“How does it feel compared to Maine On2?”

Having read the report on my first operating session on the Port Rowan layout, that’s the question a friend of mine asked. He models a Maine two-footer in 1:48 scale so he knows, first-hand, some of the frustrations I had working in On2. I know a number of other readers are here because they’re friends who share my interest in the Maine two-footers as well, so I’m sure they’re curious too. It’s a great question.

From the perspective of the style of railroading depicted, this standard gauge layout and my previous, two-foot gauge layout are very similar:

– Both model steam-era common carrier railroading.
– The trains are similar too – like The Daily Effort to Port Rowan, my two-footer hosted short mixed trains consisting of a couple of freight cars plus varnish to carry passengers, mail and express.
– With the exception of the carloads generated by the slate mill, the freight traffic on the Maine two-footer was similar – building supplies, agricultural products, coal and oil, etc.
– And my two-footer served customers primarily via team tracks and other shared, public sidings as opposed to dedicated spurs – just as customers are served on the Port Rowan branch.

What’s different?

Ironically, the standard gauge terminal at Port Rowan operates more like a Maine two-foot terminal than the freelanced terminal I built in On2. At Port Rowan, trains arrive, do their work, turn and leave – much like they did in places like Monson Jct., Bridgton Jct., and Farmington. On my Maine two-footer, I never had the room to model a main yard such as the one at Phillips, so my transfer yard served double-duty as a classification yard. That never really worked.

But the biggest difference is mechanical. My S scale locomotives run beautifully – they’re smooth and reliable at all speeds, and they’re sure-footed like mountain goats. I tried hard to create bullet-proof track work on my Maine two-footer and had all of my On2 locomotives tuned up by someone comfortable with tweaking drivetrains, and still had disappointing results. My On2 equipment ran well, but not perfectly.

If that seems like a lofty goal, it shouldn’t – if locomotives, rolling stock and track work are all built with care and attention to quality, operation should be flawless. I could never come close to that in On2 – but in S, I’m almost there. I may never get there, but it’s worth trying because it will mean that when I’m hosting an operating session, I’ll be able to immerse myself completely in the miniature world I’ve created instead of spending my time fretting and fettling track and equipment. As I mentioned in my first run report, I had two derailments – pretty good for a break-in run – and I’ll attend to those. But otherwise, I enjoyed perfect performance, which meant I could enjoy watching my work in progress come to life.

In those terms, there’s no comparison – compared to On2, it felt fantastic!

First run for The Daily Effort

I celebrated a milestone yesterday, with the first operating session on the new layout.

I finished spiking the wiring the turntable approach in Port Rowan and realized I could now test the layout with an operating session. This would be a good test of the track work (and I will admit right up front that I had a couple of derailments, which was to be expected. I’ve made note of what happened and will attend to them).

But an operating session would also confirm for me that a such a simple layout design concept – featuring a short mixed train serving a branchline terminal – could be entertaining and rewarding.

Since I do not yet have a staging yard, I used the main through the Lynn Valley to stage the mixed train – The Daily Effort, as locals called it.

Most of the time the Port Rowan yard is pretty quiet, but once per day the Mixed Train breaks the calm, rounding the corner out of the Lynn Valley:

First run

The engineer turned on 1532’s headlight as he crept through the yard and, with bell ringing, pulled up at the Port Rowan station:

First run

First run

While passengers and less-than-carload express were unloaded, the conductor picked up switching orders.

On arrival at Port Rowan, The Daily Effort consisted of:

CNR 1532 – an H-6-d class 4-6-0
CNR 487747 – a boxcar
CNR 7792 – a baggage-mail car
CNR 7184 – a combine

CNR 487747 was destined for the team track, while the crew would be lifting two cars in Port Rowan for the return trip to Hamilton:

MEC 36106 – a boxcar spotted at the feed mill
CNJ 65414 – a hopper spotted on the coal track

After a brief consultation, the crew got to work.

The first order of business was to back the train up the main, to clear the run-around siding. Then the crew pulled forward to collect the MEC boxcar:

First run

Hauling back, the crew took the siding, moving slowly past the CNR boxcar and the passenger cars:

First run

First run

First run

Having regained the main, the crew shoved forward on the main to couple onto the combine, then continued to shove ahead until the CNR boxcar cleared the track switch in front of the station:

First run

Here, the crew uncoupled the CNR boxcar and pulled back on the main, into the clear:

First run

First run

Then, they rolled forward along the siding to retrieve that CNR boxcar:

First run

First run

The crew hauled the CNR boxcar past the passenger cars and MEC boxcar, and continued up to the yard throat:

First run

Here, the switch was thrown for the coal track and – with much sanding of the rails – the crew collected the CNJ hopper:

First run

First run

(The crew always switches this track with the boiler pointing uphill to keep plenty of water over the firebox.)

Back on the main, the crew again coupled up to the train:

First run

At this point, The Daily Effort looked like this:

CNR 1532 – the 10-wheeler
CNR 487747 – a boxcar to set out
CNJ 65414 – a hopper car returning to Hamilton
MEC 36106 – a boxcar returning to Hamilton
CNR 7184 – a combine
CNR 7792 – a baggae-mail car

Shoving on the consist, the crew spotted the train so that the passenger cars were in front of the depot. Here, the engine crew left everything but the CNR boxcar and pulled back, leaving the conductor and station agent free to load passengers and outbound express:

First run

First run

With one last car to spot, the crew backed up to the yard throat, took the switch for the team track, and set off the CNR boxcar to the right of the barn:

First run

First run

First run

Back on the main, the final job was to turn the engine. More switches were thrown and the crew proceeded up the slight grade of the turntable lead and onto the turntable:

First run

First run

Turning the engine took time, giving bystanders and opportunity to admire both sides of the locomotive:

First run

First run

With the engine turned, the crew crept off the turntable and drifted down the lead to the yard throat:

First run

First run

First run

Switches were lined for the main and locked, then the crew backed down to their train. With the day’s work done, the crew could take a short break while waiting for their scheduled departure time from Port Rowan:

First run

First run

The departing mixed train looks like this:

CNR 1532 – the 10-wheeler
CNJ 65414 – a hopper car returning to Hamilton
MEC 36106 – a boxcar returning to Hamilton
CNR 7184 – a combine
CNR 7792 – a baggae-mail car

Train time came soon enough and with bell ringing, The Daily Effort pulled through the yard and out of Port Rowan…

First run

First run

…leaving a lone boxcar in the weeds … until next time.

First run

Obviously, I paused fairly frequently during this first operating session to take photos to share here – which is why my session lasted almost two hours. Without the photo-taking, the session would have run almost an hour, which is about what I expected. I’ll admit that I unlocked all switches before running the session since I wanted to focus on how well the equipment navigated my track work. With a two-person crew, the need to unlock and re-lock switches would have added time to the work in Port Rowan – but more play value, too.

The pace is relaxed, but I was never bored. With a short tail track in front of the station and a fairly short run-around, careful planning is required to avoid boxing oneself in. That said, my model of Port Rowan is also long enough that it takes a fair bit of time to get from place to place at a reasonable speed (which, thanks to a custom speed table in the 1532’s DCC decoder, is one’s only choice), so planning ahead helps save wasted moves and time.

I’m really happy with how this first session went. Now, it’s time to tweak the track and equipment to address a couple of minor issues, and add some more foam board terrain. Then I can invite a couple of friends over for an operating session!