Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

Hidden Return Yard

A hidden return yard, or “staging” yard, as it is sometimes called in model railroad circles, functions as an imaginary distant place, or places, which are not rendered on the visible part of your layout. You can then send trains to these towns, and receive shipments from them in return, which increases your operational possibilities.  Some layouts, called “point-to-point” layouts, use one or more hidden staging yards in separate places, under the layout, or in other rooms. Others, called “run-through”, or “continuous running” layouts, use double ended staging yards like the one I have designed. This enables the operator to set up one or more trains to run in circles, as it were, around the layout for simple train-watching, and have other trains “waiting in the wings” to make their “entrances upon the stage”.  Funny how theatre language applies to model railroading.  The length of the run, and the route, are determined by the design of the visible part of the layout plus the hidden section.  Originally, I was going to use two helixes at opposite ends of the route to represent a yard at Denver, and one at Chama, New Mexico. After further consideration, I made two changes. Since in the real world, Chama is located between Denver and Durango, I changed the Chama yard to the Farmington, New Mexico, yard, which is further West and South of Durango. The other change involved designing just one larger yard with double ended access, which can receive and dispatch trains in both directions. This makes a continuous run on my layout possible, although it still uses the original two helixes. Here are track plans, in the same format as the visible track plans, which show the helixes and the hidden track for the yard. Although I say “hidden”, for convenient access this track is as close to the front edge of the layout as I can make it, and it is only 13 inches below the lowest level on the main layout.

Images may be enlarged by clicking on them.

Another really big advantage of this change is that I can get rid of two return loops.  Return loops, or areas where locomotives can return to track that is of the opposite polarity than the track on which they are running,  are challenging and expensive to wire and operate, and the fewer of them on the layout the better.  My two turntables still constitute “return loops”, because the locomotives are turned around, and put back on track running in the opposite direction.


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2.  Inverted Box Girder Bridge.

This is known as the High Line Bridge on the D&SNGRR.  I don’t know if it’s the correct terminology, but I refer to bridges like this as inverted box girder, because the box girder support system is below the tracks.  A standard box girder bridge is one where the train travels through (not over) the girder support system.  After collecting numerous photos of this bridge, I found one of the wooden bridge that it replaced (below), so I’ll probably do the wooden version.

9.  Sand House.

This is the sand house, as it still exists, at Chama, New Mexico.  I will be modeling this facility in at least one of my two yards.   Steam locomotives carried sand in a dome on top of the boiler.  When the driving wheels needed extra traction, the sand was fed through small tubes down to just in front of the driving wheels, and released on to the rail heads.  Diesel-electric locomotives still use this method of getting traction on slippery rails.

10.  Ash Pit.

Coal burning steam locomotives produce ash in their fireboxes, and this needs to be emptied.  If the fire in an engine was left burning overnight (banked), so that the engine would be ready to go in the morning, one of the first tasks of the hostler was to pull the locomotive over the ash pit and rake out the grate at the bottom of the firebox.  Cleaning this was necessary to provide proper ventilation for the fire.  Wood burning locomotives did not generate as much ash as coal burners, and what did occur either went out the stack or down on to the tracks.  Is it any wonder that wood burners often caused fires along the right of way!  Ash pits were located near the engine storage facilities in yards.  Some of the coal would form “clinkers” as it burned, and these would be used to ballast the yard tracks (see right area of photo).

10B.  Coaling Tower

This is the sand house and coaling tower complex at Chama.  These two facilities were often located near each other in the engine servicing area of railroad yards.  The coal tower at Chama has been “modeled to death”, and exists on just about everyone’s layouts, no matter where they are set.  Having said that, it is a beautiful structure, and the D&RGW built others that were similar at a number of its towns.  Before it was torn down in the late 1960s, there was an identical one to this at Durango.

I will probably use the method shown above for delivering coal to the tower.  A drop-bottom gondola full of coal is set out over a grid on a slightly raised section of track.  The coal goes down through the track, and is collected by the coaling tower elevator bucket.  The bucket carries it up to the top of the tower, where it is released into storage bins to be gravity fed to the locomotive tenders.

12.   Small Engine House (Silverton).

I will probably scratch-build some version of this type of engine house for Silverton, because space up there is very limited.

13.  Single Stall Engine House (Lumber Camp).

I think something like this would look good in the lumber camp.  The open side provides a nice look into the interior of the shop.

15.  Small Temporary Bridge at Lumber Camp.

Since track in the cutting areas of lumber camps only needed to remain in place as long as it took to remove the trees, it was constructed as simply and quickly as possible, as this little temporary bridge demonstrates.  I’ll use something like this in one area of my lumber camp.

16.  Lumber Camp Workers’ Quarters.

Lumber workers lived and ate right in the camps.  Often the structures were built small enough to be moved on rail cars to new locations.

19.  Animas River.

The Animas River Gorge is the most beautiful part of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge RR.  My central “roll-under” will attempt to recreate some of this gorgeous right of way.

20.  Snowy Area.

In the mountains, particularly at higher elevations, snowfalls can occur into the late spring or come early in the fall.  I have so many trees left over from the Christmas Train layout that have snow on them.  The snow can’t be removed, and it seems a shame to throw them out, so the only solution is to incorporate a little bit of a snowy area on my new layout, so there will be one little corner, high above the lumber camp, where trains will travel through a winter wonderland like the one pictured in this early fall snow scene here.

22.  Yard Tracks.

Railroad yards were areas where freight and passenger cars were assembled into trains, and locomotives could be stored and serviced.  They were almost always fairly flat, and quite often had darker track ballast because the clinkers from the ash pits were a handy substance.  Sometimes, especially on narrow gauge lines, there were areas where grass and weeds grew up between the rails.  My layout will have two yards, one at Durango, and one at Silverton.  Yards are an integral part of model railroads built to operate with a purpose.  This is a photo of the actual yard at Durango.

27.  Tunnel Portals.

Tunneling was the technique of last resort for railroads because of the time and labor involved.  Railroads preferred to run their trains as near to level ground as possible.  In mountainous terrain, that often meant using small cuts and fills, or trestles and bridges if there was water involved.  Culverts under the tracks and through the fill also served to keep the tracks and ballast dry.  Most tunnels had to have tunnel portals and tunnel liners to keep falling rocks off the tracks, but in areas where the rock surrounding the tunnel bore was hard and stable enough, no tunnel portal at all was necessary, like the one pictured above.  This is on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, and is appropriately called “Rock Tunnel”.

This is a typical wooden tunnel portal, designed to keep the mouth of the tunnel open, and falling rocks from the surrounding mountain at bay.

29.  Water Tower.

The D&RGW had distinctive water towers with slightly tapered sides.  The rooves were sometimes round, and sometimes octagonal.

29B.  Lumber Camp Water Tank.

30.  Low Water Crossing.

Just outside of Silverton, the D&SNGRR crosses a shallow section of the Animas River.  This crossing is effected on a series of very low trestle bents, and short pylons consisting of rock enclosed in wooden boxes made from railroad tie sized timbers.  In the area to the right in Plan Section 3, which I may wind up calling Cascade Canyon, there are three rail crossings of the Animas River, each lower than the one behind it.  This would be the nature of the lowest crossing.

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1.  Curved steel trestle (#4 not used)

Curved steel trestles like this one which suggests the famous Georgetown Loop were used to replace wooden trestles in the late 1800s.  They were often composed of varying sections, as this one is.  Here we see a combination of plate girder and truss construction supported on steel piers.

5.  Small Howe truss bridges

This is very similar to the Hermosa Creek bridge on the Durango & Silverton.  I have built a model of this bridge.  See post on same in list.

6.  King Post (top) and Queen Post (bottom) truss bridges

I have built two identical Queen Post Truss bridges from one balsa wood kit from Australia.  See post for miscellaneous bridges.

7.  Wood Trestle bridge

What narrow gauge (or standard gauge western railroad for that matter) would be complete without one of these beautifully crafted wood trestle bridges.  They were used in the early days of western railroading, because wood was plentiful, construction techniques were sound, and they were relatively quick to build.  They came in all sizes depending on the area that needed to be crossed.

14.  The High Line Curve

This section of the route between Durango and Silverton is famous for its beautiful scenery, incredible engineering feat in construction, and considerable cost to put together.  With the line located 400 vertical feet above the Animas River, workers were lowered over the top of the hill on lines to blast and dig a narrow shelf for the railroad.  The cost of this effort, in 1882, was over $1,000. a foot.  When prices for new locomotives averaged only $4,500. each, the D&RGW could have bought a new engine for every four and one-half feet of track they laid here.  This scenic highlight will be featured on the “roll-under” section in the middle of my layout.

Silverton, Colorado

Silverton, Colorado,  is a small town high in the San Juan mountains (just over 9300 feet) that started its existence in 1860 with Charles Baker’s discovery of gold in the area. However, it wasn’t until the 1873 treaty with the local Native American tribe, the Utes, that the area was opened to settlement. Even then, being in the high mountains without any easy route to market, large-scale mining wasn’t practical. However, a wagon road in opened in 1879 provided some access, and prospectors quickly realized the potential held by the area – not in the gold originally sought by Baker, but primarily in silver, hence the town’s name.  I’ll only have room to model the railroad facilities at Silverton, but I hope to get some of the sense of the grandeur of the place in my curved corner background.  Silverton is about 45 miles due north of Durango.

17.  Mining structure…..shown here: the tipple, head frame, hoist house, and bull wheel at the top of the head frame.  I will be using my low-side gondolas to carry this ore to Denver, rather than the high side gon shown here.  If I can manage the space, there were eventually smelters located in Durango, and even in Silverton, but for operational purposes, having to ship the ore to Denver is good.

17B.  This photo shows a typical western mine entrance with timber shoring, and a track for (probably) hand-pushed mining cars. These cars usually tipped into a facility with a sloped floor that slid the ore into an open gondola.  I’ll be using one of my small Porter locomotives to move these gondolas around in the mining area.

I think I’ll model this little water wagon some where in the mining area.

18.  The helix to Denver/Farmington hidden return yard….is located under Silverton.  The one to Farmington will be located under the Durango yard.  A helix is used to take trains up or down grade without using a lot of lateral run space.  Helixes are always out of sight, because nothing like this exists in the real world of railroading.

21.  Plate Girder Deck Bridge…..A plate girder bridge is a bridge supported by two or more plate girders.  These can be placed above and to the sides of the tracks, as shown here, or under the rails and ties.  These are quite common, even today, so keep an eye out for them as you drive around.  The plate girders are typically I-beams made up from separate structural steel plates (rather than rolled as a single cross-section), which are welded or, in older bridges, bolted or riveted together to form the vertical web and horizontal flanges of the beam.  Railroads sometimes used rounded corners on the bridges or sometimes left them square.  I will have at least one bridge of this type on my layout.

23.  Snow Shed…..In mountainous areas, snow could seriously affect winter operations.  Average snowfall along some stretches of the track was just more than the rotary snow plow could handle.   There were also areas where snow slides (avalanches) could be predicted to happen every year.  In that case, wooden snow sheds were built over the tracks to keep them clear in heavy snows.

24.  The Silverton Station…..There isn’t even as much room here as there was in Durango for a station, but you can hardly have a railroad town without one.  Pictured below is the real station at Silverton.

…..and here is a compressed (model) version of it, although they didn’t use the right windows…..anyway, it’s interesting, and about all I would have room for, although I could save room by modeling a combination depot/freight house in one building.

29C.  This Engine House, or something like it, would service the mine Porter.  Here is one shown with a Porter inside.

33.  Sawmill at the Lumber Camp…..Sawmills are always interesting structures, and I figure, although most of the timber is sent to Denver, they might have a small mill here for cutting logs to dimension lumber for local use.  It also makes for another kind of load to ship from the lumber camp….flatcars with cut lumber. One item that mills provided in this area was ties for the railroads.

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Because of the limited space for photos (without paying extra) on this blog, I have a short list of e-mail addresses of people who would like the complete set of reference photos I have collected. I will do the same for the construction articles, as I post them. The blog will contain a summary, but I will send complete step-by-step photos to those who request them. You may contact me by using the comment area of this blog.

Ref. # 9. This coal tower and sand house currently exist at Chama, New Mexico, on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. In the latter half of the days of steam locomotives, the primary fuel was coal. Oil was also used in some areas. Wood was the original fuel. Coaling towers, of one style or another, existed all over the country. There have been multiple models of this facility released over the years, and they have found their way on to model pikes that aren’t set anywhere near New Mexico. Despite the fact that this is a commonly modeled edifice, I like it, and will probably scratch-build one like it for the yard in Durango on the DD&SRR. Actually, my research shows that the coaling tower at Durango was originally very similar to the existing Chama tower.

Ref. #10. Before leaving on a run, steam locomotives emptied their fireboxes of the ashes of the spent coal or wood they used for fuel, by parking over an ash pit. If it was coal ash (cinders) it was commonly used for ballasting around yard tracks (see right section of photo above).

Ref. # 11. I don’t have room for a roundhouse at my Durango. The original was a huge structure, so I’m going to go with a couple of smaller engine houses, which are just as interesting to model and view. Here is a possibility for a two-stall engine house made of wood construction.

Engine house interiors are fun to model, too, and can be viewed with removable rooves.

Ref. # 16C. Most of the lumber felled on the DD&SRR will be shipped directly to Denver on flat cars, but at the suggestion of a friend and fellow rail-fan, I am incorporating a log transfer facility to ship some logs by water. These were simply a sloped wooden ramp that came to the height of the flat-car bed, and some kind of rig for pushing the logs off the flat-car and down the ramp into the river, or pond next to the sawmill. Granted, the real Animas River south of Durango would probably not be deep enough to do this, but any excuse for another industry on a model railroad is good enough. I like the photos of these where the tracks go out on trestles over the actual river.

Ref. # 19. The Animas River valley that the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad follows between Durango and Silverton is one of the most beautiful railroad rides in the world. It was pictures of this route that first drew my attention to modeling this area. I have numerous DVDs that I will be using for reference pictures, but here is one photo of the Kind of scenery I will be modeling. A large portion of the edge of the layout will terminate in the middle of the river, so I can model at least one bank of it.

Ref. # 22. The caboose track was a short yard track where cabooses were stored to be added to the ends of trains after they were made up by the yard switcher. I’ll probably have two to three cabooses available in the yards at both Durango and Silverton for this purpose. Most D&RGW cabooses that I have seen are the three-window type, shown here, or the shorter “bobber” type with one or two side windows.

Ref. #24. The real passenger station at Durango, like the roundhouse, was way too large for me to fit into my railroad, so I’ll be making some kind of compressed version of it. My freight houses will be separate facilities, so I don’t have to park freight cars on the main line in front of the depot.

Ref. #25. Here is a picture of a model of a typical stock pen like the one found at Durango. Sheep and cattle were the main commodities shipped from these facilities, and you can see how they were kept separated. I like this one because it is complete, yet small….perfect for the space I have available.


Ref. #25B. I tunneled a portion of the track behind Durango so I can model a little of the actual town. I’ll be using building flats at the rear-most locations (buildings with just the front sides rendered), but I want to incorporate at least some streets and three dimensional buildings. Most buildings on O-Scale layouts have to yield to extreme compression like these, but that gives them a unique character, and almost theatrical quality, that you don’t find in other scales. Buildings are a major determiner of time period, and I haven’t set a precise year for my railroad, yet, but I know I want to have some early automobile traffic, and some residual horse drawn vehicles.

Ref. #26. The freight house was the earliest inter-modal facility. Usually located in the vicinity (if not the actual structure) of the passenger station, the freight house was the destination of a lot of LCL (less than car-load) deliveries. One side of the house had a dock for rail cars, and the other was set up to allow trucks or horse-drawn wagons to load. There was usually also an office of some sort for keeping track of the comings and goings of the shipments.

Ref. #27. Sometimes if the rock was self-supporting enough, railroads simply left the tunnel bore and opening with no other structure, like this one on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR, appropriately named “Rock Tunnel”. More often, however, some kind of timber, stone or concrete portal and tunnel infrastructure was required to keep material from the mountain from falling on to the tracks.  See photo below of “Mud Tunnel”, also on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR.

Ref. # 28. There will be a turntable in both the Durango and the Silverton yards, probably very similar to the one pictured above. Locomotives needed to be turned to return to their points of origin, or to be serviced, or stored in the engine house overnight. Railroads used several means of doing this, including what was known as a “wye”, which was a roughly triangular section of track with tails. The locomotive would switch on to one leg of the wye, and go to the tailing track, a second switch would be thrown which would allow the locomotive to follow the other leg of the wye, and by the time it switched back on to the main line, it was facing the opposite direction from the way it started out. Model operations on a wye are interesting to watch, but unfortunately they take up a lot of real estate. The turntable is the most compact way of turning model locomotives around.

Ref. #29. Water was an essential ingredient in making steam locomotives run. Water towers come in all shapes and sizes, so if you are modeling a specific railroad, you will usually have some distinctive style from which to make your selection. I’ll have water towers in at least four places, the Durango and Silverton yards, the lumber camp, and the mining district. I may even incorporate one or two along the main line like the one pictured above. Steam locomotives could not go very long without filling up their tenders with water.

Ref. #32. I have heard of some fruits and vegetables being shipped out of this region that would have needed refrigeration, but certainly some incoming food stuffs bound for Silverton would have had to have their refrigeration refreshed at Durango along the way. And another industry where cars can be delivered is always an asset to a working model railroad.

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The taping and mudding of the sheet-rock is finished now, and the preliminary painting is done. I chose two different sky blue tones from the same paint sample card. The one for the ceiling is a little darker, because the sky is a darker blue right overhead than at the horizon. I haven't bothered to finish the painting in the corners, because they will all be covered by the coving process.

Here is the way I'm going to do this. I've glued and screwed two one inch by four foot strips of 1/8th inch tempered masonite to the wall. The lower strip is 12 inches from the corner between the wall and the ceiling. The upper strip is 15 inches from that same corner.

After a sufficient time for the glue behind the hard masonite strips to set up, I've taken a 2 foot by 4 foot sheet of untempered masonite, and popped it into place between the other two strips. I've used the untempered masonite for this because it is softer, and bends better. This forms a nice curve, and needs no other form of support. Next I'll take some sheet rock mud and create a smooth joint in the area of the one inch strips.


After several days of hard work, the drywall is in place. Eric Danielson of Stillwater, MN was my drywall installer, and he did a great job. Tomorrow and Tuesday we tape and mud, and Wednesday we sand. By Thursday I’ll be ready to paint. I’m going with a sky blue on the walls and ceiling.  The floor will stay the way it is.  The original loft floor was particle board, and I put one-eighth inch tempered masonite over that with a layer of material that Menard’s sells for sound dampening under laminated flooring in between.  This stuff is a light blue color, about 1/16th of an inch thick, and kind of spongy.  I put this in to give the floor a softer feel when walking on it, because I don’t want to carpet.  Carpeting is too dusty for a layout room, and it would make my “roll-under” feature harder to use.

This is the most open this room will ever be, so I'm enjoying all the space while I can! After painting sky blue, I'll start installing the untempered masonite backdrop. I'll use the untempered material because is it is easier to bend into the corners. This coving hides the corner of the room, and gives the layout more depth. I'm also going to cove the background on the short wall as it runs up to the first row of lights on the ceiling. This horizontal curve will help to hide the fact that the north wall is so short. I'm not sure what I'm going to do where this curve meets the vertical curve at the northeast and northwest corners. Ideally, I would like to create some kind of compound curve. I guess I'll just play that one as I come to it.

I'll have to remove this fixture tomorrow for the taping/mudding process, but this is what the finished lighting will look like. This neat little appliance allows the light bulb to swivel and tilt, giving me a range of opportunities to highlight different areas of the layout.

I have a special challenge that basement layouts generally don’t have to deal with.  My overhead space is extremely limited.  Any lighting or valances that would descend from an already low ceiling would be a real obstacle for operators.  When I met with my electrician, we decided to go with recessed can-type fixtures.  There are some that will allow the bulb to aimed in a variety of directions.  I want to be able to highlight scenes around the layout.  I also want to be able to dim the lighting for night time operation.  Since incandescent bulbs are being phased out nationwide, I am looking at dimmable flourescents or dimmable LED bulbs.  I’ll have more to write later when I get into installing my backdrops, but I have plans to use colored rope lights behind the mountains to simulate horizon sky color.  In the theatre, we use red, green and blue (the primaries in light) to light sky backdrops.  By mixing the intensities of these three primary colors, any color in the rainbow can be achieved.

East end of the layout.  The orange lines indicate the location of the ceiling joists. There is room between these to install the can lighting fixtures, which are represented by the red circles.
Central section of the layout.  I’ve located the cans (red circles) directly over areas that I want to highlight, so that I am not depending on the bulbs being able to swivel too far.
West end of the layout.
Update: Progress on the lighting. Last Sunday I worked with the electricians, and we got a lot of the wiring done. This photo shows the can fixtures on the West end of the room for 11 of the 21 layout lights. I’ll be using dimmable flourescents in these. They have about a 2:1 ratio on the beam spread (width of beam: distance from bulb).  I considered using the newer, and brighter, LED bulbs, but aside from their nearly $40. apiece cost, their beam spread is only about 1:1, and some of my throws are as short as two to three feet.
Here are the other 10 fixtures on the East end of the room.  We are wiring the room with two 20 Amp circuits for the DCC train control, and two 15 Amp circuits for the lighting. There will also be a separate circuit for a small baseboard heater along the south wall (under the mining area).  Things are coming together quickly now.  The electricians will finish March 4th.  Another layer of R-19 insulation will be installed in the ceiling, and under the floor (making two layers in each area) on March 6th.  Between March 7th and March 10th, the drywall work will be completed.  Then I’ll be ready to paint and start installing the backdrop.

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