Sunday, December 23, 2012

Track Plan Progress for the UP Council Bluffs Sub

I continue to make progress on my UP Council Bluffs Sub track plan.  Much of what you see below is my initial ideas that have been somewhat refined from the original pencil and paper scribbles.  I think I have a good mix of industries that will allow for a good mix of rollingstock.  The I-80 bridge that you see on both sections is intended to help hide the seam between benchwork sections, and create a natural divide to give the layout the illusion of greater space and size.  I decided to set it at an angle to break up the straight lines of the 16' table length.  I have drawn in a second highway overpass on the far right of the track plan which represents HWY 92.  I don't know if I will keep this.  My reasoning for this bridge is to help "hide" the end of the layout, but allowing for future layout expansion if desired.

The yard area is still developing, but I intend to add a handful of tracks in a ladder configuration, plus a fueling track and maintenance shed if I have room.  Although the yard design is being inspired by the IAIS yard, it will likely be a Union Pacific yard, with the IAIS having intermodal business only.  This will still allow me to have some IAIS diesel power in the yard if I desire.

The left 8' section is also continuing to develop.  I still have some space towards the front of the table that is unaccounted for.  Some current ideas include a scrap yard, tank farm w/ loading platform, or perhaps swapping the concrete plant with a warehouse for the collection of boxcars that I currently have, which would put the concrete plant on the left front.  The lumber yard space has been reserved but lacks any building detail at this time.

The plan is subject to change, but I am liking what I have so far.  The various sidings seem to flow well, and allow for adequate space for a pair of locomotives and at least a couple of cars.  I placed a run-around track in the middle of the plan for optimal operability.  As part of a larger operation or a continuous loop, the mainline would handle run-through traffic.

Please let me know what you think.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

UP Council Bluffs Sub - Track Plan draft v.1

Apparently the end of the world came and went, so I decided to post an initial draft of my new track plan.  There are several details missing still, but the general layout of some track is present, and a few of the major industries.  I am behind the times when it comes to using technology for designing track plans.  To date, everything that I have created has been with pencil and paper.  This time around, instead of trying to learn a new software, I decided to try MS Excel.  Not only was it quick to create a first version, it is cleaner than using pencil and paper.  The curved lines are a bit tricky, but everything else is fairly straight forward.  It's not going to render a 3D view or anything fancy like that, but for my use, it works just fine.

Here is my first version (with some things still missing) of the two 8' sections.  Please let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Atlas & Micro Engineering Code 55 Track Comparison

I have people ask me on occasion about what track I use for my layouts.  I don't recall the exact timing of the release of Atlas code 55, but it was prior to starting my first N scale layout which would have been around 2002.  I have used Atlas code 55 flex track and turnouts exclusively on all 4 completed layouts to date.  The exception is the concrete tie flex track made by Micro Engineering which I used both on the Orin Line and Marias Pass layouts.  Altas released their #10 turnout prior to the construction of the Orin Line, which was a great addition, especially for better looking cross-overs.  Micro Engineering also makes code 55 flex track with wooden ties, however, I have not used it.  I did use a 36" length of ME flex track with bridge ties on the Marias Pass, and was very pleased with the product.

There are differences between the Atlas and ME code 55 track.  While the rail is very similar in shape/profile, the tie spacing and thickness are quite different and must be accounted for when mixing the two different brands together.  The ME flex track also comes in weathered and non-weathered rail.  This is also important.  The Atlas flex track can simply be painted the same color (ties and rail) since it has wooded ties.  The ME flex track on the other hand requires a very steady hand if you wish to paint the rail, but not the concrete colored ties.  For this reason, I like using the weathered rail.

I submitted an article that was published in the Jul/Aug 2009 N Scale Railroading that illustrates the differences between Atlas and ME code 55, and further discussed the ME concrete ties to build a modern looking mainline.

Here you can see the difference in tie thickness between the Altas and ME code 55 flex track.  The difference in rail height must be accounted for when mixing the two brands.  I used a styrene shim under the Atlas flex track to raise the height by about 0.30" to match the ME rail height.  The same shimming is also needed when using an Atlas code 55 turnout next to ME code 55 flex track.

I used ME code 55 with concrete ties on my mainline, while using Altas code 55 turnouts and flex track on a third track/siding on my BNSF Orin Line layout.  The mixing of concrete ties and wooden ties provided a unique modeling opportunity, and suggests that the railroad is in the process of updating their track work over time.  

On the Marias Pass, I used ME code 55 flex track with bridge ties, to span the Flathead River.  On one end, the bridge track connected immediately with ME code 55 with concrete ties.  On the other end, I needed a short section of Atlas code 55 with wooden ties, before entering into a #10 turnout.  One trick I used is that instead of putting railjoiners at the point where the bridge track and concrete track meet, I used the full 36" of bridge flex, and removed the last several inches of bridge ties and replaced them with concrete ties.  This moved the railjoiners down the line several inches and actually into a tunnel where they were hidden.  Less gaps and railjoiners means better, smoother track and operation.

On the other end of the bridge, instead of having railjoiners at the end of the bridge track, and then again at the turnout, I simply used a full length of rail from the bridge tie flex track, removed about 4" of bridge ties, and replaced them with Atlas code 55 wooden ties.  This way, I eliminated one set of railjoiners to make smoother track work.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The N Scale U.P. Council Bluffs Sub is Born!

Benchwork construction has begun on my newest layout.  This time I am designing a shelf/switching layout, inspired by various railroad and industrial activities close to home.  While I don't yet have an official name for the layout, I am calling it the UP Council Bluffs Subdivision, since that is were I am doing a lot of my research and train watching for model railroad ideas.  Who knows, it might just stick.

The layout will be 16' in length, using a twin pair of 8' tables that are 18" wide.  I am using a very similar design to the Marias Pass benchwork, with plywood for the frame and folding legs that collapse into the recess of the benchwork.  The track plan is not yet finished, but wanted to get started with construction anyway.  I'll continue to share more as I make progress.  Here is a short video of the new layout:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Jan/Feb 2013 N Scale Railroading Arrived

The "2013" on the most recent copy of N Scale Railroading reminded me that 2012 is almost over, and the Marias Pass series is close to the home stretch.  In part 8 of the series I discuss trees.  The Marias Pass has over 1200 total trees on it, and makes me appreciate those southwestern desert landscapes, where vegetation is scarce.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Time Has Come - A New Layout in the Making

It has been well over a year since I called the Marias Pass "done", put the finishing touches on my article series photos and content, and mailed it off to Seattle.  I have had lots of ideas floating in my head since then about what the next layout project would look like.  A trip this summer inspired me to consider a midwest theme somewhere in central and western Nebraska.  Then, while doing some train chasing this year, I actually found a lot of potential right in my backyard.  I have wanted to build a small diorama of a lumber facility to feature my lumber loads and centerbeams, and while pursuing that interest, discovered multiple lumber yards in and around Omaha that receive material by centerbeam flatcar.  That pursuit eventually led to more discoveries of local industries, and an idea to build a switching layout.

A switching layout?  That's right.  My previous layouts have all been primarily focused on scenery and replicating the flavor of a specific region.  Focusing further on specific industrial areas is something that I have not yet tried.  Staying true to my desire to capture at least a flavor of an actual location, I survey the area using Google maps, and then make personal appearances at locations to capture my own photos.

So how far am I right now?  A recent trip to Lowes for a home project offered the opportunity to add two sheets of plywood to the load.  So I have my benchwork material, and am getting an itch to start soon.  As far as the track design, I have good ideas of what I want, and am working on determining my industries and the general footprint for each.  I still have a lot of planning work to do, but am motivated to keep making progress.

Below is a set of photos that tells at least a portion of the story of my new layout design and concept.  The name, location, and individual industries will be loosely based on those found in and around the Omaha, Fremont, and Council Bluffs areas.  The layout will feature Union Pacific, but will have a lot of Iowa Interstate influence.  Council Bluffs sees a lot of other railroad traffic, which provides some interesting possibilities: KCS, CN, BNSF, NS, CSX, etc.  More photos to come as I capture more of the locations that will potentially make a place on the new layout.

I have driven past this plastic manufacturing building for years, taking grain to the elevator, and decided that a plastic pellet receiving track and tank storage would make a nice model.  A pikestuff building and some PVC tanks should make for a fairly simple project.

This is a cement batch facility in Fremont.  Again, a fairly simple industry to model in N scale.  A pikestuff building or corrugated styrene, some holding tanks, conveyer, and cement trucks would complete the scene.

A tank loading/unloading facility will probably be on the short list for the new switching layout.  It could either be a solvent distributor, or something larger for petroleum products.

Grain elevators are plentiful in this area, and I plan to model at least 1, maybe two if I have space.  Here is ADM in Fremont.  They process soybeans, so this would offer a space for covered hoppers as well as tank cars hauling away the soybean oil.

Both UP and BNSF have autorack unloading ramps in Omaha.  I have a nice collection of Red Caboose autoracks and would like to make use of them.  

A place to feature my lumber loads is at the top of the list.  I plan to have ample space for centerbeam flatcars, and lots of wrapped lumber bundles.  

A small engine facility next to a small yard will likely find a spot on the layout.  I am thinking about a building such as this one in the UP yard at Council Bluffs.

 Here is a nice view of the UP yard, with the Omaha skyline on the horizon.  Making my own backdrop using photos is something I want to try with this layout.

 Here is another shot of the Omaha skyline, looking west over the UP yard.

Now we are getting to some good stuff.  The Iowa Interstate railroad has a yard and intermodal facility in Council Bluffs.  N scale offers so many great models of well cars, containers, and handling equipment, and I wanted a small intermodal yard to feature the piggy packers that I recently purchased  from Wheels of Time. This yard is a smaller operation, making it an ideal prototype.  A grain elevator or two will also look right at home next to this facility.

Here is the entrance to the intermodal yard.

This facility uses quite a variety of container cranes.  They have this piggy packer, and a few large forklift style machines.  

Here's yet another style of container handler, with a telescoping arm.  Oh the possibilities.

The IAIS has a small engine facility, which is about the right size for a switching layout.

 Here is one last photo of the IAIS yard. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trying out a New & Free Software for Model Railroading

I have been studying various articles and information about using photos in model railroading to create backdrops, buildings, and other things.  While Adobe Photoshop is a fairly common software for photo manipulation, it is also quite expensive.  I discovered a free software called GIMP that does many of the same functions as other software that you have to purchase.  I downloaded GIMP tonight and started playing around with it.  I know nothing about this software yet, so I literally dropped some photos in and began trying some functions.  There are a lot of helpful resources online and I hope to begin learning some of the capabilities soon.  In about 30 minutes, I was able to stitch together a few shots that I took a couple of months ago.  The idea at the time was to see if I could create a panoramic image that might be suitable to print as a backdrop.  So far, I feel like I have the tools needed to do some really cool stuff.  Of course, I have a lot to learn.

If anyone has any experience with this type of stuff, I would love to hear more about how you apply these techniques to your own model railroading.

This is what I created tonight in about 30 minutes.  Not bad for never using the software before.  I simply rotated the photos a bit since I have a bad habit of not holding my camera level.  Obviously there is some color work that needs to happen, but it sure looks promising.  Yet another application of technology in N scale.  That is why I love this hobby.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

N Scale Model Railroad Best Practices - Benchwork

I have been thinking about a new layout for some time now, and am beginning to formalize some ideas and putting them on paper.  It's hard to believe that it has been about a decade since I started my first true N scale layout that I was able to complete.  I don't even have photos of the construction progress since I bought my first digital camera about the time the layout was finished.  Wow have times changed!  Since then, I think I have taken several thousand photos of my hobby, and have a digital camera that will take high definition video too.  As I continue to pursue the next layout plan and design, I thought it would be interesting to consider some of the best practices that I have adopted over the years, and document them here on my blog.  So here is an attempt to share years of experience in a few photos and text.

I thought I would start with benchwork, since that is where the 3 dimensional idea that is in my head actually begins to take shape.  I wrote a fairly comprehensive article about plywood benchwork in my Marias Pass series, so I won't go into that detail here.  This is more of an overview of my experience building benchwork, and several examples.

Benchwork Best Practices:

I have used plywood framing for my last two layout structures, and will probably never use anything else.  I simply can't accept the warped junk that is found at home improvement stores.  Sure you can buy premium lumber, but it is overpriced and too pretty to be hidden by a fascia board.  Instead, I buy 3/4" birch or oak veneer plywood, rip it into boards, and make my own lumber.  Sure you needs tools to accomplish this, but I  happen to be a handy guy, so the tools have more than paid for themselves.

Even though the framing material has changed over the years, the one common thread throughout is the fascia.  I continue to use 1/8" masonite for my fascia.  It is a great material that cuts easy, bends around modest curves, and provides a very professionally looking edge.

I use a long piece of masonite as a fence for my ripsaw.  A steady hand will make perfectly square boards.  Once I have a stack of lumber, I then turn to my miter saw to cut the pieces to length.

Here is the benchwork for the Marias Pass layout.  The width of the boards for the open frame are a true 6", and probably overkill, but I like solid benchwork.  Also, this layout is portable, so needs to resist twisting while being carried and loaded.

Here is a two section frame that I built for a total of 14'.  This was intended to become a BNSF Orin Line layout, but instead it was sold to a friend that designed it into a desert themed layout.  You can see the 2" foam in the background that was used for the track surface.  The frame sections and leg assemblies are all built using plywood.

Here is layout #1 on its side for a photo.  I used regular pine lumber with a plywood cookie cutter subroadbed.

The Rocky Mt. Sub had a similar frame design to my first layout.  Again using standard pine 1x4's, I built an open grid frame with a plywood cookie cutter subroadbed.

 My BNSF Orin Line was the first layout to use plywood for the frame.  I am picky when it comes to building materials, and wanted a very straight and sturdy structure since I was going with a 4' x 10' footprint. a sheet of 1/2" plywood was used for the top, in order to provide a rigid surface for track and scenery.

 Here is a layout benchwork that I helped a friend build several years ago.  The design is nearly identical to the 5'x7' Rio Grande layout that Mike Danneman built.  It also used standard pine 1x4's with a plywood cookie cutter subroadbed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

N Scale Pallets - What a Great Find

I have been interested in finding some details to go with my GHQ forklift kits, and did some searching for a nice N scale pallet.  I found a source from and based on the photos decided that their model appeared to be the most accurate replica, and bought a couple of kits.  The kit comes with enough material to make 45 pallets, or 90 skids, in 3 different sizes (15 of each pallet or 30 of each skid).  The instructions are well written and easy to follow, and I was able to make a set of pallets in a short time.  I used a straight razor blade to do the cutting which worked well for me.  What I like most about this model is that it is a true replica of a pallet, with top and lower decking, and the 3 stringers tying them together.  Although it does take a steady hand and some time to assemble them, they look much better than a one piece version or molding, in my opinion.  If you are looking for a great n scale pallet, check these out, I don't think you will be disappointed.

As far as my forklift project goes, I still have some work before they are complete.  Now that I have some pallets built, I can attach the remaining forks at a width that will slide into the pallets.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

A kitchen remodel has my attention lately, so model railroading is on hold for a brief time.  I thought I would share some recent photos from a trip to Fremont, NE.  I am looking for ideas for a new layout, and needed some inspiration.  It's that time of year again, so Happy Thanksgiving and Safe Black Friday.

Here is a local crew switching out the ADM bean processing plant.

I spotted this train just south of town on the BNSF.  A nice pair of Canadian National units in the lead.

A project that has been on the back burner is my 64' reefer weathering.  I have about 18 BLMA reefers that are in various stages of graffiti now.  Here are a couple examples that I found to help be get motivated to pick that project back up.

A stack train going through town.

Here is a tank loading facility that I think would be fun to model.