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Layout Construction Journal

Volume Three - October 2004 through January 2005

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January 18, 2005

Even with poor weather we had a good turnout.  Jay was here and continued to work on the transfer shed, David and John continued their work with the spline roadbed, installing the passing sidings at South Norwalk and Winnipauk.  Ed was here, and did some fine-tuning on the turnouts we laid last week, and Wayne was gracious enough to help out by making tie strips (which we'll need about 30 of to cover all the new mainline and sidings -- and that doesn't include the local tracks in South Norwalk).  Not the most fun job but really important.

Neil was here too, and got 4" of track laid.  Actually he was trying to get the track located under the stairs hooked up with the new track we'll be laying along the wall of the stairs, and he had a heckuva time trying to get the whole thing leveled properly.  Hard to work under the stairs.  It took quite a while to wrestle it in place so there would be a smooth transition through the front of the stairs.

This past Friday Neil came over and he and I continued the work Ed had started showing us.  Each of us built a full turnout!  It was a lot of fun to do, and I think both of us are looking forward to getting more time in on this.  Dave wants to learn too, so as soon as we can we'll get him involved too.  

January 11, 2005

Wow, what a work session we had last night.  We had a great turnout, with David, Neil, Tom and Ted showing up, plus Ted brought Ed Majury from the Model RR Club in Union, NJ; and we had a first time visitor in John Montenigro, another local guy who heard about us through the website.  John seemed to have a good time, and even though he got a little too close to the hot glue I think hell be back.  Welcome, John.  Hope that finger is feeling better today.

We split up into three working groups.  David, Neil and John got busy continuing the spline roadbed.  They laid about fifty feet of it during the evening, which was a lot more than I expected them to get to.  Going around the end of the peninsula slowed them down a bit; we switched to 1/8" Masonite splines there because the 1/4" spline wont bend down to a 22" radius curve -- but 1/8" splines will.  Double the work but no cracking is a good trade-off.  Neil and David stayed late and got the roadbed all the way around to the far end of the peninsula.  Well done, guys.

Neil, Ed and I got started on laying some turnouts on the Wilson Point peninsula.  Finally, there's rail going down!  Between the three of us, we got about 2/3 of one turnout done, and a start on a second.  Ed was teaching us how to do it, and we spent a lot of time listening to him and watching what he was doing.  It'll be a little while before we're comfortable with doing it, but I think we will be OK in short order with this.  Hopefully our speed will improve as we get more experience with it.

Is it cheating to use a bench grinder to make your frogs and points?  It sure takes a lot less time.

Ted and Tom worked on a multi-step project -- spreading fabric over the finished spline roadbed, gluing it down with Homasote roadbed on top of it, and then gluing ties down on top of that.  They made great progress, getting all of South Norwalk covered and laid by the time they left.  The fabric will be used to provide a base for hardshell scenery, stretched loosely between the spline and the backdrop / fascia and glued to it.  Easier and safer than chicken wire.  Thanks to Lee Nicholas and Kelly Newton for this technique (which I hope I'm doing correctly!)

Seems like were making a lot of progress really quickly right now, which is great.  However, there are two projects we really need to address and soon, which we haven't lately:  Lower-level backdrops and their supports, and electrical.  We're ready for both right now, I'll have to put some time in this week on getting those projects ready for the group.  Were getting enough people down each session now that I need to have groups working on projects in different areas, which is helpful when the aisles start getting crowded.  I'm really glad we got Phase two started when we did or we'd all be standing over each other every week.

January 5, 2005

Happy New Year!

No session today due to illness (I had a cold) and the weather was bad. 

December 29. 2004

First session since the holidays ended, we've been off for nearly three weeks.  Actually felt a little rusty tonight, we got off to a slow start.  I had Tom, Jay and Neil over.  Tom and Neil worked on extending the spline roadbed farther, and Jay and I were both working on models.  Jay on the Freight house, and me on the Wilson Point turntable.  

Neil wasn't on vacation, and did a great job working on the open shed.  Here's some pictures we took of it tonight.  It's very nearly done, and I think it looks great.  Compare these to the photo on the Wilson Point Documentation page.  Thank you so much, Neil.  

Happy new year, everyone!  

December 23, 2004

Well, it's the day before Xmas, and all through the house, not much has been happening on the layout.  But We'll be getting together again starting on the 28th right after the Holidays.  Neil has been working on the open shed for the end of the pier over the last two weeks at home; he was over last night to pick up some styrene for the roof, and showed me the frame -- it looks great.  He'll probably finish it for next week.  I gotta get some time in to work on my station model, and get Jay going to finish the transfer shed -- won't it be great to get these items done!

Last week I picked up where Ted and Wayne left off and got the risers in all the way around the Winnipauk extension, and fixed a few small problems caused by benchwork that was out of level. I've also spent some time cleaning up, which always needs to be done.   I also made up more turnout tie strips, cutting up long scale ties until my Choppers' hold-down clamps wore out.  Since then, it's been family time as we put up the tree, shop for gifts and wrap them (guess who does most of the wrapping?)  

Anyway, here's hoping that you are having a great holiday season.  I wish you and yours all the best in the coming year.  

December 8, 2004

Well, no track down tonight, we're still waiting for some supplies to come in.  But we did manage to get some spline roadbed installed in the South Norwalk area.  David and Tom did a great job and laid about 20 feet of mansonite spline in a couple of hours -- not bad when you figure I made them stop in the middle to re-locate some risers to go along with the latest trackplan.  I guess that it's not getting changed again!

Neil was all set to lay track at Wilson Point, but had to be content with shimming the ground around the pier so the ties on the ground and the pier planking would be level with one another.  He also laid some more ties, figured out where all the rest of the tracks are supposed to go, and marked the centerlines all over Wilson Point.  I think he's more excited about it than I am.  We should have everything we need in by the new year, and then things get really interesting.

Ted and Wayne were over too, and they helped a lot by continuing the risers around the end of the Winnipauk peninsula and back through Winnipauk.  Looks like in the next few sessions we could be getting spline all the way around to the end of the phase two benchwork.  This stuff goes up so fast it isn't even funny.

Myself, I got a good start on the float bridges for Wilson Point earlier in the week, and spent a lot of time noodling the upper-level benchwork design over the weekend.  I now have a good idea of how it is going to work on paper -- got to build a section and see if it actually does IRL.  If so, it should provide for a strong supporting grid with a thin front edge and supports for the styrene backdrop below.

No sessions for the next two weeks because of the Holidays.  We'll pick up again after Xmas, but if I make any progress between now and then, I'll put up a post.  Happy Holidays, everyone.

December 1, 2004

The Pier is planked!  Tonight just before 11 pm, the last plank was laid on the Wilson Point pier.  Jay, Neil and David all worked hard tonight to make it happen and I really appreciate all the effort they went to.  It ended up taking just over six weeks to do this, not bad when everyone figured we wouldn't be done until after the new year.

It's been a busy week for me too, I've been spending a lot of time between sessions working on the RR.  I got the first coat of gloss black paint on the Wilson Point fascia, and got all the car card boxes mounted, as well as the DCC throttle plug-in panels.  I also wired them up to the command station.  And in between hours of making more and more stripwood, I managed some time to work on the Wilson Point Passenger station.  Just got to finish the roof and it's ready for paint.

And while the guys were working on the pier tonight, I got started working on the new Diamond Scale turntable for Wilson Point.  The guys really want to get started laying track, and they can't do the land side until the turntable is finished and installed.  

Finally, here's a shot of the completed pier.  OK, so it isn't really complete, there are still a few cosmetic touches to include, like curbs and some more bracing around the edges, but it's done enough to lay rails on it -- and that's the milestone we've all been waiting for!

November 17, 2004

Had a better turnout than I expected this week.  Neil, David and Jay were over as expected, and each of them continued to work on planking the pier.  Since I've been making changes to the plan in the last few days, I'm not ready to reset and relocate the mainline risers for South Norwalk just yet. So spline-making was out.  The guys didn't mind, though, and did a great job continuing with the planking.

Later Ted and Wayne showed up, which was a nice surprise.  We put Wayne on planking, which freed David up to start cutting holes in the fascia to mount the car card boxes, and Ted and I worked on getting the DCC command control system together.  We made a hanging shelf that sits next to the power supply panel we made last month.  We mounted the power transformer under the shelf , and placed the Command Control black boxes on top of the shelf.  I need to buy some quick-disconnect plugs so we can easily pull the new panel out for maintenance without un-wiring half the railroad.

I've continued working with the New Haven valuation maps earlier this week, and spent a lot of time going over areas like South Norwalk, Winnipauk and Wilton.  Turns out these maps are a real treasure trove.  I was able to completely redesign South Norwalk, including part of Dock Yard (which we really need), a couple of team tracks, the freight house and a bunch of different industries up the line a bit including an Armour meat distributor, a paper company and a lumber and coal dealer.  I was also able to locate streets, houses and canals / rivers, which really flesh out what the scene will look like.

Likewise, I was able to find and include new industries in Winnipauk (located where Georgetown used to be), where there will now be two rail-served mills, and we found room to include Wilton plus another industry between there and the new Georgetown location.  It's very exciting, the plan is really coming together in detail thanks to these maps.  I highly recommend them to you if can get them for your RR, they are invaluable and well worth the copying costs I spent to get them.

November 10 2004

Tonights session went well, but everyone is getting tired of planking the pier.  Neil, David and Jay have been at it for a month now.  They have made great progress, but its still only about half done.  Ill have to let them off the hook next week and give them a break.  Well try to put up some spline, or maybe start working on backdrop supports.

I started working on the car card boxes for Wilson Point this past week.  The design is based on the boxes Rick Fortin used on his Sierra Western & Santa Fe layout in California.  The boxes mount behind and are accessed through a hole cut in the fascia.  This way they dont stick out into the room at all, and I think it looks pretty cool too.  I also put in more risers, but I think they are too steep at 1.5%, and will go back and drop them a bit to 0.75%.

After everyone left I continued going through the New Haven 1915 valuation maps as I have for the last few nights.  As I did, I found a big problem with the current plan.  Two scenes which Id placed far apart on the layout - Georgetown and Branchville - turned out to be very close in real life, on the same val map in fact.  Im annoyed because I designed a lot of the new layout plan around Georgetown, placing it on the dog-leg peninsula to get it enough space. 

But I think it will work out, if I shift the Branchville scene over more towards the panhandle, I can get Georgetown in on the back wall close to the utility closet, with enough mainline between them to make it work.  This means a lot of space between South Norwalk and Georgetown opens up, enough to include  a couple of small towns and industries.  So maybe it will all work out for the best. (I really need to update the trackplan diagrams!)

It also means it wont be necessary to have such a deep scene where Georgetown used to be, so the backdrop can be brought out towards the edge and additional supports may be placed to hold up Danbury, which sits over this area.  This removes the requirement to cantilever the Danbury platform, making it a lot more stable.  We might even trim back the grid benchwork on the lower level here to save some aisle space (the new Georgetown plan eats up a lot of space on the other side of the aisle).

November 3, 2004

Another good session last night, I had David, Neil and Tom over.  David and Neil continued their work on planking the pier; I'm very excited about how it is coming out.  It looks great.  We may end up with a couple hundred stripwood boards that need to be 'planed down' with a sharp chisel, but I think it is working remarkably well.  The variation comes from slight mistakes in tolerances when trying to cut thousands of feet of stripwood on a tablesaw.  It could be better but actually I'm pretty happy that it isn't even more uneven.  The variation is probably out of scale but it looks good in the pictures and in person.

Tom and I worked on setting risers for the mainline along the Georgetown extension.  We did about 25' of risers, starting from the benchwork around the stairs through South Norwalk.  There was some initial scare that we had mounted the South Norwalk benchwork too high, but it was fine after all.  The RR follows about a 1 to 1-1/4% grade around the walls to South Norwalk, and levels out around where the freight house and dock yard connect to the mainline.  We also added a passing siding here, long enough to hold most trains out of Wilson Point.  There was a long passing siding here on the prototype too. 

This week I have to paint and stain more stripwood because these guys are burning through it fast.

October 28, 2004

Sorry, no pics this week.  A lot of guys were over Wednesday, and nearly everyone was working on planking the pier.  Neil, David, Jay and Wayne put in a lot of work gluing down the planks, while I was cutting the planks to size down from 30' to about 4' lengths, and Ted was grouping piles of the cut planks by width to help the plankers work faster.  Having someone do the grouping makes a huge difference, the guys doing the planking can go twice as fast when they don't have to stop to find a plank in the pile that matches the last one they glued down.

David came over on Thursday night and we performed a few long overdue tests to see what the currently available locomotives could do.  We set up an inclined straight track with a powerpack and tested a few of the locos on hand with a train of cars.  We were pleased and surprised to find that both the spectrum 4-6-0 low boiler and an IHC "Reno" 4-4-0 were both able to pull a 35 ounce train up a 2% grade.  (The Civil War-era 4-4-0s will get major cosmetic upgrades, with new thicker and longer boilers, and probably remotored to fit the DCC decoders.) 

Based on these results, I calculate that we can comfortably err on the steeper side when setting out the 1% nominal grade we originally planned for.  And in the area I plan to place the ruling grade (just north of Georgetown) we can run the grade up to 1-1/2% in order to get the operating profile we want -- trains of 5-6 feet will usually be able to make the hills, but heavier, longer trains will require helpers.  Just like on the prototype.

We also went ahead with a benchwork change Ive been thinking hard about, we disconnected the dogleg of the Georgetown/Danbury peninsula and moved it over a foot, away from the Wilson Point peninsula.  This minor change really opens up that center aisle, and we don't lose anything on the other side of the aisle (wilderness running on a 12-18" wide shelf), and without disturbing much of the plan. 

October 20, 2004

Another week, another session.  We spent a lot of time working on the pier today.  Tom, David and I worked a lot on the decking, which is going slowly but looks good.  I spent several hours this past week making new stripwood, and I'm sure I'll be making more before this project is finished.  I tapped Jay to work on the float bridges, since as another rail-marine modeler (Erie RR / Hoboken) he's got some experience with it.  He seems happy to be getting away from the workbench.  Neil as usual jumped around and did a number of different things, including laying down more ties on the WP land area.  We're all itching to get some track laid on this pier, and every plank helps us get closer.

October 12, 2004

Since we are now happy with the water, it is time to get the Wilson Point pier decked.  Some time ago, Neil fitted a deck base onto the pier structure made from 1/8" birch plywood.  It came out rather like a jigsaw puzzle, and tonight we got to start putting it together.  Applying glue to the pile caps, we set each plywood panel on the pier and clamped / weighted it down with everything we could find.


After giving the glue about an hour to set, we started the decking process.  Using stripwood I made months ago, and cut into 24' lengths by Jay tonight, we started applying the deck boards on top of the plywood one by one.  It's a slow process, we only did about 70 square inches in an hour, but it looks pretty good.  It goes much faster when a helper is pre-grouping the boards that are the same width for the person actually laying the boards down (What Neil is doing in the picture above).  A few weights on the freshly-glued decking helps keep it from curling until the glue dries.


There are some problems with the stripwood thickness, it is variable.  Some may need to be sanded after gluing and re-stained because they are too thick.  Might even have to sand the entire surface (which would really stink).  We'll see how that goes when the time comes. 

Neil also got started laying down some ties on the land area for the tracks we'll be laying soon.  Very exciting, it feels like it's starting to come together.

In other news, I've hit some serious snags with the turntable project.  The mechanism I built for it isn't going to work (too much slop) and the driveshaft should have been made to separate, and not permanently attached to the bridge.  Too late I learn these things.  I may have to scrap it and go to a Diamond Scale kit.  It has a lot of flaws that will be hard to fix.  But I have learned an awful lot.

Jay and I have been spending time lately looking at the command control system we're going to be using -- my old Wangrow "System One" DCC system.   I've had it something like 8 years and its never been out of the box.  We read through part of the manual last night and it looks a lot like the power supplies I have are going to be completely inadequate.  I'm looking into what we'll need now, and trying to figure out what I'm going to do with eight 12 volt, 3.5 amp power supplies.

October 7, 2004

Well, it's been a few weeks since I've posted an update, but a lot has been going on.  Structure models are getting built, Upper-deck supports are being installed, new subroadbed has been installed, and perhaps most important, we're moving forward on Wilson Point again.

We completed the water test section a couple of weeks ago, and Neil was good enough to do some testing with the gloss medium for me.  Based on his experiments, we decided to go ahead and try applying a mix of gel and liquid gloss medium (along with a drizzle of water-colored paint) to the entire Wilson Point waterscape.  It took three of us over two and a half hours to cover all of the water on the layout, but I think it came out pretty well.  You can still see some of the discolored epoxy under the gloss medium, but it is definitely less obvious than it was before.  The new coating also cuts down on the mirror-like reflections the Envirotex made, which is also a big plus.

Jay and I have both made progress on the structure models we have been working on.  The Transfer Station is mostly assembled at this point, and is just waiting for its roof before going to paint.  And I've been working on the Wilson Point station building, I made the model larger than the second mockup based on test photos I took with scale figures next to it, and compared that to the photos we have of the station.  I'm convinced this is pretty close to the right dimensions.  There's a ways to go but it's a good start, I think.

Other things that have been happening too -- We've gotten the sections connecting Wilson Point and South Norwalk in, it'll soon be time to get track down on this area.  We've been putting a lot of thought into backdrops now that most of the Georgetown extension benchwork is up, which means we have to consider how the upper deck over it will be supported (since the backdrops will be attached to it).  We've decided to frame the freestanding upper deck in steel L-strut frames, and support it from single vertical supports from below.  These are now in place, but need to be cut to their final height before the benchwork for the upper level is applied.

We're also very close now to getting the deck on the pier at Wilson Point, which will finally open the door to actually laying track there.  That process should start next week.

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