Sunday, December 11, 2011

What's in a Name?

You know what one of the toughest decisions I've had to make while designing this railroad has been? Not choosing a location or theme or choosing which industries to model.  The toughest decision has been coming up with a name for the railroad.

I haven't spoken with other freelance modelers about how they had come up with their own railroad's names but I imagine that, much like me, they take on the task pretty seriously. Does one name their railroad after the region?  A prominent town or a significant geological feature? Should one choose a name with a personal meaning? Perhaps after a grandfather or a favorite vacation spot?

When it came to naming my model railroad, I first sat down with a pen and paper and laid out a few ground rules to help focus me in my efforts:

1. The name must be easy to say, spell, and remember for the purposes of easy "googling" for people looking for information on my railroad.
2. The name must be plausible and consistant with the naming conventions of other regional short line railroads.
3. The name must reinforce the theme of the layout which is that of a small, modern short line working hard to thrive during a difficult economic downturn.

With those three rules in place, I set to compiling a list of items that could be potential fodder for naming my layout.

Cities and towns in the area:

Newport
Usk
Cusick
Ione
Metaline Falls

Prominent bodies of water and geological features:

North Western Washington State.
The Pend Oreille River Valley
Metaline Falls
Box Canyon
Sullivan Lake
Colville National Forrest
Cabinet Mountains

Famous residents, and other naming considerations:

Canadian trapper Dave Thompson
Steamboat Captain Elmer "Cap" Arnold
Entrepreneur Fredrick Blackwell
Panhandle Lumber
Diamond Match Co.
The Timber and Stone act of 1878
Vaagen Brothers
Lehigh Portland Cement Co.

Now, if you are familiar with the area, you will probably say that the most obvious name for my freelance model railroad would be the "Pend Oreille Valley Railroad."  And you would be right.  The only problem is that name is already taken by the REAL shortline railroad that exists in that region. (more on why I don't simply model that railroad in later posts)  Plus, It's hard to say, and spell and doesn't evoke a real sense of the area in and of itself so it kinda violates a few of the rules I laid out for myself.

The layout itself attempts to depict industries and operations between the towns of Usk, Ione and Metaline falls and the modeled portion exists solely in the town of Ione, so perhaps a name like "The Usk, Ione and Metaline Falls Railroad"  But that is kinda a mouthful, plus I dislike the name "Usk" and Ione is scary close to the name of the company I work for which weirds me out a bit.

I could name the layout after the Lehigh Cement Co. which is the most prominent industry on the layout, but... nah.

Ultimately I settled on the name "Metaline Falls Terminal Railroad."  This meets my desires on several levels.  First, it is simple and catchy which satisfies rule #1.  The name feels plausible and consistant when compared to other short lines in the region (Kettle Falls International Railroad, Mount Vernon Terminal Railway, etc.) And finally, "Metaline Falls" refers to not only an area town, but also a section of very heavy rapids that once existed on the Pend Orille River before the Boundary Dam was built, changing the water table and effectively burying the falls for good.  This idea of industrial progress and it's tendency to shape a region both physically and economically with both positive and negative outcomes is a central theme of the layout and satisfies rule #3.

The word "Terminal"  Also does well to both describe the type of railroad I'm modeling and evoke a sense of inevitability that seems to be so common with modern-era short lines.

Finally, after all of that, the first two letters in the MFTR's reporting marks are my initials! I take that as a sign of good luck, which I am very happy to have as I continue on my adventure in model railroading.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

4X8 Sucks!

The January 2012 issue of Model Railroader magazine is out now and the project railroad featured is once again a 4X8 foot layout.

I hate 4X8 foot layouts.

Ok, hate is a strong word. I don't hate them, but I do have some serious issues with pushing the idea that a 4X8 foot railroad is good option for a beginner. It is not and the reason for this has everything to do with size.

When we talk about the size of a layout, we should always take into consideration not only the foot print of the layout itself, but also the asile around the layout that are required for maintenance and operation. With this in mind, a 4X8 foot layout actually requires 8X10 feet of space.  That's the size of a spare bedroom! (for more on this, check out this awesome article by professional layout designer, Byron Henderson)

In my opinion, that kind of space requirement is just too much. Especially for a beginner who may be unsure of just how much long term enjoyment they will be getting from the hobby.  There are also many of us who just don't have a spare room to turn over completely to the trains and trying to squeeze a large table into a den or other room shared with the rest of the family is sure to foster more than a small amount of animosity towards the trains.

I think one of the reason the 4X8 foot sheet is still popular (besides the fact that MR pushes it so hard.) is because of the desire of a beginning hobbiest to watch trains run and run and run. If this is your desire (and it is a perfectly valid desire) and you are just starting out, consider building a small N-scale layout.  My second model railroad was an N-scale layout that I built on a small closet door.  It was small enough to easily slide under my twin sized bed when not in use, and it still offered a lot in terms of operation and modeling. Plus I learned a whole lot of tips and tricks along the way that I am now able to take advantage of on my new, slightly larger layout!

If the size and detail of HO scale models interests you, and continuous running is not a concern, then a small, space-saving point-to-point style shelf layout that can be placed against the wall may be your best bet!



Monday, October 24, 2011

Track Plan #2

Alrighty, this is pretty close to the final track plan for the MFTR. (EDIT: Turns out it wasn't even close.)
A larger version can be viewed here

A typical operation session would unfold as follows:

The local switcher starts its day by heading towards Newport (staging) to collect cars destined for industries on the layout.  
The cars are then sorted on the storage tracks and readied for distribution.
Loaded Cement hoppers are replaced with empties at the Cement Production Facility.
The switcher then performs a run around maneuver to set up the paper and pulpwood cars for delivery on facing-point sidings.
Loaded boxcars and empty pulpwood cars are delivered to the appropriate industries.
Cars destined for Newport (staging) are then collected and shoved down the mainline towards its destination.

Industries typically receive the following cars per operating session:
Cement Factory: 4-6 2-Bay Covered Hoppers
Papery Recycling Facility: 0-1 50' Boxcar
Pulpwood Facility: 2 Pulpwood cars

So there it is, I'd like to hear what you think. If you see a potential problem with this plan, please let me know before I start laying track. Your thoughts are welcome!  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How did you spend your vacation? (layout construction)

I took a nice little vacation for myself last week and spent it building the vast majority of the benchwork for my little model railroad.  It took longer than expected, but I am exceedingly pleased with the results.

I based the benchwork off of The Beer Line which was a project railroad seen in Model Railroader Magazine.  The article itself can give you a good idea of how it was assembled, I am not a great carpenter myself.  In fact, the only time I ever pull out the 'ol circular saw is when I am building a new model railroad table.  However, I have compiled a list of Do's and Don'ts that I've been able to gather from building four different layouts over the years.

Do's
  • Do take your time when selecting lumber.  Check each board for warping and avoid excessive knotting when possible.
  • Purchase a nice cordless drill and bar clamps.  Both will greatly speed up and ease the construction process.
  • Seriously, get some bar clamps.  I built three previous layouts without them and the results were not pretty.
  • Do run a bead of wood glue along the edges of your boards where they join. (along with using screws)  The bond created helps keep the wood together where screws may fail.
  • Speaking of screws, Avoid EVERYTHING except drywall screws. I've tried pretty much everything else including those awful wood screws that will strip every single time you try to remove them for any reason.  Drywall screws go in cleanly and can be removed just as easily without stripping the heads.
  • Do drill a small pilot hole in your wood before securing the screw in place.  Without this step, you are highly likely to split your wood. which ruins the strength of the joint.
  • Safety, safety, safety! Make sure to always wear safety glasses when operating power tools.  A cheap pair will only run you a couple of bucks at the hardware store and that is certainly much cheaper than an emergency trip to the hospital.
Don't
  • Dont rush. This is the foundation that your entire miniature world will be built on. Get it wrong here and you could have problems down the line.
  • Don't under brace your legs.  Be sure that you've added sufficient cross-bracing to ensure that your table legs won't start to wobble or lean with time.
  • Don't forget that old saying: "Measure Twice, Cut once!"  
  • Don't forget to have fun!
One interesting feature of my particular benchwork is that it was built in two separate 2X5 foot sections that were joined together using large bolts and washers.  I did this knowing that I would probably be moving one day and I would have hated to take a saw to my beautiful layout just to try and fit it up the stairs. 

With that in mind, I worked extra diligently to ensure that the tables would line up perfectly and connect together well. Assembling the sections carefully went a long way to that end and fitting the legs with adjustable feet allowed me to make minor adjustments to ensure a good connection as well as maintain a level surface across the length of the table.

Below you can see how I used 3/4 inch bolts with large washers to attach the two tables together.



My Daughter insisted on helping me out.  Her job was to hand me screws and clamps. 


It's starting to look like something!


Plenty of room below for all my junk. The benchwork stands 48" tall which, helps bring the layout up to a good viewing height. It's interesting to note that I used very thin (perhaps 1/8 inch thick) plywood for the table top.  This is a new method for me, but I am trying to keep the benchwork as light as possible.  The track and scenery will eventually rest on a 2" thick piece of foam core, so this thin layer of plywood is mostly meant for stability and as a mounting surface for under-the-table switch machines.


Just laying out some track to see how it's shaping up!



Sunday, September 11, 2011

Track Plan #1

Well gang, I've been doing a lot of playing around with track designs recently. I've been looking for a design that really fulfills all my needs. I came up with the following design as a way to take everything I wanted in a layout and pack it into as small a space as possible. Ultimately I think the sidings are a bit too short for my liking and so I will need another pass at this design, but I thought this (admittedly unfinished) illustration was worth sharing.


One interesting note is that this plan includes a nice, scenic area devoid of structures or complicated track work. It fits the locale I am modeling nicely and is something I will be looking to include in future track plans. More changes and second guesses are sure to come!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lions Club Excursion

I found a video showing off the real-world trackage that my proto-freelanced layout will be rolling over. Today it mostly sees tourists trips, but I will be bringing freight traffic back to the rails!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The times, they are a changing...


I never meant to get back into the hobby... at least, not this soon.  Highschool was over, college was ahead of me.  I had more important things to worry about.  Exams, my eventual career, wife, kids, etc. It was time to put my trains in a box and focus on other stuff.  Perhaps in 30 years I'd pull that box of rolling stock back out and get back to building model railroads.
That was 12 years ago...  In February I wandered back into a train shop.  I hadn't been in one for years. Curious to see what the manufacturers were doing now, I picked an Athearn 2 bay covered hopper up off the shelf.  My jaw hit the floor.

Metal wheels, wire grab irons, detailed undercarrage and etched metal roof walks! This was a level of detail I'd only ever seen in Model Railroader Magazine. It was a level of detail I always wanted, yet never thought I could have due to time/skill/patience restraints. How was it possible that all of this was available in a ready-to-run car? Amazing! I bought the car without hesitation.



Then I went home and got online to see what else I've been missing out on in the last decade or so.  DCC controlled lighting and sound decoders were bringing an amazing amount of life to locomotives, lasercut products were getting cheaper and cheaper,  great new inovations in scenic products have brought a whole new level of realism to the hobby.

The internet itself has been an amazing addition to the hobby.  Youtube is full of inspiration layout visits, informative how-to videos, and entertaining videos of real world railroads.  Fantastic, searchable databases of photos allow modelers to find information on just about any engine or car in seconds, communities of builders and blogs inspire everyone to build better, and podcasts help those long trips to and from work go so much easier!

And so now I am back in the hobby, and it seems that I've picked the perfect time to jump back in!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Welcome to the Metaline Falls Terminal Railroad


Welcome to the Metaline Falls Terminal Railroad! This is the first in what I hope to be a great many posts about the construction and operations of my own little railroad empire. Please feel free to join me on my new adventure!

So what is the MFTR?  Well, it's a Modern-Era freelance railroad inspired by the grand vista and the tough and resilent people of the Pend Oreille Valley in eastern Washington state.  In the real world, the area is serviced by the POVA and doesn't see as much traffic as it once may have.  For my purposes I have decided to give the area a bit of a different history:


Thanks to a strong logging industry and a large Cement Factory, The towns of Ione and Metaline Falls experienced good prosperity through the mid nineties.  In recent years however, demand for east Washington timber has slowed and a sluggish economy has taken its toll on the cement industry.  In response, the BNSF decided to shut down operations in the Pend Oreille Valley north of Newport.

Rather than see the line shut down, the citizens of the Pend Oreille Valley joined together to form the Metaline Falls Terminal Railroad to continue service to the industries so vital to the prosperity of the area.

The Model Railroad itself is a small one. I do not have much room or money for a large railroad, and so I've decided to model a small HO scale shelf layout. along an 10 foot section of wall.  I've taken much inspiration from a number of model railroads recently.  Namely the NCIR: http://oscalewcor.blogspot.com/ and Dawson Station: http://dawson-station.blogspot.com/ I am a big believer in the idea of small model railroads.  Most people seem to think that to build an interesting and engaging layout, one must spend a small fortune and give an entire room of their house over to their trains.  I intend to prove that this is not the case!