“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.


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.


Research Field Trip

Last weekend, I took a road trip across the border to do some research for my layout.  I’ve spent a crazy amount of time digging through Doug Kroll’s website called RR-Road Trip while researching the North Tonawanda locale for the home layout I’m building.  I decided it was time to actually meet the man.

Doug was kind enough to spend last Sunday afternoon driving me around North Tonawanda.  He took me to all of the places that are crucial to my layout’s theme.  Each time we stopped the car, he provided anecdotal recollections, all the while referring to maps and photos that he took in the 1970s.  I asked plenty of questions and took ample notes.  I feel much better positioned to move ahead with the layout, now that I have more detailed insight to the operational patterns and physical layout of the place.

It rained the whole time we toured around town, so I didn’t bother trying to take photos.  I’ll be going back some time in July so that I can grab some shots of the key buildings in town.  There are few structures still standing, but I’ll take what I can get.  In the meantime, here’s photo that Doug Kroll posted to RailPictures.Net which depicts a scene I hope to recreate.   A trio of St. Thomas-based GMD geeps rolls through North Tonawanda on July 21, 1974.  One I’ve acquired another Genesis GP9, I’ll get to work on building a representation of this lashup.  With Doug’s help, I hope to get the scene right too.



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.

Layout Construction Milestone: Ties

This morning, after I glued the last tie from a package of 1000, my layout reached a minor milestone.  All of the ties are are now glued in place.  Next, I’ll finish staining and weathering them in preparation of spiking rail.

The photo below shows some pieces of rolling stock placed in the various spots, and annotations describe each spot’s purpose.  The photo is taken from the middle of the layout, which is also the middle of the paper plant, looking south along Tonawanda Island.

Ties, southThe indicated capacity for each lead in the above photo doesn’t necessarily represent the number of cars that will be positioned in each spot during operating sessions.   I’ll write a blog post about the flow of cars into and out of the plant some time in the future, once I’ve done more research on the actual flow of traffic at this plant.

The photo below was posted last week.  It’s also looking south along the island, but was taken from the end of the layout, which represents approximately the north end of Tonawanda Island.   Combining these two photos, one gets an overview of the entire layout representing International Paper.

IMG_0217I’ll get working on staining all those ties using the results from my experiments over the past few days.