Category Archives: Home

My Home Layouts

Why I chose not to design my layout – Part 5

Somewhere back in a previous post I am certain that I published a basic op session. Today I wanted to update that in light of the new layout design, as there is a pretty big change to both the ops plan and the layout since I first set track on plywood.

A Modified Op Session

An op session will start where ever the previous session stopped. You should keep in mind that I am aiming to have roughly one 30 minute operating session per night, at least 3 nights per week. I’d like more but the realities of work and family mean that aiming for 3 nights is achievable.

Assuming that a full day’s work (around 90 minutes odd) is planned for say a Saturday op session here’s how the work would be done.

The yardmaster will go through the electronic system (more about that later on) and determine what cars are due to be picked up and what inbound cars are due to be setout for the day. The YM then hands the paperwork off to the switch crew and goes about his business.

We pick up with the switch crew after they’ve already travelled out to the interchange, connected on, pumped up the air and begun their return back to the Industrial park.

  1. Train arrives from interchange
  2. Loco runs around the train on the arrival track and moves the train over to the classification 1 track
  3. Cars are classified according to the switch list using the main, loop and the Class 2 track
  4. The crew checks the pickups and setouts for industries and then sets about doing the individual jobs for each customer. In cases where there are multiple customers on a spur, the job is handled as a single job
  5. Industries are pulled and setout as required by the switching documentation
  6. The crew then returns outbound cars to the yard, for storage while other switching goes on for other customers (if any that day)
  7. Once all of the industries for that day are switched all outbound cars are made up into a train (blocking is not required)
  8. The final work for the day is to pull the outbounds to the interchange
  9. The cars are set out, handbrakes applied as needed and the air bled off
  10. The loco crew return empty handed to the yard, carry out any further trimming of the class tracks as needed, and
  11. Run the loco back into the maintenance facility.

Here endeth the operating session.

As I said above this full operating session ought to take up about 90 minutes. Allowing the session to be broken down into shorter, easier to achieve 30 minute mini-sessions means I’ll be more likelt to play with my layout, and get more enjoyment from it.

Between sessions the paper work will be hung on clip boards off the front of the layout ready for me the next night.

Should I want to run a longer session I can do that and simply complete the previous sessions work as a part of that.

Why I chose not to design my layout – Part 4

I did some measuring on the new track plan (version 3) today and the result is pleasing (at least to me). On the HVRR we use a XAF10 Railbox car as our standard measure for cars; These car’s measure 190 mm over coupler faces – that’s right on the 54′ and some change that a real car has for door spacing if it is recorded as a 50′ car. With the numbers in hand I tried a few calculations to see how everything fit.

Yard Tracks

With measurements now completed on all of the storage and “yard” tracks our holding ability on all tracks suggests that the:

  • Main (at 1400 mm) can clear 7 standard cars,
  • Loop (at 1500 mm) can clear 8 standard cars.
  • Classification track 1(at 1800 mm) can clear 9 cars ,
  • Classification track 2 (at 1300 mm) can clear 6 cars, and
  • The total on-track yard capacity is 30 cars (not including the interchange as I consider the interchange loadings to be a part of this number).

Yard Occupancy

I don’t want to flood the yard on any one day so I expect that the total yard occupancy at maximum will be 50% of the total – leaving me with 15 cars maximum. So that even with a full train of 9 cars coming in from the interchange I can use Class 1 & 2 to store all of the cars and leave the main and the loop free to work. More on this though below.

Industry tracks

On the main board there are two industries:

  • Industry 1 is 800 mm long and can manage 4 cars
  • Industry 2 is 1600 mm long and can manage 8 cars
  • Interchange track (at 2400 mm) can clear 9 cars plus the loco. The interchange track is considered an industry also.

The trackage on the base of the L are to be built based on an article in Model Trains International #58, page 106 by Bruce Petty. While this was essentially an article on scratchbuilding the Strongheart Packing Co. there was also a track diagram included. While I cannot post the magazine article here for you, I can point you to Bruce’s website which has the same information and track diagram (link here)

The current track layout in this area bounded by East 49th and E 50th Street is somewhat different from that of 25 – 35 years ago, this is reflected in the two images here:

Strongheart Packing Co - Vernon CA

Image 1: Block bounded by 49th & 50th Street, and Gifford To Corona Ave

This is an overhead view of the same block as in the article, but several of the buildings have been removed; specifically Union Malleable and Strongheart Packing. Otherwise the track for the most psrt seems to be intact.

Vernon CA - 49-50th Street - Gifford to Corona Ave - Track Layout

Another overhead view showing a slightly different angle that puts the article map in perspective.

I’ll be leaving building’s in place at Ingle Bros. It is a nice, generic building, plain brick that will be easy to model. It will have the two car spots as on the plan. The Chase Bag Co will go. In it’s place I’m going to put a team track. This will ensure that I can have a range of cars in that spot, and in addition give a great view of the remainder of this section of the layout.

The other buildings will be changed slightly to give that 1970’s renewal look of tilt-up concrete construction so prevalent in Texas.

Industry occupancy

Just as for the yard, I do not want to flood the industry tracks with cars. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I like that industries are not always blocked with cars – this is also very prototypical, and
  2. I am aiming at maximum to have industries be 50-60 percent occupied

Thus the total car numbers of the main board will be:

  • Industry 1 holds on average 2 cars with a maximum of 3 cars
  • Industry 2 holds on average 4 cars with a maximum of 5 cars
  • Interchange holds on average 5 cars (rounded up from 4.5) to 7 cars.

As noted earlier it can clear up to 9 cars at any one time if needed; this ensures that the interchange and the yard tracks should never be flooded with cars to stop the operations of the railroad.

The industrial park (bottom of the L) boards will hold on average 7 cars using the same occupancy rate. In total then the maximum cars in and out of the layout (should all of the occupied spots be switched on one day) would be 17 cars. Luckily that is not going to happen because these car movements would be spread over 6 days.

I am hoping the average will be in the range of 4-5 cars per session. This meets my goal of a short switching session, but with plenty of interest for me as the crew. More on this later.

Why I chose not to design my layout – Part 3

I wanted to show my working (as my Math teacher always encouraged me to do) on the layout design as it evolves to meet my needs. I was not happy with the way the original design performed when I looked at the yard throat design. There was an ‘irksome’ separation between the mainline and the branchline running into the future Industrial park extension. Image 1 below, shows my attempt to fix that issue; a simplified version of the first track layout.

New Layout Design - Take 2
Image 1: Take 2 on the layout design

The throat area is the set of switches around the Interchange track and the branch out to the rest of the industrial park. In mock operating sessions the biggest issue I had on the fist design was the lead out to the rest of the industrial park had crept down quite a way onto the upright of the L shaped boards. Keep in mind here that the other boards are not yet attached to the three boards in the image.

Additionally, I wanted to have a better yard throat, that was easier to switch through and took up less space.  After due reflection, the layout just didn’t look right for a small, smart industrial line with the smarts to build their own industrial park out of a couple of abandoned branch lines. Thus we arrive at version 3.

New Layout Design - Take 3
Image 2: Take 3 of the layout design

First there’s a better use of space,and visual appeal (to me anyway) with the long classification track #1, and the maintenance lead / class track # 2 being at the front end of the board.

All of it coming direct off the old main (now the interchange track). It simply feels better, and right in a way that the previous versions did not. I’ve run a quick thought exercise ops session on the new layout, and it also makes it easier to do business on the new layout. I’ll post the results of that a few days in the future once I have some other modelling work that I have to complete done.

On reflection I will be moving the switch (currently a Wye that will be replaced with a left #5) further back toward the camera to extend the run-around on both the main and the loop. This will stop just short of the road overpass and ensure that a loco can pull clear of the switch to allow the run-around move to take place. Additionally it will allow the

That’s it for me at the moment. Talk to you all later. If you have any questions let me know.

Site seeing – March 7


Lance Mindheim is a force in the design of operational layouts. Today’s site seeing tour takes us to an article on his views and to his new website (built on WordPress no less).

Site 1: Railroad Model Craftsmen

In this article (offsite link) Lance talks about the play value in our layouts, and how without the play value, the layout will in the long run fail to please.

Site 2: Lance Mindheim’s new site

Lance has moved his site (offsite link) across to a new platform that finally allows searching. He’ll be updating and moving older content across to the new site over time. But for the moment the link I’ve provided takes you straight to the blog. This is where most of the content is right now.

Why I chose not to design my layout – part 2


In my last post (Why I chose not to design my layout – part 1) I discussed some of the reasons for ‘eyeballing’ my new layout and not ‘designing’ my new layout. This time around I wanted to clarify any uncertainties around the design process, and continue on with some meta-data about the design to help me clear my vision of the layout and the eventual role I’d like it to take in the future.

The Mod. 1, Mark 1 Eyeball

There is nothing better than eyeballing a space, and understanding how all the elements fit together. Obviously it makes the process easier if you understand what you aim to make, and have a sense of perspective on the amount of track you can reasonably have within the bounds of the layout space.

The layout’s story

My layout’s story revolves around switching within an industrial park. Service delivery is the primary focus of the layout and thus switching is the primary activity of the layout. With the design I wanted to be able to have a train:

  • arrive from the class 1 partner (interchange track),
  • be brought into the industrial park (switching yard),
  • switched into job lots for delivery within the park (customers), or to off-spot storage (storage yard),
  • run out to the customers needing switching that day, switch the site and then return to the yard,
  • have outbound cars switched and readied for delivery to the class 1 partner, and finally
  • have the outbound cars switched to the interchange track

Because I expect to have multiple small operating sessions each week, independent jobs that allow me to complete a little part of the operating session (between 30 – 50 minutes) each day I need a layout that supports that kind of operation.  Should I manage to get a couple of people over who want to operate a full session, we can simply pick up the next job sheet and continue on from where we started.

Why the design I’ve come up with?

A multiple industry layout was always my goal since I decided to build another layout in 2003. You can see some of these layouts in the Layout Design Gallery (Offsite Link), or directly from the ‘Resources’ section below.

I read about the Modesto & Empire Traction in Model Railroader many years ago, and have a lot of research on them. But as we don’t own our own home I am loath to build something bigger than my current proposed layout even semi-permanently at the moment. So I’ve gone down the path with my own module design, that can be added to over time. Another influence was the Progressive Rail layout that MR did several years ago. Again too big for me, but there is a core of the operation that I can mimic in the space I have.

In the next post ‘Why I chose not to “design” my new layout – part 3’ I’ll review my ideas on the operational aspect of the layout; the proposed paperwork that I want to use. It’s getting late and Sons of Liberty is on the Tele tonight. From Ballarat, on a cool and clear evening – good night.


Multi Industry Switching Layouts


Why I chose not to design my layout – part 1


I’ve designed a lot of layouts over the years, because I wanted to and because I got paid to. With my new layout though I wanted to take a more organic approach, one that relied less on the ruler and more on the eye.

Apparently I’m not the only one following this process. Over on Lance Mindheim’s blog, he recently wrote in a post  that (offsite Link Here) – “… with a smaller project a lot can be accomplished in 1:1 scale simply by mocking things up full-scale with boxes and loose pieces of track.  The elements can be re-sized and moved around until you get the look that you want…

I know exactly what I want this new layout to look like. I know the signature scenes I want to include, and I have my set of wants that have to be included to make this enjoyable for me. Sometimes you simply cannot beat the mod 1, mark 1 eyeball to tell you when you’ve hit the mark.

It’s all about the operations

Over the last couple of months I’ve played around with the physics on my DCC & Sound equipped engines. When I’ve times the sessions using an old Tablet computer set aside specifically for that task, what I’ve noticed is that when running prototypically, that is with slow switching speeds, easy moves, and time between moves to allow the offsider (a conductor, or second person) to do their work, eating up 20 minutes is very easy.

To enjoy an operating session I have to be actively involved in the doing of the work. To do this I have made changes to freight cars that I’ve found have a profound effect on how I work. For example; I’ve brought average car weight up, close to the Cubed-Root (CR) of the real car. You might not want to do this if you are running plastic trucks and wheel-sets or have cars traversing long distances as wear and tear will show.

Coupler Bounce what the … ?

With Kadee equalised metal trucks and metal wheel sets I’ve noticed a complete change in the physics involved, and that is what I had hoped for. So when I couple up to a single freight car with a CR close to the real weight you do not get what I call coupler bounce.

Coupler bounce is where the car takes off in the opposite direction (thanks Sir Isaac) when a locomotive pushes up against the car’s coupler face. My lighter freight cars continued to do this no matter how lightly I pushed up to couple on. The added weight causes friction in the Kadee truck journals, and physics come into play such that the extra CR weight requires more energy to get moving.

As I convert cars over to Kadee trucks I’m making sure that I CR the weight to make sure I get better handling characteristics. I know that this flies in the face of the accepted practice, but once you see this in action, especially in a longer string of cars when the slack runs out, you can never go back.

It’s all in the switch action

I love working yards, and switching industries. I was born to play at doing this. It keeps me happy, and engaged, and with many locations to switch, that are independent of each other I will never get bored with the challenge of switching a layout with multiple customer spurs and car spots.

I love the down and dirty, first mile, last mile railroad action that you find in customer switching. With a marshalling area that allows me to make up trains for delivery to interchange, and break down trains for delivery to customers and I’m about as happy as anyone can be.

In part two of this particular rant, I’ll talk more about the operations and paperwork that I’m going to use on the layout. For now, the sun is out, the wind is very cool and all is well in Ballarat. So I’ll leave you to it…

Site seeing – February07

There are some sites that I find myself returning to time after time. Vibrant sites with lots of new ideas and a great wealth of modellers, who love to share.  My favourite message board is to be on and partake in is RMWeb.

There is always a project or layout build under way that has something to give you. Today I’d like to point out two projects on RMWeb that I find really interesting for a number of reasons.

Site 1 – Down Ampney

Built in 7mm scale as a basic garage-garden-garage line; the garden section is in effect just a single track with a couple of sidings and scenery provided by mother nature. Control is planned to be a mixture of DCC and RC.

The Scenic modelled section is to be situated within the garage with a cassette fiddle yard on the other side. The garden will include a viaduct but be fairly basic for the sake of ease of building and getting something up and running quickly and to reduce maintenance.

Site 2 – Draycott (Camp) Halt Sidings

The model depicts a small corrugated Goods Shed and two sidings, with the tail-end of the Head-Shunt also represented, the Loop being ‘off stage’ so to speak. This is a classic Inglenook type ‘shunting plank’ and will give somewhere to have some fun with ‘shunting puzzles’ and to test new stock whilst Down Ampney is being built.


While both are 7mm O scale layouts, the standard of modelling is very high, while the area and layout being modelled is small and simple. Lots of working potential too.

Well its a very warm day in Ballarat, and my son and I are off to the local pool. Hope you’re having a great day where you are too.

The new layout boards are complete!

Originally Posted on the Old HVL blog March 24, 2013

OK, so a little about the design and build of the layout boards.
In general all wood is fine quality pine dressed all round (DAR). The board top is 12 mm ply (1/2 inch), while the sky board is 6mm (1/4″) ply. THe legs are “L” girders using 1×2 and 1×3 DAR pine glued and screwed on the along their length. At the base of the leg is a glue bock of 2×1 DAR pine which is used to locate a T nut, with a 5/16″ bolt as a leveller. The nut for the 5/16th bolt mounts on the top of the glue block locking the bolt in place once you’ve levelled the board. I’ll be building a better foot arrangement at some point in the future that is easier on the floor, most likely a wooden ball with a 5/16″ nut through the centre of the wooden ball.

All of the side and end rails are 3 x 1 DAR pine and these have not been glued, but have been Kreg pocket screwed together. The ply was then glued and screwed to the box. Nice, tight and very rigid. There is one rail across the board in the centre  of 2×1″ DAR pine, this has also been Kreg pocket screwed to the sides and the top was glued and screwed tothis also. The skyboard is glued and screwed to 1×2 pine DAR which acts as a stiffener and mounting point on the back of the main board. Mounting to the rear of the main boards is achieved using Kreg pocket screws.

The legs are mounted to the main board using 3 screws on each side to the sides. The top horizontal board bears the weight of the main board above; while the bottom horizontal board acts as a bearing face between boards and allows the boards to lock together using a wooden clamps from offcut of the hozontal boards and 1 x 2 DAR pine. Think an inverted U locking the two legs together. Nice, tight, simple and about 3 months in the planning.

Overall what are my impressions? Very happy to be over the hump of the work. The boards are light and strong. I can lift them fork lift style on my own without hurting myself and as I have a 50 year old back; this is a good thing. Thanks to my wife (Janette) for suggesting the mounting height for the sky boards. At 400mm above the plane of the board they are high enough to be at or just below my eye height, and with the 2×1 stiffeners behind allow easy mounting of lights that will hang out over the board for better simulation of daylight.

I’ve a few sketches and such to put on the gallery site later in the week. This should give you an idea of how the parts look. More photos will be coming before I paint everything later this month or during April, depending on the weather. Well a great day in all, now some remedial work on the old boards to bring them up to spec and height, and then my work is done.

More on the new layout

Originally posted on the old DasBlog – Thursday, March 28, 2013

While I am not working on the layout of a weeknight, doesn’t mean that I am not thinking on the layout.

My son Ewan (who is 8) got me to thinking about a new layout after a Sunday morning spent switching on a plank I have setup for testing car and coupler heights and and so on. He enjoyed it so much, big smile – the works, that he asked me to build something bigger because he liked driving the loco up to the cars and switching and coupling/uncoupling the cars so much.

He is a mad gamer, and is asking me to help him learn to code so that he can write his own games. So I figured why not make sure that he could “role play” with the locomotives and cars. I have spent quite some time getting the physics of the locomotives right in the decoders and this has formed the basis of my thoughts for the new layout.

What I have currently

I have the following DCC loco’s:

  • 2 x Bachmann 70 Tonners (cause I love them – one in Red and the other in Green – and yes they are noisy enough without sound – working on a fix for this in the future)
  • 1 x BLI Trackmobile (which moves like honey in summer it is so smooth and oh-so-nice to switch with…)

I have the following DCC & sound equipped locos:

  • 1 x BLI EMD SW7 (in UP colours – my Wife’s favourite scheme)
  • 1 x Proto 2000 GP20 (also in UP colours)

What all of this means to the emerging layout design is this:

  • Long runs where ever possible: This allows the physics that I have programmed into the locomotive’s decoders to come into play. For sound equipped locos I have made sure that the SW7 takes a shorter time to load up before pulling away. This simulates the locomotive gearing, while the GP20 takes longer to load up before moving off for the same reason. Once a loco is moving, having watched a lot of videos on you tube, the power is usually cut and the loco coasts. I can now do the same thing with the Deceleration set reasonably high to ensure that the loco will slow if going up a grade, and maintain or speed up slightly when going down grade. When I need to stop I give a brake application (F7 on my MRC Prodigy Advanced 2 system) whence I get brake squeal, and the locomotive and train stop where needed.
  • Proto weighted cars where possible: I use Kadee trucks This ensures that the cars track much better than NMRA weighting standards. I use Kadee trucks under all stock and it they run much better when they are weighted properly to compress the main springs. I use a cubed root formula spreadsheet to track each car type and the weight they should be carrying. One nice side effect is that the clickety-clack as trucks go over rail joints sound much better in my opinion.

One location that is getting serious design time right now is a Miami Transload Facility. My version would only have three tracks in the Transload facility, the centre one being an overflow (99 off spot according to the SP) track that would also increase the switching.

In the background I am still thinking of adding the bakery that Lance Mindheim wrote about. This effective uses one switch for two long sidings. This would allow the two locations to be switched separately, but different operators that are still within arms reach, and yet still stay true to the area they are modelled on.

During my original planning I had though of extending the design from the 12 foot board through to the 8 foot return board, and using a rotating sector plate (rotates completely through 360 degrees) on the final four foot board with an overhang to provide staging.

Still thinking this over as well as the Boxcar Haven design. More thinking at the moment, will yield a better design in the end. Thanks for following the internal monologue; any comments are always welcome.