Tag Archives: planning

Office Shelf Inglenook

Every day I go into the office, and there’s a shelf above my desk… it’s about 13″ deep and 48″ long.  I have some “stuff” on it, but it’s largely unused… from time to time, I look up and wonder what I could do with that space…  and I have some leftover turnouts and bits of track from the main layout construction…

Here’s my most recent thought… an Inglenook puzzle in N scale!

The Inglenook is a classic switching puzzle.  The three yard tracks hold 3, 3, and 5 cars each, and the lead track is just long enough for a locomotive + 3 cars. The goal is to arrange 5 randomly selected cars (out of 8) in a particular order on the main track while working within the limited space available… and it just so happens that my shelf is just long enough to do this in N scale.

Since my main layout is modern day and eastern, I might instead go with an older time frame and something Southwestern or Pacific Northwest.  Maybe early BN or even steam era.  I’m rather fond of the BN green/white color scheme, and this might be a good excuse to pick up an older SW unit in those colors.

My thought at the moment is to construct a 13x48x1″ box of some nice hardwood and fill the inside with extruded foam.  The track would be ME Code 55 flex and Atlas #5 turnouts (because I have spares).  The scenery shown here is just for illustrative purposes, but I do have a spare plate girder bridge that would go nicely.

Due to the way the shelf is constructed (modular furniture) there will be about 3″ of space behind the layout backdrop that could be used for storage or to house the power pack.  I could even make the thing wholly self-contained, with throttle controls directly mounted in the fasica.

Power would be DC, most likely, though I might consider getting an Arduino and using DCC++.  Since it’s a workplace setting I would not want to leave anything complex or expensive, and since there is only one operating locomotive, there’s not much need for DCC unless I want sound.  I could provide a power jack in the fascia for a power connection, so the throttle / power pack would not need to be hooked up full time, and I could even possibly incorporate an under-table sound decoder for layout sound (again with a headphone jack in the fascia.

Another benefit of a “side project” like this is it gives me an opportunity to practice some scenery techniques before applying them to the main layout.  If I make mistakes here, it’s easier to correct.

When will this all go down?  Probably not until later in the spring when the weather is nice enough to do woodwork in the garage… and I get just a little bit farther with the main layout.



February Progress Update

I’m a little surprised that it’s been over a month since the update video! Looks like I should be getting the camera out again. Progress has been slow, and not always photogenic, but there have been a few changes worth reporting on in the last six weeks. Lots of “real life” things going on right now that are keeping me from moving forward, but even slow progress is progress!

This post will be something of a mixed bag of content, since there are several different work items going on, and I feel I need to get the blog caught up quickly.

Structure Mock-Up

First up, this is a construction paper mockup of the Commonwealth Paper Products structure that will be on the narrow shelf behind the entry door.
Commonwealth Paper

I drew the building structure in SketchUp, and then printed 2D views of the model to glue onto a core that I built from cereal boxes. I think it’s a pretty convincing stand-in, and I plan to do these for many of the structures on the layout.

Custom Electronics

Next we have a couple of different electronics projects… a trio of CDU-based Kato turnout controllers that I built for a friend, and the completed control circuit for my animated swing gate.

Kato Crossover Controls

The CDUs are based on an integrated design I have that incorporates a switch and indicator LEDs, but my friend wanted to mount these remotely from his control panel, so I provided connectors for the switch and LED. These are a very simple design (not mine, just adapted), and the selected capacitor is powerful enough to handle a double crossover.

Stepper Motor Control

The swing gate control board has screw terminals for all of the motor, sensor, and control connections, and sockets for an Arduino Pro Mini and a stepper motor driver. This is ready to hook up, once I solve the mechanical issues with connecting to the shaft of the swing gate itself.

New Power

CXST1141 Atlas MP15DC

This is the latest addition to the power roster, an Atlas MP15DC that I bought second-hand from a friend and that will be used in the yard. It’s DC for now, but I will upgrade it to DCC soon. I’ve tested it on the branch line, and it runs quite well.

Dixie Cup Factory Model

I’ve built up a SketchUp model of the Dixie Cup factory as well…

Dixie Cup Mockup

Dixie Cup Mockup

Dixie Cup Mockup

New Lighting

Finally, I replaced the ceiling fan in the room with a much, much brighter 4-tube fluorescent lighting fixture with 5000K daylight tubes. It’s almost too bright in here now!

New room lighting

As part of the lighting upgrade I also moved the wall switch for the room down below the layout deck. The “standard” switch location was behind the backdrop and would be impossible to reach once scenery was in place.

New room lighting

The new wall switch incorporates a very convenient outlet that will help with working on that part of the room.

That’s all for now! I have some track laying progress to report, but I will include that in a separate post after I take some better pictures with the new lighting.

Sometimes you do need a pro…

If you are ever in the need for some expert layout design help, contact M.C. Fujiwara at Yardgoat Layout Design.  This guy is “the man”.

I was growing increasingly frustrated with the design I posted earlier, and the various changes I was making to it.  I could not clearly articulate in track and scenes the concepts that were swirling around in my head, and the pressure of this being my “main” layout was causing me all kinds of grief.  I was getting plenty of helpful advice from some trusted advisors, but it just wasn’t coming together. Continue reading Sometimes you do need a pro…

Frost River Moves Upstairs

After a long discussion with the “Planning Commission”, the CH&FR has been ceded property rights to the 10×10 foot spare bedroom upstairs. Plans are progressing for an around the walls shelf layout (with a peninsula) that will provide point to point operations for several people.

The proposed track plan is based closely upon the HO scale “Midwest Branch Line” plan designed by Lance Mindheim with some modifications for the continuous run and the point-to-point (vs. out-and-back branch) operations. And of course conversion to the different room dimensions and N scale. Continue reading Frost River Moves Upstairs

Planning the yard

Planning the yard by BGTwinDad
Planning the yard, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Here I am laying out some scenery details for the space alongside the yard ladder. The small shed will actually be the local model railroad club’s layout… we’ll also have a stack of pre-fab track segments, a stack of loose rail, a pile of ballast, and some trucks and/or wheels ready to be loaded on a MOW or wreck train. There will be a gravel drive alongside the track. Stay tuned!

Operations: Thinking Out Loud

It occurred to me this morning that one of the reasons I don’t post very often is that I have this mental hangup that I need to have some thing “finished” to “present” in order to have a blog entry.  That’s not really so.  I just have to have something to say that may be of interest to my reader.  In fact, having some “unfinished” things as blog entries may actually be better because it gives something for my reader to give input on, rather than being passive.

Today’s topic, and I expect it to be an ongoing series, is about an operations plan.  I’ve posted a little bit in the past on this, but not much.  Basically, I would like to have what amounts to a daily timetable showing which trains run where, when, around which I can create an operating session plan to follow.  In the words of Admiral Painter in The Hunt for Red October, “The Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.”  Neither do the railroads.

First we need to define where “here” and “there” are.  For now, we have four trips to make:

  • The Town Branch, to pick up products and set off supplies.
  • The Mine Branch, to drop off empties and pick up coal loads.
  • Russell, KY, to drop off Westbound traffic (or anything CSX-bound)
  • Williamson, WV, to drop off Eastbound traffic (or anything NS-bound)

For the time being we will ignore bridge traffic between Russell and Williamson, and we will ignore traffic to/from Chestnut Hill and Frost River as well.

Now, let’s assume that the big railroads aren’t going to bother sending trains down to Glover’s Bend to make deliveries, and so we will have to go to their yards to interchange.  So that’s (at least) one trip per day to each town, not counting coal runs (we’ll just set them aside, too, for the moment).  We want to take outbound stuff out and bring inbound stuff back so that we’re running full trains both ways (minimizing MTs).

Oh, for the non-railroad-geek, a few abbreviations and “lingo” terms:

  • “Turn” – a regular trip out and back to a given location.
  • “MT” – short for “empty car”.  Also “MTY”.
  • “SO” – “Set out”.  To remove a car from a train and leave it, usually at an interchange, for someone else to PK or for some other purpose.
  • “PK” – “Pick up”.  To pick up a car that has been SO.
  • “Spot” (n) – a designated location to place a car for loading, unloading, or some other purpose. (v) – to place a car for loading/unloading/etc. at a spot.
  • “Interchange” (n) a common siding or yard where two railroads trade cars. (v) The act of passing a car or cars from one railroad to another, usually at an interchange location.
  • “A/D Track” – the yard track to and from which trains (usually) Arrive and Depart.

There will be plenty more of those as we go along.  Back to the subject at hand.

Let’s pretend for a moment we only have two things to do… Interchange at Russell, and switching the Town Branch.  It’s a little hard to talk about an ongoing process, so let’s assume this is a once daily cycle, and it’s Tuesday.  A few rules:

  • Our local customers want their supplies in the morning, and want to load their shipments at the end of the day.
  • CSX can have our deliveries whenever, but they only want to fool with us daily.
  • By convention, “deliveries” are things coming into Glover’s Bend from elsewhere, and “shipments” are leaving Glover’s Bend for the world at large.

So here’s the base scheme:

  • Tuesday AM: Town Branch Turn makes Tuesday deliveries and picks up Monday shipments.
  • Tuesday PM: Russell Turn takes Monday shipments to Russell, and returns with Wednesday deliveries.
  • Wednesday AM: Town Branch Turn makes Wednesday deliveries and picks up Tuesday shipments.

And so the pattern repeats.

Let’s make up some names (or acronyms) for the trains, as a shorthand:

  • “TBT” – Town Branch Turn
  • “RT” – Russell Turn
  • “WT” – Williamson Turn
  • “MBT” – Mine Branch Turn
  • “RCT” – Russell Coal Train
  • “WCT” – Williamson Coal Train

To make it even more interesting, let’s put a schedule around this.  For simplicity, let’s allot 2 hours round trip for each local run, and an hour to do the associated switching to build a train.  Russell, KY is about 85 miles from Glover’s Bend, which is a six hour round trip at 30mph average, plus another hour to switch the interchange.  We end up with something like this, just for the TBT and RT:

  • 8:00AM : TBT departs for town.
  • 10:00AM : TBT returns from town
  • 10:00-11:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 11:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 11:30AM-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 6:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY

We have a 5.5 hour window in the afternoon, but we need to handle traffic to Williamson as well.  So let’s introduce another train in the afternoon.  Williamson is much closer than Russell, so let’s assume the trip to Williamson takes 1 hour round trip, plus our customary hour for switching the interchange.

  • 8:00AM : TBT departs for town.
  • 10:00AM : TBT returns from town
  • 10:00-11:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 11:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 11:30AM-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 12:30-1:30PM: Switcher builds WT
  • 1:30PM: WT departs for Williamson
  • 3:30PM: WT returns from Williamson
  • 3:30PM-4:30PM: Switcher clears the A/D track for the expected RT and pre-switches Williamson cars for tomorrow’s TBT.
  • 4:30-5:30PM: Afternoon break.
  • 6:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY
  • 6:00PM-7:00PM: Switcher finishes building tomorrow’s TBT.

Whew!  An eleven hour day for the yard crew, but they get an hour for lunch and an hour long afternoon break.

But wait!  We can do better, I think!  Our local customers aren’t getting their morning deliveries until around 9:00, give or take, when they’ve been sitting in the yard all night long!  What if we run the TBT at the end of the day, and shift the schedule accordingly?

  • 8:00-9:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 9:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 9:30-10:30AM Switcher builds WT
  • 10:30AM: WT departs from Williamson
  • 11:30-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 1:30PM: WT returns from Williamson (extra hour for crew lunch)
  • 1:30PM-2:30PM: Switcher clears the A/D track for the expected RT and pre-switches Williamson cars for tomorrow’s TBT.
  • 2:30-3:30PM: Afternoon break.
  • 4:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY
  • 4:00PM-5:00PM: Switcher finishes building TBT.
  • 5:00PM : TBT departs for town.
  • 7:00PM : TBT returns from town

Now, our customers still have a full day to load their shipments, but they get Wednesday’s deliveries on Tuesday afternoon, not Wednesday.  And here’s another benefit.  The (day) yard crew can knock off at 5:00 when the TBT departs.  The TBT crew, on return, can drop the cars on the A/D track and park their engine without help, ready for the yard crew to start again the next morning.

If the night shift needs the A/D track, they can stow the TBT train or go ahead and switch it.

What about the coal trains?  Well, the vast bulk of the coal hauled will go directly from the mine to either Russell or Williamson.  We have two choices.  Either the trains can literally run directly to the two destinations, being switched at the mine, or we can handle the coal switching on the night shift.

The catch is that we only have 3 yard tracks unless we tie up the outer main.  At night maybe we can use the outer main for an hour or two to sort cars.

NSN Summer Layout Party Completed

View of the (future) East High Bridge, Glover's Bend, WV.
View of the (future) East High Bridge, Glover's Bend, WV.

The nScale.net Summer Layout Party concluded a few days ago (Aug. 15).  By all accounts it was a roaring success.  I was able to build my benchwork and get the foam rough-graded in preparation for laying roadbed.  You can see the full story in my thread on the NSN website.  Additional photos are available at Flickr.

While I was doing that, I was also fleshing out plans for the electrical system to drive this thing (there’s a thread for this, too!).  In typical Engineer fashion, I’ve seriously over-designed it, running at over 13 pages and still growing.  It’s a good thing that the design and planning part is something I enjoy.  Still, there are days when I envy the folks who can just throw some sectional track on a dinner table and start experimenting.

I’ve taken a bit of a break since then, mostly been purchasing parts & materials for the next phase, which will be tracklaying and installing the main power bus.  There will be more news on that coming soon.

Ongoing layout progress and electrical design progress will be tracked in detail on threads at nScale.net, with periodic updates and news posted here as well.  I also hope to write a few articles on particular things I learn as I go along.

Oh, and in other news, I’ve got two big boxes from Parvia in my foyer!

A Friend’s Layout

Musicman's Layout Version 7
Middletown, Version 7

I’ve made a lot of new friends on the nScale.net website.  Recently, my friend David – “Musicman” – began an ambitious small-scale layout project.  He’s a meticulous planner, but more of a “hands-on” sort of guy.  So he worked out the whole design 1:1 on paper on his benchwork.  As a favor, he asked me to convert his drawings and scenery ideas into a concept drawing that he could share online.  I was more than happy to oblige, and above you can see the result.

The layout is based on the fictional town of Middletown in Nova Scotia, Canada.  The town has passenger service via a single-unit RDC3, and freight service with short switching trains.  The centerpiece of the town is Acadia Square, a Victorian style multi-business square with underground parking.  Other interesting points include a railroad museum with a steamer parked outside, a tunnel under the residential area, and several custom built industries.

David found himself with a problem common to small layouts.  He needed a way to turn his locomotives, but no space to include a reverse loop, wye, or turntable.  He found the solution in some micro-layouts: a “sector table”.  This is a segment of track on a bridge that pivots on one end.  By connecting to either of two track segments leading up to the arc part of the table, a locomotive can be turned in the same fashion as a wye, but without the turnouts and long tail required of a wye.

Construction of Middletown is well underway, and is documented on David’s website.  Have a look, and follow his progress!!

Sketchup is Cool!

I’ve been playing with a new tool in planning my layout – Google Sketchup.

Top view of Office Sketchup
Top view of the office.

I built a 3D model of the room, complete with the proposed layout and key furniture items.  It helps me see what it’s going to look like, where there might be access or safety problems (sharp corners!), and generally how workable the design is.

Sketchup has a lot of neat features, and once you “get it” can be used to do some amazing things.  One thing that was useful is Google’s extensive gallery of 3D models that can be downloaded and used.  That’s where I got the desk, chair, couch, cabinet, TV and computer monitor.  I also downloaded a locomotive and some track, scaled it to 1:160 and placed it on the layout to see how visible it would be from the couch.

Couch View with Train on layout
The view from the couch

You can change the viewing angle and position endlessly, and even animate walkthroughs.  One thing that you should be able to do (though I haven’t tried yet) is draw the track plan in 3D, including the ballast/track profile, grades, and scenic elements.

I think I’m going to find this to be a very useful planning and design tool, especially as I get better at using it.

You can see more Sketchup pictures of the layout design in my photo album at nScale.net.

Half an Inch

That’s how far off my layout is.

Half an inch may not mean much in most cases, but when designing something that has to fit in a room and wraps all the way around said room, half an inch can mean a lot.

In this case, I neglected to account for the width of the Fast Track verticals on which the layout would hang.  They extend 1/2 inch out from the wall.  Because the layout fits snugly all the way around the room, the width of those verticals means the layout is one inch shorter in all directions than the room dimension.

Carving an inch out of a layout design that is already tight is a challenge.  What I did was, I found a “cut point” along the two walls where the layout extends the full length of the wall – the left and top walls in my overview drawing.  The “cut point” is a point where I have one or more straight track segments parallel to the wall, and no curves, angles, or turnouts along that line.  I could then shorten those straight segments by an inch, and that pulls the overall design of the layout in by the required amount without changing any of the angles or connections.

I did also have to adjust the town, streets, and scenery a small bit to fit the new track positions.  However, since those are merely drawn in for illustration and concept purposes, it is OK if they don’t line up precisely.

Had I not caught this, it would have been a significant “Uh-Oh!” moment while building the benchwork!!

Just another example of how attention to detail during the planning phase can really help prevent large headaches during construction and operation.