Friday, June 28, 2019

Friday Fun? Making Room for Dickinson's Warehouse

"No plan survives contact with the enemy."
-paraphrased quote by Helmuth von Moltke

Building a successful model railroad shouldn't be likened to going into battle, but it sometimes seems that way. Despite the most-detailed plans, Harsh Reality (the "enemy" in our little metaphor) has a way of at least modifying said plans, if not totally laying them to waste. You can fuss and fret all you want, but the path to success is being flexible enough to accommodate/overcome/go around the inevitable hurdles reality puts in your way and confront them head-on.

The most common hurdles are planning curve radii which won't actually fit, or turnouts that turn out to be much longer than expected. But sometimes, the hurdle is the result of an unanticipated opportunity. Case in point: the Dickinson Witch Hazel Warehouse in Essex.

Ain't she a beaut? And she still exists today...

Other than the station itself (actually, the freight house in my era), the Dickinson warehouse really establishes & anchors the entire Essex scene. So there was never any question that I would have to include a model of it on my layout.

For the longest time, I just had this as a temporary mockup. I figured the 3" or so between the track and the backdrop would be enough space for a deep-relief flat version of the warehouse.

And a flat would be just about all I'd be able to accommodate since Deep River is directly on the opposite side of the backdrop - and, as you can see, it's already a bit snug there (especially down by the transfer siding in the distance). No worries though - all that's on the backdrop side of the track here is a riverbank - and the river itself will be on the backdrop.

So that was my rough plan - a 2" or so deep flat version of the Dickinson warehouse. Then reality hit in the form of an unanticipated opportunity courtesy Bill Maguire.

Yup, that's a full-scale model of the Dickinson warehouse that Bill built and gave to me when he dismantled his layout. That's the good news. The, um, not so good news is - well, you can see how it fits . . .

Now, there was absolutely no way I was going to cut or in any way modify such a gorgeous model, so I moved it down the siding until it actually fit . . .

It "fits" but certainly isn't located where it really needs to be. So next I decided to see what I'd need to do in order to get the warehouse to fit where it's supposed to go.

Turned out, I needed about 4 more inches(!) between the track and the backdrop in order to get the warehouse to fit properly. Ugh!

I pushed a long bamboo skewer through the foam to mark the corners of the building. In this overall view, you can see how much track would need to be moved in order to create enough space. Moving all that track was a non-starter. I'd end up losing the sidings closest to the aisle, not to mention creating unrealistic - and probably non-working - big S curves at each end of the scene.

So, if I couldn't move the track, the only other option (other than cutting the building, which was another non-starter) was to move the backdrop. So that's what I did.

The skewers helped me "see" where the limits of the building were when viewed from the Deep River side of the backdrop. I sighted those limits and marked them on the foam on the Deep River side, and started cutting . . .

My friend RonD has often said that "the toughest aspect of  any modeling action is the first step" and, once I'd decided to move the backdrop, things progressed pretty quickly. It's amazing what you can do with a sharp steak knife, despite the foam being 2" thick (based on a previous experience with BillS, I decided against burning through the foam with a hot knife).

Fortunately, the backdrop rests on the slats and within a slot that had been cut into the foam (with said hot knife), so I figured "all I have to do" is remove more foam and push the backdrop over enough to make space for the warehouse.

Well, that was mostly correct. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that I did install one vertical support to hold things up . . .

And, also unfortunately, when I went to move the backdrop toward the Deep River side of the peninsula, it got hung up on this L-bracket. It took me longer to get in there with a screwdriver and move the L-bracket than the whole rest of the moving project did (and I never did get the bracket totally removed). But at least I got it unhooked and was able to move the backdrop just enough.

A piece of foam, wedged in the gap on the Essex side, is enough to hold the backdrop at bay. Voila! There's enough space (finally!) for the Dickinson warehouse!

But the Deep River side has suffered a bit, admittedly. See how close the bow in the backdrop comes to the transfer siding?

There's enough clearance to get cars past there, but it doesn't look that great. There's going to have to be some creative sleight-of-hand scenery-wise to disguise this. And I'll probably move the siding a bit further north (left) as well.

But, in my mind at least, that's a small price to pay for such a signature structure in one of the most important towns on the Valley Line.

Whattaya think? I know everyone has their own "givens & druthers" and you may have decided differently. How do you tend to confront the inevitable obstacles you encounter during layout construction? Any helpful tips or suggestions? Weigh in in the comments below.

And thanks again to all of you who either posted here or emailed me directly about Wethersfield Lumber. I really appreciate your taking the time to write and share your thoughts and perspectives. Stay tuned for more progress there. For now though, I think I'll give the Essex scene a rest.


  1. Amazing work Chris!! I have a couple questions about your SX and DR areas. In the photos of your version of SX yard tracks 5,1,6,8 seem to match present day track plan. but what should be track 7 and 9 look a bit different. Is this because of space limitations or is it more accurate to the era modeled? Obviously the shop and LSF were not there but the switch seems to be further north than present day. Also for your DR set, where is the Transfer siding in relation to Tate's Cut? obviously today that siding is not present and I'm curious where it would fall in orientation to the river and the rock cut. Regardless amazing job the more I see your post the more I am motivated to work on my model of 3025.

    1. Thanks for the compliment! You're right - tracks 7 & 9 are oriented more toward how they were in the late 1940s. Or at least that's the intent :) See this photo for comparison:

      But your comment made me realize that I haven't really done ANY sort of comprehensive post about Essex (or Deep River or East Haddam for that matter). And it's not even part of the Layout Tour on my website! Must fix that ASAP.

      As for the transfer siding, as far as I can determine, it ended south of Tate's Cut and well below mainline grade. The switch was at the north end of the freight house. Check out this photo: .

      Hope this helps - and let me know if you're not able to able to access these links. Thanks for dropping by!

    2. Sorry to say but the photos/links are not visible. But thank you for answering so quickly! It will be very interesting to see what these locations look like when you are done " back-dating" them.