Improve Your Modeling

Jane Clarke, NMRA South Mountain Division Achievement Program (AP) Chairperson.

by Jane Clarke, SMD AP Chair

Thank you to those who contacted me about their aspirations in the Achievement Program (AP). I look forward to presenting your awards! Several of you are ready to have your scenery judged. This takes some coordination to get (preferably) three judges together. I appreciate your patience.

To qualify for the Model Railroad Engineer–Electrical certificate, you must:

A. Construct and demonstrate on your own or club layout, the satisfactory operation of an electrical control system on a model railroad capable of simultaneous and independent control of two mainline trains in both directions, and containing at least:

  1. Simultaneous and independent control of two mainline trains. This can be as simple as a single track main with sidings. This means that as long as you can cut power to the sidings individually, you can run one train, park it on a siding while you run another, then park it and run the first again. This meets the requirement.
  2. For conventional DC wiring (non-command-control), five electrical blocks that can be controlled independently. For command control wiring (DCC, TMCC, and others), sufficient gaps and switches to maintain polarity, phase if needed, and troubleshooting.
  3. One mainline passing siding.
  4. One reversing loop, wye, turntable, or transfer table.
  5. One yard with a minimum of three tracks and a switching lead independent of the main line. (“Independent” means that you are able to operate the locomotive switching the yard and the lead on a separate powerpack without interfering with mainline operations.)
  6. Facilities for the storing of at least two unused motive power units. Don’t make this harder than it is – these are just sections of track (usually spurs) that you can cut power to independent of the main.
  7. One power supply with protective devices (short indicator or circuit breaker) to ensure safe operation. You don’t have to build this yourself; you just have to have one in your control system. You can use a commercial supply that has these features, modify a commercial supply to add these features, or even build it yourself – but only if you REALLY know what you’re doing.

B. Wire and demonstrate the electrical operation of at least three of the following items:

  1. Turnout. Wiring up the simplest powered turnout from your hobby store will satisfy this requirement.
  2. Crossing. Most commercial crossings come pre-wired. Just set one up so that you can run trains through on both tracks.
  3. Crossover
  4. Double Crossover
  5. Slip Switch (single or double)
  6. Gauge Separation Turnout
  7. Double Junction Turnout
  8. Three Way Turnout
  9. Gauntlet Turnout
  10. Spring Switch
  11. Operating Switch in Overhead Wire

Note: Don’t make the requirements in parts B or C any harder than they have to be. You do not have to scratchbuild any of these; you just have to show that you can make them work electrically. Of course, if you want to go to the effort of building them yourself, you may learn many new skills in the process! The whole point of these requirements is for you to demonstrate a variety of skills.

C. Wire and demonstrate the electrical operation of at least three of the following items:

  1. Electrical turnout position indication on a control panel or at trackside for a minimum of four turnouts. (Remember that many commercial switch machines have electrical terminals to allow you to do this easily.)
  2. Track occupancy indication on a control panel or at trackside for a minimum of five blocks.
  3. Cab control, making provision for the connection of at least two power supplies to a minimum of five blocks as the trains progress. (This means that your layout has at least five blocks, each of which can be controlled by one of two power supplies. The five blocks DO NOT have to be in a row along the same stretch of track.)
  4. Engine terminal, including an electrically powered turntable or transfer table, a minimum of three stall tracks, and at least two blocked storage sections for parking locomotives outside the stall area. (This means you need to have a total of five tracks (three inside an engine house or roundhouse, and two outside), that you can cut power independently to store motive power).
  5. Two turnout junctions with electrical interlocking and protecting trackside signals. (This is simply a turnout with electrical protection to prevent a train from going through a turnout that is set against it. Again, the electrical terminals on a switch machine, combined with a couple of insulated rail joiners, make this a fairly easy project.)
  6. High Frequency Lighting (This is an old term for Constant Lighting.)
  7. Electronic throttle with inertia and braking provisions. (This requirement could be combined with requirement A-6, above.)
  8. Grade crossing with electrically actuated warning indication. (You don’t have to design or build the circuitry for this yourself. There are a number of commercial components available that you can just wire up to meet this requirement. Or you can use commercial plans that appear in magazines from time to time. Or you can do it from scratch.)
  9. Two-way block signaling with automatic train detection for at least five blocks. (See remarks under #8).
  10. Operating overhead wire, using either pantographs, trolley poles, or both for current collection. (Any traction fans out there?)
  11. Installation of an advanced electronic and/or computer control for the model railroad.
  12. Design, installation, and operation of animated mechanical and/or electrical displays. This doesn’t have to be a huge animated display – think about small eye-catching displays like animated industries or signs. Put a carousel in the local park or chase lights on the marque at the Bijou.
  13. Design, installation, and operation of mechanical and/or electrical layout lighting displays. (This means lights which illuminate the layout, as opposed to lighted things on the layout. For example, lighting which simulates the change from day to dusk to night)
  14. Installation of a command control receiver. Modifications or additions to the device’s wiring are required. Installing a plug-equipped decoder into a manufactured prewired socket is not sufficient.
  15. Installation of a command control throttle buss line around a layout capable of handling at least two throttles at three or more separate locations.

Commercially assembled complete units are not acceptable in the items below:

  1. Construction and installation of a sound system. This does not have to be an on-board sound system; it could be an under-the-layout system.
  2. Construction and installation of a signaling system.
  3. Development and installation of a CTC system.
  4. Installation and operation of an on-board video system.
  5. Computer generated block detection information.
  6. Hardwired or stored control program (i.e. computer) for operation of the railroad.
  7. Development and demonstration of a computer-to-railroad interface.
  8. Other. (Examples of ‘other’ includes flashing warning lights on locomotives, or end-of-train devices on cabooses, etc.)

Please note that operating third rail (center or outside) or overhead wire powered layouts may be considered for ALL aspects of the AP. Also note that the use of advanced power supplies, train control, track wiring, and track control methods shall not be restricted by the definitions in the minimum requirements listed above.

These items may not appear to be equal in difficulty – they aren’t meant to be. They are meant to provide a wide variety of things that people may have done that they can get credit for.

D. Prepare a schematic drawing of the propulsion circuitry of the model railroad in part (A) showing the gaps, blocks, feeders, speed and direction control, electrical switches, and power supplies.

Note that this requirement includes ONLY the propulsion circuitry. It is not required to include the wiring for electrical turnout control, signal systems, building lighting, etc. You do not need to include the details for parts of the diagram which are repeated. If a number of parts are wired in the same way, it sufficient to draw one section in detail and indicate other locations with rectangles.

E. Prepare schematic drawings identifying the wiring and components of the six items under parts (B) and (C).

For the sake of clarity, these schematics should probably be separate from the propulsion circuitry schematic in part (D), above. If you already have one over-all schematic of the layout, you might want to consider making multiple copies and going over the applicable lines with a highlighter for each feature.

Note that this is just turning in the kind of documentation that you should be preparing for your layout anyway. It will make trouble shooting much easier in a couple of years when you’ve forgotten how it all went together!

F. You must submit a Statement of Qualification (see below) which includes the following:

  1. The track plan for the layout used in part (A).
  2. A description of each of the features used in parts (B) and (C), including:
    • A description of the item.
    • The methods of construction.
    • Identification of commercial components used.
  3. Schematic drawings as required in parts (D) and (E).
  4. The signed Witness Certification form, showing that each of the above items are operational and meet all applicable NMRA standards.

Notice that there is no requirement for Merit Judging in this certificate. The presence and operation of the required features must be verified by a witness (the Region AP Manager, or their designee), but they do not have to achieve a minimum score.

Model Railroad Engineer – Electrical certificate recipients in the South Mountain Division:

Robert Beecher, Robert Johnson, and Robert Morningstar have received the Electrical certificate. I guess you must be named Robert to get this! I must say that Bob Morningstar’s wiring is the neatest I have ever seen (see photo below of his DCC and Power Supply Component board). It didn’t need to be this clean, but it sure helped me figure out what was going on.

As the division AP Chair, my job is to encourage participation in the program, answer your questions, and help with your paperwork, if necessary. You can contact me at: jjclarke57@gmail.com or 301-253-4913.

Set Up an Informal Operating System

Harvey Heyser III, clerk (2017-2020), NMRA South Mountain Division. (Tom Fedor)

by Harvey Heyser

Re-Inventing the Wheel?

Part one.

For this article, I have used the term “informal operating systems” to differentiate less structured approaches from prototype-based operating systems. Steve King has used the term “fun run,” but I feel that term, while easily understandable, does an injustice to both approaches to operations. Those interested in prototype-based operations would not participate if they were not having “fun,” and those, who prefer a more relaxed experience, still want to learn about how the prototype does things. Consequently, I find the term “informal operating systems” more useful and less pejorative. (At the recent NMRA National Convention in Salt Lake City, there was a clinic titled “Operations without the Aggravation.” I find that also an effective way to label less formal approaches.)

Over the years, we have all been harangued by articles and clinics touting the benefits of prototype-based operating systems (TT/TO, track warrants, etc.). The main reason given is that prototype railroads have developed, tested, and refined these systems for many years in the real world, addressing the many situations that come up when operating a railroad. Why would anyone want to re-invent that wheel? Clearly, developing an operating system is not a simple task. Why not use a system already developed and tested?

While this argument is very convincing, it ignores an important fact – prototype operations are very different from model railroad operations. First, prototype railroads are businesses; model railroads are part of our hobby. Second, prototype railroading can be deadly serious; model railroading is supposed to be fun. Third, prototype railroaders are trained professionals; model railroaders are, for the most part, interested, sometimes informed amateurs. Whatever system of operations we choose, whether prototype-based or other, must address these differences.

The goals for prototype-based versus informal model railroad operating systems:

Prototype-based operating systems:

  1. To experience operating the model railroad as closely as possible to the way we might experience operating the prototype,
  2. To have an enjoyable and challenging experience with people knowledgeable about railroads,
  3. To meet the session’s challenges with the tools developed by prototype railroads, and
  4. To replicate the work prototype railroads do.  (Creativity is not OK.)

Informal operating systems:

  1. To experience the model railroad in a railroad-like fashion,
  2. To have an enjoyable and relaxing experience with other people interested in railroads,
  3. To pretend we are professional railroaders (somewhat like re-enactors) and, from that effort, to learn things about prototype railroading, and
  4. To find solutions to the situations that come up without having to make efforts that are too much like work. (Creativity is fine.)

While these two sets of goals are not completely different, the emphasis certainly is different between them. Those differences greatly affect the operating system appropriate for a given model railroad. It may have been designed for prototype-based operations, and then again, it may not have been. Crew members may be interested in the challenges of prototype-based operations, or they may be more interested in a relaxing, enjoyable time spent with friends and acquaintances. The prototype being modeled may be a heavily trafficked mainline, or it could be a backwoods branch with two trains a day. Each of these sets of circumstances warrants a “custom” approach.

Prototype railroads understand that fact and address different situations with rules customized for each region and each operating district. “One size fits all” does not work for the prototype; unsurprisingly, that approach does not work for all model railroads either.

Problems with prototype based operating systems: Crews not interested in prototype-based operating systems have voiced numerous complaints. The following are some of the characteristics of prototype-based operations that superintendents might want to avoid:

  • Too much paperwork: During the often hectic flow of the session, it is often impossible to find time to read, much less deal with, a sheaf of papers, especially when the piece of information needed is buried where it cannot be found easily.
  • Hard-to read paperwork: The effort to make keep instructions and information easy to handle, often results in making them unreadable except with a magnifying glass. Also handwritten entries on forms are often illegible.
  • Rule books – too much to remember.
  • Clearances: Written clearances are an example of excess paperwork.
  • In-depth pre-session introductory material and long verbal orientations – again too much to remember.
  • Timetables, clocks and fast time: Crews want to watch their trains, not the clock (too much like work). Besides, a timetable is not easy to read while trying to run a train.
  • Reporting requirements: Having to pick up the phone or radio every few minutes can be quite distracting.
  • Complicated train instructions: Brevity and simplicity should be the main goal. Crews should be able to find what they need to do easily.
  • Train orders written in “railroad English:” Prototype railroaders would understand; model railroad crews might not.
  • Car forwarding information: Whether car cards, switch lists, or other systems are used, there is often much more information than needed. Also, carrying a large stack of cards around is always a challenge.

Undoubtedly, there are other problems crews might have with prototype-based operating systems, but the above list will suffice for now. (As will be discussed below, some of these items are essential for running a railroad.)

Problems with informal operating systems: After considering the numerous problems common to prototype operating systems, it is tempting to conclude that, by adopting an informal operating system, we can address all those issues and eliminate the things to which crews might object.

However, informal systems come with their own set of problems – a couple of them major. 1) By adopting informal procedures, we have essentially discarded the administrative organization that works so well for managing prototype traffic.

2) Crews may not have the information and directions they need to do their jobs. Between these two problems, it is almost certain that difficulties will arise. The following are some of the potentially maddening situations that develop when using informal operating systems:

  1. Sessions degenerate into confusion: This is perhaps the most serious criticism of the Mother, may I? operating system. Crews (sometimes behaving like spoiled children) all cry out for the host’s attention at the same time. As the number of problems encountered multiplies, the volume of cries increases. The host has far too much to deal with; the session becomes a confused mess.
  2. Situations get resolved without taking into account the railroad’s overall objectives: This problem arises when crews take it upon themselves to resolve a conflict by gentlemen’s agreement – such as the problem of too many trains in one location. The resolution may be quite creative; it may be quite satisfying. But, if the through freight gets held up by the local, that resolution is not the right one.

Worst of all, the crews involved miss an opportunity to experience how the prototype might resolve a similar problem.

  1. Crews blithely unaware of anything but their own train: That might work on a backwoods branch or a one-train-a-day shortline, but when more than one train is running, crews need to be aware of other trains and to coordinate their efforts with those of other crews. (This issue also comes into play when crews have to share aisle space.)
  2. Operating systems that do not address all aspects of operating the railroad: For instance, some layout owners consider having a car card system to be the same as having an operating system. That approach does not consider traffic management, and the car cards lack much of the information crews need to do their jobs. Crews have no sense of time, no information about other trains, no understanding of the superiority of trains, and no authority to use a specific track (in fact, no instructions about which track their train should be on). Confusion reigns. Of necessity, figuring out how to do a given job becomes the primary effort for the session. Enjoyment comes in a distant second.

The result of these situations can be an atmosphere of “chaos,” an atmosphere not conducive to having a relaxing, enjoyable time. Because crews do not have the information they need to do their jobs, they feel uncomfortable. They cannot enjoy themselves – the main reason for adopting informal operations in the first place.

What have we learned? Prototype-based operating systems come with quite a few rules and procedures: things that crews looking for a relaxed operating experience might object to.  Adopting an informal operating system seems like a good way to avoid those objections. But informal systems often cast aside the organization needed to run a model railroad and often fail to give crews information needed to do their jobs. The result can be chaotic, quite the opposite of the relaxing, enjoyable experience desired.

Adopting an informal operating system does not have to degenerate into chaos if some effort is put in place to establish basic organizing principles and to give crews the information they need to do their jobs.

Part two of this article will endeavor to discover ways to correct the deficiencies of informal operating systems and will open discussion of the enjoyment possible when adopting such informal systems.

Budget Model Railroading

by Ron Polimeni

Ron’s “Corkys Diner” is a former Bachmann trolley with a bottle cap sign.

I recently completed a model of a diner for which I wanted to have a round sign on a pole. My problem was, how to make a round sign without attempting to cut it from sheet styrene. I figured I could possibly hack out a roughly circular shape from styrene and then file it into a disc but that didn’t really seem practical nor did a sliver of PVC pipe which would then have to be filled in. 

On my daily walk I happened to look down as I came up to Capon Bridge’s big green bridge and there were several bottle caps laying in the gravel. Miller Light bottle caps to be precise. And they were undamaged by a bottle opener. Twist-offs perhaps. A light went on and I picked them up. Back at my model bench a check of the scale rule proved them to be approx. 8′ in diameter in 1/87th. Good enough. 

As the pics show, the knurled apron of the cap can be sawn off in a vise. It is necessary though to put a spacer within the cap in order not to pinch the saw blade. The cap must be rotated as one cuts through it so as not to cut into the spacer.

When two bottle caps have been so prepared, a notch for the pole is filed in the lip and they can then be joined back to back using a wood or styrene filler piece. The seam between the halves can be covered with a strip of styrene or filled with putty or both. For lettering I used dry transfers, as I don’t as yet have the capability of making my own decals. Learning to print decals will be yet another project. Never a shortage of things to learn and/or do in this hobby.

The diner was bashed from an old Bachmann trolley. A skirt was made from styrene board and batten sheet. The steps are wood bits with commercial railings. The doors are Tichy castings. Caboose stove pipes, bits of wire, Microscale Industries Kristal Klear windows and a kitchen shed from the scrap box complete the structure. Paint and finish was done by my pal Dotti.

Figurines Add Life to Your Modeling

by Bob Law

Fig2-Ice-Cream_Stand.JPG

Who amongst us does not enjoy people watching? When you drive down a street, isn’t your eye immediately attracted to peoples’ activities? Utilizing figurines in your models can cause the casual viewer of your models to focus their attention not only on the human activity but also upon the buildings and scenery you have constructed.

I have had more opportunity lately to visit quite a few layouts. I am struck that very few modelers make much use of figurines. A very elaborate and well-constructed street scene will often be devoid of people making the scene seem abandoned. The addition of just a few figures can quickly make the same scene seem occupied and lively. Most of all it will draw the viewer’s eye into the details of other buildings to search out for more such human activity. 

A visitor to my recent open house commented on all the figurines I use on my layout. He wondered how I was able to use them in such different ways and most of all, how I didn’t have a vast surplus of little people since he could often only find use for one or two figures out of a set of five or six.

Figurines come in packets assuming that the set should be used to create a scene as provided in the packet. I have found that many of these prearranged scenes are often unusable because the scenes are often not the sort of thing that would be found along a railway or the figurines themselves are in poses that are not really useful or visually credible. By making a study of the various figurines available from all the manufactures I have come upon ways of combining different figurines from different sets to create new and more realistic human activity scenes.  This requires creativity and thought but the results can be as rewarding as building any model.

Fig1-Mr_Beer.jpg

Perhaps my most favorite scene on my layout is one I call “Mr. Beer gets a bath.” (left) It is actually based upon a personal experience I had with a next-door neighbor years ago. We had labored hard to restore an old house and yard only to have a family move in next door that collect all sorts of junk cars and trash all around their house. I would have liked to have dumped a bucket of dirty water on my neighbor’s head but never did – alas. 

In the Woodland Scenics set “Full Figured Folks” there was a fat guy with a beer who much reminded me of my old neighbor. In a Preiser set there was a young woman holding a bucket about to dump the water from a set called “Cleaning the House.”  This figurine is now available as a solo figure.  From this, the scene began to build in my mind. I obtained Woodland Scenics sets “Children” and “Dogs & Cats.” I also ordered Preiser’s “Women Hanging Laundry.” Of course, I also had to collect together all sorts of junk much of which came from my scrap box plus stuff found in the detailing section of the Walters reference book and a truck from Jordan Highway Miniatures. I assembled this altogether into the scene. It was great fun.

I used most of the figures purchased in the scene. Yet I had all the rest of the full-figured people unused with no apparent place to put them. Then it occurred to me that the most probable place for chubby people to be would be at an ice cream stand. (previous page, top) Yet I wanted to create some comedy to that scene. I perused the available possibilities and came upon a Preiser set called “Children” with a boy searching for pocket change. This kid would be holding up a line of people searching for the nickel he doesn’t have. Finding uses for the rest of the figures in the “Children” was easy. I used up a many figures I had left over from the “Mr. Beer” scene along with others.   

Fig3-Paradise_Burlesque.JPGSoon using up leftover figures became a challenge in itself that I came to enjoy. The scene I call “Photo at the Burlesque”(above) is composed entirely of left-over figures from various sets some of which I no longer can remember. The photographer is available from Preiser as a single figurine. The scene is inspired by something that I read about occurring during the heart of the Depression. Business was so poor that even the Burlesque houses couldn’t attract customers and had to resort to advertising (something they rarely had to do.) It was also inspired by a Depression Era song; “Lulu’s Back in Town.” Here a photographer is taking a picture of the ever-popular Lulu while the Mob and bribed police protect her. A pretty girl in front of a racy car always attracts attention in the newspaper.

Fig4-Utility_Worker.JPGFinding use for left over figures doesn’t have to be as elaborate as this. For instance, I was left with one figure from a Preiser “Truckers” set; a guy with both hands raised to open a roller door on a truck. I had no such truck. So instead he became a utility worker replacing a transformer (below) on a utility pole.

The possibilities are endless to create all sorts of interesting mini-scenes once you get into this as a creative challenge.

But take care. People may look at you askance and worry if you talk too much about the “little people.”

Improve Your Modeling

Jane Clarke, NMRA South Mountain Division Achievement Program (AP) Chairperson.

By Jane Clarke, SMD AP Chair

It’s the beginning of a new year for the South Mountain Division and a new model railroading season! I hereby resolve to help more of you earn certificates in the NMRA Achievement Program (AP). To that end, I will focus on a one or two AP certificates and their recipients in each Wheel Report. This issue will include some introductory information, too.

Why is there an Achievement Program?

Most of us would agree that Bob Johnson is a terrific model railroader. However, even he admits that pursuing his Master Model Railroader (MMR) designation has improved his modeling. That is the ultimate goal of the program; the fancy certificates are nice, but secondary. The program is designed to give you small goals (certificates) on the way to earning the title of MMR.

As the division AP Chair, my job is to encourage participation in the program, answer your questions, and help with your paperwork, if necessary. You can contact me at: jjclarke57@gmail.com or (301) 253-4913.

Getting Started

The Golden Spike (GS) requires a small sample from three functional areas. The requirements can be fulfilled on your home layout, club or modular layout, or even a display at a meeting. Not all of these requirements need to be met on the same layout. They don’t even need to be met in the same scale!

  1. Rolling Stock (Motive Power & Cars):
    • Display six units of rolling stock (scratchbuilt, craftsman, or detailed commercial kits). The pieces do not have to be judged. They should not be straight out of the box, however. Put some time into decaling, painting, and weathering.
  2. Model Railroad Setting (Structures & Scenery):
    • Construct a minimum of eight square feet of layout. This should be more than loop of track nailed to a piece of green painted wood, but certainly does not have to be elaborate or even complete. A typical module is 4 feet by 2 feet which would easily satisfy this requirement.
    • Construct five structures (scratchbuilt, craftsman, or detailed commercial kits). These structures may be separate, or part of a single scene. Add paint, weathering, and other details to simple kits. Bridges and trestles also fall into this category.
  1. Engineering (Civil & Electrical)
    • Three types of trackage are required (turnout, crossing, etc.). All must be properly ballasted and installed on proper roadbed. Commercial trackage and turnouts may be used. Note that the three types do not have to be different; just having three simple turnouts will qualify. The “proper roadbed” requirement can be met by laying the track on commercial roadbed and ballasting it.
    • All installed trackage must be properly wired so that two trains can be operated simultaneously (double-track main, single-track main with sidings, block or DCC, etc.) DCC makes this very simple. However, if you have a DC layout, as long as you can cut power to the sidings individually, you can run one train, park it on a siding while you run another, then park it and run the first again. This meets the requirement.
    • Provide one additional electrical feature such as powered turnouts, signaling, turnout indication, lighted buildings, etc. A powered turnout can be something as simple as an Atlas turnout with a switch machine. Think in terms of anything that runs off the “Accessories” terminals of a power pack and you ‘re half way there.

The Golden Spike in the SMD

Bob Morningstar

Bob Morningstar is our most recent recipient of the GS which was awarded in October 2018. He models the Western Maryland Railway, Hagerstown Subdivision, in HO-scale. If you have seen his layout, you know that it exceeds the qualifications described above!

We congratulate him on this achievement and encourage him to apply for other AP certificates. He is currently working on his Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Structures, and Scenery certificates.

Other GS recipients from our division, past and present, include: Jane Clarke, Pete Clarke, Bob Hazard, Roy Hoffman, Ed Maldonado, Dick McEvoy, Bob Proctor, Paul Rausch, Mike Shockey, Ron Smith, and Bob Van Zant. Come and join this illustrious group!

Golden Spike links at nmra.org.

https://www.nmra.org/golden-spike-award

https://www.nmra.org/sites/default/files/2006-golden-spike.pdf

 

AP Overview

Eleven AP certificates are available in these four functional areas:

  1. Railroad Equipment: Motive Power, Cars
  2. Settings: Structures, Scenery, Prototype Models
  3. Engineering and Operation: Civil, Electrical, Chief Dispatcher
  4. Service to the Hobby: Official, Volunteer, Author

Once you have earned seven certificates, with at least one in each functional area, you will become a Master Model Railroader. You can find more information and all the forms you need at nmra.org.

On-Layout & In-Train Staging

Harvey Heyser III, clerk (2017-2020), NMRA South Mountain Division. (Tom Fedor)

By Harvey Heyser, III

Many years ago, Model Railroader published an O scale plan version of their well known Clinchfield Railroad. (December 1978, p. 88.) That layout plan served as raw material for some thoughts about staging – thoughts that I find to have some general application. 

Sized to fill an entire basement, the O scale Clinchfield featured a continuous oval mainline (around the walls of the basement with a peninsula) and two branches that came together in a loads-out/empties-in (mine/power plant) combination. The main yard at Dante featured eight (8) double-ended tracks (two of them the mainline and siding) and the connection with the power plant branch. On the opposite side of the basement, there was another town (Fremont/Caney Jct.) where the coal mine branch line took off to Moss Mine. The proposed operation of the layout featured heavy mainline freight traffic (especially coal drags), a few passenger trains, and some locals to serve on-line towns and the branches. There was no obvious place to put any staging/fiddle tracks. The question in my mind was how to provide meaningful traffic on the Clinchfield layout without any place to stage/fiddle. I wondered if it might be possible to use the yard (visible, rather than hidden, on-layout staging for the trains) and the trains themselves (in-train staging for the cars) to fulfill those functions.

Holding tracks and the concept of on-line staging: Many years ago, model railroaders embraced the concept of holding tracks as a way to extend the run times of trains. Trains went into the holding tracks and waited a prescribed amount of time before proceeding with their runs.

These holding tracks were often (but not always) hidden; however, unlike staging, holding tracks were regarded as part of the layout not “beyond the basement” as we currently regard staging.  When the concept of staging caught on, holding tracks were sometimes repurposed as staging tracks. This conceptual connection between holding and staging leads to the concept of on-layout staging. Because the Clinchfield has no obvious place to locate conventional staging, we will be looking at “hiding” trains in plain sight on the layout – not in another room, not somewhere out-of-sight under the layout.

Types of mainline trains: I mentally reviewed the categories of mainline trains to be expected on the Clinchfield:

    1. Loaded coal trains.
    2. Empty coal trains.
    3. Eastbound through freights.
    4. Westbound through freights.
    5. Eastbound-sweepers (which set-out and pick-up cars at the main yard).
    6. Westbound sweepers.
    7. Eastbound passengers.
    8. Westbound passengers.

That creates the potential for eight (8) types of trains. In this situation, using one train to represent all trains of its type seemed a reasonable compromise.

On-layout staging for eight types of trains:  Given the presence of six (6) available storage tracks in the yard, I wondered if they could serve as on-layout staging for all eight different types of trains. Types number 1 & 2, the coal trains (loaded and empty), would both need to be modeled.  (The Clinchfield was a coal railroad, after all, and ran lots of coal drags.) If there were only a few passenger trains (#7 and 8 – reasonable considering the era modeled – late transition period) and if operating sessions represented only part of a day (say 8 or 12 hours), only one passenger train would run during each session. Then I considered the through freights and sweepers (#3, 4, 5, & 6). I realized that the main difference between them was the fact that through freights pass through the yard with their consists unchanged while the sweepers set-out and pick-up cars. Otherwise, both types of trains consisted of a mix of different kinds of cars, unlike the coal trains (hoppers only). So, an eastbound freight could stand in for both the through freight and the sweeper – the same for a westbound freight. That thinking resulted in the realization that five (5) trains could represent all the types of trains needed for a session. The yard had capacity to hold/stage the five trains needed to represent all required train types needed for a session’s mainline traffic with one track left over. The sixth track could then serve for making-up and breaking up local trains.

In-train staging

Coal drags & mainline freights:

Staging for coal drags: Both loaded and empty coal trains could represent all the session’s coal traffic.  The cars in the two drags could be set out and picked up as needed. The east-bound drag could set out loads for the power plant on one trip.  Then it could run light or hold in the yard until the local brought in loads from the mine. The next time the drag had to run, it would then be back to capacity. The sight of coal trains sitting in the yard is not unusual for coal hauling railroads. Perhaps the two coal trains should sit on the front two staging tracks.

Staging for through freights: Since these trains did not change consists, they simply could be considered to hold in the yard for other traffic. After they left, they could come back as different through trains or as sweepers.

Staging for sweepers: During a session, there were likely to be two sweepers – one east-bound and one west-bound. Each would set out and pick up a block of cars. But what would happen when sessions occurred frequently or when there were multiple sweepers during one session?  The work for yard and local crews should not always seem to involve the same cars. Here I remembered that the yard tracks on the O scale Clinchfield were double-ended; cars could be set out and picked up from different ends of the train.  The set out and pick up blocks could be close to the same size (say 1/3 of the cars in the train). Then, the trains would remain roughly the same length. If the set-outs always came off the front of the train and the pick-ups always went onto the back, the front end would be different, and the back end would be different each time they ran. Consequently, the sweeper would look different every time it arrived for each of six times around. (Remember Allen McClelland’s observation that we tend to notice the front and rear ends of trains the most.)

1st time through:  block 1, block 2, and block 3  (Remove block 1; add block 4.)

2nd time through:  block 2, block 3, and block 4  (Remove block 2; add block 5.)

3rd time through:  block 3, block 4, and block 5  (Remove block 3; add block 6.)

4th time through:  block 4, block 5, and block 6  (Remove block 4; add block 1.)

5th time through:  block 5, block 6, and block 1*  (Remove block 5; add block 2.)

6th time through: block 6, block 1*, and block 2*  (Remove block 6; add block 3.)

(* assuming the exact same cars are brought in by the locals)

With typical (generic) motive power, there would be little chance that the repetition would be objectionable; in any case, the cars that the locals would pick-up would probably not be identical to the blocks originally set-out by the sweepers. A bit of fiddling between sessions (something you would get to do in an open yard at normal layout height, not under scenery or other tracks) could vary the sweeper consist so much that no one would notice.

Additional cars for locals:  If additional cars were needed for local operations, pausing the session for a few minutes to change out some of the sweeper cars would certainly be possible. During the break, the yard could become a fiddle yard temporarily. When crews return, the consists of the trains would have “mysteriously” changed, and those trains would be ready for the next “act” in the drama that is an operating session.

On-layout staging for the rest of the trains:

Staging for passenger trains would require some sleight-of-hand. I would suggest leaving from the station, making a full circuit of the mainline oval, and then “hiding” on the back track of the yard rather than pulling up again to the station out front. The next run would be in a later session, so that you could turn the train (if needed) and start the next session with it somewhere more convenient (probably at the station).

Traffic staged on the mainline: For an additional train type (for instance, another passenger train), the session could easily begin with a train on the mainline if you could find a place to park/hide it during the session. Provision of a passing siding at Fremont/Caney Jct. might be the easiest way to provide an additional layover/holding spot.

Running mainline trains from on-layout staging:  Treating the yard as if each end were a different place might make mainline trains more realistic. With that in mind, it seems to me there are several ways to handle mainline traffic:

    1. Run out of the yard, around the layout, and into the yard (into the same yard/staging track you left from).
    2. Run out of the yard, around the layout, and onto the passing siding at the yard (as a through or sweeper train would do). Then run around the layout again and return to the yard (into the same yard/staging track you left from).
    3. Run out of the yard, around the layout, and onto the passing siding at the yard (as a through or sweeper train would do). After your train has been switched, back it into the staging track you left from.
    4. Run out of the yard, around to the other town (siding), and hold there (long enough to be “forgotten”). Then return to the yard (siding or staging track per #1 or 2 above).

None of these options would be particularly realistic for train crews but could serve to duplicate the flow of mainline traffic for yard and local crews. One way to make the experience less unrealistic would be to prevent mainline crews from walking from one end of the yard directly to the other end, thus forcing them to walk all the way around the layout room to pick up their next train. (See the discussion of my operating experiences at the end of this article.) Crew members who love to run trains might be volunteered for these mainline jobs. They might enjoy the experience enough to overlook its unrealistic aspects.  (Modelers with an interest in automation of layout functions might be able to run mainline traffic by computer and use human crews for the other trains.) 

Local operations: With both east and westbound locals needed to serve the mine and power plant, the sixth yard track could serve as the make-up/break-up track for these trains. Using in-train staging, the required cars would come off the coal drags and sweepers (in-train staging), which would also take the pick-ups when the locals return. The locals’ work would occur on the modeled portion of the railroad and would include keeping out of the way of mainline traffic.

Storage and classification: To make this scheme work, these functions would need tracks for holding and sorting the blocks of cars coming out of and going into the sweepers. Fortunately, the Clinchfield plan had open space beside the stairs in the middle of the basement for some single-ended yard tracks connected to the layout by a drop down wye. (See diagram at end of article.) This yard could also present the opportunity for some additional industry spots and the possibility for an interchange (another way for cars to come onto or leave the layout). With the wye in place, direct passage from one end of the yard to the other would be impeded, thus furthering the idea that both ends of the yard are “different places.”

Crew requirements (for this layout and this method of staging): The following crew assignments would be possible:  Dispatcher, yardmaster, assistant yardmaster, yard crew, (2) two person local crews, (2) single person coal crews (frequent coal trains – switching to be done by yard crews), (1) single person through freight/sweeper crew (again switching to be done by yard crews), and (1) single person passenger crew.  That totals twelve possible positions – a significant number for a layout lacking hidden staging/fiddle tracks.

What has been accomplished by this exercise? Thinking about the O scale Clinchfield, we have figured out how, with five (5) yard tracks, to accommodate seven or eight types of mainline trains staged on the layout within the yard. On-layout staging, coupled with using one train to represent all trains of its type, could provide heavy mainline traffic, including coal traffic (both loads and empties) moving in the appropriate directions. (The loads-out/empties-in feature eliminated the need to remove/insert loads.)  With in-train staging, the blocks of cars needed for normal local operations would be ready to be set-out (giving the train capacity for any pick-ups). We have done this without “hidden” staging tracks or fiddle yards.  (As noted previously, the O scale Clinchfield left no room in the basement for those tracks.)

These two concepts have great potential for many space-strapped model railroads such as:

    1. Layouts that feature heavy mainline traffic and include a double-ended yard but have limited (or no) space for hidden staging and/or fiddling.
    2. Layouts whose owners do not want the hassle of constructing, maintaining, or operating hidden staging yards.
    3. Shortlines or branches that depend on a mainline connection for regular freight and passenger interchange several times daily (These layouts may need only a few mainline train types, have limited rolling stock to make up multiple trains, and have limited hidden space to stage them.  In-train staging might be especially helpful in this situation.)
    4. Small starter pikes where yard space is limited and where complicated benchwork, hidden trackwork, and mainline grades are not recommended.
    5. Layouts already constructed without hidden staging.

One additional benefit, on-layout and in-train staging can be implemented either during the design stage or later when setting up an operating system. These ideas do not necessarily require revisions to layouts already built.

When thinking about my own experiences during operating sessions, I tend to focus my attention on my train and what it is doing. I pay relatively little attention to many of the things happening around me. So a yard full of trains is just one of those background things I tend to ignore. If I am assigned to run a through train that makes a complete circuit of the mainline loop, I walk all the way around the basement with my train. When my train returns to the yard, I approach from the opposite end of the yard.  From this perspective, the yard I arrive at does not look exactly like the one I left from. That run finished, I get assigned to another train. If I have to walk all the way back around the layout room (rather than directly past the yard) to pick up that next train, I would again see the yard from a different perspective and would not notice what the yard contains. The contents of the yard are not really my business (on-layout staging), nor is the make-up of the trains in the yard (in-train staging) my business. 

The ideas of on-layout and in-train staging make sense to me. There certainly are situations where they apply. I suggest they can work for you if you need them and give them a chance.

Laser Kit Coal Facility

By Richard Lind

Today, when we see coal moving by rail it’s usually in 100-ton hoppers or 100-ton gondolas with rotary couplers. But in the transition era, coal moved in 50 or 70-ton hoppers and 50-ton 40-foot gondolas. In fact, about 30 percent of coal mine production in the Midwest moved in gondolas. So why were they using gondolas? The answer lies with the coal merchants who ordered a carload of coal and didn’t have enough business to justify the expense of building facilities that could accommodate hoppers. They often had a simple shed and the gondolas were shoveled out by hand.

Now you can get a laser-cut kit for one of these sheds in HO. Hidden River Model’s HRM-38 Coal Facility has a footprint of three inches by seven and a half inches. The HRM kit comes in a 4 mil clear plastic bag. It includes black paper cut in strips for roll roofing and hinges that are also cut from black paper. The shed has plank walls and when you hold them up to the light, you see daylight between them all. The underside of the roof sheets are scribed to represent roof boards and they are also scribed to show thelocation of each rafter and partition frame. None of the sheets are self-adhesive and there are no corner tabs, nor should there be. Parts are identified on the carrier sheet and door braces and hinges are spaced for you so you can glue them on as a unit. There are three pages of instructions. A general instruction sheet that applies to all HRM kits, a sheet with an isometric exploded view of the kit’s construction, and a sheet of instructions written specifically for this kit.

I built this kit in S scale and it went together without any problems, following HRM’s instructions.  I have a few tips.

  • When the laser-cut sheets are stained, the wood grain looks entirely out of scale. Fortunately, this effect is broken up and disappears as you assemble the kit.
  • When cutting out the parts for assembly, hold the carrier sheet up to the light so you can see where you have to cut. HRM keeps the places to cut to a minimum, usually occurring on the ends of long parts and the middle of small parts.
  • The parts with the planks for the end walls and partition walls are fragile. I broke three of the five in half by picking them up from the top and bottom edges. This was not a bad thing, because it allowed me to glue them onto the frames half at a time. So, I intentionally broke the other two. After you glue the boards onto a frame, flip the frame over and look for any glue that may have squeezed out. Clean it off by scraping with a hobby knife with a chisel blade.
  • The kit is assembled upside down and I used a square to make sure the partitions were at a right angle to the roof. The rafters extend beyond the partitions and ends on the track side. Make sure the ends of the rafters align with the the partitions and ends of the shed on the side away from the track (the lower edge of the roof). To help line up these parts I used a steel rule with cork on the bottom and a weight on top.
  • When gluing the front wall assembly to the partitions and ends, everything was still upside down. Five Irwin quick-Grip 4-inch clamps that I got from the hardware store helped.
  • I added the braces to the backs of the doors and trimmed the spacers away from the braces. Then I sanded the braces flush with the edges of the doors where needed. To get my hinges positioned right, it was easier to attach just one strap of a hinge to the door and then glue the remaining hinge straps on one at a time so they would be aligned. When dry, the paper spacer is trimmed away from the hinge butts.
  • The hinge butts kept the doors from falling into the bins while they were glued to the top trim piece.  Here, I could apply glue to all five hinge butts at once when gluing the doors in place. When the shed was finished, the door sills were close to the tops of my gondolas and the openings to the bins at the rear of the structure were a scale eight feet high.
  • Finally, I numbered the bins using Model Graphics (Woodland Scenics) dry transfers so the switching crew would know where to spot a gondola load of coal.

Now I have a common line-side industry and a destination for my forty-foot gons.

[Richard Lind is a former SMD member and Wheel Report editor now living in New Mexico. -Ed.]