Sunday, March 29, 2015


They say you should measure twice and cut once. Well, I measured twice and apparently cut twice.

Rookie mistake…

At least there's some good news – I have an arm full of 1x3s now that I didn't have before since I ripped them from old lumber. And the 4' x 8' sheet of Masonite that's been stored in the garage for weeks now finally got cut into two 2x8s for backdrops (it was that ripcut that resulted in the sawhorse cut).

Ah well - at least benchwork building can continue!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Saybrook & Staging Mockup

Now that the benchwork for Old Saybrook and staging is done, I next have to figure out where to put the subroadbed - and before I do that, I have to figure out where the track goes. Templates and mockups are the key to this step . . .

Here's an initial view to orient you. You'll recall from a previous post that this is looking into the old bike shop area. This is where the staging yard and turnback loop will be and - bonus - it's all hidden (yet totally accessible) once the door is shut. The mainline will head "east" (lower right to upper left of the photo) along the tangent side of the turnouts to the turnback track (mocked up with plywood at the end in the distance). The turnout templates show the throat of the staging yard - 6 tracks for 6 mainline trains (AirLine & Valley Locals are staged elsewhere).

This is the view from the other direction, looking "west" toward Old Saybrook. The clever part of the design is that left hand turnout right before the gap in the foam. It allows trains to head toward the turnout in the far back left (you can barely make it out sitting on top of that 1x3 sticking out of the wall), go behind Saybrook's backdrop and - via another turnback curve in the module room - head "east" through the Saybrook scene. The turnouts beyond that "cutoff" turnout allow the single track to split into the 3-track main that will dominate the Saybrook scene. There's a 4-track main on the prototype, but that would take just a little too much real estate. I think a 3 track main will convey the scene effectively enough.

If we walk through the door, here's what you'll see - Old Saybrook: 3-track main mocked up, including turnouts for the "loop track" (long double-ended siding which goes behind the station), freight house, and the turnout for the east leg of the wye. The hole in the wall just past the yellow measuring tape is where the Shoreline comes in from the west - and there's a LH turnout there for the west leg of the wye, as well as a RH turnout for the west end of the loop track. The hole in the wall in the far back corner is where the hidden mainline supply/return track will go, with the looooong Air Line staging track above it.

Continuing our walk "west" through the next doorway into the module room, you see immediately on your left the other turnback curve for the mainline, with 2 turnouts to split the single-track into the 3 mainline tracks at Saybrook. The hole through the backdrop at the end of the Air Line module is where the Air Line track will punch through, continue across the top of the loop, and through the next wall to go behind the Saybrook backdrop. I'm actually pretty excited about this area since I plan to have the mainline hidden under scenery, and the scenery will depict a typical farm-y scene along the Air Line through Middlefield, CT. It'll likely be the only scene that'll be prototypically accurate for the Air Line.

And this is the same scene taken from the other perspective. The mainline punches through the left hole-in-the-wall to head east into Saybrook, and punches through the right hole to go behind Saybrook and return to staging. I'll likely have to extend that hole a bit higher to accommodate the Air Line, which will go through above the mainline. You can barely make out the end of the module on the right.

One of the critical pinch points I discovered when mocking things up is how the AirLine would cross over the mainline. While it's not a problem at this point (pictured above) since I'll be using regular plywood subroadbed on risers, it'll be critical to get it right as the two tracks go through the wall. It's a little over 3 feet between one hole-in-the-wall and the other, so the tracks will have to span that distance. The best way I've found to do that is to mount the the subroadbed directly to an L-girder made up of 1x2s - but that L-girder restricts clearance below the subroadbed. So this photo shows that I'll have just enough to get one highly-supported track over the other.

Next step is to go to the lumber yard for more materials (mostly plywood) and - even more exciting! - I get to order a ton of track! With any luck - and some productive work sessions - the New Haven Railroad's Shoreline through Old Saybrook, including "New London/Boston, New Haven/New York" will be up and running soon!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Few Words About Wordless Wednesday #61

Farm just west of the town of "Mill Hollow" on the Air Line
Long time readers know that my model of the New Haven's "Air Line" from New Haven to Middletown is not prototypical. Since my focus is on The Valley Local (natch), the Air Line Local is a supporting player only. It has just as much work as its counterpart, but no attempt is made to model the line itself accurately.

This is primarily - if not exclusively - because the line is made up of two 2x8' modules I built a few years back using structures and materials salvaged from a couple of 1970s/80s era 4x8' layouts I inherited from a dear friend in Vermont. I'd intended these modules to be nothing more than practice - a way of getting a leg up in the hobby and getting something "finished" as quickly as possible. Having the structures already done and many of the details already available, I had only to lay track and do scenery - and the photo above shows my first attempt at doing scenery.

Actually, even that's cheating just a little - the farm yard, including the buildings and people, from the barn down to the stone wall, was lifted in its entirety from the old layout and blended in here with new scenery I did in the foreground. Symptomatic of the weight of those two 4x8s (and one of the reasons I decided to scrap them), just this little scene alone weighs 10-15 pounds(!) Plaster and actual rock aren't light.

Having even a small area "done" - or at least to a level of completion - gives me something to enjoy while the rest of the layout languishes in benchwork and plywood. But as soon as BillS & Co. can visit again, I hope to get at least a few scenes of scenery done on the Valley Line too. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Starting Staging

What started in Saybrook has continued and the layout is expanding again. I won't go into all the whys and wherefores of staging - just suffice it to say that it's A Very Good Idea. In order to support the illusion that our trains are actually coming from "Somewhere" and are going to "Somewhere Else" you need to have a staging area. It can be as little as one track, or as large as many multi-track yards, but they're most effective if hidden.

To get even a rough idea of what you may need for staging capacity, start with how many trains you plan to operate during a typical session. On my layout, I'll eventually have 4 locals operating:
  1. The Valley Local (naturally) which operates from "Hartford"  to Middletown and East Haddam;
  2. The Air Line Local which operates from "New Haven" to Middletown;
  3. PDX-1 which operates from "New Haven" to Old Saybrook; and
  4. PDX-2 which operates from "New London" to Old Saybook and up to East Haddam.
In addition to these 4 locals - which are the main actors of the session - there are, um, 71 trains(?!) that go through Old Saybrook during a typical day in 1947 (click here for the details), but fortunately, I only "have" to model four of them (click here for how/why):
  1. The Pilgrim (e/b 1:17p)
  2. The 42nd Street Express (w/b 1:32p)
  3. The Bostonian (e/b 2:07p)
  4. Through freight FGB-2 (e/b 2:30p)
These 4 mainline trains are just supporting characters, going through the Old Saybrook scene from "west" to "east" or vice-versa.

Now, as you can see, there are a few towns that are in quotes - that means they're not actually on the layout. And of course "west" and "east" are in quotes too. So how can I operate prototypically without having the required towns - Hartford, New Haven, New London, and even New York and Boston?

That's the job of staging.

On my layout, "Hartford" staging is relatively easy - it's essentially just one-track within the Middletown yard, hidden behind the Wethersfield backdrop when the session starts. But what of "New London," "New Haven," "New York," and "Boston?" Well, opening up the wall for Old Saybrook was only the beginning of that answer. For the rest of the answer, see the following photos . . .

This is how things looked when I started. I've used this photo before to show the "before" position of the door, but here it's to show how the bike shop area looked with all my racing stuff (I moved things so fast, I forgot to get a better "before" photo of this area).

This is the shop area with all the bike race stuff moved - and you can barely make out a mockup of the return loop in plywood on the floor in the far corner. And note that by this time, the door's been moved 10" to the left and the benchwork for Old Saybrook is in.

A Black & Decker Workmate is an ideal tool for constructing the L-girders: 1x3 web with a 1x2 glued & screwed to the top.

Compare this shot to the one above - L-girder benchwork goes quickly (though help from friend Dick and my dad helped things go even quicker)

And here's the new staging area just about done. Note plastic sheet stapled to the ceiling joists in order to cut down on raining dust and such. It's no use having the rest of the basement nicely finished if all your cars & engines pick up all sorts of dirt while in staging and track it around the layout (heh - "track it around" - get it?). I also move the lighting to be in line with the layout.

And here's what it looks like as of now - just about ready for the plywood subroadbed, cork, and track. I still don't know yet exactly how many staging tracks I need, but this area of the basement is by far the most suited for staging, so I just built out to the maximum footprint I could. Since I plan on having a return/reverse loop here, trains from this one staging area can head "through" Old Saybrook either eastbound or westbound depending on which route they take at the main switch. And, best of all, it's totally hidden once you shut the door - so if you're sitting in Saybrook, the trains you see could plausibly be coming from "points west" (New York, New Haven) or "points east" (New London, Boston).

I still have a few logistical things to work out with regard to the actual trackplan in staging and Old Saybrook (especially the length of hidden mainline that will go behind the Saybrook backdrop), but I'm pretty pleased with how this is working out. My staging capacity here is by no means unlimited, but it will certainly give me enough to convey the impression I'm looking for - especially considering the limited number of trains I need to run.

If you haven't considered staging in your plans, I strongly recommend you reconsider. It's space well spent.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the Valley Line Today

The Valley Local - 2015 edition . . .

I'm pretty lucky that I get to drive "on my layout" every day on my way to & from work. Going through Middletown is my favorite, not only because of the cool bridges (including going under the Air Line railroad bridge over the CT River), but because - occasionally - you can see the present-day version of the Valley Local. It may run under a different flag from the old New Haven RR (today it's Providence & Worcester) but it's still the same train - and line - I model, just 68 years later.

Here are a couple of views from a recent morning:

View looking northwest - Air Line bridge crosses the Connecticut River left to right, west to east. You can barely make out the locomotive through the trees - it's headed south on the Valley Line just south of the diamond.

Better view of the local, with the landmark Catholic church steeple in the background.
Not the greatest of photos, admittedly, but taken from a stationary vehicle (lest you worry) - at least heavy traffic has some consolation - and the only way you can get shots 

Having your layout confront you every day is a mixed-bag: there's constant modeling inspiration, but also constant reminders of all you can't model (or have room to model). But no worries - if I do my modeling right, I'll at least be able to convey the flavor of the area. And in the meantime, as my skills and abilities continue to develop, I'll still be able to enjoy my full size prototype layout every morning on my way to work. That pretty much makes it worth the trip!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Morning Coffee

Sitting on the old Valley Line main to Fenwick, Saybrook Junction, CT. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Few Questions About Wordless Wednesday #58

After seeing yesterday's Wordless Wednesday, you might be wondering the same thing I am . . .

First, the pics:

These two photos are (supposed to be) of the freighthouse at Rocky Hill, CT. They're taken at two different times - March, 1929 and, um, "later" (late 30s? 1940s?) - and taken from roughly the same location (south end of the building, looking north).

Here's my question: Why do they look so different?

At first, I assumed that the smaller entry door had just taken the place of the larger freight door on the south end of the building (which must've been filled in). But upon closer inspection, that doesn't make sense - note where the window is, especially in relation to the wainscoting. Why would anyone bother moving a window like that?

Before I can focus on doing scenery in Rocky Hill, I'd like to at least get some building mockups done. But when it comes time to actually building a model of this building, I'd sure like to know what the deal is with this south end wall.

Anybody know the story?