Low Cost/Low Effort DCC for the Small Layout

dccIf there is a chance that I am going to run more than one locomotive at a time on a layout, I will use Digital Command Control (DCC). I have heard many people complain that DCC is difficult, to expensive and takes to much time to learn/setup. Granted DC is simple to hookup to a loop of track. The locomotive is already setup to run and it takes a knob and a switch. But if you want to run more than one train at a time on DC, you have a lot of work to do. The work is not just in setting up block control but you must work to run the trains by throwing switches to power blocks as you move around the layout.

In this article, I plan to show what DCC equipment and configuration I use. The setup is much easier than it appears and once it is setup, it is very mobile and always available. To replicate what I have done you will need and probably already have:

  • Computer (can be an old machine or a laptop)
  • Wireless (most home networks have this)
  • Smart Device (phone or tablet)

Keep in mind that these items are NOT dedicated to serving your layout. I use the household computer everyone else uses. The wireless came with my internet DSL service and I use the smart phone I have for daily use. These were all things that are quite common in most households these days. Sometimes I borrow (well maybe steal) my kids iPod Touch to run my trains if I need an extra throttle.

The following article assumes that you are using Windows 7. The software outlined will run on many versions of Windows and even Linux.

DCC Basics

I will not attempt to describe all the technical bits about every component of a DCC setup. We will keep this simple and just focus on what is necessary. If you want to read more of the technical side of things, you can get that at http://www.dccwiki.com. Here we will look at the basics as they apply to the small layout. We are going to assume that the maximum number of trains running at any given time will be four. This includes all locomotives pulling power, even if they are just sitting and not moving. If it is receiving track power we have to consider it running.

A DCC “system” can be defined as “a set of components packaged together”. The products of main stream providers of DCC (like NCE, Digitrax, Lenz, ect..) sell “systems” and components. The most basic components of any DCC setup (notice I did not say “system”) are:

  • Command Station
  • Booster
  • Throttle
  • Decoder

The illustration below shows the relationship of these components in the simplest configuration.

Basic DCC Setup

Simple DCC Setup

Command Station

The Command Station is the brains of the system and is a computer of sorts. all the major manufacturers make and sell Command Stations. Many command stations include the booster. For the small layout, full size commercial systems can be too much, and in my humble opinion, can be overly complex.

Since a command station is a computer of sorts, why not use a real computer? Most of us have computers and some may even have old ones doing nothing. Why not put it to use running trains?

JMRIFor my command station I use a computer, the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) software and a little device called a SPROG. JMRI is free and the SPROG currently lists for $105.00 USD (includes power supply and shipping). Compared to other starter DCC Command Stations (averaging $200 for starter sets) this is very affordable.

 

SPROG II shown, a newer version 3 is now available

SPROG II shown, a newer version 3 is now available

JMRI is licensed under the Free Software Foundation’s “GNU General Public License” which means it is free for any hobbyist to use. JMRI is capable of all Command Station functions and meets NMRA DCC standards for output. This means it will work with any decoder that also meets that specification (and most do).

Before connecting the SPROG to your computer you need to install JMRI. Download the JMRI that is appropriate for you. I always select the latest production version. Downloads are available for Windows, MAC and Linux. Although the install is pretty easy, make sure to follow the installation instructions to avoid issues. There is a Yahoo JMRI Group with lots of other modelers who are more than willing to assist with any issues you may encounter.

JMRI comes with several programs which assist with running trains, programming decoders and more. We will just use DecoderPro for now.

JMRI includes several programs which assist with running trains, programming decoders and more. We will just use DecoderPro for now.

Once JMRI is installed, it needs a device to convert the signal into two wires for the rails. This is where the SPROG comes in. It connects to your USB port and then to the rails. The SPROG comes with a power supply and all connections are clearly marked on the front of the SPROG. Setup the SPROG and install the drivers as outlined in the SPROG Instructions. The SPROG comes with a disc that contains all the drivers required for the SPROG. Again, follow the supplied instructions.

Once the SPROG is installed, start JMRI DecoderPro. You will see a screen similar to the following.

DecoderPro_noconnection

To connect JMRI to the SPROG, you need to tell JMRI that you have a SPROG. The instructions for this are outlined in the SPROG documentation but for simplicity all you need to do is go to Edit->Preferences and click connections. In the drop-down, under System Manufacturer, select SPROG DCC and under system connection select SPROG. The final selection is Serial Port. You will most likly have more than one selection here depending on your version of software and computer type. On my Windows 7 machine Com 5 worked. If you make a selection and it does not connect to the SPROG, come back to this setting and choose the next one. When done your screen should look similar to the following.

SPROG-Setup

At this point save the settings and JMRI will reset. The JMRI screen will show the connection and you should be all set to program and run a single locomotive.

JMRI DecoderPro showing connection to the SPROG

JMRI DecoderPro showing connection to the SPROG

Throttle

JMRI comes with throttles to run trains from your computer screen. This is fine if you are sitting at a bench and testing, but I prefer a walk around throttle.

JMRI basic throttle

JMRI basic throttle

I use the WiFi Throttle app that is available on both IOS (WiThrottle) and Android (Engine Driver). The app works on any smart device that uses IOS such as iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch or Android devices like smart phones and tablets. A WiFi network (most home wireless networks have this) will also be required. The app comes with a free lite version or you can purchase the full app if you want extra features. I ran on the free version for over a year before I paid the $9.99 for the full app.

iPhone WiThrottle

iPhone WiThrottle

To setup this feature, the computer with JMRI installed needs to be on a network that has a wireless (WiFi) router (NOTE: the computer does not have to use the WiFi, just be on the same network with it). Within the JMRI DecoderPro program you will need to open devices and active the WiThrottle Server located under throttles. Once activated, start the app on the smart device and the app should automatically find it. For more detailed instructions refer to the JMRI web site.

Starting WiThrottle Server

Starting WiThrottle Server

This tool allows any smart device with the app work as a DCC throttle. I have been upgrading my iPhone every two years and I keep my old phones just to use for running trains. Since many other people I know have smart phones too, I setup their phone with the free app and let them run trains when they visit.

WiThrottle Server window will be visible when the server is running

WiThrottle Server window will be visible when the server is running

Booster

The booster is sometimes referred to as a “Power Station” and is responsible for combining the intelligence from the command station with the power of the power supply. So far the setup above is only powerful enough to run a single locomotive at best. To do more we need a booster.

SBOOST from the makers of the SPROG

SBOOST from the makers of the SPROG

For the small layout running just four trains, a single booster should be sufficient. We could use a commercial booster with the SPROG but they can be expensive. The SBOOST from the makers of the SPROG is more than enough for our needs and at $100 it costs much less than other commercial boosters. Although one booster is more than enough for a small layout, those who choose to also use the same equipment on a larger layout can run multiple boosters. See the SBOOST user manual for more information for larger layouts.

 

JMRI/SPROG DCC setup with wireless throttles on smart devices

JMRI/SPROG DCC setup with wireless throttles on smart devices

Decoder

Decoders come in a variety of sizes, power and abilities. The one thing I recommend is that the decoder be as NMRA compliant as possible. Some sound decoders require special equipment to program them. I stay away from proprietary software and hardware as much as possible.

DecoderPro Roster

DecoderPro Roster

Many people are put off when it comes to programming decoders. Having to figure out what a CV is and then all the steps to program them is a royal pain. I have always used JMRI for programming decoders and cannot imagine having to do it any other way. JMRI DecoderPro will read all the settings from your decoder and display them in an organized manner. You can then review them (most with simple descriptions) and adjust accordingly. The best thing is that DecoderPro saves your settings and builds a list (roster) of all of your locomotives and their settings.

DecoderPro Programming Screen

DecoderPro Programming Screen

The abilities of the programming with JMRI DecoderPro are far beyond the scope of this article. More information and detailed how-to’s can be found on the JMRI web site and in the Yahoo JMRI User Group. My personal recommendation is NEVER PROGRAM WITHOUT IT!

Summary

For me the JMRI/SPROG DCC setup is perfect. I use it on my large home layout with two boosters and on my small modular layouts with or without the booster. For the cost ($200.00 total for me) it gave me wireless control, easy setup and I can manage and save all the settings for my locomotives. You can expect to pay significantly more for a commercial system with radio control.

As a final thought, I have recently been experimenting with using this same setup to run Deadrail (use batteries and eliminate track power). I am so impressed with the results so far that I plan on converting all of my HO and larger scale layouts to some form of Deadrail. The details on this will be featured in an up-coming article. In the mean time see my other article Deadrail for Free-mo on my first Deadrail test using JMRI/SPROG and the Tam Valley DRS1.

Deadrail for Free-mo

Did a quick video of the new setup of an HO scale Deadrail System. Deadrail is when there is no power to the rails and the trains run on batteries. First tests look VERY promising. I plan on trying a series of tests on the Free-mo setup at the National Train Show in Cleveland OH next week.

SPECS:
Deadrail System = Tam Valley (http://www.tamvalleydepot.com/)
DCC system = JMRI (http://jmri.sourceforge.net/), SPROG II (http://www.sprog.us.com/), WI Throttle (http://www.withrottle.com/WiThrottle/Home.html)
Decoder = Tsunami (http://www.soundtraxx.com/dsd/tsunami/1000.php)
Battery = 860mha 7.4V 35C (local RC hobby shop)
Protection = Venom Low Voltage Monitor (http://www.amazon.ca/Venom-Voltage-Monitor-LiPO-Batteries/dp/B0064SHG0Y)
Drive Locomotive = LifeLike P2K (gears replaced)
Dummy Loco = Old Athearn GP35

I plan on trying a series of tests on the Free-mo setup at the NTS next week. This is going to be a very large layout with multiple loops. Should be a good test bed for endurance and battery life.

The smoothness of the locomotive is unbelievable!

The 4×8 Layout – A Right of Passage for the Model Railroad Rookie

I have been a model railroader for many years. My first layout was the classic 4×8 sheet of plywood. It was placed on top of an old pool table that was no longer used. I built several track arrangements on the surface and learned a lot about what works and what does not. I did my first scenery on that layout, first sectional track, first flex track and many other firsts. I learned much from my 4×8 layout.

Many experienced model railroaders will tell you the 4×8 sheet of plywood is a bad idea. It is restrictive, will grow boring fast and takes a lot of space that could be better utilized. Byron Henderson, in his article “Why Waste the Space on an HO 4X8?“, discusses some very good reasons and alternatives to 4×8. These are all valid facts, but all fail to consider the position of the model railroad rookie. A model railroad rookie needs to get something started, try something new and play with it with little to no effort. The 4×8 sheet supports this endeavor.

The St. Louis Central Railroad is a project railroad from NMRA Gateway.

The St. Louis Central Railroad is a project railroad from NMRA Gateway. See all about this 4×8 layout at http://www.gatewaynmra.org/2002/photos-missouri-history-museum-model-railroad-layout/

I believe that new model railroaders should be encouraged to build a 4×8 layout. The simple sheet of plywood creates a surface where the rookie can play and begin to work with the materials and concepts of the hobby quickly. They do not need to learn other skills first like planning, layout design and bench work design. We are model railroaders because we want to run trains, not learn about design and construction.

A new modeler’s first layout, 99% of the time, will be thrown away in the end. This is not because the layout was done poorly, but because the modeler has expanded their knowledge through trial and error, and wants to do more. The other advanced skills will come later when they want more from the hobby and go beyond the 4×8 layout.

A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another. Since a first layout will nearly always be dismantled in the end, why not promote the 4×8 as the Model Railroading Right of Passage?

Many experienced model railroaders act like well meaning, overprotective parents. They hope to save the inexperienced rookie from making the same mistakes they did. Most experienced model railroaders (dare I say) started on their own 4×8 layout. They learned the pitfalls and they learned that the hobby was fun. They had enough fun with it to stay in the hobby, learn from the their mistakes and go on to build better layouts.

Gorre & Daphetid by john Allen is one of the most celebrated layouts to have ever existed. It started life as a 4 x 8 layout.

Gorre & Daphetid by john Allen is one of the most celebrated layouts to have ever existed. It started life as a 4 x 8 layout.

Next time a rookie asks about starting in the hobby, promote the 4×8 so they may have fun and learn (like you did).

The following are some informative resources for 4×8 layouts:
If I Can’t Talk You Out of an HO 4X8 (by Byron Henderson)
Model Railroad Forums thread on “best 4×8 layouts”
Cke1st’s Trackplans Page
10 HO Track Plans for 4′x8′
Trainplayer
4×8 O Gauge Layouts

2014 Small Layout Design Meet

The Small Layout Design Meet has concluded and was fun for all. We had several new attendees and several new layouts. Most major scales were represented along with one very small one.

The web site (https://sites.google.com/site/smalllayoutdesignmeet/) has been updated with pictures of many of the layouts and other subjects presented. David Smith has uploaded a very well done video to youtube on the meet.

Although there were many very good layouts and other items presented, I wanted to highlight a couple unique items here.

Paul Love from brought a unique Christmas Tree layout (minus the tree). The base is comprised of a Christmas tree stand with several very nice scenes surrounding it.

Christmas tree Layout by Paul Love

Christmas tree Layout by Paul Love

Russ Haigh is always coming up with unique layouts. This has to be the smallest layout i have ever seen in person. Note the water bottle in the background to give this layout some scale.

Layout by Russ Haigh

Layout by Russ Haigh

David Karkoski won the farthest to attend award. He and his wife traveled from Wisconsin to attend the meet. His layout was operated by many and was highly detailed.

Layout by David Karkoski

Layout by David Karkoski

Jeff Schumaker entertained everyone with his Time Saver Layout. I even gave it a try (after I had watched everyone else’s mistakes).

Time Saver by Jeff Schumaker

Time Saver by Jeff Schumaker

John Clark brought several structures to show. His watch tower shows what can be done with lower cost plastic models.

Structure by John Clark

Structure by John Clark

David and Theresa Smith showed that 3-rail Lionel and wind-up have a place in the small layout realm. They also showed a very small HO layout in a suit case.

David and Theresa Smith fold out O-scale layout

David and Theresa Smith fold out O-scale layout

Bill Vollmar brought his HOn30 quarry layout to the meet again this year. I was very glad for this as all my photos of his layout from the 2013 meet did not turn out. His layout has a unique ability to fool the eye. It appears as though his train never turns around in the quarry yet manages to climb back out.

I want to say a VERY BIG THANK YOU to all who attended the Small Layout Meet!

Small Layout Ideas – The Terminal Railroad

Many larger cities at one time had a terminal railroad. These short lines were usually owned by one or more major railways. These terminal railways were very busy enterprises with many short runs, short trains and much switching to be done. A terminal railway had to service its customers (who usually very close together given the urban area they served) and handled interchange between the major railroads that it connected to.

Detroit Terminal RR NW2 #110 (photo by Marty Bernard)

Detroit Terminal RR NW2 #110 (photo by Marty Bernard)

One such railroad was the Detroit Terminal Railroad. The Detroit terminal Railroad was started in 1905 by local Detroit business owners desiring railway access to their businesses. At that time many of the prime industrial locations in the City of Detroit were located on railroad lines that were already taken. This caused an impediment to the development of the other industries.

Detroit Terminal Railroad Map (by Dale Berry)

Detroit Terminal Railroad Map (by Dale Berry)

Detroit Terminal Railroad’s trackage extended around the City of Detroit in what is called a “belt line,” reaching rural (for 1905) undeveloped locations in order to open up opportunities for new industrial development in the rapidly growing city.

Detroit Terminal RR 0-6-0

Detroit Terminal RR #1 0-6-0

Soon after starting the Detroit Terminal Railroad, the railroad was purchased jointly by Michigan Central Railroad (25%), Grand Trunk Western Railroad (50%) and Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway (25%), all having railroad lines in Detroit. The New York central became 50% owner in 1912 after absorbing the Michigan Central Railroad and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway.

Detroit Terminal RR 0-6-0

Detroit Terminal RR 0-6-0

By 1914 the final leg of the railway was completed on the west side of Detroit. The Detroit Terminal Railroad at this time consisted of 18 miles of main line. It stretched from the Detroit River on the east side of town to the Michigan Central mainline located on the west side of town. Although owned by the NYC and the GT, the Detroit Terminal operated as an independent railroad.

Chalmers Motor Company

Chalmers Motor Company

The Detroit terminal Railroad became so busy that it soon double tracked it entire main line and added signalling. The railroad logged about 75,000 loaded freight cars in one year over it’s 18 miles. Some of the industries served included:

  • Chalmers Motor Company
  • Hudson Motor Company
  • Continental Motor Company
  • Ford Motor Company

The Ford Highland Part Plant was the largest shipper on the railroad, shipping 176 outbound freight cars daily containing automobiles. The plant took in up to 100 freight cars daily bringing in supplies and materials for the plant.

Remnants of the double track main still exist in some locations

Remnants of the double track main still exist in some locations

Although the city and industries grew around the railroad the major railways found that using the terminal railroad allowed better interchanging of freight cars between the three owner railroads and with all the other railroads in Detroit. Other than the GT and NYC, interchange occurred with:

  • Pere Marquette Railroad (later C&O/CSX)
  • Wabash Railroad (later N&W)
  • Pennsylvania Railroad (later Penn Central/Conrail)
  • Detroit, Toledo & Ironton

The railroad hits its peak traffic in the 1950′s and started to decline in the 1960′s. As with many railroads, changes in transportation methods and rising costs the railroad was soon in trouble. By the end of the 1960′s there was an estimated $2.5 million in deferred maintenance to tracks and equipment. Blame was placed on poor management of the railroad by its two railroad owners (NYC and GT).

CSX (ex Pere Marquette) trackage. Detroit Terminal RR crossing was located just beyond turnout.

CSX (ex Pere Marquette) trackage. Detroit Terminal RR crossing was located just beyond turnout.

The Detroit Terminal Railroad managed to limp along until 1980 when the GT sold it’s interest in the line to Conrail (NYC being rolled into Penn Central and then Conrail). Conrail operated it for one year then combined Detroit Terminal Railroad operations with its own railroad operations.

Detroit Terminal RR caboose

Detroit Terminal RR caboose

The primary yard and hub of operations was the main freight yard (Davison Yard) located in northern Detroit at Davison and Mound Roads. The Davison Yard was located about in the middle of the line’s route. All freight cars came and went through Davison Yard where they were classified for the various trains to take the freight cars to the on-line industries or the connecting railroads for interchange. Additional lesser freight yards included East Warren Yard, Mack Yard and Van Dyke Yard, all located east of Davison Yard. West Warren Yard and Lonyo Yard were located west of Davison Yard.

Most of the track is gone today. Much of the former DT right of way is almost indistinguishable.

Most of the track is gone today. Much of the former DT right of way is almost indistinguishable.

Interchanges with the New York Central Railroad was at their Livernois Yard until 1974 then afterwards at North Yard. Grand Trunk Western interchanged at their East Yard while Pere Marquette (later C&O then CSX) was at their Rougemere Yard, Detroit Toledo & Ironton (before owned by Grand Trunk Western) at their Ford Yard, Pennsylvania Railroad (before merger with New York Central) and Wabash (later N&W) at Lonyo Avenue by West Warren Yard (Oakman Spur).

The line near Harper is still in use today.

The line near Harper is still in use today.

Locomotives for the Detroit Terminal Railroad were not unique. In the steam era, they typically used 0-6-0 and 0-8-0 switching locomotives. This reflected the short mileage and mostly switching type work done on the railroad. In 1945 the railroad began the dieselization process with the purchase of two VO-1000 locomotives. This was soon followed with the purchase of a Baldwin DS44-1000 in 1947. Then in 1947, the purchase of nine EMD NW2 switchers ended the use of steam. The railroad added two more NW2 in 1949 and two EMD SW7 in 1951. These locomotives would serve the railroad until its last days in 1981.

ex DT switchers lined up in Collinwood,Ohio

ex DT switchers lined up in Collinwood,Ohio

Modeling possibilities for the Detroit Terminal Railroad abound. A prototype location for a small/mini layout with lots of switching moves could easily be found on many areas of the line. If mainline action is what you desire, the mainline was double tracked and was very heavily trafficked. The range of traffic in a large mid-western city like Detroit is only limited by your imagination. A large portion of the traffic would be supply traffic for the automotive industry with finished outbound cars to all destinations across the continent.

The Mack Yard today is replaced by a auto loading facility for the Mack Avenue plant.

The Mack Yard today is replaced by a auto loading facility for the Mack Avenue plant.

For the railfan, an interchange layout could be conceived with motive power from nearly every major eastern railroad depicted. The same scene could be in the 1940′s with steam and then change to the 1950′s with first generation diesels and the N&W steam mixed in. Again switch to the 1970′s and early 80′s to host the later generation GP and SD locomotives. The background scene would not have to change much to support all the eras.

The line is still used today near Wyoming.

The line is still used today near Wyoming.

The small NW2 locomotive is very easy to come by in HO and N scales. If modeling the late 1940s to early fifties, a large number of shorter cars become available. This mix of small locomotives and shorter cars works well for the small layout. I am sure, I will be revisiting this railroad for a future project.

Detroit Terminal RR

Detroit Terminal RR

Small Layout Ideas – The Flong Railway

Here is another look at an interesting prototype railway to model. As with the last article, I hope this will inspire another small layout design. Feedback on this and any article is always welcome!


The Flong Railway is a little known narrow gauge line that traverses the island of San Serriffe in the Indian Ocean. The rail line is 30inch gauge which makes it a perfect candidate for a HOn30 or OO9 model railroad. The railway provides a cross island service from the ocean town of M’Flong on the east coast of the island to the Flong communities located within the swamp area of the Wal of Tipe.

map

The Flong are the descendants of the first settlers to the San Serriffe Islands. During the early history of the island, the Flong were persecuted and remove from their lands by several waves of colonization. The Flong took refuge in the Wal of Tipe which is a large swamp area. Some Flong took up guerrilla activities to fight the government during the early 2oth century. Today, with modern social changes and the advent of tourism, the Flong villages have become a kind of tourist trap on the island.

Native Flog watch as a train crosses only steel bridge on the line cica 1940

Native Flong watch as a train crosses the only steel bridge on the line cica 1940

The rail line was built during the late 1800’s to provide a way for the Flong to receive the basic necessities to survive. Up until the late 1970’s, the western highway was closed and the Wal of Tipe was cut off. The eastern portion of the Wal of Tipe swamp would not support traditional roads, so with the support of the British government, the rail line was built. The rail line is supported for more than half its length on a trestle to keep it above the swamp.

Opening of the line in 1886. The British imported Chinese labor to assist in the building of the line.

Opening of the line in 1886. The British imported Chinese labor to assist in the building of the line.

Today, the western highway is open and the Flong have been accepted back into the communities. Even so, the railway is still in use today. The rail line sat for several years unused except for excursions during the semiannual Festival ‘The Well Made Play’. Today, the rail line is used as a “back door” to supply the never ending array of Chinese made trinkets the Flong sell to the throngs of tourists that visit the villages each year.

Original Flog hut

Original Flong hut

The Flong villages are comprised of groups of thatched huts. These are, of course, only for the tourists. Any Flong with half a brain lives in the now luxurious seaside resort town of M’Flong. The railway winds its way through the villages and deposits loads of cheap trinkets at various points within the village. There is also the occasional rail coach, which will take tourists for a ride through the village.

Today, the area has been transformed into a series of side shows to entertain the tourists.

Today, the area has been transformed into a series of side shows to entertain the tourists.

M’Flong is far different from the tourist areas with the Wal of Tipe. It is a very affluent seaside town that caters to the now very rich Flong. The Flong have also opened a casino at M’Flong in order to diversify and further expand their income base. The rail line ends in M’Flong on the coast at the docks. The dock was once a simple small wooden platform that had to be extended once a year due to the unique sand bars and erosion of the island. These issues have been resolved in the last few years and the current dock is a bustling modern concrete wharf with facilities for the maintenance and service of the old locomotives. It is important to the Flong to keep the old equipment and not ruin the tourist expectations.

One of the many luxury resorts at  M’Flong

One of the many luxury resorts at M’Flong

The layout design is for a 24” x 60” double sided layout. The port city of M’Flong is on one side and then the Wal of Tipe tropical swamp on the other side. The Wal of Tipe villages are represented by a series of huts, all of which should be selling trinkets and the traditional Fong entrees of mutton, goat cheese, and damson wine. The area should be modeled to include many tourists with cameras, funky hats, sun glasses and large waist lines. The M’Flong side of the layout uses several flats to represent the modern urban area. A wharf area, warehouses and a locomotive service facility round out the necessities.

I hope you enjoyed our tour of modern day San Serriffe Island and the indigenous Flong people. If you wish to learn more about the island nation of San Serriffe, this link should provide all the information you need.

Traffic Sources – Freight Houses and Team Tracks

Everyone wants more traffic on their railroad and we like to have reasons to put them there. I found through research on the period I was modeling, an abundance of new traffic I had never given proper thought to.

Wagon of flour similar to that used in Tecumseh circa 1900

Wagon of flour similar to that used in Tecumseh circa 1900

My revolution came while researching a possible future layout based on my home town of Tecumseh MI. I had picked up one of the local history books and flipped to the industry section. I was focusing on track side industries and not much else when I saw an image of a horse drawn wagon and the caption which said “daily load of flour for the railroad freight house”.

This freight house from Brooklyn, MI is very similar to the one that was in Tecumseh, MI.

This freight house from Brooklyn, MI is very similar to the one that was in Tecumseh, MI.

I was struck by the size of the load and that it was daily. I had always know Tecumseh had a freight house but I had only assumed a car every other day for the freight house in a small town. This new off-line industry could increase the traffic to daily. I had never payed much attention to the freight house since in modern times most have been torn down and it has not been a focus for a long time.

The schedule from 1910 shows that eight passenger trains a day passed Tecumseh. Although located on a branch line the line saw a lot of traffic.

The schedule from 1909 shows that eight passenger trains a day passed Tecumseh. Although located on a branch line the line saw a lot of traffic.

This new found source of traffic led me to read more captions for other off-rail traffic sources. As I read and looked further I noticed captions like “supplied to eastern markets” or “known for their XYZ”. Tecumseh was a very small town, if it was “known” for a product, it was not just in this small town. Another clue was the quantity of product a firm built. The small community and surrounding area could not support an operation that output thousands of products.

So how much traffic did all these off-line sources produce? Since these industries are off-line, they must be using a station, freight house or team track for transfer to the railroad.

LS&MS Passenger Station located near the freight house.

LS&MS Passenger Station located near the freight house.

To handle all this LCL cargo, the railroads setup freight houses in nearly every town. The freight house acted as the business shipping center for the Community. Any business that did not have its own rail siding could bring their goods to the freight house for shipping. This could be for a custom order or regular shipments to a larger market in a major city.

Another (but larger) LS&MS freight house located in nearby Hillsdale, MI

Another (but larger) LS&MS freight house located in nearby Hillsdale, MI

This information led me to take a closer look at the railroad and track arrangements in Tecumseh. This gave clues as to the volume of traffic that could be handled. Tecumseh was served by three railways at one time. By the early 1900′s (the time I am researching) only two remained, Detroit, Toledo & Ironton (DT&I) and Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (LS&MS). Each railroad had a passenger station and freight house. I decided to concentrate on the LS&MS as it was the larger railroad of the two. The freight house along with a stock yard, grain cleaner and grain warehouse occupied an area in the north end of town. The passenger station was across the tracks on the east side.

Portion of Sanborn Map of Tecumseh MI circa 1900 (click for larger image)

Portion of Sanborn Map of Tecumseh MI circa 1900 (click for larger image)

According to Sanborn maps of the period, the single track line split into three tracks just south of the stock yard. The west track served both the freight house and the stock yard. The eastern most track served the railroad stations. Two additional spurs served a Lumber Yard on the East side and coal dealer on the West side behind the stock yards. The tracks continued to the north to form a small yard and switching area.

The freight house area in Tecumseh may have looked like this busy western town during harvest season.

The freight house area in Tecumseh may have looked like this busy western town during harvest season.

Freight houses could also have a team track area for loading bulk items directly from a wagon or truck.  Large loads, such as tractors, could be on/off loaded. Several times I have come across images of families unloading what looks like all there furniture which could only mean they were in the middle if a long distance move.

Team tracks allowed for direct loading of cars from wagons and trucks.

Team tracks allowed for direct loading of cars from wagons and trucks.

Although the Sanborn map of Tecumseh does not show any sign of a team track, there most certainly was room for one. The strange angle of Bidwell street and the large area of open space in that area could have served as a team track. From the photos in the book, there was a raised platform from the freight house to the edge of the stock pen.

Many team tracks had ramps for easy loading of equipment onto flat cars.

Many team tracks had ramps such as this one for easy loading of equipment onto flat cars.

The LS&MS yard and freight house area would allow for several cars and lots of activity for a small community. It can easily be seen that several cars could be spotted without tying up the main track. The freight house and surrounding facilities could generate a decent amount of traffic.

The coming of cars and trucks forever changed the way railroads serviced the community. But let's not forget how they got there!

The coming of cars and trucks forever changed the way railroads serviced the community. But let’s not forget how they got there!

With the number of off-line industries I have been able to document in Tecumseh, and the farming from the area, the freight house will be a major traffic source. Traffic will be coming and going daily with peak seasons for harvest. I am now estimating a slow day at two cars and a busy day with as many as six or more cars.

Train Show Small Layouts

It is that time of year when train shows abound. Whenever I go to a train show or event, I am always on the hunt for small layouts. This months episode looks at a few that I found recently.

Most shows in the U.S. are more flea market than train show. In Early December, I attended the NMRA, NCR, Division 6 Show in Livonia Michigan as part of an exhibit on Free-mo. The show is unique in that it did not have any vendors at all. It was just layouts and people sharing their interests in the hobby. Although it was an NMRA division event, you did not have to be an NMRA member to visit the show.

At the Division 6 show, I managed to get a few minutes to walk around and see some of the layouts. This little gem by Eric Diehl caught my attention. It is a modular layout that can be part of a larger club layout or run on its own. At the show Eric was running the layout on its own as a separate small layout. The layout is viewable from both sides and allows for point to point or continuous running.

 

In January, I visited the annual Lansing Model Railroad Club Show & Sale in East Lansing, MI. At this show I stumbled upon a trio of interesting small layouts by Tom Cipelle. Tom really likes the very small scales. The first layout is Z scale and set in a brief case. The layout is a continuous runner with an over-under arrangement. Tom did a very nice job of integrating everything into a nice neat package.

The second layout by Tom is also Z scale with three loops for a lot of running action. The center section allows for some switching if your eyes can handle such a small scale.

His third layout was a very small T scale (1:450) layout. The trains for this layout were absolutely tiny. The layout is set on a 3-D puzzle of Chicago. Although the rivet counter may discount the scale variations of the train vs the city, Tom’s T scale layout drew quite a crowd. I also have to mention that Tom’s wife insisted that the Tower Bridge added a little pizazz to the scene.

This year I was finally able to make it to the Springfield Mass Train Show. This had to be the largest train show, I have ever been to. Unfortunately I was only able to attend one day for six hours. Not nearly enough time to see everything at the show (I missed one whole building). Even so, I was very pleased with what I saw and I will make sure to return and spend two full days next time.

One small layout that peaked my interest was the small layout by the Providence Northern Model Railroad Club. Although they have a large club layout, they brought to the show a small switching layout that showed a fine level of detail and craftsmanship. The crowds at the show kept me from getting good photos but the couple here should show the capabilities of the layout. The layout is HO scale and can be setup for switching operations.

Also at the Springfield show was the Western Wiscassett & Northern Railroad. This 7/8 scale layout was presented by David Newton. The layout is a switching arrangement and represents a Main 2-foot gauge railroad in 7/8 scale. The proportion for 7/8-inch scale is 1:13.7. These trains were big. Most of the locomotives were battery powered but one was live steam.

If you have come across unique layouts that you would like to share, please contact me. I would like to hear about them too!

Christmas Display Layouts

This month we will take a look at a series of Christmas layouts by Brian G Kammerer. All photos in this article are by Dana Laird. We looked at some examples of Brian’s work in a prior article “Layout Composition and Design Concepts“.

Brian has been creating small display layouts for the Rowayton, CT Historical Society Open House each year. He refers to it as his annual ever changing and original Christmas layout.

In 2010 Brian offered to setup a train layout and started with this small N-scale window layout. The layout was originally intended to fit in a kitchen window. the layout made it’s first public appearance at the 2010 open house.

N Scale Layout Overview

N Scale Layout originally designed for a kitchen window

Houses on the N-Scale Layout

Houses on the N-Scale Layout

All the layouts shown have “snow” added just for the Open House. Brian uses flour since the setup is temporary. The flour makes it look like real lightly dusted snow.

A row of houses on the N-scale layout

A row of houses on the N-scale layout

Also on display in 2010 was this round layout. The layout was made from a rotating diorama Brian had created for his movie, The Other Great Locomotive Chase (http://www.toglc.com/).

Round Layout

Round Christmas Layout

The Layout is 5 ft in diameter. Brian used used burlap as a base on the foam. The burlap gives it texture and holds any material sprinkled onto the wet paint due to the woven pattern. The layout as setup, does not have a mechanism to make it turn, but will turn by hand.

Locomotives Pass on the Round Layout

Locomotives Pass on the Round Layout

In 2012, Brian introduced another layout to the open house. This layout was significantly larger than the prior two. Brian used two smaller dioramas to create the larger scene. The original sizes were 20 x 32 inches. He expanded them with two sheets of 2 x 4 Blue foam board to accommodate a double oval.

Assembling the Layout with Blue Foam

Assembling the Layout with Blue Foam

Burlap was added on top of the foam to provide instant texture.

Burlap added to the layout

Burlap added to the layout

Mountains, tunnels and other scenic details are filled in.

Adding the Mountain and Tunnel Scene

Adding the Mountain and Tunnel Scene

Adding the foreground buildings

Adding the foreground buildings

Final details added

Final details added

The pine trees are made from butterfly bush clippings with light green flocking sprinkled atop Hunt Club Green spray painted clippings. The winter trees are made from grass and weeds that grow along street curbing and cracks.

The Finished Layout is Ready

A little Snow and the Finished Layout is Ready

finished_5 finished_4 finished_3 finished_2

Brian is now on his fourth year and is planning to model the Norwalk Trolley Line for his 2013 display. I wish him luck and look forward to seeing the photos from this years event!

About Brian G Kammerer

Brian is an accomplished artist with 35 years of Advertising experience and is a member of the Yahoo Civil War Model Railroading Group. You can find out more about Brian’s artist background at http://www.bkmmrr-art.com/ and his Civil War Battle Map Art project at http://www.cwbattlemapart.com/. Brian is also the creator of a movie called The Other Great Locomotive Chase (http://www.toglc.com/). The movie is a fantastic model railroad parity to the original Great Locomotive Chase.

The Rowayton Historical Society

Information about the Rowayton Historical Society can be found at http://www.rowaytonhistoricalsociety.org/.

Photos

All photos in the article were taken by Dana Laird.

A Helix in Foam Core

In a previous post we looked at the Brewery Tramway which included a prototype helix. The thought of creating a helix and multilevel layout continued to intrigue me for some time. I had never done one before, not even on my large layout attempts. I decided to try and build the helix and if all went well possibly the entire tramway layout.

Brewery_upper Brewery_lower

I decided as a construction material I would try foam board. This material is very light but can warp easily if the construction methods do not prevent it.

I created a base from sheets of foam board cut to 17.5″ x 29.5″. The base is approximately 3 inches high with a single sheet of foam board on top. Underneath I added several cross members to stiffen the top. I used hot glue on all mating surfaces and joints. Working with hot glue requires a lot of test fitting prior to actually assembly. You must work fast as the glue thickens as it cools. I then added the a sheet for the back and a sheet to one side. This forms the right end of the completed layout. On this base I drew the full size dimensions of the helix and added a side wall to enclose the helix area. NOTE: When using hot glue, it is a good idea to go back over all joints with a bead of hot glue. This proides extra holding power and fills any gaps.

Layout Base for Helix

Layout Base for Helix

I designed the helix with 8 vertical struts. Each struct is also made of foam core. I assembled the struts by gluing 2 pieces of foam core in a “T” along the vertical of each strut. Since the helix will have 3.5 turns and each turn will rise approximately 2.5″ the total height of the helix will be 8.75″. I made all struts this height.

Using Doughnut Form to Place Vertical Struts

Using Doughnut Form to Place Vertical Struts

To create the roadbed for the helix, I cut out four foam circles (one for each loop in the helix) then cut the middles to make doughnuts out of them. To assist with the placement of the struts, I used one of the doughnuts and planned the placement of each strut. Paired struts were required where no supporting wall was available.

Track and Roadbed Placed in Struts

Track and Roadbed Placed in Struts

Then I cut a slit in each so I could attach it to the next part of the helix. Once that was done, I started laying the track on each doughnut before splicing them together. I used construction adhesive to glue the flex track down. The track would overhang the end of the doughnut where the joint would be. I would add the next doughnut section and hot glue a short piece of foam board underneath to secure the joint. With the joint in place I would continue to lay the track to the next joint. The flex track with construction adhesive served as a kind of top plate as well. In this way, I was able to build the loops of the helix and lay the track at the same time. It was nice to not have to work around the supports for the helix as I laid the track.

Closeup of Structs With Track in Place

Closeup of Structs With Track in Place

When the track was done the whole thing looked like a giant slinky. I then laid the assembly into the jig (the white columns that surround the helix) and added spacers under the first course of the helix. This is where things were critical. The lift had to be even at each of the 8 points of the vertical columns. I made shims from foam core and lifted the first course. Once the first course was perfect, I glued them all in place. All the later courses were spaced out with a jig so they went very quickly. I used basswood cross beams at each column. I made sure to glue the helix down in each of these locations securely with CA.

IMG_2161

There was some tendency to want to twist but it was very minimal with the process I used and gluing everything to the basswood cross beams corrected it. I can pick up the layout by the helix. It is quite sturdy.

Also a major factor is the track which is Peco OO9 flex track. The stuff is very high quality, bends very easily and is robust. I like it much better than anything else I have tried (even in HO and N).

View of Layout with Helix and Track Plan

View of Layout in Progress with Helix and Track Plan

I have tested the helix with an N-scale Bachmann Plymouth pulling three N-scale cars. The little diesels did fine on the 5% grade. This will be acceptable to mimic the typical short trains that the prototype brewery ran. I have been so pleased with the building of the helix, that I have built the left half of the layout base and have started on the upper level shelf.

More to come…