Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

I was in MB Klein's old store in Gay Street, Baltimore when I heard a dad say that to his son.  Obviously the boy had eyes bigger than his dad's wallet, and Dad wanted to emphasize to the boy that model railroading is not a hobby for people seeking instant gratification.

As I look back through the enormous volume of photos and other bleatings I've posted over the years, I can't help but notice how many projects have gone unfinished.  My adult A.D.D. certainly has something to do with it, but it's safe to say that there are projects that were aborted due to bad planning, or a change in direction of my thinking, or the discovery of the proverbial "better mouse trap."  Having a lengthy to-do list has never bothered me. After all, I've been working on my 100+ year old house at the same time I've been building my layout, and my wife will be the first to tell you that I'm forever adding to THAT list.

So, while the yard on the layout remains to be ballasted, several main line turnouts remain to be wired, and the base scenery on some sections is still a dotted line, I've undertaken the design, layout and construction of the major city on the WM Western Lines: Cumberland, Maryland.

The focal point of the scene will be the grand WM station there, constructed in 1913, and still in service as the terminal of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.

Since I'm modeling 1970, the train sheds won't be there, and the building will have it's well-worn and threadbare appearance from that era.  The last passenger train passed its doors in 1956 or so, but the building carried on as a freight agent's office and as home to the CTC dispatcher for the Connellsville sub.  This is how it looked in 1989 before being refurbished for the tourist trains.

I started building a model of the station based on plans published in Model Railroader in the mid '90s, but got hung up on the windows.  The model is currently in the capable hands of David K. Smith, of NZT Products, being studied to find the best solution.  In addition to the MR drawings, I have a copy of the original blueprints of the building, so we're in the process of reconciling the original designs to the "as built" arrangements.

A key element of the scene will be the concrete channel in front of the station that was constructed in the 1950's to help control flooding along Wills Creek.  I've started framing up that area, including the interesting steel beam bridge that crosses the channel just west of the station.

You can see the station location, with the stand-in building, the creek channel in front, and the buildings of Baltimore Street, the main drag through town.  The industrial site on the left side of the creek isn't prototypical, there's a neighborhood there, but I wanted to add some more switching opportunities, so that will be the PPG Plate Glass plant, worked through a switch back located on top of the flood wall.  The other industrial tracks behind the station are also foobed in for my era, but there is a newspaper plant back there, a freight house and a couple of other players to be named later to provide more traffic for the railroad.  I'll also be adding the Queen City Brewery farther back and on the same side of the creek as the station.  I'll have to build that last, since I'm going to need to have access to the hole back there to build the rest of the town.

To try to capture the essence of the downtown, I had a friend who lives in Cumberland, Paul Hutter, take some photos of a few key buildings in town.  I'm going to try to model a couple of the more prominent ones then sprinkle in the usual Heljan and DPM kits around them to fill in the blanks.  The plan is to build a supporting frame, then construct the city block by block in a way that it can be dropped into place fully detailed, lit and ready to just plug in.

With budgets remaining tight, I don't expect this section to get finished any time soon, but alas, Neither Rome, nor Cumberland, were built in a day...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quick Progress Report

Sorry I've been remiss in keeping this updated.  Fact is, I haven't had much time in the train room.  I'm still busy with fixing up other parts of the house, plus work, plus this, that and the other...

Anyway, I'm taking this week off to burn off some vacation days, and since the wife is back to work (FINALLY) I have some unsupervised play time.  Here's what we've been up to lately...

Put in some time on the layout today, mostly on adding fascia around the front side across the windows.

If you disregard all the rubbish below that narrow green band of masonite, you can see the progress.  The most interesting (read Pain the Arse) part of the project was figuring how to make the helix look a little better, yet still keep it accessible for emergencies.

This is what I came up with.

The portal on the left is the Connellsville sub going into the top of the helix.  I cut the portal out of sanded plywood and added some trim pieces.  The whole section from left to right was supposed to be one solid piece of plywood, but somewhere between the attic and the garage, I lost a half an inch, so I opted to just cut it in two and use some foam to fill the gap.

I'm going to make a "half dome of foam" to stick some scenery there next to the upper helix track, which is now, by the way, ballasted.  If nothing else, I can use this as a photo backdrop for rolling stock shots.

The primary access for the helix remains up the middle... the blue tub you see there slides out, leaving plenty of room for even us full-figured railroaders.  And I'm going to have to go under there tomorrow, because I've got three more bike cable/click pen installations to do to get the A/D tracks fully functional.

So at this point, I've got about 6' of fascia to do around the Cumberland area, and another 4 or 5' on the front edge of the yard.  Inch by inch, it's getting done!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How fleeting the summer has been...

Here we are just past Labor Day, and the only thing I can report is that I don't have much to report!  Since our camping trip back in July, I've been busy tending to lots of other business, some of it pleasant, some of it not so much.

For those of you living on the east coast, you know that in a one week period we had a little earthquake followed by a not so little hurricane, followed by a three day gulley washer thanks to a tropical storm named after me.

You'll be pleased to know that the railroad survived all of these catastrophes more or less unscathed, although I did have to go up and right some of the rolling stock that tipped over in the quake.

This was the worst of it.  There were a couple of other cars knocked over in the yard, but nothing major down in staging, which I was worried about.  At any given moment there's upwards of 150 cars stowed below decks, and I had visions of a major catastrophe down there.

After the shaker, Hurricane Irene came through, and the major effect there was the power going out for about 18 hours, which meant another weekend without getting some decoders done that I owe people...  No juice, no soldering!  Tropical Storm Lee had more impact on the west side of the Chesapeake and on up into Pennsylvania and New England, so other than a couple of stray showers, that left us alone.

A few weeks earlier, I finally completed a project that had been put off for quite a long time, a wagontop B&O caboose for the Brunswick Railroad Museum in Brunswick, Maryland.  They have a little N scale layout in the front window of their gift shop, and Tom Simpson, one of their directors as well as an old high school bud, asked me to whip something up for them.  I'm going to see if I can help build a more B&O appropriate layout for the front window.  The shot below was taken on my layout before I shipped it up to Tom to ride around on the Unitrak loop they've got there.

One other thing that I did get done was some work on a few commercial vehicles and pick up trucks thanks to a generous gift from one of my crew members.  He had stockpiled a bunch of cast pewter kits in anticipation of a layout that now likely won't be built, so he sent them along to me.  So I started tinkering.

There's more, but they're in varying stages of completion.  There's a whole gang of Chevy cabs that I thought would look good on one of the open auto racks, but that will strictly be for photos.  The cast pewter models add way too much weight to the car to be practical for running.  It might work on an N track run that's relatively flat, but the grades on the WM Western Lines would definitely cause the experiment to end badly.

That's all the news that's fit to print for now.  With the weather cooling down and outside projects tailing off, I'm hoping to spend some more time in the train room finishing a bit more of the many projects that I've started.  But I'm not in a big hurry.  I understand that if you finish everything on your "to do" list, you die!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spending some time with an old friend

To provide a foundation for this post, I should explain that in 1959, my dad bought a brand new Plymouth Belvedere right off the showroom floor.  He had been home from the army since about 1954, and had a good job as a freight clerk for the Baltimore and Ohio.  Since he was as yet unmarried, and still living in his parents' house on Highwood Drive in north Baltimore, he could afford to splurge a little.  I should note that the car was Fire Engine Red, with a white convertible top.

When dad was in the Army, he was stationed in what was then known as West Germany and he reached the rank of Corporal as an MP "protecting the beer halls for democracy" as he used to joke.  It was a small joke he would cast out with a twinge of melancholy, as this was during the Korean War, and many of his friends from high school and the neighborhood were drafted and sent to more dangerous places, some of whom never returned.

While stationed overseas, Dad became fast friends with John Simons, of Cleveland, Ohio.  After his service in the Army, John went on to attend seminary and become ordained as an Episcopal priest.  While he became an upright man of the cloth, he was also a gregarious man of great humor.   Long story short, after Dad left the service, he remained in touch with the Rt. Rev.  It wasn't long after the big Plymouth was in the driveway on Highwood that Dad got the call from his old friend to invite him to his parish in Parma to serve as Godfather to his new son.  (John and his wife Nancy remained close to my parents, although both John and my dad have passed.)
My Dad

In so extending this invitation, the reverend set in motion a chain of events that led to today's adventure.  You see, my mom, Barbara, was John's parish secretary.  Imagine if you will, being a young woman of 26, and looking out your office window to see a long, red automobile sweep into the drive, tail-fins glistening.  With the top down, you see a splendid young man with wavy blond hair step out, and he politely greets you with a pleasant smile, sparkling blue eyes, and a strange accent that, at least in northern Ohio, might as well have been from South Carolina.  (Dad didn't really have an accent, at least not to our ears, but then we grew up in Baltimore, too!)  His face was tanned from the long trip up US 40 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  He must have seemed quite exotic.

So, anyway, one thing led to another, Barbara was swept away in the big red convertible, and they settled in Dad's home town.  Naturally, as we children came along, there evolved the annual ritual of traveling up to Cleveland to spend a week or so each summer with the cousins.  By the early 70's, Interstate 70 was gradually being completed, and we would speed along in a series of Plymouths, each gulping down more gasoline than the last.

Back in the days before the mind-numbing omnipresence of television, and this ridiculous modern philosophy that children need to be entertained every moment of the day, we did what came naturally.  This usually involved squabbling over who would sit next to the window, or complaints about the comparative proportion of this half a sandwich vs. that.  But for the most part, we would just press our noses against the glass and look out the window (provided, of course, that you were the one that won the window battle!)

Traveling west from Baltimore on I-70 in those days was a good illustration of why Maryland has long been referred to as "America in Miniature."  From the big city with the harbor and industry, you traveled to the Beltway, that most modern of conveyances that provided a gateway for massive suburban development.  Once on 70, you found yourself in rolling country dotted with dairies and horse farms.  Once you reached Frederick, you could see the first line of the Blue Ridge reaching up into the sky.  I remember imagining that it was really an enormous tidal wave ready to crash over the little town below.

After a couple of ridges, there was the broad Cumberland Valley, a tremendously fertile farming area marked by huge barns, hay stacks, and silos.  The silos always made this elementary school boy think of giant Thermos bottles for some reason.  Past Hagerstown, the more rugged  ridges of the Alleghenies began.  I knew my favorite part of the trip was close at hand when the two westbound lanes climbed high above the eastbound traffic, which afforded an excellent view of the railroad tracks that ran next to the highway just to the left.

How often it happened I can't recall, but I do have vivid memories of coming around that certain bend in the road just before Hancock, and seeing the headlight of an oncoming train.  I had no idea at the time, but this was the Western Maryland Railway.  I suppose my dad called this to my attention at some point or another, but at that age, I would have had no idea what he was talking about anyway.

There was a long siding there just east of Tonoloway Creek, which snakes down from Town Hill just east of Hancock.  My guess is that this was an important passing siding between Hagerstown and Maryland Junction, the two major terminals of the WM, so it wouldn't be unusual for a westbound drag of empty coal hoppers to be holed up in the siding to wait for the passage of a hot Alpha Jet going east.

As the 1970's wore on, and the Chessie System asserted itself as the new landlord over the WM, I noticed that I didn't see those headlights much anymore.  The main line was cut just west of Hancock in 1975, and all the WM's through traffic was diverted over to the B&O tracks at Cherry Run.  The line from there to Hancock remained in place to serve a couple of industries with local switching.  The long siding at Tonoloway became little more than a storage track for some of Chessie's decrepit fleet of poorly maintained freight cars.

With the passage of a few more years, business dried up for the shippers in Hancock, and the purpose of the line was called into question by Chessie's management.  In rapid succession, an application was filed with the ICC to abandon the route, followed shortly by an approval.  The scrap train was on hand before the ink was dry.  As a final insult, the handsome Hancock train station burned to the ground in a fire of suspicious origin.

As we got older, the trips to see the relatives became fewer and farther between, but I still had occasion to travel that way on business, or to go to a wedding or funeral.  But I still experienced the anticipation of possibly spotting a headlight, even after I knew there was no possibility of there being one.  Still, this remained a special place for me, and when I learned it had been converted into a "Rails to Trails" project, I knew that one day I'd have the opportunity to take a closer look at this stretch of railroad that so intrigued me as a child.

Today, well, Yesterday was the day.

My son and I embarked on a camping adventure earlier in the week after Laura and my youngest, Julie, went to Disney World thanks to the huge volume of Girl Scout Cookies that was peddled by her troop.  After spending the night in Brunswick, Maryland, we headed to Hancock for our second night.  So Thursday morning, we struck our tents, loaded the bikes back on the rack, and headed to downtown Hancock for lunch.  I decided to ride on the rail trail going east, then cross over to ride the C&O Canal towpath back to town.  The round trip was about 17 miles.

I managed about 8 miles out of 22.5 on the WM Rail Trail out of Hancock.  If you're a low level bicyclist like myself, this trail is a dream.  Fully paved, barely a grade (Thanks to the outstanding 20th Century engineering of the WM), and absolutely bucolic surroundings... save for the roar of I-70 most of the way going east. 

A few hours after dark with an extension ladder and some wire cutters would net a treasure hunter quite a few glass insulators...
The original WM era mile markers, sections of rail driven into the ground, have been restored.

another bag of rocks has been harvested for the layout...

Apart from one couple I encountered going west, this was the only other "hiker" I came across on my ride.  After I switched over to the canal for the trip back, she reappeared with her fawn.  I'm definitely heading back up there as soon as I can to ride the rest of the route.

Photo by Charlie Hill

While I would have probably enjoyed it more to see some speed-lettered diesels barrel through with a fast freight one more time, I have to say it was nice to get up close and personal with this stretch of right of way that was responsible for a whole slew of childhood memories.  And maybe, just maybe, for the rest of the stuff you've read about here...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dream Big

So I've whipped up a tentative train schedule now that the layout is more or less complete. 

Train descriptions:

AJ-1/3  Alpha Jet fast freights originating at Allentown from west bound cars consolidated from the L&HR, CNJ, and Reading.  Interchanges to the WM at Lurgan, near Shippensburg, PA.  After being switched at Hagerstown westbound Alpha Jets would typically run through to Rook Yard near Pittsburgh, then on to Bellevue, Ohio for further classification.
On the layout, AJ 1 & 3 starts at east staging, entering the layout at North Junction.  At Ridgeley, set outs for local traffic and cars bound for other points on the railroad are made, and cars are picked up that are bound for the interchange with the N&W at Connellsville.

AJ-2/12:  Alpha Jet fast freights originating at Bellevue Yard on the N&W (former NKP) via Rook Yard, to Connellsville, Ridgeley, Hagerstown and Lurgan on the WM, destined for Rutherford Yard, and eastbound connections at Allentown (CNJ, L&HR, NH). 
On the layout, these trains originate in West Staging, entering the layout at Greenwood, proceeding east to Maryland Jct. then on to Ridgeley for classification to continue east to Lurgan.

GRAIN EXTRA(Seasonal) Eastbound grain from the Great Lakes and Midwest for shipment to Port Covington for storage and/or export.  Connection from NW at Connellsville, through train to Baltimore.  

On the layout, follows main around Ridgeley, pausing for a power change and fresh caboose.

SECOND CLASS – FAST FREIGHTS with Intermediate Switching
BT-1  Originates at Port Covington (Baltimore), westbound to Connellsville to P&LE (Dickerson Run) to Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Cleveland.  From there, it followed the Nickel Plate to Toledo, Ohio, its terminus. 
On the layout, BT-1 starts at east staging, entering the layout at North Junction.  At Ridgeley, set outs for local traffic and cars bound for other points on the railroad are made, and cars are picked up that are bound for the interchange with the P&LE at Connellsville.  The train may also do pick-ups and set-outs at Maryland Junction.  If volume permits, it may also pick up cars bound for the Laurel Valley, which would be set out at Rockwood Jct.

WM-6  Eastbound counterpart to BT-1, operating from Dickerson Run Yard on the P&LE through Connellsville and on to Baltimore via the East Sub. 
On the layout, the train originates out of West Staging, entering the layout at Greenwood.  It proceeds east on the Connellsville Sub as far as Maryland Junction, where it may do pick-ups and set-outs of traffic from the Thomas Sub.  Proceeding east, it enters Ridgeley Yard to be reblocked for the trip east to Baltimore, via North Jct. into East Staging.

NW-12  Technically East bound from Roanoke, Va to Hagerstown on the Norfolk and Western.  Primarily traffic bound for the northeast via the Reading at Lurgan, and timed to connect with AJ-12 at Hagerstown.  Also carried traffic to go through to the N&W connection at Connellsville as well. 
On the layout, the train originates in East Staging, entering via North Jct. and terminates at Ridgely Yard (a westbound move on the layout).

NW-11  Technically West bound from Hagerstown to Roanoke.  Reverse move to NW12, with connections from the Reading and other points via AJ-1. 
Originates at Ridgeley, then departs for East Staging via North Junction (eastbound move).

WEST BOUND GRAIN EXTRA (MT) (Seasonal)  Empty grain hoppers being returned to the Midwest via Connellsville and the N&W. 
On the layout:  Originates from East Staging.  May pause at Ridgeley for a power/caboose swap.

THIRD CLASS TRAINS – Local Freights and Traveling Switchers.
Luke Digger:  Originates at Ridgeley Yard.  Turn to Westvaco Mill at Luke and return.  Departs westbound, works at Luke, then returns eastbound via Williamsport Jct.   

Handles all Luke traffic that originates from the Main line via Ridgeley.

West Local:  Originates at Elkins and moves eastbound toward Ridgeley.  Switches Thomas, Shaw, and Cumberland, and provides pick-ups and set-outs at Luke, and transfers through traffic to Ridgeley for connections.  Typically carries wood chip loads from the west into Luke. 

East Local:  Originates at Ridgeley and works westbound toward Elkins.  Also switches Cumberland, Maryland Junction, Shaw and Thomas as needed.

Union Bridge Traveling Switcher:  Originates Ridgeley, operating eastbound to North Jct. and East Sub (staging.)  Switches NC industrial tracks and PC interchange as needed.  Return train (from East Staging to Ridgeley) uses the same symbol.

Elkins Mine Run:  Handles delivery of empty hoppers to mines along the Thomas Sub, pulling loads and staging them at Thomas if space permits, otherwise returning loads to Elkins.

Coal Extras
(Train Symbol = Road Number of Lead Unit)
Connellsville Sub: 
GREY TRAIN:  Eastbound. Originates at Somerset, PA on the Laurel Valley, also picks up at Blue Lick at Meyersdale (all off layout).  Consists of Laurel Valley and WM hoppers, usually with Laurel Valley power through to Ridgeley.

FAIRMONT EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates Fairmont, WV(B&O) via Bowest Jct. and the Connellsville line.  Consists of WM and B&O hoppers.  May include B&O power through to Ridgeley.

ELKINS EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates at Elkins, with coal from the WM’s local lines in WV, as well as cars from Thomas.  WM hoppers, WM power through to Ridgeley.

Eastbound from Ridgeley:
ALLENTOWN EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates Ridgeley, with cars bound for Bethlehem Steel at Allentown.  Usually includes cars from Fairmont.

PHILADELPHIA EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates Ridgeley, with cars bound for Philadelphia Power electric generation plants.  Soft coal from the Grey Train, WM and Laurel Valley

BALTIMORE EXTRA:    Eastbound.  Originates Ridgeley, with cars bound for Baltimore Gas and Electric generation plants.  Soft coal from the Grey Train, WM and Laurel Valley

PORT COVINGTON EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates Ridgeley, with cars bound for Port Covington for export.  All 55 and 66 ton cars due to limitations at the rotary dumper.  Cars from the Thomas Sub.

Westbound from Ridgeley: (loads)
PITTSBURGH EXTRA:  Westbound.  Originates Ridgeley, coal for US Steel and other manufacturers via Connellsville/PLE connection.  Small numbers of cars may be added to BT-1.   

Train also includes ore loads from Port Covington.

Westbound from Ridgeley: (MT)
FAIRMONT EXTRA:  Westbound.   Originates Allentown (East Staging) proceeds through to West Staging.

GREY EXTRA: Westbound:  Originates Philadelphia and Baltimore, combined at Ridgeley.  WM Power into Ridgeley, LRV power west to Rockwood Jct. (West Staging)

ELKINS EXTRA:  Westbound:  Originates Port Covington, Baltimore, Allentown etc.  Combined at Ridgeley with cars for Shaw, Thomas, Elkins and points beyond.  Also includes westbound ore movements bound for Pittsburgh.

I either need more staging, a bigger yard, a longer main line run, fewer trains or more freight cars...  The eyes might be a little bigger than the stomach, not sure yet!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Arteries in Place, Time to Get the Blood Flowing...

So, now that the primary infrastructure of the Western Maryland Western Lines layout is in place, and the ceremonial last spike and first trains have been dispensed with, it's time to get down to the business of operating a model railroad.

This means the uproariously fun activities of inventorying the rolling stock, updating the car cards (these are actual cards that represent each and every piece of rolling stock on the layout) and preparing the multitude of waybills for each car.
Car cards and waybills begin to make sense of the mayhem.

I use a simplified 4-cycle waybill in my operations, wherein each car card is matched to a slip of paper that dictates four different destinations for the freight car in question.  The waybill slip is turned at each destination, revealing where it will be headed next.  Some of them are easy, such as some of the coal hopper fleet.  When loaded, they head east, when empty they head west back to the mines in the mountains.

One of the challenges of organizing the operations on my layout is to keep the "bridge" traffic as interesting as the on-line and local stuff.  The Western Maryland earned it's bread hauling coal, but it was the through traffic as part of the famed "Alphabet Route" that provided much of the butter.  At the west end, trains came to the WM from both the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie and the Norfolk and Western at Connellsville, while to the east, priority freight arrived from New England and the northeast via the Reading at Lurgan, and from the WM's own terminal at Port Covington in Baltimore.

On the real WM, Hagerstown was the nexus of the eastern routes, while Ridgeley Yard near Cumberland worked the traffic coming and going from the west.  Between the two yards lay the Cumberland Extension, a largely unpopulated route designed to little more than shuttle trains back and forth with virtually no on-line traffic along the way.

Coal traffic, meanwhile, was concentrated at Knobmount Yard, just south of Ridgeley, where coal drags from both the Thomas Sub and the Connellsville "New Line" came together to be weighed, marshalled and otherwise readied for distribution to the WM's many coal-consuming customers.

On the WMRY Western Lines, I had to pick and choose my operations focal points carefully.  Initially, my primary yard was to be Hagerstown.  This was driven by the relative importance of this yard compared to Ridgeley, as well as the desire to model the massive engine terminal there.  But I really needed to also account for the coal traffic at the west end, since I clearly don't have room to model both Hagerstown AND Knobmount.  So I compromised, building the large yard and engine terminal in the mold of Hagerstown, but naming it Ridgeley to be more reflective of the overall traffic flow.

A side benefit of this is the geographic proximity of Ridgeley Yard to Cumberland is a reasonable facsimile of reality on the layout.

Having spent the last few evenings riffling through the paperwork, the overall operations scheme of the layout is starting to come into focus.  I'm planning a little shake down session in a couple of weeks, so I expect to have a bit more to report once that's under my belt.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A quick follow up...

For those of you who missed the earlier iteration of the N scale WMRY Western Lines, here's a view of the same spot now occupied by Ridgeley Yard, circa 2004/5.

Yup, there's Andy's bed and his toybox about where the dispatcher's desk is now.  

Man, was it that long ago?

Golden Spike Special!

To celebrate the recent completion of my main line trackage, we held a special ops session today for the "Golden Spike Special" made up of cars provided by a number of friends and fans.  During the past week cars have been arriving in the mail, including one shipped from a friend serving in the military that's based in Germany.

Today we welcomed a few more traveling cars from modelers who have been following the progress on my layout through my blog, including a couple collected at the Hershey N Scale convention this weekend.  The highlight was Bryan Bussey's (of Eastern Seaboard Models) magnificent Conrail OCS full dome, shown above just ahead of the PRR full dome Eric220 provided.  (Eric's layout is based on a "What IF?" contemporary PRR that spans coast to coast...)  Sadly the roster shot I took of this car didn't turn out very well, but we did get a peek inside at the neatly set tables and other details:

Remember, this is N Scale!

Also had cars from Dave Foxx, Mike Delamaiz, Bob Bufkin, and David K. Smith. Sizemore (Tim Alder) was well represented, having painted the F-unit on the point.  Phil Hoffman brought along some Spanish prototype cars, but they were unable to be included due to some compatibility issues.  According to Phil, this was in keeping with Spanish rail operations...

While the layout wasn't built with passenger traffic in mind, we managed to get the Golden Spike Special around the layout in reasonably good order.  We didn't ever really reach "track speed" owing to the numerous photo and video run bys requested by the crew.  Here's a couple of highlights:

Crossing the Potomac from Ridgeley into Cumberland.

Passing a freight holed up on the long siding on the Connellsville Sub.
Crossing the river into Greenwood, en route to Connellsville.

Returning to North Junction at the east end of the layout.  Note that the KCS has spotted the Spanish cars near the scrap yard.  I'm not sure what this means.

The train then headed west again, this time working its way up to Thomas via the Thomas Sub.  Here it is leaving the main at Maryland Junction:

Restricted clearances made Thomas the end of the run, so the engines turned around, and pulled the train back down to Ridgeley.

Here it is drifting downgrade at Shaw as the sun starts to fade.

While we didn't get to run many trains, we had a great time.  It was good to see the layout back in action, although we naturally found a few things to add to the "to do" list.  Thanks as always to the crew, who have been such a great support through this whole project.

At this point I think it's appropriate to offer a word of thanks to all the people who have had a hand in making today possible.  As most of you know, the economy has really taken a toll on my family, and being able to keep working on the layout has been a blessing beyond measure.  I guess to some extent it's been a good hiding place, but it's also been very therapeutic, and a good way to mark progress on a lot of things, not just the trains themselves.

Anyway, for all of you who helped out, my gratitude knows no bounds. 
John, whose layout and approach to the hobby has been an inspiration since the first day I washed up on your doorstep... what is it, 8 years ago?
Dave Foxx, Phil Hoffman, Ed Kapuscinski, Brian Carhart, Bob Bufkin, Carl Tweedale and Tim Alder, my regular crew, who were instrumental in making the jump from the old layout to the new, and who have contributed countless hours and 6 packs to the cause.
David K. Smith, who puts it all into an image that's worth a thousand hours of labor saved... and whose creativity and innovations continue to push me forward.
Jerry Britton, for getting out of N Scale, and showering me with surplus track.  There needs to be bronze plaque on the layout somewhere for you, Jerry.  Literally, the layout expansion would not have happened if not for your kindness.
Bryan at ESM and Craig at Bluford, who helped me pull off the hopper car project last year that financed much of the project.
Eric Payne, Dave Vollmer and so many others who have asked the right questions at the right moments to make me think my way out of various corners, whether they involved scenery, operations or what have you.
Thanks also to Victor Miranda, who helped dig me out of a couple of steam loco situations along the way.
Jason, Mike, Gary Hinshaw, Phil, Tim, Ed, John, Bob, and so many others who were happy to dip into their junk boxes to pull out whatever salvage I needed to finish this project or that.  I've got plenty of leftovers that I hope one day to "pay forward".

So, onward and upward.  Now that most of the railroad is in place, I suppose it's time to start editing those old car cards and way bills!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nearing the Finish Line

It's the Saturday before the Sunday when the operating crew will show up for an initial shake down run.  The train room is still somewhat in disarray, there's still a few nagging problems to work out, and only a few hours remaining to get it all done.
Since last we chatted, I've gotten 99% of the yard at Ridgeley installed, with switches wired and mechanically connected.
East end yard throat

West end yard throat
I'd like to get the yard tracks and surface painted before show time, but that will be a time consuming and messy process.  I'll probably do it anyway, dragging the compressor and air brush in from the garage to shoot it with some burnt umber acrylic.  That will go faster than brushing it all on.  Then while the paint's drying, I can do the stuff I have to do, like clean the debris off the floor, put away the various tools, and otherwise make the train room and the crew lounge a little more hospitable.

I'm really looking forward to this session, it will be the first opportunity to try out the systems that I've put in place, and the first peek at the finished track plan for my regular crew.  I'm hoping the feedback I get doesn't involve any major upheavals.

Part of the fun will be running a "Private Varnish" special around the layout, wherein members of my crew, plus a few other fans are sending or bringing representative passenger cars from their layouts.  The first two arrived earlier this week:

The car on the left is an SNCF (French National Railways) coach that was shipped in from a fan in Germany, and the other is a Pennsylvania Railroad full dome (yes, it's a foobie!) from a fan who's layout is based on a contemporary "What If" version of the PRR that spans the continent.  I'm expecting a few more to arrive Sunday afternoon.

Look for a full report of the festivities sometime next week.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A little honey, then a little vinegar...

Tonight the layout ran remarkably well.  At one point, I had three trains of 20+ cars orbiting, plus a little passenger special I threw together to start warming up for the onslaught of visiting varnish in the next couple of weeks, which I ran down the Thomas Sub from Elkins, then around the full layout through both staging yards and back up the hill.  This included 85' passenger cars with body mounted couplers going up the 24" diameter twist on the Thomas Sub.

The only upset I had was at the end of the evening, when I went to retrieve the coal train from West Staging, which I had hoped to run back up the Thomas Sub to park in Elkins...  Earlier, when I put it into the staging yard, I overshot the exit turnout by less than an inch.  No problem, I figured, I'll just nudge her backward enough to push the slack in, and that will clear the frogs for Track 2.  Well, as the Orioles were going down in flames in Toronto, so too were my dreams of a flawless night of operating trains.  Somewhere in the darkness, one of the hoppers popped over the railhead, leaving the train coupled, but inoperable due to a trip pin snagging on something.

I left it, and came down to share this with you.

Before I can do anything tomorrow night, I'll have to pull the other two trains that are down there out by their tails and run them up the hill to get them out of the way. Then I can inspect the train to see where the problem was.  I suspect it was a car with body mounts pushing a truck mounted car out of alignment.

As I contemplate going through this process yet again, I can't help but accept that I'm starting to get good at clearing things out down below when problems arise.  I did install work lights, so I can see pretty well down there.  To pinpoint a flange or a knuckle, I've got a couple of nifty pens with LED's on the end, which are better than flash lights due to their small size and concentrated beam of light.

The process does remain time consuming, so I can only imagine how disruptive a wreck in staging would be during an ops session.

I suspect that the best solution will always be to have me serve as the west end dispatcher, so I can carefully monitor all traffic going in and out of there.  At least until someone else steps up and takes an interest in doing that job.

For comparison, the East End ran flawlessly, but I wasn't really taxing it very much.  Recall that each track can hold two trains, so I had to do some "valet parking" maneuvers, pulling the second train forward after the first had left, and remember which tracks were occupied to prevent unfortunate rear end events from taking place.

There were two instances where cars derailed in East Staging, one was a passenger car that suffers from a high-low coupler issue and likely dragged a coupler pin, and the other an empty coal hopper that was probably underweight coming down the helix that got bunched up.

Still, despite it all it was a good run, with a variety of locomotive consists, train lengths, and car types.  I was overall pleased with the performance of the railroad, including the West Staging yard.  One highlight was a trip by the grain train, headed up with an A-B Intermountain F unit consist, which went through in the opposite direction of typical traffic flow.  When I noticed this was going on, I panicked that the old Atlas c80 flappy paddle remote turnouts would wreak havoc, and that climbing the inside loop of the helix would create undue stresses with horrifying results... neither came to pass.  The train rolled through the yard smoothly, just in the wrong direction.

It has been suggested that I reverse the flow of traffic through the yard to put the outbound trains closer to the aisle, and this may be a simple solution.  But I think longer trains will have problems climbing the helix with 2 fewer inches of radius...  I'll try some experiments when I have plenty of patience on hand, and plenty of beer for when the patience runs out!

That's tonight's report.  More to come as the end of June approaches.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

During our last segment, I was lamenting about the operational snags that I had encountered in the new west staging yard.  It turns out there were two primary problems.
  1. One of the locomotives involved had a wheel gauge problem, as well as a dragging coupler trip pin, which was creating derailments going IN to the yard.
  2. Another train that was stored in the yard had been jostled off the rails while parked, causing some cars to separate, and others to snag on the outbound frogs.

The track problems occurred when I went in with the "big hook" to collect the derailed rolling stock.  I have a length of trim with a nail in the end that I use as a grappling hook to reach the farthest corners of the netherworld.  (My primary argument against expensive, fragile add-on detail parts on rolling stock.)  This had snagged on a piece of track and pulled it right out of its glue.  I was able to repair it, but once the yard is installed overhead, this area won't be accessible at all.  I suppose with a little more caution, and perhaps a different tool, I can avoid this problem in the future.

So, all of the problems go back to "Human Error," something I'm profoundly good at.  So for now, I'll be adding some bracing to keep the table more stable to minimize the jostling effect, and checking and double checking the maintenance of the fleet to prevent tracking problems.

This doesn't address the primary design flaw, which David K. Smith has brilliantly solved with this drawing:

It's no easy task to implement this design, being as it exists below the engine terminal and yard complex, so I'm perpetuating the debate, to paraphrase The Clash, "should it stay or should it go?"  It's got me stymied, and is holding up progress on building out the yard, and basically discouraging me from going into the train room at all.

Le sigh.  I guess I should give myself a little more time to think about it, but the time draws nigh to, as Grandma so colorfully put it, "shit or get off the pot" ...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Houston, we have a problem.

After months of successfully running trains through the west staging yard, the last couple of days have presented amazing challenges that are causing me to re-think this whole side of the layout.

Well, at least the bits that are under ground and virtually impossible to reach.

I'm not sure if a heat kink has developed (the layout is in the attic, and it got hot as hell last week), or there's debris that's fallen on the track, or if my haste in laying the recycled c80 flex I used down there is rearing its ugly head...  But it's turning out to definitely NOT be ready for prime time.

It's been exacerbated by the installation of the yard office desk, which makes the distance between the aisle and the exit throat unmanageable without extraordinary effort.
The problem is on the right side.

This is the "as built" drawing, and you can see how far back the turnouts are from human contact, and this is made doubly challenging because the vertical clearance is only about 6".

That view pretty much illustrates the problem.

In retrospect, I should have brought the helix around another 1/4 turn, and placed the turnouts closer to the front edge, as I did on the east end in the original construction.

Why I didn't take this into account is beyond me.  And I'm afraid that in the present condition, an easy solution is too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don't Panic!

One of the things on my bucket list has been to re-organize my Picasa albums, and I finally did it last weekend.  The result is that many of the images built in to this blog, and my other musings on the various fora I post to have disappeared momentarily.

Don't fret.  They're still there, and should now be easier for me to get to, and therefore easier to share with you, dear readers.

I've completed the process of updating all of the blog photos, and going forward, you'll be able to click on the images for a more detailed view.  Thanks for your patience!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Nerve Center

When I first conceived of this layout plan, there was one critical element that simply HAD to be there.  A reasonable representation of the shops and roundhouse at Hagerstown, Maryland.

This was the major division point on the Western Maryland, where the East Subdivision branches from Baltimore, Hanover and Shippensburg met the main line to Cherry Run, and then onto the Cumberland Extension to go west.  To support this nexus of east and west, the WM chose Hagerstown to be the location of its primary shops.

Obviously, there was no way for me to replicate the entire facility, especially since I also need to have a functioning model railroad yard in the same space.  But with a little selective compression, a lot of old Heljan roundhouse kits, and some very useful input from my on-line design committee, I came up with a plan that offers not only some of the operating potential of a division point terminal, but also the look and feel of Hagerstown.

My one cop-out, and admission that I can't fully do justice to Hagerstown, is that I refer to my facility as Ridgeley, which in reality was a much smaller yard at the west end of the Cumberland Extension.  This is appropriate, since my operations are more based on the west end than the Hagerstown area, although I do take advantage of thru trains from the east arriving with Reading locomotives on the point.

Anyway, the focal point of the yards will be without a doubt, the engine terminal and shops.  I want to convey the importance of Ridgeley to the operations of my railroad, and nothing can do this better than a substantial set of buildings, complete with interior and exterior lighting to demonstrate around-the-clock activity.

I think I'm getting close to that.  At the far left, you see the two arrival/departure tracks that will serve the yard which will be beyond the left edge of the image.  Next, there is a caboose servicing track, then the westbound ready tracks.  The Walthers 130' turntable anchors the scene, and is surrounded by the car shops and a 20 stall engine house.  The eastbound ready tracks are at the lower edge of the scene.

At the lower left hand corner, the first track to the left is the drill track, where the yard switcher can work cuts of cars in and out of the classification tracks, and the main lead from the main line through to the yard is next.

This will be a very active part of the layout.  As a bridge route with connections to the east and west, lots of run through power from the Reading and Norfolk and Western will make appearances here.  And the steep grades and tight curves west of Ridgeley will require different types of power than the lines east of the yard, so there will be a lot of reasons to change engines here.  Cabooses will also be swapped, as the Hagerstown pool will work east, the Elkins Pool will work west, and the foreign road cabs will have to be turned around and sent back to home rails.

All the while, the BL2 switcher will be slugging it out switching the yard building blocks of cars for various destinations east and west to keep that Fast Freight Rolling.  For me, this is the nerve center of the layout, and facilitates the type of operations I enjoy.  All of them.  I can put together a local to run up the hill to Thomas, or to the paper mill at Luke.  I can pick up a hot cut of cars bound for Connellsville and send them west down the Youghiougheny, or I can spend a busy hour or two shifting cars in the yard to build the blocks for next time.  It's all very satisfying to me.

The best part about using a fully functional model railroad yard is that you never run the same train twice.  Oh sure, maybe you've got a cut of coal hoppers that always seem to make the same trip, but you can even mix them up with the judicious use of car cards and waybills.  And for those times when I want to just send a train around in endless orbits, I have that option available as long as I pay a little bit of attention to a couple of turnouts.  With the staging yards I've built, at the end of the night, I can just bring that train (or two!) in for a landing, make a note of which trains are parked where, and I'm ready to run loops again, or have a full blown ops session the next time out.

Model railroaders who avoid yards are really missing out, in my opinion.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Epic Battle

If you've ever built a model railroad, and who hasn't, you know there are a lot of things that involve mass production. Whether you're fabricating grab irons for your boxcar fleet, or installing couplers, or putting in switch throws, there's a fair amount of repetitive motions.

That being the case, you'd think that you could make your parts, set up the assembly line, and start cranking things out. But there's always that one piece that doesn't want to be like all the others. There's that one coupler box that wants to pop apart when all the other ones snap together tight. Or the switch throw, that no matter how much you tweak it the points just don't close one way or the other.

Such was the case last night as I endeavored to install the slide switches in the new engine terminal. I put in three with virtually no effort. Drill a hole, insert the throw rod, wire the contacts and in she goes. Then came Number Four.

I don't know if it was just getting late, or if the second cup of coffee wore off, or just what the problem was, but this particular switch just didn't want to go in. At first, it was a simple matter of the points not closing in one direction. This is usually fixed by adding a bend here or there in the rod. Well, that got it closed the way I wanted, but shot the other direction.

So I tried a different approach, running the throw rod through the handle the other way. Well, in handling the switch this time, I managed to break off one of the wires...so, back to the soldering iron. I put Humpty Dumpty back together, and still no throw. Grrr. Turned out the rod I used was too small for the hole I drilled, and it was slopping around just enough to keep the points from moving or holding tight.

One Bigger Throw Rod Later...

I carefully bent the rod to go precisely from the slide switch to the points, gingerly clipped everything together, then ever so cautiously pressed the slide switch into the hole in the benchwork... At which point the slide switch itself decided it was time to self destruct. As I could hear the little spring and contacts clatter on the floor, I looked up to the ceiling, uttered a few utterances, and decided it was time to go to bed.

Finally this morning, with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I resolved to start fresh with a new slide switch. Five minutes later, it was done. And so it goes...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Just a quick note to update you...

The last of the public works crew has emerged from the manhole, and declared that the primary power bus for the mighty Western Maryland Western Lines is hereby complete. At least the parts that I needed to crawl under the yard for. (Still need to run about 6' between the sections on either side of the window).

The final major wiring project will be the control bus. That's all right behind the fascia, though, so it will go in pretty quickly once the necessary materials are assembled.

So, tomorrow night, God willin' and the creek don't rise, I can clear the aisles of all the crap that I pulled out from the gloom beneath the benchwork, and actually access the entire layout without fearing a broken ankle.

Once completed, the final section of benchwork for the yard gets installed...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Steady Rollin'

For the last two weeks, I've been making pretty steady progress on all the tedious work I described in the last entry. The main line is now complete, the drop leaf in front of the closet door has been constructed, tracked and wired... and even a modest bit of scenery applied.

I've also gotten to the point where I could re-install the turntable and get it functional, so the roundhouse will likely be moving to the front burner again soon. It's a big, unweildy beast, which I was hoping t0 be able to work on at the workbench, but it's fairly close to the aisle, and the table height is about right to be able to sit on a stool and work on it, so I'm okay with that. Wiring in the lights will be a bit of an adventure, but I worked out the kinks of my process when I did the Elkins Roundhouse from scratch a couple of years ago.

I'm going to install a 12 position rotary switch, which will allow me to leave the roundhouse tracks dead, with the ability to turn on two tracks at a time to move engines in and out.

I've also dreamed up a panel that will indicated the outbound switch positions in West Staging. I've already rigged them up to just about impossible to come out against a switch, but it will be fun to have a visual.

So, basically... where I am at this point is very nearly complete, at least in terms of infrastructure. The main line is complete from east staging, through the yard area, then to Cumberland and Maryland Junction. From there, the main proceeds around the peninsula, along the front wall, down the helix and into West staging. Also, from MY, the Thomas Sub is complete from there up through Thomas, up another small helix, and into Elkins on the upper level.

I can't wait to get all of this boring wiring and trackwork done, so I can get back to the scenery, the part I really enjoy!

Until next time...