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.

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