Modeling – The middle past – The Wenonah Layout

As I previously mentioned, I left the Seattle area in the early 1990's and, after a roughly two year nomadic period when I lived variously in New Jersey, Nashville Tennessee, and Toronto Ontario Canada, settled in New Jersey, where after a couple more years I purchased an older house in the beautiful Victorian town of Wenonah. Almost immediately I began planning my new layout. This was to be my forever home - no more moving for me! - so this would likewise be my forever layout. I began making changes to the basement - removing support posts and adding new ones with beams to support the house, modernizing my heating system to eliminate the hot water boiler in the middle of the floor and replace the face-height distribution pipes with smaller ones that were re-routed to be out of the way, and of course finishing the walls and floor.

"De Plan! De Plan!"

(If you didn't get that, don't worry about it. It just shows that I'm old).

After several months of planning, I had a track plan in hand. This plan was the first to incorporate all the elements I'd developed over a couple of decades:

  • "Heavy railroading" via a northern-tier transcontinental route (the Northern Pacific)
    • Staging yard(s) represent both ends of the route - Seattle and Minneapolis
    • The only modeled section is the junction point where Burlington met the NP in Laurel Montana
  • CB&Q running from Laurel MT through real locations along the real route in Wyoming
    • Locations in order passing through the state
    • Provision for continuous running via common yard representing both ends of the railroad
  • Burlington branches and CNW lines included where space permits
  • Steam era - 1935-1945 (but not rigorous)
  • Train lengths as long as possible without overpowering the layout
  • Grades that take into account real-life model steam loco pulling power.

I finally came up with something that accomplished those elements.

This was my first two-tier track plan. This is a little bit involved - bear with me.

The overall dimensions of this layout were 33 1/2' X 23'. It had a lot of hidden track.

Here's the lower deck:

The Northern Pacific

Laurel, on the lower level of the layout, is the NP / CB&Q junction point. It's at the lower left middle of the diagram. As you can see, at each end of that yard the tracks disappear into the backdrop (left end) and under a highway overpass (right end). While the hidden trackage is kinda hard to see, you can trace the dotted purple lines all the way around the layout to a three track staging yard underneath the peninsula with Frannie and Powell.

Going back to Laurel, if you look closely at the right end you'll see a bluish purple track coming off adjacent to the NP track, also immediately disappearing under that highway overpass (the overpass isn't drawn into the plan; you'll just have imagine it). For lack of a better term, I call this the Frannie cutoff. You can trace the hidden portions around roughly parallel to the hidden NP track until it reaches the Frannie / Powell peninsula, where it diverges and curves to the right, then around until it ties into the CB&Q mainline at the Frannie / Orin Junction yard. With me so far? If you look closely you'll see an orange-ish track that connects to Orin in the opposite direction from the Frannie connection, linking back into the Frannie cutoff. This creates a wye, and allows trains to enter the Frannie cutoff from either direction of the Wyoming mainline. Orin Junction is the southern end of the CB&Q in Wyoming, and Frannie is the northern. The combined Frannie / Orin Junction yard is the continuous running connection I mentioned earlier.

The Burlington Mainline

We're now onto the modeled portion of the layout, the Burlington mainline through Wyoming, where most of the operating action was be. Tracing to the left from Frannie on the blue track, we curve around the peninsula on a single track in the background of Powell (the green track - more on that in a minute)  to the town of Lovell WY along the right-hand wall behind Orin Junction. We then curve along the bottom wall to the town of Greybull, and proceed into the outer track of the two-track helix to the upper level.

Here's the upper deck:

The track exits the outer helix from the lower level and immediately enters the town of Worland, which is directly above Laurel on the lower deck. From there we curve around the end of the peninsula to the semi-resort town of Thermopolis, named and famous for the very large hot springs pools along the Big Horn River. We exit Thermopolis to the left, and curve around the helix and traverse to about halfway (give or take) along the benchwork along the wall at the bottom of the diagram. At this point we come out of a tunnel and we're into the Wind River Canyon. Several short tunnels and a large cosmetic curve later (all true to the prototype), the canyon gives way to high prairie, which we travel through along the right-hand wall to Shobon, which was a junction point to Lander for the CNW. Immediately after Shobon (60 miles or so on the prototype), we pass Powder River, then curve around the peninsula and come into Casper, the real-life headquarters for the Casper sub, and the busiest point on the layout. All trains on the CB&Q mainline and most branchline trains originate and/or arrive here. This is also home to the only engine facility on the layout.

We're almost done - just a little bit more.

Leaving Casper (to the right at the top of the plan), the track curves around follows the right-hand wall. In this area, the track is hidden by low hills in the prairie area, but trains on the track will be visible until they curve around out of sight behind the Wind River Canyon mountains. On the bottom left the train reappears at the siding of Glenrock.

Past Glenrock, the track re-enters the helix, this time on the inner track. It progresses to the lower level again, where it curves follows the inside edge of the bottom benchwork to the town of Douglas. From there it curves around and into Orin Junction. Finally - the circuit is complete!


The layout sported several branchlines.

Cody Branch

From the left end of Frannie on the top deck you can see a green track taking off and rounding the peninsula to Powell. From Powell the track continues on around the outer edge of the entire layout (hidden all the way) until it finally pops out at Cody, where the Husky Refinery was located. This branch will provide ample tank trains across the layout and down onto the NP via Frannie and Laurel.

The CNW Lusk Branch

Coming off to the right at the middle of the Frannie / Orin yard is a red track that leads to a reversing loop with a four-track staging yard under Powell and the far end of Frannie. This represents the CNW line to Lusk WY and on to Crawford Nebraska.

The Lander Branch of the CNW

At Shobon another red track takes off from the Wyoming mainline. This is the CNW line to Riverton and Lander, where it terminated. This branch is represented by another reversing loop and three-track staging yard.

And that's it! Lots of railroading packed into the layout - probably too much for the space, in all honesty. Construction never got very far, but let's see how that went anyway.

The Execution

After several months of work, basement mods were far enough along that I was able to begin layout construction.

The plan orients to the basement so that the helix was slated to go into the alcove shown in these pictures.  I painted the entire basement floor to reduce dust, then sheetrocked, added lighting and a new ceiling to the entire alcove. I should have done all that to the rest of the basement prior to beginning construction, but I was too eager to get started on the layout! (Actually I cheated a bit more than that, even. I started benchwork and track laying on the sections shown before I even finished the alcove, building them in the main part of the basement and moving them into place later).

The very first thing we had to do was establish a reference elevation for the layout. Since a two-tier layout would be pretty tall, I needed to make sure the layout would clear the low-hanging support beam when construction progressed to that point. The problem was that this low-hanging beam was more than halfway across the main basement from the starting point of construction. So my friend Walt (who helped with many different layout tasks over the years) suggested using a level to sight across the room to mark a point on the far wall as a starting elevation. Setting the top of the level at the maximum rail height on the upper tier and setting the bubble in the center of the level, we were able to mark this elevation clear across the room. Sort of a poor man's transit. Here you can see Walt sighting down the level into the alcove.

Here's Walt again, this time holding a pencil at the far corner, with me sighting the camera down the level. I coached Walt to move the pencil up and down slightly until I could see the pencil point at the top of the level. Bingo! He marked the spot on the wall and we had our reference! That probably wasn't real accurate, but for us, plus or minus an inch was just fine. We could now measure downwards from the reference line to establish the local track elevation at the point where construction began. In the left foreground you can see the early beginning of benchwork for the main basement room area.

Once construction finally began, it proceeded at a snail's pace. By late 2000 I was dating my wife-to-be, which left little time for the layout. But construction did proceed.

As this photo shows, by January of 2001 benchwork was up in the alcove, and some track was in place on the lowest level, behind where the helix would go. These included the NP approach tracks for both ends of Laurel, and the Frannie cutoff.

In this photo from May 2001, looking at the alcove wall hidden in the prior shot, you can see that an additional section of benchwork has been constructed and some track laid. That track is the Frannie cutoff. At this point expansion of the layout temporarily halted pending finishing the rest of the basement. Work didn't stop completely, though - I began wiring the small amount of track already laid in the alcove. I eliminated the temporary alligator clip feeders (who hasn't used those? Come on, be honest!) for permanent buss and feeder wires.

Shortly after this last photo was taken I got married, and my wife and I began looking for "our" home. In early 2002 we purchased a new old house in Merchantville NJ, and the first incarnation of The CB&Q in Wyoming was disassembled and moved to the new (and bigger!) basement. So let's continue there, shall we? Click the blue bar below.