Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Plans for the New Year

Well, the layout hasn't been built yet...I'm about 80% done with preparing the basement for the new layout. In the meantime, I've built a few models as well. I'll be posting updates and pictures soon. Santa was very good to me (and my birthday is in November) so I'll have a number of updates over the next month on my modeling tools and techniques too.
But the primary focus will be on getting the layout built as soon as possible. My current goal is to complete the last necessary work in the basement this week. Then I'll be able to tear down the old layout, and if I'm lucky, build both decks by the end of the month. I'm hoping to build the lower deck in one weekend, and lay the staging tracks over the course of a week or two in the evenings. Once that's completed I can build the upper deck. Since I'll be handlaying that track on the upper deck it may take a bit longer to complete. I'm also not sure when I'll tackle the helices, particularly the Hartford-side since I'm still deciding how I will handle the Berlin branch staging.

The next goal is to have the layout operational (probably no scenicking at all, though, other than ballast and roads perhaps) by the New England Proto Meet, since it's less than a mile from my house. That way I can host a layout tour, although this year the 'tour' would focus on design and construction. Early test operating sessions can begin as soon as the trackwork is laid, although it probably won't be entirely New Haven because I'll have to borrow some equipment.
I also plan to have some completed models this year to take to the meet as well.
Updates (as I'm sure you've noticed) have been less frequent due to the fact that I'm now working a 5-day-a-week job. This could ultimately work to my advantage because it will force me to plan a little better and be more disciplined with my efforts. This includes updates to the site in addition to progress on the layout.

So, look for new content soon. There have been a few changes already. Mostly updating existing pages (which unfortunately I've found do not appear in the Recent Posts link, only new pages do). I'm working on one significant addition to the site, though, that I think will be very cool. I'm not ready to announce the specifics yet, but I think it will be a great addition.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Goals and Waffling

After spending the better part of the year not getting very far on the construction of the layout (for a variety of reasons) I'm considering the options again. There are always lots of decisions to make on what to model and I find that indecision is directly affected by the ratio of planning to doing.
 I'm now to the point where I want to get the basic layout up by the end of the year. When planning a layout, even a small one, it's sometimes easy to forget how much this entails. So what and I really trying to accomplish?

1. Prepare the layout room.
I have to complete moving the doors, patching the walls, and removing the old layout. The moving the doors project itself may also include fixing a crack in the floor of the utility room, and tiling the utility room and closet. There is a small amount of electrical work (moving switches) as well. In theory this is a one-weekend project if all goes well. (The rooms aren't that large). I'll need to determine how much lumber I'll salvage from the old layout as well.

2. Build the benchwork.
This will probably be done in stages, with the lower benchwork (staging) built first, all staging track laid, and then the upper benchwork built. Before any work on the upper deck is done (including trackwork) I need to cove the corners and paint sky. I don't have a table saw, or a chop saw so I'll have to call on some friends to help move this along.

3. Build the helixes.
I have to complete the two decks first, then connect them with the helix. The exact approach to staging for the Berlin line is as yet undecided. I could feed it into the closet, which would probably allow better access to the track, or loop it into the helix and include a couple of staging tracks on the main staging deck. This would be more complicated to build, but would keep all of the staging in one place (and allow longer staging for the Berlin line). This also requires access to a table saw.

4. Lay track.
This is pretty straightforward at this point. Most likely I would complete all of the mainline (including turnouts) before laying the sidings to allow testing and operation.

That in and of itself is a lot to do in a few months. I work pretty quickly when things are organized, so it's feasible, but I'm not sure how probable. The focus next year would be...what?

If I have a mainline built, I'll want some trains to run. The locomotives I have with decoders are all locomotives that won't be used in the future because they don't meet my modeling standards any more. So I'll need to get a decoder installed in at least one locomotive, and I should start from the beginning with sound so I don't have to go back and do it again. Then I'll need some rolling stock.

So I'm back to waffling. Proto:87? I've got a test set of wheels and they look great. After comparing with a code:88 wheels I found that the tread is the same, it's the flanges that are different between the two. It's noticeable, when side-by-side, but not so important once you're running trains. Plus, if I go with proto:87 I'll have to change out wheelsets on the locomotives, and I have to hand lay (or modify) turnouts for the staging area. That would delay the layout further.

So I'm back to working with fine scale HO specs. I can live with that.

Then there's the rolling stock. While I'm enjoying working with the resin kits, my skills and supplies make them slow going. Simpler standards then will make it easier to populate the layout more quickly, and probably be less expensive as well. The problem is that there is no really good resource to verify the accuracy of the many kits and RTR models on the market. From an operational standpoint, how much does this matter? That is my primary goal, get this running so I can start some operations. For photographs I can populate the foreground subjects with the more accurate and detailed cars.

I'll still stick with companies that are generally respected for fairly accurate models. I'll also try to verify specific cars in the ORER. But to run even a small operating session I'll need a lot of cars. So I'll have to populate it with a mix of useable cars. Since these will be among the first on the layout, they will also be among the first to retire.

So I'm back to an HO-scale rather than proto:87 model, and with looser overall standards for the models. Keeping the overall goal in mind (get operations running as soon as possible) helps to make decisions. Scenery will have to wait until the trackwork is done, and a decent amount of rolling stock (freight and passenger) will be the focus for next year.

But first, I've got to get that benchwork done!
Update Jan 25, 2011 - Wow...am I slow. October 2008 and I was talking about laying track in a few months?!? I'm hoping for next month!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back from Vacation

We spent about 10 days visiting family so there hasn't been much to update here. Most of what I've been working on is developing a wish list of foreign roster cars (preparing for birthday/Christmas...). All too often I find myself at a hobby shop looking at kits and I have no idea which would be appropriate for my layout, nor which are the better kits in regards to accuracy so I don't have to make too many changes.

In fact, I found myself in that scenario recently. I picked up a Branchline Blueprint-series reefer. I'm finding that I'll have enough local traffic to warrant a few reefers, not to mention a block of them on the front of the Maybrook-Hartford (OA) freights.

In addition, I'm using the kit as another step in my experimentation with standards for the layout. The Branchline kits have a lot of detail, including pretty complete underframe detailing. Unlike the Intermountain or Red Caboose kits though, they consist of separate parts, and aren't on the narrow vertical plane of the other kits. So out of the box they look pretty good.

The downside of the Branchline kits is that the brake levers are two pieces that glue into either side of the center sill, instead of a single piece that passes all the way through. Aside from not being prototypically correct, I think that this makes the parts weaker and more susceptible to damage.

In the end I replaced some of the piping with wire, and used some of the plastic piping that is already attached to the parts. I'll have to paint it, which is another disadvantage to replacing the parts. The plastic parts can also be more detailed (pipe fittings, etc). Once painted I don't think the difference will be noticeable.

Another potential reason for replacing the plastic piping is durability. But I'm using brass wire and half of a turnbuckle for a clevis along with the brake lever form the kit (which requires cutting off the plastic wire and scraping off the cast on clevis). In the end I'm using three parts with joints which very well could be weaker than the original part.

So like the bracket grabs, I may start using the kit parts first, and repairing them with wire if necessary. This will help get cars on the track quicker (when there is a track). I may still use standard parts for the more visible items (air hoses, power brakes, etc.) but while the underframe will be visible, it will rarely be in a position for close inspection. This does depend on the kit, though. I prefer that there is a little more separation between the brake piping, it looks more prototypical when viewing a car on the track.

Branchline Reefers

Comment posted 9/17/2008


Glad you got around to actually BUILDING one of the reefer kits. ;>) (So many collect dust!)

Found your comment about the durability of the brake rods interesting though... First, unless you model the O&W (God forbid!) and most of your rolling stock ends up upside down, the gap in the brake rods is not visbisle. FWIW, based on my experience with.... ummm... a few of these kits (!) the weak spot is not in the brake gear but rather the stirrup steps (in particular the CENTER setep) which, when handled by earnest operators uncoupling or re-railing these cars often fall victem to a cry of "oops..."! In fairness, this is a common problem, not only with ours but also I-M and Red Caboose reefers. The best solution is probably to replace the steps with modified A-Line U-shaped steps, insterted into holes drilled in the original mounting points and then bent outwards slightly to match the prototype. In fact, although I have yet to replace a brake pipe, I suspect that next time you are over you will be hard pressed to find ANY reefer on my layout that still has its full compliment of steps! (Must see about buying those A-Line parts in bulk......)

Bill Schneider

Durability, etc.

Comment posted 9/18/2008

Thanks for the comment, Bill. Yes, it's true that you'll never notice the gap in the brake levers except when you are photographing the underframe and such.

The stirrups and the air hoses will definitely be the most susceptible to damage once I have the layout built. Until then, though, they are subject to the fat fingers of the modeler, and the brake gear was in place before I started messing around with wheels and stuff. Also, I had decided to assemble the bulk of the underframe before fitting it to the rest of the car, and it was a bit tighter fit than I remembered from the test fit.

Initially, I intended to use A-Line steps for all of my models, as well as replacing the brake gear with wire and "standard" brake gear. This model however has made me rethink that approach, especially in regards to time and money. So I now plan on building the kits much more frequently with the provided parts, unless
1) I really don't like the look of the parts, or;
2) I have some information about them being prototypically inaccurate.

In a sense it's kind of funny, because I always thought that the write-ups of F&C kits were odd because everybody seems to throw out the green wire they supply with...more wire.

In regards to durability altogether, I'm hoping that since the Sergent couplers don't require as much handling to uncouple that there will be less wear-and-tear on the cars themselves.

In any event, reading my initial commentary, "downside" was a bit stronger than my intention. I just found them a little fiddly in the assembly. Of course, this is from a modeler who still hasn't completed 10 models yet...


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Compressing the Prototype

Compressing a prototype plan to one manageble in a model is affected by many different things, starting with the design concept itself. What are you trying to model? Modeling the mainline of an entire division will require far more compression than modeling just a few towns. If you are including a major interchange yard, you will undoubtably have to simplify things to make maintenance and operation possible.

Since I've chosen to model the operations of one small city I have the opportunity to build a layout with a minimum of compression, even in a relatively small room. But it will still require some work to make it fit the space.

The first major change is compression by omission: The Berlin line will not be modeled. While I would like to include it, having three extensions to the layout will not fit easily in the space. In addition, it includes a fairly extensive yard which would also require a lot of space. I have considered including a second deck to model it, but the distance required to run between the two decks would be about the same distance between the station and the Whiting Street yard. So I wouldn't be able to model much more than the yard anyway.

The next issue is a question of how much I need to compress the rest of the layout. The entire arcade and station area, including the Mechanical Department facilities, should fit along hte 20' wall with no compression. If modeled to scale it's about 11.5 feet long.

The eastbound track is about half-a-mile, or 30' in HO scale. The westbound track is about 3/4 of a mile, or 45 feet. I'll have somewhere between 20-25' on each side of the station area to work with so some compression will be necessary. Additional compression will be required due to introducing the necessary curves to make it fit the room.

So the first thing I'm going to do is reduce all track lengths by 13%. Why 13%? Because in HO scale 1 real foot = 87 scale feet. Instead on this layout 1 real foot = 100 scale feet. This will have a minor effect on the design of the layout, only a reduction of 1/2 a 40' car per 100' scale feet of track.
I will make some additional space by reducing some of the longer tracks slightly, particularly where there are no industries with sidings.

I haven't finalized the plan, and the distances at this point are still rough estimates. But I should be able to include all of the industries between East Main Street and Curtis Street, with only two exceptions. The first is likely the Landers, Frary and Clark factory across from the station. I am considering some sort of hidden track, but switching will be very difficult in that event.

The other exceptions will be some of the tracks in the P&F Corbin division of the American Hardware Corporation on Myrtle Street, and portions of the Stanley Works complex, specifically the area past Buritt Street.

I am trying to determine what impact this will have on operations, since eliminating tracks, particularly of major industries, also changes the nature of operations. Most likely I will address this issue the most common way, there simply won't be cars for those industries.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Just a quick note on sound.
 Now that I've run trains with and without sound, I definitely want sound. It does enhance the operation. In addition, the QSI Quantum Revolution is finally being released, so I can't wait. I only need a couple more locomotives for the basics, so instead of buying more I'll start adding sound.

5/23/2008 - Hmmmm. Didn't quite work out that way. I've got a bunch more locomotives and only one has sound (or a decoder) so far. And that one came preinstalled.

I'm going to build a layout!

I have a plan!

I've been through a great many potential plans as I've tried to decide if I really want to take the time to build a significant layout in this basement. Because of the shape of the room, the majority of them were large ovals with steady grades that allowed it to loop under itself and continue to staging under the main layout. I was trying to avoid the complexity of a helix since I have a double-track mainline, plus an extra single-tracked branchline. I'd like all staging from all three directions.

Recently, it occurred to me that if I move a door, then I'll have a small side room available as well. More space is a good thing, but the placement isn't great. But it did open the possibility of placing some staging there.

The other factor is that all of the plans would require a duck-under (more likely a crawl-under) or a section that could be opened since there would be multiple levels of track.

The current layout is a literal dogbone. It's a double-track main, and the line loops back onl itself, so the right track becomes the left track. This arrangement basically allows one 20' wall for modeling, along with the two 10' walls.
With the extra space from the side room, though, I can push one or both of those loops outside of the room and still have decent aisle space. The problem once again, though becomes staging.
Then the obvious struck me. Instead of a loop, build a helix at each end.

The helixes would be simple spirals, no turnouts and go down to a lower level of staging. It would also complete a loop of the entire layout if I want to have continuous running. Since the Hartford trains go through to Waterbury, each train will have it's own dedicated staging track, it would just return to the one it left from , but from the opposite direction. This reduces the number of staging tracks in half when compared to a point-to-point arrangement. Better still, the aisle will be a continous S-shaped aisle - no duck-unders. This is especially important since the basement also happens to be where I need to store my guitar amp, and I wasn't looking forward to duckunders, etc. with a 50 lb amp.

The Berlin staging will only need a small stub-ended staging, really only two tracks. There is only one train scheduled during a given session from this direction (and will head toward Waterbury, so it needs a track in the main staging as well).

The other great thing this will do is extend the Hartford side of the Highland line, leading to the station. There were a number of industries here, and also the long siding where the through freights drop off cars. So this will extend the mainline run nicely and will focus attention on the Highland Line.

Other than potentially limiting the length of trains, the helixes won't affect the operation of the layout at all. The trains will only use the helixes the enter and exit the layout. I could even use serial staging in the helix for the inbound trains, since it's a double track main.

Another nice feature of this design is that the staging and main decks will be level. It makes the construction much easier, with the exception of building the helixes. I'd like to use the masonite spline construction for the helix, but the thickness of the spline might be two tall for helixes with a small radius.

And ironically, there may still be a good amount of space in the middle of the room with this design, so it may allow some use of the basement for other activities.

I'll be taking some measurements when I get home today, and Bill will be over to check it out in about a week as well so I'll be able to see what he thinks. But I think I have a winner.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Not a lot to report on the layout itself, but it had been a while since I've updated the blog...

While I haven't fully made the decision to build the layout here (although I'm leaning heavily in that direction again...and might move a door to make some more room), I have been to a few ops sessions.

The layouts are of a variety of sizes and in various states of completion. What I've learned so far is that the size of the layout is of some relevance, but the sessions all tend to last about the same amount of time. The real key is understanding the limitations of the layout: How many people can run trains at once, and how many people are needed to run all of the trains? These two questions are slightly different.

How Many People Can Run Trains At Once?
This is affected by several factors. The amount of space for operators, as well as the number of throttles are the two largest factors. This is usually not too big an issue, simply because the track plan also limits the number of trains that can be moving at once, and a smaller layout typically has fewer trains at a time.

How Many People Are Needed to Run All Of The Trains?
In general, some operators will run more than one train, while others will only operate a single train in a session. In most of the sessions I have attended, the local runs for pretty much the entire session. Through freights (which may have some work)and passenger trains have shorter runs, and a given crew will probably run several. The number of trains to run needs to be high enough to keep everybody occupied most of the time.

So what's different on a larger layout? Well, it depends on what "larger" means. One two of the larger layouts I've run, the track circles back in the same space. There are a number of stops along the way, and some hidden track as well. The track plan in both cases include a decent-sized yard, and the work there keeps one operator well occupied for the session.

One of these layouts is set up in a block system, and you run every train through your block, and pass it on to the next block to continue the run. The other one I have only run the local, but you basically follow your train around the layout. Both of these layouts had a similar "feel" to the smaller layouts I've run, just a little more space between the stops. The train size wasn't necessarily bigger.

The only layout that felt significantly different was significantly larger. Five people were assigned to manage the yard work. Once again, the local(s) seemed to take the bulk of the session to run. Through freights were limited to two stops, and went fairly quickly, but there were a lot of them. The major difference, though, was in the scale. Passing tracks were long, and what is a quick runaround move on a smaller layout takes some time. There is a lot more time for railfanning as you follow your train between towns, or stops if you are only making a few stops. In addition, the number of trains and the number of operators is significantly higher since there is a lot more space. This felt much, much different because of the difference in scale.

Among other things that I have learned:
-"Long" trains don't have to be that long. I believe the largest train I saw was 46 cars. Even on a large layout, that looked huge. It was also about as large a train that the yard could handle on one track.
-Short, unblocked trains can take as long to switch as a long blocked train. On smaller layouts you can extend the operations by sending out unblocked or partially-blocked trains.
-Facing point switching also extends the operations. If you are planning on a small layout, an urban area with a mix of trailing and facing point switching may be more interesting. On larger layouts mostly trailing point (or operating the locals as turns, where they switch only trailing points) can help from making the session too long. Even if you are freelancing, pay attention to prototype track plans. At the very least you need a long enough siding to drop cars and runaround the train. But you may need at least one additional siding to facilitate splitting the train if needed without fouling the main.
-Two-way sidings can also extend operations. This means that there is a stub-ended siding in both directions off of one turnout. This gives you both a trailing and facing point turnout, but can also make switching moves more interesting since cars at the end of one of the sidings may limit how many cars you can move at once on the other.
-It's OK to make people wait. You want to have some work for just about everybody early on, but during the session it's OK for them to have to wait for the yardmaster to build a train. This gives the operators time to talk, railfan, and admire the layout. Just try to keep it so that no one person is hanging around too much.

Another tip is that it's a good idea to have somebody familiar with the layout responsible for the yard and the local. I'm still a big fan of two-person teams, and you can have one novice and one experienced operator on a team.

So, while I'm still in planning mode, operations has become the biggest consideration. That may affect which portion of New Britain I model if I have to reduce the size. I'd like to keep the operations to a minimum of four people. The two local 44-tonners will occupy two, and one person or team could be managing most of the other trains. I would manage staging, which most likely will include the Berlin line trains to local businesses and the Whiting Street yard. If I'm lucky, I can move another door which will give me a location to build staging that will not be under the other decks. I'll have to see how the geometry will work...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Planning the 'mini' layout

I've been working on the plans for what I'm calling the mini-layout. This is because we'd still like to move in the relatively near future, hopefully with a room of an appropriate size for the layout I'd like to do.

One of the nice things about the mini-layout is that I have a lot of what I'll need to get it operational in short order.

Operations will be based on autumn 1951, second trick.

The maximum train length, based on the sixe of the layout and particularly staging will be about 20 forty-foot cars, plus locomotive and caboose. I might consider expanding this to about 25 cars or so, depending on how the plan comes out.

The Berlin line (and thus the Whiting Street yard) are offline.

All staging will be stacked in a single location allowing access from outside the scenicked portion of the layout. Thus staging will be hidden from the operators, but the design allows the person operating the staging to see the whole layout.

By focusing on a single trick, I can identify what I will need to roster in the short run. The trains that will run during a typical session are:
OA-4 May pick up and drop off.
HDX-5 Drops off and picks up, could return later in the trick.
AO-3 Drops off and picks up.
YN-3 Does not drop off or pick up.

Operators would be:
Local Switcher person/team
HDX-5 person/team
All other trains team

The person operating staging could conceivably run the through trains. The time between trains would be spent shuffling trains in staging.

RosterThe nice thing about this schedule is that I already have a good portion of the roster needed, for example:
(3) DERS-2b (RS-2) locomotives (I need 2)
(2) DERS-2c (RS-3) locomotives (I need 1)
(1) DERS-1b (RS-1) locomotive (I need 1)
(1) DER-1 (DL-109) locomotive
(1) DEY-3 (S-1) locomotive
(2) DER-2 (FA-1/B/A) locomotives (I need 2 FA-1s)

I will probably have the DERS-2b and DERS-2c by the end of the month. The DERS-1b is readily available. So the only challenge I have is finding more FA-1 locomotives.

I have all of the hacks already or on order. The only thing that will be difficult is the light weight passenger cars, simply because there is no model available. I'll need about 4 to start, but can substitute heavyweights in the meantime.

I'm still working out the details of the exact plan. Bill Schneider built his in sections on foam at his dining room table. I like that idea, not just because it makes construction easy, but a semi-modular approach means that I can move portions to the next layout. The only potential issue is the clearance needed when using 2" foam instead of plywood or OSB. Another factor is grades, but if I build the grades by simply tilting the foam, then the same base can be reworked for a level design in the future. The grades will probably be necessary for staging.

The final decision is whether or not I want to tackle a helix. My concept (particularly for staging) could be problematic due to the necessary location of the helix if I use one.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Standards and Better Modeling

I'm in the process of modifying a Bowser model as a 117000-series covered hopper. I also have two different Eastern Car Works models of the same prototype. I received one of them today, and it's not quite the right one as it doesn't have the open sides. Looking more carefully at the picture on eBay it would appear that's the case for the second one as well. (Update: I received it today, it's for a completely different prototype).

It's OK in any event, because the details are a little too large compared to the Bowser one. It appears that the ECW kit is an older-style kit. It's still pretty nice, and its construction is quite different. I like to see different options like this, because I know I'll have to scratch-build some cars in the future and it helps to see some variations in the design of the models.

I also received an Eastern Car Works model of a 90-ton depressed flat car (17050-series or 17060-series). It also looks like an older kit in most of the detail, but it is well detailed. I will probably use the frame and some of the other parts, and scratch-build or use replacement parts for the details. It is certainly a closer match than anything else that's currently available.

I am also continuing to work on a B&O M26D boxcar from Speedwitch. The 17200-series flat from Speedwitch is simply waiting for trucks and couplers, painting and decals.

In addition, I've been working on that turnout and track options, and I've been studying pictures of locomotives and comparing them to the models I have.

All of this has worked to help set, as well as increase the level of the standards I'd like for the models on the layout. On the 17200-series flat I have all of the brake details except the release rod, simply because I haven't been able to determine where it should be in the few pictures that I have. Because of the quality of the model, as well as my own experimentation, I've set a high standard to start with.

But, it could be higher. I noticed that on the Protowest model of the 17300-series flat that there are rivets on the caps on the crossbearers. These rivets aren't on the model I have of the earlier series of flats. In fact, I thought these were simply "I" beams, and thus wouldn't have rivets. Because I had used some of the styrene included in the kit for some other details, I was potentially short for the covers. In the instructions, the crossbearer caps were glued across the top of the center beam caps. I cut them to size instead.
So here's the question: who cares if there are rivets on the bottom of a car?
Well, obviously the folks at Protowest. Although at this point I'm probably already being labeled as a "rivet counter," I really just want to make the best model I can, within the limits of my modeling ability and the reasonably avaialble resources.

Actually, I do want to stretch my abilities, and work just beyond my capabilities as much as I can, so I can get better. But I also want to set some standards across the models, so they will blend together as a cohesive whole once they're on the layout.

At this point I've come to the conclusion that I want to model the brake gear on each car. I'm planning on a fairly high layout level, and the brake detail can also be seen to be present in pictures. Because of my desire for consistency, I want these models to be up to the same standards as models I build a few years from now.

However, my skills at this point aren't quite at the level I'd like. So instead, I'm working my way through the process rather slowly at times. The B&) M26D is a good case in point. I started it about a year ago. After completing a good portion of the underframe (but not the brake gear) I found that it wasn't going as smoothly as I'd hoped. For one thing, I didn't read the directions closely enough. But more importantly, I hadn't learned enough about what I was modeling, nor how to model it.

While that sat waiting, I worked on several other kits, all F&C kits. One is the New Haven milk car kit, which I am pretty close to completing. The reason it hasn't been finished is partially due to learning that it would have been long gone by my era. So it's waiting for trucks and couplers, as well as a final painting and decals. The other two are both NHRHTA Kit #1. However, these kits were manufactured in different runs, and are very different kits. One has a cast roof that is simply applied to the model. The other has a roof that's cast in one piece. You are supposed to bend (break) it in half, and form it over the model using another casting that helps set the correct angles. While both kits are a yellowish resin that F&C used at the time (their resin is now white), the earlier of the two was a much stiffer, almost brittle resin. The flash was much thicker and required a lot of sanding to clear up, and the sides are very, very warped. If this was what all craftsman kits were like, I might have second thoughts about my plans.

I'm not sure if I'll "finish" any of these cars. Along with a small collection of Accurail cars, etc. However, they have served their immediate purpose, which is to provide some much needed practice and experimentation. It was enough so that when I got around to the 17200-series kit that I was able to complete it fairly quickly, and without too much difficulty. The M26D is also closer to completion, now awaiting the purchase of a few parts recommended to make it a more accurate model.

Which brings me back to my original thought: my modeling standards. It's easy enough to list what I think I want:

-Separately applied grabirons and ladders
-Metal Sill Steps and other fragile parts where possible
-Accurate doors, roofs, and ends
-"Complete" brake gear, including piping to all 5 junctions on the AB control valve
-Sergent Couplers
-Proto:87 Wheelsets
-Date specific painst schemes and decals

The list will continue, but the point is that these are my standards. They're pretty high standards to meet, especially when considering a 500-piece collection of rolling stock. The cost of each piece increases, in part because it moves me toward resin kits as the primary type of rolling stock, as well as additional cost for extra or replacement details, and small run parts like the couplers and wheelsets.
But in the long run it may save me time, money and aggravation. My theory is that if I set the standards high now, I won't have to go back and "correct" earlier models and bring them up to standard. In some cases I may skip certain details (such as super-detailing a locomotive) when I can put the money toward something else. But overall it will be less expensive to make sure each item is up to standard before putting it on the layout.

It is possible that a few years down the road I could decide that this is crazy and lower some of my standards. THe only ones that would have an appreciable effect financially is deciding to switch from Sergent couplers, or Proto:87 wheelsets. If I decide to do less brake detail it just means that the older models will have more detailed underframes.

But I don't think that's likely. Knowing my own tendencies, I will only want to improve the level of detail above even these standards. I also feel that the more cars I assemble, the more proficient I will get, and it will go faster and with fewer mistakes.

Ted Culotta in a clinic last year said that it's important to not to overthink things and not get anything accomplished as a result. I agree, it's important to keep working because after all, it's just a hobby. If I chop up a locomotive and it doesn't come out the way I'd have hoped, then I can either try to fix it, or replace it. Let's face it, I've wasted money on far less. If I was collecting $1,500 brass locomotives it might be another story...

So far I've sacrificed two layouts, a handful of shake-the-box kits, a couple of resin kits, and some of my time. So far I have a little to show for my efforts. I'm betting that as my skills improve, there will be more on the shelf (or layout) to show for my efforts than what I have so far.
So don't be afraid to set your standards high. The key is to keep working towards them. I have a small shelf's worth of partially completed models. But I also have what I feel is one really good model, with another two well on their way. And I feel much more confident that the next kits I work on will be the same.

If I'd originally decided that building a large roster quickly with shake-the-box kits was the best approach, then I'd not only be re-purchasing a bunch of parts (couplers and wheelsets for one, of which I did buy a few McHenry and Intermountain already), but I'd also have a lot more models that would be pushed off of the layout as "not good enough anymore." Bill Schneider has reached a point where he removes one model from the railroad each time he adds one. But he's at that 500+ car roster stage where it's more a necessity due to space constraints. When I get to that point I want to have a difficult time deciding which model to remove.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Well, I've been sketching out some rough ideas for the new layout, and I think I know which version I plan on building. If I stick with the "simple" around-the-room helix, with the east and west Highland Line running in opposite directions, when they circle around to the staging area I can simple run the mainline down the middle of the staging area, creating the contiuous loop for running. On one side of the main will be the staging/storage for Hartford, and Waterbury on the other. My current benchwork is about 3" thick, and I'll add another inch or so for lighting the staging area. At a steady 2% grade I'll have about 10" minimum additional clearance, which I think will work well for staging. I will hide the staging from the operating location in the center of the room with doors, but it will be open on the staging side for easy access.

While the "double" helix created will be a little more difficult to build, it shouldn't be too bad. I plan on using the masonite spline method inspired by Joe Fugate and the method I used for the current layout. All of the flat sections (including the Stanley Works section which will be on a 1% grade) will use a simple table-top construction. I may just use OSB for the table-top, or I may decide to go with the foam.
All of the "tunnels" will be hidden behind buildings, and the staging will be completely hidden from the operators. I may or may not hide the Berlin Line as it ascends behind the eastbound Highland Line into staging.

The swing-open section will comprise track on several different levels, and will be 4 tracks wide. I will stagger the rails and use guardrails to help prevent derailments, and I'll use electrical contacts to create dead sections of track when the door is not shut properly. It will essentially be a half-height door with sections of track attached to the back of it.

I will have to work out the staging layout for maximum storage. At the end of each storage section I will install an inexpensive, manual Atlas turntable to allow turning of locomotives and cars as well as an escape track. I can create gantlet tracks to access the turntable to allow as many as possible. This will turn the stub-ended staging into a virtual double-ended staging. The alternative would be a transfer table.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Modeling

Well, it appears that I'll be doing a bit more than I anticipated...

First, since I needed a couple of small supplies, I decided to check out another hobby store I "found." Pretty much every hobby store is about 45 minutes or more from me at this point, so I thought it would be nice to check out something new. As it turns out, this one appeared to be in somebody's house, and when we tried to call there was no answer. So, no hobby store. But we were close to the MA border by that point, and it would have been more than an hour to get down to Wolcott and the Hobby Gallery (the only hobby store "nearby" that has detail parts in stock).

So we decided try Tucker's Hobbies in Warren, MA. Everybody kept telling me I had to go check it out. Although it wasn't quite what I expected, they had a great supply of detail parts in stock. So it was a trip worth making, although I'll have to plan ahead, and perhaps call in an order before I head up that way again, since it's over an hour. I always seem to forget to order something, and it appears they are the most likely to have what I need in stock.

I also picked up a Bowser covered hopper. So I'm making some modifications to bring it up to the approriate level of detail. I've decided I much prefer to work on a craftsman-style kit than to scrape parts off of an existing model. There is an Intermountain model in pre-production right now that looks great, although I'll need to make a few modifications to that as well, it appears.

I also have one of the Eastern Car Works depressed center flat cars on the way. This will be a good starting point for either a 17050- or 17060-series flat. It's a model of a 36'-long car, and the prototypes are 36'8" and 37'6" respectively.

I still plan on ordering a model for a 17300-series flat as well, either the Sunshine or Protowest one. So I'll be working on completing some of the less common cars on the roster.

I also picked up one of the Athearn RS-3 locomotives. It's a nice model, although there are a number of modifications to make. One area that needs work is the plow, and I think the Atlas one is a bit more accurate in this regard. I'm working on a closer study of both to identify the differences between them, as well as the accuracy. I don't have an Atlas one yet, but I may pick one up if I can't discern what I need in the pictures. Note that the Atlas one is not currently available in a New Haven paint scheme, and has not been released in the delivery scheme at all.

LayoutI'm working on a new plan for the layout, again. Our planned move may not happen as soon as we thought, due to a few complications, so I'm going to start working on a new layout here. We've also decided to stop pretending that we're going to use the basement for other uses, so I'll have a full 10' x 20' area to work with, plus another small area if need be.
While I've still considered a multi-level layout, I want to avoid a crawl-under design. I'll need to provide some sort of a lift-out or door to access the center of the room, since that is the operating section of the layout. So the current plan is to model the station/arcade area, and the Highland Line west through Stanley Works. All three of the lines (Highland east & west, and the Berlin line) will go to semi-hidden staging. The Berlin line will be at the same level as the main layout, hidden in the Stanley Works buildings. There will also be a semi hiddne track that completes a loop for continuous running. The remaining staging will be beneath the layout, but doesn't have to be low enough for scenicking. The lower level staging will also complete a loop for continuous running.

The Berlin Line will complete a continous running line around the top level only. The Hartford/Waterbury line will complete a longer run for continuous running utilizing the second level, so the trains will be passing a different intervals. I can also allow slow trains to run through this loop while running alone, while doing the local switching.

I'll still need to do a 2-level entrance of some sort, but the staging doesn't have to be at as low a level, nor will it have as many tracks crossing the opening. How I get the trains to the lower level is the question right now. I'd like to stick with a maximum of about a 2% grade. I would prefer to avoid a helix, partially due to the reduced radius and increased grade as a result. But the bigger factor is that the lines that enter the helix are both double-tracked main, which complicates things more.

So my next option is an around-the-room helix.

Version one of the around-the-room helix gives me the most room to work with for the lower level staging in the location I want. The problem is that the two mainlines are decending in the opposite directions, and each will need to circle the entire room once. This again makes things a little more complicated.
Version two is a turnback on one of the mainlines, so both tracks can descend side-by-side. In addition, I could reduce the trackage to a single double-tracked main, instead of having it 4 tracks wide. The only real problem with this design is that the turnback is over the location where I want the staging, reducing access slightly, or the length of the tracks. In addition, I have to add a second loop under the turnback to maintain continuous running. The turnback and loop would both extend outside of the layout room itself, so it will not interfere with the rest of the layout or operation.

The only major difference that this layout will have from my intended layout is that it will not feature the Berlin Line at all. All traffic to the Berlin Line will be handled off-layout by the dispatcher (usually me), and the Hartford/Waterbury staging will be immediately below that so all off-line activity will happen in one place (which is outside the main operating section of the layout, and hidden from their view).

I expect that I will still have at least 3 jobs plus the dispatcher, that could potentially support 3 two-person teams:
The yard switcher. One of the local 44-tonners that handles the switching on the Highland Line.

HDX-5. This is the only local freight, and will also switch the same industries as the yard switcher.

Through trains. This includes passenger and freight. All of the Hartford-based or bound trains will dropp off and pick up cars here.

The dispatcher will move cars "dropped" at the Whiting Street Yard by the New Haven trains to the Commercial Street Yard. He will also pick up cars dropped there by trains bound for Berlin Line industries. He is also responsible for all trains entering or leaving staging, and will switch locomotives and hacks to their new trains to ready them to enter the layout.

The center aisle will be somewhere between 30" and 60" wide, depending on how I decide to model the PF Corbin factory on Myrtle Street.

Sketches and details to follow, and I hope to start building the benchwork relatively soon (and reuse as much of the existing benchwork as possible). The method of constructing the benchwork is still undecided as well, although I'm leaning towards re-using as much of the OSB that I used for the last layout, along with foam and homasote or cork roadbed.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Phases of a Model Railroad: Roster

Although this is more or less theory at this point, looking ahead I can see how my railroad will be completed in some distinct phases. In fact, there are different phases for different potions of the layout, but for this posting I will be focusing on the roster.

Planning Phase
I'm primarily working within this phase right now. A big portion of this is research of both the prototypes and models. In the process of collecting and organizing the prototype info, I started making a binder of material along with entering a lot of data into the computer to make the key information easier to find. This website is an extension of that, because I figured I wouldn't be the only one that would find this information useful, and it allows me to access it anyplace I can get to the internet. A side benefit for me is that others have the opporutnity to "proof" my data when they visit the site. I've already had some feedback and corrections, and I hope that process continues.

Collecting modeling info is a combination of a few areas. One is identifying and acquiring modeling info about the New Haven Railroad in the hobby press. A side benefit of this is that I also acquire some info on other prototypes as well. The next area is identifying what models are/were available for the New Haven. This can be a little more complicated, but not nearly as complicated as the next step: identifying which models are the most accurate, and/or are the easiest to "correct." The modeling articles are helpful in much of this regard, but online forums and other modelers are invaluable. Again, in the process I end up with information about other roads.

Home Road Phase
I'm sure most modelers are like me, and they are hunting for as many models of their home road as possible. I'm actually using focused prototype modeling as a method to manage my budget as well. There aren't all that many models of New Haven prototypes available. There are even fewer that are accurate, and fewer still that fall within my era. Manufacturers (and probably modelers as well) seem to focus heavily on the era just after mine: the McGinnis era. The cars are more colorful, and the big NH is instantly recognizable. But I'm not a big fan of the paint schemes myself.

In any event, it means that I have a relatively short shopping list, and I'll usually only find a couple of things (if any) at a store or a show. Most of them I have to order, and these keeps expensive impulse purchases at a minimum.

Once I identify what's available, I can prioritize. Price plays a part here, but it's usually dictated more by scarcity. I start with the hard-to-find things, because the longer you wait, the harder they are to find. The next priority is the limited releases that are available now, but won't be for long. New Haven lettered locomotives seem to be the biggest culprit here, they tend to last less than a month on the shelves (at least in CT).
I can easily see the next couple of years focused almost exclusively on filling out my New Haven roster.

Foreign Road Phase
Three major things will influence my purchase of foreign equipment. The first is the scarcity issue. This applies primarily to models I'll be making based on a magazine article. If the model is a limited release I may pick it up so I'll have it when I need it. These will probably sit on the shelf while I'm building New Haven models, though.

The second factor that will play a part is the completion of a signicficant amount of the layout. I'm not talking about scenery and structures. This is purely related to trackwork. When there's enough trackwork in place to start some early operating sessions, I'll need some cars. It might be OK for a few sessions to have all New Haven models, but I think that I'll want to see some variety pretty quickly. In fact, this will probably be important once there's a significant amount of trackwork to have a good amount of cars sitting on the layout.

The final factor, and the one that really signals this phase, is the near completion of the New Haven roster. Once the layout reaches a certain point, almost all of the new additions to the roster will be foreign roads. This is due to several reasons. This will happen from time-to-time when there aren't any specific models on the market. But the roster itself is based on the real thing and the size of the layout. So I know exactly what I want for the roster, and once the New Haven portion is complete it's not likely to change much.

Final Thoughts
These phases aren't set in stone, of course. They will always overlap to some degree. But the major factor for me is that my focus will shift. I might pick up a nice model of a foreign road because of a particular opportunity, but I won't be searching out those opportunities. Right now I'm looking for New Haven stuff, and just New Haven stuff. I already know the next 2-3 cars I'll pick up, and that will probably complete my flat car roster. This is simply because the models are available, and I don't need very many.

How quickly I build the roster also depends on what prototype info I find. If I have a choice between an Employee Timetable or a locomotive, I'll always go for the timetable because they just don't show up very often. Once the actual construction on the layout begins, then funds and time will be focused on that aspect. This, in fact, forms another series of phases: modeling. My situation would also be similar to somebody living in an apartment or going to college. No layout (at least not at home) so plenty of opportunity to plan and build a roster. Once the layout gets under way the roster probably won't grow much until enough of the layout is ready for some trains. Then roster building gets to fight it out with scenery and structure building for a few years. Once that's largely completed it's back to roster building.

This is all assuming that you don't move and have to start with the planning stages again...

Anyway, my current goal is to work on the core of the New Haven roster for the next 6-12 months. I may have less time depending on when we move. But I'll still have a window of time after the move to build some models while I work out the final plans for the layout befure I start building.

This weekend I'll be adding a new locomotive (or two) to the roster. They won't be super-detailed yet, and they won't even be the correct road number. But although they were released a couple of months ago, they are already getting harder to find. By the end of the month I'm hoping to have 2-3 more flat cars to build, and then I'll be looking to get started on the PS-1 boxcars. With a tax return, bonus, and a tax rebate all due in a couple of months I'm hoping to be able to build all 20 at once. With those complete I'll have about 15% of my freight roster done.

We'll see.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Proto:87 Revisited

Well, I am well on my way of completing my first official addition to my roster: A 17200-series Flat Car. Pictures and thoughts will be posted in the relatively near future.

I have also completed my first semi-handlaid turnout. I say semi-handlaid because I'm using the Central Valley turnout kits, and it doesn't require quite the amount of work as a completely handlaid turnout. In any event, I've come up with a way to model the throwbars to my satisfaction:


This is a rough prototype, but the concept works. It has been noted (by Andy Reichert) that the approach of soldering pc-board ties as a throwbar is not as reliable as you might think, so testing continues.

So between the better looking track, and the fact that I need to order some trucks and wheelsets for my new flat car, my thought process is once again focused on proto:87. In the last few days I have found and joined two Yahoo groups, handlaidtrack and proto:87. Although I may be stating the obvious, I tend to do a lot of research and even experimentation when making decisions. I don't take this one too lightly, because there is both a time and a money component involved. I also have to worry about converting my locomotives (I have around 10 right now) as well.

But since I don't have an operating layout, and I've loaned out my DCC system for testing and evaluating to a friend, I have some time to make those conversions. I only have 3 locomotives equipped for DCC right now anyway, and all three will probably not be in my final roster because I've altered my plans, and settled on different standard models.

So, later this week I will most likely place my first order for proto:87 wheelsets, along with the trucks and couplers I'll need to complete this model. The very fact that I keep coming back to this question is a pretty good indication that it's the direction I want to take. All my other decisions: handlaid track, Sergent couplers, prototype modeling with a high degree of fidelity, are not only compatible, but heading down the same tracks, pun intended.

I will post an update with what I think after I've received the wheelsets and other materials and complete the car. I also plan on building a second (code 70) turnout with the same process, but to proto:87 standards to see how much additional fiddling that entails. Hopefully I'll have more to report within the month...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Freight Rosters

I've been adding a lot of info to the freight rosters. There's still a bit to go from what info I already have, but there is a lot of info I don't have. In particular, I'd like to include the info from all of the ORER's from 1949-1954, I currently have one, with some leads on a few more. These are particularly valuable for identifying which flat cars are equipped for piggy-back service, and which gondolas have had their drop bottom removed.

In addition, I'm working on completing my first prototypically accurate model, of the 17000-series flat car. I'll be posting some pictures in the near future. I've also worked out how I will be building my turnouts, including near-scale throw rods. This is a project I've been working on for about a year. I finally found a surprisingly simple solution and assembled a sample turnout that I think looks great. More on this to come as well.

Lastly, I've been visiting a few other layouts to run some trains. I'm going to check with the other guys, but I'd like to start posting some info about those sessions on the site, because I find them very helpful, informative, and fun.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


It's been a while since I've posted an entry in the blog. I've been slowly adding content to the site, in particular new timetables as I've gotten my hands on them. The site has also been getting a few visitors, and I've had some feedback (and help) from a number of you, and I'd like to say thanks.

I've also moved a couple of things around a bit in regards to the organization. There's a lot of potential information to include, so I'm working through what I want to add. Now that the holidays are over, I'm hoping to have the time to fill out the info on rolling stock, etc. If I'm lucky I'll be able to work on a few of my modeling projects as well...

While this site is my own little project, and will contain my own modeling efforts, a good portion of the site will contain prototype info that I'm hoping will be helpful for others. As always, feel free to let me know what you think.

Lastly, I've been a bit concerned about the performance of the site. I haven't been getting much help from my hosting company, so as soon as I can afford to I will probably be switching. Until then, be patient, sometimes the site seems to be loading pretty quickly, but other times it's very slow.

Thanks and Happy New Year!