Sunday, November 7, 2010

Has it been that long?

OK - so it's been a while (again). Fear not! Progress has not stopped. The benchwork is nearly complete, along with the roadbed. A small amount of track is going down, and I expect that to continue in the near future. My goal is to complete the bulk of the tracklaying by the end of the year. Then work can commence on the fascia which includes the turnout control and power routing. I'm anticipating that will take some time.

In addition, you may continue to notice changes on the website. I'm working on a redesign, partially to upgrade the underlying software, but also to make it easier to maintain and navigate. Upgrading will be a bit more complicated so for now I'm focusing on content and navigational redesign. Everything is still here (and more is being added), but it may be in different places.

When I can, I'll add some more pictures of both New Britain and the layout in progress. Right now it's time for me to get back to work...

Saturday, July 17, 2010


OK, so there's something to be said for quality of construction. After testing the Berlin Branch at a nominal 2% grade and not seeing any significant improvement, I took out the line altogether. I picked up a Woodland Scenics 2% Incline Set. For those that haven't seen these, it's a steady 2% grade cut out of white foam in 2' long sections.

To make the 2% grade work, I'm going to have to put a slight incline on the mainline deck as well to get over it. Right now I have about 1.5" to 2" clearance depending on exactly where I cross over the Berlin Branch. I felt this was a reasonable compromise.

The last change I made was in the geometry of the branch itself. It's now a constant 28" radius, and instead of going through an 'S' curve (with a turnout to be between the reverse curve), it has a much longer straight section with a curve at the base of the hill. I didn't want to pull up the roadbed in the yard, so it took a little bit of creativity to rework the yard throat.

Anyway, so everything's in place, and I tested it once again. The 44-tonner pulled 5 cars the whole way, but struggled at the very top (in the middle of the curve). It had no problems with 4 cars. I also tested what I've found to be my most free-rolling car, a Tangent G31 gondola, and compared it to my test cars. It rolls down the hill significantly easier and faster than the other cars. So when I get around to reaming and checking gauge on the rolling stock I think the problems will be fully solved.

Had this not worked, the next experiment was going to be a bottle of Bullfrog Snot to see how well that would work. I may still consider that in the future, with the helixes and all. We'll see.

Progress continues (with pictures)

Well, it's been a little while since my last update. Progress has continued, if a bit slowly.

The Proto Meet was great. There are plenty of reports online, so I won't go into great detail. I did bring a couple of unfinished models; the NE-5, NE-6 and Tichy War Emergency Gondola upgrades. Nothing really spectacular, but at least I managed to bring something.

I had a number of guys over for a quick layout tour and dinner on Saturday night. The break is short, and I couldn't have done it at all without Bill Schneider and Chris Adams' help. Bill and I prepped dinner, but he did all the cooking. And while I was running up and downstairs to welcome people at the door, Chris gave people a tour of the layout room. Anyway, next year will be better organized, and the layout will be on the Sunday tours.

Benchwork and roadbed continues. I've completed the roadbed for New Britain yard, and the rest of the benchwork is about 80% done. I've also built spline and shelf, and laid the roadbed for the Berlin branch, which will be a small yard for operational purposes. This track has a steep grade (I'm guessing about 4%) but it's short. In addition, it's there purely for operational purposes. The 44-tonners will be the only locomotives running on this part. Since the prototype has about a 2% grade anyway, I'm limiting the 44-tonners to a maximum of 5 cars running westbound (up the grade). I'm going to lay some test track soon and see if they can handle that.

New Britain Yard, looking east from Main Street:

Berlin Branch spline under construction:

Whiting Street Yard. The narrower section in front of the door is a lift-out:

My intention has been to have a partial switching yard (with a freight house and team tracks) and partial fiddle yard for the Berlin Branch. I'll probably start with just switching operations here and see if I need to add the additional operations as a fiddle yard later.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Testing continues...

OK, I've made a few adjustments to the Berlin branch track, and I can also raise the upper deck slightly. Clearance will be below the recommended heights for a short section, but seems to work with all of my equipment. This reduces the grade to below 3%.
But the 44-tonner can now pull 3 cars, but 2 is still better. So I tested the 44-tonner on the helix. The helix is about a 2% grade, and even then the 44-tonner can only manage 4 cars with effort. 3 is better. So it appears that with the 44-tonners with a grade I'm looking at 2-3 cars max. I'll see what I can do to add weight, but I'm also still planning on adding sound decoders so there won't be much room.

The Athearn RS-3s pulled 6 cars on the helix, 10 when double-headed. That should be OK for the freights, but I'd like to get a couple more if I can. I need to order the Reboxx Exxact Socket reamer. That will ensure all of the cars are as free-rolling as possible. I haven't checked the gauge on the cars/locomotives yet either. So I may be able to make 3 cars reliable with the 44-tonner, and 12-15 cars for the double-headed freights.

Since my primary purpose is operation, I'm seriously considering dispensing with the prototypical layout outside of the major design elements. I also need to look at whether I could alter the focus of the east side of town to the Berlin Branch. If so, I'd run the mainline down and under the Berlin Branch. Because it's behind it, it will have more room to make a more gradual grade. In addition, the 44-tonners won't need to run on that portion of the layout at all. I could conceiveably extend the Berlin Branch by curving it along the top of the helix. The problem with this approach would be that it couldn't easily tie into the helix. So I'd either have to build the Holyoke freights on the shelf, or they would come by way of Hartford.

I'm still not quite sure what impact this has on the west side of town. The 44-tonners won't have to head down the grade there at all, unless I still plan on building the Stanley Power House. I could modify that so it comes off of the siding instead of the mainline and avoid the grade there as well. So that's a possibility.
I may pick up a Woodland Scenics risers to build some test grades for the locomotives.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Houston...we have a problem.

OK, after a little modification I've measured the Berlin branch at a 3.9ish % grade, and the part that ties into the helix will be about a 3.5ish % grade. With the curves it's enough to make it difficult for the locomotives to get a train up the grades.

I tested the Athearn RS-3s. First of all, I didn't particularly like the sound of the motor. I tried two of them and they sound the same. So I'll have to see if one of my modeling buddies can help with optimizing and maintaining them. They had trouble with 5 cars.
An Atlas RS-1 could pull 9 cars, but struggled up a portion of it (obviously the grade isn't even, so I've got to work on that as well. That might help). The Holyoke freights will come up through this section of the layout, so the RS-3 will need to be able to get up that portion.

But the biggest problem is that the most frequent locomotive to use this trackage will be the 44-tonner. And the best it could manage was 2 cars. In fact, when I had 5 cars on it and helped it get partially up, the weight of the cars was enough that they pulled it back down the hill.

So, what are my options? I could forego bringing the Holyoke freights up through this track. Operationally it wouldn't really matter if they came 'from Hartford.' If I did that, I could raise the Berlin branch and and simply take that off the back of the Hartford branch. Again, it wouldn't really impact operation much. Then the Berlin branch would simply be a track that runs off the edge of the layout. Overall it would be workable, although not really what I'd like to do.

The Holyoke freights would be OK double-headed. And that's prototypical, at least some of the time. The Berlin branch is actually a 2% grade on the prototype, and they even double-headed steam because of that. I don't have enough RS-3s right now to double-head all of the Holyoke freights, but it's doable and my preferred option for that.

Running two cars at a time up the Berlin branch with a 44-tonner may not be too far fetched either. In the Alco operator's manual for S-1/2, RS-1s for a 660 hp locomotive on a 2% grade can haul approx 326 tons at 10 mph and 667 tons at 5 mph for a 99-ton locomotive. The 44-tonner is an 89-ton locomotive with 380 hp.
Math was never my strong suit, but 326 tons divided by 40 ton cars yields 8 cars. Although I'm sure that it's not a linear equation, I'm coming up with a little less than 5 cars for the 44-tonner. Since everything is selectively compressed (including train lengths), 2-3 cars isn't horrendous. But I'd prefer 4-5.

Another possibility would be traction tires, at least on the 44-tonners. I've never used them, and I dont know if I can put them on only one side. If so I could use one tire on the side of the locomotive that's always facing away from the viewer.
Another issue with all of this is that there is a similar track on the other side of the layout. But that's the mainline entering the helix which could be a much bigger problem. It's a longer track, so I'm hoping to avoid these issues over there.

So it's time for a bit more experimentation...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

One Week to Proto Meet

Well, I'm not quite far enough to be on the layout tour this year, but I'm having a few of the guys over for dinner to see the progress. Amidst the daily batch of sawdust, here's the the current state of the layout:

The "Holyoke/Waterbury" helix is in its final location, although not actually attached to anything yet. Eventually Stanley Works will be on top of it. The "Hartford/New Haven" helix is under construction (and the source of the day's sawdust). The deck for 2/3 of the upper level is in place, but not attached. I've been mocking up the track plan and making adjustments and it's going to work well.

In the end I opted to build the "Hartford/New Haven" helix around the pole after all. I shifted it slightly but it will allow a better connection to the layout in that position.

These last picture shows how the staging looks in relation to the upper deck. Well, sort of. The picture was taken with a flash so you could see it. Without the flash, they are pretty dark and disappear very well. Coupled with the depth of the upper deck and the planned fascia, the staging will be very unobtrusive when operating. You can also see the piece of masonite spline clamped in place where the Berlin line will be.

I'm hoping to complete the majority of the second helix this week. I have turnouts on order for the upper deck, and once they arrive I'll finalize the track layout for the east side of town, leading into New Britain yard. This is the most complicated portion and everything will be dependent upon that.
We'll see how far I get this week, but I'm looking forward to next weekend. If you're coming to the NE Proto Meet I'll see you there!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Work Update

I completed the upper deck over the weekend. The basement is still a bit of a mess, so I'll take more pictures shortly.

So the new challenge is determining exactly how to tie in the helixes. On the west side, the mainline will go down a grade to enter the helix under the Stanley Works. I'll be using the masonite I cut for the spline on the last layout. The masonite spline is great for this because it automatically creates easements into the curves, and it also makes steady vertical curves. I've done a quick mock-up and it looks like this will work well.

The real issue is on the east side of the city. I moved the helix I've built to see how it will fit in place there. I could move it into position provided I'm sticking with the idea of placing it behind the support column, instead of around it.

The problem is that the geometry I was hoping for doesn't really work. So I measured out how it would differ if I moved it to be around the pole. It helps, but not not really enough. I looked at a number of possibilities, including entering the helix in the opposite direction. In the end it creates as many problems as it solves.

After a lot testing, I've come up with an approach that I think will work pretty well. It will obviously depart from the prototype, but I think it will actually improve operations. Besides, I haven't come across any pictures from that side of town...

So on the modified east-side of town the mainline will also dip into the hidden helix quickly. The siding will extend to serve several industries on top of the helix. Since the inner track on the mainline which will run passenger and freight is 26", I'll reduce the radius of this helix to that radius. In addition, the turnout to make the helix single-tracked will be placed before it gets to the column which will save me 4" and allow me to move the helix enough to open up the geometry a bit.

When I get a chance I'll see if I can get one of my buddies to draw up a plan to post.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

But wait, there's more!

Wow, three updates in three days!

So I picked up some 12' 2x3s to make the main deck in two pieces. It went pretty quick actually, and they're up. With the legs already in place, I just put three clamps up and rested the deck on those while I attached it to the wall. I started with a stud about a third from the end, and just made sure that the top of the deck was at the level line. That way I could use that point as a pivot and screw into a stud at the other end of the deck. Once those two were attached, I made sure it was level and attached it to the legs. That was it. It was simple to go back and attach it to each stud from there.

Here's a picture before I completed the angled supports on the last two legs. I also hadn't cut the legs to length yet.

I'm hoping to have some time tomorrow to continue around the walls. I'd really like to cut the OSB for the decking itself, but I'll do the same thing I did for the staging and start with the corner pieces first. So I'll at least need to build the side wall decking for that, and I think I need to pick up a little more lumber...

Friday, May 14, 2010

More Progress

So I consulted with my engineers last night at the NHRHTA Photo Archive. The challenge being how to support the upper deck. So Dick suggested I place the legs at the same location as those supporting the lower deck, and use an angled support to support the front. The deck will be attached to the wall, so it should have plenty of support that way.
So the easy part was the legs, but I can put up temporary cleats to add the deck. Here's a picture of the legs with 1x2s where the upper deck will be. One of the issues I had with the lower deck was getting it leveled since the legs are on the carpet. So I made them long as Chris suggested and I'll cut them to length after the weight of the deck helps them settle.

I'm hoping to make some progress on the deck tomorrow. I'm going to see if I can get some 12' 1x2s and 1x3s so I can make the main section in two parts.

Here's a picture from today's work:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Time Flies

Ok, so this is the second year in a row that I planned on having the basic benchwork in place for the NE Proto Meet. So that didn't happen. But I've finally made some significant progress, although much slower than I'd like.

I'm going to try to update this each time I work on the layout. So even though the entries may not be consistent, at least it will show some progress. Here's an update with a few pictures.

Timeline to date:
2/7/2009 - Painting the basement. I had Home Depot match the NH Silver Gray Pinstripe, Hunter Green, and Warm Orange colors for the project.

2/9/2009 - I finished "patching" the wall where the closet door used to be. I have moved this door, as well as the utility room door, for a better room configuration. The corner of this wall was so far out of alignment that I ended up applying putty up to 3/4" thick. I made a fence from masonite, and filled the space in layers of spackling putty and tape on top of the sheetrock.

4/26/2009 - I had been slowly assembling the lower level (staging) benchwork, and my buddy Bryan came by with his pickup truck to get some supplies and helped me attach the upper level supports on the wall.

5/9/2009 - I have pretty much completed the lower level benchwork by this point. I needed to determine what I was going to use for the decking. I had considered sheetrock for a while, but eventually narrowed down the choices to sticking with OSB, or using foam. I wanted to complete the lower level before building the upper level. I also needed to work out the details on how to build the helixes.


2/20/2010 - While I made some progress in design concepts, I basically hadn't made it any farther with the benchwork. For the first part of the benchwork I had borrowed my father-in-law's chop saw. At one point, it wouldn't turn off and started smoking. In the end it seems to be working OK. But at the time I still needed a saw. I didn't want to spend the money on a power saw nor find someplace to put it when I was done building benchwork. So I finished the lower-level benchwork by picking up a hand miter saw instead. Yep, a significant portion of the lower-level was built using a hand saw...

Fast forward to February, and the support for the leg of our dining table broke. I wanted to get moving on the layout, and had been considering buying my father-in-law's old radial arm saw. Well, I was having trouble figuring out where to put a simple miter saw, where the heck would I put the radial arm saw? Plus, he works for H&R Block for the tax season and I didn't want to wait. So I bought a sliding compound miter saw. It cost less than replacing the dining table, which I fixed, and I was ready for benchwork.

My NHRHTA Photo Archive buddies Chris, Dick and Peter came by to help. For several weeks, Dick and I had been discussing the helix. Actually, Dick, who works for an architecture firm, was discussing the helix. I was just trying to explain what I was trying to accomplish, my basic concept, and sketching out the space. He designed the helix, then picked up the wood and cut it all in preparation for the work session.

So Chris and I went to work on building benchwork and the engineers started to figure out how to put together the first helix. By the end of the day, Chris and I had prepped for the upper level (and changed the design...), and picked up and cut the decking for most of the lower level. We decided to not assemble the upper deck until the helix was completed to set the proper level.
The helix was well underway, with a turn-and-a-half complete, but was still quite a challenge.

2/21/2010 - I spent the better part of the day playing with the helix. With some tweaks I figured out a few slight modifications to get it working OK. I actually disassembled it completely and started rebuilding it. I got to about two turns and started adding roadbed. At this point I confirmed what I already suspected - It would be much easier to install roadbed and track as I built it. So it had to wait until I had the track.

3/11/2010 - I finally have track and start working my way up the helix. In the meantime I had also laid roadbed for a good amount of the staging, and painted the staging deck in Railroad Tie Brown (again I got a big can of latex paint color matched). I continue to tweak the design of the helix structure. I had to move it away from the wall to build it, and it's still a bit more wobbly than I'd like, although I'm assuming it will be more stable when moved to the corner. I also need to figure out a way to design a larger opening to get inside it.

5/13/2010 - Construction was on hiatus while I waited for supplies for turnouts. Once I got those, I started to work on the details of how I would assemble and control the turnouts. This led to completing the design for the fascia as well for when I get that far.

As a result of this experimentation, I also decide to have Tim Warris of Fast Tracks make me a fixture to help solder the throwbars onto the points consistently. Until that comes I won't procede with building switches, or additional trackwork.

In the meantime, I've completed the helix with new bracing up to the single turnout. It's very solid, and more importantly, it works! I've tested it with a Walthers Trainline FA-1 and was able to pull 18 cars up it. I also tested it with a P1k DL-109 and a Bachmann Spectrum Light Mountain. The only issue I ran into was one poorly formed curve. It's one of the ones I installed underneath another deck. The fix was simple, I needed to use the longer throwbar between the locomotive and the tender. This is obviously the only point where I didn't quite maintain the 28" radius. But the inner track on the final level will be 26" radius, which is also the planned inner radius for the mainline as a whole. So I'd need to do this regardless.

So I'm hoping to still install the basic upper level benchwork by the Proto Meet. At least that way the couple of friends that are coming by will have a good idea of what I'm doing, and will probably be able to give me some advice as well. I'm trying to get a work session going in the next week or so to move that aspect along. I won't have much trackwork in place, since I probably won't have the points fixture before that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Mom passed away on Thanksgiving morning. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last spring. We (and the rest of our family) were with her at her home. I was also there a few weeks earlier over my (40th) birthday. Of course, Mom wanted to get me something. She wanted to find something railroady for me, and went out to shop for books, but naturally the big chains don't really carry the sort of railroad books I'd want.
 In reality, I really wasn't all that interested in a gift anyway. I understood that she wanted to get me something, but regardless of what the gift was, it just felt as if it was terribly insignificant. I didn't want just another model, or a book, or whatever. I knew that we didn't have much longer together and I really wanted to find something that would provide a more lasting memory.

Of course, she really wanted to get me something then, and I picked up a book and a kit. But it wasn't until about a month after her passing that I thought of the gift that would give me a lasting memory of Mom. With a portion of my inheritance I'm planning on picking up a collection of resin kits. And for the years to come, everytime I pull a kit off of the shelf and spend a week or two building it, I will think of Mom, and all of the blessings I have because of her.

Thanks, Mom.