Sunday, December 30, 2018

Thoughts on a New Layout

Givens and Druthers

It's going to be an industrial switching layout geared toward a single operator.

It's going to be modern era (within the last ~10 years).

It's going to be set in eastern Massachusetts.

It's going to be freelance, but cribbed from specific prototype industries.

It's going to be HO scale.  HO scale is the path of least resistance for a lot of things.  There is a wider selection of rolling stock available, a wider selection of structure kits, a wider selection of appropriately sized scenery items.  It's easy to install sound decoders (in fact many engines come with sound decoders already installed).

I'd like to build the layout in separable chunks which can be easily moved into the shop or outside to do messy stuff (like spray painting rail).  But if that complicates things too much I won't bother.

The layout space

The space I've decided to use for the new layout is U shaped shelf around one end of a larger area in the basement.  One leg of the U is just under 15 feet long, the middle part is just over 12' long, and the other leg is about 17' 6".  The shelf will probably end up somewhere between 16" and 22" wide.  I'm keeping the middle of the U open for other purposes.  Allowing for rounded corners, that gives me about 40 feet of length.

If I get that much railroad built to a reasonable level of completion and want more, it's possible to extend the 17' leg another 13 feet or so, with a lift out section across a bulkhead door.

The plan so far

I don't want to crowd things in, I will be including some "negative space".  I am a fan of Lance Mindheim's approach.  Given that, I think I can expect to fit in between 3 and 5 industries, and a runaround.  The runaround will work best if it's nearer the middle of the length of the layout than at one end or the other.

I'd like to arrange things so that the layout can be operated in one of two ways.  First as an industrial branch off a class 1 or regional railroad, with the job working the branch staged on one end of the layout.  And second as a switching service serving an industrial park that interchanges with a class 1 or regional railroad, using the track at one end of the layout as the interchange track.

Industries on my wish list:

  • A glass factory.  The now closed Osram Sylvania factory in Wellsboro, PA is one possible prototype, also the Corelle factory in Corning, NY, and the Anchor Glass factory in Elmira Heights, NY are interesting prototypes still in business.
  • A small plastics transload.  The prototype I have in mind is RVJ Inc in Leominster, MA
  • A small plastics company.  Something like the now defunct Micron Plastics in Ayer, MA (had 3 car spots).
  • A lumber company with a spot or two for center beams and a spot or two for boxcars.  The prototype I have in mind is National Lumber in Mansfield, MA.
  • Ken's Foods in Marlboro, MA.  They receive vegetable oil tanks, corn syrup tanks, and the occasional plastics hopper.
  • A warehouse.  You can't get much denser operating interest than a warehouse with assigned door spots.  A possible prototype is Maple Lead Distribution in Palmer, MA (I had planned this on my Palmer Industrial N scale layout).  The prototype Maple Leaf has been expanded several times, but before the most recent expansion it had 9 door spots, the older 7 of which were on about 58 foot centers for 50 foot cars, and the 2 newer doors on a previous expansion are spaced for 60 foot plus cars.  Another interesting wrinkle on Maple Leaf is there are two tracks, so each door can have 2 cars spotted at it, one on each track.  For a small switching layout 9 door spots may be excessive, somewhere around 6 might be more reasonable.  There are other warehouses in the area such as Tighe in Mansfield I may also pattern mine after, if I decide not to go with 2 tracks.
  • A packaging company, based on Inland Container as documented on Jack Hill's blog here:
  • A reload operation.  One prototype that caught my eye is Wildwood Reload in South Barre, MA on the Mass Central RR.

Obviously not all of those will fit.  So, how to choose?  Operational interest is a big factor, the list above is already selected partly on operational interest.  Variety is also important.  A warehouse has specific door spots.  A plastics transload doesn't care where you spot new cars, but they release cars to pull as they empty so pulls can be pretty much anywhere.  A glass factory like the one in Wellsboro needs the cars lined up in a specific order for their track mobile to pull through the unloading shed.  I was having a hard time deciding on one or two industries to put on the first section of the layout.  While preparing to go to the recent NMRA Hub Division show in Marlboro, MA I realized the answer was obvious.  Given the difficulty in tracking down specific cars at any given time (backorders, etc), the first couple industries should be the ones I can actually get cars for now.

I searched the booths at the show looking for cars that were appropriate for present day service at any of the above list of industries.  The first pass (during which I bought nothing) seemed to indicate plastics transload and lumber company were the best bets, so on the second pass I bought plastics hoppers, centerbeams, and boxcars.  Specifically, 4 Atlas ACT 5800 cu ft hoppers, 3 Athern 60 foot Gunderson boxcars, and 3 Atlas 73' center beams.  I also picked up some track and switches - Micro Engineering code 70 as recommended by Lance Mindheim in his No Skills, No Problem blog post.  I got 3 left and 3 right #6 switches, and 3 bundles of flextrack (total of 18 pieces).  That, plus an Athern MP-15 I had picked up at the Amherst Railway Society's Springfield MA show at the beginning of the year should be enough to get me started.

The entirety of my HO empire (so far)

Track planning

For my previous layouts I used Ashlar Vellum's Graphite to draw up track plans.  I got a really good deal on it by way of upgrading from their canceled entry level product.  It has enough well thought out shortcuts that once you learn them you can just think about the plan and the mechanics of drawing it just sort of happens.  It is also very expensive to upgrade to a current version.  So I spent a couple weeks trying to track plan with 3rd Planit.  There are a lot of nice things about 3rd planit, but for me at least it just won't get out of the way of my thought process.  I'm too cheap to upgrade the good CAD, and I'm too picky to use the cheaper CAD.

So, I'm proceeding with PAD - Paper Aided Design.  Specifically a pad of large graph paper with 1/4" grids I'm using to draw on 1" to the foot scale plans, with the help of a couple curve templates and some cheat sheet notes on easement offsets and lengths.  I think this approach is going to work, but if it becomes too frustrating I may just spring for that Graphite upgrade after all.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Great Sawzall Massacre of 2018

For a variety of reasons, most importantly to shorten my commute and get some free time back, I recently moved.  I have a nice new space designated for an industrial switching shelf style layout.  I'm still in the toying with ideas stage, serious planning will probably start in a month or so and, with luck, a bit of construction before the end of the year.  More on that in a coming post.

Selling the old house is of course a rather critical part of the proceedings, and having a train layout screwed to the basement walls is not a good way to try to sell a house.  So it had to go.  My weapon of choice was a sawzall type saw (porter cable tiger saw).  With that and a crowbar, pry bar. cordless screwdriver, and some coffee it took me most of a weekend to separate the layout from the house and reduce it to small enough pieces for a junk removal service to remove.

When I built the layout I had the attitude that it was going to be a lifetime layout, or at the very least not reusable.  So I built it from the walls in - I started by screwing the back frame member to the wall, then added the cross pieces, front frame, and braces.  Some sections were built during my massive overkill lag screw phase, some in my drywall screw phase, and some in my pocket screw phase.  Due to both the build in from the walls construction and the number of changes over time, there were screws that were buried under other framing pieces, fascia, etc.  In retrospect, that wasn't the best idea.  The sawzall and crowbar were required.

First step, remove the Palmer Industrial peninsula to free up floor space.  The trickiest part was excavating the head of one screw that held the frame to the door frame.  The fascia was vigorously glued over it, and I needed to leave the door frame in good shape.  I couldn't just pull it out, or try to cut the screw between the layout and the door frame because that would mess up the door frame.  A bit of prying and chiseling eventually revealed the screw.  Here's the Palmer Industrial after being separated from walls and floor.

I used the sawzall to cut it up into manageable pieces and stacked them in the corner.

By the time I got to this dismantling operation I had already started thinking about a new layout, so oddly enough one of the biggest moments of regret was seeing those nicely curved MDF fascia corners in the junk pile.  I had fun making those.

So, with the Palmer Industrial out of the way it was on to the O scale No-Name Industrial.  As I mentioned it was screwed to the walls.  The walls it was screwed to have a 10" or so ledge just under the layout height at the top of the foundation.  It would have been excruciating to try to unscrew the layout as is from the wall.  Cutting off everything except the back few inches seemed like the best approach, so I fired up the sawzall again.  In this photo the corner with the interchange has already been removed except for the back edge screwed to the wall, and I've sliced through the layout for the whole length a few inches from the wall.  All that's holding up in this photo is habit.

One tap on the front edge while standing out of the way in the corner, and the habit is broken.

The remaining bit attached to the wall.  What kind of idiot uses this many lag screws for a train layout!

A bit of backdrop removal, not too hard in spite of painted over screw heads.

Then it was relatively easy to remove the pieces from the wall and the lower end of the brace supports.  Chopping the remains into easily carry-able pieces and stacking them in the corners finished up the front wall portion of the layout.

The side wall portion of the layout was not quite as straightforward to remove.  The portion closest to the corner was built to allow scenery and track extending below the baseline elevation of the rest of the layout.  A sheet of plywood was screwed directly to the ledge in the wall, and then track/scenery was built up from there - in other words lots of buried screw heads.  The remainder of the wall was more normal construction.  My approach was to cut out the normally built portion and then nibble away at the remainder.

Hm, what's holding it up?
Maybe a couple more whacks?
That did it!
Next problem was the oddly built section.  I had built it up by screwing joists of the right height to the plywood underpinnings, then screwing the plywood roadbed to the joists, and then gluing homabed on top.  Lots of screws covered up by other layers.  I ended up just brute force crowbaring off the plywood subroadbed for the main and runaround behind Catania-Spagna - you can see some of the supports split across the middle.

Then I was able to cut it off just inside the ledge.

The weapon of choice.  That's the third or fourth blade - I kept bending the tips hitting things I couldn't see under the layout.

Eventually I managed to find all the screws and get the remaining plywood off the ledge.

The second pile of layout remains when it was all over.

And a few days later it's all gone.

That last bit of "backdrop" is where I "cleverly" painted the back drop right on the door for the bulkhead.

So, what did I learn from all this?

  • Even if you don't want to build a layout that can be moved to a new home, at least build it so it's not too difficult to remove.  Even if you don't have to move, you may want fewer obstacles to re-arranging portions of the layout.
  • Layouts do not need to be lag screwed to the wall!  The section just drywall screwed to the wall held up just as well with me crawling on it as the section lag screwed to the wall.
  • Pocket screws are cool.  But they can be harder to find when you're taking something apart.
  • Sawzall style saws are fun!