch plywood, cut a slot on either side of the future location of the track, then wedged, glued and screwed wooden blocks under the elevated portion. I left a clear space – under the black hopper car in the photo – for the future coal bin.

The problem? Well, the ramp track has really nice transitions at each end of it, and I started to worry that cutting away the portion of the subroadbed under the hopper car might allow things to shift. This would ruin the smooth transition at the top of the grade – essential if this is to operate reliably.

In the end, I solved the dilemma in favour of reliable construction and operation. As a famous model railway enthusiast is known to say:

It ain’t no fun if the trains don’t run

I therefore decided to leave the plywood in place and build the coal bin around it.

I have but a single photo of the bin, taken from the end of the elevated track:

Port Rowan Yard Lead.
(This photo was taken from the end of the elevated coal delivery track. The bin is just ahead, on the right.)

It doesn’t show much – concrete bin sides, a planked top, and a couple of levers – like those in an interlocking tower (or more accurately, like a ground frame on a British railway). I assume these levers open doors between the rails when cars are emptied. (It would not be safe to have open pits when no car is in place.)

Therefore, most of the structure is freelanced, but based on drawings of similar structures from various sources. I cut a piece of styrene sheet to use as a platform on which the detailed top would be built. This platform would be glued directly to the top of the plywood subroadbed when I installed the bin.

I added styrene walls around all four sides of the platform, leaving gaps in the two side walls so it could drop in place over the plywood subroadbed. I built up the top of the platform with styrene strip to represent the tops of the bin walls, including a dividing wall in the middle of the bin. I cut some more styrene sheet to create two wing walls to hold back the earth fill to either side of the bin. A smear of Squadron White modelling putty gave the styrene the texture of concrete.

I added some wood to represent the stringers that would support the ties, then added ties on top. The bin is not finished, but I’ve made enough progress that I’ve been able to permanently install it and lay the rails on the coal track.

So what did I do with the back side? I simply painted it black:

The side of the bin that visitors will never see.

The above photo also shows some of the detail on the top of the bin. I’ve added drop-down doors (closed) in the two pits between the rails. Still to come is planking on the top of the bins to either side of the rails and the operating levers. (I must get in touch with some of my UK friends to see if they can find me an S scale ground frame.)

I have to admit that I’ve pondered how to tackle this project for far longer than it actually took to build the bin. The problem was not technique, construction or even data, but one of deciding what my priorities were for this layout. In the end, I decided that I will detail all four walls of other structures that face the backdrop – including the coal bin at St. Williams. But this bin was an exception because to build it with an open back would’ve compromised the integrity of a section of the subroadbed that’s under considerable stress – and that’s a line I’m not willing to cross.

A good lesson to remember for future projects.

Subroadbed almost finished

I hosted a work session / dinner last night, with my friends Chris Abbott and Mark Zagrodney coming by after work to help build subroadbed.

It was most useful to have three pairs of hands put to the task since there were a few very long pieces of plywood to cut, install and level. These included the roadbed for the east end of St. Williams…

Roadbed at the east end of St. Williams.

… and the west end of Port Rowan:

Roadbed - Port Rowan from the end of the peninsula.

Port Rowan is going to be a long, skinny yard:

Roadbed - looking towards end of track at Port Rowan.

Earlier in the day, I added bracing for a potential third bridge on the layout – an overpass just west of St. Williams:

Roadbed bracing - Stone Church Road overpass.

This didn’t exist in real life but there’s a lovely short bridge over Stone Church Road at Rymal, further north on the Hagersville Sub, and adding the bracing means I have the option to include this bridge if the mood strikes.

First subroadbed

I had a free afternoon today so I hauled a sheet of 3/4″ plywood into the trainment and cut my first roadbed.

I installed a “?”-shaped piece (without the dot) that takes the mainline through the Lynn Valley. The location of this piece is critical since it must connect St. Williams and Port Rowan without hitting any of the intervening walls.

Here’s an overall view, looking from Port Rowan:

First roadbed - 01.

The curve radius is 41.5″, with easements (which I laid out using the bent stick method). I found this discussion of easements on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum to be most useful in planning mine.

Here’s another view, this time looking across the future location of one of the bridges in the Lynn Valley. Port Rowan is to the right:

First roadbed - 02.

Steel girder bridge - Lynn Valley.

Obviously I will need to cut away the roadbed when the bridges are ready to be installed.