Monday, December 28, 2009

Staging is DONE

Finally, the staging level is complete, with the lone exception of switch machine installation! Now that all the track is in for the lower level, and all the wiring is complete on existing track, I pulled a bunch more cars from storage and they look nice on the layout. I can move them around to clear working areas for upcoming benchwork installations. I put together a temporary 'shoo-fly' track connecting one of the main lines at the point where the upper level will continue once the switch machines are installed and functional. While a tight curve, this track allows me to run 30-car trains around the other existing trackwork to test wiring and rolling stock performance. It's also fun after a long day at work :-)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Tracklaying was a refreshing change from benchwork. Finally, something that will show on the final layout! That said, the amount of tracklaying I had to do was vast, and it continues to be a big challenge. Here we see the process - latex adhesive caulk, then foam roadbed, then weighting that to cure overnight with wood scraps to keep it flat and secure to the subroadbed. BE SURE to use paintable caulk if you are going to ballast your finished track! If not, the ballast will ball up when you use a water-based scenic cement.
Once the foam cures overnight, we are ready for another thin coat of caulk, spread thin with a straight edge, and then finally the track. I am a big fan of the foam roadbed - easy to work with, and so far it is very tolerant of temperature and humidity - a big deal in New Jersey in an old house! I am using code 83 flextrack, Micro-Engineering for the visible sections and Atlas code 83 for the staging areas. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Spacing in staging is 2-1/2" center-to-center on tangent track, and up to about 3" even on the curves. For visible areas I am coming off that slightly, but not much. As you can see I am using my longest cars to check clearances - an 89'-6" autorack, and 89'-6" piggyback flat, etc. Longer cars have longer overhangs, and we want to avoid big problems with sideswipes!
This is all Atlas track, and Shinohara (Walthers) Code 83 switches. Not bad, right? I'm pretty excited about how it is turning out.Tracklaying in the staging area, Fall 2008.
Here is the 'western' end of the staging yard, all tracklaying complete at this spot:
Finally, some not-so-good pictures of the superelevated curves going in on the big turn. This is Micro-Engineering flex track, absolutely beautiful. I was lucky enough to get a big bundle of this stuff used. Unlike Atlas, it holds its shape with no nails necessary. It takes time to get it right, but when you do...Good news :-)

Continuing Benchwork Progress

Brother Rick, shown here, is checking measurements and elevations as we continue. One note is that my house is WAY off level - dating back to its construction as a grainery, a 1840's-vintage grain warehouse. Shoveling grains from the street side to the back towards the mill was easier on a slope - and makes for a challenging place to build anything new. We had to set a level line before constructing any railroad at all, and it requires constant checking. Things are coming together by this point, summer 2008. The curves that will lead to the future top level of the layout are in, and the studs in the foreground will support the rest of the railroad towards the 'peninsula' in the middle of the space. At this point, we need to construct the bottom staging level, and then lay all track and switches to make sure they work before covering them with more benchwork that will make working on them very difficult. You can see the staging coming together in this photo. There's that nice new oil tank, too.
Little by little!

Benchwork Progress

Doing benchwork the right way is a time-consuming task, but the results are worth it. There's many resources available for anyone building benchwork, so I won't post anything here about it besides the fact that I am using modified L-girder benchwork for the skeleton, 1/2" plywood for the subroadbed, and a combination of 2X3's and 2X4's for the studs.
The long, tangent ramps on the west foundation wall are in place here in a January 2008 image. Of these, only the top right ramp will be visible, the rest lead to staging.
Finished subroadbed on the big graded curves that will function as my visible helix. Grades are held to 2%, and curves on the mainline are 28" or greater on the visible part of the railroad, and 24" or greater in the hidden staging area.
The finished 'big turn' area, benchwork and subroadbed in place and secured. Nice to see it coming together!

More to come soon, showing the continuation of benchwork and the beginning of tracklaying.

The Prototype

The prototype for this layout is Conrail's Chicago Line, the former New York Central mainline between Albany, NY and Buffalo, NY. My mother's family grew up around Syracuse, NY in the middle part of the 20th Century and some of my early railroad exposure was Conrail in the 1980's in that region. As I grew up in New Jersey, I always idolized the heavy-duty, high-density mainline operation on the Chicago Line and once I could drive, it became a frequent spot to watch trains. Attending Syracuse University in the mid-1990's sealed the deal. Interchange at that point with both NYS&W and Finger Lakes Railway allowed for operational interest, along with Conrail's own blocking and sorting cars at Dewitt Yard in East Syracuse and the constant parade of mainline freights passing in both directions.

This is another crappy screen shot, but it shows a piece of Conrail's 1986 System Map, specifically the area west of Albany and Selkirk, NY, including the Syracuse area. Syracuse is just to the left of center. My fictional cut-off line runs southwest from a location close to CP 270 east of Syracuse at North Chittenengo, NY to a point west of town, roughly near CP 296 near Solvay and Warners, NY. While I will model neither of those fictional junctions, I will model several interlockings on the cutoff itself to allow for prototypical operation. Scenery will be constructed by my wife Kristen and I to represent the feel of Central New York and the Finger Lakes region.


It is important to have a decent idea of what you want to build before you start your layout. It's even better to have a good, scale plan, something that is easily done these days with freeware from the manufacturers of model track as well as with a basic CAD-program. Here is the general plan for the Onondaga Cutoff. It's a crappy screen shot, but you get the general point. Staging is the right image, what's visible on the upper level is on the left, generally. More operational details will be worked out once the railroad is in place. Basically, there will be through trains, as well as a few road frieghts that work Onondaga Yard. The shortline, the "Minoa & Euclid Railroad," will be built along the north wall of the basement. M&E, not coincidentally, is the Morristown & Erie Railway in real life, the local shortline in Morris County, NJ where I grew up. This small Alco-powered shortline will come down to do interchange with Conrail in Onondaga Yard, the angled facility on the top level. My M&E is fictional, of course, although the real M&E owns the "Maine Eastern" so having another M&E-named railroad has a prototype too, I suppose.

Early Preparations

I bought a nice little house in 2004 that needed some fixing-up. I've always liked older homes, and thankfully found a great girl that likes them too :-)

Anyway, we now live together and I am making steady progress on the layout. Here are a few early photos of what I did to get the space ready. First is of the old oil tank. My buddy Rick wisely suggested that digging this big, 55-year-old guy out from behind a beautiful, finished layout would be a bad idea. This came after installing a new oil burner and boiler:
This was a bear of a job, only possible for us thanks to Rick who does it for a living. Long story short, we got the old tank drained and outside, and then discovered that the foundation needed work. (Old homes, yea, I know.) Here's a photo showing the newly-repointed stone foundation, along with a new mortar pad for the new heating tank. In the far right is some of the first benchwork, studs framing out a wall for the layout.
Once that dirty work was done, and a multitude of other plumbing, landscaping, and painting jobs were complete, progress began on the benchwork. Here is the west wall in a fall 2007 photo, coming along bit by bit.
The big turnback loop at the end of the wall has been framed out here, using modified L-girder benchwork made popular by Lynn Westcott's books from Kalmbach Publishing.

A good view of the benchwork. This will be the frame that supports the 'big turn' area. More to come soon!

It All Starts Here...

I'd like to take a quick moment to welcome those of you reading this for the first time. I've never blogged before but will try to keep this one more or less up to date regarding my progess on the construction of the Onondaga Cutoff, a fictional cut-off route around the Syracuse, NY metropolitan area on Conrail's Chicago Line. The railroad will be set in the mid 1990's in Central New York and will feature prototypical operation on a freelanced, prototype-based route through scenery representing the eastern Finger Lakes region.
I will be posting photos of progress, comments on the same, and musings on life in general over time. Drop me an email anytime at with questions or advice.
Most of all, please enjoy the blog!