My Grain Fleet

Three tracks of grain
Three tracks of grain

I recently gathered all of my grain fleet into one place on my layout, at the Cargill elevator tracks at Helene.

It turns out that I have a lot of grain cars!

The Cargill switcher
The Cargill switcher

A grain elevator would never get this congested “in real life” but it was interesting to see all of my grain hoppers and grain boxcars in one place. As my layout is a prairie railroad, I need a lot of grain cars.

The cars are a mixture of higher end cars like Intermountain, mid-range cars like Bachmann, and the low end Model Power type cars. I wrote about the differences between my grain cars before. I’d like to replace my Model Powers with some better cars… all in good time.

Even the grain boxcars made an appearance.

Grain boxcars
Grain boxcars – and a helicopter?

The grain boxcars are used on the Minnedosa line, to simulate shipments from light prairie branch lines. The elevators that are actually on my layout don’t use them.

The helicopter is from when my nephew was over last weekend. He likes to see the trains, and he jams papers, toy cars and whatever else he can find into the lumber cars, hoppers and flatcars as they roll past. He’s 4 so I’m totally OK with him doing that, under supervision. None of my cars are very fragile. 🙂

He also likes to drive trucks along the road by the grain elevator. Again, I’m totally OK with this!

After I took these photos, I ran a few extras to distribute the cars to the CP and CN staging yards in preparation for an operating session to deliver them to the appropriate elevators. It’s taking some time to get everything in position, but soon I hope to run a session! It’s been a while.

Lighting the Peninsula

Lighting the peninsula
Lighting the peninsula

When we were finishing the basement, I negotiated a portion for my train room. I think my wife accepted that there was going to be a train room in this house.. she knows me.

We had drop ceilings installed with recessed lighting. This is handy as the lights can be directed, so I can point them to illuminate portions of the layout rather than lighting the floor. They aren’t 100% pointable but it’s better than nothing.

Unfortunately, the train room has a plenum for the air conditioner running across the room. Our contractor built a box around the plenum and we were unable to recess any lights in this area. My Cargill grain elevator peninsula runs under the plenum and it had a dark patch in the middle where none of the ceiling lights could reach. This has bothered me, but not any more!

I spotted these puck lights at Costco and knew I wanted to give them a try.

Puck Lights
Puck Lights

There are six in the package, and they use AAA batteries so there is no wiring involved. I used 3M Command sticky pads to attach them to the ceiling to avoid any marks.

Puck lights in place
Puck lights in place
Capstone remote
Capstone remote

They come with a handy-dandy remote to turn them on and off. There are a lot of functions on this remote!

I really only use two – the big green ON button and the big red OFF button. You can vary the intensity but I want them full power. You can also set a sleep timer using the bottom four buttons, which could be handy to avoid leaving them on all the time and draining the batteries.

The remote is quite small and I’m concerned that I will lose it. So far I’ve been leaving it on the layout but I’m going to glue a tether onto it so I can hang it somewhere for safekeeping.

They aren’t as bright as I would like, and they are a bit blueish, but they are better than what I had. I used just those lights for photographing my Switching Cargill post. These puck lights will do for now.

 

Ballasting

Ballasted track
Ballasted track

I ballasted the peninsula recently. It took me a long time to get started because I was pretty nervous about “doing it right”. Eventually I convinced myself to “just do it”. Watching a YouTube video or two helped.

I had three packs of fine gray ballast that was supposedly the same colour. Two of them looked identical but one was darker, so I mixed all three together in a bowl to get a more or less uniform look. A little variation in the colour is OK.

Bowl of Ballast
Bowl of Ballast

There’s my ballast laying tools – a spoon to lay it down, then two sizes of paint brushes to move it around.

It takes a bit of practice to figure out how much ballast to lay down and how to move it around. I put too much ballast down to start, so I had to sweep it down the track quite a ways to even it out. I still think I have a bit too much ballast down but it’ll do.

Once the ballast was laid, it was time to glue it down. I filled a spray bottle with a mixture of tap water and isopropyl alcohol to wet the ballast down. The alcohol is there to cut the surface tension of the water so it will soak right through.

Wet track
Wet track

The key is to mist it onto the track, rather than blast the ballast with a direct spray. A bit of the ballast might move but you can always fix it up with a little nudge while it’s still wet. The key is to get the track soaking wet. I had paper towel standing by to soak up the excess before it dripped onto the floor.

In another bottle I had a 50/50 mix of white glue and tap water. Once a section of track was totally wet, I dribbled the glue mix liberally onto the ballast. I ran a strip down between the rails then ran a strip or two on each side. Use lots of glue. Again, paper towel is handy to get the runoff.

Lots of white glue
Lots of white glue

It looks terrible, but just walk away and let it dry… thoroughly.

When it’s dry, the ballast is firmly held in place and will not come off. I used a vacuum cleaner to scoop up the excess and to find areas that didn’t get enough glue. There were a few patches where the water or glue had caused a bit of a washout, so I patched those up with the same method. Just be careful not to put too much water on as it could soften up the already ballasted parts.

It looks pretty good once dry, if I do say so myself!

Finished ballast
Finished ballast

I had a visitor comment that it looked like it was just laying there. I encouraged her to touch it to show it wasn’t going to move.

In the following photo you can see that I’ve started to add some weeds. I have a lot of “weed work” left to do but it’s looking good from a few feet away.

2015-08-15 21.28.19

PS Check out this post by TomW showing the construction of the T&K Railway round-the-room Lionel line. Such craftsmanship!

Track Plan Evolution

Like most people I like to draw up track plans before beginning construction. Now that all the track is laid on my layout, I’d like to show the evolution of the track plan for this layout. Remember that I model in HO scale.

My train room is 20’6″ by about 10′ but is not quite a rectangle. Version 1’s track plan  shows the dimensions plus a very basic idea of how the track would flow.

Version 1

Version 1
Version 1

I was trying to make use of most of the room’s area. A few things to notice:

  • Walkaround plan
  • “Sincere” – no running twice through the same area
  • Continuous running possible
  • Duckunder at the door
  • Not a lot of aisle space

Version 2

I added a lot of detail to show both CN and CP. I was trying to model the area around Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

Version 2
Version 2

A few more notes:

  • CN and CP run side by side, just like the prototype
  • Some attempt at trackage in Portage (bottom of image) but it’s not a “real” plan as nothing is really connected and it won’t fit
  • Large staging areas for both CN and CP
  • CN Gladstone is intended as a short staging area

Version 3

I made an attempt to detail Portage in a more do-able way, and added some detail to the peninsula.

Version 3
Version 3

Notes:

  • I really really wanted a wye in Portage
  • That peninsula is a real space eater

Version 4

This was an attempt to make it more like the prototype.

Version 4
Version 4

Notes:

  • Added a siding at CN Oakville
  • Moved CP Simplot and added CP Burnside, much  like the prototype was a few decades ago
  • CN and CP cross at West Tower, like the prototype

Version 5

This is what was actually built. You’ll notice it is quite different from the plan!

Version 5 - As Built
Version 5 – As Built

Many notes here:

  • I gave up on the wye – there wasn’t enough room
  • CP actually climbs over CN at West Tower, as the CP staging is on top of the CN staging
  • I added the CP Minnedosa subdivision as staging
  • The huge peninsula is now a narrow one
  • CN Gladstone disappeared
  • CN Oakville was removed, as it is behind my computer desk and would not be accessible

So there you have it – the evolution of my layout plan.