Drawing Inspiration: Ed’s Bessemer & Lake Erie Layout

On the lower level is Butler Yard.  The upper level is Greenville yard.

On the lower level is Butler Yard. The upper level is Greenville yard.

There can be many sources of inspiration for a train layout, and having them helps when visualizing one’s overall goals.  This layout has provided that in several ways.

The Bessemer & Lake Erie is an ore carrier linking the Great Lakes to the steel mills of Pittsburgh.  Ed Cronin has recreated the mainline from Albion to North Bessemer with several of the passing sidings, industries, and yards included.  To fit all of this into a single basement, Ed has designed the mainline as a loop that crosses the room several times, with Albion and North Bessemer sharing the same yard.  Traveling one direction on the loop is northbound, and the other is southbound.

A northbound loaded coal train passes through Kremis.

A northbound loaded coal train passes through Kremis.

Most of the major scenery is complete, so you can really immerse yourself in the landscape.  The centerpiece of the layout is a river scene with two bridges crossing the river and mainline.

At the Greenville roundhouse, two EMD locomotives are serviced.

At the Greenville roundhouse, two EMD locomotives are serviced.

Because the prototype’s mainline hasn’t changed much over the years, the era of the route is flexible.  Everything from massive 2-10-4 steam locomotives to F-Units to modern Tunnel Motors fits the look.

The most impressive aspect of this layout is the operations.  In a separate room, Ed has recreated the Union Switch & Signal Dispatch Panel used by the Greenville dispatcher.  The fully-functional panel allows the dispatcher to see where every train on the layout is located, as well as change any of the mainline switches.  During an operating session, every train has an engineer and conductor.  The dispatcher communicates with the conductors using radio headsets while the engineers operate the trains.  Every train/conductor has a clipboard with instructions for picking up and dropping off cars.

This part of the dispatch panel covers Filer to North Bessemer.

This part of the dispatch panel covers Filer to North Bessemer.

What Ed’s layout illustrates for me is the importance of interactivity.  The ability to have dynamic operations and sessions adds to the life of a layout.  Even with my shelf layout, I want to have good replay value.

As a bonus, I got to use my DL&W hopper on a coal train to break it in.

My DL&W hopper is being switched into North Bessemer yard at the end of the run.

My DL&W hopper is being switched into North Bessemer yard at the end of the run.

If you would like to see more of Ed’s layout and hear him speak about it, be sure to watch this documentary.

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Making the Cut: Benchwork and Lumber

Needless to say, this Toyota Carolla was not designed for hauling 8-foot sections of lumber.

Needless to say, this Toyota Carolla was not designed for hauling 8-foot sections of lumber.

Benchwork isn’t fun, but it’s necessary.  If I could just skip to building scenery I would, but I realize that understanding it is important to make sure the layout is stable.

Because I live in an apartment, I need my benchwork to fit the following requirements:

  1. It cannot attach to any of the walls.
  2. If I don’t want to build new benchwork when I move, it must be semi-portable.  Thus…
  3. It must fit through the door.

Through research, I came across the “domino” concept: building the layout as separate tables which can be disconnected from one another.  Each table is relatively light and can stand on its own (which is slightly ironic since it is called a “domino”).  The layout will be supported by four tables: one under the Knitting Mill, one from the left side of the room to between the end of the river and the turntable (4.6 ft), one from there to the switch leading to Mohawk Asbestos & Insulation Co (3.6 ft), and one from there to the right side of the room (4.8 ft).  The layout is 2 feet wide, making the entire surface area 32 square feet.  These tables will be bolted together using carriage bolts to make assembly and dis-assembly easier as well as ensure the tables hold together.

The legs will be 2×4 lumber, the top will be extruded foam, and everything else will be 1×4 lumber.  Initially I planned to use a combination of plywood and extruded foam for the top, but using just 1 1/2 inch foam is lighter and saves money since the tables do not need to support a lot of weight.

I made my calculations and checked them twice before heading to my local Home Depot.  I purchased 13 8-foot sections of 1×4, 8 8-foot sections of 2×4, and one 4×8 sheet of extruded foam.  The employees there cut the extruded foam to the measurements I needed, which was very helpful.

I drove this lumber to a college professor who was willing to help me cut the lumber to the dimensions I needed.  Top Tip:  If you’re new to layout construction, it’s great to seek the help of a professor who is very familiar with math (Professor of Statistics).  He pointed out that while I did have enough lumber for my design (barely, I cut it close), I didn’t have anything extra in case any of the cuts should go badly.  Together, we worked out the math to ensure all of the necessary cuts could be made.  All of his cuts were successful, and I gave him an invitation to operate a train once complete.

Being without power tools is difficult for layout construction, but I can’t justify buying them at this stage since I do not need them for anything else.  I have transported the freshly cut lumber to the apartment, and when I can borrow someone’s tools (and their expertise, as that is always helpful), then I can take the next step and build the benchwork.