Structures Update

I made some progress on the layout over the holidays, so I’ll post a few updates to bring things up date. Check out the photo for some details.


In this scene, you’ll see two structures that have replaced stand-in shells. In the centre of the image, the concrete building is the powerhouse. It’s not finished, but it took a great number of hours to get it to this point. I feel that it’s far enough along to give a good impression of how this scene will proceed. This is the powerhouse building, loosely approximated from aerial photos of the plant. It is currently sporting the base colour that use for approximating concrete structures. It’s entirely scratch built, except for the shed building in front of it in grey primer. That building uses a Tichy kit for the side wall. I’ll scratch build the end wall and roof. This will be the enclosed building into which hopper cars are spotted for unloading of coal into the storage silo.

Behind that building is a concrete structure with brick curtain walls. This is the end of a building in the area of the paper machine, where bulk solids are delivered by boxcar. This building is finished except for the final details and clutter. Here’s a photo featuring this structure.


The building to the right is a mock-up/core of the next structure on my to-do list. Also in this photo, you’ll see that I’ve painted the facia. Next time, I’ll post more details about the facia and valance.

Building Cores Become Mock-Ups

I like to work in 3D when I plan. For instance, when I planned my layout, I had a basic notion of where the turnouts and track would go, and I moved templates around the benchwork until I came up with something that seemed reasonable. Then the buildings in my paper plant were mocked up with cardboard boxes. After that, I build styrene cores to hold the veneer of the finished models. In a few cases, it took a few attempts to get the proportions correct.

Once I felt that the proportions were correct, I set about finishing the structures, which I’ve started to do at one end of the layout. It would probably take another year of my spare time to finish up all of the structures on my layout, but given that all the track is functional, I’m feeling like it’s time to have some people over for operating sessions. I decided to try painting the structure cores in the approximate colour that the finished model will have. A trip to the local Canadian Tire store and I was set up with an assortment of spray cans.

I used a light grey primer on some metal structures, and a darker grey on others. I think those look good. The concrete buildings at the plant were painted in a tan colour, but the Krylon “camo light brown” that I bought looks more like a light olive colour. I think I’ll find a better colour and paint those again.

Regardless of my struggles with colour matching, the end result is that the painted building cores look more like coloured mock-ups now. While they completely lack any kind of detail whatsoever, they do serve to give an impression of what will eventually be built. I’m inclined to finish the scenery between the edge of the tracks and the structures in order to provide basic ground cover. Over the past month or so, I’ve posted some photos of the more completed areas of the layout. Here are some shots of the other end, now populated with painted building cores.


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Hiding the End of the World

The priorities I had in mind when I designed my layout were these:

  1. Operations
  2. A stage upon which I can photograph my models.
  3. Large enough to create the impression of a large industry.
  4. Small enough that I can build it, given my limited leisure time.
  5. Easily expandable if things go well.

With these priorities in mind, I chose at 12 foot wall next to a crawl space in my basement, and I think things are going well so far. I’m modelling a small, somewhat outdated and specialized paper plant the produces high quality fine papers. But even in 12 feet, I had to give up many parts of the factory, and fudge others, in order to make it work. Part of the fudging involved two long staging tracks that represent the woodchip unloader and a place to unload a number of different liquid raw materials. I put these under the crawl space at one end of the layout.

It was a challenge to deal with making the transition between on-stage and off-stage less obvious. I couldn’t completely conceal the transition, but I’ve placed buildings in such a way as to make it less obvious.

In the photo below, PC 9574 is arriving at the plant and coming on-stage from a staging track that will eventually connect to the modelled portion of North Tonawanda yard. For now, I back trains onto the staging track before an operating session. The building in the foreground was placed to make it difficult to see the hole in the sky where the train comes on scene. The dashed green line shows the bottom of the wall, which doubles as the sky backdrop.

In the foreground of the photo below, the closest track goes to the woodchip unloader, which is completely off-stage. The second track is where tank cars are unloaded. I’ve sketched the outline of a building that I haven’t placed into the scene yet. The idea is that it will help to conceal where these two tracks slip off the edge of the world. At least, that’s the plan.

Foreground building

Scenery Progress: Woodchip and Tank Car Unloading

I’ve made some progress on the transition between the on-scene and off-scene portion of the paper plant on my layout.

In the photo below, the long building flat against the wall has been put in place, and all of the ballast and ground surface between that building and the front edge of the layout is now finished. More details will be added later. I’ve also de-bugged the track. I’ll be placing a variety of tanks and piping on the concrete pad in front of that building, and around the two structures in the mid- and foreground (the foreground structure is not in place, and I cropped it out of the photo anyway).

On the prototype, the main building where the tank cars were unloaded had a fan of three tracks that could hold one or two tank cars at a time, and then two tracks for off-spot tank cars. I compromised by having one track pass in front of the building, and then extend into staging where tank cars can be located.

The track closest to the front goes to staging representing the woodchip unloader.

PC 9574 brings its train into the International Paper plant.

PC 9574 brings its train into the International Paper plant.

Bascule Bridge at North Tonawanda

One of the most interesting and challenging structures that I will have to build for my layout depicting the town of North Tonawanda is the bascule bridge over the barge canal. The bridge was built as part of a track re-alignment project undertaken by NYC between 1917 and 1922. The bridge carried the NYC Niagara Branch, double-track at this point, which was NYC’s direct connection between Niagara Falls NY and Buffalo NY.

An interesting fact about the bridge is that it was only opened once. It seems that a government transportation authority insisted on provisions for the expansion of the barge canal to accommodate higher vessels. In response, NYC built a bascule bridge instead of a fixed structure. I’m told that on the day the bridge was put into service, there were some dignitaries present to witness the opening and closing of the bridge. It was never opened again.

The bridge is oriented north-south. To the south of the bridge, the Lehigh Valley gained access to the NYC Niagara Branch which LV used to access its own yard in Niagara Falls NY. The small NYC yard and connection to the paper plant at North Tonawanda are about a half-mile north of the bridge.

I photographed the bridge in 2013. After studying the bridge, I decided against building a model of it, on the grounds that it would be too difficult. Lately, I’ve been reconsidering my previous position because it is the single most identifiable landmark that establishes the setting of my layout. Without it, visitors might simply have to take it on faith that the layout represents North Tonawanda. With that in mind, I’m gearing up to have a go at it. Having never scratch-built a structure like this, I’m spending some time thinking about how to approach it. So far, my friend Chris Vanderheide is helping me plan the build. I can use all the help I can get.

Here are a few of my photos of the bridge. They provide a general overview of the structure’s layout.


Looking east along the Erie Canal.

In the first photo, above, I can see some basic sub-structures that might simplify construction. The concrete pier in the barge canal is the hinge point of the bridge. The truss on the right is the part that lifts, so it’s rigid. The apex of the triangle to the left of the hinge on the pier provides the fulcrum between the concrete counterweight and the rigid truss that draws upwards.

Taken from the north side of the canal, looking at the west side of the bridge, minus the counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the barge canal, looking at the west side of the bridge, minus the counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the canal, west side of the bridge, looking up at the concrete counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the canal, west side of the bridge, looking up at the concrete counterweight.

At north and south ends of the bridge, there are short deck girder bridges that carry the tracks over roads that parallel the barge canal on both sides. The tracks approach the bridge on large earth fills from the north and south. On the north side of the canal, the North Tonawanda side, the fill provides a convenient grade separation for a couple of residential streets, which I also plan to model.

I have plenty of photos of the general layout of the bridge, but these show the overall structure. I believe what stands ahead of me is an estimation of the overall dimensions of the structure so that I can decide whether to compress it or build it proportionally.

I recognize this as a long-shot, but if anyone has information pertaining to this bridge, I’d love to have access to it. Drawings would, of course, be ideal, but anything else would be helpful and greatly appreciated, including how NYC and Penn Central managed rail traffic in the area around the bridge. I’m also interested in advice on how plan for and undertake this project. I’m looking forward to hear what you have to say.