Summer Evening and the ML401

Summer Evening and the ML401
Conrail ML401 rolls west through Central New York farm country in Onondaga County, September 1994.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Remembering What Inspires Us

 Model railroading is an effort to capture in miniature the essence of what fascinates us about trains.  This can take a variety of forms: there's collectors, there's builders, there's operators, there's historians...and plenty of other approaches.  The trains are central to it all of course but railroads are part of western civilization, and so there are many ways the interest manifests itself.

A challenge for serious hobbyists, though, is to keep a vision on what we set out to accomplish in the hobby.  We can loose sight of what really inspired us to get into the hobby in the first place. That's where looking through old photos and notes can help.  

Conrail TV-13, CP 286 at East Syracuse, NY, March 1997

In researching the C30-7A kitbash article for submission, I went looking for slides in my collection of prototype C30-7A's, and found a few that fit the bill.  I scanned them and noted how the image brought me back in time - it was exciting to see the image and imagine the sound, remember the scent, see the dynamics - I could almost feel the ground shaking as the train accelerated past.  

For those of us into the operation, all the rest of what we do in the hobby is in service of operations - the vision of an operating railroad, complete with the role-playing game that is required to make it run.  Operations is fascinating for many reasons and for me, capturing the essence of what Conrail was doing on the Chicago Line in the 90's is the goal.  Many diverse people from all sorts of backgrounds came together 24-7-365 to move trains, and they did it safely, with pride.  

Conrail TV-24, East Syracuse NY, March 1997.

Take some time to look through your old books and photos, notes, and trip logs.  We can't go back in body, but we sure can go back in mind.  Bring that to an operating session featuring a railroad in the past, though, and we can for a few hours travel in body back to a miniature world gone by.  That's a joy of the hobby for me, and a goal of the Onondaga Cutoff is to share that with others.


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Conrail on the Onondaga Cutoff - On the Cover of Model Railroader!

There are still surprises in life.  

I'm thrilled to present the August 2021 cover for Model Railroader magazine, with a neat kitbashing article taking the cover - a kitbashing piece I wrote for the Conrail C30-7A!  

This blog has an entry from several years ago describing the build, and in discussing with one of the Senior Associate Editors at MR, he advised that I should pitch it to the Editor.  I did, and it was accepted; I moved ahead with the whole piece.  It was submitted in January 2021 and in just 7 months was printed - with a cover shot to boot!  

This is the second MR cover shot for the Onondaga Cutoff, but the first with Conrail locomotives front and center.  Ever since Mike Tylick's pieces on building a junction module based on the Boston Line in the late 1980's, I have hoped to get Conrail, my 'home' prototype and modeled railroad, on the cover - and here we are.  

The whole thing is surreal and too-good-to-be-true, a lifelong dream achieved at 44 years of age.   From the start of this blog through to now is quite a journey and God willing there is quite a bit more left in the tank.  In some ways I think I'm just getting going, although this one is going to be hard to top.  May the best be yet to come!  

Friday, June 11, 2021

Time and a Sense of Place: Passing of the Torch

Moments come along in life that remind us of the journey we are on.  Some of those moments are full of bright memories, and others are in the shadows of darkness.  Regret, frustration, a sense of missed opportunity: these are real, honest feelings, and deserving of our time.  Darkness is part of life, after all.  However, the bright outshines the dark.  The bright spots are the most poignant of these moments and are nearly tangible in their nostalgia and in the good energy that we carry along in life.  

On Sunday, June 8 2021, one of the influencers of the Onondaga Cutoff passed away.  At first glace, the life of Barbara 'Babby' Siegelman would have little to do with a model railroad.  She loved gardening, family, horses, and her community.  Giving and thoughtful, she had more friends than days in the year and was a wonderful person to speak with.  She spent her senior years raising her granddaughters on a horse farm built by her late husband and laughing late into the night on the phone with lifetime friends around the world.

Photo by N. Garvey

And, she inadvertently offered one of the most direct influences of my vision for my model railroad: the vast layout built by her late husband in the basement of her country home in Bedminster, NJ.   

I literally stumbled into this one out of the blue.  The layout had been years in the making by 1995, but we wouldn't know Babby for years after that.  After my mother passed away in 1995, my dad poured time into his work as a teacher and into each of his three kids: me, my sister and my brother.  He saw each of us off to college as a widower, a show of strength I will remember for the rest of my time.  He'd regularly travel to Syracuse, Ithaca, and Millersville for sporting events in support of each of us, bringing friends along for the ride, creating community wherever he went.  He didn't date until about five years later, the summer of 2000.  A blind date was set up by his cousin, where he met Babby.  He called me on his flip-phone cell, after they had enjoyed supper and were walking the gardens at her home.  "Dee - you GOTTA come see this!  What are you doing right now?"  She had been talking of her late husband and how he wasn't the gardener - his hobby was in the basement.  Needless to say I didn't go down that night - never interrupt a first date! - but did shortly thereafter, and upon seeing the sprawling 3-rail O scale setup, I called Jack in the same manner Dad called me.  "DUDE - you GOTTA see this!"

This was a huge 30' X 70' basement, and the layout was two tables: one about 20' X 30'with an operator's pit, and other about 20' X 10' that was controlled from the same pit.  Large loops allowed a few trains to move at once.  But it hadn't turned a wheel in the several years since Babby's husband passed.  

At first we were a bit reticent about running the trains - after all, Babby's late husband had built it and we were guests - but after a few visits with Dad, Babby offered that I could call and we could come by ourselves.  Jack and I worked up a plan to make a few improvements and asked permission to do so.  Babby was thrilled, "I just love to see it running again, you boys are welcome anytime.  Give me a call and come down, and you can do as you please with it - it's wonderful to see it working again!"  

That was all the invite we needed.  Over the next few weeks we adopted the 'orphaned' layout.  We moved all of Jack's 3-rail stuff down there, and also boxes of all my HO stuff which at the time was in storage at my apartment in Westfield.  And from the fall of the year 2000 right through the start of the Onondaga Cutoff, Jack and I went to Babby's on hundreds of evenings, and put thousands of hours and dollars into the layout.  We were young, fully employed, and without many commitments, and the layout blossomed.  

Jack came up with a name:  Claremont & Saucon Valley.  It represented generic northeastern territory allowing us to run different sets of power on different nights with the same operating plan. Jack developed a system of train symbols and a car-forwarding plan to fit the infrastructure. And we got to work.

We rewired the whole thing to be run by three Lionel ZW transformers. We changed the routes, smoothed joints, added interlockings, added sidings.  I painted the walls, added backdrops, and added another interchange track to the two that were there already.  Jack slowly but steadily came up with a whole new design for the tracks and switches in the middle of the larger layout, and we separated wiring for the smaller layout where I would now be the operator.  

We developed a system to operate it by 'running time' instead of laps or distance.  This kept trains moving while we switched, classified or worked other trains.  Quickly the size disparity made operations tough, so with Babby's permission we reorganized the basement and added an extension to create an 80-car, stub-end classification yard.  


It was 3-rail, yes - but with mostly scale equipment thanks to Jack, and I began to contribute too.  After all, I had no home layout at the time, and this was the bird in hand.  Jack and I would bring beers and a pizza to the layout, eat it down, and get to work.  We installed large amounts of new Atlas O track and switches for reliability and appearance. The operation grew.  Big-time, main line action, with yard and switching to support it.  

Babby began to have parties when we would operate so that others could come see the layout in action.  By 2003 friends started to bring their kids, and relatives made time to see it work.  We hung red curtains made from old tablecloths as layout skirting, and added scenery to improve the appearance.   

We turned the lights off and had 'nighttime' sessions too.

We continued with the layout through ups and downs in life. Jack traveled to Europe, and I traveled the American west with Heath. The night after 9/11, I was in the basement at Babby's painting the wall blue, follow of sorrow and despair in the state of the world.  A few nights after my sister died in 2003, dad was with his cousin, Ben with his friends, and so I was in the basement at Babby's drinking beers with Jack.  A day after each of us graduated with master's degrees, we were down at Babby's. As the decade passed we discussed our families, hopes and fears in that basement.  Babby was a confidant as we searched our lives for women to fall in love with, a friend and a wise mentor.  We'd visit with her for a while during our visits and share the goings on. 

The camaraderie grew to include regular attendees.  Scottie S. and Rick S. were both present quite a few times, sharing laughs, trains, and beers, and the fun continued.

Most of all, it was FUN.  Trains moved and we had FUN.  And so much of the lessons we learned at Babby's are part of the foundational fabric of the Onondaga Cutoff:  camaraderie, fun, multiple-track mainline action, interchange, a car-forwarding plan, night operations, open houses, regular sessions for both readying the layout for running and for operations themselves.  The Onondaga Cutoff has roots in the energy of the Claremont & Saucon Valley.  

And when Jack and I each got married, each of our wives met Babby and enjoyed the camaraderie, too.  Even as each family began to have children, we still made time for the layout and to keep Babby appraised of the journey.  And time goes on.  Shadows pass: Babby was in a terrible car accident around 2010, and was ill for months after.  We checked in, but visitors were restricted.  Once she felt better we returned, and the layout was off and running again.  By this time the vision that was so tangible to me was starting to be realized in the Onondaga Cutoff, construction of which began in 2008 and operations in 2011.  We split time between layouts but more children arrived in each family and time began to shrink.  We stayed in touch with occasional visits and calls, but time goes quickly, and for the first few months of 2021 I could tell things were different.  Reading of the news of her death was a breathtaking pause, a twinge in my mind and body in realizing in a moment the weight of the loss.  

And so, Godspeed Babby.  Thank you, for everything.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Correcting A Crossing Circuit - With Expert Help

As regular readers know, we have a fully automated grade crossing on the Onondaga Cutoff.  Just west of CP 277, Highbridge Road crosses the Chicago Line, and the grade crossing is protected by lights and gates mounted on posts.  These are automated through the use of sensors placed along the track - distant sensors, located so as to provide gates being down before a maximum-speed train's arrival, and 'island' sensors on each side of the crossing so that the gates rise immediately after a train passes.  

I used the Azatrax system for this as detailed in the March 8, 2019 post and have found it to be excellent.  

However, it was designed for a simple double track main line application - not one with a crossover between the distant sensors and the crossing.  Essentially, where the diagram above reads 'Track 1" there are switches that allow trains to cross over in each direction.  Therefore, depending on the sequence of traffic, the machine would be deceived by certain crossover moves, since the incorrect sensor would be triggered or missed, and that lead to unprototypical operations.  

After one of the Facebook Live video releases on the OC Facebook Page ( ) a viewer commented that he could help with this.  Matt Paquette, who is a professional signal maintainer for a major northeastern freight railroad, advised that we could use the internal contacts in the Tortoise Machine to re-wire the distant 'E' and 'W' detectors to provide proper detection for crossover moves.   Matt built a new diagram to follow.

Essentially, the Q1 output needed to be routed through the internal contacts in the Tortoise machines so that the grade crossing board would see the proper distant detection for the move.  It took some doing and soldering in tight clearances - not my best work - but it's functional, and seems to test out.  The true test will be an operating session!  

So, thanks to Matt, the Onondaga Cutoff just got more prototypical.   Matt's expertise helped where I had run out of choices, and this becomes another example of 'Let Experts Be Experts.'

Friday, May 28, 2021

Progress, Here & There

Progress on the layout varies a bit by season.  Looking over the 12 years or so of entries here, in most cases there is a load of progress on the Onondaga Cutoff in the winter and spring which tails off a bit once we get to the warmer months.  Part of this is more outdoor activities and household maintenance tasks, and more of it is using free time for trips or helping on other's layouts, too.  It's all a welcome part of the hobby. 

Some of those trips are just local jaunts with the kids.  Kristen and Susie had a weekend Girl Scout camporee last weekend, and so the boys and I had a weekend to spend time together.  Teddy calls that "boy time" and looks forward to it, which warms my heart!  Pete & Teddy wanted to watch trains, see some new things, and explore together, and so we did just that.

Along our local mainline, the NS Lehigh Line across central NJ, we did some hiking along the rivers and found a new-to-us through truss bridge.  Teddy still loves bridges of all types and especially railroad bridges.  They were amazed!  

During the evenings, I made time to finish a few projects that had been hanging around the workbench.  Months ago I finally purchased a vacuum car for the layout after finding a good deal on eBay for one.  It was the Lux model from Germany but works seamlessly with my DCC system.  But, I thought the bold German lettering was a bit much.  So it got a coat of paint, replacement couplers, and new lettering for a plausible piece of Conrail maintenance equipment.  Here it is, awaiting final weathering, after which it will join my CMX track cleaner car in the setup night maintenance train.

And, some of the long term collecting of Conrail covered hoppers is beginning to pay off.  Thanks to amazing weathering by Lenny Harlos, we soon will have a unit grain train for the Onondaga Cutoff, which fills yet another gap in our operating plan.  Here's a sneak peak of work so far.

As spring opens up in to summer, and as pandemic restrictions seem to finally be waning, it's exciting to look forward to so much that we used to take as guaranteed.  Operating sessions, family gatherings and road trips - all these things are coming back soon and it's an exciting time.  Best wishes to you on this Memorial Day weekend, may we keep in mind those that have given their life in service to our community and our nation.  

And may the best still be yet to come!

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Upgrading the Tower at CP 282

 A continuing vision for the Onondaga Cutoff is to 'Let Experts Be Experts.'   We've discussed that before, and it is manifested in different ways.  Skilled hands helped with benchwork.  Trusted advice from Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman guided track installation and wiring.  Computer and IT experts helped me with networking.  Signal professionals did the signal design and guided the installation.  Transportation Planning professionals designed the car-forwarding and locomotive distribution systems, and design each operating session.  The list goes on, but it is clear that the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.

Recently, I had been searching for a suitable permanent model at CP 282 to represent an old NYC tower, repurposed as an office.  My vision was to model the tower that once stood at SJ interlocking, which became CP 293 under Conrail's tenure.  Al Tillotson, a talented modeler and regular operator on the OC, had contributed a foam-core and photo-printed stand-in that was suitable for its purpose for the last several years.  However, my goal was to model the brick and mortar construction from the 1930's as NYC upgraded its route through Syracuse.  

SJ was a critical interlocking that included not just the Water Level Route mainline but also the old Auburn Main, the Freight Bypass to the north, and the Lackawanna Oswego main line and interchange - plenty to keep the operator busy.   By the late 1950's though, NYC was installing new Centralized Traffic Control on its main routes, which allowed interlockings to be remote controlled from many miles away.  This made the tower operator and manual interlocking redundant.  The machinery was removed in the late 50's but the maintenance crews continued to use the tower as an office for decades to follow.  By the mid-90's, though, the end came and the structure was demolished.  

I worked with Perry Squier, a local modeler and expert scratch builder, to move forward.  Perry offered to build the tower if I could find plans.  Through the internet I came in contact with a former Conrail employee that - believe it or not - rescued the actual blueprints for this tower from a dumpster.  Amazed, I reported back to Perry who was surprised and pleased that we'd located the actual plans.  I made copies and Perry got to work.  

Perry asked that I do any interior detailing, which I did during a test-fit of the structure.  I also added lighting before returning the project for completion.  Perry delivered the final structure after several months of work, and I installed it on the layout - what an improvement!  

This adds a tremendous amount of NYC heritage and flavor to a scene that was already nearly complete.  The old tower was removed, and will be headed for my boy's layout in the attic, thanks to Al's generosity.  The new tower does an amazing job at night!

Another example of collaboration that turns out for the best: asking experts to help has made this layout greater than it could be if I were doing it myself. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Walking Tour of the Onondaga Cutoff

With recent requests for a video overview of the Onondaga Cutoff, I am excited to present a new YouTube channel and a few videos for your enjoyment!

I recorded a walking tour for viewers and have posted it on YouTube at  

The railroad is always a work in progress, of course, but this is a good snapshot as of Spring of 2021.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 19, 2021

Sweeping Vistas

 Now and again, it's nice to make a few images of the layout and of some of the longer and more sweeping views that are possible with a basement-sized layout and photo backdrops.  Views are even more satisfying when you consider how much time and effort has been spend behind the scenes in the last few months with major construction projects!  Here's a few recent efforts:

Amtrak 276 meeting SEIN at CP 280, Onondaga NY

BRSE at CP 282, Onondaga NY

By combining high F-stops for depth of field with Helicon photo-stacking software, you can really create some memorable images around the layout.  Looking at photos like these takes me back in time to warm days along the tracks on the prototype, waiting to see what the railroad would run past me.  It's a soothing experience to let the mind wander using the layout as the medium!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Final Step: New Island Local Control Panel - Ready to Go!

 After a big push in the last few weeks, it's now time to report that the installation of 'deep' staging is complete on the Onondaga Cutoff!   Last time we finished up the trackwork installation, which has since been wired into the system.  The final step was to replace the Island local control panel (LCP) with a new one to reflect the changes.  

Thanks go to Nick Anshant on this step, as he is always willing to use his experience on the prototype to help make the Onondaga Cutoff better. We went back and forth to settle on the new layout of the lines and also the new names - these tracks will be named the 'Old Auburn Main' along with a pair of running tracks, reflecting Conrail practice in the Solvay, NY area on the prototype.

Nick had done standard artwork to reflect Conrail practice in the signal bungalows in the field and had the artwork from the previous panel that he was able to modify to reflect the new trackage and switches.  One the art was set, I sent it off to a local sign shop who printed it on 1/4" thick PVC.  I chose plastic here instead of aluminum because the mounting area on the masonite hardboard has a slight curve.  A side benefit of PVC is that it is easy to work with.  I used a 1/8" allen wrench screwdriver as a hole punch by setting the new panel on flat wood on the workbench, and tapping the back of the screwdriver with a small hammer.  This allows the holes to be drilled cleanly and helps prevent the drill bit from wandering.  Here's new panel ready for light installation.

It is nice to do this work at the workbench, too, before trying to mount the panel to the layout.  Now it is time to carry it to the location of the install - much of the work this time around is to simply move the controls from the old panel to the new one, before installing the remaining new hardware.  

Thankfully, the old panel was set with screws, and had enough extra length in the wiring to allow it to hang forward for the work.  I moved the pushbuttons and LEDs over in number order, pair by pair.  It was an arduous and slow task but that was to be expected for a project like this.  However, I did not like putting all the tension on those soldered joints.  So, it was time to build a temporary work shelf.

Using some of the leftover brackets from the benchwork construction for the deep staging and some C-clamps, I set two supports attached to the masonite and set some 1" foam insulation left over from a recent scenery effort across those to act as a work shelf.  This allowed the rest of the cutover to go smoothly, along with the install of the new double-pole, double-throw (DPDT) toggles for switch control and the new LED indicator lights for the new tracks.

By the end, I was more than ready to clean up the area, put the tools away, and turn on the final installation for testing.  I ran engines up and down each route, checking to make sure all was properly indicated and powered.  I tested the on-off toggle as well and sure enough, it checked out!  

In summary, this was a long-awaited project that in some ways I was dreading.  It was tight, and operationally more tight than anything so far on this layout.  But it came together thanks to working with the team - modifying the plan and the construction by discussing with others, having others help to set components in place, and finally making the decision to dive in and do it at the tail end of this pandemic before life gets hectic once again.  

Now comes the exciting part - assembling the unit trains to occupy the track, and adapting our operating plan to fit the new traffic!   Stay tuned as we head into an exciting spring on the Onondaga Cutoff.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Book Has Landed!!

It is with great pleasure that I can announce the release of my first book, Guide to Signals and Interlockings, which is in print and available for sale!   

In the largest news to date on the Onondaga Cutoff, the layout is the central feature of this new publication by the editors of Model Railroader magazine.  It is the culmination of the journey that the signals on the Onondaga Cutoff have been, and contains information on the process so that the reader can understand how that works.  

Many nights and weekends went into it, and now it's available from booksellers, hobby shops, online, and also directly from the publisher at

In the 'Is this really happening' department, a friend sent me a screen shot showing the book having reached '#1 Best Seller' status on Amazon.   Amazing!  

Thank you for all the support!  I hope readers enjoy it and learn more about railroads and signaling as a result.  In a hobby and in a world where there is always more to learn, it is a humbling and exciting process to go through the journey of creating something like this.  I am grateful for the opportunity and excited for the future!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Deep Staging - Completing the Trackwork

The construction of  your layout can tell you a lot about yourself.

Take this Onondaga Cutoff 'deep staging' project, for example.  The idea started organically, without a clear path forward at first, but always in line with the vision of an exceptional operating experience.  Once the idea started it was widely shared with others I trust to vet its weaknesses, and to ensure it was well thought out.  It's measured, constructed and installed to stand the test of time and to provide error-free operation.  And, once it started, the project hasn't stopped much for other modeling endeavors except for glue to cure or paint to dry.  The progress is really settling in, a nice smooth grade down from the right, around the curve towards the new lowest level.

Taking a step back I am quite sure that most things in my life that I can control follow all those same adages.  Most things I am involved in did not come from a pre-planned set of goals, but they almost all serve a central vision for life.  I have learned in my 44-1/3 years so far that most things in my world are better with the influence of others that are experts in their way, or that know me well enough to give me honest feedback on how I might improve things.  Once I decide to build something, I want to do it once, and do it right: taking hours and hours to create something that doesn't work well or to make a repair that can't hold does not suit me.   And once I decide to jump in, it's with both feet - unfinished projects cloud the mind and the schedule, and make the satisfaction of moving on nearly impossible.  

None of that, of course, is to say that it is easy, or even that I take my own advice all the time.  Nope, I am routinely surprised (and sometimes frustrated) by the things I do, but I do hope to learn from each experience and carry that going forward.  Life isn't lived on a shelf or on paper; it's lived by doing.  The key in my view is to spend enough time planning and considering and sharing any idea first so that the act of doing is more effective, more present, and less prone to the erosion that time will inevitably bring to us all.  

Some thoughts for you all on a Monday night as I reflect on progress so far on this deep staging installation.

In the past few nights, we cut in the switch to the existing track.

This process begins by selecting a location for the switch, and with an install like this that is not an easy question.  It was moved back and forth a variety of times to find a location with acceptable curves to connect the diverging route of this #6 switch to the new trackage on the ramp.  

And, of course, even once the location is determined, this is tough construction to do well.  Here you can see how it is:

We have a fixed layer above, with wiring and lighting already installed, and the existing Island track below.  It is amazing how many tools I used for this:  Dremel with both cut-off disc and wire brush, putty knife, screwdrivers, drill, utility knife, adhesive caulk, pliers of several types, nippers of several sizes, bright boy eraser, several jeweler's files, just to name a few.  It was a congested mess keeping things going!   And after a few cuts from dealing with the sharp metal edges, I was ready to move on.

Again, measuring three times and cutting once, we were able to get all things set so that the track dropped into place perfectly.  The flex track took some massaging but in the end the curves all measured out greater than 22" radius through this stretch which is enough to help things stay on the rail.  Of course we would like wider radius, but that is simply not an option here.  We will deal with sharp curves like the prototype does: by limiting speeds and which sorts of equipment are allowed down the hill.  I spread the adhesive, and laid the track in the same manner as with the last post, but of course this was harder where we were under that top layer.  Then all of the new install was weighted to allow it to cure and bond to the subroadbed.

You'll notice no cork or foam roadbed here: where clearances are critical, and where trackage is complicated, you need a minimal vertical cross section as well as a good firm bond.  We have both and the results maximize clearance and rigidity, which was the goal.  It comes at the expense of noise when trains roll through, but this is hidden trackage and noise is not a major concern.  

While it cured, I had time then to install the Tortoise (by Circuitron) switch machines.  

These went in better than expected given the location.  I was glad to have made the holes bigger than advised, settling on 1/2" holes for the wire instead of 1/4".  With no ballast going in down here, there is no concern about the hole being a bit larger and it will help guarantee mechanical reliability in a tight area.  

Finally, we see the new track in place, with switches lined normal for now pending the wiring of the new switch machines and the full new control panel, which is currently under development.   Once that is in place, I'll bring you up to date on the final pieces of getting this track in service!  

Monday, March 15, 2021

Continuing the Deep Staging Process

 It has been a month of expectation and waiting.  

Waiting for the vaccine to be available for COVID.  Waiting for the vaccines to catch hold nationally so life can start to return to normal.  Waiting for some HR changes at work to take effect.  Waiting for (hopefully good!) feedback on several model railroad media fronts.  Waiting for the book to arrive for sale.  All of these things should be great when they come to be, but as my favorite musical artist sings:  "The Waiting is the hardest part."  

And so, as a place to ground out the energy and the angst in the waiting, I have continued to pour efforts into completing the deep staging installation, with a goal of having it operational by April 1.   It has taken each minute I have given it, and asked for more: this is without question the most difficult construction I have tried on this layout.  

We left off last time laying track for the tangent.  That task was completed shortly after the last post while the tangent stretch was still on the floor of the space, allowing for track to be aligned where I could see it without having to guess. 

Once the track cured, I installed all feeder wires, also here on the ground.  You can see the gentle bend in the middle of the tangents, required to deal with the challenging clearances once installed.  I added re-railer sections, upper right above, just in case.  The black steel brackets you can see in the upper left will support this installation, which needs to be close to the aisle at the left side to avoid the diagonal supports ahead to the right.  But, immediately past that, the roadbed will need to curve towards the wall to the left and begin the climb up to the Island level.  

Many thanks to Tom S. and Ralph H. for coming over to lift, shift, and slide this assembly into place!  We made the big lift - and it went just about perfectly.  Thanks to measuring three times, cutting once, and the foresight to assemble this piece on the floor, we were in good shape.

The alignment was exactly what we needed.  Clearances all checked out.  I however left it loose on the brackets pending the installation of the curved section - since the curve will be the link to the existing layout, it must be finalized first.  Now it was time to tackle the curved section installation.  

I had been thinking the curve design and install over for months, debating the approach with myself and with Scott S., a fellow civil engineer.   Like the tangent section, there was no way to lay track once the roadbed was installed just 10" below the top section.  Worse, the tight curves required here (20" radius in places!) made precise installation critical.  The trackwork needs to be perfect at all joints and respecting all clearances for trains to handle this - there is no room for error.  

The new curved benchwork too would be too long and large to be slid in from the aisle or floor.  It didn't clear the adjacent parts of the layout.  

The only choice left was to paint the wood ahead of time, add the guardrails ahead of time, then assemble the curved plywood in two pieces, after which track could be laid - all while the assembly was temporarily supported out from under the top level.  But the only place to do that was on top of the uneven mainline ramps behind Iroquois: it is the only place I could fit the assembly where it could then be rotated into position.  Putting heavy plywood over HO scale mainline track is always tough to stomach.  And then, after all that, the whole thing would need to be rotated counter-clockwise over the Island tracks, along its permanent path slid between existing Island tracks and the layer above, before being set down onto the supports.  

Ugh.  Lots of room for mistakes and collateral damage.   BUT - a clear path forward, and frankly the only possible one.  

Even the clear path forward had its struggles.  Here I am in one of my 'layout yoga' positions, on a ladder on an angle bent over mainline with my head against the ceiling, laying track that had to be exact.  Not fun.  

As the track cured, I double checked clearances again, even taking several of my longest locomotives and pushing them around the curve to ensure they cleared the sides and each other while on adjacent tracks.  It was tight - but it worked!  I weighted the track as seen above, a view where you can see the test engines too.  

Once the track cured up, it was time to install 36 different feeders, ensuring that each piece of rail has its own hard-wire connection.

I continue to stand by my claim that resistance soldering, the technique shown above, is a clearly superior way to solder wires to rails.  I was done with all that in one evening with only one melted tie to speak of.  Not bad, and at least I could do it standing up!  

After 5 long nights of late and hard work on this, now we can see the results - and I think it paid off.  Here's the smooth curves of track using Atlas curved switches to save space.  With all that work done, I cleaned up my tools and equipment, thought through the issues one more time, and took the plunge!

With a few bumps and strains, and a sudden satisfying THUMP, the curve slid into its spot.  I had to carefully then adjust it so the extra track from the tangent piece ended up above the curved end.  I fastened the curve in place with risers as seen above, then made the adjustments to ensure the tangent piece lined up, which was then too fastened in place.  I had left 16" long tails of flex track in place on purpose on the tangent to smooth the joints, and those needed to be trimmed to fit exactly over the transition. 

With some careful measuring and lots of time, I trimmed the track using a Dremel tool since the big code 100 rail had destroyed my rail nippers.  The backup plan worked great, though.  The track slid into place.  I spread adhesive below the loose area, then slid joiners into place and laid the track.  The result was better than I had expected, shown above.  Yes the track is old used Atlas Code 100 flex - ugly stuff by today's fine standards - but robust and cheap and therefore perfect for hidden staging areas!

The final step was the final joint between the curve and the Island staging subroadbed, which I did with steel strips for extra rigidity at this odd joint.  With both routes descending, there is a lot of torsion on these bars, but they are more than up to the task.  

So while the waiting takes so long and so much energy, it is being great to have this project to plow along through.  Next time we will look at final cut-in of the yard to the existing track, and the installation of Tortoise machines and controls.   Never a dull moment on the Onondaga Cutoff!