Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Progress Pics

You've heard me say it before - and you're likely to hear me say it often - how important it is to do your best to do even a little bit of work on the layout when you can. I admit, a 5 minute block of time is probably not worthwhile (though I'm sure there's somebody out there that's that efficient), but if you have even as little as 15 minutes while waiting for dinner you can make steady progress on your layout - provided you string enough of those little blocks of time together.

That said, larger blocks of time are certainly best for larger sections of the project. The main thing is to not just go down to the layout and stare/mull/(over)think about it too much. I know as well as anyone the value/necessity of "thinking my way into" a project, but lots of time can be wasted just staring at things. One strategy that's been working for me lately is to make out a list of those "bite-sized chunks" you can do when you have those little blocks of time. That way, you can get right to it, rather than just trodding the same mental ground all the time. And you can take advantage of opportunities for extra time and help as the come.

Case in point: All too often I schedule a "work" session and end up spending most of the time talking over different solutions rather than making any actual progress. True, progress does not always equal accomplishment, but sometimes it's better to make use of the extra hands at least as much as the extra brain.

Recent activity on the layout illustrates how having help and having bite-sized lists work together...

Pieter was over recently and - after discussing different approaches (for just a *little* while), we came up with a benchwork solution for the Saybrook Wye. Having the extra set of hands (in addition to the extra brain power) resulted in another major accomplishment for the layout - building out Saybrook. This is the view as you come down the basement stairs (things are just temporarily mocked up since I still have to remove a treadmill from that side room).

Incidentally, the funny angles of that particular piece of benchwork were made much easier by this angle clamp which allows you to hold lumber at any angle for screwing together. I highly recommend you add this to your toolbox - at $12, it's a bargain.

Having Pieter over was a big help, but most of the time I'm working solo. So that's where the "bite sized chunks" of project become critical. I was sorely tempted to spend the evening reading, but decided to head to the basement "for just 15 minutes or so" to see if I could get in the working mood. Guess what - I ended up spending a couple hours. Here's the east end of the Saybrook scene as it goes through the wall - with a 4-track mainline mocked up. In this pic, I've just started attaching the plywood that will take the mainline into staging.

Here's the other side of that hole through the wall - plywood to support the start of staging, all attached now.

A longer view, looking "west" back toward the Saybrook scene (though the hole in the wall). The subroadbed coming towards you will support the mainline going around the return loop.

Looking "east" again - and you can see where the subroadbed is going to join the return loop. The staging yard will evenutally occupy much of that vacant space just beyond the main section of plywood.

And a close-up of a typical subroadbed splice.
Not a hugely impressive accomplishment for the 90 minutes' time, but that's an hour and a half more into the layout. Eating an elephant one bite at a time.... And it's MUCH further than I would have been had I succumbed to the siren song of the armchair. I hope you'll be inspired to do "just a little bit" on your layout too. And if you are, drop a note or leave a comment. We could all use a little extra motivation when it comes to working on the railroad!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dad Ops

I'm blessed in many ways that I won't recount here, but one of the best blessings is still having my folks around. They recently retired to Tennessee so when they get the chance to come back to CT to visit, it's especially nice. Strangely though, never before had my dad joined me in an operating session. Until this first after-retirement visit...

But first, a little backstory...

If you've ever checked out the website (as opposed to coming directly to this blog), and have seen the "About" page, you know a bit of this already. I got my start in model railroading when my little brother got a train set one Christmas. Long story short, he wasn't all that interested in the train, but I was - and adopted the set as my own. And with my Dad's help, we dove head-first into the hobby, buying plywood and lots (and lots!) of Atlas Snap Track. Dad didn't need another hobby and eventually bowed out as my interest continued to grow - but he's always been interested in the different layout projects I have had over the years (including a trip to Vermont to salvage a large layout from an old friend).

It hasn't been until recently, though, that I've actually had something to operate - largely due to a rebuilding of that VT layout into two modules. And now that I've had a few ops sessions on the Valley Line proper, it was way past time to ask Dad if he wanted to try his hand at the throttle. The pics tell the story, but I think he had a good time - I know I did!

All smiles at the start of the session in Somerset. I figured we'd start with the finished portion of the layout. Even if you're not a die-hard ops guy, you can still appreciate the structures and scenery. Bonus: all of this came from the VT layout we salvaged together many years ago.

Even though this was his first session, the look will be familiar to anyone who's been at an ops session. You're always wondering just how to get the cars to where they need to go.

After fun in Somerset, it was off to Mill Hollow - another module made up of savaged structures from the VT layout.

Since I'd started him on the Air Line Local, Dad had to get to Middletown to drop off & pick up cars.

Once he was finished with the Air Line Local, I asked if he wanted to try his hand at the Valley Local next, to get use of the whole layout. It's not as pretty to look at, but the run is longer so you can really enjoy seeing the train go by. Or, as in this case, part of the train: He was so focused on the engine here at Rocky Hill, and I was so focused on getting the photo that we both failed to notice that 1/2 the train was still back in Dividend(!) Oooops

After picking up the rest of the train, we finally made it to Wethersfield where Dad did some final switching before tying up for the night. The train couldn't get all the way back to Hartford since I'm trying to redo the backdrop at the north end of Wethersfield (you can make out the temporary vinyl in the background) and it's blocking the track.
Despite the minor snafus, we had a fun couple of hours just switching cars around on a couple of low key locals. It was a far cry from the slotcar-like running we used to do on the old 4x8s, but after over 30(?!) years' time, it was just as fun. And, best of all, we still got to do it together. And that's what I'm thankful for most of all.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Could vs. Should

Today's Lesson: Don't Let the Supporting Actors Steal the Show

- or else you may end up like Bette Davis in All About Eve. More likely though, if you're a model railroader, you may find yourself losing sight of your main focus as you try to accommodate Just One More Train/Industry/Track, etc. In my case, the possibility of including some prototypically-run mainline trains in addition to my 4 local freights just about derailed everything.

My original plan was just to include the town of Old Saybrook insofar as it would anchor the south end of the Valley Line. Most of the mainline tracks would be for show only, with the only active track being the one the Shoreline local would use to branch off the mainline onto the wye to head north on the Valley line. But then I figured, "why not use some space on either side of the Saybrook Scene for some loops to provide some 'generic' mainline running?

That quickly (de?)evolved to a desire to run the mainline trains prototypically. Click here for the start of that journey and click here for where it all ended up. Long story short: I could run the mainline trains prototypically by having eastbound trains going behind the Saybrook backdrop and behind a wall (which would become totally inaccessible), but should I do that - especially when doing so could not only produce a maintenance/access nightmare but actually pinch my Saybrook scene? The main reason I put such a big hole in the wall opened up the proscenium was to highlight Old Saybrook, and now the supporting actors (i.e. the mainline trains) were starting to take over and compromise that goal.

So, after asking folks to weigh in on my problem (and many thanks to those of you that did), I've decided to go back to the drawing board - literally - and refocus my priorities on what's most important in this area (in order of priority):
  • Ability of the westbound Shoreline local to come from "New London" (offscene staging) and take the east leg of the Saybrook wye to head up the Valley Line;
  • Old Saybrook station scene as accurate as possible - including the "balloon track" behind the station, freight house, team track, and coal dealer;
  • Ability of eastbound Shoreline local to come from "New Haven" and take the west leg of the wye to head up the Valley Line;
  • Hidden staging for the Air Line Local;
  • Mainline trains heading in the prototypically correct direction.
It was those last three bullets that became such a problem, requiring all that hidden & inaccessible track. After further reflection - caused in no small part by those weighing in with their concerns - I remembered that:
  • the eastbound Shoreline local doesn't go up the Valley Line in 1947, only the westbound one does;
  • hidden staging for the Air Line Local - while nice - would cost more in effort/problems than it's worth. I can live with the train being staged "online" at the start of the session;
  • And most importantly, and in keeping with our Lesson above, mainline trains could should remain supporting actors only - just "generic Shoreline trains" there only to provide "busy background" for the locals switching Old Saybrook.
The new trackplan no longer involves over 10 feet of double-decked, hidden, and mostly inaccessible track (yay!) - it's now essentially back to what I'd originally envisioned: a dogbone with reversing loops at each end and a large staging yard at the New London/Boston end. The main compromise, other than losing hidden Air Line staging, is that eastbound trains will have to go through the Saybrook scene westbound first. I can live with that - especially now that I've fully vetted the alternative.

But wait! There's More! If (and that's a big IF) I decide I really-must-absolutely-have west-end staging sometime in the future, I discovered that I can add a 3-4 track shelf in front of the "Somerset" Air Line module. It's not ideal, it wouldn't be super easy to do, and would make the Somerset module a bit more cumbersome to operate (which are all reasons I'm not just installing it now), but it is a possibility should I find it Absolutely Necessary sometime in the future.

So, I have a good plan for going forward, and a contingency plan should I need it someday. And the proof is in the doing: I started cutting the first plywood last night and tracklaying will should be starting by next week!

All in all, I'm very happy with such a well-thought-out approach. And that is due primarily to those folks that allowed me to bounce my ideas around and mull them over with me. Despite the minor (now, to my mind) compromises, I think this end of the railroad will be a lot of fun to operate and - even better - it'll provide the only place on my layout for continuous running when I just want to see trains rolling (or during layout tours). Best of all, if god forbid something goes wrong with the tracks or trains, I'll be able to get to them easily and fix the problems. And that should insure that the layout continues to be fun to operate for years to come.

(Not quite) On the Valley Line Today

Hartford, CT is at the north end of the Valley Line and this was shot this morning from the parking garage at my office in Hartford. It's a light engine move on the Connecticut Southern (the old Hartford-Springfield line), but it's just south of the Hartford station so (just barely) qualifies as "on the Valley Line Today."

Besides, it's always nice to see some interesting railroad activity before going into work, so I thought I'd share it with you!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tunneling & Hidden Track

I hate to admit it, but I can no longer even think about being smug about not wasting my time watching TV. Truth be told - after the workdays I've been having lately, I've enjoyed sitting down in front of the boob tube "just while eating dinner" (ya gotta eat anyway, right?). But boy, once you're in that catatonic state, it too-often takes much more willpower than I can muster to get off my duff and down to the basement. Fortunately, tonight was different.

I finally got to do some more mocking up of my Big Expansion - which is to say - my extension of the Air Line "south to New Haven" (staging) and my construction of the "Shoreline" (return loop). But in my mocking up, I hit a bit of a (rail)roadblock - and that's where I hope you can help. I'll let the pictures help me describe my problem:

The area I'm talking about heads down/south from "Somerset" (left side of the trackplan), tunnels through/behind walls, and punches out behind where Old Saybrook will be.

Here's an overview shot of the area I'm working on to orient you. The end of the Air Line module is on the right and the turnback curve of the Shoreline is in the middle-left foreground. The left end of that curve will go through the left hole in the wall into the Old Saybrook scene. But the back (right) end of the curve will go through the right hole in the wall (that big black square in the back center of the photo).

The Shoreline is on the low level and the Air Line will extend across/above it and also go through that right hole - directly above the Shoreline.

Here's a closeup of the hole/tunnel the Shoreline (lower level) and Air Line (upper level - not shown here) have to go through. As you (hopefully) can tell, this wall is a built-out wall that boxes in the waste pipe (which you can see just inside the hole to the right). From one hole to the other is a distance of 37" and that stand-in piece of plywood subroadbed is 4'4" (52") long.

Here's the other end of that subroadbed - and the other hole out of which it comes. Remember, the Air Line will be directly above the Shoreline through this tunnel through the wall.

And to provide the final overview/context shot, here's where the lines come out into the Saybrook scene (actually, the tracks will be hidden behind Saybook, but that's a problem for another day).

So after getting only this far tonight, I have a few questions I hope you can help me with:

  • How much should I worry about dirt in the tunnel? Should I box everything in?
As you can see, it's unfinished back there. I was considering boxing both tracks in (running them through box tunnels, essentially). At least I'd try and glue in a piece of styrofoam insulation as a "ceiling/roof" of sorts to keep too much dust from raining down on the track.
  • How much do I need to worry about access to these tracks?
The horse has kinda left the barn on this - I'm (pretty much) committed to running the tracks through the wall/tunnel this way. It by far makes the most sense for my operations. But, knowing that future access will be impossible on this section, I plan to make the track as bullet-proof - and keep it as clean - as possible.

Speaking of access, I obviously can't get in there to build any supporting benchwork, so I plan to glue/screw the subroadbed directly to 1x3s on edge for support. The ends of the 1x3s would be secured to the joists present at each end of the tunnel.
  • Any special tips/suggestions on how best to deal with this situation?
While the track will be Atlas code 83, I plan to place code 100 rerailers (that I have on-hand) about 1/2 way across the span (in the middle of the tunnel). Do you think the benefit of having a rerailer outweighs the 4 extra rail joints? (actually, only 2 extra since the span will take two 3' sections of flextrack and I'll have the joint fall in the middle of the tunnel).

I also plan to solder the railjoints - especially if I use the rerailers - and have feeders go to each section of 3' flex from buswires running along the spans.
  • Is there anything else you can think of that I haven't considered?
As you can probably tell, I'm a little apprehensive about having two mainlines (Air Line and Shoreline) go through this inaccessible section. I'm hoping that folks with far more experience with this sort of thing can give me some reassurance - or effective warning!

Despite this mental roadblock, it's nice that there's at least a modicum of progress to share. I was able to visit a couple of local layouts last weekend (thanks Jonathan and Bob!!) and got a much-needed shot of inspiration. Of course, having my own layout scheduled for an open house this August is kindling a fire under me as well.

Fortunately, once I get the railroad built through this tunnel, construction should continue at a pretty quick pace and with any luck (and less TV) I should have Shoreline trains running through Old Saybrook in a matter of weeks!

And with your help, I should be able to get track laid through the wall without too many problems. So let fly with the comments and email - I'm standing by... :^)

Wordless Wednesday #64

Thursday, April 9, 2015

It's here and I'm on my way...

As Winston Churchill famously said:

"This is not The End,
This is not even The Beginning of the End,
But it IS the End of the Beginning."

And this is what the raw materials for a Layout Design Element & staging yard look like:
  • 18 Micro-Engineering turnouts
  • 3 bundles of ME code 83 flextrack (18 pieces)
  • 2 cases of Atlas code 83 flextrack (50 pieces)
  • 1 case of Midwest cork roadbed (25 pieces)
  • 1 pkg of ME code 83 rail joiners
And thus I've taken the first tangible step towards construction of same. If you've been paying attention, you know the LDE is for Old Saybrook and the staging yard is to represent points west (New Haven/NYC/Maybrook) and points east (New London/Boston). Click here for a description about how this is all coming together.

Unfortunately, while there's not much actual progress to show (same old story - work/life/etc) at least it doesn't take much time to drop a trainload of money on supplies so that when I *do* have some time, I can Get Right To It.

It's always fun to see so many cool new purchases - and I thought you'd enjoy some vicarious thrill of seeing what all it takes to do even just a modest staging yard and one little town. Quite a lot, as it turns out. Now to get the time to convert this pile o'stuff into an operating section of The Valley Line.