I’ve finished framing the walls in my layout space and I’ll be starting the preparations for the suspended ceiling very soon. Over the past weeks, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the basement, planning and pondering the different ways to approach building this layout.
The overall concept has been crystalizing as the room started coming together. It’s been sorting itself out in my head, and I have nearly a dozen pages of scribbles and doodles in my layout file folder, but there hasn’t any pencil-on-paper design work until now. In fact, most of my efforts since about February have been focused on research, which has been much fun.
The place and era for my layout came to me long after I sorted out some other things. I wanted a layout that I could operate on my own, one that I could actually achieve with my time and ability. I also wanted a design that was open-ended so that I could continue to dream of bigger things, if I so desired. I would have settled for anything that involved TH&B, Canada Southern, Lehigh Valley, or Erie Lackawanna. Lots of good options came up that offered me one or two of those, but when I discovered that I could have all four (plus more) if I modelled North Tonawanda, the choice was obvious. You can see an overview map in my previous post about this concept from last year.
Last winter, I jumped headlong into building some benchwork, and by spring I had laid out the ties and some building mock-ups for International Paper’s plant at North Tonawanda. This would satisfy my immediate goals of having a switching layout that I can operate on my own. I plan to build the town of North Tonawanda along the wall across the aisle from the paper plant. After researching and doing two field trips, I came up with a way to model Penn Central’s pocket yard and the Niagara Branch that ran through it.
Below is a concept drawing of what the basic track geometry will be. I’ve had to move some things around from the prototype, but I think this overall concept will depict the place and time quite well. What I’ve drawn below the represents the majority of Penn Central’s operations in town, which includes the International Paper plant, the yard, a place to stage trains for the Lockport Branch, and a few of PC’s customers around the yard. This represents about a third of the full space that I could eventually use for the rest of the layout. Keep in mind that, while this was drawn to scale, it should be understood as conceptual, which means that things will still move around some. I noticed that a few things are out of proportion (like track spacing at the top of the drawing, and the width of the roadways), but turnouts and curves are generally to scale will fit into the space, with some fine tuning.
This is how I envision operating the layout. Through trains would operate between staging that represents Penn Central’s Niagara Falls yard (above the drawing) and staging that represents Frontier Yard in Buffalo (on a shelf below the town of North Tonawanda). Those through trains would be PC, TH&B, and LV. Some of them would lift or set out cars at North Tonawanda yard, but most just roll through. Also, there are two local train crews that work from the yard. The Island Crew works the paper plant, and the Mainland Crew works the industries around the yard, and they run up the Lockport Branch as needed.
I could operate any of those tasks in sequence on my own so that the events of an entire day might require a number of short operating sessions. If I have a guest, we would step through the various jobs, one at a time, though working the paper plant might be enough work to keep one person occupied for an entire operating session.
The Mainland job could start the operating session by coming off of the Lockport Branch with a few cars that have been pre-staged. Work would involve bringing the short train into the yard, working the industries around the yard, and preparing lifts and sorting set-outs related to the mainline trains. The session would end with the Mainland job heading up the Lockport Branch with cars for some or all of the industries there, which included Durez (Hooker Chemical), National Grinding Wheel, and Wurlitzer. I’m still working out the details, but that’s the overall scheme.
Lastly, my vision for the area beyond the top of the drawing is to focus on the EL Niagara Falls Branch as it ran through North Tonawanda, and parallel to the Penn Central. EL worked their tiny yard from the north end of town because there were no grade crossings to deal with. EL customers in North Tonawanda included Roblin Steel, Tonawanda Iron & Steel, Art Gromart Lumber Co., Recreational Warehouse, and Ashland Oil. The EL ran a Day Falls Turn and a Night Falls Turn between their yards in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. C&O had trackage rights from their Canadian Division into Buffalo across the EL, so there is the possibility of modelling another pair of through trains during each session, if I expand the layout to include the EL.
My hope is that my plan provides me with a layout that I can achieve, and one that will be fun to operate on my own or with a guest. It also provides the opportunity to expand out, in the event that I actually “finish” the part I’ve shown in the drawing and somehow summon the motivation.