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...