Category Archives: Freight

Everything to do with freight railroading

Thoughts on modelling the Montpelier, OH Elevator

Small layouts have to meet the needs, and desires, of their owners. Often that is not easy as we want it all, but in a small space.  In this post, we’ll look at how you can work with the track layout from the elevator at Montpellier, OH (see this post) to fit in a smaller space, even if you don’t want to model an elevator.

There is so much that you can do with a good track layout!

Disclaimer

So before I begin, I wanted to make this clear:

  • If you want to model the Eden Co-Op, in an as-is, where-is format, if in a somewhat smaller version, knock yourself out. I’ll go through that in the section below.
  • However, should you want to use the track plan and model something else, then I have a few ideas about that for you too.

Now, feel free to read on.

Site overview

Image 1: The Eden Farmers C-Op Ass’n in Montpelier, Ohio USA

After clicking the image above, which I hope you’ll find interesting, you’ll note that the track arrangement is basically a double-ended Inglenook (I call it a Supernook) providing:

  1. a run-around option for the locomotive,
  2. off-spot locations for cars not being spotted under the over-track auger(s), and
  3. somewhere to go off the layout at the end of the session.

The track plan
Image 2: The track plan

And that neighbours, is everything we need to make an operating layout (see my Ops 101 series starting here for more).

According to our friend Google, the branch line is just under a kilometre at 941 metres (or 3084 feet) from the toe of the switch on the left of the branch to the road on the right. To model it all you’d need 35 feet and four inches, give or take. We’re into small layouts so we’re not going to do that.

Site Operation

The elevator receives empty blocks of cars inbound, shipping loaded blocks of cars out. The elevator has its own switcher (an SW-1200 of 1955 vintage) to do all the in-plant moves.  From the video I pointed to in the previous post, I’m guessing that there might be multiple types of grain available for loading within the block, and this is why the centre track is used to store cars before they are loaded.  You’ll note in the video that the switcher is pulling trucks from the centre track.

Assuming that there are no cars waiting to be loaded, the general operation goes something like this:

  1. Class 1 railroad switches a block of empty cars for loading by the elevator (pushing cars in from the yard – left of the above image). They place these cars onto the branch line (top of the picture)
  2. The plant switcher fires up, after being shore powered (it looks like they have a mains plug to float the battery voltage at the right-most building) overnight
  3. The switcher then hooks up to the first block of the inbound cars, pulls forward to the switching lead, and pushes the cars back onto the loading track (bottom track on the image above)
  4. Where a car is not in the right loading order, the switcher sets this car out to the middle track
  5. The switcher then repeats step 3, and step 4, as necessary until the cars are all loaded
  6. Once switching is complete the switcher then goes back onto the switching lead, is powered down and then reattached to shore power.
  7. The class 1 railroad now switches out the loaded hoppers and the cycle starts again.

Modelling Opportunities

As-Is

Modelling a single industry provides you with focus. In this case, it is a single commodity and car type operation. On the positive side though you only need to buy one locomotive. And there is lots of switching. And if that’s your thing then you’re good to go.

While the original site is really big, a model of it doesn’t have to be. You can build a layout based on this industry, using the simple principles of the Inglenook and model it in a lot less space by determining the maximum number of cars that you want to switch in any given session. And

Freelancing Opportunities

The elevator at Montpellier as shown in the last post is big; really, really big. It handles unit grain trains with an empties in/loads out procedure. So I guess you’re wondering “what is Andrew thinking!

A smaller version elevator

But we don’t want to model this site full size. Instead, we want to model a smaller version of the site. And for that, we’re going to use the classic Inglenook design that is double-ended so you can run around the cuts at either end (see this page for an overview of the Inglenook) to shorten the length to something more manageable.

From the track plan above you’ll note that I’ve named the tracks as Branch Line, Overflow and Elevator track. The branch line is the longest track, with the other two being roughly the same size. That is why the Inglenook is the perfect solution to shrinking the track down to a manageable size. In the resources section below I’ve listed the very best calculators (some on this site, others off) to help you determine the length and number of cars you can fit in a given space.

Same track arrangement, different industry

I can think of several industries that you could model, that require constant switching, mainly in the food industry (refrigerator cars, and boxcars primarily) that will keep your single loco crew hopping for each session. By keeping the same track arrangement cars would be left on the overflow track by the Shortline or Class 1 railroad, and then taken by the company switcher and placed onto the loading track.

To boost operations you could work as follows:

  1. The session starts with the loco on the right end tail track
  2. Empty cars are pulled from the overflow track and pushed onto the loading dock or to the loading doors
  3. As cars are loaded they are pushed to the end of the loading track
  4. More cars are pulled from the overflow track, and the cycle continues
  5. As space is freed up on the overflow track those loaded cars can be switched back to the overflow track using the branch line as the run-around
  6. Rinse and repeat until your loads are completed and a train of loads is assembled on the overflow track
  7. The session ends when the loco is parked up on the right end tail track

Here are my thoughts on what your food-based industries could be:

A frozen foods manufacturer (meat, vegetables, fish, you name it) – empties in, loads out with a slab-sided warehouse and environmental dock door arrangement.  A modern facility (from the 1980s onward) would be a better option. The doors would need to line up with boxcars of the era. Mostly 50 or 60 footer mechanical refrigerators. Luckily, there are plenty of those on the market at the moment.

Other industries off the top of my head are a breakfast cereal factory, or Snack cake bakery (think Hostess), plywood factory, auto part (castings) manufacturer, a food-service warehouse (a mix of dry and frozen doors would work here similar to the old Austin, TX SYSCO/US Foodservice warehouse, using doors rather than docks.

The list of ideas is almost limitless. If they ship a lot of stuff to other factories you could use the track plan and scale it down as needed for your site. Making it a stand-alone layout means you could have a small, high-quality operations based layout up and running quickly, and prototypically in just a couple of weekends. Then spend a couple of years adding detail you go. 1 locomotive, especially an older SW, rusty GP9 or a patched GP20 would do. Try a leased unit.

I hope this has given you an idea or two, and that you’ve found the post useful. In the meantime don’t forget to check out the resources below. Like, comment and subscribe if you find my content useful. I hope to hear from you soon.

Resources

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways:

First mile, last mile railroading – what is it?

So what is it?

First-mile/last-mile railroading, what modellers refer to as customer switching, is the customer end of railroading. That is the setting out and picking up cars from a customer’s premises on the railroad. This can be directly from a customer’s spur, a ramp at the local yard or a team track, off the local mainline.

It is the point at which the customer and the railroad meet. All railroad economics relies on it and always has.  While in the modern era the customer has gotten bigger to take advantage of intermodel and block trains, the underlying forces remain the same. Customer shipping goods. Railroads picking up goods and moving them to their destination. Destination (consignee) receiving and accepting goods.

So why is this important to me?

For you, the small layout builder/operator, the first-mile/last-mile end of the operation is the:

  • simplest to model,
  • easiest to operate, and
  • most interesting to work with for the longer term

Whether you use a ‘tuning fork’, inglenook, supernook, or another layout design element you enjoy, by focusing on the customer end of the operation you make the layout simpler to build, which means getting going faster. You can operate for 10 minutes, 30 minutes or for as long or short as you have the time for. And over the life of the layout (whether that is a few months, or a decade or more), operation varies day to day, session by session, from a well-designed customer operation so that no two sessions are ever the same.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while you’ll know that I enjoy watching Railfan Danny on Youtube. Danny has just released another video, this time a Q&A session. One of those questions was about first-mile/last-mile railroading. I hope you’ll watch the entire video, for those without the time, I’ve linked to the 7:11 mark to watch the section specific to today’s post.

Resources

  • Railfan Danny’s “Railroad Questions Winter 2021”

There are more switching videos over at Danny’s YouTube channel, just follow the link below to go to all the videos with ‘switching’ in the description:

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways:

Site Seeing – The Little Critter that could edition

It’s not often that you get to see internal (in-plant) company railway operations today. Thankfully “Saginaw Terminal Docks” (Facebook and YouTube) posted a video from Reid Machinery in Lansing, Mi showing how they use old freight cars to store valuable machinery on their site prior to sale.


Reid Machinery’s internal railroad

Reid Machinery Inc of Lansing Michigan have specialised in moving machinery, primarily in the forging industry, throughout North America since 1992. And while that may not seem like the most worthy thing to write about on the third Tuesday in July – I urge you to hang around a moment longer. You see they also hold their large (as in big – not lots of) inventory on and in their own railroad assets.

Yes – they have their own switching layout.

Thanks to Saginaw Terminal Docks we have a front row seat, and a cab ride on one of these switching moves. I asked him about connections to the rest of the world. He tells me that the in-plant line connects to the JAIL/Adrian & Blissfield on over a mile of old track through Lansing’s south side.

And this is so modellable…


YouTube video

Some of the things to watch out for in the video are:

  • The three person crew (Engineer, conductor, and digger – and yes it’s a guy with  a shovel)
  • Slow switching speeds
  • At around the 18 minute mark – opening the boxcar door with the forklift forks (we often model the result but the actual operation is rarely filmed)

So sit back, turn up the volume and enjoy the show.


Resources

Site Seeing – Sebastopol Shops RIP Track 2

It’s officially Australia Day so I thought I’d share more work done weathering the Southern Boxcar underframe and sides. It’s interesting to see how the added brake gear (see more about that here) has become just another part of the model, and no longer seems to dominate the underframe, just as I had hoped it would.


Southern Boxcar 36188

I’m relatively happy with the work so far. There is work to be done on the patches to tone them down “just” a touch.

Beyond that though the underframe weathering is what I now consider to be just right (considering that it will be hard to see). I had to add a bright white background behind the model for it to show up.  Very pleased with how this work has come out. It looks perfectly functional, and most importantly, looks the business.

I’ve weighted the model appropriate to my needs (that’s roughly the cube root of the on rail weight). This is heavy by the ‘normal’ standards, but with the Kadee sprung and equalised trucks under them my cars run like dream.


Tasks remaining

  • Rust spots need adding on the side, especially on the sliding door (right) side of the car as this area takes a real beating in service. There’ll be less on the left side. I’ll be using Ken Patterson’s oil weathering process, as outlined in the video in the resources section below. I’ve not used this particular method before so it will be interesting to see how it works for me. I’ve weathered in oils before and enjoy them very much, this will be one new technique for quick and dirty rust weathering.
  • The roof needs to be attached to the car and I’ll be weathering it to match the side weathering. I always do the sides before I do the roof because much of the run off ends up on the car sides.

Resources

Ken Patterson’s Oil Weathering method:

Sebastopol Shops Update – More Brake Mods

Work has been busy and I’ve not had much time to model, however I did get time yesterday to begin the weathering process on a couple of car underframes that have come through the brake rod upgrade program. Pictures below…


Southern 36188

An E&C Shops kit this PS-1 50′ single door boxcar has been in the shops recently for brake rodding updates. With the deeper side sills it provides a good view of what I’m trying to achieve through the upgrade program – adding ‘something‘ between the bottom of the car and rails.

From a lower point of view the rodding detail on this car disappears into the background clutter of hard angles and shadow (image taken in reflected sunlight on my workbench – late afternoon – with nice and flat tones)

Taken at normal railfan height the rodding is there and fools the eye, at least my eye, into believing that this is a super detailed car. Rolling by you’d never guess anything otherwise.


XAF10 class prototype car

Work continues on the XAF prototype car, an Athearn Blue Box kit. I’ve had my concerns throughout the upgrade that things would stick out like a sore thumb. I needn’t have worried. I like what’s emerging.

This is the car with all brake rodding work completed. I was worried that the brake rodding would be too obvious using the 20 thou brass.

After applying the base of the undercar weathering the experiment has borne sweet fruit. This looks much more like I wanted it to look. Same lighting and location showing the hard angles and shadows. Once on its wheels and with further weathering applied the rodding will disappear into the background, yet have that wow factor as it goes past.

Thanks for stopping by. Comments? Questions? Let me know.

Site Seeing – Last mile switching on the Florida Central

Danny Harmon spends a day out following a railfan friendly switch crew of the Florida Central as they switch customers around Orlando, Florida.


First Mile / Last Mile

This is where I believe that real railroading happens. It is where the customer meets the railroad. It’s also where modellers with small spaces, budgets and time allocation get the most bang for the buck when designing and building a layout. There’s a lot of great locations and close up detail shots of the crew working and the locations for inspiration.

Sit back, put on your headphones and enjoy the sights and sounds of a couple of vintage locomotives as the train crew prepare their train, run out to, and then switch, the customers spurs. (Clickable video below)



Make sure to like and subscribe to Danny’s channel. Recently he’s been doing a lot of switching videos. I hope he does a lot more to come. Supporting him might just get him to do more too.

Site Update – RailBox XAF10 Modelling pages updated

The modelling article on the RailBox XAF10 class cars have been updated. There is new content and the third step of the rebuild article promised some time ago. There’s more information below.


What’s happened

My last update on this project covered the addition of a short history of the class. This time we’re getting into the meat of the project.

This new page covers the dangly bits between the frame and the rails – brake rigging. This is a task focused modelling article on how to simulate the brake rigging on the model without going over the top. Thanks go out to Tony Thompson whose original post on his blog got me started on this particularly enjoyable journey. (There’s a link from the new page to Tony’s original blog post.)

Throughout the series I’ll be aiming to complete the entire project section within an hour (between getting home and dinner for example) and at the end of it have a model that you can be proud of. Here’s what I mean using before and after photos:

Image 1: The basic Athearn BB kit sans brake rigging

Image 2: Same kit (undec) with brake rigging – a subtle difference but well worth the effort

You can head direct to the page by clicking this link, or head over to the project home page clicking this link. I hope that you enjoy this new part of the project. Like, subscribe and follow to keep up to date with all the new content here on Andrew’s Trains.

Sebastopol Shops – Adding brake gear

There was movement at the station, (to partially quote A. B. ‘Banjo’ Patterson), and I’m working to update a fair proportion of the model fleet with basic brake gear. More below…


Low hanging fruit

I mentioned a couple of posts ago I wrote about simplifying my modelling, without compromising my vision of what I want to achieve with my modelling. I believe that by simplifying my modelling style that should not mean accepting less. I tend to overthink everything, over detail (hyper detail) and in the end never finish anything to the standard I want to – think contest models of everything. But no more however. In that spirit I’ve been working toward cost-effective updates to my Athearn BB and other boxcars that I’ve collected over the years. To that end last week I found (for the second time at least) the post by Tony Thompson on his blog about providing partial yet effective brake rigging. This week I’ve gotten that done on several cars, and what a difference I feel it makes.

There’ll be a full article coming later this week on how I achieved my version over on the project page for the RailBox XAF10 cars. The page updates appearing there will be out-of-order but I’ll be filling in the blanks over the next couple of weeks as I get images completed. In addition there’ve been some cars in for repairs and one specifically coming closer to completion. More on these last two tomorrow.


Images from the RIP track

The production line; and while the cars have good general representations of the AB brake system, you can make a better looking version with a little time, staples, some fine brass rod and a little super glue (in this case super thick).

Above: the prototype for all the brake gear, RBOX XAF10 (the car at the back with all brass) with the other three cars using staples for the protective hangers.

Below: Bringing it all together. Staples and brass rod for the actuating rods. Absolutely prototypical? Nope, but they look the goods and make a total difference to the side on view of the cars. Well worth the time and effort to do.

50 Boxcars NW 52900 & Southern 36188 showing the difference between steps:

Above: the car with the beginnings of the brake rigging in place.

Below: shows the difference between one day and the next. Talk about a difference. I really like the look, busy, but simple and cheap to do.

I’ll post more images next time as I work through the rest of the cars on the RIP track.

Thanks for reading and dropping by.

Site seeing – Op till you drop – Blue flag “Video” edition – August 26, 2018

In my August 18 post we looked at modelling and using Blue Flags for your operating sessions. Thanks to Charles Malinowski’s timely reminder, there’s an additional video for context.


MRR Video Series – Taking Care of Business

Model Railroader magazine has a series of videos (most are pay to play). However some of the best of them are free for you to watch. One of these focuses on the SMS Rail Lines industrial park in New Jersey.

I did try to embed their video (as they offer this as an option – like YouTube) however, it didn’t work. Instead you’ll find below the link for the video. THis will take you straight to the page and then play away.

The video is narrated and professionally shot and edited. It is really well done and shows the operations in the Industrial Park and the blue flag in action. Thanks to Charles for reminding me of the video. I hope that you all enjoy watching and learning.

Don’t forget to comment on and share this post with your friends.


Resources

Taking Care of Business: SMS Rail Lines

Site Seeing – the Switching small customers edition

There was an interesting video posted by Danny Harmon (who goes by the handle of Distant Signal on YouTube).

He focuses on the increasingly rare small switching customer. Once upon a time it was the core of railroading. And while it is harder to find, in some places it can still be found as Danny presents in this video.

Enjoy the video! And if you like Danny’s videos as much as I love his voice then like the video and subscribe to his channel. I have no affiliation with Danny other than as a happy viewer of his content.