Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Tuesday Tour: "OP"toberfest 2018

Really cool welcome sign outside Kevin Surman's house
"OP"toberfest is an amazing 2-day event put on each year by Doug Dederick and his team. Its name is a clue to what it's all about - 2 days chock full of serious operations on privately-owned model railroads in the Albany, NY region. Despite its name, though, it didn't happen in October (not this year, anyway).

This was my first year attending and I can't say enough how impressed I was with the organization and execution of the event. From the "swag bags" left at each layout for the operators, to the graciousness of the layout hosts, to the dinner Saturday night, every part of the program was outstanding. I'm definitely going to make this a new annual tradition!

There are three operating slots over the course of the weekend - Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon and, with all the details of the event so well taken care of, my biggest challenge was to try and choose just three of the layouts to operate! For this first time though, my traveling companion Pete Luchini and I decided on Kevin Surman's New York & Long Branch, Jack Cutler's PRR Juniata Secondary, and Kip Grant's D&H Sonnyvale Branch.

Each visit could be a huge post in its own right - and the number of pictures is proof: I took almost 200 of them on just those three layouts (and, no, I didn't let my railfanning distract me from my operating...for the most part). But here's a little bit on each one to give you a sense of the incredible work these guys have done.
Kevin Surman's New York & Long Branch is a double-decked layout that runs from Newark, to Bay Head, NJ and features a mostly-double-tracked & fully signaled mainline with a variety of traffic from both the PRR and the CNJ.

I was able to run a passenger train and a couple of local freights during my visit and really enjoyed the combination of signaling and switchlists. At first, the switching seemed overwhelming, but Kevin helpfully hinted that I should focus on doing the cars in the order they were on the list. Duh! I would certainly have overthought things without this tip and really messed things up. Switching as he suggested made the session much less stressful than it might have been!

Kevin's urban scenery provides a great start to the layout (it's the first thing you notice when you walk in) and a great contrast to the landscape you see on the way to Bay Head.

More of Newark - including overhead catenary(!)

Scene along the way - I think this is Cliffwood. I really like how effective the photo backdrop is here.

The mud flats at Matawan, NJ. The pilings are the last remnant of a trestle here that burned.

Rolling lift bridge over Cheesequake Creek.
The New York & Long Branch was featured in the November, 2013 issue of Model Railroader. and contains a much-more-detailed description - as well as much better photos. As I reviewed all the pics I took, I realized that most of them were just for reference (especially of the backdrops). There's a lot on his layout that I want to try and emulate, especially with regard to the scenery. Note though that the MR article doesn't show how the "Atlantic Highlands" area of the layout has been extended to get the railroad all the way to the yard at Bay Head.

Kevin and his layout provided a really wonderful environment and start to my first "OP"toberfest weekend. The fact that over 3 hours flew by, due to my total immersion in the world he's created & replicated, is testament to how well he's executed his vision.
As wonderfully scenicked as Kevin's layout was, Jack Cutler's Juniata Secondary was the polar opposite - not much scenery at all. He's "going to get to it" but, frankly, if he never does I don't know that anybody will notice.

Jack's layout is a depiction of a PRR secondary line pressed into mainline service on the day after D-Day. In his version of history, the famed Horseshoe Curve has been sabotaged and the Juniata Secondary is shouldering the brunt of moving critical traffic for the war effort. As you can imagine, the PRR during this era is stretched to the limit - and now, all of its traffic is being funneled over a single-tracked line with a number of passing tracks almost inadequate to the task.

Much of the line is signaled/CTC, but enough of it is still "dark" territory to keep things interesting - as if literally tons of traffic squeezed onto single track main isn't interesting enough. Just as you'd expect on the prototype, there's a fair amount of waiting for signals to clear, but that just gives you more time to fully appreciate what Jack has created in his basement.

The beginning of "dark" territory is just east (right) of Marcia Park on the lower level (right) and a very impressively-built helix is on the left.

Beginning of CTC territory is just beyond the swing gate, at the west end of Lukestown. Some structures - some built, some mockups - along with  printouts provide a little hint of the world to come.

Even though there's no scenery here, you can easily imagine the multiple tracks going into a sheer rock cliff somewhere in the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania. This photo also give you just a hint of how well Jack has built his benchwork and track. 3/4" 5-ply plywood provides a very firm foundation for trackwork which is among the best I've seen.

While there isn't much scenery per se, what structures there are on the layout are done to the same high level of craftsmanship evident in the benchwork, wiring, and track.

The nerve center of the Juniata Secondary is the CTC panel. Even though it runs on software, it still requires miles of wiring to get to all the signals around the layout.

Overview of Mattsburgh Yard (lower level, left) and, I think, Johnsboro (upper level, right)

A clue into how Jack is developing his layout. Really impressive.
From the tacked-up 3rd PlanIt renderings, to the cabinet-like benchwork and arrow-straight track, to the over 20(!) pages worth of material emailed to operators before the session, it's evident that Jack Cutler isn't doing anything by halves here. Sure, there's not much in the way of scenery or structures, but as I said at the outset, you really don't notice. You're focused exclusively on getting your train of war materiel over the road as quickly and safely as possible - and for that, Jack has already provided all you need.
After a quick lunch provided by Mrs. Cutler ("quick" only because Pete and I needed to get to the next session - and, frankly, MUCH appreciated since we probably would have had to skip lunch if the Cutlers hadn't been so gracious), we high-tailed it back up north to get to Kip Grant's Sonnyvale Branch of the Delaware & Hudson RR.

Kip's layout - like Kevin's - provided a stark contrast to the busy PRR we'd operated in the morning and was the perfect respite for a early-Autumn Saturday afternoon. Of course, I may be a bit biased since, of all the layouts we operated, Kip's creation is the closest to what I'm trying to do with the Valley Line.

The Sonnyvale Branch is based on the real Lake George Branch of the D&H, with just enough variation and variety to provide a bit more operation than the prototype. It wends its way from the D&H mainline at "Junction" and works its way through bucolic farmland at Sheldon's Curve and the town of Jasperdale before terminating at Sonnyvale. Just outside of Sonnyvale, a short branch takes off from Fenimore Jct. to serve the industrial area of Fenimore.

The small interchange yard at Junction, with the D&H mainline in the background. I'll probably say it a bunch of times, but I really like the backdrop effect here. It uses the old Dave Frary method and looks pretty good in person, but even better in photos. After switching some of the cars in the yard into a train (cars chosen based on switchlist), the local freight to Sonnyvale can depart.
As the local leaves the yard, it passes Hudson Paper Box & Holly Hill Creamery

Trackside view of the industries outside of Junction

The farm at Sheldon's Curve is by far one of my favorite scenes on the railroad. I probably took more pictures of this area than anything else - there's just so much to see! I really need to find out how Kip did his roadway (heh - and everything else in this scene) since it looks so authentic - and I have a LOT of roads to do on my layout...

Pulling back a bit, we see the creek next to the farm and the ROW going over the bridge.

Our local going by the farm at Sheldon's Curve. As with all the photos, be sure to click on them for a larger view. Your eyes - and imagination - will thank you!

On the way to Sonnyvale, we have some work to do at Jasperdale. What a well-executed, rural, wayside scene! There's SO much here that I want to try and emulate on the Valley Line.

Sonnyvale, looking back down the branch toward Junction. The Fenimore branch heads downgrade in the foreground.

Closer view of Sonnyvale station, with the Fenimore branch in the foreground. Really effective use of structures to convey a medium to large town.

Overview of the industrial complex at Fenimore.

And just cuz I couldn't resist - another view of the farm at Sheldon's Curve.
Kip has really nailed the look and feel of upstate New York. His use of color and texture - not to mention the myriad details, including pumpkins, gardens, linepoles w/wires(!) - is really effective at conveying a sense of time as well as place. Everything works together to put you back in the early 1960s, when the local freight was still a big part of the fabric of every day life. Consequently, the Sonnyvale Branch gives you a great trip back in time and is just a really fun, laid-back place to visit.

If you want to learn - and see - more of this great layout, you're in luck. The Sonnyvale Branch was featured in Great Model Railroads, 2011 as well as the April, 2013 issue of Model Railroader. You'll definitely want to check them out.
Typically, the Saturday afternoon ops session is the penultimate event of the "OP"toberfest weekend with only the dinner that night left to cap things off. Well, as a bonus, it turned out during dinner I was seated next to a fella I didn't know & asked him what layouts he'd operated over the past couple days. "My own," he replied. Well, turns out I was sitting next to John McBride who owns and operates the Crown Point Iron Co. railroad - in F scale(!)

His layout was the first on the list of layouts we could pick to operate on and, frankly, I made a big mistake passing it over - thinking it would be a hodge-podge of LGB equipment (not that there's anything wrong with that) and not really good for "serious" operations.

I couldn't have been more wrong. How about a working hump yard?!

(My apologies - it plays fine in Media Player, but not on YouTube.
And it looks like YT no longer allows you to rotate videos withing YT.)

John's layout is loosely based on a real ore-hauling railroad in upstate New York. There's little left of that line, having closed down in 1893. But in John's version of history, instead of closing down, the railroad adapted - and thrived - going into the new century, entering interchange agreements with surrounding railroads and expanding its industrial base. His CPICo RR is the impressive result. Yup - this is a fully-operational & operations-oriented G SCALE layout in a basement!

Yard at Crown Point, with the hump in the far background.

Crown Point engine terminal

Scene along the line at Sherman Corners, looking back toward Crown Point.

Same scene as above, looking toward Woodhull Mountain.

John scratchbuilt all of his structures - and almost all of them have full interiors as well!

Bennett Wood & Chemicals at Ironville, looking toward Hammondville.

Same scene, looking back toward Crown Point
Since the mainline punches through one of the risers on the basement stairs, you literally walk down into the layout which occupies the entire basement - on two levels! As I mentioned in one of the captions above, most of the structures have full interiors and some of them even have animation. Unfortunately, as you might have surmised from my hump yard video, I have a LOT to learn about videography. You'll just have to visit the CPICo RR in person to see it for yourself. Thankfully, John is a gracious and generous host and welcomes visitors.

Don't make the mistake I did - if you have a chance to operate this layout, DO IT! Pete and I decided right then and there that it'll be at the top of our list next year.
Even though this post is much longer than usual, it still doesn't fully capture how great a weekend this was. But hopefully it gives you a little taste of what these very talented artists have created for us to enjoy. I, for one, cannot wait to get back to the basement myself and channel some of this inspiration into progress on my own layout. I may never achieve the level of success Kevin, Jack, Kip, and John have, but if I follow their example even a little bit, I know I'll be a lot closer to creating a slice of railroad I can be proud of.

Thanks again to our hosts, and another special thanks to Doug Dederick for putting on such a wonderful event. I'm already looking forward to next year!

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