Monday, October 26, 2009

Test Spin

After fifteen months of on-again, off-again construction, the North-West railroad is an operating reality. I had Lance over to give the railroad a little "test run"--at least the upper level where trackwork is completed. I staged a number of trains, and while I didn't adhere to any sort of timetable operation, I did roughly try to approximate the sequencing of trains through Narrabri consistent with what was running in the late 1970s.

We operated a good assortment of trains, in sequential order:
  • Down-bound pick-up goods train which started the session by setting out at Narrabri and descending to the lower level for staging;
  • Narrabri shunter, which spotted and pulled wagons at Narrabri West and Narrabri's goods sidings, grain silos, and assembled the branch-line goods train for later departure (kept Lance busy most of the time);
  • Down-bound North-West Mail #7, setting out a parcel van at Narrabri (spotted at the Goods Siding by the shunter engine);
  • Up-bound Northern Tablelands Express #22 (with 620/720 set standing in for DEB set);
  • Extra-grain move off branch from Wee Waa, for the sub-terminal at Narrabri;
  • Grain train from Moree up-bound for port at Newcastle;
  • Grain train pulled from the sub-terminal at Narrabri, bound for the port at Newcastle;
  • Down-bound empty grain from Newcastle, bound for reloading at Narrabri sub-terminal;
  • Branchline goods train departing for Wee Waa;
  • Down-bound Northern Tablelands Express #21;
  • Up-bound North-West Mail #8, picking up parcel van at Narrabri;
  • Up-bound Moree-Werris Creek pick-up goods, picking up southbound traffic at Narrabri West.

That's a good number of trains to run in two or three hours. Trains operated between upper-level staging and a passing loop/trailing mainline on the lower level, and a stub-end single track as the branch to Wee Waa. Lance operated the shunting engine, and declared it a good job to operate. All of this was done quite informally, with no paperwork, etc. It was just a way to start to shake out the bugs on the railroad. . .and there were a few:

  • I had to rush to get the railroad set up to run, so I hadn't cleaned all the track as well as I should have;
  • A couple of points gave the two-axle wagons fits; I'll have to go back and re-check these on the standards gauge;
  • One of the 47 class was a bit touchy through some of the trackage, likely a tight-gauge problem on a wheel-set;
  • I'll need to make adjustments on a couple of the blue-tooth switch-point controllers, as they were a bit "loose" in fully throwing the points over.

On the whole, it wasn't a bad first session. It gave me an extra kick of motivation to get projects and items I'd been procrastinating on doing finished, and validated (to me at least) that this will be an interesting layout to operate. And that wasn't even with the additonal operating potential of the lower level (a pair of crossing loops, grain silos, goods sidings, etc.) figured into the equation.

I don't know when the first "official" running night will be--with paperwork and all that good stuff to guide the operators in their endeavours--but it shouldn't be too far down the road now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Freudian Railroad Hobby Cover of the Month. . . .

Sometimes, to paraphrase the great Austrian psychologist, a locomotive is just a locomotive. . . .

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bull Frog point controller and installation notes

A typical installation of a Bull Frog point controller, from Fast Tracks. It's an all-wood structure, laser-cut and glued together (or, you and purchase them pre-assembled). I've cut away a portion of the fulcrum to allow a nylon R/C aircraft clevis to attack the throw-rod to the mechanism. . .

I've just finished installing nearly 40 switch point under-baseboard controllers on the upper level of the Narrabri layout. The majority of the controllers are the New Rail Models Blue Point controllers reviewed in a previous posting. Six are Fast Tracks' offering, the Bull Frog.

I decided to go with the Blue Point units for a couple of reasons:
  • Cost: Though Fast Tracks offers the Bull Frog in kit form for $6.00 unassembled, the prospect of assembling more than 50 of these (at a minimum 15 minutes each) made the assembled version more attractive. But the assembled units are $9.00. And the only place you can get these is through Fast Tracks, so no discount there. I found Charleston Digital Trains offering 10 packs of Blue Points for $79.95--20% off list. Their service was first-rate, and delivery was quick--just a couple of days with priority US mail.
  • Availability: While I can save a good amount ordering mail order on the Blue Points, a local hobby shop stocks them at 10% off--so if for some reason I need a couple in a hurry, the option is there. That isn't the case with the Bull Frog.
  • Length of mechanism throw: Though the controllers only have to move the throw rod on the points five millimeters or so, the length of throw out the front of the layout differs significantly. A "full stroke" of the fascia rod on the Blue Point travels only 5mm. A "full stroke" of the Bull Frog travels 26mm, a big difference when you're considering how far an extended fascia knob will stick out from the layout edge (and, Murphy's law being what it is, snag clothing, etc.). To be fair, it doesn't take the full stroke, though, to move the points a sufficent amount to change a route with the Bull Frog--8mm will do it.

Biggest difference to layout users between the Blue Points and the Bull Frogs is the disparate length of the throwing range. On the left, the Blue Point rod at full extension; on the right, the Bull Frog fully pulled out.

With knobs in place, there's little difference between the two with the mechanisms in the "full forward" position. . .

. .but there's quite a difference when the mechanisms are pulled outward. I'm guessing the Bull Frog knob will be inadvertantly snagged a few times each operating session!

Dimensionally, the Bull Frogs are smaller in height (49.5mm vs. 60mm for the Blue Point), a consideration if you're building a multi-deck layout where a thin profile upper deck is important. Distance from bottom of the baseboard to the center-line of the actuating rod from the fascia of the layout is 43.9mm for the Bull Frog and only 20mm for the Blue Frog--a chief factor in the length of the throw of the unit. The big throwing range results in crazy torque--if your turnout isn't secured to the layout, the Bull Frog will try to move it out of the way!

The big throwing range also makes installation easier than the Blue Point. By comparison, the Blue Point's throwing range is much narrower, so one needs to be much fussier lining up the unit just so when installing it to the underside of the layout baseboard.

I do like the "feel" of the Bull Frog as it throws--it doesn't "snap" over like the Blue Point, as the throwing function is a spring-mounted ball-bearing rolling along a tapered groove to a larger laser-cut detent at each end of the throwing range. The Blue Point uses an off-the-shelf mini electrical switch set inside a plastic casting.

While the Bull Frog is a nice unit, the lower price and shorter throw at the fascia front made the Blue Point the preferred mechanism for my layout.

A typical Blue Point mechanism installed under the layout. It can get busy in there with bus wires and throw-rods!

Additional support to the tube-in-tube is given on long (over 9") runs by simply hot-gluing a short section of L-shaped wood molding in place.

A few notes on installation:
  • Tube vs. Rod: Most of the controllers are actuated using tube-in-tube tubing, made for R/C aircraft. It can easily snake around obstacles and allow you to position the throw rod anywhere on the layout front. While a solid, threaded rod is easier to install, the tube-in-tube offers much greater flexibility. Another plus is the physical flexibility of the nylon tube itself: snag it with your belly or a sleeve, and it won't bend out of shape, as is a concern with a metal rod.
  • Under-layout support: I've found that tube-in-tube can run around 8" before you want some sort of support between the mechanism and the front of the layout. New Rail will be glad to sell you a stamped metal bracket to hold the mechanism and the tube-in-tube for $7.50 for three. . .I just chopped a 2" long piece of L-shaped wood molding, drilled a hole in it, and hot-glued it to the underside of the layout. Ain't pretty--but it's cheap!
  • Pricing the Parts: Buying the mechanism is just the start, of course, of what you'll need to make the installation. You need the clevis to hold the rod or tube to the mechanism, the rod or tube itself, and a knob for the front of the layout. All these parts can be sourced cheaper through your local R/C aircraft store--for instance, I purchased 2-48" tube-in-tube plus hardware to attach it to the mechanism for $6, quite a savings from what New Rail or Fast Tracks is offering.

So, the trackwork on the upper level is just about done. All powered up, point controllers in place, and just about ready to host the first "shake down" operating session, hopefully before the end of the month. It's exciting getting to the point to actually invite friends over to operate trains! Of course, before that happens, there's some tuneup of trackwork, a little troubleshooting here and there, preparing the "operating aids" for the layout (track diagrams, station names on fascia fronts, etc.). There's still lots to do, but getting the point controls checked off the list really moved this project ahead!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy 50th, DL531!

Under the southern stars at Werris Creek, April, 2009. . .

Put on your party hats and stick a noise-maker in your mouth--today's the 50th anniversary of the delivery of the first DL531 Goodwin-Alco in Australia!

The design has proven more than durable, and even the newest such units are celebrating 40 years of service in New South Wales, and don't seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. NSWGR purchased 165 of the 6-cylinder, 251-powered roadswitchers; SAR 45; and Silverton another three. To celebrate, here's a few of my shots of 48 Class taken in April:

Four Mk IV 48 class roll a grain train into Narrabri just after sunrise. . .

. . and depart a few minutes later under a plume of smoke after safeworking at the Narrabri station.

Classic face at Werris Creek. Can anyone enlighten me as to the meaning of the yellow star, found on the nose of several units?

48144 and 48135 inside the Downer-EDI shop at Werris Creek before heading out the door to move still more grain from the North-West. . .

The Living and the Dead: Stored and active 48 class around the turntable at Werris Creek loco.

Side view of the new Powerline Mk. I 48 class (test shot, from the Model Railways In Australia Yahoo group). . .
I really wished I could do my share of celebrating operating a finely-detailed HO scale model, but it looks like I'll have to hold off until next year some time for my Trainorama Mk I and IIs to show up (now looking like mid-2010 at the earliest). Powerline has released some photos of test shots of their (new) version of the 48 Class, and posted them to their Model Railways In Australia Yahoo group. It doesn't look too bad--certainly the under-frame piping gives the Train-O a run for the money. I'm a bit concerned about the molded handrails (I'd prefer wire) and the couplers seem to be taking aim skyward. The model features a cab interior as well as etched brass steps, but curiously, the radiator grill is molded. Hopefully,these issues will be addressed before they're released sometime in 2010.
For the life of me, however, I can't understand that while Trainorama is making their first run strictly a Mustard Pot and Indian Red affair, Powerline isn't looking to sieze a bigger market share by offering any Freight Corp or Pacific National livery in their first run. Talk about missing the market!

Friday, August 21, 2009

First installed: The Blue Point controller

Finished installation (click on image for full-sized photo) with the hot-glued Blue Point controller, nylon clevis, threaded .072" rod through the fascia, and cheap, painted wooden knob on the front of the layout.

The Bull Frog turnout
mechanisms I'd ordered from Fast Tracks hadn't arrived from Canada yet, but I did pick up a dozen or so Blue Point controllers from my local hobby shop. I've installed ten of them, and am generally pleased with the installation process and how they function.

List price on the New Rail Models website is $12.95 each, with five-packs and ten-packs available with quantity pricing (a 10-pack MSRP is $99.95). New Rail also offers a host of accessories, from drilling templates ($4.95) to the "flex-link" line of items to connect your Blue Point with the facia of the layout. But you can get all that stuff for much cheaper from your local RC Aircraft shop.

What's Inside?
The cheapsake in me mused: I don't plan to power up my frogs, so why do I need a Blue Frog with a power routing function? Why don't they offer a cheaper version without it? Remove a couple of screws and look inside, though, and you'll find that the Blue Frog is just a couple of pieces of plastic surrounding an off-the-shelf DPDT electrical switch. It's really just a fancier way of executing the bare-bones use of a cheap Radio Shack switch to hold point tension that others have done for years.

Simplicity itself: An electrical switch surrounded by plastic. . .

I made a boo-boo when I installed the points on the Narrabri section of the layout, in only drilling a 1/4" hole under the throw bar for the tension wire to travel. So, first order of business was to drill out the hole to 3/8" diameter to provide adequate throw range. This wasn't as tricky with the 1/2" overlay of ceiling tile between the baseboard and track as it would've been with plywood alone; I was able to carve out the needed clearance through the ceiling tile with a hobby knife, rather than risk driving the drill through the track (something I've done before, damn it, and didn't want to repeat).
New Rail Models suggests using the drilling/mounting template and securing the controllers with wood screws in the slots provided. However, being a lazy sort, i used hot glue for a couple of reasons. First, it's easier, and easier is better. Most importantly, compared to a Tortoise electric motor, the Blue Point controller has no "center" position you can set the tension wire at to line up the device's installation--the throw bar is either left or right. After threading the tension wire up through the small hole in the throw bar of the points (no easy task in itself), I wrapped a small piece of tape around the excess wire protruding up through the hole to hold the assembly in place so I didn't have to reposition the tension wire through the hole each time. Then, reaching under the layout, I moved the Blue Point into a position where it would throw the points fully in each direction. Finally, I drew a pencil outline of two sides of the controller so I could re-position it after I applied the hot glue.

Close-up of the installed blue-point. Lazy me: I don't power up my frogs, but if I did, the handy DPDT switch installed in the unit would make power routing a snap.

I let the glue cool and harden, and made sure the Blue Point was doing its job. There is a fulcrum that slides up and down the Blue Point controller just like one on the Tortoise to shorten or lengthen the throwing range of the device; this must be adjusted, too. If you're not satisfied with the positioning of the controller, simply knock the Blue Point off the baseboard with a couple light taps of a mallet, clean off the old hot glue, and repeat until satisfied with the results. I then snipped off the excess length of tension wire above the point throw bar.

The Blue Point can be connected to the fascia of the layout using either a solid push rod (for installations nearly-parallel to the front of the layout), or a tube-in-tube or rod-in-tube method (for more acute angles). All the hardware for this step should be available at a good RC aircraft shop, for prices far less than that charged by New Rail Models as part of their "kwik-link" line of products. I used products produced by Du-Bro and Great Planes, and bought 'em at Roys Hobby Shop, a local RC dealer near my house that offers discount pricing. Roy's sells a 12"push rod with nylon clevis for under a buck, Du-Bro No. 184. Additional nylon kwik-link clevis were 2/$0.95, Du-Bro No. 228. You can make your own push rods by using lengths of .072 diameter metal rod and soldering on a threaded coupler to the ends, mating this with the nylon clevises, saving yourself even more money.

I bought some tube-in-tube to use, but have yet to encounter an installation where these are necessary. . I'm sure I will, though, when I install point controls in the Narrabri West section of the layout.

A chrome yellow switch control knob. . .

Red knobs control main-track points. . .
Knob Job
The knobs on the layout fascia are cheap ($1.47 for 8) wooden drawer knobs sold at a local craft store, painted cinnamon red (for mainline switches) or chrome yellow (for points not connecting to a main track) with spray Krylon enamel. They're secured to the push rods using 5-minute epoxy (Araldite).
One Stop Train Shop (link includes installation tips) offers a 10-pack of Blue Points for $74.69, with shipping, around $8.20 each delivered to me. The linkages and knob will add another $1.50 or so, tops, so the Blue Points come in at around $10.00 each, installed. Still cheaper than a Tortoise, and ordering in bulk and buying the linkage parts from RC dealers only lowers the price that much more. . The Bull Frogs, Fast Tracks has informed me, are on their way across the border, so maybe by next week i'll be able to have a few of those installed and offer a head-to-head comparison.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mid-Summer Update

Points are finally in place at the down end of Narrabri West! Grain empty, on left, waits on the loop as the motor set from Moree arrives; a 49 class shunts the grain terminal with a rake of RU's. . .

Yep, it's been 2 1/2 months since I've last posted to this blog. Most of my hobby efforts since returning from Australia in late April have been devoted to writing about the trip, and more than a dozen such posts are up for your enjoyment on my non-modeling blog, Under The Weather.

You may have to dig back a couple of months for some of them, but they're there. I returned from Oz with a load a great photographs, wonderful memories, valued friendships and, oh, yeah, about 70 lbs. of books and model railroad stuff jammed into my suitcase.

What of? Tons of white-metal detail parts of the Uneek variety, courtesy of Joe Callapari at Casula. A few freight car kits. Another Train-O 47 class. A handful of passenger carriages. An epoxy Stephen Johnson Models kit of a 400 class motor car (Thanks a TON, Old John!). Smuggled out a couple bottles of NSWGR Indian Red paint (sweated that out going through customs!). And a very slick 620/720 diesel m.u. train imported from Eureka (not exactly "exact" for the North West out of Narrabri, but I hope no one calls me on that. . .and it'll fill in nicely until the DEB sets eventually show up!). And books. . .a few of which I'll highlight in coming weeks.

And so far, my wife hasn't found the credit card receipts. I may just be home free. . .

The view the other way. The fertilizer cars are on the oil siding; RU car barely visible in foreground is on the sub-terminal siding. The 620/720 set is on the mainline. The 49 class working as the yard shunter waits on the lead into the yard. In right background is location of the loco depot, for now served with just a single road. On the far right will be the eventual home of a turntable. Water tank, chargeman's office, showers, etc., will be along the background behind the loco depot.

Otherwise, having put all that stuff away, it's actually been good to get back working on the railroad. I had nearly a dozen points to construct in order to build the "down" end of Narrabri West's terminal, and those are now thankfully in place and, even more thankfully, fully wired.
With the exception of a few points that need custom-building in place for the loco depot, and the "Wee Waa" end of the branch, the whole upper level is at least functional enough to run trains over. Not functional enough to operate upon, though, and that's the final part of the puzzle.

You may recall my agonizing about what method to use to best throw my points. The options were the electronic (Tortoise motors), the above-board manual throw (Caboose Industries ground throws, or equivalent), or below-board manual throw (a variety of options). I've decided to go with the below-board manual throws, for a variety of reasons: I don't really relish adding yet another electrical circuit to the layout by installing nearly 50 Tortoises at $13/each; and the Caboose Industries throws, while cheap and easy to use, are unsightly. Nothing spoils the illusion faster than a big black plastic blob next to the tracks.

I've got options, too with the below-board manual throws, to wit:

  • Blue Point mechanism, pictured above, from Newrail Models. This is essentially a Tortoise without a motor. Integrated switch for powering up frogs. Plastic construction. Mechanism connected to knobs on the layout fascia with R/C aircraft control cables.

  • Bull Frog mechanism, from Fast Tracks. The latest on the market, the same idea as the Blue Point, but made of laser-cut wood components that glue together--you can buy them assembled, or you build them yourself. $9 each assembled; $6 unassembled.

  • Do-It-Yourself mechanism, assembled with cheap Radio Shack electrical switches, hot glue, wire, wooden dowels, aluminum angle iron. Here's an on-line tutorial on how David Head made his.
I haven't priced out all the options, but since i've got a ton of these things to install, I don't know if I'll go the "cheap but time-consuming" do-it-yourself method. And depending upon which components you use of the two commercial offerings for rodding, clamps, etc., they can damn well end up costing you as much as a Tortoise. I'm going away for a week of vacation in early August; when I get back, I'll have a few of the Bull Frog and Blue Point mechanisms on hand to install and make a decision on which way to go.

I'm sure I'm making this decision far harder than I need to. I'm usually the last person in the world to suffer from "analysis paralysis."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

One Sweet Machine. . .

Just a quickie here. . .digging through the three-thousand or so photos made during the Aussie Adventure, I offer up this shot of one of Ray Pilgrim's Eureka AD60-class Garratt's doing its' think in service on the Bylong railway. What a magnificent model! This diesel-lover igets weak-in-the-knees just looking at it. This is a pan shot made during running night at Ray's layout. I forgot to change the white balance settings on the camera, so my best option was to convert to black and white. . .gives it that "you were there" feeling.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

To Oz and Return. . .

Lance Lassen and I are back from our two-week Aussie odyssey--16,000 miles by air and around 5000 km in a hire car-and have got a bunch of great piccies and stories to tell. Ideally, I would have tried to keep up with this while on the road, but late nights, lots of traveling, and lack of virtually any wireless network I could access worked against that idead.

Sorting between the railfanning experiences, the modeling experiences, and the observations and stories from a first-time-abroad Yankee into neat and tidy places for each will prove problematic. . . so for continuity's sake--and to make it easier on me as well--all my Aussie vacation coverage will be posted on my Under The Weather blogspot.

It'll probably be a couple of weeks until I get around to uploading the entire trip; so, check back every few days and there should be something new to look at. The trains were interesting, the scenery great, the people outstanding, and we've made a bunch of great friends in the process.
In the meantime, here's a shot to whet the interest: Late night at Narrabri, New South Wales. The home signal is illuminated and the most amazing display of stars--including the Milky Way--light up the sky overhead.

Narrabri at night. . .

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Thanks, Mary. . .

As I pack cameras and clothes for this week’s flight to Australia, I have to say that none of this would have been possible without the support of my wife, Mary. She never questions (at least out loud, or at least to me!) my sanity in wanting to travel halfway around the world—without her, without the rest of the family--to look at trains, of all things! She never complains about the time I spend corresponding with new friends down under and learning about Australian railways. And she doesn’t give me guff for all the hours I’ve spent so far building a little bit of the NSWGR in an upstairs room, often at the expenmaritose of time that I should’ve devoted to playing with our two boys.

I guess that means that, on the whole,  I’ve been a good, (somewhat) attentive and always loyal husband to her, and a loving daddy to the kids.

There’s never enough money to take care of everything around the house that needs attention, of course, nor to give the boys everything they deserve, let alone need. But Mary has always been supportive of my crazy pursuits, and I in turn have tried not to take advantage of her good will. Lord knows going to Australia for two weeks isn’t a cheap proposition, but Mary hasn’t complained about the few hours a week I spent earning money for the trip through my “second job,” so it wouldn’t add to family debts and take away from my providing for the family.

I certainly won’t forget that while I’m in Australia, having a great time, exploring a wonderful land, meeting new friends, seeing a whole new continent and being introduced to Touhey’s and mushy peas, Mary will be back in the states, working as tirelessly as she usually does, getting the kids to and from school and baseball practices,  feeding them (and picking up after their messes), doing the laundry, the shopping, and the cleaning. Hopefully she’ll find time in there to take my Skype calls!

Why am I saying all this on a model railway blog? Partly so she can know what I sometimes don’t express in words to her; partly so I can just get these thoughts down on how lucky I am to have her in my life; and partly so perhaps some of the other guys reading this—if they’re half as fortunate as I am-- can nod their head and agree that many of us couldn’t get by without the love and attention of our wives.

Thanks again,chickie! I love ya!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Counting the days. . .

Why go to Australia? For the Bulldogs! Lance Lassen photographed this quad set in 2007 on the north coast working a QR National Melbourne-Brisbane train.

. . .now until Lance Lassen and I climb aboard a Qantas 747 and head off for two weeks of railroad fun in New South Wales. The trip has been discussed for well over a year; got down to starting planning it last November.

Bloody Oath! we're looking forward to it!

We leave Texas on Thursday 9 April and return two weeks later, on the 23rd. It'll be a pretty intense two-weeks. . . no bludging on the beach sipping drinks with little paper umbrellas stuck in them for these boys.

We've been extremely fortunate to been assisted every step of the way by our on-line friends from Australia, all of whom have been a great boon in helping us decide where to go and what to see. Each time we discover something we "must" see, invariably something else comes up. Two weeks? Crikey. . .we'd need more like two months!

We'll be confining ourselves to New South Wales, and just a portion of it. To see it "all" would be impossible. We're juggling our time between visiting hobby shops and loading up on those bits and pieces for the model railways that are impossible to discover on-line, doing a little data gathering on the prototype locations our model railways are based upon, and driving all over hell to watch trains.

We're hoping to chase an RTM special back from Parkes behind vintage NSWGR diesels. . .watch 48 Class hauling wheat wagons on a rural branch line. . .observe the spectacle of triple 80 Class blasting away in banker service on the Ardglen grade. . .absorb the wide-open spaces west of the Great Dividing Range watching a variety of freight schedules and locomotive classes. . . photograph (fingers crossed) the final days of the beautiful CLF/CLP bulldogs in service on the QRNational MB7/BM7 before they're replaced by new EMD's out of EDI shops. Above all, though, we want to experience Australia for ourselves.

Lance has been before; this will be my first trip. We're looking forward to actually meeting all these guys we've traded e-mails with for over a year and to call 'em "mates" face-to-face and return the shout. I'm sure we'll walk around the Circular Quay and take some nice tourist photos of the Opera House, but it'll be just as cool to join the crowd at Leichhardt stadium and watch the West Tigers scrum it up against Melbourne.

We'll be on our best behaviour. We promise to reign in our bignoting as much as possible. We'd like to be invited back. But only after we find a way to jam all the books and model parts and memories into our suitcases for the trip back home.

So, if this blog has seemed a big sparse on new posts lately, now you know. Believe me, come next month this thing will seemingly be updated daily!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Layout Design Element

Nice and clean: 44, 47, 49 and 442 class rarin' to go. . .

US modeling Guru J. Anthony Koester created the term "Layout Design Element" as a way to more readily incorporate prototype track plans into our model railways. Essentially, an LDE is a chunk of prototype track arrangement inserted almost "building block" style onto a railroad--the thought being that it is, afterall, the prototype railway that best knows how to design trackage for specific needs. These LDEs can then be rotated, compressed, expanded and edited somewhat to fit in available space while retaining the "flavor" of the prototype and, most importantly, their operational functions.

I'd guess most modelers who base their layouts on a specific prototype do this without giving it a second though--for me, being lazy, I figure why should I do all the hard work of designing trackage for a depot, station or terminal, when the prototype as already done it for me? Compromise must still be made, of course, and while my North-West layout is based on the prototype, I've taken several liberties in order to shrink it to fit in available space.

Here's a look at three stations on my layout: Wee-Waa, on the Narrabri West to Walgett branch; and Edgeroi and Gurley, between Narrabri and Moree. All are based on their prototype, but each have compromises, compressions and omissions in order to get them to fit--hopefully without affecting their operational interest much. Grain siding are long enough to hold five FWH-type hoppers (or six RU's, in the case of Wee Waa). Please excuse the extreme free-hand nature of the drawings.

While the prototype Edgeroi is on a long straight, the model version had to fit into a corner. A strict adoptation of the prototype plan would put the big grain silo complex along the front of the layout, effectively blocking everything behind it. I flipped the track plan 180 degrees to put the silo in the back, where it would form a natural backdrop. Space was at a premium, so I consolidated the stock and goods track, and, again, due to space, eliminated one crossover serving this track and the silo siding. The goods/stock track access is contained entirely between either end of the platform road (crossing loop).

Gurley is a more faithful representation, the main exception being the silo switches are entirely on the downside of the crossing loop--this provides a bit more flexibility for a train switching the silo siding to then either clear up on the crossing loop or depart on the main after their shunting work. To save a bit of space, however, I moved the silo siding inward so the up end of the silo siding is between main track switches.

On the layout, Wee Waa is the end of the branch, rather than just a station in the middle of one. Still, most of the trackage is faithfully presented, with the exception of the Namoi Cotton siding and one set of crossovers. I left the Perway siding in place; I plan to use this as a place to stable the 400 class motor car/DEB set during its layover in town. I suspect this is what this track was used for on the prototype as well after the loco depot and turntable were removed.
Thanks to Gavin Potter's great website for the basis for much of the prototype track plans.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hitting the "March Deadline". . .

Man, that static grass looks great! Actually, a Photoshop effort combining a photo of the 442 on a grain train photographed on the new lower level with a landscape photo from the North-West gleaned from on-line. Not quite up to the Ray Pilgrim level, but getting closer. . .

I'd set the beginning of March as sort of a deadline to have the lower level benchwork and backdrop up, and last night, I finished painting the backdrop. It's been a month since I'd updated this blog; it's been a busy month on the railroad as I pushed to get as much done on it before my son's baseball season starts up.

I wanted to get the "unsexy" stuff out of the way: benchwork, backdrop, some of the roadbed. I was able to even put much of the lower-level mainline in place--albeit held down with track nails rather than anything permanent--as I explored track plan options.

There's no wiring on the tracks--I've run trains back and forth using a power pack and alligator clips. There's only the points at each end of the Edgeroi and Gurley loops, and I've got what seems like a kazillion #5 points to make to finish the yard at Narrabri West as well as the lower level points to access elevators and goods sidings. I did get the lower level lighting purchased and in place, and the benchwork, lighting valance, and roadbed for the branchline terminal at Wee Waa is in place and, in fact, connected with a section of track to the "rest" of the layout. the CVP Easy DCC is still in the box, awaiting installation.

But, now I don't feel so bad slacking off for the next couple of months while the kids play baseball, I get the taxes done, get a jump on yardwork (Spring has sprung: 85 degrees here yesterday!) and, oh, yeah, take a trip to Australia for a couple of weeks in April.

Now I've just got to dust the layout--cutting ceiling tiles creates a God-awful mess, even after wetting it down with a spray bottle--and put tools and other items away.

In the meantime, here's a couple of photos of the lower-level and a grain train: Jumbo 44203 moves along between Edgeroi and Gurley. I'll present both an "as photographed" view of the layout as it is now, with undulating, bobbing, wobbly temporary trackage, and after running through the Photoshop ringer (top of the entry). Oh yeah--that Jumbo is new to the railroad, too, as I took the feeding frenzy plunge and won one on e-bay; it'll be fun to detail and weather.

Next post will look at Edgeroi and Gurley, the prototype track arrangements and the compromises I made to fit them onto the layout while still retaining recognizable elements.

A bit more true to what the lower-level looks like at this point: 44203 pulls a train of grain empties out of the siding at Edgeroi. The cut-in chunk of fillwork under the locomotive will at some point become a small pile trestle.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Upper Deck Benchwork completed. . .

Here's a rather crude panorama view of the layout room (click on the photo for the "big picture") with the upper level and lighting valence in place. I'm still waiting for a couple of the T4 ultra-slim lights to be delivered from LightingXP (they've got a new website; same great service and prices, and free shipping in the US for orders over $75). I haven't painted the backdrop on the just-built helix "blob" blue yet. Lance was over and we sorted through the remnants of lumber and decided what to keep and what to consign to the dump.

We should be ready to start with the lower level benchwork next week. I'm still hoping to get the lower level benchwork in place by the end of February; at this pace, we shouldn't have any problem meeting that self-imposed deadline (I want to get that done before the boys start their spring baseball leagues in March--time will be at a premium then).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Making a home for the big silo. . .

Photo by &Drew via Flicker of Pacific National grain train loading at Narrabri "A Silo".

"Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made."
-- Otto von Bismarck

And for that matter, so is model railroad benchwork. Some modelers, I'll admit, are fabulous benchwork-builders--it's almost a shame to cover up their amazing spline-roadbed creations with trackage and scenery. I don't fit into this category. I take a little open grid here, a tad of l-girder there, and eventually, I get something that works. Like that helix--it was like wrestling with a pig, but finally I ended up with something acceptable.

Lance and I tackled the railroad above the helix last week: this will be the location of the large circular "A191 Silo" grain elevator which on the prototype is on the south side of Narrabri, near the triangle leading to Narrabri west. The actual elevator complex is really three components: the large circular "A191 silo", built in 1955; a two-silo-plus-headhouse elevator, added at a later date, and a large metal grain storage building. I'm modeling the first two. (Kieran Ryan's Silo Data page has a rundown of all circular "A" silos constructed.)

The helix has a lid, which almost floats above the helix structure itself, attached at four points to the helix frame as well as to the wall.

View of the silo area looking into the helix hole. Big "A Silo" elevator will fit into the semi-circular hole.

Better view of the trackage on the helix blob. The single track to the left will serve a Superphosphate distributor and oil jobber.

I don't yet know the actual dimensions of the prototype A Silo; in scaling off of photos, including Google Earth and Google's "Street View," it appears there's 18 cylindrical silos arrayed in a circular shape; i'm guessing the structure is around 250-300' in diameter; I've left an 18" radius half-circle cut out in the middle of the tabletop atop the helix, which I will be able to build the silo on at the workbench.

As of this afternoon, trackage is mostly down; the connection to the helix has been made; backdrop is up but not yet sanded or painted, and i'm ready to put the lighting valance over the top. Later will come fascia material enclosing the helix in a tidy sheathing with an inset DCC control station built into it.

Great view of the 19,100 ton capacity "A191" silo at Narrabri by Moximus via Flicker