June 26, 2019

Tunnel Motors as Investments? Limited Runs and Layout Designs

A shiny new Athearn DRGW SD40T-2 makes a test run on POLA

I have been thinking about what the next big step for my model railroad projects will be.  My original plan was that POLA would be a temporary project that I built primarily for my book, "Waterfront Terminals and Operations." It would be replaced with something else.  But, POLA has been a big hit with my operators and so it has lasted nearly 4 years.  I even added an extension to the original plan, which remains a Work-in-Progress.  Nonetheless, I do plan to remove POLA and do something different.  I thought about a POLA expansion, but decided against it as  container traffic it would include didn't seem that interesting to model and operate.

A scene from my N scale Soldier Summit layout that I
had to tear down as we moved from that house.
One of the ideas that has been floating in the back of my mind was a redux of the Soldier Summit layout, but in HO scale.  This plan would include the yard at Helper, the climb up the Price River Canyon, past Willow Creek Coal Mine to Soldier Summit. The tracks would then head west and  down hill via Gilluly Loops to another yard, notionally Provo. There would be a large steel mill and Union Pacific interchange. The Utah Railway would also be included via a partial double deck section under Soldier Summit. I had a rough track plan sketched out a few years ago and it looked interesting. But it had been mostly an academic exercise.

Climbing on the last SD40T-2
left in DRGW paint

The feasibility of the concept became much greater when both Athearn and Scale Trains introduced beautiful renditions of the DRGW SD40T-2 tunnel motor- my favorite diesel locomotives, and the primary loco needed for the Soldier Summit concept. I ordered one of the Athearn tunnel motors to evaluate. When the loco arrived, I put it on the layout. It ran well and sounded great. It needs some tweaking with momentum and sound volume, and it could benefit from a keep alive, but otherwise is a nice loco. The see-through screens on the rear are a nice touch.

Now, here's the bad news. The locos quickly sold out since they are limited runs, which is the standard method of marketing in the hobby these days.  Since I wasn't really paying attention, I missed the boat, or should I say locos. I got this one via ebay. Some dealers have a few in stock, but they are not easy to find. (Note - I just learned that Intermountain is also planning to release a HO Scale Tunnel Motor with improved tooling. Maybe this isn't as dire as I feared.)

Now, I really don't plan to do any drastic changes for a few years. But if I wait, the engines will be long sold out, torpedoing any chance of building the Soldier Summit layout.  To be safe, I would have to buy the motive power I would need now, and store them until needed. But, what if I never build it? I could sell them, but that ties up cash that could be used elsewhere until they are sold. If they could be sold at a profit, that would make them investments. But I suspect that is not a likely event.  I guess it all depends on how serious this idea is.

In the meantime, I've been toying with plans for expanding the Aquia Line. When I visited Don Ball, he lobbied for putting in a turn back loop where Falmouth is now to take advantage of the area.  I really resisted that idea as one of the objectives of the Aquia Line expansion was to get rid of the tight curve at Falmouth. But,  I do like the idea of maximizing the use of the space.

I did a little surveying and concluded that I could follow Don's advice by using 30 inch curves.  This only adds 8-10 feet of visible run to the layout, but is all "country running."  The run past Worthington Farm and an expanded Clairborne Creek would make for some nice scenic vistas.

There would be choke points in the aisle at the south end of Stonemans and in the closet. These choke points aren't deal breakers as the aisle by Stonemans is no longer a major switching area. Yes, the closet access will be constricted, but that wouldn't impact operations, just my access to stuff stored in the closet.

Most importantly, the crew lounge remains open. And if it doesn't work, I can blame Don!


  1. As a first step you should replace POLA with a D&RGW switching layout, scratch the itch and test your feelings for the overall concept. Maybe the Montrose Branch or the line to Creede? There are some awesome branchline shots in Dale Sander's Scenic Line of the World. More GP territory than SD but still classic and scenic D&RGW.

    1. Yes, I have thought an interim approach could be to replace POLA with the steel mill section and see how it goes.

  2. I used to think that I needed to get all the new releases before they sold out. But, then companies started doing re-releases, other companies released the same models later on, and EBay always had what I wanted if I was patient enough.

    But, when it comes to engines: buy them now, put them on a display shelf, and enjoy them for what they are... good looking models!