Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Namoi River bridge, blue skies, and points

Mocked up: 47 Class crosses "Namoi River" roughed in with ceiling tiles. . .

Crossing the Namoi River
Between the stations of Narrabri and Narrabri West on my model railway, the Namoi River must be bridged. On the prototype NSWGR, two lengthy pile trestles (similar to the one between Narrabri and Wee Wa) cross the river and its flood plain between Narrabri Jct. and Narrabri; the river helps define the area, so a model of the bridge--shortened considerably--is a signature element of the railway in Narrabri. Such a river crossing and bridge would be a first for me as a modeler, so building such a crossing on an otherwise nearly-flat upper deck was a bit intimidating to me. The bridge isn't that tall--less than 20' or so--and will be approximately 200 scale feet long.
Ceiling tiles carved to profile. . .

To model the sloping river bed and the approaches of the railway to the bridge, I'm following methods used by U.S. modeler Jim Six and using stacked layers of ceiling tile, shaped and sanded to a correct profile. The construction of the east bank of the river so far has been extremely dusty--when I complete the west side, I'll wet down the ceiling tile beforehand with soapy water from a spray bottle. But so far I'm impressed by how well ceiling tile contours. An alternative would be 2" thick extruded insulation foam. I mocked up the scene, once again, and posed my trusty 47 Class and a few FWH atop a thin board filling in for the not-yet-completed pile trestle.

Paint test--blue sky and Indian Red. . .

A deeper blue sky
The styrene sheet backdrop on the layout is re-cycled from the previous Walla Walla Valley. I never was happy with the shade of blue used on it however; while it looked great to the eye, it photographed nearly white. Since I had to repaint portions of the backdrop anyway following puttying and sanding of the new seams, I decided a slightly darker shade was in order. I photographed my 47 Class locomotive under the flourescent light with paint samples from the local home-improvement store in the background. From the photo, I chose a shade--Behr "Windjammer," from Home Depot-- that looked slightly darker than a near-horizon shade of blue, then blended that darker blue with the lighter blue paint I already had on hand. I'm pleased with the result. At some point, clouds will be added as well as landforms near the horizon.

Final choice: Behr "Windjammer" doesn't blow out in photographs.

Fast Tracks Code 70 #7 points in place. . .

Do-it-yourself Points
If I had my druthers, I'd purchase all my trackage ready-to-run. Thankfully, MicroEngineering offers great-looking Code 70 flex track. But when it comes to turnouts (points), I have to balance availability, esthetics of the product, and price in order to build a railway with nearly 50 turnouts. With the exception of a few crossing loop points that will be #8 frog geometry, nearly all the rest of the points on this layout will be a #5. And since I've settled on Code 70 rail for a more prototypic look than the usual Code 83 profile, my choices of ready-to-run are pretty limited. Actually, quite limited. As in, none. So that leaves me the option of buckling under and using Code 83, changing to a longer frog turnout, such as a #6, or sticking to my guns and going with the Code 70 #5 option--even if it means scratch-building the turnouts. Thankfully, I'll have a little help in the process thanks to the folks at Fast Tracks, who offer a nifty aluminum jig to hold components in gauge while you assemble a turnout using MicroEngineering rail, PC board copper-clad ties, and laser-cut ties to finish the model. They also offer a nifty tool that holds rail in place for filing into precise points and frogs as well. The initial prices is high for a starter kit (which includes the jigs, the filing tools, some rail, solder, contact cement and PC and wooden ties enough to get you going), but I figure by the time I've completed the turnouts I need the cost will be down to around $12-14 per turnout. Since Peco Code 83 #5 turnouts are going for around $25 a piece these days, this makes economic sense. And the turnouts look pretty nice, are very smooth-operating, and feature a much-nicer looking continuous rail from frog to points. My first turnout built using the jig was perfectly acceptable, and took around 2 hours. Now I've completed nearly 10 of them, they're even more nicely assembled, and I'm down to around 1'15" per turnout of construction time.

Two last Mock Up photos. . .
It's heartening to get to this point where I've got some track down, I'm ready to go with wiring, and no too far from putting down ballast, ground cover and dirt. Here's a couple final views at Narrabri:

Nearly ready for ground covering and structures: NSWGR 4716 leads 10 WHX wheat hoppers through Narrabri. . .

Going-away view as Guard Van passes the Keys Pty. Ltd. flour mill. On right distance is carriage shed spur; left distance is the station, and beyond that the goods shed.

Next: Locos and Rolling Stock--prototype and appropriate models. . . .

Benchwork begins. . .

Finally--some benchwork is added. The plywood/ceiling tile/l-girder structure atop the shelving brackets. . the styrene backdrop will be glued/stapled to the vertical wood pieces.
Most of the upper level of benchwork has been erected. I figured I'd at least get this portion of the railroad in place first, as it would determine the elevation from which the in-wall spiral would descent from--54" rail level above ground height. The rail height of the lower level would be "around" 16 inches below this--or 38" high. . .among the operations crowd, this would ensure a layout not tall enough on the upper level, and too lower for a lower level. But, double-deck layouts are strange beasts, fraught with compromises.

One key in double deck layouts is to make the thickness of the upper-level benchwork as thin as possible. In addition to the rack, and the roadbed and the benchwork itself is the under-deck lighting which must be hung from the underside of the upper deck as well--figure at least another 2" in depth for that, using T8-sized flourescent tubes (which though pricey, are ideal for this linear application.
The benchwork is 1/2" birch plywood, secured to the shelving brackets protruding from the wall atop 1 X 4" pieces. The "back" of the benchwork (i.e., against the wall) is shimmed up with thin wood strips to level the surface front-to-back; the whole thing is tied together with wood screws. The photograph illustrates this better than I could explain it:
A good look underside of the shelving brackets atop which rests the benchwork itself.

Close look at thin wood shims atop the wall-end of the brackets to keep the benchwork level. The upward cant of the brackets is the only downside, I feel, in using them.
To reduce the tendency of the plywood to flex, dip and bow, an L-girder (a 1 X 3" or 1 X4" stud abutting a 1 X 2" piece) is screwed parallel and along the front edge of the plywood. This also provides a sturdy base to attach fascia on the front of the layout.
The sub-roadbed is layered Armstrong acoustical ceiling tile--"poor man's homasote". I scoffed at its application when Donovan in Dallas used it on his layouts, but after seeing what a nice surface it gave Harry Bilger on his Moscow, Idaho layout up in Whitesboro, I was sold. This material can be stacked and contoured to make low-level landforms, and once you get the dust problem solved while cutting and planing it to shape, it's a great material to work with.
So, how thick is this upper level? Let's figure 1" for ceiling tile and plywood, and another 2 1/4" for the L-girder--that's 3 1/4", and the fascial will probably hang another 2 inches lower than that. . . 5 1/4". That'll leave 11 3/4" "clear" between upper and lower levels. As reknowned model railroader and editor Tony Koester would say, "not great, but adequate."

A long strip of .030" thick styrene sheeting used on the previous layout for backdrop was attached to the wall bracket uprights, and just like that, it was starting to look like a layout! All I was missing was track. . . structures. . . railway equipment. . .and fascia!

Here's a photoshopped test of several possible colors for fascia.

Speaking of fascia, with the first sections of layout in place, it seemed to be a good time to mock up the two levels and overhead light valance for a photograph and photoshop in the fascia as a test to see what color might work best. Do you have a preference?

Narrabri mocked up. It won't be long before trackwork can commence. . .
With the upper level largely in place, I couldn't resist the urge to throw down some pieces of flex track, position them about where they'd be in the Narrabri West yard, put down a few pieces of railway equipment, and mock up the scene. I often think about how scenes would look when I plan a layout, so when I reach a point to put a quick mock-up down, I don't hesistate to do so.
Next: build me a river bed. . . a deep blue sky. . .and a mystery package from Canada arrives. . . .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let's get started. . .

. . .the old WWV layout has now come down, been consigned to memory, some of the track salvaged, much of the dimensional lumber disassembled and stacked for later use, the plywood layout top unscrewed, track removed, and stashed out of the way for later use.

The demolition begins. . .

First thing we'll need to do is make a bigger hole for that 26" radius spiral to fit into. That's 52" across for the track, plus another 6" or so for benchwork, making it nearly five feet in diameter. THAT will quickly chew up available space in a room, but luckily, the builders of our house for some reason left a 30" deep space for utilities--ductwork, drip lines from the overhead HVAC, and water pipes--between the "great room" and upstairs bathroom. We'd be foolish not to exploit it! So, armed with a hammer, a drywall saw and a jigsaw, let's open that sucker up!

Inside, the space is nearly clear, with the exception of two drain pipes from the HVAC, which were easy to reroute to provide necessary clearance for the helix. That might look like a big-ass hole in the wall. . .but, as some famous model railroader--Lin Wescott? John Allen? Donovan in Dallas?--once opined, "Shit! It's only drywall!" Indeed!

Looking better with a little new paint. . .

With the old layout removed and the hole opened up in the wall, I decided to pretty up the room a bit by painting over the old drab dark green/grey paint with something a bit more contemporary. . .most of which would be covered up by the new layout, anyway. But, two gallons of eggshell latex later, the room was looking pretty good.

Making progress on repainting the railroad room. . .

The plan for construction is this: build the upper level first; get the wall brackets and benchwork in place, lay in the backdrop and paint it, put down the roadbed and some track. That should keep me entertained most of the summer. Maybe by fall we can interest a posse in constructing the spiral to the lower level. And then by spring of next year, maybe we'll get the lower level in place. At some point will come the staging tracks in the adjacent bedroom, the lighting valance above the upper level, and finishing out the storage area below the lower level benchwork to look presentable.

And with the painting completed, construction begins--oy! A mess quickly overwhelms the worksite!

Okay, the hole is cut into the wall, holes from the old layout patched up and the room has been repainted. Heavy equipment has been moved into place (a kick-ass chop saw courtesy Matt Sugerman), and we've put the wall bracket hangers in place and mocked up a couple of "pretend" levels of the layout to get an idea of potential heights to place the two levels. At this point, it's a God-Awful mess in there. . .but we'll get around to that in a bit.

Next: a thin-profile upper level benchwork. . . .

The Layout Plan

As I move forward with construction on the layout, I guess a rough idea of the plan for the railroad may be of some use.

So, here it is (but please note this is an early plan and has since been modified a bit):

The layout is in two levels: the upper level will feature the yard at Narrabri West on the "long wall", and the "downtown" section of Narrabri on the "window wall," separated by a pile trestle across the Namoi river. Two rural "silo towns" are on the lower level, Gurley, along the window wall, and Edgeroi. The two levels are connected by a 26" radius, four-level spiral (i.e. "helix"), with a gradient of around 2.25%. Staging will be in an adjacent bedroom, two five-track staging yards stacked atop each other. The Walgett branch will be represented by a short branch to "Wee Wa", which I'm undecided upon whether to put inside the adjacent bedroom or on the remaining wall. I'd really like to keep this wall free of layout, as eventually it'll be occupied by a flat-screen telly.

Operations will be centered at Narrabri West. This terminal has a through mainline and parallel passing loop; trains can also be "marshalled" on two running tracks along the back side of the yard; two stub-end storage tracks are provided as well. The terminal is typically NSWGR: a two-road locomotive shed is provided (the prototype had three tracks), and the loco depot also features a 60' Sellers manual turntable. Out-of goods traffic is handled at a standard goods shed and loading bank. Livestock are loaded on a "sale yard track", and inbound shipments of fertilizer and bulk oil are recieved on private spurs.
One big feature of Narrabri West is the large grain sub-terminal which will rest atop the spiral to the lower level: carloads of grains from rural elevators (Wee Wa, Gurley and Edgeroi) will come here for storage, and outbound trains of grain for the port of Newcastle will be loaded outbound.
An important element of the depot will be the ancillary structures the railway provided for operations: a 12-room crew hotel and "refreshment room" will need to be scratchbuilt, as will several smaller buildings like the crew showers, chargeman's office and the like at the loco depot. These buildings will emphasize the Australian setting of the railway.
Next up: Let's get building this thing.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Here's what I'm aiming for. . .

. . .when modeling the North-West line: Here's an excellent photo of triple 48 Class--4857/4872/4870--ex Werris Creek engine depot, waiting out a meet at the crossing loop at Watermark, between Breeza and Gap, on November 11, 1969. The photographer is Colin Hussey, who happened to be the fireman on this grain train. Check out the predominance of BWH/FWH grain hoppers, along with a few of the newer cylindrical-side aluminum WHX cars, and especially how they weathered. And that certainly looks like some welded rail there, too!This train came from Narrabri. What an excellent view, and the track looks pretty tight at well!