I started off knowing I wanted some focus on industrial switching, but I was also thought I wanted some continuous running. I had originally been thinking about modelling the 50s, the default time period of model railroading. Once I realized how big an O scale turntable was going to be I decided steam power was not a wise use of my space. I slid the time period ahead to the late 60s and early 70s. The location was set in the area of western New York where I grew up. So my first serious O scale plans were called the Elmira Industrial, placed in Elmira, NY circa 1970.
|The Elmira Industrial, an early version|
The next iteration of the plan did away with the duck under and therefore the mainline as well. It still had staging though. The general idea was that the mainline (which actually would exist in dummy form on the front edge of the layout near the yard throat) was implied, and trains would pick up and set out blocks in the yard. In reality that meant and engine shoving a cut of cars in from a staging track and returning with a different block. There was staging for east and west bound EL traffic (the railroad being modelled was the Erie Lackawanna), Lehigh Valley (which ran up from Sayre PA through Elmira to Horseheads, interchanging with the EL in Elmira), and a couple Pennsylvania tracks (PRR had trackage rights on the EL through Elmira).
|The Elmira Industrial, a later version|
At that point construction got seriously under way, and the bottom part of the plan along the wall was built, plus a little bit up the left and right side walls. I hand laid code 125 rail on wood ties, using Old Pullman turnout kits. It was exciting - nothing beats the thrill of the first train run on hand laid track.
|First train runs!|
Around this time two other things changed. I started doing a lot more rail fanning, and began to get enamored with present day railroading. (I don't use the term "modern", because various people use "modern" to refer to anything from a 1950 F unit to a 2010 genset.) And Atlas starting making good quality O scale turnouts. I started thinking about how to re-arrange the plan to use Atlas O turnouts. Without the curved turnouts in the yard throat, the yard couldn't be nearly big enough to support the general operating scheme. Major changes seemed to be in order.
|The Corning Industrial|
Norfolk Southern uses big power for everything, and with the length of cuts I expected to be dealing with to sort out the yard it seemed like a two unit consist would not only be prototypical, but necessary. I bought two Atlas O B40-8s. A couple sample intermodal flats, more articulated auto racks than I care to admit, and I figured I was in good shape. I built the left and top wall parts of the plan, and got started on the curve around into the intermodal area. Things went considerably faster with flextrack and ready to run turnouts.
Two thing went wrong. First, although it seems like there is enough track to handle everything, once I started actually moving cars around I started to realize that while there was enough track for everything to be on without over crowding at any given point in time, there wasn't necessarily a way to move a cut from point A to point B without either pulling long cars through the tightest curve on the railroad (36" radius going to the glass plant), or breaking the cut in half and doubling it through the crossover between the runaround and the through track. My long yard tracks which had seemed so nice and spacious on the plan were turnout out to have moved the throat so far around that I didn't have enough lead! Changes were called for.
The second thing that went wrong is the B40-8s themselves. My first Atlas O engine was an SW-8 which runs like a dream. (I don't really count the little plymouth diesel in the above photo - an ancient Atlas unit I picked up at a white elephant table.) Very smooth starts and stops, good smooth slow speed running. The B40-8s on the other hand simply would not sustain any speed between 0 and 3 or 4 smph with a standard decoder - you had to either be starting or stopping. Once you got past the initial jerk into motion they ran pretty smoothly. But since my whole operation is switching, starting and stopping is very important. I could not make them run what I considered to be acceptably smoothly while starting and stopping slowly. I got reasonably close with two zimo MX69S back-emf decoders, one for each of the two motors in each unit. There were still subtle but irritating jerky motions though. I bought an SD40 when they came out and were reported to have fixed the running problems of the B40-8s, however I found it still suffered from the same fundamental problems.
The Corning Industrial was now teetering on brink of survival, and the thing that pushed it over the edge was the arrival of the Atlas MP15 - a new switcher which had all of the same operational qualities as the original SW8 in a more modern and highly detailed package. The Corning Industrial got a major mission change - sparser, fewer cars to be handled per op session, and it would be considered to be the end of an industrial branch.
|The Corning Industrial last gasp|
|The No-Name Industrial Park|
I'm pretty happy with the end result. Operations are interesting even though I don't have the full complement of boxcars necessary for Northeast Container yet (I'm being cautious about buying more than I need, a few at a time until it seems like enough is the plan). An op session takes somewhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours, depending on what needs to be done. The layout feels much less crowded, which is nice too. The smaller size also makes a little more likely that some day I might actually get some scenery done.
I've come to realize that although I really enjoy operation on some larger layouts with large yards and long mainlines, it's not what I want for my own layout. I'd like to think I've arrived at a good lasting plan, but of course there is always that cynical little thought that pops out saying "yeah, right". Time will tell one way or the other.