January 18, 2017

Two down.... eight to go.

I installed the second turnout in Aquia Landing tonight. I didn't install the guard rails yet, but it works pretty well without them.  Below is a short video showing the operation. (Note the Safari web browser may not show the video)


Plans for the Wharves

As I am laying the track in Aquia Landing, I realized that the wharves have to be installed before I can put track on them.  Project managers would say the wharves are on, or are getting near to, the critical path. Depending on the ordering time to get materials, they are on the critical path. So tonight I spent a few hours designing the framing and decking for the wharves. From these I generated a bill of materials to order from my supplier. It's a lot of wood- too bad I don't have a table saw to rip my own.

I plan to build the wharves stick-by-stick. I will do this because it is prototypical and it allows me some flexibility in making changes as I install it.  For example, the curved track leading to Burnside's wharf will probably resemble a trestle more that a dock.

I plan to laser cut all the piles to exact length. That should allow me to build the piles and pile cap assemblies on the bench using a jig. Then I will install them on the painted water surface. I will add the water later using Magic Water, a lot of Magic Water.
Note tracks coming from the left appear to be on a trestle as they approach Burnside's Wharf. It looks like the workers
are adding a wagon approach access on the lower right.

January 17, 2017

First turnout in Aquia Landing

I completed the first turnout in Aquia Landing tonight. One down, nine to go!

The work went pretty smoothly. I am still not sure about pre ballasting the track before laying the rails.

 I was able to find all the track laying tools after a couple years of storage.  I am using switch stands that I recycled from McCooks Landing. That saved a bit of time.

I didn't power the frog yet, but I did wire feeders to the rest of the track.

I test ran the first train into and out of Aquia Landing. It  ran pretty well. Some tweaking will help smooth things out. Here is a quick video of the action.

With just few more turnouts I could run test op sessions using the three track  yard at Aquia landing as a staging yard. I am eagerly anticipating that.


January 16, 2017

Aquia Landing Concept Sketch

For those of you that don't recall, here is a early artist concept I drew for Aquia Landing on my layout back in November 2010. The key is to have easy access to the tracks on the wharf. That is why the tracks on the right side of the wharf are so close to the aisle.
I am following this early concept fairly closely, though the benchwork is more a
rounded rectangle that the oval end shown in the sketch.

I am currently laying track in Aquia Landing. I tried ballasting some of the track before spiking the rail. But I think I prefer to do the ballasting after the rail is in. Seems like it will be easier to change things that way if I find I need to make adjustments.  Film at 11.

On Sunday, I took my mom for a visit to the Lyceum to see the Alexandria Waterfront Diorama on display. She enjoyed the visit.  The diorama has a single primary light directly above and slightly to the rear. That makes the front of the buildings in shadow. It looks good in person, but the back lighting makes taking a photo difficult.

January 15, 2017

Back on the Track Gang

Alicia poses by the wharf. She was helping me test reach to the tracks.
Wow, after seven years delay, I am finally starting to lay the track in Aquia Landing.
I started with a mock-up of the wharf to refresh my memory of how major components fit. I concluded that there is room to include the Passiac ironclad as well as the Mt Washington paddle wheel steamer. If I put the ironclad on the north side of the wharf then operators will have to access the tracks on the wharf by reaching over the Passaic. That task is not that bad because of the low freeboard and deck of the ironclad. Alternatively, the Passaic could be tied up alongside the steamer. To do that I would rotate the wharf to the north to make more berth space on the south side of the wharf. I could just omit the ironclad. It could be made removable and taken off for op sessions. Lots of options.

The engine house is recycled from McCooks Landing layout
I starting laying the road bed and glueing down ties. I am using 1/8 inch lightweight plywood for the road bed. For ties I am using basswood.

I plan to put the engine shed from the McCooks Landing layout  inside the wye. The mockup at the left shows there will be room for storing two engines. Some of the other McCook's Landing buildings will also be recycled into this layout.

Now that I am glueing down ties, I need to finalize the track plan. I decided to add a third yard track in Aquia Landing. That will make the yard work much more efficiently.

The first ties are glued down
I am really looking forward to bringing the first train across these tracks.

View across the wye and toward the south-west.

January 11, 2017

New Smoke Generator on Haupt

I've been experimenting with a new smoke unit from Cogswell Cogs Inc. It is DCC controlled. You load it with tiny little logs, add a little kindling from shaved pine bark, turn it on and and it takes over. It seems to work pretty well, but it keeps setting off the smoke detector in the basement.

For those that are interested, this is a hand held iPhone shot. I took multiple images and used focus stacking. Then I did just a little post processing in Photoshop.

If you want a full resolution copy of this image you can download from this dropbox link. It might not be there long as Dropbox is closing soon, so get it while you can.

January 8, 2017

The week of DCC Comes to an End

The week of DCC comes to an end with the creation of a separate easy DCC zone for PoLA. I had ordered a separate Easy DCC Zone Master a few weeks ago, but finally got to install it today. The most difficult aspect of the job was running the bus wires from the central distribution panel under the bench work. The rest of the hook-up was pretty straight forward. Once I connected the wires and double checked everything, I flipped on the master power. Fortunately,  there were no sparks or smoke.  Everything seems to be working.

This concludes the to-do list of DCC items I wanted to finish. I still plan to add a third booster for Aquia Landing. That will be relatively easy, as I had previously installed the bus wires under the benchwork as I built it. I also have some wiring to do when I lay the Aquia Landing track, but that will be done incrementally as I work on the track.  All the steam locomotives have functioning DCC and sound. All but one have either batteries or current keepers.

Brad is watching Margaret operate PoLA
Earlier in the day Brad and Margaret Trenkamp visited the layout. They are new neighbors of ours as they recently moved into a striking modern townhouse in the Del Ray area of Alexandria, a mile from my house. Brad is building a Florida theme switching layout in a spare room of the house in the style of Lance Mindheim. It is great to have another model railroader near by. Lance was also scheduled to visit today, but the snowy roads caused him to abort.

Margaret got a chance to run a train on PoLA. She said it was the first time she ever got to run model train. She did a great job as she carefully listened and followed the guidance I gave her on operations. If only my normal operators were so meticulous.  Later Brad got to take Osceola on a run over the USMRR with 5 cars in tow. One of the cars derailed on a turnout in Brooke. But Osceola ran and sounded great. Afterwards, Brad and I discussed the next step in the layout plans.

After they left I checked the turnout and the wheel sets of the offending car. For once it was a wheel set with a wobbly wheel that was partially out of gauge and not my track work that caused the problem. Our the past two weeks I have been tweaking and tuning problems on the Aquia Line as I discover them. Things I have done included, adjusting some stub points to prevent interference. Humidity changes seem to affect them. I also fixed a few switch stands that had minor issues. I cleaned the track and wheel sets on the locos. That is the first time I have done that in probably two years.   The layout is operating better as a result. I did some dusting too, but the layout should probably get a thorough vacuuming. Another remaining task is to check all the cars for consistent coupler height.

I am running out of excuses to avoid layout track in Aquia.

I also did a bit of editing of the Osceola Silent Film Check it out if you have time.

January 7, 2017

Back at the Dexter Lake DCC Club

Tonight I swapped the battery decoder in Osceola (with the incongruous diesel sound system) for a Tsunami T-1000 steam decoder with a current keeper. I also swapped the large speaker with a tiny sugar cube speaker. This had the effect of reducing dead weight in the tender as the battery and speaker did weigh a few ounces. In accordance with Dave Schneider's suggestion (he is the manufacturer of the locomotive model), I removed all the weights I added to the engine. He suggested Bullfrog Snot for traction tires too, but I had already added traction tires to the port side drivers.

Soundtraxx Sugar Cube speaker
 It is now running very nicely. The current keeper prevents any electrical stalls and sound drops. The natural balance of the engine is good and it doesn't suffer from curve drag as much as when it was loaded with the extra weights. It still has some trouble with the grades, but that is OK. It can run the mainline with 5 cars, with a running start on the grades. It should be able to handle 6 cars on the flats. It is not necessarily a bad thing to have engines on the roster with different tractive effort. It will keep the yard and engine masters on their toes.

Wood piles compared
 The sugar cube speaker sounds quite good too, almost as good as the QSI HB speaker in Haupt. With the tiny sugar cube speaker and the smaller decoder hidden in the walls of the tender, the installation in Osceola is practically invisible. No need for a huge wood pile to hide electronics.

 All in all I am glad I added Osceola to the roster. It's great looking model and it does run very well. We O scalers are lucky that SMR produced these locos.

 I also put a second T1300 throttle in service. Just a few more DCC tasks to add some boosters to zones and I'll be back to laying track.

January 5, 2017

Testing Liquid Traction Tires on Osceola

I did some testing of Osceola tonight after the Bullfrog Snot traction tires cured overnight. I also added about 4 ounces of lead weight evenly distributed over the drivers with half in the cab and half in the boiler.

 The good news is that the pulling power did increase. It was able to pull 7 cars on the level track. It may even be able to do 8. However, curve drag and grades still take their toll. Curve drag especially seems to have an effect.

An effective working train length for this engine over  the whole layout would be more like 4 cars. Note that the overall design train length is 7 cars due to siding lengths. If I relegate Osceola to Aquia Landing as a yard switcher, it might be able to do the job switching 6 or 7 cars on the flat lands.

I made a short video in a silent film style. Since the locomotive still has a diesel decoder, there was no sense listening to that.

What do you think? It is a neat looking locomotive. Watch the valve gear "operate" as it moves.

On a whim I tried to double head it with another engine and I learned that doesn't work. I forgot that these are brass engines. The tender frames have opposite electrical polarity from the engines. So using the metal front link causes a short.

I will test again when the new decoder, speaker and tungsten weights arrive.

January 3, 2017

Bullfrog Snot

When I took delivery of the Osceola, I noted the box that the engine came in contained a bottle of Bullfrog Snot, a liquid traction tire product. I don't recall if there were any directions with the locomotive suggesting that I use it, so I set it aside and forgot about it.

Tonight, I recalled that I had it. I applied it to the port side drivers of the Osceola. These drivers don't pick-up track power, so having a insulted traction tire would not hurt performance.

After letting it cure for a couple hours, I did a test. The loco does pull much better. I was able to pull 6 cars in a brief test. I will let the rubber material cure overnight before doing more thorough tests.

I also ordered a set of tungsten weights. There is room in the boiler and firebox for several ounces of weight. Hopefully that will help too.

While I was in a spending mood I ordered a steam decoder for Osceola, some Soundtraxx Current Keepers and speakers. I will retrofit a  Current Keeper to Haupt. I also plan to swap the Stanton Battery in Osceola for a Tsunami T1000 with a Current Keeper. This will reduce the dead weight in the tender, which may help with pulling power. I will keep the Stanton parts as spares.

Finally, I tinkered with track plan version 13. In this version I added a peninsula between Falmouth and Stonemans. This addition adds about 16 feet of main line run at the expense of losing my crew lounge. It would create a better isolation of Falmouth from the rest of the layout and add some open country running, but I think the loss of the crew lounge is too much. I know CINCHOUSE would not like this.

January 2, 2017

A Tale of Two Locos

Tsunami installed with speaker before I cut down tender 
Today I added a Tsunami T1000 sound decoder to engine Haupt. It previously had a cheap Digitrax decoder without sound. So it was a fairly simple matter to swap the decoder. The trick was finding space for the speaker. I liked the sound of the QSI 1.06 inch HB speaker I had on hand. To fit it in the tender, I cut away part of the brass front wall of the tender. Then I made a styrene enclosure for the wood pile core.  I drilled out a series of holes in the front and top of the box to enhance sound transmission. Then I painted it black.

New wood pile core
Once it was installed on the tender with the speaker snugly fit inside, I added small pieces of cut twigs to build a wood pile. The wood pile is a bit big, but I need the box to cover the entire DCC assembly.   With the decoder Haupt can easily pull 10 cars. But the design train length for now is 6 cars due to the sidings at Falmouth. I could run more, but the curved turnout at Falmouth is just not reliable enough to use in op sessions with longer trains. I actually plan to get rid of it.

With the Haupt conversion to sound, all five locos are now equipped with  DCC and sound, though one is a diesel! I am not sure it's worth fixing that one. Maybe once it gets a steam decoder it will stop being a confused little snowflake and start pulling some cars. Oh well.
Adding wood to the painted core

While I was testing the locos, I also did a little tweaking of track and switch stands. The humidity changes usually causes problems and it takes a bit of tweaking to get it to operate reliably.

I made a short video summarizing the installs. I should note that in the video I stated that Haupt had a stock pick-up. That is not correct. Several years ago I added all wheel pick up to the tender. I forgot I did that even though I also documented the process in this blog post.  Tonight I saw the pickups while working on the tender.  That helps it run better, with just an occasional stall. But it really sounds good, at least to my hard of hearing ears. I ordered a Soundtraxx "Current Keeper" to prevent stalls. It looks like an easy retrofit. I'll post results when I get it installed.

Now it's on to track and freight cars.

January 1, 2017

Osceola has a split personality

The complete Aquia Line locomotive fleet - soon to be all sound and DCC equipped.

The new year is starting with a wimper. Alicia and I are still suffering from nasty colds. This has been day 15 for me. In order to salvage something from the day, I decided to install a Stanton Battery DCC system in engine Osceola. This is the newest SMR locomotive I have. It is the only one in my fleet that has the motor and gear box in the boiler. It is also a very small locomotive. 

Planning the installation
If you recall, the Stanton Battery System has 5 main pieces. The first is the decoder, a standard Tsunami decoder that has been modified by NWSL (the Stanton distributor) to include a radio receiver. The two systems are housed in a single piece of heat shrink insulation. This is too wide for the boiler

There is also a LiPo battery and an additional circuit card for the Battery Power Supply (BPS). The BPS takes care of charging the battery safely and providing clean power to the decoder. The final component is a speaker. 

Since the boiler tube on this loco is too small to house the decoder and radio subassembly, I decided to put all the electronics in the tender. The battery just fit in the back of the tender. The BPS and radio/decoder will go in the opening for the wood pile. I'll put the speaker in the wood pile also. Unfortunately, I don't have a small speaker on hand, so I will use a temporary speaker for now. 

This loco was a bit tricky to disassemble, but after about an hour I had it sufficiently apart to start the installation. I removed the existing wiring harness and created a new one. There is one pick-up wire from the port side pilot truck. The starboard side of the loco is shorted to the frame and the wheels on that side are the starboard pick ups. 

All wires connected
The tender has pickups on the port side only and they short  to the tender frame. This means if the metal drawbar touches the tender frame, the loco shorts. All of the SMR locos I have do this. It can be a problem is the insulation on the tender drawbar post comes loose, which it often does when handling the locos. I use glue to hold the insulation in place, but a plastic drawbar would also solve the issue.

Once I had the track power wires routed to the tender, I ran two output wires from the decoder to the motor. I also ran two wires to the headlight.  These go though black heat shrink insulation to create a protective harness. I did not use plugs. The plugs are a pain in the petunias when you handle the locos. This loco will be hard wired.

I then used electrical tape to wrap the remaining wires into bundles and got it all crammed into the tender.  The BPS and radio/decoder are in the wood pile opening  and are easily accessible for maintenance. This is going to prove very useful in a few paragraphs.

Then I got the loco reassembled. I had to solder back some of the fine detail that broke during disassembly. But the nice thing about brass is that it is usually easy to fix and repairs can be strong. 
A quick test run without a speaker showed that all was wired correctly and it ran. The radio location creates a strong reception. I can control the loco from the far side of the basement.

I hooked up a spare speaker I had on hand and was surprised to hear the sounds of a diesel. I checked the paper work that came with the decoder, and sure enough it was a Tsunami T1000 Diesel decoder. Then I recalled, I got this decoder in a trade. I never verified that it was a steamer.  So now I have a steam engine that thinks its a diesel. This sounds like an episode of Thomas the Tank engine.

Nonetheless, the engine runs very smoothly with  nice slow speed and a bright headlight. So that was encouraging. However, it doesn't have a lot of pulling capacity. Three-five cars is fine on the flat, but up a grade or around a sharp curve it has trouble with three cars. Adding weight helps, but it will need some more tuning to work out.

In the meantime, I am going to order a Stanton steam decoder and new BPS.  Since I last got a Stanton system, they have improved the BPS design. It can now take the power off the rails and route directly to the decoder if the rail power is of sufficient voltage. If the rail power drops out, the battery takes over. Meantime the system is keeping the battery charged up. Essentially, it becomes a keep  alive with a massive battery. It is possible to retrofit the current BPS with two diodes. But I plan to leave well enough alone on my other locos for now.

So until the new decoder arrives, Osceola is one very confused, wimpy, but fine running loco.  


December 31, 2016

African Farming Diorama

This image shows forest clearing operations at the upper left and corn farming in the foreground. In the background are palm oil plantations and the port city of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.
Today I delivered a completed custom diorama to a representative of AgriSmart Inc.  AgriSmart Inc. commissioned me to build a diorama depicting their current and planned operations in Cote d'Ivoire. AgriSmart Inc is new venture that seeks to help farmers in the Cote d'Ivoire develop farming techniques using sustainable methods and excellent working conditions for its people. Thus I was happy to build this diorama for them even though the schedule was tight.

Overview of the 2x4 feet diorama

The challenge of the project was to show the scope of their operations across much of the country with enough detail to highlight what AgriSmart Inc is planning. To do this the model became more of an artist's concept than a fine scale model. This is not the normal kind of project I do, but it was a challenge and fun to take it on.

The model depicts corn and palm oil agriculture using modern technology and techniques. The model has no actual scale, though many of the corn farming operations are shown using N scale models. To depict the corn plants I used some miniature Christmas wreath material. I made the palm trees one by one with laser cut paper fronds on toothpicks.

The barge will carry palm oil from the pressing facility to the port.
The port city of Abidjan, a city of 5 million people with thousands of building and streets, was especially tricky to depict. We settled on a very stylized representation that shows the general layout of the operation without too much detail. The city buildings are laser cut with some window detail, but are painted plain grey to deflect attention. All of AgriSmarts's operations are painted in brighter colors to highlight them.

And, we are proud to say, we delivered the model on their tight schedule and on budget!

 Combine working on a corn field. The combine is a GHQ kit.

December 29, 2016

Double the Pucker Factor

Smiling Marty standing in the choke point. This is the
tightest aisle in the layout and of course, it's
where everyone loves to stand!

Marty McGuirk gave me a ride home from work tonight. He came down to the basement to see the projects under way.  We discussed various topics including DCC problems. He is switching to NCE from Easy DCC.  I agreed to buy one of his boosters but not until after bashing my head on a protruding piece of wood under my layout while looking at wires. Ouch. With Marty's booster, I will have a total of 3 for the layout.

We also discussed plans for how he could fit White River Junction in an expansion of his layout. But I'll let him discuss that on his blog.

In looking at the Aquia Line he pointed out that the tight curve at Falmouth was the main problem with the layout that I should probably address if I redesign the layout. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that just last night I was running McCallum with 9 cars around that curve and I got an intermittent mystery electrical short. (Further debugging showed the short due to the rear axle of the pilot truck contacting the valve gear. It's probably due to the insulating paint on the valve gear wearing off. Because these locos are built to scale, the wider wheel gauge makes the wheel come too close to the valve gear. At least there is a fix by adding a thin layer of insulation to the valve gear slider.) 

I had looked at designs in the past that moved Falmouth out of the narrow part of the front room and to crew lounge.  For example see this post.  But I took another look after Marty left. My experience with putting a track for PoLA under the stairs convinced me that anything but a straight piece is going to be trouble. So with that in mind, I drew up Option 5, which is the 13th major redesign of the Aquia Line. Maybe it will be lucky 13.

This plan has a lot going for it. First, it gets rid of the worst feature of the current Aquia Line - that is the tight 180 degree curve at Falmouth. There is now room for a 32 inch radius curve. It gives up the 10 feet of run along the wall where Falmouth currently is, but it gains about that much as it runs under the stairs. Moving Falmouth also lengthened the sidings so that the layout could now handle 8 or 9 car trains.

There are other advantages of putting Falmouth in the crew lounge area. One it doubles the TT&TO pucker factor - operators leaving Falmouth for Stonemans Station and vice versa will not be able to see if the track is clear. So they will have to rely on their time tables and train orders to decide if it is clear to go. I already have that situation when leaving Aquia for Brooke, so this will double the fun.

The other big advantage is that the layout could be built in manageable phases with little wasted effort, as Gerry alluded to in his comment to my earlier post. The Aquia Landing phase is ready to lay track, so that would come next.  Once that is complete, I could remove PoLA and start building the Falmouth extension. Only when the Falmouth extension was ready, would I cut out the old Falmouth and tie it in.  Since the benchwork at Aquia Landing is ready for track, the project becomes more manageable.

Another plus is that there is no blocking the way to the office, so I could set up a dispatcher there and they would have access to the layout if necessary. Furthermore , I could lay a track across that gap for a continuous loop when desired.

The main draw back of Option 5 is that the plan does not have as long a run as Option 4. I think the double pucker factor makes up for that.  Runs in the closets can be "miles" long. There is no turntable, but that is prototypical. The USMRR planned but never built a wye at Falmouth, so a wye is more realistic.

Below is a revised G&D Matrix with option 5 added to it. Yes, it scored higher than option 4, picking up points in manageable, large curves,  switching (as Falmouth and Burnside are included), TT&TO due to double pucker factor, and points for better prototype fidelity, more scenery and longer trains.  And to top it off, CINCHOUSE likes it because it gets rid of the bumps. She doesn't like to bump (she doesn't remember that disco song, but I do.)

December 28, 2016

A Farewell to Arms

...or "How Bernie Got His Landing Back. "

A foggy sunrise at the front. One final photo before the WWI layout heads up to the B&O Museum.
The Cambrai diorama safely loaded in Dan's vehicle

Dam Toomey and Travis Harry from the B&O Museum came by today to pick up the Battle of Cambrai WWI railroad diorama. The diorama is fully described in my book, "Model Railroads Go to War."  The diorama will be part of the B&O Museum display on the U.S. participation in WWI. The B&O Museum has one of the French friendship boxcars. Hopefully this diorama will help them enhance their exhibit. I am looking forward to seeing it on display.

Dan and Travis pose by the cleared peninsula
For the past couple of years the diorama occupied the flat portion of the Aquia Landing peninsula. Now that the diorama is on loan, I can start actively planning on building the next phase of the Aquia line.

As I discussed in previous posts, I would like to convert the peninsula to a turn back loop. The problem is that I really need to make the loop  track with as large a radius as possible to accomdate my O Scale locos. While 28 inches is possible, 30 or more is much better both visually and operationally. (O scale modelers of modern standard gauge would be shocked by such a small radius. That is the nice thing about modeling the ACW in O scale. It's really like designing an HO layout.)

Mocking up the loop track. CINCHOUSE thinks this point  is too narrow
and she is much thinner than most of my RR friends.
I took a piece of masonite and mocked up the fascia for a 30 inch loop. If I bump out only the north side of the peninsula, the aisle between the layout and the closet-bathroom has about 21 inch choke point. While the bump out doesn't interfere with the HVAC closet door that opens into the aisle, it does constrict movement. CINCHOUSE (aka Alicia) doesn't like it much.  So we tried a mockup where each side of the peninsula is bumped, but each to a lesser amount. The seems to work much better.

Mock-up with bumps on both sides of the peninsula 
I mocked up a couple pieces of pink foam to create a view block representing the ridge. It looks like it should work. See the concept sketch below.

The main drawback to this layout with the turn back loop and ridge is that to make the Aquia Landing landing fully functional, I would have to take out PoLA and build the Aquia wharf in its place.

However, If I build the landing on the existing peninsula  like in Option 1, then the USMRR and PoLA could coexist.  So if I go with the Option 4 then what to do with PoLA is the next decision. I can foresee three possibilities: sell it off in whole or by parts, convert to a FREMO module set or build as a shelf layout in my office. Hmmm, it's good to have options.

I have a few weeks to think about this as I have to finish up the custom model (which is nearly done and will be delivered this Saturday), and I finish the Borax factory on PoLA. But it is good to start thinking about and start work on the Aquia Line again.

Concept sketch of how the peninsula would look. The ridge is high enough to block my view across it.

December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas

We hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I am nearly finished with the custom model job, so soon it will be time to get back to work on finishing PoLA and starting the Aquia Line Phase II. 

The image below is a close up of the bluff behind Burnside's Wharf. This cliff is the inspiration for the central view block ridge in the new Aquia Line expansion. I think it will make an impressive scene. It also helps block the view of the work shop area from the pit near the home office.

The idea of having a view blocking ridge here, as opposed to the flat harbor area, came to me when I  temporarily moved the WWI diorama in this position to make space to work on the custom model. I noticed that the sky board on the WWI diorama blocked the view into the workshop area. This  enhanced the scene, making the layout feel bigger.  That's what motivated me to redesign the layout and move Aquia Landing to its new location where PoLA is now. 

And as a Christmas present, here is yet another Aquia Line layout plan. This one extends the central peninsula at the expense of deleting the wye. It adds a turntable to spin the engine.  I think the plan with the wye is better as I really like how it operates. But this one has merit too.

December 12, 2016

Tis the season

A scene on Lance's new Los Angeles layout

Sean and William check out the Aquia Line
Yes, it's Pinewood Derby time. That usually means the kids in my neighborhood come over to use my tools to help build their cars. This evening Sean and his son, William, came by to use the drill press and look at the layout. We got the holes drilled without too much trouble. Then 8-year old William,  took a look at the layout. He had to use a step stool, but he got a good look at the layout. We ran some locos too.

Ed K trying out the loco sound equipped headsets
Oh yeah, it's also Christmas season. So earlier in the day, Lance Mindheim hosted a holiday open house. Paul Dolkos and I drove up to Maryland to partake. We got to see Lance's awesome layouts, including a massive N scale layout he is building for a client. That layout features the Cowan Subdivision on the CSX (formerly L&N and N&C before that). I did a layout design of that prototype, also in N Scale, in my latest published book, "45 Track Plans." Lance's layout and my design shared a lot of common ideas.

Option 4 layout

It's also track planning time of the year. (OK, I just made that up. It's always track planning time). This latest idea, Option 4  is a maximum scope Aquia Line. It just about doubles the Aquia Line man line run at the expense of omitting Burnside wharf, which is now just modeled as a staging track behind Aquia. Of all the plans I have been looking at, this one is appealing to me the most. The longer main line across two rooms really makes TT&TO operations more interesting.
This layout also scored the highest of any layout plan I looked at on the matrix. See below.

This matrix is a little different because Option 4 is only one layout, not a pair. So you can't compare sum of pairs scores. But Option 4  scored the highest of any single layout I looked at. However, Option 1 also scored highly.

Matrix with 4 latest options
You'll also note that this scoring systems two digit decimal and not just integer scores. This was based on a suggestion by Roger Sekera to allow more differentiation  between similar but different ratings. I tried a ranking of options system, but that did not work.  I also tweaked the score for maximum mainline as this one is the longest mainline run I have looked at.

For completeness sake, here is layout option 3. This one is an interim design that uses a shared staging concept. By doing this, Aquia's Line staging is much more user friendly, but the PoLA layout loses the yard jobs. Thus the design is  basically my current PoLA times 2. It creates two mediocre layouts.

Option 4 is one outstanding layout.  It can take 4-6 operators, plus a dispatcher.

Right now, Option 1 or 4 looks like the way I am going to go. I'll do the build in two stages. The first stage is the unfinished peninsula. That should take me up to Prorail 2018. By then I should have retried. Then, I'll disassemble PoLA and move the CW layout in its place either Aquia Landing or Burnsides's Wharf.  That's the plan for now, until I change my mind again. :)

December 7, 2016

It's Just Boxes

I recently started a new custom model project for a client. It is due in 3 weeks, so I am cranking on it. I'll post some pictures of it when I get further along. It is a different kind of model that I am used to, so I am curious on how it will come out.

So while the paint and stain on that project are drying, I got to tinkering with track plans for layouts in the rest of my basement. This particular bout of track plan frenzy is due to a discussion I had with Henry Freeman last weekend. He was in town for a symposium at the Newseum, as he is retired, well-known newspaper editor and publisher. He stopped by the house to operate PoLA. Unfortunately, my DCC system decided to act up during the session. Both of my RF1300 throttles died in the middle of the session. I was able to get one of the new T1300 throttles in service, but by then the evening devolved into a layout planning session. Henry is a serious model railroad operator who leans to preferring layouts with heavy ops more than scenery. In his eyes, the Aquia Line is nice to look at, but lacks in play value.

After he left, I toyed with some plans that would increase operation potential in my basement by expanding PoLA into the rest of the unfinished basement, leaving the section of the Aquia Line from Brooke to Falmouth intact.

The first plan I drew included an attempt to model one of the container terminals on PoLA (see upper plan at left). This was really a force as trying to fit in even a small container terminal in the space I have available was tough.  In addition, the need to buy several sets of double stack cars, associated motive power, and containers would add nearly $3,000 to the cost of the layout.

As I discussed this rough idea with some friends, I realized that the container trains add very little play value to the layout, especially  given their expense. Even when we railfan, my friends are wont to say upon seeing a stack train, "Oh, It's just boxes."

The question is, can a layout that omits container traffic be an accurate model of PoLA? I say why not.  Instead of actively modeling container terminals and container trains, the layout depicts them as images on the backdrop. Without container traffic, the layout focuses on the 40,000 non-container cars that PHL handles each year (compared to 1.2 million double stack container cars per year).

That is the next plan you see at the left. This plan includes a compressed rendition of PHL Berth 200 yard, and several industries on Terminal Island that require rail service  but are not container based.

It includes a scrap metal facility, since scrap is one of the largest US export products and there are two scrap piers on Terminal Island. It also includes a second Vopak facility, a Del Monte Foods factory (which may no longer get rail service) and one additional warehouse that is freelanced.

The plan includes a near scale sized model of the Badger Ave Bridge, which was once a pair of rolling lift bascule bridges, but is now a large vertical lift bridge. That would be a signature scene on the plan.

The plan connects the Berth 200 yard to Mormon Island, but from the "wrong" direction.  Not much I can do about that. However, the staging tracks in the closet can now represent the Sen Pedro district thereby creating a transfer run job from Berth 200 yard to San Pedro.  I looked at a escape track through the peninsula backdrop that connected Mormon Island to Berth 200 without crossing the Badger Ave Bridge (see the upper plan), but decided to remove it in the interest of simplicity.

Other jobs out of Berth 200 yard include the Terminal Island Dock Switcher and the Mormon Island Dock Switcher.  The Terminal Island job and the Mormon Island job would be ready to leave Berth 200 at the start of the op session. During the session the Berth 200 yard would get transfer runs from staging. Then the yard crew would make the trains for the next session.

In addition to the two Dock Jobs mentioned above, the yard could create extra jobs that include a slab train for Pasha, and military trains, wind mills and transformer loads for CMT. Right now wind mill and transformer cars have trouble with the tight curve in the under-stairs staging track. Keeping them away from that area would be good.

So what to do? I envision two Options. Option 1 is to build Aquia Landing as planned, keeping the Mormon Island layout as is, at least for a few years. Option 2 is to Expand PoLA into the place where Aquia Landing would have been, leaving USMRR intact from Brooke to Falmouth. To maintain operational capability on the USMRR I would add a simple staging track in the HVAC closet.

Both options appeal to me. To better understand the options I made a G&D Decision Matrix. This is a bit different from previous analyses I have done because now the matrix compares the scores from two pairs of layouts instead of each layout as a standalone.

A couple things pop out from inspecting the matrix.  One, the two options are very close in sum of  scores, with Option 2 just barely edging out Option 1. However, Option 1 wins when considering the sum of scores with weighted priorities. The main discriminating differences  between the two pairs of layouts are the better waterfront area in Option 1, compared to the extra bridge in Option 2.

Interestingly, the enhanced operations of the expanded PoLA layout are somewhat cancelled by the reduced operational options offered by the smaller USMRR.  Option 2 gets extra points for having an interchange with more than one RR, and an engine terminal, but loses a point for awkward staging in the HVAC closet. The rest of the factors wash out as one layout gains what the other loses.

So the analytics don't point to a clear answer. What does emotion say? Alicia says Aquia Landing has more cool factor, but she has no real preference either way.

I suspect that expanded PoLA could be put into service faster than Aquia Landing since one uses commercial track, while the other must be hand laid. The ships on Aquia Landing will also take some time.

Anyway, I'll have plenty of time to cogitate on the course of action as I finish up the custom job before Christmas.