The length of string

I keep referring to it as “the major scene” on the Manheim layout–Ferrellgas’ siding. In N scale this scene is about nine feet long and in HO it’s about fifteen. The detail available using aerial imagery from Bing and Google is superb and will make planning and building this so much easier.

But this model railroad is something I envision as a complete enterprise so it is equally about moving cars into and out of Ferrellgas as it is the easy going movement to and from there from the interchange. Drifting through fields in the backyard of suburban America.

I grabbed that quick aerial from Google’s Earth app. The blue lines trace Norfolk Southern’s trackage, their wye, where the Manheim Industrial Railroad connects, and the vague red line is the begging, middle, and end of the railroad itself. I always refer to the railroad as being 1.34 miles long but Google’s measuring tape brings in just about half of the trackage (about 3500 feet). In N scale this works out to about twenty-two feet and in HO that’s about forty feet of track from the wye all the way to the end of track.

Total length3440′22′40′
Ferrellgas and switching lead1440′9′15′

So, it’s easy to map out how to use a length of shelf to model Ferrellgas but that leaves the “remainder” of track–that near straight length of track from the Norfolk Southern wye to Doe Run Road. My hasty math shows this is about thirteen feet in N scale or twenty-five feet in HO. It’s easy to imagine a space in our home for the Ferrellgas trackage itself but it’s this remainder that I’m curious about. In real life this is “near straight” but it’s unlikely I’m going to find a wall twenty or forty feet long to do this accurately, so this means I’m going to need to wrap this mainline around a room’s walls. I wonder what that should look like? I have only limited skills in developing room sized plans and this too is something I can practice in this project while it’s still in its design phase. The spare bedroom that so many track plans fit into is probably around ten by twelve feet in space which yields a perimeter along three walls of 12+10+12=34′ (I’m leaving out that fourth wall because maybe that’s where the door is?). I envision this plan as being hosted on a very thin shelf tucked in very close to the walls. In N this is easy, done, but in HO We need to get rid of some extra trackage if we’re doing this literally. Plus, in addition to this mileage, I need to add an equivalent to this trackage for the Norfolk Southern interchange, however this looks.

Tank cars on the layout are a planning factor. At just under seventy feet in length they make for a convenient planning aid (around six or seven inches in N and just under a foot in length in HO). In an article on building his layout, that Model Railroader published in the 1980’s, Chuck Hitchcock offered some tips for the smooth running of passenger cars on his Argentine Division layout. My favourite of those tips was a “five times” multiple based on the median car as a calculation describing the minimum mainline radius curves. Applied to my plan, five times my six inch long N scale tank cars yields a thirty inch radius curve or a sixty inch radius curve for HO. As the plan “wraps” around the corners of the room I’ll need to keep those curves in mind. I know that these tank cars can be operated around much tighter radius curves. I know. As a design challenge for this plan I am trying to respectfully adhere to the original. Where the prototype is a straight line projection from the wye I imagine what it would be like to watch trains moving on the real thing. With no parallel roads this “watch” is probably from one of the adjacent fields but that’s easy since it doesn’t go far from start to end. I want it to feel like that. I think that a large radius curve here is not about the minimum for the cars to work at all but a curve broad enough to feel like it’s not there at all. With transitions added at each end our slow moving train of tank cars drifts into the curve and emerges as elegantly.

The new questions

These last couple of days I’ve been thinking about the mainline run. Compressing the 1:1 amount of track is easy here because, well, there just isn’t as much to fit into space I don’t even really have yet.

  • Thirty or sixty inch radius curves will need some space and I wonder how that relates to the room?
  • In the corner of the room, if this follows the walls, there’s a triangular region created by the intersecting walls and the line of track curving across. I already know that I will not be running scenery right into the corner. However deep this shelf is the space between the track and the backdrop will be constant, even here, but that still leaves a question of how this space is used?
  • I keep thinking this is a thin shelf hung on the wall because my I habitually envision that but then maybe I need to think more creatively about the form the layout takes and how that corelates to space used.

I have the time now to think about this, despite my readiness to start collecting the few models I’ll want for this project, so it’s fun to have this conversation.

Categories: Manheim Industrial Railroad, Manheim questions

4 replies

  1. Not helpful in this context, Chris (although it might stimulate some planning thoughts) but there is actually an answer to the infamous question about how long is a piece of string:
    “Twice as long as half its length.”

  2. When we’re in the space, part of me thinks the way to plan this is to start with a length of rope and just lay it out on the floor to work out the natural flow of trackage from A to B. This tactile planning tool could then be massaged into the space to settle into that ideal medium between what really works well and what works here. Something that can’t always be felt on paper because the language of paper isn’t the language of plywood.

    That’s why, string.


  3. This seemed like one of those high school maths questions. “A train leaves station A at ..”
    I had to convert to metric to get my head around it, as feet always “feel” huge to me due to the higher numbers.

    My back-of-envelope calcs says you’d get a track length of 30′ in N scale and 27′ in HO. But using the rope’s a far better idea. It’d be good to test if my calcs are anywhere near reality.

    The rad50″ HO curve will take up the entire width of the room leaving two 6-7′ straights each end (depending where your door is). Sitting on a swivel chair at the centre of that single curve could be a good experience, slowly turning to follow the slow moving train. I like your “..a curve broad enough to feel like it’s not there at all” comment. I think this’d only work if you leaned into it and had the shelf depth consistent all the way along, so using a curving backdrop that hid the two corners of the room – the triangle bits. My personal view is that square corners emphasises the room and distracts from the line.

    This all just shows how little of the real world we’re able to model. No wonder there’s never been a “Real-Length” movement to mirror the finescale/proto. movement.

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