Monday, April 25, 2011

The No-Name Industrial Park

The No-Name Industrial Park is my O scale switching layout.  It represents a small industrial park somewhere in eastern/central Massachusetts.  I've had so many different ideas of what I want to call it over the past year that I've decided to just ignore the naming problem for now.  Therefore for the time being the layout is known as the No-Name Industrial Park.  The park is operated by a switching service - also unnamed as of yet.  The park lead serves as an interchange track with the nearby railroad - also unspecified (but which will be either CSX or Pan Am Southern).

Trackplan for the No-Name Industrial Park

The room is almost exactly 21 feet on each side.  For perspective, that's 1008 feet in O scale.

The connection to the outside world is in the lower right, where the tightest curve on the railroad (36" radius) curves out into the aisle where it says "interchange".  Following the main track from there, the first switch you come to is a 3 or 4 car storage track for Northeast Container.  Next is the switch for Midstate Recovery Systems, a construction and demolition debris recycling business.  Next is the switch for Northeast Container itself, followed by another short storage track.  Around the lower left corner is the runaround, which can hold 9 or 10 cars.  The runaround is a slightly more forgiving 44/48" radius.  Continuing up the left wall, the next switch is for Tighe Warehouse, and then a transload track.  The final switch is for Cains Foods.

I got the idea for a switching service operating the park from SMS Rail Lines, a company that operates several industrial parks in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  It's a fascinating operation - you can spend quite a bit of time poking around their web site and studying google/bing maps satellite and aerial photos of the parks they serve.

Power for the park switching service is an MP-15 purchased second hand from CSX and given a patch paint job.  Or at least that's the plan - currently the Atlas O MP-15 sports factory fresh CSX paint.  The MP-15 is generally kept up near the Cains switch, where there's a small trailer office.  The switching service keeps someone on hand to respond to customer requests whenever needed.  So an operating session might be as simple as pulling an empty/load from a customer to replace it with a fresh car from storage, as complex as finding a dozen inbound cars on the interchange track that need to be shuffled into position, or anywhere in between.

Northeast Container is based on the Temple-Inland plant in Biglerville, PA served by the Gettysburg Northern RR.  The plant makes boxes.  It receives boxcars of pulpboard and an occasional hopper car of starch.  Some of the empty box cars get re-spotted at the outside dock to be loaded with scrap cardboard.  Jack Hill describes it here on his blog.  You can see it in the satellite view on google maps.  As soon as I read Jack's description of the operation at the plant, I knew it would be much more interesting than the feed mill I had originally put in that spot on the layout.  I will be using a motley collection of 50 foot boxcars, plus an as-yet un-acquired starch car to serve this industry.

Midstate Recovery Systems recycles construction and demolition debris.  This is a real industry in Portland, Connecticut served by the Providence & Worcester Railroad.  You can see it here on google maps.  This industry caught my eye when I saw this photo of it on NERAIL.  It's a relatively small building with a track going through one end of it - only two cars fit inside.  Debris arrives via truck and is dumped in the building.  It's then loaded into railcars.  If you're an O scale person used to not being able to get the type of car you need for an industry, you will probably have noticed that the cars in the photo are coalveyors (some with side extensions) - a car Atlas actually makes!  On the No-Name Industrial Park the building is positioned so the truck dumping portion of it will be implied by the on layout portion of the building missing the aisle side wall.  The building is carefully position to make it easy to see the clearance point for the runaround on one side, and to easily reach the caboose ground throws for the three nearby switches.  I sincerely hope my model doesn't collapse under the weight of a record snowfall as the prototype did this January - see photo.

The Tighe Warehouse is based loosely the Tighe Logistics Group warehouse in Mansfield, MA.  There are other Tighe facilities in the area.  The Mansfield one is at the lead end of an industrial park called "the chocolate" by the railroad for historical reasons, it's served by a CSX local.  You can see it here on google maps.  On my layout most of what this warehouse receives will arrive in NS 60 foot Berwick hi-cubes (Atlas), plus a few FBOX 50 foot hi-cubes (MTH).

The transload track was inspired by J.P Noonan operations I've seen in Mansfield and Leominster, MA.  The track serves local industries that don't have rail service of their own.  There will almost always be several plastic pellet cars here, and often a hopper or two of soda ash for a nearby water treatment plant.  The plastic pellet cars are old Weaver cars - good enough to get the point across but that's about it.  The soda ash cars are a couple MTH hoppers.

Cains is based pretty closely on the Cains plant in Ayer, MA.  You can see it here on google maps.  The plant receives tank cars of vegetable oil.  There are 4 unloading spots inside the chain link fence on their siding, which is served by Pan Am Southern.  The piping leads to a tiny cement building next to the track, from which it apparently proceeds underground to the main building.  On my layout the main building is presumed to be in the aisle, so all I need to model is the little cement block building and a suggestive patch of asphalt in the parking lot (see the satellite photo).  I'll be using Weaver 50' tank cars for this industry even though they aren't right - unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a decent funnel flow veg oil tank in O scale.

The current state of the railroad is ugly but functional.  I'll post some photos sometime soon.  And I'll also post something about that blank peninsula sticking out into the room from the right wall.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ground throws

I like to use Caboose Industries ground throws for turnout control.  They're simple and reliable.  And they don't require you to hunt around on the fascia for controls.

The way caboose ground throws are designed to be installed is sitting on top of the head blocks, with the pin going down throw a hole in the throw bar.  Here's a 208S ground throw mounted the way caboose industries intended on wood ties on the older section of my layout.

Caboose 208S mounted as designed.
That works great for hand laid turnouts, and it looks OK too even though it's knee high to an O scale person.

Atlas turnouts don't have long head block ties, so some form of extension is needed.  While I was experimenting with that, I came up with what I think is a better approach to get both extended head blocks and less conspicuous ground throws.

Inconspicuous ground throw on Atlas O turnout.

The red paint on the ground throw handle indicates the turnout is reversed. The opposite side is painted green for normal. It's a nice idea I got from a friend that helps orient visitors.

Inconspicuous is achieved by mounting the ground throw at roadbed level instead of tie level. Since I used homabed, I notch out the beveled edge by the throw bar and fill in a wood block to match the roadbed height. The pin sticking down from the ground throw is cut off, and I drill and tap a small hole in the end to accept a small screw. The throw bar on the turnout gets shortened a little - pretty much just clip off the part on the end - so it ends up almost flush with the ends of the ties when you push it so the opposite point hits the opposite stock rail.

Modified ground throw ready to install.

Then attach the ground throw to the throw bar, center the points, center the ground throw handle, and mark where to drill holes to screw down the ground throw.

Center everything to locate holes.

And here it is in working order.

Working but ugly.

At this point you could stop, but it's not pretty. Once I'm sure it's lined up and working correctly, I add the head blocks. Since the ground throw is at roadbed level, they need to go around the ground throw. I clip out a pair of ties from some Atlas flex track leaving the bit of plastic that joins them in place for the time being, and cut off the other end at the tie plates. Here's a pic of it at that stage sitting where it needs to go, but as you can see it doesn't fit down over the ground throw. Yet.

Test fitting head blocks.

Using a burr in a dremel tool, a razor saw, an xacto knife, a mill file, and a rat tail file I remove everything that seems to get in the way of a fit. The plastic bit joining the two ties keeps you honest about alignment at this stage. Here's a shot of it sitting in place after I made it fit.

It fits!

Here's a shot of what the bottom looks like. The notches get around the "hips" of the ground throw, and the cross groove in the middle clears the tops of the #2 wood screws I mounted the ground throw with. Since my wood block ended up just a smidgen above the roadbed level (oops) I filed the entire bottom a little.

Bottom view of trimmed head blocks.

The final step is to cut off the other end of the ties at the tie plates. I used CA to glue them to the ends of the switch ties and the roadbed. Being VERY careful not to get any one something that's supposed to move! It would be nice if the ties were just a bit longer, but you can't get a longer molded plastic Atlas tie without mangling a switch - something I'm not willing to do. And I think the fact that the head blocks are the same material and surface texture makes them blend in better than using wood or raw styrene shapes. Here it is glued up.

Head blocks glued on.

All that's left to do is use some putty around the edges to keep ballast and glue from getting in where they might cause trouble.

The ground throw sticks up above rail height only about 1/8 inch, so it can be pretty close to the track with no concern about pilots or whatever hitting it. Looks better at that height too.

Point jumpers

Rule of thumb:  If it doesn't have a wire soldered to it, it's unpowered (if not now, then soon, and probably at an inconvenient time).

When I first started using Atlas O turnouts this rule was proven once again.  I started having trouble with the Weaver GP38-2 I had at that time occasionally stalling on my Atlas #5 turnouts.  (So far I have left my frogs unpowered).  On unmodified Atlas turnouts there are two ways the point gets powered - through the hinge, and from contact with the stock rail.  If you've painted the track, or ballasted and gotten glue in, or just aged it enough to get dirty either or both can fail.

It turns out the GP38-2 is exactly the right length so when one truck is completely on the (unpowered) frog, the other is completely on the point.  Since I hadn't thought to solder anything to the points, the inevitable happened and sometimes a point would be jiggled just right so it wasn't making contact, and the loco would stall.

My solution was to solder jumpers between the points and closure rails.

I made my point jumpers out of 1" long pieces of #24 stranded wire.  You want to center it on the point hinge, a solder the last quarter inch of each end to the rail leaving the middle half inch free and not saturated with solder.  It's very important to make sure the middle 1/2 inch is free from solder so it maintains it's flexibility allowing the points to move freely.  My switches with point jumpers installed will still stay in either position by themselves with no ground throw holding them there, and still flop back and forth just as easily as ever.

I made a clamp to hold the wire in place and act as a heat sink to keep solder from wicking into the middle of the wire.  I cut three ~2" pieces of 1/16 x 1/2 aluminum.  These will form a sandwich - one piece will go on the gauge side of the rail, the middle piece between the rail and the wire, and the last piece outside the wire.  File grooves on the middle piece to help hold the wire in place on one side, and to help position the clamp on the rail head on the other side.  The exact placement of the grooves isn't critical - you want the groove for the wire to end up about centered on the web of the rail when the other groove is on the head of the rail.  I drilled a hole through all 3 pieces and put in a screw with a wing nut to make it easier to use.  The screw head is glued in place so the wing nut can be easily tightened.

Point jumper clamp.

The rail goes in the left side, the wire in the right side.  The next picture shows it holding a wire in place:

Point jumper clamp in use.

I use a resistance soldering iron to solder on point jumpers and track feeders.  I will admit to a moment of confusion when I just couldn't get a jumper soldered on well with the resistance unit.  Obviously the aluminum jig conducts electricity quite well, so most of the juice was going through it instead of the solder!  Duh!  Putting a piece of paper between the clamp and the rail solved that problem.  I left the paper out of the above pic for clarity.

Here's a turnout with both point jumpers soldered in place.  Even unpainted and sticking out they're a lot less conspicuous than they appear in the top down close-up photo below.   After you paint the jumpers, the rail and fold the jumpers down right next to the rail they virtually disappear.

Finished point jumpers.

The rest of the rails in the turnout are bonded to the two stock rails via copper strips that appear to be soldered to the bottom of the rails.  This is true for the closure rails and the two rails on the other side of the frog.  So once you've added the point jumpers, you can power the entire turnout with just two wires, one to each stock rail.

Welcome to Rice's Rails

I've decided to try dragging myself into modern times by writing a blog to collect various tidbits about my model railroading adventures.  I have tried maintaining a web site, but quickly end up distracted by technical considerations - sitting there with an html editor opens up too many possibilities.  The result is my web site hasn't been updated in over 5 years.  While I am a bit slow getting work done on the model railroad, I'm not that slow!

Like many folks I started model railroading at a young age with a Lionel set.  A bit later I got into N scale, then progressed through HO to On2 (I read a book on the Sandy River & Rangely Lakes RR and got hooked).  Then two things happened - I started to get more interested in operation, and SoundTraxx released the first DCC sound decoders.  I saw and heard them at the big Springfield, MA train show the first year they came out, and I realized that I had to have sound, and that the decoders would not fit in the tiny available space in an On2 forney.  That realization was sinking in while I was standing at the huge Southern New England Model Railroad Club modular O scale layout.  A couple months later I had some O scale standard gauge equipment (with a soundtraxx decoder installed) and a plan.  A few dozen plan changes later I had the beginnings of a layout.  A few dozen plan changes after that is my current O scale switching layout.  I'm also in the process of constructing an N scale switching layout, because I want to model some industries too large to fit in my basement in O scale.

As time permits I'll post details on both layouts and perhaps some of the rejected plans, and whatever else seems relevant.