Train Shows: How to Emerge Victorious

Boxes, Boxes, Boxes

Boxes, Boxes, Boxes

Today was my first train show…as a modeler.  That might not seem like a whole lot of difference, but all of a sudden, vendors have a new appeal.  What follows is my guide to making the most of a show based on today’s experience at the Castle Shannon Volunteer Fire Department’s 2nd Annual Train Show.


Take Cash…But Not Too Much

Before departing this morning, I visited my good friend Aston Thelonious Martin (also known as A.T.M.).  Many vendors are cash-only, and using cash allows you to avoid spending more than your budget allows.


Arrive Early

I took the “T” and arrived just after doors had opened and was there as vendors were packing up.  If you’re on the hunt for specific items, give yourself time to search through thousands of boxes.


Dig, Matey!

There’s treasure in them boxes, and you’re digging for it.  Since vendors are limited in the amount of table space they have, you have to check the boxes below the table as well.


My treasure was locating as many of the Atlas Code 83 pieces my design requires to save money from buying them online.  By rummaging through the bins, I found all of the straight and curved sections of track I needed, as well as a Walthers turnout at a discount.

Luck will always be a factor on finding the best deals.  I didn’t find any Atlas Code 83 turnouts (switches), but the best prize of today was a Digitrax DCC system.  This included a commander/booster (DB-150), throttle (DT300), Utility Panel (UR91), and power supply (.5 Amps, enough for one locomotive) with all components being brand new.  MSRP would have been around $480 when this was introduced.  I bought it for $25.


Talk to Club Layout Operators

Today’s show had representatives from the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum.  They had brought with them an approx. 4×8 ft HO-scale layout.  Since my own design is modular, I asked plenty of questions regarding wiring, benchwork, and scenery.  Since I’m still new to DCC, I took my recently purchased Digitrax system to member Dave Chess.  He did a fantastic job explaining the basics, mistakes to avoid, and assured me that I had made a good investment.


Most Important

Cliché, but have fun!  As always, I have a blast talking with others in the hobby, taking in the layouts, and making new friends.

I have been working on the benchwork over the past week.  I will post that progress soon.

Foreground is DCC Equipment.  Background is track, joiners, couplers, Steel Rails, and VHS tape.

Foreground is DCC Equipment. Background is track, joiners, couplers, Steel Rails, and VHS tape. Engineer Henry the Moose takes the inventory.



Benchwork: Table Design

Benchwork Table Plan

Note that this drawing is not to scale. The legs will be almost as tall as the length of the table.

As is often the case, life gets in the way of the hobby. Fortunately, I am approaching the point where I can proceed with benchwork construction. In my “Making the Cut” post, I explained how I would divide the layout into four tables. Here, I can provide a hand-drawn illustration (with color-code added in Photoshop).

All of the holes will be drilled and counter sunk before the screws are put in to prevent splitting the wood. Red dots are screws, and blue dots are bolts.

The overhang on the right is necessary because the living room has a ledge along the floor next to the wall. Since the load on top of the layout won’t be heavy, I’m not too concerned about how this will affect stability. These joints are attached with L-brackets.

The only table to look different from this design is the one holding the Knitting Mill; it will have its legs on the right match those on the left. The open frame on top is attached to the legs via bolts to make moving the top easier and safer. The tables are also attached to one another using bolts for stability and a smooth connection.

While the illustration contains braces on the bottom of the long sides of the table, I may omit these in favor of improving how easily the legs can fit through doorways. I would like to make the layout portable for train shows to share my work with others, and navigating a frame with four-foot legs permanently attached could be complicated.

What do you think of this design? Are there any modifications you would recommend before I begin putting the drill to the wood?

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.

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.


Broadalbin Track Plan

FJG Broadalbin Plan

Note that #6 should be Mohawk Asbestos & Insulation Co. I will upload a correct version in the near future. Larro Feed is also Broadalbin Coal & Supply Co.

Here it is.

As you can see from yesterday’s post, Broadalbin is both small and relatively straight.  These are both good attributes for a shelf layout.  The blue line represents Kennyetto Creek, and the black line is Bridge St.  The yellow circle is the turntable.  Each square represents one square foot.

If you compare it with the screenshots from yesterday, you’ll see that all of the industries are represented (although some will be compressed, especially Broadalbin Knitting Mill).  The former cement storage building converted to private residence has been omitted due to space restraints.  The only other major alteration is having the sharp curve between Bridge St. and the knitting mill where the creek goes underneath the tracks.

Part of my goal with the design was that I wanted to allow for continuous operation without the use of a five-fingered crane (a.k.a. my hand).  The runaround loop on the right is designed to allow for the locomotive to run around the train before heading back into Broadalbin.  The siding at the far right is for storing cars.

The benchwork for the layout will be constructed using the “domino” method.  Four separate tables will be built 50″ high and be designed to allow for easy dis-assembly and moving: one including the knitting mill, one from the left side to between ‘4’ and ‘5’, one from ‘4’ and ‘5’ to the edge of staging, and one from the edge of staging to the right side.  The layout is two feet wide.

In later posts, I will break down the design process and explain why I chose HO Scale.  For now, I want to hear your thoughts on this.  Do you think this is an effective design?  Would you recommend any changes?

Introducing Broadalbin

Since my shelf layout will be replicating the town of Broadalbin, I thought I should take a post to introduce the prototype.  To do this, I’m using screenshots from Paul Charland’s Microsoft Train Simulator route.


Broadalbin is a small town at the eastern end of the Fonda Johnstown and Gloversville.  The line was completed in 1895 and remained the end of the line for the railroad’s history.  In the 1950s, it was serviced by one mixed train per day in the morning from Gloversville.  Here we are looking toward the east.

ImageThis is the Mohawk Asbestos & Insulation Company.  This  building later became Pinewood Sawdust.



Broadalbin Coal & Supply Co.  This industry supplied both coal and animal feed to residents and local businesses.

ImageThis was a feed and cement warehouse in the 1920s, but by the 1950s it was a private residence.

ImageSince Broadalbin was the end of the line, steam locomotives needed to be turned around.  However, the turntable was inadequate for the heavier steam locomotives and the diesels, so it was then used for turning snowplows.

ImageThe FJ&G Freight Shed was used by a variety of customers for different commodities.  One such customer was D & K Fiber.  Cotton waste would come in and shoddy wool would be taken out.


ImageBroadalbin Station is one of the few structures of the railroad that remains to this day.  It was from here that passengers could depart for Gloversville.

ImageThe Broadalbin Knitting Mill was a major industry in town until 1959.  It then became Mohawk Furniture.  The industry still stands but is now abandoned.

ImageThis is a warehouse for the Knitting Mill.

ImageThis is the end of the line.

ImageHere is a final view of Broadalbin.  Click here for some photographs of the FJ&G in Broadalbin.

In my next post, I will show my track plan.

Combine 21: Days 6, 7 &8: The Roof

This was something I have been both looking forward to and dreading at the same time.  Crafting the roof is fun, but making sure it is shaped correctly is a bit nerve-wracking for a beginner.

Combine 21 Roof Template

The first step was creating the templates from the instructions.  I cut the shapes out from the paper instructions, traced them on thin cardboard, and cut them out from that.  There are three templates: upper roof ends, lower roof ends, and inside the bar for the celestory windows.

Combine 21 Working on the Roof Template

The first step was to sand the ends down and checking that the template pieces “fit” with the curve I was carving.  The trick is to consistently check this fit:  you can always sand more if you need to, but you can’t easily add material back.

Combine 21 Carved Roof

The next step was to create the bar that starts above the celestory windows and curves down into the lower roof end.  Using the third template, I cut the bottom of the curve piece out before gluing these pieces onto the ends.

Combine 21 Curved Pieces 1

From this, I sanded these down to fit the curve of the roof I had previously created.  The last component was making a curved piece to fit inside the previous pieces.  I made each one too large and then sanded them down to fit them in.

Combine 21 Curved Pieces 2

At the end of this, my roof was complete.  It wasn’t quite as hard as I may have feared, but it still required being careful and taking steps.

Combine 21 Roof Finished

Now what remains is primarily side and undercarriage details.  The LaBelle kit came with a set of Tichy brake components, but there are no instructions for these.  I also need to order screws for the couplers and trucks to put them in place.