Tuesday, June 25, 2019

One Word Can Bring You Round...Changes

I already used the Bowie reference, so we'll go with Yes this time.

I mentioned briefly that I'm making some changes around the layout, particularly pretty much the entire west side of the layout. Chris recently asked whether he should alter the positioning of Wethersfield Lumber.

This is really the "art" of model railroading. We rarely have the space to do everything to scale, so compromises must be made. How to make those compromises and still make it look "right" is the art.

I'm clearly willing to make significant changes, at least at this stage where I'm not ripping out lots of scenery to do it. But like Chris, I've been operating these sections of the layout for years. So I know it will work operationally, and now it's really a question of whether it aligns visually. And in some cases, rather than new information, it's that a new approach that didn't occur before presents itself.


A lot of this decision-making process for me is identifying your purpose. I have two primary purposes. Operations and photography.

First is operations. I want the layout to work as closely to the prototype as possible. So that means attempting to have every siding and every switch in a prototypical arrangement. As it turns out, I'm going to be adding quite a few (formerly) missing sidings, but that's for another post. The number of sidings affects the traffic, and the arrangement the actual operations themselves. Sharing the layout in an operational capacity is more important to me than showing it off in an open-house arrangement for viewing only.

Second is photographs. The compromises we have to make to fit the layout in a small space is much easier to hide in a photograph than in person. For example, if you have a road heading into the backdrop, the illusion only really works from one angle. If you design it for the angle you will photograph it (typically one in which railfan photos are available of the prototype), then it will work in photos. In person, the illusion is easily broken. Furthermore, if I decide to use photo backdrops, they also work better in photos, since the photo squishes everything to 2-D, and you can't easily tell the transition from a 3-D model. Of course, the biggest reason is because more people will see the layout in photos online than will be able to see it in person.

But the other aspect is available photographs of the prototype. There are typically common places where photographs are taken of the railroad, and it's these vantage points that inform our understanding (and reinforce our memory) of those locations.

For those that do see it in person, I want it to look great, but I also enjoy the process of modeling. When visiting another layout, I'm always interested in seeing how things have been done. "Looking behind the curtain" is a lot of fun, seeing how a given modeler addressed these sort of compromises. Most of the time I'll have seen the layout in photos first, so this gives me an opportunity to learn new tricks.

Yes, I want to model the scenes as close to prototypically accurate as possible. But knowing that I can't, and understanding my own aims helps me focus in on how I'll model them.

Designing the West Side

The design of the west side has been based on the prototype trackwork, of course, but also upon two primary photos:

 Kent Cochrane March 1947

The first one is obvious, it shows an I-2 with train #131 in front of Lock Shop Pond, with a DEY-4 pushing a load of coal up the Russell & Erwin coal trestle. Corbin Screw is across Myrtle St. in the background. This is how the scene is coming together on the layout.

The second photo is key, though, because you can see the relationship of the smoke stacks of  Russell & Erwin in line with the mainline and at the end of one of their factory buildings. The reality is, though, that you can't see an entire between the factory building and the smoke stacks.

Thomas Airviews 1955

The actual layout of the area shows that you can't see the building between Washington and High Streets. The elimination of this block is probably the second biggest compromise on the layout (the biggest being the elimination of a chunk of the Berlin Line, including several industries, due to it ducking under the helix).

Note that most of the Corbin Screw building is now a parking lot in the aerial photo.

But also note that since there isn't an easy place to take photos between High and Washington Streets, that there aren't nearly as many photos of that building. You can clearly see the parking lot to the right of Washington St, and Kent and Tom McNamara took a great number of photos looking east at the corner of that parking lot and Washington St. So it's also a view that is well known from published photos, which makes it a location I want to model more accurately from a visual standpoint.


There have been a couple of things bothering me about how all this is actually coming together, since I've basically had to eliminate that block on my layout. First is that there is a siding along that building (actually a runaround and a siding off of that). Operationally, that second track in the complex makes quite a difference. So one solution I came up with was to put the siding alongside the building I could do, essentially replacing Washington St. This meant that I could build something resembling the missing structure behind the power plant, and have the two pedestrian bridges over that, since I don't have any Washington St.

Here's the general layout (I've already pulled out the extra track):

You can see how there's not enough space for a street, a large factory building, and another street. But, in part to make more room to the left for Fafnir Bearing, if I rotate the coal trestles closer to the factory building, I can still build a structure behind the power plant with the pedestrian bridges now over Washington/High St.

Date and photographer unknown.

And with a little modification to Lock Shop Pond, I can get the same scenes photographically:

I can also put a second siding along the front of the factory if I want to. It pushes the building back, but it won't change the scene significantly in regards to photos like this one:
Kent Cochrane March, 1947. Train AO-3.

Not much of this will be "right" but it will work for taking photographs in these locations.

All of the changes outside of Stanley Works on the west side of town are entirely due to the visual aspect of how things were fitting together. While driven mostly by the Fafnir Bearing section, it's given me the opportunity to revisit this section and how I'd like to do it. The only real operational improvement is that the coal trestle won't have as steep a grade to climb anymore. I'm hoping to move them as far to the left as possible, and/or shorten one or both to fit the structures in better. But overall I think that this scene will work much better than what I had before and will be worth the bother of ripping it all out to reconfigure.

More on the changes to Stanley Works to come...and modifications to the east side of town too!

Hmmm...since I've totally rebuilt the Berlin Line too, it appears the only section I haven't changed is New Britain Yard, between Main and Elm Streets...

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Work continues on Whiting St Yard

I've been gluing down the yard tracks:

And also started on soldering PC board ties at the edge of the liftout:

The last picture shows what I'm planning here. I'll have a large piece of PC board screwed to the deck, and will solder the PC board ties to that, then cut the rail. This is the track that passes over it at the sharpest angle. I'll bury the ties in ballast to hide the odd angles required to get a tie right across the end of the liftout.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Whiting Street Yard, Stanley Works, etc.

So now that the ops session and layout tour is done, time to get moving on Whiting Street, since I can leave the liftout down for a while.

All the track is in place. The dark brown between the tracks are 3/4" strips of masonite to keep the spacing correct. Now I need to start tacking things down (glue in a few places) and get some feeders in place to test it and make sure everything works before I make things too permanent.

A little bonus is that I discovered I could cut away the foam where the Track Scale House goes, and actually "plant" the structure.

The immediate next job is to finish reconnecting the Berlin Line to the Highland Line. I can run some mock sessions to see how car movements will work.

Stanley Works
I printed out the templates for the Microengineering yard system turnouts and started mocking up around Myrtle Street. Well, that was the plan. Instead I had some ideas of how to do Stanley Works and worked around the entire upper section:

They will work fantastic, and the modifications will allow at least 10 more spotting locations at Stanley Works, and better fit Fafnir and Corbin Screw. I need to draw some sketches to show why I'm making the changes, but as it turns out it will be even better than I expected.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

New England Prototype Meet and Planning

The Proto Meet is done, and as always I had a great time and it's something I look forward to every year.

Ops Session
First I wanted to get the layout operational so I could host an ops session on Thursday night. It's something that I want to do annually. Although I really need to get Whiting Street in operation, I decided it didn't make sense to try to cram that in before the show, and worked on the session instead.

Despite a couple of weeks of work, I still had a number of issues to address. One was a bad turnout, that would only stay on the diverging route. Of course, this is a crossover between Track 1 (the mainline) and Track 5. It was easy enough for them to hold it into the correct position when using it, but I don't know why it suddenly stopped working on the night of the session. It's one that has been operational and scenicked for years now.

I've already fixed it, although I'm not exactly sure how. It involved a thorough cleaning (scraping) with a dental tool. trying to adjust (bend) the centering spring, which is under the throwbar, etc. Somewhere along the line it started working again. However, a more permanent fix is planned. More in a moment.

Proto Meet
The most important thing for me is the inspiration I get from seeing the modeling, but more importantly, from friends. The only clinic I got to was the scenicking one in the main room.

Missing clinics wasn't entirely planned, our daughter's nurse was sick this weekend, so I didn't make it back for Saturday evening (I really wanted to go to Bill Welch's clinic) and I missed his clinic on Friday too, because several of the guys wanted to see the layout, but there was enough traffic that we didn't make it back from that and dinner.

But I get a lot out of just seeing old friends, and met some new folks too that I hope to stay in touch with. One of whom is a brakeman that worked the New Britain job in the late '60s, and another was a signal maintainer on the line at the same time. For example, I now have confirmation that the scale track was not only present, but still used even in the '60s. I also learned that even at that late date they switched out Stanley Works twice a day.

I had a number of in-progress things to display, and hopefully that helped some folks who I talked to about what I'm doing and how, and it also led to other ideas about what I can do differently/better.

On Sunday, I was on the layout tour (Chris and I usually alternate, since he's stuck at work every other year). I had a good turnout, and again spent a lot of time with some new friends learning a lot of new things.

The biggest thing I get out of the weekend is motivation to get more happening on the layout (and hopefully the blog), and that's already happened.

First, I want to have more frequent ops sessions. I don't have a set schedule yet, but the biggest challenge I've always had is that everybody else seems to be a good distance away. So I'd like a big list of people to draw from. In addition, I really want to have it open to as many people as possible. I'm hoping for once or twice a month, but it probably won't start until mid to late summer because of the work I'd like to complete first.

But I've set up a newsletter so folks can sign up and be on the list for when the sessions start:

Sign up for Ops Sessions and Open Houses

The goal for this summer is to finish the infrastructure, specifically:
Whiting Street Yard/Berlin Line
Circuit Breakers
Final track arrangement
Railroad structures (crossing shanties, gates, etc.)

In addition, there are already some changes underway. In the Fafnir section of the layout I had a lot of electrical issues (that weren't there a week before). This probably had something to do with the work I did to separate Stanley Works electrically, and the installation of a circuit breaker. In any event, I didn't get it fully working. But it's also an area that I wasn't always happy with. The bulk of the track was moved from the old Berlin Line section, largely intact. In addition, I've since found a lot more information on the track arrangement on that side of town, and wanted to make some adjustments.


...I've torn it all up. There are some infrastructure issues (a part of the benchwork is plywood that is slightly lower than the rest because it was never intended to have trackwork on it, for example), and I can adjust Myrtle Street to be a much better arrangement to better fit structures. As a bonus, Stanley Works has a little more room too, so I can make adjustments there too (which looks like it will amount to at least 50% of that track arrangement too).

This is one of the benefits of operating for a while, and in using Microengineering track, since it holds it's shape and most of this track is not securely attached yet. Lockshop Pond may be adjusted a bit as well. Much of the track in this section will just be replaced, because the ME yard track system switches will also save space.

There are three sidings to add to the east side of town too, maybe a fourth. Plus we have to address the changes I've been making to the backdrop and area above the helix. I also need to finish the engine servicing tracks.

Signals and Switches
I'm excited about signalling, because I've learned that prototypically I have three pairs of signals to install. It's Automatic Block territory, so the mainline switches are tied into the signalling system. Because of this, I think I'm going to need to move to some sort of actuation for the mainline switches, since it will be difficult to detect the state of the turnout for the signals otherwise. That's OK, because I also really like how my buddy Dale has his mainline turnout controls locked, and requires a key to unlock them before throwing them.

These are still hand-thrown turnouts on the prototype. So part of my prefers the idea of Blue Point, Bullfrog, or similar control options. I can devise a method to lock the control, and they have contacts for the signals. But if I go with the Rapido powered option, then I automatically have the ability to turn the Rapido switch stands for the mainline switches. Right now I'm also testing Proto:87 Stores option for turning switch stands when throwing the points manually.

While I like that throwing the points directly makes it more intuitive, having only the mainline turnouts on the fascia is a good compromise. And I really like the combination of being able to lock the turnouts, tie into signalling, and operating targets. About half of the mainline switches are already scenicked as well, so it will be a bit of a project.

And, of course, I'll have to build the signals. The Highland is one of the lines with left-hand semaphores. I'm already working on getting the parts for those.

Not all of this has to be done to get the operating sessions running again. The paperwork worked fantastic this time (and I ended up being the Agent, which worked very well since I could easily see what I will change for the future). I'll cover that in more detail in a future post. But there's lots to keep me busy for the next couple of months!