Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lessons learned from the old layout

In early December 2013, I dismantled the layout that I had called the California Northwestern.  I had started it almost 12 years before and it was fully completed.   It's always a bit sad to tear down a layout but at the same time I am looking forward to starting the new one.

When I built the California Northwestern my goal was to try as many new ideas (new to me anyway) as possible.  I consider this to have been a successful layout when I recall everything I've learned from it.  While I was dismantling it, I recalled many of the things I had tried, what worked well, and what did not.  I got out the camera and documented some of them.  This is how we learn and build the next layout even better than the last.

After all the buildings, trees, and other details were removed, the two sections of the layout were taken outside as it would get messy next.

I had used the Busch instant roadway product for my highway.  In this photo it is very noticeable that it had cracked and split where the material had been bent around a curve.  The material had generally degraded by about 8 years after being installed.

The raised areas of the layout were built with Styrofoam sheet to match the Woodland Scenics Styrofoam risers.  While the risers worked out fine, I would not recommend using Styrofoam for scenery base.  Besides being more messy, it also is not very firm as a sub roadbed.  The six turnouts on this layout were built on 1/8 inch acrylic sheet as a unit including the cork road bed, Peco code 55 turnouts, and Tortoise motors.  After being thoroughly tested, these units were then placed into cutouts in the foam and secured with Liquid Nails adhesive.  This meant they were non serviceable but they never gave me any problems in 11 years of service.

This photo shows one of the turnout units after it was removed from the foam.  I've really become a big fan of the Tortoise switch motors.  I've mounted them vertically, horizontally, and upside down and they've always worked.The ones on this layout had been re-used from another layout before and will be used again on the new layout along with some additional new ones.  They are about 20 years old at this point.

Here the metal shelf brackets are shown after the layout shelf had been removed.   I had set this layout just high enough at fit the file cabinet under one end. It was not until I was removing the layout that I realized that I had forgotten to put the screws into the layout shelf on last two brackets by the file cabinet.  I had never noticed any weakness there so using these type of brackets every 16 inches really works well to support a layout like this and all these will be re-used on the new layout.

Another thing I had tried on the old layout was the use of plastic paneling for the sky board and to cove the corners.  This is available in 4 x 8 ft sheets and has a textured surface.  I used it backwards as the back side is smooth.  It was attached with a few finishing nails and then painted.  This seemed to work really well.  I want to use some sort of photo backdrop on the new layout but this will give that a smooth firm surface.

With everything salvaged from the layout that could be re-used or sold, it was time to scrape off all the Styrofoam which was bagged for trash collection. The Peco code 55 track and turnout were also not re-usable. The plywood bases were then cleaned up and will be re-used.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2011 - A place for the new layout

In the spring of 2011 my wife and I purchased a travel trailer.  At our place we have a seperate double car garage toward the rear of the lot with a narrow driveway to access the garage.  We needed to park the trailer in front of the garage which blocked any possible vehicle access to the garage.

Since we were no longer parking the vehicles in the garage, I began to start looking at using part of the garage as a layout room.  This room would also have to serve as my model / DCC & Electronics work space and have space to set up a module or two for working on them.

First layout drawing

Before I could start building the room, I needed to know what the layout was going to be so I began the process of  actual layout design.

My first design drawn with Microsoft Visio is shown here had an overall size of 21 x 13 ft. The layout went all the way around the room with a peninsula that included the double ended staging yard.  Near the entry door there would be a lift gate.

In this configuration I was able to include most of the scenes that I had made the drawings of.  The open area at the end of the peninsula could be used for working on a module.  The work areas would be under the layout on the left hand side in this drawing.

This would be only the first of several layout plans I would draw but it was good to actually now have an idea where I could build a new layout and to get started with actual layout drawings.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2009 to present - Expanding my SP locomotive roster

When I re-entered active N scale modeling in about 1990 I had decided to keep as narrow a focus as possible in terms of era and railroad.  My initial interest was on the Southern Pacific between 1958 and 1965.  This era fit the theme of my Ntrak modules and first two layouts and I was able to build a good representative fleet of locomotives for that era.

After I got interested in modeling the Palisade Canyon, it opened up the possibility of acquiring many more locomotive models which has been a lot of fun.  Initially I started with expanding my SP roster to the years beyond 1965.

From various sources I compiled a list on an Excel spreadsheet of locomotives sorted by year between 1977 and 1996 and used this as a guide.  This spreadsheet is shown here.

Some of these are not available in N scale but most are.  So I began to purchase locomotives and assign them to one of the three eras that will be represented on this layout. Most of these were found at train shows and on ebay.

So I got a start on expanding my SP roster but also needed to build up a Western Pacific roster of locomotives for my 1976 to 1982 era and I'll talk about that in a future post.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2008 to present - Buying and building bridges

One of the things that I really like about the Palisade Canyon are the many thru truss bridges that I could see on the Google satellite images and also in the images I found on the internet.  As I developed my plans to build this layout I started to acquire models of some of those bridges.  If possible I wanted to try to match the prototype bridges as close as I could.

 In 2008 BLMA came out with a brass 4 section thru truss bridge model.  I felt this would be a good match for the WP bridge that is just west of the two palisade bridges so I picked up one.  This is a beautiful bridge with great detail and set my expectations high for any additional bridges.  At about $200.00 for one bridge, that was going to get expensive even if they could be found.  I wished there was a plastic kit bridge that had the same great detail and that could possibly be modified to match particular bridges on this layout.

Then sometime around 2009 I got my wish when Central Valley Model Works introduced an N scale version of their popular HO scale 150 ft thru truss bridge model.  These kits were less than $30.00 and included see thru cross lacing in the girders just like the HO version.  I picked a model 1810 bridge kit and built it to match the WP bridge at Palisade near the tunnels.  To match the prototype, I shortened the bridge by 1 section and modified the bracing at the top of the portals.  This bridge would be the first actual part of the layout to be completed.

Central Valley  then released their model 1815 bridge with portals that were a good match for the SP bridge at Palisade.  This one was also shortened to 3 sections to match the prototype.  Great, now I had good models of all 3 bridges west of the Palisade tunnels.

The three bridges referred to in this post can all be seen in this photo.  The 2 silver colored ones are on the former WP line and the black one is on the former SP line.  This scene is one of the most photographed in the Palisade Canyon and I found this photo on the internet.

These are the two completed Central Valley Model Works bridges.  These are great kits and now they are also selling the components as separate items for those who want to scratch build a specific bridge.

There are still more bridges to build or collect for this layout and this effort is continuing.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2006 - Defining some Layout Design Elements

In late 2006 with the information I had gathered so far I began to make drawings using Microsoft Visio of particular areas that could be built as scenes on a layout.  These are popularly know in our hobby as Layout Design Elements.  Not knowing when or where I would be building this layout, drawings of individual scenes made sense as they would define features that I would desire to have in the layout.  I realized that some of these might not fit in to whatever space I would have and that I would have to pick and choose from these as I developed the plan.

This is an example of the kind of drawings I was using at this point.  I felt that the west end of the paired track would make for an interesting operation.  This would be intended to be the west end of the modeled area.

I did drawings like this for each of the elements that I wanted to include in the layout and ended up with 9.  Besides the drawing shown above, some of the others included:
  • North Valmay power plant - This coal burning power plant receives unit coal trains.  The two tracks are separated by more than a mile here and a return loop from west to east connects those two tracks.
  • Shoshone - The location mentioned in the first post where both tracks go under the I-80 freeway and continue south following the Humboldt River to Palisade canyon.
  • Carlin - At the eastern end of Palisade canyon.  This was a division point for the Southern Pacific and they maintained some maintenance facilities here.  They also originated a local in Carlin that covered the mining industries to the west.  There is a also double crossover here and a few industry sidings on the SP line.
  • Flyover - I don't know if it's really called this but it's the point in the canyon where the WP line crosses over the SP line.  Interesting group of bridges.
  • Harny - When the City of San Francisco derailed here in 1937 due to sabotage, a bridge on the SP line that crossed the Humboldt River was also destroyed.  The river was diverted to eliminate the need for a bridge.  
  • Palisade - Tracks cross a pair of bridges on the west side before entering tunnels.  On the east side the SP line crosses a bridge that was destroyed in a 2008 derailment.  This is one of the more photographed areas on the paired track.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

2005 - Defining the modeled era(s)

As I learned more about the railroad operations through the Palisade Canyon, it occurred to me that a layout could have more than one era.  Around 2005 I figured out that it would be interesting to have the layout be set in three different eras.  These eras follow the mergers that took place in the railroad industry during the last 25 years of the 20th century and would allow for sets of locomotives and rolling stock for each era.

So, based on the merger history of the railroads that operated the paired track, these are the eras:

The SP / WP era: 1976 - 1982

In this era, the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific were the operators of the paired track arrangement across Nevada as they had been for many years.  A few of Western Pacific's locomotives are still in the silver and orange paint scheme but most are in one of the green and orange schemes.

The SP / UP era: 1983 - 1988

During these years, the Western Pacific has been merged into the Union Pacific.  UP's paint shops were fairly quick to assemlate most of the aquired WP locomotives as well as those aquired from other railroads such as the MKT (Missouri, Kansas, and Texas) and Rock Island.

The UP / DRGW era: 1989 - 1996
In this era the Southern Pacific Railroad has been purchased by Rio Grande Industries which also owned the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.  They merged the two railroads and kept the Southern Pacific name and the scarlet and gray paint scheme but changed the locomotive lettering to a style similar to what the Rio Grande had used.

In the Midwest, the UP has taken over the Chicago & Northwestern and the Missouri Pacific and by now UP's paint shops are only patching the UP emblem and new road numbers on the the acquired locomotives.  As those locomotives find their way into the western reaches of the UP system, it means even more variety of paint schemes.

Besides using different railroad equipment that would be appropriate for each era, vehicles, structures, and other details could be exchanged to show the layout in different periods of time.  At this point I began to expand my locomotive roster to cover these 3 eras.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2002 to 2005 - Researching the area

Over the next few years after that trip to Denver in 2001 I would occasionally do some internet research of the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific operations through the Palisade canyon.  I would follow the tracks on Google Maps satellite view and note the tunnels, bridges, sidings, and other features.  Then I started to collect photos of the line from the internet and figure out on the map were those locations were.

As I studied these things, I began to think that this would be a good prototype for a new layout I could build in the future, possibly when I had more room for one than I had at that time.

During this period of time I had dismantled a 12 ft x 3 ft layout that had been along a long wall in my spare bedroom / office space.  That layout consisted of my two 4 foot Ntrak modules, two end sections, and a staging yard.  This layout was replaced by a 12 ft shelf layout at a 51 inch height in the same location and that was loosely based on the Southern Pacific's Northwestern Pacific branch in Northern California.   Also during this time I was continuing to operate and further finish the two Ntrak modules.

It was images like this one that I found on the internet that inspired me to think about the Palisade Canyon as a subject for a model railroad.

One of the things I noticed was that there did not seem to have been much modeling the Palisade Canyon area going on in any scale.

Friday, October 4, 2013


With a new story and a new layout, I have started this new blog.  I already have two other blogs going that address different aspects of my model railroading hobby and those will continue but perhaps at a somewhat slower pace than in the past.

My interest in modeling the paired track through the Palisade Canyon in central Nevada can be traced back to a spring day in 2001.  John Claudino of Aztec Manufacturing and I were driving across Nevada on Interstate 80 on our way to the Rocky Mountain N Scale convention in Denver.

While I had driven this route myself before, my attention during those drives was more on the driving and not so much the railroad tracks that were visible in varying degrees from the freeway.  I had a general idea of the route that they followed as this was part of the route of the original transcontinental line.  I also understood that now in 2001 all of it was owned by the Union Pacific as they had taken over the Southern Pacific in 1996 and before that in 1982 had taken over the Western Pacific.  This time John and I were splitting the driving between us and I could be a passenger some of the time and take in more of the surrounding scenery.

John had a scanner in his truck and we were listening to the Union Pacific Railroad's radio traffic, and seeing a lot of trains on the nearby tracks.  As we headed east and were somewhere just east of Battle Mountain, the tracks that were on our left or the north side of I-80 curved to the right and under the highway to continue off to the south, following a river that at that time I did not know the name of.  I asked John where these tracks went and he replied that they went through Palisade Canyon and would re-join Interstate 80 further east.

Present Day

Many of the layout blogs I read have quite a few "catch up" posts as they are following a project that has been in progress for some time before the blog started.  In this case the layout construction is just about to begin in the fall of 2013 as I work to put the finishing touches on a new 200 square foot layout space in my garage.

These first several posts will cover how the idea and plan for this layout has developed over the 12 years prior to now.  I've gone back through my notes and drawings and will try to present these in a chronological order. After that I'll be posting regular updates on the layout construction progress.

So if this sounds interesting to you, please feel free to subscribe.  It is my hope that this will be a long story.