Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ghost Town Pictures

I got this link from the Allen NYT on Ghost Towns - a great reference for structures!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Making the Grade

"Steep grades are a constant, uphill battle."
- Peppy

So I propped my foot up late today and started calculating the grades again. The ruling grade and the average grade for the layout are set at 2%. Basically that means this:

Grade % = Rise/Run

So, for every 1" of grade that I want over 100" of track will give me a 1% grade.
And, for every 1" of grade that I want over 50" of track will give me a 2% grade.

So if you know that you want a 2% grade, use this formula to figure out the run.

Rise / Grade % = Run

The design has afforded me a very long run as it winds around the mountains and makes maximum use of the loops, so keeping at 2% is easy even when one track needs to go over another. So I mapped out each 50" section of track and put in the grade markers.

I've started dressing up the header block a little bit and have added a scale and a legend. Grades are marked in inches from the zero point, which is the top of the open grid benchwork. The layout is actually a three hill layout with each blob being a hill and another hill at the bend. In between there is a canyon where exists the town of Mapimi.

So let's take a ride up the hill. We'll start at the smelter siding in East Mapimi. Heading east at zero elevation we'll go around the bottom loop to Mapimi and pass the town and the enginehouse. Once we pass the town, also at zero elevation we begin the climb. We keep an almost perfect 2% all the way to the station at Agua Caliente. This town is a high plain and grade-wise is perfectly flat. This is so we can leave trains and rolling stock here safely without them rolling to down visit the nice folks in Mapimi.

We then start another 2% climb as we round the Chihuahua Bend which now is 4" off the benchwork and has a nice view of the Chihuahua desert. We continue to climb another inch and then reach the first large bridge going over Mapimi and its valley. This bridge is on a grade.

On the grade to the big bridge it gets just a little bit steeper than 2%, but that is ok. I think I'll call it Durango Grade after the province where the mine is located. By the time we reach the suspension bridge we are eight inches off the benchwork. The suspension bridge is perfectly level at eight inches. We then end our trip at Ojeula which remains at eight inches.

In hind site, I'd like to have a little more clearance between Agua Caliente and the mine, so we may raise the mine to 8.5 inches. Agua is 3.5 inches and the mine will be 8.5 inches, which gives us five inches of clearance. A bit tight, but doable.
I like naming key features of the trackage becuase it makes operations a little easier. Instead of yelling at the dispatcher that you are on the left side of the layout, you can just tell them that you are on the Durango Grade.

I've got a few more track adjustments to make and then I'll input the grades into the CAD system and run a train over the layout. What fun!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Building Adobe House #1

"Hey, what say we go to my new house and get plastered!"
- Pedro

My daughter is quietly sleeping upstairs. My friends from the train club came by to shake hands, pick up 75 trees from our last meeting and and make fun of me staying at home while they head over to Concrete Keith's to discuss the lack of scenery on his layout. With an ice cold Coca-Cola in hand I head to the basement to build Pedro's house.
I printed off two sets of drawings for the house. One will be cut out and fastened to a thin sheet of balsa wood for a cutting pattern. The others are for viewing. When the building is assembled it will be just big enough to fit in your outstretched hand.
I had a sheet of 3/32 balsa laying around so that became the interior wall for the house.

Using a pair of razor sharp scissors that I keep for just this purpose, I cut out one drawing of each elevation of the building.
Grabbing my handle bottle of Ilene's Tacky Glue I tacked the ends of the pattern on to the balsa wood and put a brand new blade in my hobby knife. Sharp is always mandatory when cutting, so don't go stingy on blades.

I cut out the main square of the building side using a straight edge and the hobby knife.
With great care I cut out the door and the window.

Once the four walls are cut out I taped them to a piece of cardboard and sprayed both sides with Testor's Dullcoat. I did this because the plaster we are going to use contains water and I wanted to prevent the balsa wood from soaking in the water and warping.
Using a scrap piece HO scale crosstie (a piece of 3/32 wood will do) I made the window sill and the header beam for the door and window. This will also become the thickness indicator for the adobe coating.

I cut four corner supports out of a piece of scrap wood, approximately 1/4" square and two inches long to be the corner mounts and the roof supports. Why am I using scraps? These will be inside and you won't see them. I don't waste anything and take all my wood scraps and put them in a Glad Zipper bag which I keep close by for just such purposes. Dropped crossties are a frequent visitor to the bag.
Using the corner supports I applied Tacky glue and erected the walls using heavy steel squares to keep it aligned properly. Looking good!
Here you can see the corner supports and a relfection of me and my work light in the glass surface that I use for model building.
Again, using the 3/32 balsa wood I cut out a roof insert and glued it into place using Tacky glue.
Grabbing some more loose crossties (any square wood scrap will do) I reinforced the roof in four places to keep it from sagging.
Using Durham's Water Putty (thanks for the ideas Colin Claxon!) I made a thick mixture of two parts putty with a little less than one part water. I took a pallet knife and spread the compound all over the structure. On hind site it is probably better to do each side flat and then assemble the building and touch it up. This was way harder and messier than it should have been. Once the model dries (overnight) I'll sand down the wood parts and see if I can level out the plaster. If I had done the pieces separately the plaster would have laid down flat. Live and learn.
While the adobe was drying I cut my minature cut off saw and put in a stop block set at 1/4". Then I took a 3/16th dowel and scribed it with a Zona saw blade. Once scribed I began cutting these small pieces of dowel. These will be the vigas, six per side.

Using a brown Sharpie pen and watching Georgia Public Television I colored each of the vigas brown. The white side will be glued to the structure.

Ok, everything is wet, so we'll wait until tomorrow to finish it. So far, a simple model, but it is easy to dress these types of building up. They are very easy to produce in mass quantities.


  • Research: gather picture, surf internet, ask questions on On30 group - 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Drawing: CAD drawing of four sides and print - 45 minutes
  • Prep for construction: gather materials - 10 minutes
  • Cut out walls and roof: - 20 minutes
  • Assemble walls - 15 minutes
  • Adobe coating - 30 minutes
  • Vigas - 20 minutes

Total time so far: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Cost so far: $0 as everything was in my shop. Had I gone to the store $7.15 (enough to build about 4 to 5 structures)

Why do I care about this? Frankly I think scratch building is faster and cheaper than a building a kit. I keep a well stocked shop and buy things either on sale, in bulk or from auctions and just pack them in the work shop. Most times I can walk down there and beging construction. In this case I'm interested in the time and cost because these basic house structures could be mass produced in a fraction of the time a kit can be purchased and assembled. Even faster if I make mold/master castings (which probably would happen if we go into full construction on the layout.)

Hey guys...let me know your thoughts! Write them below in the comments section. We want ideas!

Let's Build an Adobe House

"Senior, this is a REALLY small house you are building for me!"
- Pedro

I'm fired up and can't walk, so let's go down to the basement and build an adobe house. I've drawn the plans and have gotten tips on how to build it from Colin Claxon, so this should be quick. Here are the drawings:

Oops...forgot to put the scale on there. This is o scale, and the grid marks are one foot square.

Update: the font and rear elevations were updated as I dropped the vigas (wood roof supports) down so that they are one foot from the top of the structure.

Ole Adobe!

"Be it every so humble, there's no place like a square box made out of mud bricks in the middle of the hot sun. Wait, is that rain coming?"
- Peppy

I love adobe structures! That's one of the main reasons I wanted to look at modeling the Mexican railroads. While I've never built one I'm thinking they would be fairly simple to construct.

Here are some photos...
The smooth and curving sides...solid wood doors...
Large wooden supports over windows and doors, thick and rugged bricks...
Teh ubiquitous wooden roof supports and the earthen colors...
The broken away stucco and the arches...
Oh...and the bullet holes.

Such character these buildings have! I'm thinking I'll start with a small square house. It can be the jump off place for several structures as the are all cubic in shape for the most part.

Here is a sketch I've made of a simple home using the key features that I find so attractive in adobe buildings. My thought is to cast plaster sides and then assemble and round off the corners by sanding. I'm open for other construction ideas.

Ok, my daughter wanted to draw, so I sat down with her and sketched a few more using her watercolor pens.

I decided that the town of Agua Caliente needed a bar. Why not use Rose's Cantina?Greasy Gonzalez's Oil Depot will need to stand out a bit more than this, but its a start.
The enginehouse needs to be a focal point on the back side, so it may include some interior details. I'm going to use Colin Claxon's fine "garage" model as a design base for this structure.

On30 Group Member Colin Claxon is a fantastic adobe structure builder and I'm learning from his work.

He says...

The "barn" is 3/16 foam core with Durham's water putty over it. Some of the structures are 3/16 balsa. The exposed adobe brick are Fimo modeling clay. It was painted with washes of acrylic craft paint.(painted wet on wet) If you build one, the vigas go over the shortest distance not like I did it.
Thanks for the nice words.. Do check out Tom Yorkes models. They are quite good.
Colin Claxon

To learn about adobe architecture go to:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Scenery Science

I'm really been torn about which way to go with scenery media. There are a lot of choices and each has limitations. So I used the power of the internet and got this input.

Bill Uffleman - On30 Group
I like this! Very nice!

Andrew - On30 Group
Great video!

Stumpy Stone - On30 Group

You have much more ground to cover than I have in a long time, so my methods may not work for your layout. Ho0wever, you could use it in some areas where vertical surfaces might be difficult in other methods.
I carve rock faces from extruded polystyrene (extruded styrofoam). Don't use regular bead board foam, it doesn't work nearly as well. I generally look at a rock face I like and then try to carve something similar, or if I want to do a "cut" through a hill, so I look at a similar area in real life.
I don't use a hot wire cutter, I work with steak knives and X-acto knives and even sometimes just dowels or whatever will make the shape I want. Sometimes it doesn't come out quite the way I envisioned it, but since nature is so random, it usually works out anyway.
As to colors, I tend to use light grays and light browns. (Always use water based paint on foams.) I "seal" the foam with the brown and then add gray in "washes" of paint. Once the colors are right, I use thin washes of black to highlight cracks and shapes in the rock.
Different types of rock break into different shapes and colors, and these colors change as the rock is exposed to weather, so my colors may not work for you. Check out the area you want to model and let nature be your guide.
Stumpy Stone...Micro Layout builder in Appalachia

From Bill Neilson in the FloridaOn30 Group

Hi Scott,

You didn't mention whether this layout is to be portable, in which case weight & durability is a major concern, but even if it is a permanent layout, I think stacked extruded foam is probably the best method yet, as long as you don't have any trouble locating the foam, especially in larger thicknesses. Unfortunately, it's not the cheapest way to go, unless you have some nearby construction sites that will allow you to dive in their dumpster for scraps, and shaping the foam produces messy dust and chips, but a good shop vac takes care of this.

John Allen used to use corrugated cardboard forms overlaid with Kraft paper soaked in glue, which is cheap and can be very lightweight, but can be attractive to roaches and silverfish unless you mix in some form of insecticide or can seal it well on both sides. It is also very easy to re-contour later on, should you desire to. Rock outcroppings are easy to do using Sculptamold or Molding Plaster. This method probably would be my second choice over stacked foam.

Screen wire & plaster requires that you make a "buck" (framework) to support it all, forming the screen to get the proper shape without having to lay on 6" of plaster can be a PITA, and mixing the plaster and applying it is just too messy. Also, in it's powdered form, the plaster has a limited lifespan because it absorbs moisture out of the air (Hydrocal is the most sensitive to this), and after it has cured it develops cracks and chips easily, which leave white white plaster exposed. Carving rock faces into plaster can be very effective, but also produces dust & chips for the shop vac to deal with.

The Bragdon method is strong and light, and seems like it's the highest-tech method, but it's also the most expensive, it's components can be very hard to find, the liquid foam has a limited shelf life and produces potentially hazardous gases, plus it seems to be an overly involved process compared to simply stacking & carving extruded foam.

Just my opinion, the final decision is yours. Please keep us up to date on this project, as well as your swamp...

Bill Nielsen

From Don Culbertson in the FloridaOn30 group:


I really like your track plan for the new project.

I have made a lot of mountain scenery using extruded styrafoam. One of the most rewarding aspects of working with foam, was discovering how easy it is to make inclined ramps for multi level trackage using the foam. I use hot wire and hot knife tools and produce no foam dust. I made a demo module for a clinic I gave on foam carving. The demo unit was made entirely of foam, (there is no wooden frame) and only a small amount of lightweight patching plaster to hide some of the joints. The module uses two 2x4' pieces of 2" thick form, and one piece of 2x4x2 inch thick form. From the lowest track level to the peak is 16". The foam material removed to create the canyon and hollow out all of the tunnels, was flipped upside down to create the mountain.

To see a video of my Fire Ant Hill module in action check out:

or just go to and type in Fire Ant Hill.


Don Culbertson

From Paul Fischer on the Yahoo Scenery group:

Scott: I, too, favor the idea of Hydrocal soaked paper towels for scenery shaping. In "0" gauge , you can have a lot of vertical depth, (my layout has over 30") and you really would use a lot of Styrofoam to make those mountains. And when you are working in an area of over two feet, vertical, you should probably support the scenery structure with plywood, cut to the contour that you're trying to achieve. Then, fasten down fiberglass screening to support the hydrocal/paper. I find that I need two to three coats to achieve the desired strength. Finally you will probably want to pick up some rubber rock casting molds and make rock outcroppings where it looks right. You can hold these in place with Sculptamold and that will blend the base of the rock in with the scenery you have made with the Hydrocal.

I, personally, like to color my Hydrocal with some brown plaster dye that I found. This way you can evaluate your scenery easier than you can with stark white plaster, and later on, after the scenery is completed, should you bang a tool or something against it and chip out a piece, the color won't jump right out at you. You can also blend in carved foam, with the Hydrocal/paper towels to create varying effects in scenery texture.

For rock strata, outcroppings I have used broken ceiling tiles, roughened and painted , placed in a row with the broken edge out, and have had success with a western looking landscape. Some Styrofoam produces an interesting edge appearance if broken, placed and then painted properly. Looks rather rugged and has a varied texture.

Hope this helps.

Paul Fischer

Guys, thanks so much for the input. While I really like the control and affect of Hydrocal, and the lightweight and easy of Bragdon, I'm thinking the FROCKIN' the layout is the way to go. Let's go do some lab experiments and I'll get back to you.

Ok, Why the Stories?

“What is a railroad without men to make it go?”
- Peppy

Ok, so why the stories? I mean, they are fun to read, but aren’t they just distracting you from modeling? Good question.

My philosophy of model railroading is that a great model railroad is about people, not trains. To make a railroad believable people have to be involved. It makes the lifeless steel breath in air and open its eyes.

The stories paint a picture of the characters that make the railroad what it is. The crazy engineer, the brave miner, the town drunk and the old lady and her chickens on the track make the layout appear to be in the real world. It colors it just like the paint and stains we use on plaster. You become part of their world.

Its one thing to know that a small locomotive has a hard time getting up a steep hill, yet when we ride along with Peppy and Pedro we see the railroad with their eyes. What are they doing? Watching the oil fired boiler, looking for boulders, drinking in thick smoke and sweating in the extreme heat. So what does that tell us about the railroad? Because we sat down and wrote what it would be like to be Peppy we can understand the condition of the railroad, the rocks along the right of way, and the oily soot on the cab. Writing forces us to make notes about the scenery, the conditions of the trackage and the operations of the layout. It FORCES us to focus on realism and to put the plans on paper. When we are done we know that there is an empties load that goes to the mine and they carry guards to ride down with the load.

In fact, the little fact about Jose and German being on the train allowed me to really think about the cargo they are carrying. Silver rich ore. Silver worth steeling. With guards, we need a place for them on the train. We need a guard house. We need guns. It adds a whole dimension to the layout. Just writing this paragraph right now made me realize that we probably need to take the payroll up the mountain once in a while, so we’ll need even more guards!

The last layout we build had a mine. So, behind the church, we added a graveyard with an open burial scene. Morbid? Yup. But what was its purpose? Mining is a deadly business. The reality of that is painted by the open grave and the man’s small children standing beside it. The town is not about the train running around it. It’s about the business of digging coal out of the ground which is the life blood of the people, and what takes their life on occasion. The miners give up part of their life every day to dig coal out of the ground so they can feed their children who grew up to be…miners. I think these types of modeling effects are what made the last layout so visually realistic. It literally drags you in to the lives of the people that live there. It becomes real.

The story paints the picture of the layout and is a very effective tool for making you think. Ask you self…

  • Who are the characters on my layout?
  • What are they doing?
  • Why are they doing it?
  • What is their reward?
  • What are their fears and concerns?
  • Who do they interact with?
  • What do they hear, feel, smell, touch and taste?

Can you imagine being Pedro? You are in the 110 degree heat sitting on top of a 200 degree steel boiler. You are surrounded by rock. Buzzards are flying overhead. By putting yourself in the cab of that locomotive you can “see” your layout! Just as real as if you were in Mexico. I’ll guess you are going to put some canteens in the cab!

Just sit down and write a story about your railroad. It only has to be a page or two. You’ll see what you missed!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Finalizing the Trackage

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet perspiration"
- Peppy

Ok, let's finish up the trackage. We know we have to put a siding in at Madimi. My thought is that to run more than one train we should put in a midpoint siding on the mainline somewhere between the mine and Madimi.

And it shall be know as Agua Caliente, for those of us that are Clint Eastwood fans.

This passing shall be directly under the mine and will be viewable from an open port in the side of the fascia. It will have lighting and very shall "vignette" scenery.

There! Now all the track is done. Am I totally happy with it? Nope. Couple of things I'm not crazy about, one being the passing siding at the mine. Sloppy CAD work on my part. But I'll wait until I test run the track to fix it.

That's all the trackage!

Now, let's put in the benchwork fascia and see how the aisle come out.

I did correct some trackage. The loco servicing track had to be flipped as it was causing the benchwork to get unessecarily wide. Another mistake I corrected is the Agua Caliente passing siding which had barely one foot of passing track usable. I made it longer.

But, Scott, I can't tell where the tracks are going over or under or whatever! Can you put some grade markers in? Sure! It is time to do a grade check anyway. I'll get to work on it.

Hard Work On the Peñoles Railroad

"I'm not afraid of the bridge, Senior. I'm afraid of what I will land on when I fall off of it!"

- Pedro

Peppy slowly withdrew a thin steel rod from the firebox of El Burrito, one of the two locomotives owned by the Peñoles Mining Railroad. At the end of the rod were two perfectly roasted peppers that he gently removed and placed on a plate covered with Huervos Rancheros. Yum! Nothing like a good breakfast and he didn’t even have to leave the locomotive. In August the town of Madimì is already over 100 degrees in the morning so the loco makes a great stove for frying eggs.

The little Porter belches thick, black smoke as Peppy cracks the throttle open. Adobe engine houses don’t have very good ventilation with their flat roof construction and small windows so the heavy smoke chases coworker Pedro out of the building coughing and gasping for breath. Slowly the tiny engine creeps across the well-rusted rail toward the oil bunker.

With a drink and a bellyful of oil, El Burrito is ready to make the long vertical journey to the mines. Pedro has link-and-pinned two ore cars and the “fortress” flat car to the loco. Jose and German jump on the flat car, their large shotguns slung over their shoulders and their water canteens dripping on their pants legs. They can sleep on the way up since there is no silver to guard on this empty train.

Enrique the telegraph operator runs out to the train with the paperwork to give to the Station Operator in Agua Caliente, a small town half way up in the mountains. The only way to get to this town is by train and most of the time the telegraph doesn’t work so the boys drop off paper letters quite often.

The cars bang and bump as the rough track trips the train on its way up the steep grade. The first of a series of dark tunnels approaches and Peppy and Pedro pull their bandanas over their faces and slide their enormous sombreros down over their eyes. As the lights go out the cool of the rock and the oily black smoke engulf them. Darkness surrounds them as the rock passes inches away from the cab.

They explode back into the blazing Mexican sun and expunge their lungs of the greasy cloud that has invaded them. The inferno penetrates their cotton shirts and the perspiration begins to form again. Pedro looks back at Jose and German who are still sleeping soundly on several bags of flour. Tough job being a guard, I guess.

The water level is just right and Pedro loosens the valve to increase the oil flow. They’ll need a little more steam as they continue to climb up the steep slopes. Both men watch with great attention for rocks and boulders that might have found their way on to the track. Without air brakes stopping the little train is almost impossible.

Just up ahead now is the town of Agua Caliente. It’s on the north side of the mountain and is the hottest place in the region. Here is where they load lime for the smelter in bags and barrels for a trip down the hill. The engine crew won’t get off the train here. They never do. It’s a very dangerous place, Agua Caliente. Two rival families control the town and its gun and liquor smuggling. Everyone avoids the Baxters and the Rojos. You just leave as quick as you can and keep your head low.

The locomotive belches fire as we slowly stop at the tiny station shack. A very old man stumbles out on to the track and swaps papers with Pedro. He’s a nervous little man who smells of tequila. Peppy pulls the bell cord and wastes no time spinning the wheels on the little burro. The climb gets steeper from here so he’ll try to pick up some speed.

Jose pours water on an old rag and wipes the dust from his face. The noon sun is starting to make the rivets on the flat car as hot as an iron skillet. Flies encircle German’s head as rivers of sweat pour down on the ammunition belt slung across his shoulder. The flat car bounces even harder.

All vegetation is gone now except a few small shrubs just barely clinging on for life against the side of the tan rock. Looking up you know you’ll see a boulder falling down on your head. It’s a long walk back to town if you lose your locomotive and Pedro and Peppy have done it many times. Most of the rust is just on the outside so maybe the little loco will last another year. Maybe.

They pass through another tunnel and tight curve around the mountainside. Several vultures have noticed the little train rattling along its course and are hanging around just in case a free meal is to be had. German aims his gun with a skillful eye and BLAM. Once less vulture is flying and one free meal is served. With the tip of his hat he shades his eyes and German is again fast asleep.

The breeze picks up as they enter the highest reaches of the peaks. It is a hot wind like a blast furnace and it carries the sand up from the plains. Again the bandannas cover the now oil covered faces of our two heroes as they prepare for the truly frightening part of the journey. The suspension bridge.

She stretches for 1,000 feet across the chasm, held up by wire rope stretched between two spindly towers of riveted wrought iron. Down below is 320 feet of air and then a cavalcade of jagged rocks. As they approach they can see the bridge sway in the furnace like winds. It appears they will be going across today as they have done hundreds of times before, hoping they will make it home to their children again. They are paid well for what they do but a dead man makes no money.

Peppy drops the throttle back and checks the gauges. You don’t want to have a problem on the bridge and you can’t go too fast. As the weight of the engine grabs the bridge there is a slight drop. A different kind of sweat stings Pedro’s eyes and they slowly drag the train over the floating track. The breeze moves them to and fro and the men never look anywhere but forward. They are motionless as the steam from El Burrito creeps out into the air. Slowly. Slowly.

On the other side of the chasm El Burrito strikes the ground track and the bridge lurches up slightly, relieved to have the heavy weight off its back. The cars jump up and down with delight, all glad to be away from the fearful bridge. Jose scratches his nose and turns over to shield his eyes from the wind.

Out of nothingness they arrive at the busy mining camp. Hundreds of men are running back and forth with materials and shovels. Smoke rises from the company house and also from the mess hall. Peppy gently screws down the brakes as El Burrito belches up smoke and crawls to a halt at the station.

Pedro jumps down into the dust and skips across the track to the tiny depot. His orders are punched on to a stick so he jerks them off and reads where the empties go. Jose and German jump off the flat and walk toward the mine office. They will probably pull watch tonight so they’ll find a place to sleep the rest of the afternoon. Peppy has fallen asleep in the cab.

With a shout and a wave to Peppy the locomotive lurches forward and they move down to the track on the far side of the tipple where they leave the cars. Using a rag, Pedro carefully pulls the hot pin that links the cars to the enginer. The men are done for the day as there is nothing ready to leave yet so Pedro and Peppy put El Burrito to bed for the night and stroll to the mess hall for some beans and tortillas. There is always a poker game at the mine and a few pesos to spare…and tequila!

Tomorrow, they take silver down to Madimi…and you need a good night’s sleep if you are going to be shot at.

Etch a Sketch

"The Devil is in the details. And in most of my wife's casseroles."
- Pedro

Now we have a rough idea of where the main line is going to be. We've got a good climb to the mountain and the rough review of the grades shows that we are in good shape. Notice the pattern here? I don't try to perfect anything while I'm designing. I just get it pretty close to what I think I want. The reason I do this is that if you try to finalize each step, you lose flexibility to change and you'll waste a lot of time trying to make something work that you will just have to rip up later.

Once the rough main is drawn, I like to switch back to paper and pencil. The CAD system will let me print the drawing out and will give me the grid lines.
What a mess! I took both a black and red pen and began to doodle. What I'm looking at is the scenery detail. Where are the mountains? Where are the tunnels? What will the layout look like? By sketching, which is ALWAYS faster than CAD drawing no matter what your local nerd tells you, you can rough out the topography. Notice the note to the right about the window view! A friend of mine name John Travis build a helix and opened up one section of track and put a "vignette" seen in the whole with some lighting. The affect was amazing and I've done this on two layouts with great success. The track in this area will be hidden, but I don't want to hide it. Mainly I need a mid-way station stop. So we'll put a hole in the side of the layout!

Normally I would throw this and about twenty other first sketches in the trash, but I really like this layout just as it is. So, we are going to stay on version 1.00. For now, anyway.

I've saved the CAD drawing under a new revision number and added a drawing title block. This is a start block and I'll increase its size and add the scale/gauge/etc later.

So let's repair some problems:

Problem 1: the grade on the right side bridge approach may be too steep for the grade clearance.

The loop was originally inside the outer loop (red arrow) which made the grade a bit too tight to make the 4.5" clearance that I need for the bridge. So by pulling the loop out over the loop below it (creating a tunnel situation for the lower track) I've lengthened the run and made the grade stay closer to the ruling 2% grade that I've chosen as my standard.

Problem 2: Where to put the town of Madimi?

There are lots of places to put Madimi, but the must be at zero elevation. Basically we are looking at a section of benchwork off of the design we have now, or somewhere wedged in to the current design. Hey! Why not put the town under the big bridge!

For the town we need a smelter, and engine house, a warehouse, an oil distributor and a section of the MCRR. An O scale smelter is the size of the layout itself. These are enormous buildings and would take more than a year (and tons of pesos) to build. We could, however, just build the area of the structure that receives raw ore. Let's sketch it.

The whole town complex won't fit under the bridge, so I split it up. Engine servicing and the town proper are on one side, and the industrial complex are on the other. I like it so let's see how it looks in CAD.

Here we have the new town. I've put in a warehouse/oil distributor track, a smelter track and an loco servicing track. The passing siding are still not in, but we'll do them later. The O standard gauge MCRR line dwarfs the tiny 30" track. I did this on a module once and it made for a great effect of showing how tiny the trains really are.

Problem 3: There is not enough room for the mine complex.

Let's blow out the loop like we did on the last loop! While we are at it we'll put in the passing siding, the tipple and the empties siding. Better put in a warehouse, too.
Ok, instead of blowing the loop out, I left it the same size so that I can get more jagged rocks in to the picture. There is still room for mine structures, albeit small ones. The tipple may actually go on the loop and that way we can feed empties in, full cars out. We could also put a low relief tipple on the passing siding area.

It's starting to look more like a layout now!

Please feel free to post questions and comments!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Finally! We Get To Draw Something!

"Its ok to have a bowl of spaghetti as long as it has purpose! I'm not going to get around to scenery, anyway."
- Pedro

Ok, I know all of you out there in TV land have already started sketching stuff on graph paper, but I wanted you to know that careful planning UP FRONT yields to much easier on paper designing. We know our purpose, our parameters, our industries (business) and our trackage. Now we just have to shove it in a box on the CAD system.

So let's get started!

First, we'll discuss the track. We are going to use Code 83" Peco or Micro Engineering track, whichever we can get cheaper. The Peco track has more narrow ties so we'll design it for ME track. The limited square footage of the layout has us using small Porter locomotives and very small rolling stock, so we can use very tight radius turns. For our design we'll call 18" radius a minimum.

"WHAT!" you say? Oh, you must be an HO guy. "We don't use 18" for HO and you want to use it for O scale!" Actually yes. The On30 combination is very nimble and the Porters can run on track that is 12" in diamter! Even my big three truck shay runs easily on 18" radius.

The Design

You can do one of two things: start with a box and put the track plan in it, or start with a track plan and build the box around it. For this layout, let's combine the two approaches.

We are going from the plains of Mexico to the 2,000 ft mountains. I'm thinking a lot of grades here. Just like HO, On30 only pulls well at 2% to 2.5% grades. This means to achieve any elevation we are going to have to nest several over and under loops to get any great height. The problem with this is that the bowl of spaghetti winds its way up the mountain, but will need even more spaghetti to get back down to town. Better make a lot of meatballs!

In this case, we'd normally use a point to point design, just like the prototype. However, we have to go back to our guidelines list where it says that it must have a continuous loop for display purposes. Crap! What are we going to do now?

Ok, first of all it is a GUIDELINE, not an ABSOLUTE. The purpose of the guideline is to show trains running on the layout. Well, a loop to loop design does that, doesn't it? Hmmm. It will limit us to using a DCC system with a reversing port, but we can do that. We'd probably want to use DCC anyway. Ok, loop to loop it is! We can always pretend the loops aren't there for operations and we can get away with not putting turntables on the layout which are expensive and hard to maintain.

That means we need a loop at each town/mine and the trackage to wind up the mountain.

Before we do anything, let's go change our string diagram...

Be sure to update your diagrams and charts as you proceed that way Kalmbach will be able to keep track of your mess when they publish your layout. Right. Well, I keep hoping!

So let's get the CAD system going and layout some circles. We want to put the two main loops in first.

While this is not meant to be a lesson in CAD drawing, I will share with you some things that I do to help me keep organized. First, you have to set up the drawing. Knowing that I want the railroad to fit in an area no bigger than a small bedroom, I've set up the drawing grid to be 12 feet by 12 feet. I've set the grid to be 12" main squares with 3" minor divisions. The name of the layout design will be Peñoles Mining Company in On30 Layout 1.01 with the last digit changing. I keep ALL of the revisions as you never know when you might mess up.

Nothing but potential! Let's get the two loops in there. I'm going to use HO scale track sections for this since On30 is not available. If it is and you know about it, would you send me the file!
Here are two 20" radius circles. They probably need to be bigger than that, though. If our minimum radius is 18" and we have to put another circle on the outside, then we need a 21" radius, which is a 3" distance from track center to track center as used in On30. Because of our parameters we are most likely going to end up with a waterwings design.
Here is the full loop with a turnout, stretched to 23" radius with a Peco turnout. Wow! Its big. We aren't going to get much track on this layout...unless! He he he....I've got some ideas.
Ok, so they look like ta-ta's. These are loops in a waterwings type design. Wow, they are very close together in the middle. For those of you that don't know me I'm the poster child for mirth and girth. Essentially I have a 24" right of way because I'm a big hefty. So the tightest point on the layout aisle can't be less than 24". We want to keep the layout small, so how do we get around this without moving the "blobs" out?
In order to widen the gap you just slide the blobs! Notice I've made another "layer" in the CAD system called People and I made a round & fat "Scott Perry" gauge. I'll keep it around to make sure that I can fit in the aisles.

Our next job, Mr. Engineer, is to figure out how to get from the plains to the higher elevation. This is going to mean some really winding track. That means one of the blobs is going to be up on top! Uh oh. We better make it the minimum radius then.

Here we have the two main loops: 23" and 18" and then two additional loops that we will need to gain elevation. Looking good! Don't worry about it looking toyish as we'll bury some of those loops in solid rock.

The blob on the right was leaned into toward the aisle to broaden the curve out of the turnout. When you connect the loops you get a preliminary track plan that looks like this. Not bad for right out of the gate. For some of you it may be hard to understand it at this point, especially without elevation marks. Basically we are looking at a climb of about 14 to 16" from the zero point (larger of the loops). Cool! There will be three mountain peaks, one for each loop and another at the bend of all the curves. The long suspension bridge will go across the straight track in the aisle. Still don't get it? Don't worry...we are still in the early stages.

Write your comments and questions below!

Layout Parameters

"I like to think outside the box! When Pedro puts me in the box and I have to think, it is very hot."
- Peppy

Unfortunately we aren't all billionaires and have an aircraft hanger with a crew of fifty to help us build a layout. Those limitations force us to have parameters. Parameters are those boundaries that you can't or shouldn't cross.

On the Penoles Mines layout we have a few of them and it is always good to write them down and rank them.

  1. A team of six must be able to finish the layout in less than a year
  2. The cost of the layout must not exceed $1,500
  3. The layout must be transportable by a large pickup with an eight foot bed.
  1. It should have a lot of character and viewer appeal (so we can sell raffle tickets)
  2. It should run flawlessly
  3. Construction should not be too complex
  4. It should make use of kits or simple structures to kitbash or scratchbuild
  5. It must have a continuous run loop for display at a train show
  6. It should fit in a small bedroom
  7. It should fit through a normal bedroom door
The absolutes cannot be modified, stretched or changed. They are law. Just like when your wife says you can't put a layout over her coffee table, consider this from God and written on stone tablets. No way, Jose.

This layout is a show layout and a raffle layout. In order for our NMRA group to raise funds we build one of these each year. The last one was stunning and we made a ton of money on it. This one must be a show stopper to top the last one. The nicer the layout (and more unique) the more tickets we'll sell.

It has to be built in Buford, Georgia and then transported to the Galleria in Marietta, GA, then shipped to the new owner's house. So it needs to be mobile and it needs to be reassembled with a minimum amount of difficulty.

Since this is a fund raising project, we have to keep the cost down to make money. So, we have a budget. Often we all donate things to the layout and don't turn in the receipt as a donation, so our real budget may be slightly more than $1,500. Thus, all the absolutes.

The guidelines are not set in stone, but are definitely preferred and should be carefully considered before breaking them. Running flawlessly might be an absolute, but "flawlessly" is up for wide interpretation.

We may add to this list, but for now we'll start with this.

Comments? Questions? Be sure to post them!

Monday, May 25, 2009

And Now - Commerce

"The business of railroading is business"
- Peppy

Ok, so we have a mine and a smelter. We'll run trains back and forth. Oh goodie. Surely there has to be more than that? Of course there is!

In order to understand what our railroad does, let's make a flow chart of the industries and how they interact.

Let's start with what we know. We know there is a mine and a smelter. So the silver ore moves from the mine to the smelter and they smelt it. Once they get the silver out, which is only a fraction of the rock that was brought there, they have tons of rock laying around. Maybe we can haul some of it back to the mine for fill dirt?

So, you ship silver ore to the smelter and they smelt it. Then what? Just sit on piles of silver? Oh no. They must have a customer!

The customer, represented by the cloud symbol, is off line. Probably a merchant of silver bullion or a jewelry manufacturer. Since we can't model the whole world, we'll say that the Mexican Central Railroad is the customer since they are so nice to take the silver off our hands in boxcars. Likewise, the smelter will need supplies. Smelting requires machinery, lubricants, fuel and lots of other commodities including chemicals. So the smelter becomes the customer of the MCRR. See how this works?

Well, what about the mine? They need supplies, too, because they have machinery and commodity needs. In that case, we'll add the mine supply warehouse. It will interface with the MCRR and accept deliveries for the mine. Now we have commerce going back and forth between all industries including our "invisible" industry, the MCRR.
I guess our locomotives are going to run on thin air or whatever Obama says they are allowed to run on, right? Incorecto, por favor! The mine and its trains run on black gold: oil. So we better provide them with some. We'll need a fuel oil distributor. Since the locos are going to buy this oil, we better set up the locomotive repair shop as an industry. We'll also send oil to the mine. To make things even more interesting, we are going to sell some bagged high-grade ore directly to the MCRR by way of boxcar.
Of course you know that without people, the whole process stops. So we better figure out a way to get folks from off the railroad up to the mine since there are no Corvettes or Ferraris in 1900. Over the rugged mountain terrain even a mule will have a hard time, so we'll add some passenger service to our mix. We'll start by adding three stations, one "invisible" and off line, and the other two represented by real depots on the layout.

There! We have a really good sketch of commerce on the railroad with key industries and supporting industries represented and an "off layout" world that we can interact with! Again, this is our sketch and we may change it later.