Layout Design Journal 2016 Switching Operation Challenge #modeltrain #modelrail

If you have a passion for fiddling with track and switching, this might be the thing for you. The Model Railroad Layout Design SIG (LDSIG) is having a Layout Design Challenge.

The goal of this design challenge is to ask designers to create track plans and stories for publication in the Layout Design Journal (LDJ). Entrants need not be members of the LDSIG.

The space for this design challenge is a spare bedroom of roughly 10’ X 11′ with some real-world challenges (see sketch below). The theme for this challenge is switching operation. Prototype-inspired designs are often interesting to LDJ readers, but well-thought-out freelanced designs are also fine.

Switching Challenge Room Dimensions
Switching Challenge Room Dimensions

I personally like this type of challenge. It is great fun to work on a new design or alternate reality as a break from the daily work on the existing layout.

Checkout the full story at http://www.layoutvision.com/ldj_challenge.html for rules and additional information.

Small Layout Meet

For reasons beyond our control, the meet has been canceled! We are organizing a new meet/exhibition for May/June 2017. Please stay tuned for more information!

For those who do not already know, the Mini-Bunch is having their annual fall meet at the Chelsea Depot in Chelsea Michigan. on Sept 24 & 25, 2016. This is a two day event and on Saturday they will be hosting the Small Layout Design group. If you have a small layout or just want to see other people showing what they have, please come and join the fun.

Show Schedule:

SATURDAY:
• SET-UP: 8:00AM
• REGISTRATION: Open at 9:00 AM
o Narrow gauge and small layout displays, maps, books, models, etc.
o Attendees are encouraged to bring models, photos, memorabilia, layouts, modules, items to sell, etc.
o Free tables for your use.
• SMALL LAYOUT EXHIBITS
• MORNING CLINICS: 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM.
• LUNCH: 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM. Lunch on your own
• AFTERNOON CLINICS: 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
• DINNER: 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM. Dinner on your own
• EVENING PRESENTATION: 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
SUNDAY:
• LAYOUT TOUR: 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
o Doug Tagsold
o Dex Decker
o Larry Glowczewski’s
o Dan Kempf

We do encourage everyone to bring something. This is not a normal train show. this is about sharing the hobby and enjoying what everyone has is doing in the hobby.

Just download the Fall Mini-Bunch Meet Registration form and join us on Sept 24 & 25, 2016

Bluerail Trains Board About To Ship #bluerailtrains #modelrailroad

The hobby is changing fast these days and nothing is moving faster than the train control options. In the next couple days Bluerail Trains will begin shipping its first board, the Blue Horse. This is one of the first Bluetooth control boards for Model Trains.

I am happy to say, that I am on the list for some of the first boards to be sent out. I have an E7 with battery power just waiting for this to arrive.

Bluerail Blue Horse Board
Bluerail Blue Horse Board

The release comes none to soon as a number of other entrepreneurs have been trying to develop other Bluetooth control devices. Late last year there was a Kickstarter for a Bluetooth Model Train Control Module by Monocacy Trains. The kickstarter did not achieve its goal but Monocacy Trains is still out there. They have a store front which appears to be selling the boards.

Monocacy Trains Bluetooth Product
Monocacy Trains Bluetooth Product

In the UK is another Bluetooth product from blueRailways. This product appears to have been available for some time. It does not appear to be a direct Bluetooth control of a locomotive, but instead communicates with a larger device which then transmits through the rail. This may work well for those who desire Bluetooth control but cannot (or do not want to) add receivers in their locomotives.

blueRailways Products
blueRailways Products

Beyond these products there is a movement for an open-source Bluetooth solution. The Open-Source-Bluetooth-Train-Control Thread was started back in 2014 on Train Board and has a SourceForge site for documentation.

Turnout Control with Servos

With the building of my new Free-mo module set “The Boat Yard“, I have had to change some of my usual “go to” items. I have always used Tortoise turnout motors in the past. These have been great performers that took little time to set up and they had built it frog polarity circuits. The issue with using them in the Boat Yard was purely financial. I needed over 20 of them to complete the project, and at $15-$20 each, it was really hurting the budget.

I decided to take a look at RC Servos. I quickly discovered that the servos themselves were not very expensive.  I purchased 10 for $18.00 (less than $2 each) but I still lacked a way to operate them. Servos require a “controller” of some type to generate a signal that tells the servo which way to turn and how much to turn.

For those without knowledge of how a servo works here is a very quick and dirty “How It Works”:

Inside a servo
Inside a servo

Servos have three wires, Positive, negative and Control. They are controlled by sending an electrical pulse of variable width, or pulse width modulation (PWM), through the control wire. There is a minimum pulse, a maximum pulse, and a repetition rate. A servo motor can usually only turn 90 degrees in either direction for a total of 180 degree movement. The motor’s neutral position is defined as the position where the servo has the same amount of potential rotation in the both the clockwise or counter-clockwise direction (that was a lot of geek speak to say “center”). The PWM sent to the motor determines position of the shaft, and based on the duration of the pulse sent via the control wire; the rotor will turn to the desired position. The servo motor expects to see a pulse every 20 milliseconds (ms) and the length of the pulse will determine how far the motor turns. For example, a 1.5ms pulse will make the motor turn to the 90-degree position. Shorter than 1.5ms moves it to 0 degrees, and any longer than 1.5ms will turn the servo to 180 degrees.

how-servo-motors-work-fig3

A servo cannot operate by just adding power like a motor. It requires a controller circuit to send the PWM signal to tell it what to do. In turn you have to tell the controller circuit what you want with a switch or other electrical signal.

There are a few makers of servo controllers for the model train market including Tam Valley, MegaPoints and a servo driving kit from the Model Electric Railway Group (MERG). Each has its benefits and liabilities. By searching a little deeper I found a series of servo controller boards from Pololu called the Mini Maestro which had a very low price and afforded the flexibility I required. They come in 6, 12, 18 and 24 channel versions, allowing you to buy only as much controller as you need.

Mini Maestro 12-channel USB servo controller
Mini Maestro 12-channel USB servo controller

The Mini Maestros have a USB interface so they can attach to a computer/laptop. Servos can  be run either directly from the downloaded Pololu software or a script can be loaded into the Maestro for automation. This allows me to adjust the characteristics of the board or tweak the program at any time.

The Status tab in the Maestro Control Center
The Pololu Maestro Control Center allows for configuration of the Maestro including setting inputs, outputs, servos and scripts for automation.

The Maestro can be configured for automation of servo control, with inputs, outputs or both. The Boat Yard contains a double crossover and an interchange that should have an interlock. With the Mini Maestro I can program the actions of the interlock directly into the board and control it with a couple toggle switches on the fascia.

Mini Maestro 18-channel USB servo controller labeled top view
Mini Maestro 18-channel USB servo controller labeled top view

The last issue was how to mount the servos. After much deliberation I was able to determine that the module design I was using allowed me to use the plywood top as a fulcrum for the servos. The distance from the turnout to the plywood was just right. See my other article on free-mo module Design. With this knowledge I acquired a piece of 3/4 inch angle aluminum and cut it into 1.5″ in lengths.

After carefully measuring a servo, I created  a  template in Adobe illustrator to locate the holes required to mount the servo.

Template for drilling to fit Servo
Template for drilling to fit Servo

The template is affixed to the aluminum angle with spray glue and the holes drilled out. The servo then mounts with two small screws and uses the same piano wire that would have been used on a Tortoise. The end must be bent into an “S” configuration to hold position in the servo arm.

Servo shown mounted in the aluminum angle.
Servo shown mounted in the aluminum angle.
Rear of servo showing rear of mounting screws and screws holding bracket to module.
Rear of servo showing rear of mounting screws and screws holding bracket to module.

Sample Wiring and Code

The following wiring and code uses Channel 0 on the Maestro as an input and Channel 1 as a servo. These need to be configured in the Pololu Maestro Control Center BEFORE using the wiring diagram and the sample code provided or damage may occur.

Free-mo requires that all turnouts have controls on each side of the layout. I typically do this with toggle switches on each side. The wiring for this with a Tortoise is well documented. With the Maestro however you need to do things a little different.  You could setup two inputs on the Maestro and create code to react when ever either input changes state. this might seem the way to go but I would tie up a lot of channels with this method. Instead I used a hybrid of the Tortoise wiring. Only the negative signal needs to be carried so I use a DPDT toggle for one side of the module and a SPDT on the other (or half of a DPDT). The following diagram shows how this works. You will need to set Channel 0 as an input and upload the appropriate code.

The following is the code to make the Maestro operate a single turnout in conjunction with the diagram above. Before using the code the correct values for the servo positions must be obtained. You can do this by connecting the Maestro to your computer and running using the Pololu Maestro Control Center to manually operate the servo. Note the values for each position. The value entered in the code is 4X the value shown in the status tab.

# When the script is not doing anything else,
# this loop will listen for switch position change.
# When a switch is thrown it runs the corresponding sequence.
begin
input_0 if sequence_a else sequence_b endif
repeat

# These subroutines each return 1 if the corresponding
# switch is thrown, and return 0 otherwise.
# Currently switch input is assigned to channel 0,
# This channel must be configured as Input in the
# Channel Settings tab.
sub input_0
0 get_position 500 less_than
return

# These subroutines each perform a servo movement.
# You should change these to fit your application.
# Value used is 4X the value shown in the status tab

sub sequence_a
4000 1 servo
return

sub sequence_b
8000 1 servo
return

Next time I will review how I powered the frogs. Currently the plan is to use inexpensive low voltage relays but if that fails a SPDT micro switch may be required.

 

Building a Free-mo Module – Part I

In my last article, we looked at a Free-mo Module Design that was light weight, strong and easy to setup among other things. This month we take a look at actually assembling the module and some of the finer points involved.

The overall module length is 49.5 inches. That may seem like an unusual dimension but this is done to save materials and add room for the folding legs. A standard sheet of plywood comes in a width of 48 inches and in Free-mo the end plates must be 3/4 inch birch plywood. Two end plates equals a total of 1.5 inches plus the width of the plywood sheet gives you 49.5 inches. So you have less cutting to do and you take advantage of the standard width of the plywood sheet.

This module design is for a 26 inch wide Free-mo double track module. If you wish to build a single track module simply reduce all widths by 2 inches to create a 24 inch wide module.

Exploded view of sandwich top
View of module with top exploded for clarity

The module design uses the following materials:

End Plates

3/4 inch birch plywood – 2 @ 6″ x 25.5″

Side Fascias

1/4 inch birch plywood – 2 @ 6″ x 49.5″
NOTE: Most 1/4 inch plywood is NOT 1/4 inch in depth. Check this before purchasing. I purchased high quality birch plywood that was 1/4 inch. The dimensions used from here on depend on this being 1/4 inch. You may use another material but you will need to adjust dimensions of other items such as the End Plates.

Stringers

1/2 inch birch plywood – 2 @ 4 5/8″ x 48″
NOTE: The height of this piece will change depending on the thickness of the top. It should be approximately 1/2″ shorter than the end plates.

Gussets

1/2 inch birch plywood – 4 @ 4.5″ x 4.5″ with one corner cut off at 2″

Foam Top (sandwich top)

1/2 or 3/4 inch rigid foam insulation (pink or blue, do not use white)
1 @ 25.5″ x 48″
NOTE: MUST BE FLAT. Do not use if ends are curled.

Plywood Top (sandwich bottom)

1/4 inch plywood underlayment – 1 @ 25.5″ x 48″

Legs

1/2 inch birch plywood – 4 @ 45″ x 1.5″
1/4 inch plywood – 4 @ 43″ x 2″
1/4 inch plywood – 4 @ 15 3/4″ x 2″
2×2 pine – 4 @ 2″

Construction

Begin by cutting the foam top and the plywood top. Since the end dimension is 48 inches we only have to cut the side dimension (if you purchased a standard 4’x8′ sheet). This will ensure that our ends are straight and will be flush with the end plates when assembled. The sides are not as critical and small voids will be filled in later.

Using LOCTITE PowerGrab construction adhesive, glue the foam top to the plywood top. Make sure that the ends are lined up as close as possible. I use a scrap piece of 3/4 inch plywood as a stop and push the sandwich against it like a backstop to make sure it is flush. Again, the sides are not as critical and can be shaved later if necessary. the ends are the most important part since that is where the tracks between modules will be located.

LOCTITE PowerGrab is the best adhesive for foam
LOCTITE PowerGrab is the best adhesive for foam

NOTE: After many trials and errors with construction adhesives, I have NEVER FOUND ANYTHING that holds foam to any other substance as well as LOCTITE PowerGrab. I even use it for applying cork roadbed and gluing track (to any surface). It has great tackiness, holds well after just a few minutes and is completely solid after 24 hours.

The foam/plywood sandwich weighted with clamps and heavy items.
The foam/plywood sandwich weighted with clamps and heavy items.

Set the top aside on a flat surface (floor) with as much weight on it as you can (I used paint cans) to dry for 24 hours.

The next step is the frame which consists of the end plates and the side fascias. There are a few details to do before we assemble these pieces. I designed a cart that the finished modules will fit into for easy transport. The end plates will need to have holes drilled for bolts that will hold them steady in the cart. It is best to do these holes now than later. to make sure all the holes are in the same location, I created a simple jig to align and mark the holes.

Simple alignment jig made from scrap 1/2" plywood
Simple alignment jig made from scrap 1/2″ plywood
Underside of jig showing overlap
Underside of jig showing overlap

The jig is 6 inches square with trim added on three sides so it fits over the end of an End Cap. in the exact center is a nail which will mark the exact location of the hole I need to drill. This ensures that all alignment holes are in the same location.

Using the jig to mark the hole location.
Using the jig to mark the hole location.

Once the holes are completed in the end plates, mark and cut the holes in the stringers. These holes serve multiple purposes. They lighten the frame and allow wiring to access the outsides of the module.

Cut holes in stringers before assembly. Holes lighten the frame and allow for wiring.
Cut holes in stringers before assembly. The bolt holes for the legs are also drilled at this time..

The bolt holes for the legs need to be drilled into the stringers at this time. They need to be precise so we use our jig again. this time we used a corner of the jig to make a nail hole 2.75″ from the edges at the outside corners.

The jig has a second hole to mark all legs and stringers for bolts to hold the legs.
The jig has a second hole to mark all legs and stringers for bolts to hold the legs.

By now the sandwich should be dry and we can begin actually assembling the frame. The first task is to find a flat surface to assemble everything. if you do not have a workbench like mine, borrow the kitchen floor or some other mostly flat surface (cement floors are not flat).

Lay the sandwich foam side down. Check the side measurements to make sure they are NOT wider than 45.5 inches (1/4″ side + 1/4″ + 45.5″ = 46″ width). If the dimensions checkout you should be able to place the end plates and sides against the sandwich and it should all line up and create a box. Again, do not worry about slight gaps on the side but we do not want the width to bulge over 46″ either. If it all fits well, glue (with wood glue) and nail the sides to the end plates. Use the end plates as guides to keep the end plates plum and check with a square as you proceed with each nail.

After the outer frame is assembled mark a line on the sandwich 4.5″ from the inside of the corner on each end. Connect these marks to create a line from end plate to and plate. Place the stringers on this line inside the frame and on top of the sandwich top. It should be snug but not pushing out the ends. Now place some of the gussets in place and check for fit. The side fascias may need to be pulled back in some to meet the gussets. This is the final check on the width of the sandwich. If the sides still bulge due to the width of the top, remove it and make adjustments now with a circular saw or a jig saw.

Positioning the stringers and checking the gussets before securing in place.
Positioning the stringers and checking the gussets before securing in place. NOTE: See how extra gussets were used to space the stringer from the corner.

With the stringers in position (make sure the leg holes are in the correct position), glue and screw the stringers in place. It is important to use screws through the end plates into the stringers. This is THE joint that will receive the most stress when moved.

Screws and glue are very important at this joint.
Screws and glue are very important at this joint.

Next the gussets are added. These to should be glued and screwed to the stringers. Glue and finish nails are used on the fascia side.

The assembled frame
The assembled frame

Although the frame is strong at this point, the top has several weak points that require braces. the sizes of these vary and were cut from scrap plywood. Key places to add these reinforcements include were the top meets the end plates, side fascias and in the corners. the exact locations are marked on the Sketchup file available at  www.smallmr.com/files/26_wdie_freemo_3.skp.

Internal braces in the corners and at the end plate.
Internal braces in the corners and at the end plate.

To make sure the top stayed in place while the glue dried, I marked a line on the top to show the location of the stringer underneath. i then used an inexpensive brad nailer to shoot nails through the foam and plywood top and secure it to the stringer.

Inexpensive Brad Nailer was used to secure the top to the stringers.
Inexpensive Brad Nailer was used to secure the top to the stringers.
Lines and locations of brad nails can be seen on the top.
Lines and locations of brad nails can be seen on the top.

When the bracing is completed, it is a good idea to take a sanding block to all edges of the plywood frame. this helps to cut down on the sharp edges and splinters that could be hiding.

A quick sanding block to the edges reduces the number of possible splinters later.
A quick sanding block to the edges reduces the number of possible splinters later.

Tee Nuts are added to the inside of the end plates and secured in position with small screws. I always seem to loose Tee Nuts if they are not secured in this way. Bolts in the cart hold the module in position.

Tee Nuts secured with wood screws.
Tee Nuts secured with wood screws.

Once the frame is complete, I use premixed light weight vinyl spackle to fill all voids around the edges. This spackle has some give in it so it will not crack and separate as easily as traditional spackle. Allow the spackle to dry and sand it smooth.

Light Weight Vinyl spackle to fill voids at the edges.
Light Weight Vinyl spackle to fill voids at the edges.

I think that is enough for now. In the next installment, we will assemble the legs that fold up into the frame.

2016 National Train Show Prep

Things are really busy around here. I committed to have the Boat Yard operational for the 2016 National Train Show  and things are getting tight. To date I have all module frames completed and more than half of the track completed. All the track that is completed was hand laid. That was a big job. I have gone ahead and purchased the remaining turnouts to save time.

Hand laid #8 double crossover for the Boat Yard
Hand laid #8 double crossover for the Boat Yard

I am scheduled to be on a few business trips in May and will have no time to work on the modules then so I must complete most of the work in April and leave June for touch up and shake down.

Rail barge taking shape that will be part of the Boat Yard
Rail barge taking shape that will be part of the Boat Yard

I am really looking forward to the show this year as my daughter Becky will be joining me as an assistant to help setup the modules and run trains on the Free-mo setup. Becky joined me at a prior train setup and really enjoyed the operation of the layout. She hates to just go and look around.

Becky at a Free-mo event last summer
Becky at a Free-mo event last summer

Free-mo Module Design

It never fails on the Free-mo Yahoo Group. Once, every couple of months, someone asks about best way to construct a module. Most times when the question is asked it either starts with or converts to a debate on Foam vs Plywood. I use both materials and feel that proper use and techniques are key to success.

Since becoming active in Free-mo, I have built a few modules. Each time I built one, I tried different construction techniques. Some worked and some did not. Some failures were because of me and some because the materials chosen was not correct. Most times it was the wrong technique for the given material. it is important to realize that the material was not at fault, how it was used, was at fault.

I have certain objectives when it comes to my modules.  I think it is important to list them and keep them in mind when building a module or layout. I do not insist on these for others but I set them for me. Here is my list of objectives for a finished module.

All Inclusive

All inclusive means that everything is there, attached to the module when I arrive at a venue. I want simple setup. I do not want to try to figure out what leg goes where or forget something at home (like a leg). One example to achieve this is how I design all my modules with  integral folding legs. it requires more during the build but pays big dividends when you arrive at a venue and your module is up and ready in 30 seconds. i cannot tell you how many times I have spent hours assisting attaching legs on other people’s modules.

Light Weight

When I started free-mo, I had no one readily available to call on for help. I will have to pickup and move these myself on a regular basis. This design advocates lightweight materials used in ways to create a stiff structure. Heavy materials are only used where necessary and then I use techniques to lighten those materials without disrupting its strength.

Easy to transport

I will admit, I have always owned a minivan, SUV or a truck. That has allowed me some advantage over others. Even so, I still take into account how to best fit the modules in the vehicle, how to store them and can I negotiate all doors, turns, hallways when I do need to transport my modules. The latter has been a big issue in a few instances.

Strong

These modules will be transported long distances and be exposed to extreme temperature and humidity changes. Quality construction materials should be used with attention to quality of joints, glues, screws and nails. Just because you use quality materials does not equate to quality work if poor construction methods are used.

Easy Setup

I want to run trains, not waste time setting up modules. My design allows for the quickest setup. Integral legs are 75% of the battle.

Economy

I am frugal! the design presented here tries to maximize the yield on sheets of plywood. I also do not see the need to purchase something I can make myself for less money. I shop around for equivalent materials which meet my standards. i will buy the whole sheet of 4×8 plywood if I think I will use the whole sheet in the next six months. I take the time to calculate yield on full sheets so I know exactly how much to by and how to cut it. I get the lumber yard to make the big cuts in the correct places and make the sheets easier to handle.


Details of the Design

My latest design was drawn in the free version of SketchUp. A copy of the file can be downloaded from www.smallmr.com/files/26_wdie_freemo_3.skp. The following are images from that file.

26_wdie_freemo_3

26_wdie_freemo_3_end_new

26_wdie_freemo_3_underside_new

This design will upset traditionalists who insist on building modules so strong as to support the weight of a person. Building a module to do so just hurts your back when you have to move it.

The overall module length is 49.5 inches. That may seem like an unusual dimension but this is done to save materials and add room for the folding legs. A standard sheet of plywood comes in a width of 48 inches and in Free-mo the end plates must be 3/4 inch birch plywood. Two end plates equals a total of 1.5 inches plus the width of the plywood sheet gives you 49.5 inches. So you have less cutting to do and you take advantage of the standard width of the plywood sheet.

As can be seen in the images, the design has a foam top (a no no to some). What you may not have noticed is that it is what I refer to as a sandwich top. It has foam bonded to a plywood bottom. This provides the best of both worlds. This design will only work if the correct adhesives are used and adequate drying time is observed. Once set, the resulting sandwich is strong and rigid.

Exploded view of sandwich top
Exploded view of sandwich top

You will also notice the large open area on the underside (down the middle) of the module. The width is 16 inches and with the sandwich, defection is not a problem. To make sure the sandwich and the end plates remain at the exact same height, cleats have been added at each end.

View showing the end cleats and corner reinforcements
View showing the end cleats and corner reinforcements

The sides are 1/4 inch plywood while the stringers are 1/2 inch birch plywood.  The stringers have large holes to lower weight and to provide channels for wiring. Ribs have been added every 16 inches to provide extra strength to the sides. Notice that the ribs have a corner removed. This is to allow space for the legs when folded into the frame. The height of the stringers and the ribs are dependent on the depth of the sandwich, the stringers should be at least 1/2 inch inside the height of the outer frame.

View of a rib located between the side and a stringer
View of a rib located between the side and a stringer

The legs are designed to be bolted to the stringers which act as hinges. You will notice that one set of legs bolts inside the frame while the other bolts outside the frame. In this way one folds in and the second set will lay over the inside set holding them in place. The legs are created by using one piece of 1/2 inch plywood and a piece of 1/4 inch plywood. A 2×2 block is added at the foot to accept a carriage bolt for adjustment. When extended the legs have a built-in stop that meets the end plate.

A bolt will hold the legs and act as a hinge. Note how the leg has been rounded at the top and the side of the leg acts as a stop against the frame.
A bolt will hold the legs and act as a hinge. Note how the leg has been rounded at the top and the side of the leg acts as a stop against the frame.

Transport

As I stated above, how modules get transported is a big deal. I usually will design a rack to haul a module set. These can be vertical or horizontal depending on the type of module. heavy scenery and I will haul the flat and stacked. Yard design (minimal scenery) will be placed on edge. The design includes the use of casters on the bottom. I never want to carry a module set more than a few feet. With a cart, I can park far and still move in with ease. HINT: Always get the largest casters you can afford/fit. The larger ones will roll better over uneven ground.

Cart with one module mounted will carry three modules at a time.
Cart with one module mounted will carry three modules at a time.

A word of warning when designing a rack for hauling modules. Do not just measure the dimensions in the vehicle, measure ALL doors, halls, corners and anything else along the path out of the house. Take all these measurements into consideration before you finalize your design (ask me how I know this).


Next month I will go step by step on the construction methods for assembling this design.

 

 

New Friends

As I have stated before, I used to be a lone wolf and kept my modeling to myself. Over the past year I have met a few new friends through free-mo and through this blog.  One new friend is Jim Isley.

Jim contacted me a few months ago about one of the articles in this blog (Peshekee River Railroad). Jim had visited the old right of way of the Iron Range and Huron Bay Railroad. He decided to investigate the railroad and found this blog. Jim contacted me and was real surprised to find that i lived just 15 minutes from him. it wasn’t long and we got together.

The first time I met Jim he brought a unique piece of railroad history with him. Jim brought a piece of strap iron from the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad. It seems Jim farms property adjacent to the old right of way and he and his family have been digging up cast away pieces of strap iron for years.

Length of strap Iron from the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad
Length of strap Iron from the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad
The rail is broken where nails were used to secure the strap iron.
The rail is broken where nails were used to secure the strap iron.
It is not hard to make out how the rail was for the nails to fit flush with the rail.
It is not hard to make out how the rail was for the nails to fit flush with the rail.

After my first meeting with Jim, Jim introduced me to additional modelers in the area. I never knew so many lived so close. To date I have met several other accomplished modelers and have joined them in operating sessions on a local layout.

To those of you out there who are lone wolf modelers, no matter your skill level and no matter if you do not have a layout yet, get out there and meet people. You never know what interesting people and surprises lurk just down the street.

A Trip to Trainfest

2015 marked the first time I had ever been to Trainfest in Milwaukee Wisconsin. I took the family and we had a very good time at the show even though some unplanned events kept us from seeing all of the show.  The following are some images of the layouts I saw at the show. These are the best photos I was able to get with just an iPhone.


This small layout was tucked away and may have been overlooked by many. I found it very intriguing.

IMG_3703

IMG_3701

IMG_3702


This module from a larger layout featured a nicely detailed harbor scene. The water and bridges set it apart.

IMG_3709


I have seen layouts in suit cases before, but this one combined my other hobby with trains.

IMG_3704


My family had to point out that I seemed to resemble this affliction.

IMG_3706


This garden layout was very large and impressive. this view shows how far across this display was.

IMG_3700


And just for fun, there was this Tornado animation.

 

The Boat Yard

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.

View of Detroit waterfront, early 1900's
View of Detroit waterfront, early 1900’s

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.

Railroad tubes to be sunk in Detroit River around 1908.
Railroad tubes to be sunk in Detroit River around 1908.
Detroit River tunnel entrance was near the Michigan Central Depot and used electric locomotives until the diesels came.
Detroit River tunnel entrance was near the Michigan Central Depot and used electric locomotives until the diesels came.

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.

Part of the Boat Yard as seen from the Ambassador bridge in 1957
Part of the Boat Yard as seen from the Ambassador bridge in 1957

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.

N&W Loading the Ferry Manitowac
N&W Loading the Ferry Manitowac
N&W Car Float Yard in 2002. The tracks on the lower left that terminate just beyond the bridge were used for the car float operation.
NS Car Float Yard in 2002

Compression

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.

Track plan was created in Sketchup 2015. Click plan for larger view.
Track plan was created in Sketchup 2015. Click plan for larger view.

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.

Operation

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.

The ferry Detroit prior to being converted to barge.
The ferry Detroit prior to being converted to barge.

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.

Canadian National unloading on the Canada side. Note the use of an idler car.
Canadian National unloading on the Canada side. Note the use of an idler car.

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.

View of the underside of the bridge.
View of the underside of the bridge.

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.

The Build

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!

everyone should do something small

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