This week I started a new Free-mo module set called the Boat Yard. The design was a few years in the making. I was inspired by the Norfolk Southern (ex Norfolk & Western, ex Wabash) carfloat operation across the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor Ontario.
A Brief History
It should be pointed out that from the beginning all ferries on the Great Lakes and the Detroit River were referred to as “boats”, even though many were very large. Floating/ferrying railroad cars across the Detroit River goes back over 100 years. In the early days, the railroads used ferries (as opposed to non-powered floats/barges) to transfer railroad cars across the river.
Around 1900 the Grand Trunk Western, Pere Marquette and Michigan Central all had cross river ferries. The Wabash contracted with the GTW to handle its freight across the river. The Michigan Central (with New York Central engineering) opened a tunnel under the river in 1910. Much of its ferry equipment was sold to the other railroads which would continue into the 1990’s. The C&O (Pere Marquette) continued with Car Ferries in Detroit until the 1960’s when it acquired trackage rights through the tunnel. In the 1970’s the GTW lost its yards and ferry slips to make way for the Renaissance Center and downtown development. About that time the GTW acquired traffic rights through the (now Penn Central) tunnel.
The Wabash took over the remaining ferry slips and the best equipment from the GTW which also consisted of ex Michigan Central/NewYork Central ferries/carfloats. In the 1960’s the Wabash was merged into the Norfolk and Western. By this time all three remaining ferries had their engines removed, the decks were rearranged from three tracks to four.
The ferries were now carfloats and used tugs to shuttle the boats across the river. This change allowed the Norfolk Southern to continue the carfloat operation into the 1990s. The day finally came when trackage rights and the enlargement one of the bores of the old tunnel made the carfloats unnecessary.
The “Boat Yard” I am modeling is at the very southern end of what was once a very large and extensive network of yards serving several boat slips and the downtown Fort Street Union Depot. Several railroads converged on this waterfront creating a rail network that stretched for miles along the waterfront. Today all that remains is a small portion of the yard and the old ferry slips. There are still a few industries in the area and the remaining yard is used for storage.
The design is “inspired by circa 1985” of the prototype and is not meant to be an exact replica. Even though the yard is much smaller than it once was, to model it at scale would require a space of 45 feet. I have used selective compression to get the layout down to 25 feet. I have done this by removing one slip, reducing the number (and length) of the yard tracks, moving the lead track for the slip and use a smaller three track carfloat. I have also added locomotive/car service tracks to add to operation. Even with these changes, I believe the Boat Yard should operate very similar to the prototype.
The track plan was designed for operation. Trains arriving from the West enter the yard at the top. A long arrival track allows the engine to escape at one end while a yard engine can take the train apart and immediately begin weighing and sorting cars into the appropriate holding tracks. A primary concern for sorting cars is the weight. Carfloats must have the weight evenly distributed to avoid taking a swim.
A second yard lead at the bottom of the module enables a second operator to load and unload from the ferry. When unloading, the operator may deposit all cars on the outbound tracks. Cars for loading are pulled from the south end of the sorting tracks.
The East end of the module contains a small engine service and rip track. This allows for locomotives to layover while trains are assembled for a return trip. I have also added an industry to the South East slip lead track. This is actually in keeping with the prototype as the Detroit Free Press printing plant was actually serviced by the same track. My divergence from prototype was to extend the switch lead up behind the plant to get enough space to service the tracks without lengthening the module. A little disruption by having to switch the plant will make the operations just a little more interesting.
In order to be a fluid part of a larger Free-mo setup and not just a dead end on the layout, I added a 45 degree single track diverging route on the West end of the module. As in the prototype, this could lead to another industry but with Free-mo, we always need more curves and transitions from double to single track.
I started construction this past weekend and hope to have the new module ready for the National Train Show in Indianapolis, July 2016. That is just 9 short months away and with my schedule so far this year it will be tight. I intend on building all the base modules at once and then finish each from West to East.
The current design requires 29 turnouts. To save cost I will attempt to hand lay as many as possible. I will also be using the Walthers carfloat and bridge kits to save time. I will be posting updates as I have them so stay tuned!
As part of the Rail-Marine theme this month, we present here the model of the Steamer Solano which was present at the 2014 NMRA NCR Division 6 Model Railroad Show & Workshop.
The Model is by Jim Turner and represents the Solano which operated across the Carquinez Strait between Benicia and Port Costa, California in the area of San Francisco Bay. The Solano was a very large railroad ferry built as a sidewheel paddleboat by the Central Pacific Railroad.
The Solano was built in 1878 and operated until 1930. She was 424 feet long and 116 feet wide. She was capable of carrying entire passenger trains or a 48-car freight train and locomotive.
The Southern Pacific Railroad constructed a new bridge in 1930 which made the Solano obsolete. She was later scuttled to create a breakwater in the San Joaquin River near Antioch, California. Her remains can still be seen today.
I must apologize for not getting articles out as often as I would like. My goal is for getting something out at least once a month but sometimes life just gets in the way! This past summer I had a rigorous work schedule with many visits, new product launches and being short staffed. It is a good problem to have but left little time for modeling or writing about modeling.
Even so, I managed to coalesce my plans for the “Boat Yard”. This Free-mo module plan was years in the making. I finally have a plan that I feel I have the skill and time to complete. If all goes well, it will find it way to the 2016 National Train Show in Indianapolis.
Other future plans that may or may not come to life include: Detroit Salt Company and the Smelter. both were considerations for my next project but the boat yard won out.
After a (sometimes fierce) debate about available systems for DeadRail on the Yahoo DeadRail Group, I decided to look and compare them for myself. This review only looks at systems that can be used for On30 and smaller scales. There are several Garden Railroading systems that use radio control and batteries but I am limiting this review to just systems that pertain to smaller scales.
Unfortunately, I could not afford to purchase and test each system (as should and needs to be done). The following is a comparison of costs and features as listed on the manufacturer web sites. Some additional information has been gathered from personal observations at trade shows, feedback from the Yahoo DeadRail Group and the manufacturers themselves.
I have tried to make this a completely unbiased look at the available systems. I welcome feedback and counter views. I also welcome any manufacturer that wishes to make their products available. I will conduct an unbiased review of any product I receive and make it available.
The following contains a brief description with highlights of each system. At the end of the article is a table showing the list of systems with basic pricing information and technologies used. NOTE: The order of these products is completely random and does not reflect any kind of rating.
Most of the DelTang products are designed and built by David Theunissen in England. David has making receivers since 2009 and is also known for his Radio Controlled model aircraft and products. David provided some personal insight on radio technology for this article. DelTang uses the same technology used in Radio Controlled Model Aircraft to create a system for radio controlled train operation. The end result is a robust system that is low cost and gets the job done.
This is the most economical system I found but as such it lacks some advanced features like sound. The only required components are the throttle/transmitter and the receiver that fits within the locomotive. The low cost of the throttle can be lowered further by purchasing the kit and building it yourself.
When it comes to battery size, volts determine speed, and choosing the number of cells can be a challenge when space is tight. All receivers operate down to 3V (typical single cell lipo) and some up to 18V. The Rx60 illustrated is a common choice. With most of the Rx6x receivers have been deliberately designed to have a wide range of voltages so that people don’t have to commit to a voltage/speed decision. Batteries are usually inexpensive so it’s an easy change if you get it wrong. Fewer cells also allow larger capacity and therefore longer run time between charging. Optimizing these factors helps make DeadRail more practical.
Some setup needs to occur to run multiple locomotives. From the DelTang website: The receiver in the loco can only be controlled by a compatible transmitter. Many transmitters can be used simultaneously without frequency control or crystals. For this to work, every receiver needs to be paired with one transmitter in a process called binding. During binding, the transmitter’s unique ID (Guid) is given to the receiver. The receiver then only obeys that transmitter. The transmitter can share its Guid with any number of receivers. So one transmitter can control any number of trains. But they all receive the same signals so you normally only have one loco switched on at a time. However, the DelTang Tx22 also has the Selecta ‘loco selector switch’. If used with Rx6x receivers, the receiver also learns the position of the Selecta switch during binding. This allows up to 12 locos (per Tx) to be switched on together and the Selecta switch controls which loco is currently active. The Selecta feature is available on all receivers with ’22’ in their name along with the Rx41d and Rx45.
DelTang products use 2.4 Ghz for communication. Older generation radios can have issues with simultaneous transmitters and poor interference rejection. These issues can be relevant for club meetings and shows but sometimes at occur at home too. 2.4 GHz radios are a big step forward in addressing these issues. Objective assessment of what is best in the products shown here is beyond the scope of this article but these issues have been compelling enough for 2.4 to become the standard for plane/car/boat hobbyists.
I have been told that DelTang can be made sound capable with external sound units and a customized throttle. It’s not on by default, and it will require some work, but it can be done.
The system does not have the capacity for sound and is proprietary but as a low cost and robust system, it gets the job done.
The Tam Valley DRS1 transmitters and receivers are designed to work with existing DCC systems. It allows you to keep your existing throttle, base unit and infrastructure and eliminate getting the power from the rails and use batteries instead.
All that needs to be done is to install a DRS1 to the same wire that goes to your rail then install a DRS1 receiver with a battery and DCC decoder of your choice in your locomotive (do not forget to disconnect the rail pickups in the locomotive). Once this is complete you will be able to control your locomotives from your same DCC throttle on battery with all the same functionality that DCC provides plus the exceptional smooth operation batteries provide.
Since the Tam Valley DRS1 works with DCC systems it allows complete flexibility in decoder selection and does not require learning a new system. The drawback to the system is that you must find room for two decoders within the locomotive. This drawback is quickly being overcome as decoder manufacturers are beginning to release new DCC decoders with the radio receiver built in such as the NEC D13DRJ – Dead Rail Decoder.
According to the Tam Valley Web Site, a DRS1 Receiver can also be controlled with a CVP T5000 handheld transmitter.
CVP got their feet wet in large scale radio control products and have been producing products and Model Railroad Control Systems for 42 years. CVP is well know in the Model Railroading Industry having published many articles in Model Railroader Magazine.
The AIRWIRE900 system is a remote control system for garden railroads as well as smaller scales like HO, S and O. You control trains with a small handheld controller.
A system consists of a handheld throttle, and a locomotive mounted motion-decoder powered by a high-capacity battery. Each decoder equipped locomotive has a unique address. There are 10,000 possible addresses. Multiple trains can be controlled from a single
The manufacturer promotes the throttles as simple to learn and easy to use. Locomotives are selected by entering the locomotive’s cab number. Speed control is with a standard and familiar knob. Direction control changed by a push down on the speed knob.
The T5000 throttle has a built-In DCC Decoder Programmer. Any NMRA-DCC compatible decoder can be programmed when connected to the DCC outputs on the G3 motion decoder or the CONVRTR. The CONVRTR is a small receiver made for smaller scales like HO. The CONVRTR is protected against overloads, thermal runaway and short circuits. When paired with a sound decoder, the CONVRTR provides a unique feature that eliminates stuck horns. If the locomotive goes out of range of the throttle while the horn or whistle is blowing, the CONVRTR will automatically command the decoder to turn off the horn or whistle. Another version is available for brass locomotives called the CONVRTRX. It has a radio module with a miniature whip antenna. Program all NMRA-DCC CVs from any of the 17 frequencies available from the throttle. The NEC D13DRJ – Dead Rail Decoder is listed as compatible with CVP products.
CVP Products has a great wealth of information and data on their website. I recommend a review of all they have to offer.
Stanton Radio CAB (S-CAB)
The Stanton Radio CAB (S-CAB Throttle) is a hand-held wireless controller for operating locomotives equipped with an S-CAB radio receiver and DCC decoder. No other DCC equipment is required. An S-CAB throttle sends DCC commands directly to a loco’s S-CAB radio receiver.
The use of DCC from the receiver allows for great flexibility in the choice of decoder, but requires extra room in the locomotive for both the receiver and the the DCC decoder. The NEC D13DRJ – Dead Rail Decoder includes a radio receiver that works with S-CAB. The S-CAB website offers both NCE and Tsunami sound decoders with integrated radio receivers to save space. If you have a particular decoder you need, S-CAB may be able to integrate the receiver for your. Some decoders (like the QSI Titan-U) are already available on a special orders basis.
A Starter Kit is available which includes: S-CAB Throttle, a USB cable (for battery charging), and an S-CAB receiver with choice of sound or non-sound decoder. The S-Cab starter set is very affordable and includes everything (even a decoder) to get you started right away.
The S-CAB throttle can control up to 15 locomotives with decoder addresses from 1 to 99. It’s designed for one-handed use with slide throttle and direction switch arranged so a user can watch the layout while operating with the controller held, relaxed at arm’s length, by his/her side. There are no batteries to replace. S-CAB throttle includes a rechargeable battery, which can be recharged from any USB socket.
S-CAB has done a very good job of providing detailed information and solutions for any foreseen drawbacks. They also offer battery solutions on the web site.
Although not marketed as a DeadRail control system, the Freedom One Wireless control system can be powered by any DC source. Freedom One Wireless Sound for DC trains enables you to wirelessly control the throttle, direction, and sounds on a locomotive.
The throttle includes an FM remote transmitter and a receiver/sound decoder with standard NMRA 8 pin plug and JST 9 pin socket. If using DC track power, you would set your power pack to top speed and run your locomotives with the supplied remote.
The receiver measures 50mm x 17.6mm x 7mm. The operating range is approximately 12 feet. You can operate up to three DC sound & control module equipped trains on the same track at the same time. The supplied receiver (0001026 HO Diesel) includes 6 prime mover sounds (ALCO 244, 539T, EMD567, 645, 645E, 710), 22 horns and 8 bells. The Freedom One is pre-wired to 8 pin plug and comes with an enclosed speaker. Diesel sound is available now with steam in the near future. The receiver will accept a DCC signal from but not while using a DC or battery source.
Several transmitters are available from MRC. Each remote is tied to each receiver on a separate frequency. Check the frequency type when purchasing to avoid issues. The receiver is not sold separately.
Blue Rail Trains
Although Blue Rail Trains is not released at this time, the technology is much anticipated. The Bachmann version is designed for DC pickup from the rail. It is obvious that a person can substitute the rail pickup for battery. For that reason, the following is a quick update on Blue Rail Trains and some much anticipated images of the products.
Blue Rail Trains is the first model train control that is based on direct control from any Bluetooth smart device (phone or tablet). Bachmann is currently building this technology into their E-Z App™ trains available in early September. Concurrently Blue Rail is developing Bluetooth Smart plug-in boards that can be added to any 8 or 9 pin DCC-Ready loco (or any other loco, as long as you are willing to snip a few wires).
The Blue Rail plugin boards contain connection points to hook up a battery and allow for the operation of unlimited locos simultaneously from over 100 feet (the signal strength also also suitable for brass). The firmware in the boards and the software control app are both fully updateable wirelessly, and the boards contain an expansion port intended for an eventual sound module (or other future add-ons). The battery connection points will not currently recharge batteries from track current (but that could potentially be supported). Blue Rail has a background in game development, and intend the system as a platform to develop apps that offer game-play, operating session simulation, and virtual layout interactivity.
The first plug-in boards are scheduled to be released in September (concurrent with the Bachmann release) and will eventually be available in most scales. Pricing and board dimensions will be available soon (on the BlueRail website and facebook page), but the intent is to make the board pricing competitive with existing solutions. To use these boards you will need to own a Bluetooth Smart phone, ipod or tablet from the list on this page: http://www.bluetooth.com/Pages/Bluetooth-Smart-Devices-List.aspx.
Each year the Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad holds Railfan Weekend. This year I was able to attend and be part of the SE Michigan Free-mo layout display. The Railfan Weekend includes train shop tours, historical rail interpretations, tuneful train whistle blows throughout the weekend,
and a special photo run. One layout which i found very well done and full of detail was the Great Lakes HOn30 Modular Group layout. The layout presented featured lots of eastern scenes both prototypical and fictional based on the main 2 footers. The group has done a wonderful job of modeling and putting on a first rate display.
I enjoy modeling but since I stopped being a lone wolf, I have begun to enjoy the hobby more than ever before. Since joining the SE Michigan Free-mo group I have attended a number of shows. Each show is fun with new people and new friends at each event.
Action on a module from the SE Michigan Free-mo Setup at Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad Railfan Weekend
This year I am starting to give clinics on some of the items I have shared or experimented with. I find that the interaction has enhanced my awareness of the broad spectrum of ideas, personalities and modeling styles. The internet and hobby magazines are great source, but talking to those who take a direct interest in what you present and the interaction it brings is another dimension.
I highly recommend that others get involved and join in the interaction. One added bonus when you volunteer, is sometimes you get access to some areas not normally available to the public like I did at the Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad Railfan Weekend.
A tour of the back shops revealed the remains of Quincy & Torch Lake 2-6-0 #3 built by Brooks in 1894. Unfortunately the frame is so badly worn from its years of service that it will never run again. Plans are to do a cosmetic restoration for display only.
The Hemlock Central (legal name was Harbor Springs Railway) was a 2 ft. 6 in (30 inch) narrow gauge railway which consisted of 13 miles of track from Harbor Springs, Michigan to the lumber camps north of town. The railroad was primarily a lumber-hauling operation, although summer vacationing tourists paid 25 cents for a ride into the woods.
The legal name of the railway was the “Harbor Springs Railway” but it was nicknamed the Hemlock Central because of the great numbers of hemlock trees growing in the area. The name Hemlock Central stuck and was even painted onto some locomotives and rolling stock.
The Harbor Springs Railway was organized on January 7, 1901.The line was owned and operated by Ephraim Shay who invented the Shay Locomotive to haul logs more efficiently for his logging operation. Around 1877 he developed the idea of having an engine sit on a flat car with a boiler, gears, and trucks that could pivot. He worked a few prototype arrangements himself until working with Lima Locomotive Works of Lima, Ohio to a prototype engine in 1880. Shay applied for and was issued a patent for the basic idea in 1881. In 1888 Ephraim Shay moved to Harbor Springs on Lake Michigan. He patented an improved geared truck for his engines in 1901.
The March 21, 1902, Railway Age listed the “Harbor Spring Railway – Harbor Springs to Cross Village 20 miles. 3 miles completed 1901.” The line started in Harbor Springs at the harbor near the house and workshop that Ephraim Shay built. Early on it operated a route of eight miles (1903 ICC Report) to Race Mill. The line was extended later to Carter’s Mill. An ICC report of 1904 reports the line as 13 miles. Branch lines were constructed as needed to reach fresh stands of timber. The railway crossed the Grand Rapids & Indiana at Bay Street in Harbor Springs. A Michigan Commissioner or Railroads Report (December 1904) indicates a half interlocker appliance at the crossing.
Three Shay locomotives were used and all three were a product of Ephraim Shay’s own design. Although the railroad was officially started in 1902 locomotive #1 (BABY) was built in 1893. All locomotives were geared locomotives of the typical Shay pattern, but were unusual in that they had no frames, the boiler being the main structural component. The line was built and funded without debt (thanks to Shay’s royalties and licenses from his locomotive designs). A very light rail of 16 pounds per yard was used in the construction of the railroad.
The line ceased operations in 1910 and was dismantled in 1912. The company dissolved on January 17, 1912. It is interesting to note that a lawsuit was brought against the Harbor Springs Railway about that time, which the railway lost. An appeal was filed on January 11, 1912 and on December 17, 1912 the decision was reversed and the Harbor Springs Railway was victorious. A full account of the reasons behind the case can be viewed here.
I am always looking for layouts with character. While looking at many Gn15 layouts for ideas i came across this video for the Slate Creek Mining Railroad by Dirk Becker.
One of the first things that caught my eye was the great use of color and the attention to detail. According to Dirk’s web site, the layout size (minus fiddle area) is 0.90 meter (2.95 ft) wide by 0.60 meter (1.97 ft) deep.
I can sit for hours looking at old photographs. Especially the ones from old large plate glass negatives. The depth and clarity of these old photos lets you go deep into the image and see things you would not notice when taken in as a whole.
For an example, lets look into this photo of an old iron ore mining location somewhere in the Midwest (I do not remember where this was but i liked the detail when I found it). The main image is full of things happening to the point you can feel this is a busy place. The amount of modeling potential is great even when taken in as a whole. You can click on the image to see a larger view.
Lets look deeper now. Each image that follows is from the above image. Each is a scene that can be re-created in model form.
The best site for looking at old photos like these are the Library of Congress (LOC) Digital Collections and Shorpy. Shorpy uses the LOC images but makes searching them and viewing easier. They also provide an RSS feed so as new items are brought on-line a notification is sent out. I often use Shorpy as an index and then search the LOC for the high-definition version.
Looking for a prototype industry straddling a main line, try Chelsea Milling Company. Located in Chelsea Michigan, the company produces Jiffy brand mixes since the 1930s. Jiffy was created as the first prepared baking mix in the United States.
The company has been family owned and operated since it was founded. The company is now managed by Howdy Holmes, a former Indianapolis 500 and CART driver. The company employs about 300 workers and produces 1.6 million boxes of its products each day. The Jiffy corn muffin mix has a 90% market share and is the company’s biggest seller.
Most of the company’s products are handled, processed and produced in-house, which includes grain storage, the grinding of grains into flour, product mixing and box manufacturing. A significant amount of product ingredients are sourced from Michigan-raised crops, including “most of the wheat and some of the sugar. Some sugar and shortening is imported from Illinois and Indiana. The company offers free tours of its operations to the public. Over the last few years, Chelsea Milling has been expanding into the food service and institutional industries. They have also been upgrading equipment and processes to become more efficient. To learn more about the history of the Chelsea Milling Company, and the “JIFFY” Mix brand, there is a Virtual Tour video.
The Chelsea Milling Company straddles the old Conrail (ex: Conrail/New York Central/Michigan Central) main line between Detroit and Jackson. The line today is owned by Norfolk Southern and sees several Amtrak trains every day with service between Detroit and Chicago. Although the Chelsea Passenger station is standing and is in good shape, no passenger trains stop in Chelsea. Additional info on the operation along the line is available at http://knorek.com/RR/SAA/MichiganLine/MichiganLineIndex.htm
Chelsea was once home to the Glazier Stove Works who built a very large clock adjacent to the milling works and across the street from the passenger station. This clock tower is a major feature of Chelsea.
If someone wanted to model the entire Chelsea milling works to scale, it is approximately 1,800 feet (20 feet in HO) wide along the main line. This includes the passing siding, all spurs and the switching lead. The depth of the scene could be done in 360 prototype feet (less than 2 feet) if the main plant is done as a background building with the grain elevators on the front of the layout.
The entire scene of Chelsea would make an excellent subject for a Free-mo module. The scene will fit within the 2 foot width and could include the station and the clock tower. The milling company would be a great addition to operations. The facility information according to Norfolk Southern is:
Most grain is gathered within a 150 mile radius of Chelsea and is delivered by truck. Even so there is almost always a few grain cars on hand and the plant can also receive other bulk products (such as sugar and Shortening) by rail when required. With selective compression the Chelsea Milling Company can serve a small layout, free-mo module or even be a small Layout itself.