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23 November 2006

Today is Thanksgiving, and IT IS DONE!!! Last evening about 8:00 I finished the Behemoth Helix!

Check out the last photo or two in Construction Progress, and the entire write-up on the helix in The Behemoth Helix. WOW! What a job that was! It almost feels like the first day after the last final exam in school. The same way you feel like you should still be studying for something,  I feel like I should still be working on the helix (it feels a lot better than studying ever did, though).

But what do I focus on now? The helix was the main focus for an entire year. Now I have to start looking at other parts of the layout again. I'm thinking I might extend the hidden track on the front part of the wall (the Glenrock) wall around the bend at Thermopolis. Then I'll be able to permanently mount the backdrop, and start laying the Glenrock siding. Shortly after that will come the first scenery. I can hardly wait!!!

Well, I bit the bullet and picked up one of the Walthers 90' built-up turntables at Timonium in October. That will be installed at Laurel, but I do want to make a few mods to the arch over the bridge and a couple other small changes (I don't want it looking exactly like 10,000 or so others out there). I'll see about putting the kit turntable in at Lander some day. I also now have one of the Walthers wooden coaling towers, also for Laurel. I'll maybe start assembling it while watching TV.

I'm not sure I'll manage another update before 2007. Just in case I don't, everyone out there be safe and have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Mark B.

12 September 2006

It's been four months since my last update, and this one is pretty short.

That doesn't mean things haven't been moving along, though! Aside from building one turnout using the FastTracks jig I bought at the National Train Show in Philadelphia in early July, helix construction has been the main focus of my efforts. I haven't update the site before because all I had to show was the slowly growing number of completed helix tiers. But I'm well over half way done with the helix at this point, pushing towards completion of the fourth tier by the end of this coming weekend. That will leave only two to go. I've set a goal to complete the helix by Thanksgiving this year, which is one day shy of year since helix construction started (how time flies!). Take a look at progress since May in Construction Progress.

As of the last update, I'd planned to start some scenery in the Glenrock area, but I decided to spend my time on the helix instead. Once that's done, I'll know exactly what the level of the top deck will be. I'll finish the track for the Lander branch and the helix-to-Thermopolis run behind Glenrock, so I'll finally be able to confidently mount the backdrop there and start scenery.

I did start work on the Laurel turntable, spending a few hours on it in June. I painted the pit, then stopped work on it, again to focus on the helix. I'll try to make some progress on it between Thanksgiving and Christmas. While at the National Train Show I stopped by the Walthers booth, where they had their 90-foot automated turntable on display. The Walthers rep was very candid - when I mentioned the 90' turntable kit and some of the trouble others have had making it work properly, he admitted that it was a piece of junk. That's also partly why I left  mine sitting so long. I'm seriously thinking of getting one of the automated turntables for Laurel, and keeping the kit to try at Lander instead. We'll see how cheap I can get the automated one at Timonium in October.

I'll update probably one more time this year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That way you'll be able to see if I met my helix completion goal.

Mark B.

6 May 2006

I got a lot accomplished over the last three months.

I extended the Lander branch back towards Shobon, nearly finishing the trackwork for the branch on the Glenrock benchwork. That was done to allow me to start building from the bottom of the helix back towards Thermopolis, and that in turn was done so I could start building the Glenrock passing siding. I started that in the last few days. Because Minneapolis Staging is right under Glenrock, I had to work out exactly how I would support the subroadbed. At this point a few of the supports are in, and in the next few days I expect to finish those and install roadbed and track.

Right after the Glenrock track is in, I'm going to permanently mount the backdrop (it will be in front of the Lander and Thermopolis-Helix tracks), add fascia (probably masonite) to the front edge of the layout and start on some basic scenery. My wife and I are both chomping at the bit for that. It's been years since I did even basic landforms, and last time I did any scenery that might be considered near complete was clear back in high school!

I'm just barely short of finishing the second complete tier of the helix. That has taken so long because I had to add the Cody branch track behind the helix, where it takes off from the second helix tier and runs around the back of the helix and into Cody, and because of all the other trackwork I've done on the Glenrock Benchwork.

I also took time off the helix to lay track on the Frannie cutoff. It's completed (except for adding feeders) all the way up to the helix. Though in time it will lead into the second track in on the helix and up to the second deck, I temporarily connected it so that it leads instead to the Glenrock passing siding. This way I have a connection from the NP to the Wyoming Mainline  without waiting for much of the second deck to be completed - that may be a few years away. I hope late this year to actually start some limited operations (beyond just running trains around the NP tracks), and that connection will be critical.

The helix has been over five months in construction - time sure flies!

I picked up a 4'X8' sheet of .08 thick styrene from a local plastics shop and temporarily clamped it up at the back of the Glenrock benchwork. It looks like it will work well as a backdrop, so I'll pick up more over the coming months.

Take a look at photos of all this in Construction Progress.

At some point in the next month or so I'm going to shift gears a little and start building the long-put-off turntable and other engine facilities for Laurel. Once those are in I can mount the Laurel/Lander peninsula backdrop, and I'll have another good-sized area to scenick.

Mark B.

14 February 2006

The last couple of months have been very productive! Tier 1 of the helix is now complete except for a little bit of wiring, and I'm ready to progress on from there.

I had to shift away from the helix in late January to install the section of the Lander branch that runs behind the helix. I wanted to be able to reach across to the Lander track from inside the helix during construction, and adding the next helix tier would have interfered. Turns out I didn't need to get access that way, as I was able to lay cork and track on the subroadbed, then attach the roadbed to the risers. Right now the Lander branch consists of four sections of flextrack that are disconnected from the rest of the railroad, but I'll be pushing back towards Shobon soon. Moving on towards Lander will be awhile yet, though.

To start installing the Lander branch I needed to install the backdrop and upper deck supports for the area above Glenrock, and once again I want to thank Walt for his help in doing that. While we were working, we also added the center divider / upper deck supports on the Laurel peninsula. We made short work of those - it took about four hours on a Saturday in late January.

The Frannie cutoff subroadbed is being installed now, with roadbed and track to follow very soon. Then it's back to the helix for at least another complete tier of track.

My wife is really starting to get into the trains, and has started helping regularly on the layout. She's chomping at the bit to start populating the layout with scale people. Though that will be awhile yet, she's already planning a few things. To that end, our trip to the Timonium MD show on February 11th was focused more than usual on scenic detail items (cars, people, etc.).

Check out the latest photos of all this work in Construction Progress.

Mark B.

23 December 2005

Another year past already! Where does the time go?

Progress on the layout was pretty good the last few months - I lowered the entire lower deck by 5 1/2 inches, and got a good start on helix construction.

When I, along with my good friend Walt, started installing the helix it became clear that the top deck would be too close to the basement ceiling for any good scenery. It would be at eye level for me, so most people would have to stand on their toes or wear stilts to see it! I've been working on the lowest level of track - all hidden staging except Laurel - for years. It seemed to be a just the right height. I didn't visualize the lowest level of generally visibly track - almost five inches higher. I was a little concerned about how close to the ceiling the top deck would be, but I didn't realize the severity of the problem until we laid out helix level separation marks on a board and held the board over the existing staging tracks. Ouch! Worse than I thought! So we (Walt, my wife Denise, and I) lowered the lower deck - see the last few photos in the Construction Progress page for a description of how we did it.

For quite some time I've been considering various helix construction methods, and finally settled on one where the tiers of the helix are suspended on threaded rods from a ceiling-mounted framework. The day after Thanksgiving we got started. After most of a day we had all the curves cut (each semi-circle required one entire sheet of plywood! I could have been more efficient, but the pieces left are large enough to used on other trackwork, so I opted for unbroken curved subroadbed rather than minimizing the number of sheets of plywood needed at that point) and the main suspension framework laid out and nearly ready to install. Within a couple more days the suspension framework was in place and the first semi-circular tier of track was just below it. See the new page in the Construction Methods section for a description of helix construction to this point. This thing is huge - I've taken to calling it the "Behemoth Helix."

My thanks to both Walt and Denise on the above projects - this sort of "heavy construction" would be nearly impossible alone.

A few months ago I started looking at what tracks to build next - with the NP mainline essentially complete except the Laurel engine terminal, its time to start on the other lines. To start building the Wyoming Mainline at Glenrock I need to install the Lander branch tracks that will be behind it. To do that I needed to plan out the upper deck support and get that framing installed, and also work out the lower level backdrop. Same thing on the peninsula if I start up out of Laurel with the Frannie cutoff. But driving nearly everything - how far the upper decks extend, exact height of trackwork on the upper deck, the exact elevations of lower deck tracks when they reach the helix, etc - all depends on the position and track entry/exit elevations of the helix. That's what drove helix construction at this time. I'll get the lowest tier tracks done, and then I can calculate the exact height of the upper deck and get the support framing for it, and for the backdrop height on the lower deck, defined. Then I can install the Lander branch behind Glenrock, and so start on the Wyoming mainline at Glenrock and the Frannie cutoff at Laurel. Whew! Lots to do! But that helix, with it's forest of suspension rods, sure is looking impressive!

I didn't work on any structures or rolling stock - focus was completely on the helix and lowering the lower deck.

Plans into early next year are to get the helix well along, get the Glenrock wall and Laurel peninsula backdrops installed and the Lander branch track behind Glenrock completed, and start driving from Laurel up to the helix. We'll see how far we get!

In the meantime,

Merry Christmas, all!

Mark B.

30 September 2005

Hmmm..... I wonder if anyone ever reads this stuff? Oh, well, it makes a nice record of what's happening on the layout and the site.

Layout progress always seems to just crawl along, but there is progress. Over the last three-and-a-half months, I've completed laying Minneapolis Yard. That means the staging tracks are now complete, except for the addition of a few extra sets of feeders, and that will be done over the next week or so.

During the fall I'm going to work on both the Laurel engine terminal, and start on the Frannie cutoff up from Laurel. That will be interesting - for the first time the locos will pull trains up hill, and I'll get some idea of how large a train I can pull with the BLI Heavy Mikes. The newest one came with a traction-tired driver, and I'm sure I'll be installing that, and no doubt try to buy that driver set for the other two Mikes as well.

I came across some old photos of Burlington's depots in Worland, Basin and Greybull (I think they're all gone now), so I combined them with some of what I already had and created the "A Study in Depots" page.

In May my wife and I visited Savannah, Georgia. That included some time at the Roundhouse Railroad Museum, of course. I've added a photos page from that visit.

Check out the latest photos in Construction Progress.

Probably one more update this year, just before Christmas. See you then!

Mark B.

8 June 2005

Even though I spent most of April in Amarillo and also worked quite a bit on the house since the last update, I still managed to accomplish a few things on the trains. Progress also was held up by installers putting air conditioning in for top floors and the basement, for which piping and wire runs had to be done up against the basement ceiling joists. But I managed to get a fair amount done in the last few months, even so.

The Minneapolis staging yard is now under construction, with tracklaying having commenced. I got Seattle staging wired into the NP control panel - it works great! I no longer have to run around the Laurel peninsula to manually throw the Tortoise switch machines. Now I can do it all while standing right in front of Laurel. I think that will become a full time operator's post when I get to the point where I can run some operating sessions.

The small yard at Laurel is in and functional. The engine servicing area has been generally laid out, and I've purchased a few structures kits for that area. Construction of that area will be in fits and spurts, fit in around other layout construction projects (completion of the Minneapolis staging yard and the beginnings of the Frannie cutoff, primarily).

As always, you can see most of this in Construction Progress.

Even the time in Amarillo wasn't a complete stand-down for the layout - I managed to complete five freight cars while sitting in the hotel evenings watching TV. I didn't weather them (can't carry paints and such on airplanes), but other than that they are complete and are on the layout running.

I've also made some additions to the website:

On the Operations page you'll find links to pages that list the industries and their shipments for every town on the layout. I started this task back in July of last year. There is still a lot of tweaking to do, and there are probably several disconnects between what one town will ship and another will receive, but the baseline is now in place. I'll add and remove industries as I learn more about what industries existed in each town during the layout's era. I'm not going to slavishly follow what my research shows - I'll adjust the industry types and locations (within certain bounds) to obtain decent traffic flow and train schedules. For example, as far as I know, Big Horn glass in Lovell was never served by it's own spot on a Burlington spur, but it will have one on the layout. Another example is refineries - quite a few of the towns modeled had refineries (Thermopolis, Casper, Cody, Lovell, and others), but only Casper and Cody have them on the layout. Cody's refinery produced asphalt almost exclusively, but I'll have it producing gasoline and diesel along with the asphalt.

You'll also find a few new photos and info for several of the towns, in their historical pages.

I'm charging ahead at a snail's pace! Next update in September or so, most likely.

Mark B.

2 March 2005

Well, I met my goal of getting the NP Staging Loop done before Christmas. It was close, but I got it done and ran a train around the loop. The train even didn't derail!

I've made pretty good progress since then, too, though a lot of it isn't very visible. The Seattle staging yard is totally functional - I've wired and tested all the switch machines and run through all the tracks at various speeds. There are a couple of minor rough spots at turnouts, but that will just take a little bit of tune-up. I've built the control panel for the NP portion of the layout. It isn't wired yet, but the panel housing is built and populated with switches and terminal blocks. You can see it in Construction Progress. I've extended the main NP bus wires and dropped feeders at several points around the Laurel peninsula. I still need to do that for the rest of the NP tracks. I also assembled several cars.

My wife and I attended the Amherst Model Railroad show in West Springfield, MA in January. I've been wanting to attend this show for the last several years, and we finally made the four-hour drive. It was a zoo! We were there for about three hours before we decided to leave. The show is all it's advertised to be - big, lots of vendors, lots of layouts, etc. But by shortly after noon the aisles were jammed with people! You could hardly see the layouts for the crowds, and it was nearly impossible to get to the more popular vendors.

I bought decoders for my Heritage 0-6-0s (two) and for my Spectrum Doodlebugs (two too). I also picked up a decoder tester. I haven't installed the switcher decoders yet, but the Spectrum decoders drop right in, so I decided to install one of them a couple days after the show. I put the decoder in the decoder tester, and it all worked fine. I put it in the socket on the Doodlebug, and the Doodlebug ran backwards. I went to put the decoder back in the tester again, but like a dolt I didn't cut power to the decoder first. As I plugged the decoder in to the tester the pins on the decoder plug skipped across the pads on the socket a little bit. Oooo! What's that smell? Can you say "fried decoder?" I should have known better that to leave power on the tester, being an engineer and all. Lesson learned. The other decoder went in fine, and the Doodlebug now sits on the layout, as you can see from the photos page.

On tap for the near future is finishing the Minneapolis staging yard and working kinks out of the track. After that I may add the small yard and engine terminal to Laurel, or I may start on the Frannie Cutoff out of Laurel.

This all will hopefully occur over the next few months, interspersed between working trips to Amarillo and ongoing house renovation.

Mark B.

23 December 2004

I was afraid I wouldn't make much progress on the layout before Christmas, since I had to spend all of November up until the day before Thanksgiving in Amarillo. But when I got back I was determined to spend an hour or so on the trains for at least a few days each week. That, plus Walt's help for several hours on a couple of Saturdays, has produced dramatic results! As you can see on the Construction Progress page, the surface area of the erected benchwork has almost doubled!

I think I'll have the Minneapolis-Seattle staging loop completed by Christmas (just the basic loop - the Minneapolis yard won't be done for another few weeks). I wanted to post some photos of the completed loop with this site update, but I wanted to get a pre-Christmas update done even more. The loop will be finished late Christmas Eve, but I want to get the site update out before that. I'll have the completed loop in the next site update - probably January.

I didn't get the track plans and location pages all updated with the new track arrangements yet - this is a busy time of year, and that will take some time. But early next year I'll get that done. I did find some neat old photos of Casper, Glenrock, Greybull and Thermopolis. Check out those town's pages. You'll find some photos on the main pages, and some on the history pages.

Everyone stay safe and warm over the holidays, and

Merry Christmas!

Mark B.

20 October 2004

Work on the house is proceeding nicely, which implies that work on the basement is also moving along. The old workbench is now history. All the walls are removed and nearly all physical obstructions to layout construction have been eliminated. The utility sink near the door at the Casper turnback curve will be removed in the next few weeks. Most importantly, the old boiler and water heater are gone, having been replaced with a new system installed in the new basement. The old basement is now one big layout room!

My NCE DCC system finally showed up. It took about 10 minutes to hook it in to the layout (a couple of alligator clips - same as how my Tech II power pack was connected). Fifteen minutes to program my two BLI Heavy Mikes, and off they went! I'm already impressed with the system - I can't wait to get enough track laid to actually make good use of it!

I've made some big revisions to the track plan:

  • The first is in the hidden NP Mainline. Initially I planned to locate Minneapolis Staging under Casper, on the far side of the room from Laurel. Remember that only Laurel yard is visible on this line. I ran a train back and forth from one end of the finished NP Mainline track to the other - through Laurel - about one quarter the total distance around the finished NP loop, I think, and found that it took several minutes to get from one end to the other at anything resembling scale speed. The size of this layout is really beginning to hit home! Well, why make an operator run a train for twenty or so minutes just to get from the Seattle staging yard to Minneapolis yard and back again? The same thing could be accomplished with a much shorter run by locating Minneapolis staging closer to Laurel and Seattle staging, and then the operator won't have to stand around twiddling his thumbs until his unseen train arrives at its unseen destination. So I moved Minneapolis from underneath Casper to just across the aisle from Laurel. Still as flexible as before, with plenty of staging tracks - it just won't take seemingly forever to get to it.

  • The second big change was relocating Cody and adding Lander. With a new heating system being installed in the new basement, I had room to move Cody over next to the helix. That will allow the refinery to reach skyward without worrying about how close it's getting to the upper deck, and it also freed up the area where Cody was located. Since I really was not happy about not being able to include Lander on the layout in the first time, this suddenly-freed space gave me an opportunity I jumped at! Lander is now a real town on the layout, and not just a few below-the-scenery staging tracks!

I've also added a page of layout pictures, because I know a lot of people don't want to read through a complex site just to see what's being done (like me, quite frequently, when I go to visit layout web sites). There isn't a lot on that page right now, but as progress is made some of the better pictures I take will be added.

I'm off to Amarillo again for nearly the entire month of November, so I don't know how much I'll get done before Christmas. But I'm going to try and update the site once more this year, in mid-December.

Mark B.

14 July 2004

Well, work on the layout since the last update has been slight. I managed to build a couple of freight cars, and tie a previously unconnected section of NP mainline into the east end of Laurel. But now I can run a train all the way from end-of-track west of Laurel to end-of-track east of Laurel. Check out the newest construction photos here.

My employer has had me working in Amarillo, Texas for most of the time since my last update. I had one three-week break back home which was taken up entirely by work on the addition. But that work on the addition is also progress on the layout of a sort - the new laundry area is complete, meaning the washer and dryer are out of the layout room. I've just begun demolishing the few remaining walls in the old basement, and when the workbench is moved out shortly, (I'm anticipating August for that - unless I have to go to Amarillo again), all areas designated for the layout will finally be clear!

I ordered a DCC system - NCE - at the end of April. I tried Digitrax at a hobby shop in Amarillo, and while it certainly performed well, research indicated that NCE was generally the easiest high-powered system to use. So, with great sale prices spurring me on, I ordered the NCE Powerhouse Pro 5 amp system. It has yet to arrive - they're running almost a two-month backlog right now. But hopefully soon...!

I've started planning industries and shipments in more detail - see the Operations page for the beginnings of that effort.

Check out my Roadbed Factory page under Construction Methods. That describes how I convert floor underlayment cork sheets into roadbed, and thus avoid the high cost of commercial cork roadbed.

See you soon for the next update!

Mark B.

2 April 2004

It's been a cold, harsh winter here in New Jersey - a great time of year to work on the railroad. Despite having a lot of ongoing renovation work to accomplish around the house, I managed to do just that. I'm pleased with the progress I've made on the railroad over the last 2 1/2 months.

The first train has arrived in Laurel, Montana! I've built new roadbed from the end of Seattle staging around into the visible town of Laurel, MT, and laid track into that town. That included making my own roadbed from large rolls of cork floor underlayment. In the next website update, I'll add a page to the Construction Techniques section of the site that describes my roadbed factory.

Speaking of the Construction Methods section, I've re-formatted it and added a page on building super-elevation into the curves. There are also some new photos on the Construction Progress page, and some on the NP Mainline page and a few more on the Laurel page.

One thing you'll notice is that I've begun using thumbnail pictures on the site. Clicking on these small photos will bring up the full-sized version. Some pages were getting pretty cumbersome to load from a dial-up connection, because of the size of the graphics. With the thumbnails, page loading will be much faster. Over the next few updates I'll convert more and more of the site to thumbnail photos.

Well, enough chat. Check out the new updates while I go work on the railroad!

Mark B.

19 January 2004

Happy New Year, everyone!

The slide shows on the main page and the history page don't work with Netscape browsers. I don't know why. Maybe someday I'll take an HTML programming course and figure out why. Meanwhile, I'm not going to spend too much time on it - I'll devote that time to the layout instead (but if anyone has any ideas, e-mail me).

Here's what's happening around the layout now:

  • Benchwork for the Cody/Laurel peninsula is complete, and the remainder of the Seattle staging yard has been laid, though turnout motors aren't installed on the end nearest Laurel yet.

  • All the tracks that I had to cut when I disassembled the layout at its former home have been reconnected. There are now only two ends-of-track, and they're actually at the points where construction is occurring!

  • The addition contractor removed the lower part of the old basement steps - now I have to remove the rest.

  • The workroom walls are down, and a HUGE pile of debris lays in the middle of the floor right now. I've begin cleaning it up, but it takes time (I have to cut all the lumber into 6-8" pieces so they'll go into garbage bags since I don't want to spring for a dumpster - not real hard since I have a table saw, but somewhat time consuming nevertheless).

  • I used homasote as a track roadbed to this point, and it's giving me lots of trouble! Track I laid in November is developing kinks! Turns out the homasote is very dimensionally unstable (i.e., it expands and shrinks) with variations in humidity. Since my basement humidity runs from 75-80 per cent in the summer to 35-50 per cent in the winter, I'm getting expansion and contraction problems all over the place! NO MORE OF THIS STUFF! From now on, I'll be putting down 1/8 and 1/4 inch cork as my roadbed, with a 3/8 plywood sub-roadbed (my supporting joists are pretty close together - roughly 12-15 inches). I just hope I won't have to rip out everything I've already done! In a couple of months I'll get a dehumidifier for the basement to reduce the summer sogginess, and maybe that will be sufficient. I'll also be trimming rails in the next few weeks to eliminate kinks that have appeared, and maybe that, along with the dehumidifier, will prove sufficient  to let me keep the trackwork already laid.

  • Though a lot of my time is still taken up with working on the addition to the house, I hope to push track on from the Seattle staging yard into Laurel (on the opposite side of the peninsula) within the next few weeks (after I get the workroom debris cleaned up).

I've added new photos to the Construction Progress page - check it out. There are also a few new photos in the History section of the site, as well as a new title graphic at the top of the main page.

Mark B.

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