New Milestone: Structure Cores

I’ve spent the past week or so pushing to complete the structural core of each of the buildings on my rendition of the International Paper plant on Tonawanda Island.  I’ve reached that goal, marking another milestone in the construction of my layout.

There are a few minor buildings that I will eventually build, but the construction of those will be slightly different.  I chose to build all of the large structures from .080″ styrene in order to make them more stable and allow for fewer braces.  Thick styrene is a bit more difficult to work with, and the fact that I started with a 4′ x 8′ sheet presented a few unexpected difficulties, mostly around handling and snapping such an unwieldy piece of plastic.  I eventually worked out a system by which I would use a utility knife to score and a wall corner to snap the plastic.

After using up a 1 oz bottle of plastic welding adhesive that I bought for around $8 from the hobby store, I wised up and bought some adhesive from the store that sold me the styrene sheets.


This setup cost me $15 for 16 oz of adhesive, and $3 for the applicator.  I already had the pipette for decanting.  I’m always in favour of supporting hobby stores, but this was one of those projects where I was using such a large volume of materials that it made sense to buy in much larger quantity.  Despite the savings that I realized, I would suggest that the vast majority of hobbyists will never actually use more than a few ounces of adhesive over the course of a couple of years, and so this approach might not make sense for you.

I’ve built a very stable core for each of the large structures, over which I plan to add a veneer of styrene to represent the surface of the building.  The few photos that I’m working from indicate that the buildings at the factory appear to have been made from a range of materials over a period of time.  The veneer that I choose for each building will reflect that. I’ll cut openings in the core of the structure to allow for windows and doors to be installed into the veneer.  The only exception to this will be a long building that will serve as a flat against the wall.  That building will have windows that are frosted and mounted directly to the building core.

Here’s a tour of the plant buildings.  Remember that all of the exterior details are missing, as are all of the small buildings.  Of course, the entire array of tanks related to the digesting, bleaching, colouring, and chemical recovery processes are also missing.  I’ve pulled some of the colour out of the photos to make all of that stark white plastic show up better in the photos.

Finishing, Packaging, Shipping


The photo above shows the warehouse and shipping structure on the right.  This building will have rows of windows running its length, and represents a kind of mirror image of the actual building.  The two tracks that enter the shipping area either work as load-through from track 1 to track 2, or off-spot storage on track 2.  There are three spots on each track inside the building.  This is also where some of the packaging materials will arrive.  The building to the left of the warehouse is the finishing/packing building, and the next building over is where the paper machines are located.  The track in the foreground is the bulk coal storage area.  Not only is coal unloaded and stored on the ground here, but coal is also loaded back into hoppers and shuttled to the power house.


Paper Making Machines

The photo below shows an overview from the reverse angle of the same location.  The  shipping/warehouse is on the right.  The buildings housing the paper making machines are the large building in the middle with the peaked roof and the building attached to the front of it.




The next structure (below) is the annex to the paper making building where materials for treating the paper and pulp are received.  Shipments here will include kaolin, dyes, bleach, and other things related to making paper I haven’t quite figured out yet.

IMG_9554In the photo above, the two boxcars are spotted where the doors into the structure will be.  The boxcar on the left is spotted in a location that can double as tank car unloading facilities.  Facilities for that will be in the foreground of that spot.  The building on the far left of the above image is a very compressed rendition of the chemical recovery boiler. Some small buildings and tanks related to the liquids recovered at the boiler will populate the space between the two boxcars and the two tracks in the foreground. Note the 55 ton hopper hiding in the background.  That will be barely visible under a covered unloading pit.


Power House, Tank Car Unloading

In the photo below, you’ll see that same hopper car spotted in the location where the unloading pit will be.  I have to alter the tracks here a bit, so I’ve laid two Fast Tracks switch templates in the locations where I’ll be installing them.



In the above photo, the building behind the hopper car is the power house.  The building in front of the hopper car is the chemical recovery boiler seen in the reverse angle from the previous photo.  There’s a track that sneaks between the hopper car and the recovery boiler that goes to the two spots occupied by the boxcars in the previous photo.  The two tank cars in the foreground are spotted on another track I have yet to install.  Sulphuric acid and chlorine are received here.


Wood Chips and Digester


The last area of the plant is in the above photo, taken from the reverse angle of the previous photo.  This is where the paper making process begins, and as a result, this whole area has fewer large structures and will eventually feature lots of tanks and piping.  The chemical recovery boiler is on the right, and the same two tank cars are to the left of it.  The track in the background is where inbound trains arrive from North Tonawanda yard.  A building flat against the backdrop will represent two buildings where pulping takes place.  The track that goes off to the left at the front edge of the layout splits into two tracks.  One track is where boxcars of wood chips are spotted, and the other track is for more tank car unloading.  Again, this whole area at the left of this photo will be populated with tanks and piping related to the digesting of pulp and the storage and processing of the various other liquid stuff that comes in tank cars (I’ll need to do more research on the details).


Looking Forward

Even a small paper plant like the one I’m modelling is a vast and complicated place.  I had to do some serious compression to make a reasonable rendition of a small plant in 12 feet of layout.  I can’t recreate the actual track plan, and I can only really make buildings that are inspired by those that were at the plant.  Still, I think I’m on my way to achieving my goal of representing the place and the traffic with some accuracy.

These structure cores double as nice placeholders for the finished buildings that they will eventually become.  They also bring me that much closer to having more realistic operating sessions.  I can begin work on the buildings that I know about (like the warehouse) while I continue to research and identify the complicated operations at the other end of the process.



An Hour at a Time

It’s frustrating when life gets in the way of having fun.  All those pesky commitments that pay for my food and shelter can seem to sap my energy and make it feel like I have no time for a hobby.

Lately, I’ve been making a habit of spending an hour a day working on the layout.  Two projects that I was able to work on over the past week or so: ballast some track and build a new warehouse structure core.  I found more than hour of time today, but this was a rare exception.  Here’s a photo of my progress.IMG_9540 I know it doesn’t look like much, but a little bit of ballast has helped to take this part of the layout a small step away from looking like the Plywood Pacific.

The styrene building in the background is the new building core.  This replaces my first attempt at the warehouse, in which I was trying to compress the building’s height in order to give the illusion of more length.  That was a fail.  I’m estimating the dimensions from photos, so a bit of trial and error is to be expected.  The proportions look better now.  At some point I’ll put a layer of styrene over what you see and I’ll be adding three rows of windows and other finishing touches to it.

After I finished working on the warehouse, I cleaned all the dried glue from the rail heads and did some pointless shuffling of cars.


Upside-down Roadbed

I built some upside-down roadbed this evening.  Check it out…


What you’re seeing in the photo above is ½” plywood roadbed hung from the 2×12 floor joists that form the ceiling of the crawl space in my home.  I thought I’d try something a little unconventional in order to use the crawl space for the layout and for storage.

Here’s the back-story.  The plan for my layout is to have two long shelves on opposite walls of a narrow room.  The two sides of the room are separated by a crawl space where the track loops back.  The conceptual drawing below (not to be confused with a track plan) helps to illustrate this. 

layout schematic1 copy


The shelf on the left side of the drawing is the International Paper plant.  The shelf on the right side of the drawing is the yard.  A track goes from the bottom left to the bottom right side of the drawing by way of a 180 degree turn-back under the crawl space.  Hence the upside down roadbed.

You’ll notice in the top photo that I’ve left some room for 30 inches of double track  to extend into the crawl space in front of the roadbed I’ve already installed.  This will facilitate the staging of a cut of boxcars loaded with wood chips, and a cut of tank cars loaded with few different chemicals.  There was no way to fit all of that into the visible part of the layout so I’m addressing it with hidden tracks.

The connection to the North Tonawanda yard from the paper plant will be finished when I build the benchwork on that side of the room.  For now, I’ll use the first 6 feet of this connection as a tail track and place to stage the train coming into the plant at the beginning of an operating session and leaving the plant at the end.

I’ll tack some flex track onto the roadbed tomorrow.

When are we having the first ops session?

Trevor got me thinking more seriously about operating sessions when he responded to my post from a couple of days ago. I was excited to announce that I had actually moved a locomotive under DC power (not the 0-5-0 method) on the first part of my layout.  His immediate question was, “When are we having the first ops session?”

This is a good question, and I’ve given it some thought.  In order to have an operating session at the paper plant, I’ll need to install two pieces of hidden track. One is the tail leading back to North Tonawanda yard, and the other is is actually two parallel tracks for woodchips and tank car unloading.  The tail track will serve as a place to stage the inbound train, and the two parallel tracks will store relatively large quantities of cars spotted for unloading in place that I’m not actually representing on the layout.  Paper plants are huge operations, and even with 12 feet, it’s still very compressed in HO.

Other crucial pieces of infrastructure are the push-rod thingies that run from the turnout controllers to the facia.  I haven’t even begun to figure that out, so I’ll need a little help from my friends who’ve already done this.

So, realistically, I could probably have the two pieces of hidden track installed by January.  The turnout control rods are the big unknown for me right now.  This could take a few days or a few weeks.  An ops session would have some stand-in pieces of rolling stock and a bunch of white styrene building cores, we’d still be spotting and pulling cars, for which could be facilitated by a quickly scribbled switch.  I might be able to make this happen fairly soon.


First Powered Move

Over the weekend, I ran the track bus beneath the International Paper factory and connected all of the feeders that I had installed back when I laid the track. I used suitcase connectors, so it went relatively quickly.  There were some areas where I needed quite a number of connectors.


When I had the all of the feeders connected to the track bus, I hooked up an old DC power pack and grabbed the nearest DC locomotive I could find.   I was disappointed when I the locomotive would move and the power pack indicated a short.  Eventually, I found a PC board tie that I hadn’t gapped, so I zipped through the copper cladding with my dremel and tried again.  This time, the problem was solved.

I recently bought an Atlas C-425 that has no decoder in it, so took it out of the box, put it on the track, and guess what?  It ran!  So here is photographic evidence of the inaugural test run of the layout.