Union Pacific’s Lawn mower – June 2000

Originally posted on the Old DasBlog – Friday, April 19, 2013


Who knew that the UP railroad owned their own rail mounted lawn mower. Not me apparently!

MOW Gear seen in Austin

During my time in Central Texas, we lived in South Austin and in Kyle (which is closer to the beautiful College city of San Marcos). While we lived in Austin I had the privilege to get some really great train photos. Among the rarer items of rolling stock captured was the UP’s MOW lawn mower. Now I’ve not seen too many photographs of the unit in the press or other websites where I’d visited. As a result I have added my entire inventory of shots when I found her parked on the Bergstrom Industrial Lead @ Radam Lane in south Austin.

You can find the images here: UP’s MOW Oddity. It is not something that you see everyday and I thought should be photographed for later building as a model. Please share and enjoy. Your feedback is always welcome and you can email me using the button on the right of the screen.



What does operations mean for a Small or Micro layout?

Originally posted on the old HVL DasBlog –  Wednesday, May 15, 2013

For the small layout builder/owner/operator their exist challenges that modellers with larger layouts do not face. For example; if you have a 20 foot long layout with additional staging your trains actually do go somewhere, even if it is only 20 feet. But they do go somewhere and switching takes place in more than one location. On a Small or Micro layout the same is not true. Often you’ll be able to see everything all the time. In order to give the sense of operations I came up with a set of “rules” for the game that provided me with a starting point, an end point, and the means to know where I was in the game of “MR Operations”.
The Game
MR Operations is no different to Monopoly, or any other board game. You have pieces, that move in a certain way, according to set rules on a pre-configured gameboard. There is a known starting point and an end point of the game, although this can be changed by mutual agreement of the players.These are my “rules” so far as Small/Micro operations go:

  1. Trains must come from somewhere (they enter the stage)
  2. Trains should do one or more of the following whilst on the modelled portion of the layout (on stage)
    • Change Direction,
    • Change Consist,
    • Do work appropriate to the nature of the train.
  3. Trains must go somewhere when finished the actions outlined in point 2 above (exit the stage)

While formulating this simple set of three rules I took into account all types of layout designs. Thus the rules allow for:

  1. Double ended Small/Micro layouts
    • with fiddle yard to fiddle yard via a station/named location
  2. Single ended Small/Micro layouts
    • with a fiddle yard at one end and a terminus on the modelled portion of the layout
  3. Freight only operation
  4. Passenger only operation,
  5. Loco only operation or,
  6. A combination of any and all the above.

I developed the idea of a SuperNook before I had setout the rules above. However the reasons behind it were clear in my head. I wanted a freight based layout that provided all of the functions that you got with a UK based end of branch layout, that could be applied to almost any style of railroading, anywhere.

Image 1 is an example Supernook.

Image 1

The Supernook in Image 1 above has five distinct zones:

  1. A – is the switching lead/branch/main line – depending on the layout style
  2. B – an industry lead/storage siding
  3. C – an industry lead/storage siding
  4. D – is a passing siding/loop
  5. E – is the short switching lead to allow a run around to occur and/or the entrance or exit from the modelled portion to another fiddle yard

The SuperNook provides the Small/Micro layout operator with a purposeful and practical method of play, that keeps interest for the longer term. The rules do not take away from Car Cards, TT&TO, DTC or any other operating system, they do however focus the mind on what you want to achieve from a small layout and give you the means to map out the path to get you there.


Small layouts allow for greater detail but can suffer from limitations to operation. By using the rules I’ve confined myself to above you’ll achieve more satisfaction from your creations, have greater enjoyment in the longer term, through a better more flexible design that allows for better game play.


HO Scale Supernook

Posted originally on the old HVL DasBlog – Friday, June 07, 2013

Operations and Display Running

Apart from building my new (largish) layout at home, I have promised to provide a small layout for a show next April. The industries can depend on what type of cars you want to run, but the classic inglenook approach still applies of a 5:3:3 Inglenook within the Supernook.

The Supernook is my modification of Alan Wrights classic Inglenook. The Supernook though provides the means to turn a train, that is reverse its direction through the use of a loop to allow the locomotive to swap ends of the train.

The premise being that the train:

  • Enters the stage, in this case from stage left (staging),
  • Breaks down its incoming train,
  • Switches the industries
  • Makes up its outgoing train, and
  • Then Exits the stage to stage left (staging)

Exhibition operation

Apart from talking to people who are interested in modelling at our exhibitions, the most fun I’ve had is to make things work, or show others how things work. To that end I want to present a layout that would keep my interest, and the interest of the viewer for perhaps 5 minutes while they’re wandering around the show.

If I get lucky and I have someone who wants to have a go, and gets into the spirit of Operations then all the better.

The Nitty Gritty
Here is how I would see an operating session go on the new layout:

  1.  Our train arrives from off-stage, and parks itself on the branch main,
  2.  The crew:
    • Sets handbrakes on the cars,
    • dumps the train air,
    • cuts off the caboose or guards van from the rear of the train,
    • cuts off the engine,
    • runs around the train using the Loop track,
    • couples up to the caboose, before pushing it forward to the tail track on the branch main to clear the loop for switching.
  3. The conductor or guard checks the bill box at the entry to the industry track
    • The paperwork here tells the crew which cars are to go where along the industry track
  4. The crew:
    • Climb aboard the loco, and under direction of the conductor/guard:
    • pull the outbound cars from the industry track to the loop,
    • move off-spot cars and the incoming cars from the branch main to the industry spots at the end of the track, continuing to back-fill the industry track until they have completed the switching instructions left for them by the customer.
    • Any cars the crew could not place at the industries are pushed into the storage track.
  5. The crew with all switching moves completed begin the task of reassembling their train and readying it for departure:
    • First all of the outbound cars are marshalled together, and if so required may be blocked for delivery to other yards and industries,
    • Remember that as cars are put together into a rake, brakes must be unlocked, airlines connected and air pumped to operating pressures. All of this takes time, so slow down and account for that time.
    • With the train now almost formed the caboose, previously set out on the tail track, is connected to. The air pumped up, and a set and release performed to ensure that all brakes on the train are working.
  6. Finally with a train ready to depart the whole consist leaves the modelled portion of the line, stage left, for the fiddle yard.

This completes the operating session.


You can increase the level of operation on the layout by having in-plant switching taking place in addition to the interchange operation by the delivering railroad. In-plant switching would involve the local switcher, either leased, in-plant or track-mobile moving the cars from the doors/loading docks/UT Auger as they are unloaded and placed out on the storage road, pending the interchange move with the delivering carrier. The aim would be to use the loop and branch as needed, but to have them clear by the time the interchange carrier is ready to arrive. Say give it ten minutes to ensure that you have everything cleared out of the way to allow the interchange loco to run-around the train.


Weathering takes an oily turn…

I tried using oils for the first time last night on a new car that I’ve been working on building. And I must say that I am impressed with the ease of use and the ease of working with weathering, especially for rust, in this medium. I really wish that I have gotten into this medium earlier. To be honest I was afraid of committing to it because of the sense of not being able to go back, and of course the smell. But what I’ve found is quite the opposite. Smell is not an issue. Using odourless solvent, and a little common sense no one in the home has complained once. As for cleanup – same thing. Easy to reverse course and back the weathering out. Still learning though.

 Need to add this file too: weathered hopper
Image 1: The hopper roof with base weathering (old rust) in place

For a larger view of the image go here –> – once on the page click the image to bring it out to 1024 pixels wide.

Really quite pleased so far and look forward to posting more photos as I roll forward with the weathering scheme. I did find an image last night on the web of a similar car in the same basic time range that I am modelling mid 1970s but it has friction bearing trucks, the only 70 ton trucks I have on hand are roller bearing trucks so I may have to change these out for another pair before it is released to traffic.

What on earth is the HVL?

The Hunter Valley Lines is all about my model railroading and my Industrial Switching Layout. I am moving all my content from my old blogging software (which is no longer supported by my hosting company) to this site. Additionally I’ll be adding new content as I go. I hope that you’ll enjoy what’s here and that you’ll find something of interest. I hope that you will let me know about that when you can.


Designing Small Operating layouts you can build since 2003

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