Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lessons Learned

I've built four relatively large model railroads (more accurately, I've started construction, only two have ever reached operational status) in the last two decades. Here's what I've learned from the process of building them:

- Large home layouts are not for everyone. 
- Just because you have the space, filling it is not always wise.
- Plan your resources (time, space, and money). Make sure you have all three in sufficient quantity to ensure success before starting the project. 
- Too many "shortcuts" can produce a ‘Catalog’ layout - give your layout a personal stamp, even if it means making it smaller.
- There’s nothing worth watching on television (except the New England Patriots, of course . . .). So commit to doing something on a regular schedule (Even 15 minutes a night can result in real progress!)
- Consider trading money for time for certain tasks (decoder installation). 
- Fewer, less intense scenes can look more realistic AND often require less time per square foot.  
- If you have a “work crew” the ideal is have each member specialize.
- Minimize the mess

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Ambassador in Waterbury

The Ambassador in Waterbury, P. R. Hastings photo, courtesy Mr. Robert C. Jones
Sometimes there's one book, or even one photo, that can send our modeling life off in entirely new directions. 
For me, it was this Phil Hastings photo of the Ambassador going through Waterbury. 
I was at a Navy training school in Newport, RI and decided to take a much needed break from studying the innards of the ALCO 251C engine in a marine application to seek out some nearby hobby shops. At the time I was happily modeling the Central Vermont - the railroad that I knew from the 1970s and 80s - lots of green, black, red, and blue Geeps and ALCO RS-11s (ironically, equipped with the same 251C that I was studying). 
I wandered into a local hobby shop and noticed a six volume set of hardcover books on the Central Vermont. As I flipped through Volume V of Robert C Jone's "The Central Vermont Railway" I stumbled across this Phil Hastings photo printed across a two-page spread. 
Sure, I'd been to Waterbury, and had taken photos of trains from much the same spot that Phil was standing on that day back in 1954. But what was missing when I went there was something I can only call "texture" of the steam-to-diesel transition era. 
I bought the book (eventually I'd obtain the entire set, which I consider a "must have" for the CV fan) and have to say it was that book - primarily that photo - that turned me from being content to model "today" to modeling the same railroad as it used to look. 
I suppose it should come as no surprise that Waterbury, more specifically the angle of that Hastings photo was a scene I wanted to capture in miniature "front and center" on the railroad. 
I need to tweak some of the angles, and the water tank and station might need to be a little further apart but even though the scene is unfinished I thought I'd share it here. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

White River Junction Scene Planning

This pre-construction mockup shows how the scene is arranged (it's not in its final position in the room here). the B&M Boston line ends at the wall, and the CV/B&M south staging is stub-ended. I'm considering connecting these two staging yards to form a loop around the furnace and hot water heater.

My posts over the past week on White River Junction ("WRJ in a Garage" and "Lessening the Mouse Hole Effect") produced some email requests for more detail information on the track arrangement at my HO scale version of this iconic New England railroad junction.
To those who don't know, White River station sat in the middle of a wye junction with four "legs" (For an aerial view of White River in the 1950s see this post:
(1)  A joint CV/B&M (technically it was CV to Windsor, then B&M south from there...) down the Conn. River Valley towards Springfield, Mass.
(2) The B&M "Northern" Line to Boston,
(3) The B&M (with CPR trackage rights) line up the Conn River Valley towards Wells River, Vt and ultimately Berlin, NH and
(4) The CV mainline north through Vermont to Montreal (by way of St Albans and the CNR).
Although it was a busy junction for the CV, the majority of the trains were B&M.
In many ways, the entire layout hinged on whether or not I could include White River. Knowing that it was going to be tricky I built this mockup back in February of 2009. For those keeping score, that predates the double-deck version of the railroad. I tried a number of options to get all four legs of the junction "live" on my layout, but the resulting plans always ended up with lots of staging to represent the various B&M lines, and required placing the station and junction in the center of the room - preventing me from modeling some of the other things I wanted to include.
I could see no way to make it all fit so I opted not to model White River Junction, primarily because of that obsession with making all the lines "live."
So I started building a double deck railroad representing a completely different portion of the CV - then in December of 2010 tore most of that out and started again.
And once again I wanted to include White River Jct.
The design for my current layout started with the photo of that mockup from 2009. Only this time I remembered I'm modeling the CV - not the B&M.   So the only B&M trains I model are those that interfaced directly with the Central Vermont. All the others (and there are many) I ignore.
This radically simplified the staging requirements. On my layout the big hole in the wall leads to the joint B&M/CV "South" staging yard. The track to the far left will lead into another hole and into the B&M's Boston staging tracks - currently the South End staging yard is stub ended but I'm seriously looking into connecting the south staging tracks and B&M Boston tracks to form a loop in the utility room.
What of the other two routes?
In my case, the CV mainline continues past the WRJ yard and on to the rest of the railroad.
The line to Wells River, which is behind the station in the overall view, is a dummy track - it crosses the B&M Boston line (protected by a ball signal) and then continues north aboiut 5 inches until it traverses my railroad's steepest grade - 54" straight down to the floor!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lessening the mouse hole effect

Taking a break from working on Waterbury structures to offer a planning/construction tip. 

The train emerges from a darkened staging yard. What's the first thing your eye sees in this view? The scratch built station? No, it's the cavernous black hole. 
Turning on the lights in the staging room offers an immediate improvement. The next step will be to screen the exposed stud and support post with a realistic backdrop that will blend into the layout room backdrop. 
Frequently on model railroads track passes through walls. Typically the mainline leaves the scenicked portion of the railroad and heads into a staging yard in a separate room. That's the case near the White River Junction station on my layout. 
Modelers frequently disguise these openings with highway overpasses, buildings, and the like. But in my case no such options were available. 
Let's face it, we're not really fooling anybody into believing the train isn't going through the wall. What we need to do is lessen the impact of the track heading into a dark mouse hole. 
The easiest way to ease the transition is to maintain the same light levels and type of lighting on both sides of the opening. 
The photos (underlit purposely to show the effect) illustrate what I mean. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Layout Design: White River Junction in a single-car garage

If you've ever wondered how to get all four legs of a four way junction "live" (trains can actually arrive and depart on each one of them) consider this sketch for White River Junction my friend and well-known layout designer Iain Rice was working on. At the time we thought we might be moving into a house that didn't have a basement suitable for a model railroad, but it did have a 10 x 20 one-car garage.  This White River Jct. plan never made it past this preliminary sketch stage, but I'm fairly certain Iain used the staging approach for a plan in one of his Kalmbach books. 
I came across it the other day and thought I'd post it here. 

If there's one thing I'm not entirely happy about with the current layout it's the staging at the two ends of the railroad - I doubt the answer lies in the arrangement shown here, but I came across this plan the other day and thought I'd post it here in case you've ever pondered how to capture much of the action, if not all the tracks, at White River Junction. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Waterbury Freight House 4: Two story "old" freight house

Completed basic construction of the two story "old" freight house in Waterbury. Next step will be to complete the single story "new" freight house and then the Shelby Coal sheds. I used basswood for this one - never going to use it again! This project only confirmed how much I prefer styrene for scratch building structures.