Saturday, July 19, 2014

Double-Ending Middletown Yard

Having a guy like John Wallace around is a mixed blessing: all good, despite the extra work his usually-idle comments creates for me.  Long-time readers know that he rode the Valley Local during the era I model and his detailed memory of the line is a truly amazing historical resource.  For example, I thought doing my trackplan according to Sanborn maps would be perfectly prototypical.  "Not for the late '40s," said John.  "All those passing sidings were removed in the late '30s after passenger service ended."  Of course, as luck would have it, I'd already installed the passing sidings - so out they came. But, admittedly, I'm much happier with the even-more-prototypical result.

He had also mentioned that, unlike my model, Middletown yard was double-ended.  Actually, there were two double-ended yards in M'town - but even he admitted there was no way I could put two yards in the space available.  And he was pretty quiet about it until I mentioned my Bulletin Order limiting trains departing Middletown to only 10 cars, since that's the runaround limit.  "No way would there be a 10 car limit on the Valley Local - you really need to have a longer runaround if possible, and you should really double-end the one yard you have."  I continued to protest that I hadn't enough space, that it was "just supposed to be a representation/model" yadda yadda.

But it was apparent after my last operating session that it was high time I give John's comments some more consideration. One of the maxims of prototype modeling - especially re trackplans - is that if the prototype had it, there was probably a good reason and therefore, for good prototypical operations, you should have it too.

Which is all a long prelude to what you already know - I ended up double-ending Middletown Yard.  And - bonus! - I increased my runaround capacity by 50% to 15 cars(!).  Read on to see how I did it . . .

Schematic of Middletown Yard "before"  - Note 10 car runaround siding.

Rough sketch of my plan of action

View of the "north" end of the yard before reconstruction.  I've used a small piece of shingle and some spackle to create a ramp from the cork roadbed to the plywood base.  PLEASE! if somebody has a suggestion on how better to do this, let me know.

I used a couple of Micro-Engineering turnout templates to confirm that the new install would be relatively straightforward.  As you can see, it is (and now I'm wondering why it took me so long to decide to do this).

I glue my track down with Aleene's Tacky Glue, so my first step was to use a putty knife to carefully pry up the track.

Then I cut the rails.  In the future, I'll probably cut the rails first to avoid disturbing the adjoining track as much when I pry up the track to be removed.  Be sure the flush side of your nippers faces the rail you're leaving in.

I also solder my rail joints, so I needed to unsolder.  Note to Self (and warning to others): Don't solder rail joints at turnouts - leave the turnouts "floating."  Makes for much easier removal for repair, etc.

M-E turnouts have small sections of diverging rail. If you're careful, you can do a neat overlap when butting two turnouts together for crossovers, etc. as I do here.

But you'll have to trim a lot of ties to make this work.  See above.

Before installing the turnout, I remembered to sand the top of the roadbed to remove the Aleene's glue residue.  You want things to be as smooth as possible.

M-E rail joiners are notoriously difficult to slide onto rails, so to give them a fighting chance, I filed the bottoms of the rails, and the tops of the rail base, to a slight taper. (the white thing behind the file is a feeder wire)

The first turnout turns out to the be the hardest, but it's now installed.  Note how my diverging rails overlap, eliminating two rail gaps.

Second turnout installed much more quickly - but presented a problem of a different sort: Lack of support!

Splice plate clamped prior to screwing in from below (note tip of cleat on riser to the right)...

New plywood subroadbed/support added onto splice plate and tip of cleat.

From here on, it's a pretty straightforward task of fitting short sections of track to join to the rest of the yard.

Apologies for the blurry photo (what I get for holding the drill in one hand and the camera in the other), but wanted to show you a quick tip.  I needed to add feeders to the frogs and to a short section of rail that wasn't getting power due to the rail gaps.  To ensure I keep the drill bit from wandering and, more importantly, to keep the drill from hurting the track when it breaks through the wood, I use this small piece of masonite with a hole pre-drilled in it.
So I now have not only 50% more runaround capacity, but I've also doubled the number of yard tracks that are double-ended.  Operationally, this should make things MUCH better for both the Valley Local and Air Line Local - they can work the yard at the same time from opposite ends.  And of course they can runaround 15 cars at a time rather than just 10.

The true test will come during my next operating session, which will be next Saturday.  (what was that about ops sessions motivating progress?!)  These two new turnouts - along with the two that were already there - are all along the wall behind Cromwell and operators will have to reach over Cromwell to flip the points and uncouple cars.  It's not that far a reach (24-27") and the Cromwell station should be off to the right out of harm's way.  I also plan to station a stool there for my less-tall/less-long-armed operators.

But I won't be able to have much of a view block (tall trees) between the north end of M'town yard and Cromwell, and the new "north end yard lead" goes through the backdrop.  So it'll be very interesting to see whether my operators agree this is a good addition.  It's one thing to have to switch/uncouple at the north end just once or twice to runaround your train; it's another thing entirely to do most of your yard switching from that spot.

So stay tuned - I should have a verdict by this time next week.


  1. Just a tip on installing the turnouts. When removing the extra ties it's best to remove half of the necessary ties from each turnout. That way both rails are firmly attached to both turnouts when you slide them together.

    Now I have to get to work...

  2. Great point - and a good reminder of something I totally forgot in my haste to get this in. AH! Actually, I remember now why I did it this way - one of the turnouts was glued in already, so it would have been sketchy to try and remove ties from it. But you're absolutely right - best practice is to split the difference across the two turnouts.