Popping into my layout room the other day with no real purpose in mind, I spied a note on one of my staging yard switch panels. The note was reminding me to relabel the panel to clear up an inconsistency between adjacent yard panels.
I have three staging yards (left) along one wall of my layout room stacked one above the other and the 4-yard panels for the three staging yards are similar for each yard. Each panel has a rotary switch to choose the proper staging track. This makes picking a staging track pretty straight forward for my operating crews at the Pittsburgh & South Pennsylvania (P&SP) RR.
So why the note? It seems that for some reason unbeknown to me, I labeled this panel for the middle yard, Wheeling Staging, showing yard track #1 on the wall side of the shelf, whereas the other two yards had track #1 as the first track on the aisle side of the shelf. This inconsistency had not caused major problems but it had caused confusion from time to time if an operator failed to look at the yard panel track diagram before picking their track with the rotary switch, hence the note to self to fix it someday.
I try to remove inconsistencies from my railroad’s infrastructure when I see they create confusion. Operators are busy enough minding their schedule and deciding whether they have the authority to make their movement.
Making the change was rather easy. I used a piece of an old credit card to remove the dry transfer labeling (left) from the track and rotary switch areas and I repainted the rotary switch area.
I waited a day to let the new paint around the rotary switch area dry. The dry transfers were applied and then over-sprayed with dull cote (below) to protect them.
Total time to make the change; about two hours of puttering around. Another inconsistency was cleared from the P&SP.
Never trust a man who doesn’t have a hobby, a female friend once told me. Thank goodness model railroading has been my hobby of choice for over 30 years – I must be very trustworthy.
Why do we enjoy this hobby so much? Forget the idea of the train set running under the Christmas tree or G-scale trains running around a sports bar ceiling. How do we explain our love for the hobby to inquiring minds at a barbecue or cocktail party? How do we convey our enjoyment of various aspects of the hobby: track installation and design, scenery and buildings, locomotives and rolling stock, electronics, simulating switching problems, creating a diorama depicting time and place, railroad research, history and documentation, and railroad art?
For me, the joy of model railroading is twofold.
I get to recreate a world of transportation long gone by.
I can create a complete transportation infrastructure in miniature.
We begin with a planning exercise – what do we want to see before our eyes – perhaps a train pulled by a steam locomotive trundling through the countryside as a period piece?
We strive to create a realistic depiction of time and place, as if we were standing on a station platform. What does our world of rail transportation look like in 1900, 1945 or 1970? In this process we find ourselves trying to understand what the physical world was like, especially the world of railroad work involving varieties of heavy machinery. It’s a way to travel back in time, historically and artistically.
Through this hobby, I am reminded that modern America was not borne out of Silicon Valley, but from workers and tycoons during the late 19th and first half of the 20th century in towns like Bethlehem, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. For those of us interested in steel mills, coal mines, lumber mills and heavy industrial enterprises, research helps us dive deeper into the reality of that time. It’s important to learn about the organization of work in pre-internet America (for those of us who haven’t already experienced it) and the complicated battles fought between labor, management. Wherever there were railroads, there were adjacent enterprises dependent on national connections, and homes and neighborhoods subject to air pollution, noise, unpaved streets, and outdoor plumbing.
Because of model railroading, I’ve can appreciate even more those who inhabited these neighborhoods and did these dirty and dangerous jobs to create the America we know today. By creating these worlds in miniature and giving thought to their complicated histories, we honor those who built industrial America.
I recently completed a model of a diner for which I wanted to have a round sign on a pole. My problem was, how to make a round sign without attempting to cut it from sheet styrene. I figured I could possibly hack out a roughly circular shape from styrene and then file it into a disc but that didn’t really seem practical nor did a sliver of PVC pipe which would then have to be filled in.
On my daily walk I happened to look down as I came up to Capon Bridge’s big green bridge and there were several bottle caps laying in the gravel. Miller Light bottle caps to be precise. And they were undamaged by a bottle opener. Twist-offs perhaps. A light went on and I picked them up. Back at my model bench a check of the scale rule proved them to be approx. 8′ in diameter in 1/87th. Good enough.
As the pics show, the knurled apron of the cap can be sawn off in a vise. It is necessary though to put a spacer within the cap in order not to pinch the saw blade. The cap must be rotated as one cuts through it so as not to cut into the spacer.
When two bottle caps have been so prepared, a notch for the pole is filed in the lip and they can then be joined back to back using a wood or styrene filler piece. The seam between the halves can be covered with a strip of styrene or filled with putty or both. For lettering I used dry transfers, as I don’t as yet have the capability of making my own decals. Learning to print decals will be yet another project. Never a shortage of things to learn and/or do in this hobby.
The diner was bashed from an old Bachmann trolley. A skirt was made from styrene board and batten sheet. The steps are wood bits with commercial railings. The doors are Tichy castings. Caboose stove pipes, bits of wire, Microscale Industries Kristal Klear windows and a kitchen shed from the scrap box complete the structure. Paint and finish was done by my pal Dotti.
The Liberty Bell Convention will offer operations on the New Jersey Free-Mo HO scale modules throughout most of the convention weekend. While participating in operations or just viewing the modules, you’ll be able to admire the fine craftsmanship and modeling of the two module sets presented by the New Jersey Free-Mo group. Also, you’ll learn of the historic and prototypical significance of each module set.
Bill Grosse’s “Yardville” module features a look at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s presence in this small New Jersey town circa 1955. Part of the original Camden & Amboy line that successfully ran one of the first steam engines in the country in the 1830’s, Bill has represented the area very well with his modeling of local industries and customers along the line with superb details and interesting features of Yardville. If you like switching and spotting cars, Bill’s module offers plenty of operational opportunities that will challenge your skills and provide lots of fun and excitement.
Mike Prokop’s “Linden Street Freight Station” module is a late 1950’s replica ofthe Reading Railroad’s facility on the Camden, NJ waterfront. Built to almost the exact prototype of the Reading property, this module operates just like the real thing. It features car float operations loading and unloading coal and freight cars. Coal is switched onto two raised trestles for truck transfer with freight spotted at the station and public delivery siding for processing. Transfer runs in and out of the facility offer additional challenges to operations. Mike’s Free-Mo module set was featured in the 2019 issue of Model Railroad Planning. If you have a copy, check it out and come operate on it in person.
One last note…when Mike and Bill connect up their modules, they generate plenty of traffic and car loadings between Camden and Yardville that keeps operations moving at a brisk pace. So, whether you’re an experienced operator or a beginner interested in learning and jumping into this fascinating part of the hobby, come operate on the New Jersey Free-Mo module setup. More details and information about operating times and format will be available in future newsletters and at the Liberty Bell Convention.
This January fourteen members of the South Mountain Division responded to an invitation from Mat Thompson, MMR to operate on Mat’s exquisite Oregon Coast Railroad. We had a wonderful time and thank Mat for sharing his wonderful railroad with us. This was my 4th visit to Mat’s railroad. This time Mary Miller, MMR and I were assigned to work at the Swift Packing Plant. We had a blast, hence this article.
Mary and I begin our session at Hoyt Street Yard. The yardmaster showed us our Oregon Coast train. Behind our switcher we find a cut of 8 cars billed to the packing plant consisting of 4 empty reefers, 3 loaded stock cars, a box car of packing material, and a caboose.
The Swift Packing Plant is located along the railroad between the Hoyt Street Yard and Willbridge, 2 railroad miles away. As an extra, all scheduled trains are superior to us and we have to carefully pick our time to leave the yard for our run on the single track main to reach the plant. We receive a clearance from the yardmaster and, after checking our timetable for superior trains, we pick our way out of the West end.
Before reaching the plant siding we notice a double ended siding along the main, used for outbound traffic to be picked up by passing freights or another switcher out of Hoyt Street. This day, a yard switcher will service the siding during our 8 hour shift; taking our outbounds while delivering more empties and loads.
Just short of Willbridge, we pull our string slowly ahead until the caboose clears the siding switch and glide to a stop. With the switch lined for the plant, we back our string of cars slowly down the siding, clearing the main.
A mailbox at the plant holds special instructions for us, from the customer, so that cars are spotted correctly and in a timely manner, ensuring plant operations proceed smoothly despite our inexperience with this job.
Reading the instruction provided by plant management, we discover that it takes 21 minutes to unload a stock car at the stock pens on track-2. It takes about an hour to load a clean chilled reefer at the plant on track-2, and about 2 hours to ice and chill a block of reefers on track-1 at the icing dock. We also note the track diagram provided so we can find our way among the maze of tracks at the plant.
Looking at the diagram, we note that track-3 runs along the back where supplies are offloaded for the packing plant. Track-4 is a service track and track-5 is the cleanout track for reefers. There also is a short runaround track on the ladder between tracks-3 & 5. Note the presence of another stock yard on the property. We were pleased to see there was plenty of head room on the lead to switch the plant without fouling the mainline.
Let’s get started spotting the 8 cars we brought to the plant this morning. You recall we boldly backed into the plant without thought, to clear the main while we looked over our instructions and developed a plan for our first service switch. At the plant we found 1 reefer loaded on track-2, at door-5 and 3 reefers iced, chilled and waiting at the ice dock on track-1. We noted there was one empty box car at door-5 on track-3 and a loaded tank car of tallow spotted near the oil tank, billed outbound.
Once oriented, we devise our plan. Here is what we did. First, we pulled our string forward to clear the track-4 switch, then we backed onto track-4 to drop our caboose. Pulling forward to again clear the switch we lined it for the ladder and backed our 4 reefers onto track-5, the cleanout track, and cut away. We then left the remaining 3 loaded stock cars short of track-2 and moved to track-1 where we pulled the 3 iced reefers over to track-2 and shoved them down to doors-1, 2, & 3 for loading.
There were three timers provided for our convenience so we set one for 20 minutes.That would use exactly 1 hour of the 3:1 fast clock time for loading. We then came back to the lead and grabbed the 3 loaded stock cars and swung them over to track-2 at the pens. We had 40 foot stock cars so each had to be individually positioned at the unloading shoots that were spaced for 50 foot cars. Once in position we set the second timer to 7 minutes, giving us 21 minutes of fast time for unloading.
Moving to track-5 we pulled our cleaned reefer string to move them to the icing dock on track-1. We set our third timer for 40 minutes giving us 2 fast clock hours for icing and chilling. Pulling off the icing track, it’s back up the ladder to track-4 to pick up the loaded box car for door-6. Coupled up we move West down the ladder to track-3.
We pick up the loaded tank car and empty box from door-5, then out to the ladder again, backing East to drop the box and tanker against the caboose on track-4 and cut away. We then spot the loaded box we had keep near the engine at door-6, on track-3.
Stepping back to asses our progress we find we have spotted the entire cut of cars we brought from Hoyt Street Yard. It’s now time to build a cut for the interchange. Checking our timers we see that our stock cars have been unloaded and the other timer for the loading dock has expired so the 4 reefers on track-2 at the plant are also ready to be pulled.The interchange track will hold 8 cars, so we back down to track-4 and pick up the tank car of tallow. Next it’s over totrack-2 for all three empty stock cars. We also grab the 4 loaded reefers.
Once we had everything on track-2, we had our cut of 8 cars. Pulling up the spur to the company phone and after checking our timetable for scheduled traffic we called the dispatcher to ask if we could have time and track to pull out onto the main and drop our string onto the double ended siding for pickup.
The dispatcher gave us track time after passage of a scheduled freight. We waited 15 minutes for the freight to pass, notified the dispatcher, then pulled onto the main and made our backing move to the siding. Surprised, we find a new cut of cars awaiting us. You can imagine our movements, making the car exchanges along with the time it took plus returning to the plant siding with a new string of cars.
We have now completed one servicing of the plant. The new string of cars picked up from the interchange brought 4 empty reefers and 4 loaded stock cars for us to position as our shift continued. And so it goes, we start another cycle of cleaning, chilling, loading, unloading cattle at the pens, as well as spotting supplies for the plant, and removal of byproducts. The process varies each cycle, dependent on the flow of cars to and from the plant. For instance we received 4 loaded stock cars this time and we have only 3 unloading shoots, so we will have to watch our timing since reefer loading and stock unloading happen on the same track. This variety of movement, timing of processes, masterful placement of service tracks at the plant make this a rich, challenging, and most sought out assignment on Mat’s railroad.
A big industry can be the main theme for a railroad when you are cramped for space. Mary and I were busy for over 3 real time hours servicing the plant. The randomness of cars received required a different operating plan to keep the product flowing from the plant on schedule. So a Swift Packing, cement, automobile, glass plant, or other big industry, with a realistic operating strategy and a few staging tracks can keep a small crew busy in an enjoyable and challenging way for hours.Big industries can be fun and that might be all that you need!