Thursday, November 27, 2014

Railroad Archeology

Watching the small rails.

It has been a while since I said anything about Model Railroading. Between physical problems, time and the railroad slowly getting stacked as projects get delayed or stopped, I have done little with the railroad.

My Mom has been doing some yard sales to get rid of some Christmas stuff she accumulated. I’ve been putting stuff out from my house that I had extras for or have never used. Over the years, I accumulated a whole bunch of Model railroad buildings (HO scale) from other yard sales. At one many years ago, the guy basically shoved the box at me when he saw I had even the slightest interest. I’ve yard sailed most of those buildings since they were filling up a shelf in my train room. I kept the buildings my brother and I made.

I was digging in the closet to get to something in the bottom of the pile, looking at anything that was of any interest. Really fun project, to say the least. Some findings will be yard sailed, some will be kept. Some will be yard sailed later.

I found some railroad designs for layouts my brother and I drew up and considered developing when he had his railroad in a shed in his back yard.
At the time, he had a two foot by eight foot yard he built by modifying a design he saw in a magazine. At one point, we had the railroad go all the way around the shed. While his yard remained the same until he finally ripped it out to use the shed for other kinds of work, the rest of the layout changed over the years.
The plans I located were showing some of our ideas over time. These designs reminded me of some other designs we considered and later rejected. The big problem at that time was my brother was the one laying tracks and getting switches working. I had no skill at that time. Since he had to do all the work, only a little could get done.
Some of these designs were pretty good, some are too complicated, especially for the space we had.

When we started in Model railroading, we were thinking you needed five track main lines and fifty track yards. We also thought there had to be switching puzzles where one had to zig zag back and forth to get cars where they belonged. It took us a long time to learn to think small and simple.
We saw in a magazine where they were building a small railroad step by step. At the end, they showed how to operate it. That article showed us that a really small and simple railroad could be fun. We have since figured out that a single oval track with two sidings inside, can make for really interesting operation.

For those who don’t understand model railroading, it is one thing to run trains around a track like slot cars, like many beginners do, especially children. It is another thing to emulate the way a real railroad would run. The real object of a model railroad is to get one engrossed with it for a period of time. Most model railroad builders spend their time being engrossed in fantastic, realistic, scenery but not on how the trains run.

In essence, there are two methods of operating a model railroad realistically. One is to operate on schedules where trains have to be at certain places at certain times. The other is picking up and dropping off cars in front of businesses. Of course, advanced modelers will combine these two acts.
I have experimented with both on my model railroad. The main part of my railroad layout is a four foot by eight foot platform with two ovals, one inside the other. There is only one crossover (switch arrangement that allows you to go from one oval to another), and there are some tracks that go out from the oval and leads to a nine foot switch yard.  There are also some tracks pointing into the center of the inner oval where cars can be placed. There is a spot on the front of the switch yard that allows one to emulate a barge port where railroad cars can be added and removed from the layout.
Properly loading and unloading the barges is a whole operation in and of itself. The switch yard is another operation of its own. Then you have the main layout.
In our general operations, the yard is simply to store trains to be sent out when needed. Many times it is only to store railroad cars and engines so they are out of the way. The barge then provides the trains for our operations.


 My model railroad layout in my house.  We changed the yard slightly from this design, but it is close enough for discussion. The siding on the bottom left was never hooked up. It was to provide trains from the other end of our railroad. We also discussed putting a yard in the closet but  that idea sort of died also.

 The simplest layout. The oval itself allows you to get to the other end of your train for the sidings facing your engine so you can work the siding.  We did an operation on this, picking up one car from each siding while running in one direction, then reversing  the train and picking up  the other cars going the other way. It was an enjoyable 45 minute operation.

I have had scheduled operations where three trains would be run in sequence where the “local” would arrive first, get completely out of the way, the general train (opposite rush hour if passenger) arriving and getting out of the way, then the express or rush-hour train arriving. Then they would leave in reverse order. With the freight trains, the local would move the cars for the other trains
We found we preferred to be mainly just be placing cars in the sidings in front of the proper businesses. It is one thing to let the “conductor” decide where the cars are going and what cars to pick up. We found, though, that if you designate what cars will be picked up and dropped off and where, a simple train servicing each stop can be a real challenge.  One can spend a couple hours just working one train, one person working the throttle, the other hooking and disconnecting the cars. That, is what  model railroading is about. Being engrossed for hours.

We originally placed my model railroad along the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. We visited there later and found that reality has nothing to do with model railroading. Our selected cities were wide spots in the highway. Since we have no room for any scenery, and our railroad is flat anyway, we realized the railroad could be just about  anywhere in the country.

The real key for Model railroad operations is the rules you choose to use for operations.
We have eight individual sidings on the inside of the inner oval. They are interconnected to a run-a-round that allows the engine to get to the other end of the cars.
With the oval railroad, we can have the whole inside oval as one city, each run-a-round area, one on each side, as separate cities, or each siding as individual cities.
One can run actual distances. I cannot remember the exact figure, but a three foot wide oval is something like a third of a scale mile (your mileage may vary)(HO Scale is slightly larger than 1/8"=1'-0" scale but 1/8" is close enough to where one does not have to always use a scale rule to get your figures). One could figure out how many laps one has to run in order to get the actual distance and actually run from city to city to drop cars off. One does not have to model an entire city, just the area you are allowed to work. There might be other railroads in the city, and there might be other trains scheduled for other sidings. What you are modeling are just the places your train(s) will stop.
When one operates at scale miles per hour that real trains would run (only a few trains run full blast, most tool along at a fairly low speed), one could spend several sessions running one train across your “empire”.
Switching at scale speeds, creeping along, becomes a real challenge as any mistakes (going straight rather than turning off for example) take a long time to undo as you have to slowly return to where you make the mistake, and then do what you intended to do. One quickly concentrates totally on what you are doing, and time really zips by.

I ran across some of the “car cards” we used for our operations. I have two printed versions at my finger tips at this second. At first, and later on, we simply wrote what cars were in the train, then look over the layout to see what cars “needed” to be picked up. We would then right them down on a list.
One printed (printed on printer paper) car cards I did lists all the cities on the layout, and all the businesses on the layout. It also had a sketch of the layout and the letters where they would go. The engine would be noted on top and the direction. We then had a second set of cards, one for each individual type of car (box car, work car, tank car, flat car...) and listed the city where it was going. We would then write on the car card a description of what the car looked like. At the bottom of the car card, would list what the car would do next, such as “go to the yard,” or “go to the barge port” or “go to next city.”
One big problem we found with the individual car cards is that while one is switching, one ends up laying the cards out over the edge of the layout so you could see what cars needed to go where, and be picked up, and keep track of where you are. If one blocked (placed the cars in order that they will be dropped off) the cars, there is more moving paper around. It actually was fairly realistic in that the conductor had no decision as to what was picked up or dropped off and the real railroads were known to be awash with paperwork.
For practical purposes, the way we ended up operating was to list the cars in the train on one paper with where they were going. We would have simple rules for what cars would be picked up each time. Since we had some railroad cars that did not work well on our layout, and some would “fall off” or have some other accident, one simply put the type of car and swap it out if needed with the same type of car.

Another operating situation I had written on a piece of paper that I ran across, was to use a set of dice and have a list that stated the conditions that certain things would happen when certain numbers came up. You roll the dice and it would tell you that *there are hazards in one area * the weather is messy * you are having problems with one of your engines * your train is loaded higher than expected. Each of these would require you to handle your train differently along the route than normal. A hill might require you to break up the train a couple times to get it up a hill. One might have the train run slower in an area than normal, and so on.
This addition to an operating system forces one to think about each section of the railroad as you run on it. If one is running laps, if one has a map of your route, one could do laps to a certain point and roll dice to see what you are dealing with.

Since my brother and I usually used the railroad together, one of us would be the engineer, using the throttle controlling the speed and direction of the train. The other would give directions, flip switches and work the couplers to disconnect the cars. It really makes for an enjoyable time for both of us.
We originally planned to have a view block, a sheet of plywood, down the center of the layout with scenery painted and built up on it to make each side a different place entirely. We found, though, that it was more enjoyable to be able to see each other and see the train when operating from the opposite side of the layout. The way we wired the inner oval was the back half had its own controller so that train can be used without messing with the front side, but it could be switched to operate from the front controller so trains could run all the way around the layout.  This made it easy for the engineer to be out of the way of the conductor when operating.

Digging through the closet was interesting. I have found parts and pieces I forgot I had or never knew I had. I will have a lot of work to sort through all this stuff and get them into some order, if that ever happens....
The best part was it was digging through memory lane, planting a little bit of excitement in the railroad again, even if it is as an “arm chair” model railroader. 

It is fun to be a railroad archeologist....

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