Small Layout Ideas – Quincy and Torch Lake Railroad

I recently acquired a copy of the new book, Rock Down, Coal Up – The Story of the Quincy and Torch Lake Railroad by Chuck Pomazal. It did not take me long to read the whole book, cover to cover. I have always thought the Q&TL was an interesting little industrial line and, to some extent, my Peshekee River Railroad was inspired by the Q&TL. This new book brings forth many finer details about the Q&TL that show a small industrial narrow gauge layout can have a lot of character and modeling potential.

Copper Region of Michigan

Copper Region of Michigan

The Q&TL was a 3 foot narrow gauge railroad that operated 6 miles of main line in the copper country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The purpose for the railroad was to move copper bearing rock from the mines on top of the hill above Hancock to the mills The railroad operated from atop the hill above Hancock and ran the six miles to the mills on Torch Lake. On the return trip, the railroad would bring coal back up the hill to the boiler houses that kept the hoists and other equipment running.

No 6 Shaft Rock House

No 6 Shaft Rock House

At first glance, it appears that there is not much to the operation of the railroad with the same cars going back and forth with either rock or coal. A closer look at the complex track arrangements and learning of the multiple expansions show that there was quite a bit to this little railroad. What is most appealing (at least to me) is how most of the equipment is so well documented. This is because when the line stopped in 1945, the equipment was just left where they ended the day. Most of the equipment stayed where it was for almost 30 years before most of the equipment was removed. Even today, two of the original steam locomotives are still on the property and have been moved to a location that is safe and available to visitors to the site.

Locomotives on display near hoist house.

Locomotives on display near hoist house.

The six miles of main line consisted of a 1.5% grade from the top of the hill to the mills on Torch Lake. There was also a 3.5% switch back to access the coal docks at water level. The same drop-bottom cars (referred to as rock cars) were used for hauling coal back up the hill to the boiler houses. At the top of the hill above Hancock there were several mine shafts. These shafts had been expanded and new shafts opened over the years. There were also boiler houses, hoist houses and various other mining support buildings. This created a maze of tracks to collect the rock, weigh it and then move it to mill at the lake. On the return trip, the rock cars with coal would have to be shuttled to various points to feed the furnaces at up to five boiler houses and the coal shoot for the locomotives themselves.

Rock Cars stand where they were left when the mine closed.

Rock Cars stand where they were left when the mine closed.

Several factors make this railroad a fine subject for a small model railroad. The average length of a train would have been 12-15 cars. Larger trains were run on occasion, but only after the last locomotive, a Baldwin 2-8-0, was added to the roster. The cars were short at no more than 24′. The line did transfer other cargo periodically as the line also had several flat cars and a couple gondolas. These were in the range of 30′ cars. The line had a few cabooses, but no two were alike. they ranged from a very short bobber to an old passenger car that was shortened and had a copula added.

No 1 Mill circa 1890 as viewed from the lake. Note the trestles  entering the building from each side.

No 1 Mill circa 1890 as viewed from the lake. Note the trestles entering the building from each side.

Although the northern Michigan scenery is very beautiful, Modeling the Q&TL would not require expansive vistas. The railroad was built on the side of the hill, so the railroad can be modeled with a natural backdrop of the hill. As shown in the book, even the top of the hill had some natural and man made scenery blocks. Most of the mining building were large and flats could be utilized for most. i also found it interesting that some of the snow fences were made from very tall poles with 10″ wide boards applied to create a very tall wall. This would also serve very well as a backdrop/view block.

Q&TL Mogul at work in Hancock. Note the square water tank and the snow fence in the background.

Q&TL Mogul at work in Hancock. Note the square water tank and the snow fence in the background.

Unique buildings and equipment also make the Q&TL very unique. The round house was built in several stages and the walls are made of local stone cast of during the mining process. The original turn table was a 50′ armstrong model. The water towers were square, enclosed and of unique design with horizontal internal tanks. There were several styles of rock cars, but all functioned in a very similar fashion. Most also used shorter wheelbase trucks. Most of the locomotives were 2-6-0 moguls but there was a couple 2-8-0’s. One of the 2-8-0 locomotives was an outside frame locomotive that had twice the pulling power of the Moguls. This was locomotive #6. The outside frame reminded me of some Colorado narrow gauge locomotives.

Quincy Mine Locations

Quincy Mine Locations 1902

Getting back to the book, Chuck Pomazal has assembled a wealth of information and history about the Q&TL. The book includes scale drawings of all the rolling stock and locomotives. there are also drawings of key buildings like the roundhouse. The book includes many photographs of the line both while in service and after abandonment. All in all I highly recommend the book even if you do not plan on modeling the Q&TL. The details within the book inspired me to add little bits to my Peshekee River Railroad to give it some additional character.

Quincy Stamp Mill Location 1890

Quincy Stamp Mill Location

The book may be purchased from the Quincy Mine Hoist Association. A portion of the proceeds goes toward the Locomotive Restoration Fund. Today, locomotive #6 is being restored and is located at the refurbished roundhouse in Hancock. The Quincy Mine #2 Shaft House, Hoist House, Round House and several other building are part of the Quincy Mine and Hoist : Keweenaw National Historical Park. I highly recommend a visit to the mine and the wonderful G Scale layout they have that represents the Q&TL.

Small Layout Ideas – The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad

The area of Michigan that I live in has a colorful history when it comes to railroads. Every major eastern carrier at one time crossed lower South East Michigan through Monroe and Lenawee Counties. This article will take a look at one of the first and a little branch line that has survived since the beginning.

The railroad to this day runs through the downtown of Tecumseh.

The railroad in its early days (about 1855) in downtown Tecumseh.

The railroad still runs through downtown Tecumseh to this day.

The railroad still runs through downtown Tecumseh to this day.

HISTORY

Even before Michigan became a state, the territory funded a railroad to assist with the growth and development of the area. In April of 1833, a charter was granted to the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad Company by the Michigan Territorial Council to construct a railroad from Port Lawrence (some these days refer to that area as Toledo) on Lake Erie to Adrian in Lenawee County, and then on across Michigan to the Kalamazoo River, which would give access to Lake Michigan. Construction reached the city of Adrian in 1836 becoming the first railroad in the Michigan Territory. Horse teams were used along the line. Even so it was the first railroad trip undertaken west of the state of New York. The first steam locomotives (Baldwins) arrived and operated in early 1837, with an average speed of 10 miles per hour (16 km/h).

Artist's depiction of an early Erie & Kalamazoo train.

Artist’s depiction of an early Erie & Kalamazoo train.

It should be noted that although the railroad was started in Port Lawrence, MI a dispute over the area (see Toledo War) and a compromise backed by President Andrew Jackson resulted in Port Lawrence being handed over to Ohio and Michigan receiving the upper peninsula in exchange for the loss.

Palmyra and Jacksonburgh

Taken from a 1876 Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Route Map, the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh is highlighted in yellow. the LS&MS had control of the line by this time.

Railroad construction was becoming so popular that even before the Erie and Kalamazoo tracks reached Adrian in 1836, the new Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad Company (under the control of the Erie and Kalamazoo) received a charter to construct a branch railroad 46 miles long. The line would run north from a junction with the Erie and Kalamazoo near Palmyra (Lenawee Junction) and proceed through Tecumseh, Clinton and Manchester into Jacksonburgh (later called Jackson) in Jackson County.

Lenawee junction as it looks today. The south line goes to Toledo, while the west line goes to Adrian. The line going north is the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad The east-west line used to cross the north south line in the middle of the wye. The line to the east was removed in the 1980’s.

Lenawee Junction today

Lenawee Junction today

Construction began in 1837, the year that Michigan became a state. From Lenawee Junction on the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad, the new Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad reached Tecumseh in 1838. The line did not proceed any further for 20 years as the railroad struggled survive. In 1844 the state took control of the line and in 1846, the state sold its Southern Railroad (including the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Branch) to a new company, the Michigan Southern. Under its direction, construction began again, and the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad reached Clinton in 1853, Manchester in 1855 and Jacksonburgh in 1857. The Jacksonburgh Branch (as it was called then) was completed, forming the first rail connection between Lake Erie and Jacksonburgh, Michigan.

The line crossing the River Raisin

The line crossing the River Raisin south of Tecumseh.

The line was known as the Palmyra & Jacksonburgh Railroad for some time after completion even though it was operated by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern until 1915 when it was rolled into New York Central Railroad. As with the rest of the railroad industry the line began to see much less traffic after 1930 and again after WWII. In 1965 the tracks between Clinton and Jackson were abandoned and removed, cutting the branch off from Jackson Michigan. The New York Central folded into the Penn Central Railroad in 1968 and in 1970 the Penn Central filed for bankruptcy. In 1981 its successor, Conrail, filed to abandon what was left of the lines that crossed southern Michigan including the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line from Lenawee Junction to Clinton.

SMRS Route Map Today

SMRS Route Map Today

In 1985 the Southern Michigan Railroad Society, led by three high school students, purchased the Clinton Branch and transformed it into an operating railroad museum. The society continues to preserve, restore, and to educate the public about the first railroad in Michigan. They offer various trips on the remaining tracks of what used to be an operating railroad, and work on a volunteer basis. They offer various tours of the line and support local community events.

PASSENGER TRAFFIC

As with most early railroads, passenger traffic was a primary purpose for the railroad along with freight. In the early days, rail was the primary mode of transportation. In the early 1900’s the line saw at least 8 scheduled trains per day.

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

By the 1930’s the car had taken a sizable bite out of the passenger traffic. The New York Central started using rail-cars to service the line. The last scheduled passenger train on the branch was in 1939.

Lenawee Junction Depot sometime around 1900

Lenawee Junction Depot sometime around 1900

INDUSTRIES

The line operated for so long that several industries have come and gone on the line. In the early days, the area was mostly agricultural. The major towns on the line  were Tecumseh, Clinton, Manchester and Jackson. Jackson was the largest city to be served and generated through traffic for Toledo along with interchange to the Michigan Central. Today only Tecumseh and Clinton retain the old tracks.

Clinton Sanborn Map showing track arrangement. Note how the Atlas Feed Co. requires a switchback.

Clinton Sanborn Map showing track arrangement. Note how the Atlas Feed Co. requires a switchback.

Prior to the railroad entering town, Clinton was on the primary stage coach road between Chicago and Detroit. Industry grew fast to take advantage of the new rail line. In 1840 the Atlas Feed Company was in operation and the large Clinton Woolen Mill was organized in 1866. By then the following businesses were found in Clinton: 4 dry goods stores, 4 groceries, 4 shops, 1 hardware store, 1 cabinet shop, 2 millinery shops, 1 barber shop, 1 paint shop, 2 meat markets, 2 saloons, 4 wagon shops, 2 blacksmith shops, 1 grist mill, 1 plaster mill, 1 shingle factory, 1 depot, 1 tannery, 1 refreshment room. The railroad had a small yard and a large freight house to service the wide array of businesses. The freight house survived until it was torn down in 2010.

The Atlas Feed mill circa 1923. Note the forground tracks that led to the switchback.

The Atlas Feed mill circa 1923. Note the foreground tracks that led to the switchback.

Clinton and the surrounding area was one of the largest wool producers in the US. The Clinton Woolen Mill manufactured cloth for soldiers in both World Wars and during the Spanish American War. It also produced material for fire, police and school uniforms and for automobile upholstery. In 1957 the Mill closed because the automotive companies, chief users of the mill’s wool, had begun to use synthetics as upholstery fabric.

Clinton Woolen Mill

Clinton Woolen Mill

View of unique track arrangement in Clinton. because of limited space, the railroad had to cross it's own track twice to access the mills.

View of unique track arrangement in Clinton. Because of limited space, the railroad had to cross it’s own track twice to access the mills.

Tecumseh was a small farming community up until the late 1800’s. With the arrival of two additional railroads (Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee and the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton) several industries developed south of the downtown near the crossing. Tecumseh had two small railroad yards. The North Yard was on the original Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line and was just north of downtown. adjacent to it over the years could be found the stock pens, team track, lumber yards and coal dealers of many small rural towns.

Sanborn Map of North Yard area

Sanborn Map of North Yard area

The South Yard was just south of where the DT&M crossed the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad. The DT&M did not last long on it’s own. It fell under Vanderbilt influence early and was operated by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. The DT&I line merged into the old DT&M line (around 1895) just before the crossing the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line. Up until Henry Ford ownership, and a rework of the line, the DT&I operated through trains on the DT&M line to Dundee to gain access to Detroit. The South Yard handled interchange to the DT&I and serviced several larger industries south of downtown. Up until the great depression these included a foundry, equipment manufacturing, fencing company and a mill. Many of these businesses went away during the depression. The Tecumseh Products Company acquired one of these building near the south yard in 1934 and over the years became the largest industry in the area.

South Yard and adjacent industries that later became part of Tecumseh Products

South Yard and adjacent industries that later became part of Tecumseh Products. At this time the South Yard was nothing more than a pair of tracks.

The Quaker Oats Company was near the north end of the South Yard

The Quaker Oats Company was near the north end of the South Yard

View of southern portion of the South Yard showing one of the branches into the Tecumseh Products Factory. The building in the upper left is the old Quaker Oats plant.

View of southern portion of the South Yard showing one of the branches into the Tecumseh Products Factory. The building in the upper left is the old Quaker Oats plant.

There was only one track connecting the  Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line to the old  DT&M line. A portion of the old DT&M line and the interchange track are still there today. The Building in the upper right was used by both the DT&I and the LS&MS.NYC over the years for a variety of purposes.

There was only one track connecting the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line to the old DT&M line. A portion of the old DT&M line and the interchange track are still there today. The Building in the upper right was used by both the DT&I and the LS&MS/NYC for a variety of purposes.

A few sidings and industries existed outside of the towns as well. One of the more interesting was the Potato Chip operation that was located exactly half way between Clinton and Tecumseh. In the 1930’s there were 31 potato chip companies in the City of Detroit. These operations required a a large quantity of potatoes to meet demand. One of these farms was located exactly halfway between Clinton and Tecumseh. The farm had it’s own spur and warehouse for the shipment of the potatoes. Remnants of the siding and a portion of the warehouse still survive.

Old potato warehouse and siding.

Old potato warehouse and siding.

The area around Tecumseh and Clinton has also seen a large number of gravel pit operations. In the years between 1900 and 1950 these were serviced by the railroad. In more modern times (1950 until the line was abandoned) newer industries were located on the line such as automotive parts manufacturers.

Abandoned turnout into automotive industry.

Abandoned turnout into automotive industry.

Today, the line still exists between Lenewee Junction and Clinton but there is a gap in the line where the tracks cross the Norfolk Southern (ex Wabash) line. Since the line was officially abandoned back in 1981, the Norfolk & Western at the time, removed the crossing. Today, excursion trains are operated on the line between Tecumseh and Clinton by the Southern Michigan Railroad. The Southern Michigan Railroad uses a unique variety of old equipment including the only example of a GMD GMDH-3.

Michigan Southern color tour excursion crossing  Red Mill Pond just north of Tecumseh

Michigan Southern color tour excursion crossing Red Mill Pond just north of Tecumseh

Modeling Possibilities

The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line has something for almost everyone. It has existed sine the 1840’s and was in continuous revenue use until the 1980’s so it is sutable for almost any era. It is small enough to modeled as a whole or there are many small portions to inspire a small switching layout or puzzle.

Old critter abandoned on one of the old industrial sidings.

Old critter abandoned on one of the old industrial sidings.

Battery and Wireless Control for HO Scale

In the prior article, Deadrail for Free-mo, I gave a short preview of a battery locomotive setup that I would test at the upcoming Free-mo event at the National Train Show (NTS) in Cleveland OH. In this article we will examine the components and methods used to build and control the locomotives in the video.

Since that video was made, I have used this locomotive setup at two separate Free-mo events, the NTS in Cleveland and an NMRA Michiana Education & Technical Conference in Middlebury Indiana. At each event, I was able to run the locomotives for up to three hours before having to swap out the batteries. With a charge time of about an hour, I was able to keep running while charging another and I kept a third ready and available. This allowed me to do quick battery changes and have very little down time.

Dual unit setup comprised of GP30 drive unit and GP35 dummy locomotive with battery pack

Dual unit setup comprised of GP30 drive unit and GP35 dummy locomotive with battery pack

NOTE: For simplicity and ease of setup, I elected to use a two unit setup. One powered and one dummy for the battery. If I had a cab unit (with full-width carbody), I would have tried to fit everything in one locomotive. Even so, the use of two locomotives looked very prototypical.

Some may ask, “Why go to batteries at all?” I recommend trying a battery locomotive to see how smooth the locomotive will run. I have found that 90% of the issues with running ability of a given locomotive disappear as soon as track pickup is eliminated. Bad runners smooth right out and run flawlessly. The setup presented here, after conversion, was able to run in speed step 1 with a train of 10+ cars and just creep along. Try that with any rail pickup system. The battery pack I used was only 7.4 volts. I have found that with batteries, you do not need 12 volts. 7.4 volts ran the locomotive at a smooth prototypical speed.

Drive Locomotive

Life-Like Proto 2000 GP30 drive unit

Life-Like Proto 2000 GP30 drive unit

The drive locomotive is a Life-Like Proto 2000 GP30. The motor and drive line are stock with the exception of axle gear replacement (a known problem on these locomotives). The stock electrical board has been replaced with a Tsunami TSU-1000 Digital Sound Decoder. A portion of the rear weight was removed to make room for a DS1425-8 Speaker. The lamps have been replaced with LEDS.

Overview of Tsunami installation in the GP30

Overview of Tsunami installation in the GP30

Closeup view of the plug for the pigtail to connect the unit to the dummy battery unit. The extra plug is to make conversion back to rail power simple.

Close-up view of the plug for the pigtail to connect the unit to the dummy battery unit. The extra plug is to make the change back to rail power simple.

The only addition to prepare the locomotive specifically for the battery and wireless setup was the addition of a pigtail to connect the unit to the dummy unit that would hold the battery pack and receiver. I also added a second plug to the old track pickup wires. In this way the locomotive can easily be changed over to rail power.

View showing the pigtail exiting the chassis . Note how some of the front area has been cut away to make room for the plug

View showing the pigtail exiting the chassis. Note how some of the front area has been cut away to make room for the plug

Dummy/Battery Locomotive

For the Dummy/Battery locomotive, I used an old blue box Athearn GP35 dummy locomotive. I purchased it very cheap from E-bay just for this setup. The locomotive had clearly seen better days, but for a test it worked just fine. The prior owner had added a lot of weight to the interior of the locomotive. I stripped all weight from the locomotive except the weight in the fuel tank.

Inexpensive Athearn dummy locomotive used for carrying the battery pack.

Inexpensive Athearn dummy locomotive used for carrying the battery pack.

This provided a very generous area for an off the shelf RC battery pack, DRS1 receiver and an alarm to tell me when the battery was low.

Battery locomotive components from left to right: Battery, Low Battery Alarm, DRS1 reciever

Battery locomotive components from left to right: Battery, Low Battery Alarm, DRS1 receiver

The battery I used was an 860mha 7.4V 35C battery purchased at a local RC hobby shop. The battery came with standard connectors for connection to an RC vehicle and charging. Although these connectors were large, retaining them made charging simple.

7.4V battery pack used for this setup  shown connected to the charger  between usage.

7.4V battery pack used for this setup shown connected to the charger between usage.

For the wireless receiver, I used a Tam Valley Depot DRS1 system. The unit receives the DCC signal, marries it to the power source (battery) and then passes it through a connector to the GP30 Drive Locomotive.

All components placed in the shell. I used double sided tape to hold the receiver in place.

All components placed in the shell. I used double sided tape to hold the receiver in place.

To make sure I did not run the batteries too low, I used an alarm circuit board that is commonly used in RC helicopters. This device will sound an audible alarm when the battery has reached a preset low voltage. I opted for this over a traditional board (which would just shut down) so I could identify issues vs low batteries.

Another view of the interior of the dummy locomotive

Another view of the interior of the dummy locomotive

Once the batteries are in place and the unit re-assembled, it was just a matter of connecting the pigtails from each locomotive and placing them on the track.

View showing the pigtail which will connect to the drive unit.

View showing the pigtail which will connect to the drive unit.

Transmitter and Radio Control

Diagram courtesy of Tam Valley Depot

Diagram courtesy of Tam Valley Depot

The Transmitter is the second part of the Tam Valley Depot DRS1 system. The transmitter is a simple board that connects to the DCC command station (no booster). It transmits the DCC signal directly to the receiver in the dummy locomotive. It will also connect to ANY DCC command station/system. To make my system simple and transportable, I used the system described in my prior article Low Cost/Low Effort DCC for the Small Layout. Since the signal is handled by the transmitter and the battery provides the power, boosters and network (Loconet) are NOT required.

Tam Valley DRS1 Transmitter

Tam Valley DRS1 Transmitter

Batteries

The full topic of batteries is WAY beyond the scope of this article. Even so some basics need to be covered. I strongly suggest a trip to the local RC hobby shop (more of those than train shops these days). When I tell them I am trying to RC trains, they always say “COOL” and provide all kinds of help. For more detailed information you might want to try Battery University’s web site.

Supply List

Drive Locomotive = LifeLike P2K (gears replaced)
Dummy Loco = Old Athearn GP35
Deadrail System = Tam Valley (http://www.tamvalleydepot.com/)
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.com/Venom-Voltage-Monitor-LiPO-Batteries/dp/B0064SHG0Y)

What are LiPo batteries?

LiPo batteries (short for Lithium Polymer) are a type of rechargeable battery that has taken the electric RC world by storm, especially for planes and helicopters.

LiPos come in many shapes and sizes

LiPo battery packs come in many shapes and sizes

RC LiPo batteries have three main things going for them that make them the perfect battery choice for RC over conventional rechargeable battery types such as NiCad, or NiMH.

  • RC LiPo batteries are light weight and can be made in almost any shape and size.
  • RC LiPo batteries have large capacities, meaning they hold lots of power in a small package.
  • RC LiPo batteries have high discharge rates to power the most demanding electric motors.
  • In short, LiPo’s provide high energy storage to weight ratios in an endless variety of shapes and sizes.

It wasn’t until LiPo battery technology arrived on the scene that batteries and RC became small enough for smaller trains.

There are a few down sides with RC LiPo batteries however; once again proving there is no perfect power solution.

  • Although getting better, RC LiPo’s don’t last that long, perhaps only 300-400 charge cycles (much less if not cared for properly). That said, I have heard some people getting over 1000 cycles if all the rules are followed.
  • Safety issues – because of the volatile electrolyte used in LiPo’s, they can burst and/or catch fire when mistreated.
  • RC LiPo batteries require unique and proper care if they are going to last for any length of time more so than any other battery technology. Charging, discharging, and storage all affect the lifespan – get it wrong and a LiPo is garbage in as little as one mistake.

LiPo battery cells are 3.7 volts each. These cells are combined to make higher voltage batteries. The batteries I used came pre-packaged as a pack of two 3.7 volt cells to make a 7.4 volt battery. You can buy cells individually to make your own battery packs.

Single 3.7 Volt battery cell.

Single 3.7 Volt battery cell.

Charging LiPo Batteries

Charging RC LiPo Batteries is a topic in itself. LiPo batteries have some very different characteristics from conventional RC rechargeable battery types. Therefore, charging them correctly with a charger specifically designed for lithium chemistry batteries is critical to both the life span of the battery pack, and your safety.

Maximum Charge Voltage and Current

A 3.7 volt RC LiPo battery cell is 100% charged when it reaches 4.2 volts. Charging it past that will ruin the battery cell and possibly cause it to catch fire. This is important to understand once we start talking about Balancing RC LiPo batteries.

It is critical that you use a charger specified for LiPo batteries and select the correct voltage or cell count when charging your RC LiPo batteries. If you have a 2 cell (2S) pack you must select 7.4 volts or 2 cells on your charger. If you selected 11.1V (a 3S pack) by mistake and tried to charge your 2S pack, the pack will be destroyed and most likely catch fire. Luckily, all the better computerized chargers out there these days will warn you if you selected the wrong cell count. I charge mine in a ceramic cup to contain any possible issues and I never charge unless I am present.

All LiPo battery chargers will use the constant current / constant voltage charging method (cc/cv). All this means is that a constant current is applied to the battery during the first part of the charge cycle. As the battery voltage closes in on the 100% charge voltage, the charger will automatically start reducing the charge current and then apply a constant voltage for the remaining phase of the charge cycle. The charger will stop charging when the 100% charge voltage of the battery pack equalizes with chargers constant voltage setting (4.2 volts per cell) at this time, the charge cycle is completed. Going past that, even to 4.21 volts will shorten battery life.

RC LiPo Battery Charging Current

Selecting the correct charge current is also critical when charging RC LiPo battery packs. The golden rule here used to be “never charge a LiPo or LiIon pack greater than 1 times its capacity (1C).”

For example a 2000 mAh pack, would be charged at a maximum charge current of 2000 mA or 2.0 Amps. Never higher or the life of the pack would be reduced. If you choose a charge rate significantly higher than the 1C value, the battery will heat up and could swell, vent, or catch fire.

Once again, the four main things that shorten LiPo battery life are: HEAT, OVER-DISCHARGING (voltage & current), OVER CHARGING (voltage & current) & INADEQUATE BALANCING.

RC LiPo Battery Balancing

For a single cell (3.7 volt LiPo battery) you don’t have to worry about balancing since the battery charger will automatically stop charging when the 100% charge voltage of 4.2 volts is reached.

Balancing ensures all cells are always within about 0.01-0.03 volts per cell so over charging or discharging of one or more cells won’t ruin your battery pack, or worse become a safety issue from overcharging a cell.

You don’t have to balance your RC LiPo battery pack each time you charge it. Most will agree every 10th to 20th time is fine with a healthy battery pack. The problem is knowing if your pack is healthy, cells in older packs may become unstable? As far as I am concerned, if you have a good balancer or balancing charger, use it at every charge, or at least at every 2nd charge (I do).

RC LiPo Discharging/Usage

During use (discharge) you never want to discharge too much and drop below the minimum rating for the battery. Some LiPo batteries come with a circuit board that will automatically shut down if the minimum voltage is achieved. The small batteries that fit HO scale model railroad applications are very small and would rarely come with this device. These boards are available if you are creating your own battery pack.

PC Board used to monitor and shut down the circuit when a minimum voltage are achieved.

PC Board used to monitor and shut down the circuit when a minimum voltage is achieved.

I use a Venom Low Voltage Monitor created for the RC helicopter market which makes an audible alarm when the battery reaches a pre-determined voltage. This way the locomotive does not just shut down and leave me wondering. The alarm also reads out the current voltage of every cell, giving me confirmation of the charge status of the battery.

Venom Low Voltage Monitor

Venom Low Voltage Monitor

 RC LiPo Storage

Leaving a full or low charge in a LiPo battery while in storage can also affect the life span of a LiPo battery. Any good charger will also have a feature for discharging/charging the battery for storage. If you do not plan on using the battery within a couple days, take the time to use the storage feature.

Summary and Additional Information

For my installation I had the luxury of using a dummy locomotive to hold a very large battery pack. The battery lasted about 3 hours under operations. I am sure a dead run at max speed would yield a lower time. Even so three hours is more than enough time to complete most operation scenarios.

Tam Valley Depot offers a book that is a good beginner’s guide to Deadrail. The book is available through their web site. In the book Duncan McRee uses a much smaller battery than I did with good results. He also fit it into an On30 locomotive that had much less room than I did in the HO setup described here.

The payoff! Running smoother than silk with batteries and wireless control.

The payoff! Running smoother than silk with batteries and wireless control.

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 removed 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 20th 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 within 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.