First operating sessions and reflections

Last night, with my daughter as engineer and myself as brakeman, we logged the first two operating sessions on Prince Street and I thought I’d write down some observations from these first two tries.

Scenario

We ran Prince Street as if it were the terminus on a small branchline and our focus was on mixed train operation. The arriving train was powered with a 70 tonner and the Prince Street engine was my 44 tonner. The inbound train consisted of a single boxcar and a coach. Waiting in the station on the centre track was a pair of boxcars. Here’s the sequence we were working toward:

  1. Train arrives at Prince Street and pulls into station siding
  2. Local crew, using the 44 tonner, will swap out one boxcar for the inbound boxcar
  3. The remaining boxcar with the new one, from the inbound train, will be moved to the third siding
  4. The outbound train is assembled and the local engine will be the new road engine
  5. The inbound engine becomes the local engine

The session starts with the inbound train and ends when the inbound engine is parked on the station pilot’s siding.

Observations

Prince Street is essentially a basic Inglenook design and each of the sidings has a calculated length. I’ve always like the Inglenook plan as it balances a prototypical appearance and operating sequence with a plan that really encourages one to think about their actions before they begin.

Operating as part of a two person team was fun. My daughter really enjoys running the trains. She’s not as familiar with how to align switches and plan train lengths so cars don’t fowl frogs so we were well placed in our respective roles. However as an engineer she’s perfect. Her operating style is slow and it was really enjoyable to watch those little GE’s creep around the layout. I thought I’d be doing a lot of “helping” but I wound up doing a pretty great amount of model railfanning and I enjoyed that. The little Bachmann 44 and 70 tonners are superb models. They are wonderful performing engines and the detailing is very sharp. With no modification they both creep around the layout perfectly and are as smooth running as they are silent. My faith in Bachmann is slowly being restored. Slowly.

Okay, about the fiddle yard. Earlier this week I uploaded a photograph of the full layout including the fiddle yard. As designed the fiddle yard detaches from the main layout essentially making Prince Street into a pair of modules. I’ve played around with a couple different methods of coupling the modules together. I’ve also experimented with probably an equal number of ways to get power to the fiddle yard rails. Since I elected to use some old Atlas code 83 flex track on the fiddle yard it’s been tricky to align it vertically with the code 40 rails on the main layout. I should have just laid the fiddle yard with code 40 too. Also, I brought the rails to the edge of both modules but managing even the minor gap that exists is tricky and N scale wheels are unforgiving. We didn’t have many derailments at all but enough to make me wonder if it there might be a better way. I think the best solution will be to simply scrap the idea of two seperate modules and simply extend the main scene about eighteen inches and have a permanently attached staging track. I think I’ll start working on that today.

The trackwork still looks fantastic to me and I’m proud of how smoothly everything works. Every rail is live and this investment in time paid off as I watched those tiny wheelbase diesels creeping around without hesitation through switch frogs and a typical collection of dead zones. I’m looking forward to painting some track and ballastng a bit to see how it will look finished.

N scale rolling stock is small and I was surprised to find that it was my hands that were struggling with uncoupling cars. This challenge wouldn’t have been avoided with TTn3.5, HOn30 or OO9 variations on this layout theme but it’s something to ponder a workaround for. I like manually uncoupling cars and perhaps just need to do this more often to get back into the fluidity I remembered from operating layouts before.

Layout setting

Operating this layout as a branchline terminal was fun. I still like the visual appearance of the original Victoria Park layout and still want to finish this model as a proper station with platforms and similar detailing. I’d like to start some work on scenery so I’ll need to settle on “where”, “when” and “what” soon so I can start making the appropriate decisions for the few architectural elements for the layout. I’m still toying with British Rail in the 70’s. Platform heights are the big decision here. I like the vertical elements found in the original Victoria Park concept and the way they guided one’s eyes around the scene. Other great and closer to home scenarios that could be hacked to work on Prince Street include Montreal’s Windsor Station, Ottawa’s Union Station or really even Charlottetown’s (and I do already have a lot of CN on PEI friendly rollings stock). I don’t like not being able to settle on a theme and I’m eager to put this element to rest.

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8 comments

  1. Sounds like it was fun, Chris. Let the prototype idea marinade a bit until you settle on the option that strikes you (likely your first impulse that you had initially).

    Certainly, Windsor is very modellable and it would be my sentimental favourite. But from your perspective, Charlottetown would be cool. I’m not helping you decide, am I?

    Thanks for sharing,
    Eric

    1. Thanks Eric. It probably sounds crazy but I start to fall apart and loose focus when I don’t have a theme to work around and I really want to see this little layout progress further. In musing about a theme for my layout I’m keen to find something to use as a concept that I can build from. Windsor, or even it’s later incarnation as Lucien l’allier is oen theme that I’ve been harbouring for a very long time. I’ve spent a fair amount of time standing on the platform and thinking to myself about how great a model one could make of the whole scene so it’s a frontrunner for me too.

      Perhaps what I need to do is inventory the details that I like in a sort of decision matrix and see what patterns emerge. Ah, patterns, now this is feeling comfortable again.

  2. I like the idea of mixed trains with those small diesels. At first I thought it might be a bit of modeller’s license, but a quick Google session revealed the Belfast and Moosehead Lake using a 70 ton and the Suncook Valley with a 44 tonner – proper working railroads, not modern preservation operations. No doubt there were many others. I already have a 44 ton and am tempted to backdate the terminus I’m currently building. Now if only I could find a prototype that used the siderodded GE 45 ton in passenger service.

    Jim

    1. Good evening

      The first diesels on PEI were a pair of 44 tonners CN purchased and used on the Murray Harbour subdivision which ran from Charlottetown to Murray Harbour. These engines were the sole power on the line during their first year of service and their regular trains were all mixed trains. When the larger 70 tonners arrived the 44’s moved to yard service in the Charlottetown yard. CN used 70 tonners everywhere on PEI and they were regular power on most mixed trains across the Island. I have a photo of one of the 44 tonners hauling the Murray Harbour mixed somewhere around here and had delayed my reply in the hopes of quickly finding it so I could send you a copy. My apologies, I still haven’t found the shot. I’ll have to re-scan it and post it later on.

      Outside of PEI, I have seen a photo of a CN 70 tonner on their trackage into Pictou, Nova Scotia in which the engine is hau

  3. Ah, but now I see they ran rather closer to you on Prince Edward Island – no need for me to dig out such obscure examples! Though I am rather taken with the Belfast and Moosehead Lake.

    1. The B&ML is a fascinating operation and I’ll confess to being equally taken in by it all. I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the area it ran through and really wish I had made it down just a few years earlier to see it in operation (parts of the line remain in operation under new operators, but it’s not the same is it?)

      Carstens have published some really great little books on New England railroading that provide some great highlights. Rails Beyond the Rutland immediately springs to mind but more salient for this conversation would ceratainly be New England Shortlines. It was in the pages of this latter book that I discovered the Aroostook Valley Railroad running out of Presque Isle, Maine. The AVR is gone now but was once a vibrant trolley line. Like many rural interurbans it dieselized with a collection of 44 ton diesels which it used until it closed in the late 1980’s (maybe 1990 or 1991?).

      I love talking about these small diesels and the railroads that ran them.

      1. I’m so taken by the idea of these small diesels on mixed trains I’ve just won a Walthers 4 window caboose on ebay which I plan to use for the passenger part of my operation until something better comes along.
        I look forward to seeing the 44 ton GE on Prince Edward Island if you manage to find the photo. I’ve been reading up on the Belfast and Moosehead Lake (such a terrific name) and came across this article by a guy who modelled it virtually in Trainz:

        http://www.virtualrailroader.com/volume_1/b&ml.html

        Better still, he links to this site, which I’m sure you must be aware of, which has pictures of the B & MH L and Aroostook Valley, as well as many others:

        http://photos.nerail.org/

        It’s going to take a while for me to work my way through that one!

        Jim

      2. Thanks for the links Jim. The B&ML operation is cool.

        Another line you might want to take a look at would be the Narrangansett Pier Railway which operated out of Wakefield, Rhode Island. I was introduced to the line in one of those Model Railroader “Railroad you can model” articles and they ran the article in September 1974. If you’d like to see it I could dig it out and email you a copy.

        A great introduction to the line is on this web page:
        https://sites.google.com/site/rhodeislandrailroads/home/east-providence-south-of-india-point/east-providence-north-of-india-point/pw-b-route/valley-falls/woonsocket/pascoag-line/hartford-line/main-line/pawtuxet-valley/buttonwoods/warwick/wickford/kingston/narragansett

        From the same site you found all those great B&ML photos comes this album of NPRR stuff:
        http://photos.greatrails.net/show/?order=byrail&page=1&key=Narragansett%20Pier%20Railroad

        Unlike a lot of other New England shortlines, the NPRR wasn’t an interurban that dieselized. They operated steam and with a line terminating on a great beach pier would make for some really great turn of the century modelling. Being a fan of small diesel and similar locomotives this railway really gets exciting when you start discovering their collection of four wheel Plymouth. The big power was a Vulcan centrecab and toward the end of services they also had a GE 65 tonner. The railway operated a number of fan trips so there are lots of photos around of their centrecabs and even the smaller four wheel locomotives pulling the railway’s wooden coaches around.

        Cheers

        Chris

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