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.