Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Progress Continues

Hello, I've been busy with writing a regular column for the Shortline Modelers on-line magazine, in which I've re-posted the first two columns in this blog. Again you can go to the website to check that out at:

This fall I also had an How-To article published in the 2013' On30 Annual, put out by Carstons (same company that publishes Railroad Model Craftsman) describing how I scratch-built the swamp "Critter" diesel. So that was pretty neat! Plus, RMC also published my article on kitbashing an HO-scale Walther's swing bridge this past December 2012 seen below.

As for the On30 Blackwater layout, I've been able to make some pretty good progress, hand laying track and building turnouts from scratch or converting HO scale ones that suffered some damage when removing them from the old layout.
I probably starting laying track in one of the hardest area on the layout, of course. And since I haven't hand laid track since the early 1990s, I was taking on a pretty big chunk...the town of Blackwater! This is where the new town section joins up with the Hilo Pier 1 section from my old HO scale Big Island Rail. Jumping back in with numerous turnouts to build was pretty ambitious. But, as I slowly glue wooden ties down and spike code 83 rail down I'm getting the grove back. I've also had to go and purchase a new soldering iron and a few other items to support all the soldering, and track building! It is definitely worth the efforts. I just LOVE the way hand built track looks! I can't wait to get some dirt and ballast down to really get the full effect! Plus it really slows down my work, in a good sense...allowing me time to think and enjoy my hobby for the process of creating and building, tie-by-tie, rail-by-rail, spike-by-spike.

Living in an area where the nearest train shop is about a 3 hour drive away, I've been doing a lot of on-line shopping for supplies. My track laying came to a stand still last week after running out of ties. The order finally arrived Friday, so, I'm back in the swing again. I stained two large bags of ties this morning and have begun gluing them to the roadbed surface. I have to build a few more switches.

I ordered some lenghts of printed circuit board ties for building the turnouts which has made the task a lot easier. I also had a few On3 turnout components saved from years ago when I did an On3 Logging layout with hand-laid track, so I am adapting and reusing these to build the new On30 turnouts.

Here's what I use for staining my ties...
There's really no exact formula for the mix, other than the main ingredient is the "rubbing" alcohol, with black shoe polish and a squirt of brown acrylic stain from my art supplies. Adding a little brown warms the stain tint just a little which I like for my ties. Older wood structures and track would just get the straight black with the alcohol for that weathered silver look.

I stain a big batch of ties at a time, then they're done and I don't have to deal with that again...until I run out! Here I've mixed the stain in a large plastic ice cream tub. I stir the ties in the "soup" until the color soaks in -  a minute or two. I use gloves to keep my hands from getting stained.
I then lift the ties from the stain and drop onto newspaper to absorb the extra stain, then transfer the ties again to clean, dry newspaper and allow them to dry completely. This takes about 20 minutes in a comfortably warm room.
 After the ties are dry, I dump them back into another container that I keep at the layout to feed the track laying operations.
In the meantime, work is being done to the upper HO scale Big Island Rail layout as well. I'm waiting for the arrival of a few more sections of flex track to complete track work on the BIRR. I've also ordered some more code 83 rail for the On30 layout as well.
That's it for now!
Thanks for reading my blog!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Art of Blending Two Layouts
Into One Space Part 2:

My column I'm writing for the Shortline Modelers On line Magazine
By Joseph Kreiss

This is the second installment of a new column that documents the creation, design, building and operation of my new model railroading project: A double deck, double scale and double theme model railroad that features a rebuilt HO scale Hawaiian-theme pike over a new On30 Louisiana swamp logger layout in the same basement space. Last time I gave an overview on how I came up with the whole crazy idea of committing to two separate layouts, stacked like a “traditional” two-level layout we see in many basements nowadays, but instead of a long grade or helix to join the lower level with the upper level, my two levels are not connected. They are two separate model railroads occupying the same basement space.
I'm not going to go out on a limb and claim I'm the first person to ever try this idea of a double deck, double scale and double theme pike, so I won't. But, the idea is new to me in several ways. One: It's my first attempt to build a double deck model railroad. Two: It's challenged my layout planning and design skills. Three: It will allow me to enjoy two different model railroad layouts with two layout “themes” and operations concepts all in one basement space.
Working The Room

To be honest, my first drafts of a track plan was a compromise within the space I had in my new basement. I tried drawing a re-creation of my Big Island Rail Hawaiian-theme shortline railroad, but the old bench work sections just didn't fit the new space. I tried working around the existing washer and dryer in the room along with the 15-foot-long section of dryer vent pipe running mid-wall, but flow around the proposed layout, the appliances plus the access issue of the attached basement bathroom was not right. Adding to the head scratching are two support posts located in the middle of the space and an old shelf unit in a corner. Some major reworking was in order to open up the basement for more layout and better flow.

Off and on during a six month period, I worked to get the basement ready for actual layout construction. First things to go were the washer and dryer. Plumbers were called in to move the washer and relocate water pipes. The electrician made several visits during that time to rewire the basement, add larger service to the home (which we planned on doing anyway), install new receptacles, switches and lighting to the layout room and relocate dryer. After these tasks were completed, I patched, sealed and painted walls and the floor, insulated where I could and added a DIY drop ceiling to create a comfortable and enjoyable place for my model railroad hobby.
Layout Plans, Layout Heights

Once rid of all the obstructions, I was able to start drawing up possible track plans for the layouts. Even with the newly-opened up space, I still faced one major drawback - not everything is going to fit in a smaller basement area no matter how many ways I tried to rearrange the HO-scale layout. Back to the drawing board. Using the three layout sections (2-feet-wide or less) that would work for the upper level, I sketched out a rough plan to connect the sections building new bench work to complete the around-the-room track plan I had in mind for the new HO layout. I couldn't bring myself to totally destroy the large leftover Hilo wharf section, with numerous spurs embedded into the “pavement” of the pier. I determined I would be able to save one half of the “V” shaped, two-section behemoth and design it into my lower level On30 layout.
One important planning consideration I kept in mind when drawing possible track arrangements was to not have the bottom layout “get in the way” of the upper level and vice-verse. I had to think ahead on how the two levels would interact and “live” in the same room. When I begin to lay track, add scenery, and operate the two layouts, I needed to make it easy to run trains, do switching and keep up with track cleaning and layout maintenance. Even though I don't foresee holding operating sessions on both layouts at the same time, I made sure that areas of higher operational activity on one level, such as a yard or industry, would not compete with the other level layout. Being able to easily reach into the layout to throw switches, uncouple cars and clean track, was also factored in as I combined the two track plans. I placed switches into industrial spurs on the upper deck at areas where the lower bench work was narrowest and aisles provide easy access. 

Another major consideration when planning the two levels is backdrop height. How much "sky" do I need (for ease of photography, working, viewing, etc.) to separate the two levels effectively without cramping the lower layout or making the upper level too high? Over the years, I have settled in at a 2-foot-tall backdrop, mainly because I get more bang for the buck with materials. I can buy one 4x8-foot sheet of 1/8-inch hardboard and rip it length-wise with a saw and get two, 2-foot-tall, 8-foot-long sections covering 16-feet of backdrop. It seemed to work out that 2-feet between levels would fit in my new basement and still allow for a fair amount of “headroom” for the lower On30 layout.

I'm also a tall guy – 6-foot-3-inches. I haven't had problems with building and operating my layouts at a taller height, although some visitors have to climb up on a platform to view or run trains. The track height on my former BIRR layout was around 55-inches and I'm mounting the restructured HO layout at around 63" above the floor, a few inches lower than actual eye-level for me. I have determined I should be able to see all the tracks, reach in and over rail cars and locomotives easily to throw manual ground-throws. Since the main focus of the new Big Island Rail HO layout is continuous running around the room with limited switching operations, I'm hoping the taller stature of the narrow shelf-style layout will work just fine. With the new drop ceiling in place in the layout room, the ceiling height is around 8-feet-tall. I installed 2-foot-high backdrop around the room for this upper level layout.

       Because of the taller upper layout, I will likely build some roller platforms for myself to stand on so I and any "height-challenged" visitor/operators can actually see trains! I think a modest-size rectangular plywood box with spring-loaded castors inside (allowing the box to be rolled around easily, but when someone steps on the box, the weight retract the wheels and the box rests on the floor
) like those library step stools but only a little bigger, will create a solid vantage point.

I also wanted a two-foot-tall strip of 1/8th-inch Masonite hardboard between the upper layout benchwork and the top of the lower level benchwork for the On30 pike. This decision put the lower layout at 53-inches above the floor. For a guy my height, this would be very low for viewing and operating while standing. But I wanted a layout I could work on and operate while sitting down. This height allows me to sit in a roller-type office chair and be at an acceptable height glide along as I follow the trains around the layout.
Next time, I'll talk about developing an On30 operating scenario by creating the "image and era" of the railroad and how this helps with layout planning, creating a “mood” and bringing the railroad to life. I'll also discuss choosing my railroads' names. And, with the HO scale layout, I’ll touch upon rethinking operations in the new “around-the-room configuration.

Until next time, keep swatting them 'skeeters!

Shortline Modelers On-line Magaizine Articles

The Art of Blending Two Layouts Into One Space Part 1: The Best of Both Worlds
(Blog Note: This is from the series of columns I'm writing for the Shortline Modelers On-line Magazine.)
- My On30 Blackwater Southern & Gulf/Mosquito Creek Lumber Co layout track plan -
“Did you ever have to makeup your mind? Say yes to one and leave the other behind...” So goes the vintage John Sebastian and the Lovin' Spoonful rock n' roll song. And it seemed like the theme music to my modeling decisions after the recent move from a rental house into our new 1920s vintage home we purchased.
With the relocation, my model railroad had to be dismantled for the move. Because I've done this way too many times over the tenure of my model railroading hobby, this layout like the others i n the past was built in “manageable” sections for future relocation.
Problem: How to fit my rather sprawling large basement-size HO scale Hawaiian-theme railroad into a drastically reduced 12x11-foot basement of the new house? It seemed the more I tried to "save" the various sections of layout and fit them into a cohesive, yet smaller new layout design, the more I was drawing a blank. No matter how hard I worked the puzzle, an 20-foot-long yard section won't fit in 12-feet of basement, no matter how much pencil pushing I did, and the large Hilo Harbor pier complex (a "Y" shaped peninsula saved from my old layout) would end up consuming most of the open floor space in the new basement layout room.
What do I do? Thankfully a decision was a ways off. There was lots of home improvement projects on the “To Do List” before I could get in the basement to up-grade that space into a comfortable, dry, well-lit hobby zone. My thoughts were definitely "Narrow-Minded" during those past months, sitting down often with a note pad and mug of coffee, writing and sketching possible sugar plantation or logging layout track plans. I put my thoughts and goals to paper in attempt to make sense of an earlier idea of scraping my well known Big Island Rail HO-scale Hawaiian-themed layout and making the switch to On30 scale narrow gauge model railroading. As house projects were slowly completed, I was finally faced with making that big modeling decision. Here's what I came up with: Shelf the HO-scale Big Island Railroad!
By shelving the HO layout, I don't mean getting rid of it completely. I mean put it on eye-level shelves around the layout room walls, preserving several key layout sections, and rebuilding it into an "around-the-room" concept, stacked above my new On30 Blackwater & Mosquito Creek swamp logger layout. It would be a double deck affair with two different scales and two unique layout concepts all in the same basement space. And why not have two layouts? It's the best of both worlds!
So, with that said, my monthly column will examine all the planning, all the logistics, all the problems and the solutions I encounter while building this double deck, double scale, double concept layout. My hope is that by passing on my experiences you might consider combining layouts into the same space to get double the pleasure and double the fun from your model trains.
Getting Started
Coming to the decision to build two unique layouts in the same 11-foot-by-18-foot basement layout space did not arrive easily. I went back and forth for weeks on whether to just rebuild my “next” version of the Big Island Rail, or solely move on to a totally new modeling venture with On30 scale. I drew track plans for the HO scale Hawaiian-theme layout, but they just didn't seem to have all the elements for operating a modern-era regional shortline railroad that I wanted. Plus, to be honest, my enthusiasm was starting to fade for the Big Island Rail concept. I had become frustrated in proto-freelancing a modern version of a real railroad that had existed on the Big Island of Hawaiian up until 1946 when a tsunami destroyed much of the railroad in the Hilo region, forcing it out of business in the Post World War II period. My goal had been to try and create a very plausible representation of “what could have been” had the railroad survived into the 1970s or even to today. I was on the way to build a large layout that represented the Hilo waterfront and surrounding areas on that side of the Big Island of Hawaii, but with little to go on but conjecture, the layout seemed to lack that certain “something” that made it feel “real” and hold my interest.
I have file folders filled to overflowing with tons of history, area right-of-way maps and vintage photos of the Hawaiian Consolidated Railroad as it was back in the early1940s. I also contemplated back-dating the Big Island Rail to represent the last years of the HCR's life before the big wave. But this plan would have forced me to sideline all of my “modern” freight cars and locomotives and purchase all new 1940's-era rolling stock, and likely scratch build steam locomotives, other equipment used by the railroad and structures. Although tempting, it wasn't something I was ready to do.
At the same time I rediscovered my love for 1/4-inch scale modeling. I was getting pumped about all the new On30 equipment coming on the market. Plus, I was starting to take some of my unused HO-scale freight cars and scratch build new On30 equipment from them just for fun. Many years ago I had temporarily put HO-scale aside to build an On3 logging layout and I still had a few pieces from that layout stored away in boxes. Unpacking them rekindled my desire to give modeling in 1/4-inch scale another shot, but this time in On30.
It might have been all the paint fumes from the house remodeling projects during that time, or a double shot of “adult beverage” with a cigar on the porch that germinated the concept of not just having one layout, but building two layouts in two different scales with two different themes in the same basement space!
Since the whole idea of this model railroading hobby is to have "fun," I'm tossing out MY rule book and trying hard to let the creative thinking flow. I was going to have to rebuild my Big Island Rail layout again anyway to fit the confines of the new layout space, so why not release myself of the former concept bondage and just do a fun layout built for running trains with a couple industries for switching and leave it at that? I want to run trains while I'm working on other projects and not have to always be "working" the railroad as was the case with the point-to-point operations of the former HO-scale pike. An upper-level, around the room shelf layout concept seemed like just the ticket! Below the HO layout would live the new On30 Blackwater & Mosquito Creek Lumber swamp logger pike. This will be the larger of the two layouts and, because I'm pretty much on my feet for my jobs all day, the bench work for the On30 layout will be built at “sit-down” height for working on and operating.
In the next installment, I'll explain how I decided on layout heights and how much paper and how many pencils and erasers I went through in developing the new double deck track plans. If you would like, please check out my Big Island Rail website for a look at the older versions of the HO-scale
Until next time, keep swatting them 'skeeters!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reworked Track Plan

During a much-needed vacation along the Minnesota North Shore last week as a get away from our on-going home improvement projects and my two jobs, I was able to sit down for a little while and develop a new track plan for my planned On30 swamp logging layout.

Putting my other On30 track plan away and beginning with a blank sheet of paper, I tried a different approach. Instead of an around-the-room plan with two stub peninsulas as before, I decided to utilize the 18-foot length of the layout room of my basement space by designing a "W" shape layout with a long, bending center peninsula to gain longer mainline runs from the town of Blackwater to the Mosquito Creek Camp. I still wanted to use the large Pier 1 section leftover from my HO scale Big Island Rail for the new On30's Navy Pier, so I positioned it into an angled 'end of track' section butting against one short wall near the doorway to the basement bathroom.

This added a larger section of open water between one side of the pier and a small stub-end yard. The section of water will serve as a lift out access section. Along with the pocket-sized yard and lead track to the Navy Pier trackage, I included a depot, freight house and team track with loading dock, small loco servicing area with turntable, water and fuel in the Blackwater town section.  The former track plan included a couple industries for the Blackwater and Southern crew to switch, but between the logging trains and the Navy dock switcher and  speeder service to and from camp to Blackwater and passenger trains and mixed freights to and from Blackwater and staging, I think there will be plenty to do!

The one stickler was trying to figure out how to get staging into the plan so that it could be used several ways to aid operations. One: As the line from Blackwater to the (off layout) lumber company saw mill,. Two: As the logging operations spur to the woods, and Three: As the 'rest of the world' connection for the narrow gauge common carrier Blackwater & Southern Railroad.
Making the town of Blackwater a stub end yard/terminal in this track plan, rather than a stopping point for through trains came a train ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad while visiting Duluth this past week. The North Shore trains needed to back out of the Duluth station to get onto their mainline. Then at the end of the line in Two Harbors, the railroad had to get dispatcher authorization for the move onto a small section of CP/DM&I trackage. The train pulled ahead onto the yard lead of the CN just far enough to clear the switch to allow another reverse move curving around into the depot about a half mile from the jct.
The way I have designed the town of Blackwater with the staging and Junction tracks, trains don't need to back in, but locos have to make a run-around move to get to the "right" end of their trains from the trip up to Mosquito Creek Camp, for an example. I don't like switching puzzles on model railroads. The real railroads try to make track arrangements as simple as possible (for the most part) and I want to do the same on my layouts. Staging will be a four-track stub yard that will be sufficient to hold the arriving and departing trains during an operating session. I might try a sector plate or a transfer table at the end of the yard to move "trapped" locos around their trains and minimise man-handling...depending on how much actual room I end up having under the layout at that section.
The fun part is getting extra running between town and the logging camp, which makes the rail journey seem more realistic. I also love traveling along with my train around the room as we run from point A to point B. I plan on getting a wireless throttle for mainline runs and use the tethered hand held throttles at Blackwater and at Mosquito Creek Camp. The longer peninsula will also help the scenery transition more gradually from 'town' to 'swamp to 'way back woods swamp!' I gave up an around the room idea for this layout, but I think I've gained more operations potential. Besides, my upper-level HO scale Big Island Rail layout will offer continuous running joy as well as plenty of switching.
I'm always open to comments and ideas, so let me know. Drop me an email at:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Getting Closer To The Goal

The Blackwater & Mosquito Creek Lumber Co. railroad lives...still! No, really!

I had no idea that planning a new layout in a new home basement could involve so much remodeling and construction before the first piece of bench work could go in. The past months have been spent working towards the goal of getting a new double scale train room ready for trains. First it was the master bathroom. Done. Then on to painting interior rooms of the house. Done. Rebuilding stairs getting from the main floor to the basement. Done, almost. Now, my wife and I are working our way towards the section of the basement that will eventually the train room. Plumbing was reworked, washer and dryer moved, electrical service upgraded and improved to provide enough power for the house and the lighting/power requirements for a new layout (not using a web of extension cords and shop lights like before in our rental homes!)

I've built a couple new walls to divide the basement into the laundry room and the layout room. Seeping basement walls have been repaired and sealed (I pray). A door is ready to be hung into the new layout room and painting is just about complete in the new refreshed laundry room (by this weekend.) Getting old basement windows replaced also part of the remodel that will help keep the weather and moisture out of the basement.

Next phase of the remodel will be figuring out how to run lighting for the layout room and installing a drop or suspended-type ceiling to finish off the rooms and keep the dust from dropping on everything.

I continue to refine my track plan for the On30 Swamp Logger layout. I'm pretty happy with it. My only ?? in the plan is working staging tracks into  the room where in earlier plans I had planned to stretch into another part of the basement. That's not going to be possible now. So, reworking the routing of the staging "Wings" will likely have to wait until the room is totally cleared out and empty and a full-size track plan is sketched on the floor.

In other news...I finished the On30 Logging Critter locomotive. I have submitted the how-to article and photos to Chris Lane, editor for the On30 Annual publication.Much of what I have published here in my blog could be included in this story proposal. Work on the 2-8-0 tank engine steam locomotive conversion project has been staled during the major construction projects. It's still sitting on the work bench ready for attention.

The big news is the addition of a new logging locomotive to the Mosquito Creek Lumber company...a 28-ton Climax! I won an e-bay auction of the DCC and sound equipped loco. I've been having fun running the loco back and forth on a section of HO scale flex track fine-tuning the sound system. Next it will be to the paint shop for weathering and detailing to get it ready for the future layout!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I've Been Thinkin' 'Bout The Railroad All The Live-Long Day!

No, I didn't fall off the face of the Earth, but darn close...Working, family loss, last minute travel (due to my Mom passing away), working, wrapping up home remodel projects, working, fishing, working... Anyway, life goes on during the HOT Midwestern Summer and plans for building the On30 Swamp Logger layout keep getting pushed back. And with the arrival of my new fly fishing outfit, the layout may see some other "delays" as I head out to bend the pole before winter sets in!

But, with delays comes new ideas, clarity and renewed determination to do something right the first time. With the delays at getting the On30 layout started in my modest-sized basement, I have been writing articles, sending out  story proposals and getting some nibbles and seeing another of my "big" articles published in Model Railroader Magazine  a few issues ago (The one on converting HO scale pick-up truck into a Hi-Rail and modifying a Blazer into an extreme 4x4!)

Work continues with my two scratch-built On30 locomotive projects, with some interest from On30 Annual Editor Chris Lane on my Narrow Gauge Diesel Critter conversion. Thinking about building the Blackwater & Mosquito Creek Lumber Co. On30 layout also continues. With some extra funds coming in from working two jobs, we are talking about getting our home's electrical switched over to 200 amp and getting rid of the old fuse panels and limited circuit breakers used to protect our 1920s-vintage home. With the upgraded electrical, I will be able to hard wire in good lighting for the train room and more power outlets without fear of blowing fuses, over stressing the system, or worse, causing an electrical fire! So that's in the planning stages now.

My layout plan up to this point worked around a washer, dryer (with a dryer vent pipe that runs along in the exact MIDDLE of the long basement wall) and wash tub in one corner of the basement area marked off for the layout. These units take up a lot of space and cause a compromise to the design of the layout goal. A recent visit by our friendly plumber revealed that moving the laundry equipment to another location near drains and power is very do-able. So, that is also in the planning.

With the electrical upgraded and the washer and dryer out of the way, it frees-up a nice rectangle of room space in the basement for the trains. I will have a doorway to the basement bathroom to deal with, and the entrance to the "train room" to consider, but with the right track plan and a couple of drop-down/swing away benchwork sections, we should OK with that. There is also a floor support post at one end of the room, but that is easily worked around as well! I have made a pact with myself. I was going to prepare the train room fully- with sealed and painted walls and floor, install a drop ceiling, plus add good lighting, enough power outlets, and make sure it's an AC/Heated/Humidity-controlled place to build and run trains for years to come.

With the soon to be open floor space, some layout planning "thoughts" have come to mind. As you may recall, I had been thinking of doing a double deck layout with the lower deck my On30 Swamp Logger and the upper deck an  abbreviated version of my HO-scale Big Island Rail Hawaiian-theme railroad. Now I'm thinking make the lower level the BIRR and the upper level a shelf-style around the room On30 logging layout. The HO layout could feature a long center peninsula to increase the run of trains plus, I could use more of the finished sections of layout that were in our large rental home basement. The most drastic idea was to go back to my original concept for the On30 Swamp Logger and build it as a portable, modular, traveling display layout comprised of 4-to-5 manageable/ haulable sections that I could take to model trains shows in the region. These sections could be set-up for running in our "craft room" where we each have work desks for doing our hobby stuff. The concept would allow for a single layout basement railroad devoted to the HO scale BIRR. With all the talk in the model RR press about double deck layouts, that could be a possibility as well.

So that's where I am right now..still at the crossroads, but with some fun things to ponder as I wait for the plumbers and electricians to do their thing in the basement.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Delays, Delays, Delays

Yep, I'm still alive and kickin' and still without any layout activity. I haven't been doing much, if any, modeling recently as other things seem to continually crop-up and take away "free" time. Delays in getting needed plumbing and heating/AC work done to the on-going bathroom project, plus the fact I'm back to working two jobs, has once again brought the progress on my Swamp logger On30 layout planning  and the "Still Sitting In Pieces On The Basement Floor" HO scale Big Island Rail layout, to a dead stop. It's been so long since I posted in this blog, I had to think about what the log-in info was....
So needless to say, there's not much to write about here this time. I have made 'some' progress on my scratch-building/HO-to-On30 Conversion loco project, (mounted the bell housing and prepared some sheet brass to be cut for power pick-ups on the new On30 tender trucks) but really not that much to get all excited about.

So, while I continue to hone my house remodeling skills, the model railroading hobby sits in the hole on the passing siding.