“Test” Operating Sessions


In the photo above, the island switcher is pulling up next to the warehouse at International Paper.  The second trick crew is delivering one hopper of coal to the bulk storage track on the left in the foreground.  The warehouse is on the right and is represented by the styrene core of what was to be the finished structure.  The buildings in the background are a combination of painted foam core mockups and another styrene structure core.

The layout isn’t anywhere near being ready to host visiting operators, but now that the track, turnout controllers, wiring, and DCC system are set up, I’ve taken some important steps toward that goal.

I’ve made three attempts at simulating an 8 to 10 hour shift consisting of set-outs, lifts, and shuttles of about ten to fifteen cars in total. With the fast clock set at ratio of eight hours represented in one hour, it appears to be working out.  I have no idea if I will keep that ratio for the fast clock.  I just needed starting point.  Anyway, there have been some valuable lessons learned in just three sessions.

Before I scribbled out the first crude switch list, I sketched a schematic map showing the various spots.  For now, I’ve marked some of the spots with a  small “X” on the benchwork, to make sure that I’m consistently placing cars during these trial operating sessions.  I’ve had to make adjustments to the exact location of some spots in order for coupling and uncoupling to be manageable.


In just three operating session, I’ve discovered that my planned warehouse building is about 25 to 50 scale feet too long to be practical.  I probably could have figured this out ahead of time, had I not been focused on making the building large.  I designed the building to with the capacity to spot four cars on the “A” track and four cars on the “B” track inside the warehouse, which made the building over 200 feet long.  The geometry of the track and the placement of the building don’t allow for enough tangent track before the cars enter the building.  I’m already planning a new and warehouse building to replace the styrene building core in the photo above.

All of this playing with trains is interrupting construction.  The next big project on the list is to mount the turnout controls on the facia of the layout.  Of course, I’m also still working on the rolling stock that will eventually populate the layout.


Atlas Chlorine Tank Cars

The International Paper plant at North Tonawanda produced a range of fine papers, and one of the raw materials for the process would have been chlorine.  Photos of the factory from the early 1970s clearly show many orange and black “Hooker” tank cars spotted for unloading and off-spot.

Atlas made a nice model of a chlorine tank car a few years back, and while I don’t know whether this is the exact car that was used at the plant, it’s certainly plausible.  These models are out of production at Atlas, and it was proving difficult to find them on the used market.  I turned up one about a year ago, but it seemed futile, so I focused my energies elsewhere.

I was recently directed to the clearance page of the Atlas web site where they were advertising an undisclosed quantity of these very cars, minus trucks, for $7.95 each.  The hesitation of my credit card quick draw could have been measured in milliseconds.  Yesterday, I received a package from Atlas containing 8 chlorine tank cars and three other cars that they were cleaning out for $4.95, all without trucks, of course.  I’ve unquestionably stocked up on Hooker chlorine tank cars.


Testing the Track Plan: Simulated Operating Session

All of the ties have been glued to the benchwork of my shelf layout, so this is the first time that I’ve actually seen the track plan laid out so clearly.  I spent a couple of days referring to the aerial photos of the paper plant and imagining how an operating session would unfold.

To do that, I placed a locomotive, some specifically selected rolling stock, and a caboose on either the run-around track or the main.  I also placed a couple of cars in some of their spots.  With a switch list scribbled onto a scrap of paper, I moved things around to simulate the moves required to spot inbound and pull outbound cars.  Because there are no rails anywhere, it resembles a big chess game (or a battle game with trains instead of military pieces).

Overall, the track plan seems to work well.  It’s become apparent that some strategic blocking will be necessary when I stage the inbound train.  If the inbound train has cars for more than one siding, they should be blocked in a particular order in the train.  Five locations are facing point, and two are trailing, for an inbound train.  There is also a limit to the number of cars that can be moved around without gumming everything up.  For instance, it would require some pretty hokey moves to have a train remove and replace a car in every possible spot.  That’s unrealistic anyway, so I don’t have to worry about capacity issues.  Photos I’ve seen show from one to eight cars on inbound trains.  My run-around holds seven cars and a caboose, so I think train sizes of around 4 or 5 cars would be the sweet spot.

The caboose is still the wild card.  I’m not sure what the crews did with the caboose when they got to the plant.  There are a number of different ways to deal with it, but for the purpose of simulating how an operating session might play out, I’ve been running around the train, pulling the caboose off the tail end, and placing at the far end of the runout track after the runaround switch.  It seems reasonable.

Satisfied that I like the track plan, I turned my attention back to the buildings.  When I first started layout out the track plan with switch templates, I used empty cardboard boxes to represent the various buildings in the plant complex.  Now that the track plan is laid out in ties, I decided to build mockups of most of the buildings, in order to get a better sense the size and shape of the various buildings, and to be sure that I didn’t need to move some track in order to fit a building into a scene.

I’ve built crude mock-ups from foam board and painted them in a few different colours to represent the different colours that show up in the prototype photos.  In the photo below, notice that the mockups are simplistic representations, intended only to test whether a building of approximately the same proportions can fit into the space I have and still look proportional.

IMG_0243Progressing from the foreground to the farthest buildings, one moves from the paper making machine and calendaring/coating processes to the two brown/yellow buildings in the distance that represent the paper finishing and warehouse buildings.  The chemical storage, and pulping facilities will be out of the photo on the left.  Woodchip unloading will happen off the layout in staging.

I’ve mocked up about 3/4 of the large buildings.  I’ve not mocked up any of the various tanks required for the works in the foreground. At this point, it looks like my buildings will fit onto the layout the way I envisioned them when I was working with switch templates and pieces of flex track.  I’ll throw together a few more mockups, and once I’m satisfied I won’t be moving tracks around, I’ll finish staining all of the ties.