Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Shortline
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Scale: O Scale (Proto48)
Track: Code 125
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 44"
Article by: Jim Spavins
Posted: February 9, 2016
Published: December 31, 2012
Back on July 10, 1998, I was able to spend the day with the crew of the Claremont Concord Railroad in central New Hampshire. As part of a railroad convention, we were given complete access to the railroad from morning until night. It was one of the most fun days I've spent around railroads and one I'd always thought would be great to capture in miniature. The railroad itself is the perfect caricature of a shortline at just a mile in length and serving a total of three customers. The railroad had a small enginehouse, a two track yard, and one working 44-tonner to serve the road's customers.
Before delving into creating a design for the railroad, I want to list specifically what the essential features are needed to capture the essence of railroading for each particular design. In this case, to design a model of the experience of following the Claremont Concord Railroad crew around for the day, I would focus on these essential elements:
- The crews work for the day
- Specific rolling stock, locomotives, buildings used during the day's operation
Despite this being a very small railroad, there was a full day of work and, amazingly, not every part of this small shortline was used the day I was visiting. If we were to approach the design process from a more traditional model railroad design perspective, we would start by looking at the prototype to see how much of the real railroad we could fit in the space available. For the purposes of discussion, let's take a look at the real track arrangement of the railroad back in the summer of 1998.
Claremont Concord Track Map. | Diagram by Jim Spavins.
As can be seen, the railroad only serves three industries and has an interchange with Guilford. The enginehouse and yard are fairly compact. One thing not shown in the two dimensional plan is that the line from Claremont Junction east to the rock salt unloader has a fairly steep grade for the 44 tonners. Operationally, the little engine could only handle two cars at a time - an important part of the day's experience as we will see a little later in the chapter.
Given the space I have available in the train room, if I were to design a HO model railroad of the line, I could almost fit in the track arrangement exactly as it looks in the real world - albeit a bit compressed. Here is the plan:
Claremont Concord HO Scale Track Plan. | Diagram by Jim Spavins.
Some folks might say that is great and start building. However, in my opinion, it doesn't quite capture what was interesting about the train crew's day even though we were almost able to fit every piece of track from the real railroad into the space available.
Let's look at the day:
- We arrived at the office/enginehouse
- The crew received the paperwork for the day's operations
- They inspected the engine and got it running
- Pulled out of the enginehouse and headed down to the interchange
- Picked up a cut of six covered hoppers (two trips)
- Headed back to the yard and arranged cars in the right order for delivery
- Took the first of three trips up the hill with two loaded covered hoppers per trip
- Returned with up to three empty hoppers per trip
- Pushed the empty hoppers back to the interchange
- Headed back to the enginehouse and shut the engine down
- Went back to the office to finish the paperwork
Of all these activities, the most memorable was during the trips up and down the hill delivering the salt cars. On these trips we were able to ride in the cab with the engineer and conductor and listen to that little engine struggle up the hill. During one run, the wheels slipped and we stopped. The engineer had to back up, apply some sand, and take another run at the hill. As you can see from the activities list above, we never once switched the propane or scrap dealer. In addition, we never saw a train pass on the Guilford line or use more than one of the tracks in the small yard.
Since the goal with minimalist model railroading is to focus only on the essential elements of capturing the day with the crew, it becomes clear by looking at the trackplan there are some areas which could be eliminated. This includes the two other industries on the line - the scrap yard and propane dealer. I can hear some people asking, "Why eliminate them instead of leaving them to add some variety to the operating session?" Well, I think there are several reasons. The interesting part of the trip was the struggle to move the cars up the hill. Both of those other industries were located down in the yard area in a relatively flat portion of the railroad. This would only serve to add some more switching which just takes time. The crew's day was already fairly busy taking about 4-5 hours to deliver those covered hoppers. While this would take less time on a modeled version, it may still take an hour or more if you follow the day's outline. As discussed in the Intro to Minimalist Model Railroading, time can be a limited resource for model railroaders so adding more industries to take more time to switch may not be practical or even desired.
Claremont Concord 44 Tonner No. 30 sits in the yard during the summer of 1998. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
Keeping with this thinking about our design constraints of time, money, space, and skills - many of these additional industries take space away from the idea of capturing the crews day. Take a look at the HO layout plan again. The mainline run up the hill is almost non-existent. All the space was devoted to building a bigger yard, adding run around tracks, building a model of the junction, and using space for the two extra industries. So even though this layout plan is far from crowded, it actually eliminates one of the essential features of the day - the run up the hill.
To go a bit further, I would also eliminate a number of the yard tracks and compress the enginehouse to just a single track. During the time we were visiting the railroad, they were in the process of restoring a historic piece of railroad equipment - the Flying Yankee. The Flying Yankee was a stainless steel diesel powered train set built for the Boston and Maine Railroad in the 1930s.It was pretty interesting and we were able to get a tour of it as it was sitting on one of the yard tracks. While it is a neat piece of railroad history, building a model of the Flying Yankee would be a misallocation of time, money, and space - the three most precious resources in model railroading. The model would not add to capturing the crew's day of delivering salt cars. In addition, one of the bays in the enginehouse was devoted to restoring another one of the railroad's 44-tonners which was not operational. While it might make an interesting model to see a 44 tonner sitting in pieces in the enginehouse - having a two track enginehouse doesn't add to capturing the crews day.
Given these desired cuts, what type of railroad could we design? We could take the HO plan and simply eliminate the trackage not used. However, what about a more radical change and designing the layout for O scale and relentlessly focusing our efforts on modeling the operation of delivering loaded salt cars from the interchange up the hill to the rock salt unloader. Why switch to O scale? Working in O scale has its advantages and disadvantages. The size of the trains presents a great opportunity to detail engines and to capture the weight of railroad cars being moved around. It is tough to duplicate this in HO or N scale. Since the idea is to get a great feel for being with the crew for the day, these details are important. However, on the flip side, we need a lot more room for buildings, curve radii, turnouts, and rolling stock. This disadvantage does drive home the point about focusing our design efforts as we can't fit the prototype track arrangement in the same space. So where do we end up? The final O scale layout design is shown at the beginning of the article.
As can be seen in the plan, the track arrangement is much simpler than the prototype with just three turnouts. On the right side of the railroad, we have one yard track, the mainline, as well as a single track to the enginehouse. The only building on this side of the railroad is the enginehouse. Along the long wall, the mainline winds up the 2% grade through a forest. At the top of the hill is the rock salt unloader along with a grade crossing the crew needed to flag.
The footprint of the layout is designed to be fairly tight to the trackage. There aren't really any particularly spectacular scenes along the railroad that require a lot of depth. In fact, I feel like the right of way could be modeled on a space just a foot wide. This is enough room to model the mainline track, drainage ditches, and just enough trees to suggest a run through the woods. Little details like piles of sand on the tracks would present some visual clues as to just how difficult the trip is for the 44 tonner. To prove the point, look at the photo below of the Claremont Concord's number 30 switching the yard:
Claremont Concord 44 Tonner No. 30 pulls a hopper car out of the yard during the summer of 1998. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
In this photo, we can see the trees are maybe 20-30 feet back from the mainline. In fact, we can only really see the first row of trees. Our mind might assume there is a large forest behind the railroad but we can't see that. In fact, if you look at a satellite photo of the railroad, you will find out quickly there is a small stream behind the row of trees seen in the photo. For those who are curious, take a look at the railroad on Google Maps with the satellite photos turned on. The photo above was taken slightly east of the enginehouse looking south from the yard. Meadow Brook is only 50 feet or so away from the mainline!Using just enough space to model the first row or two of trees would really be all that is needed to capture the setting of the railroad in New England. Would it be worthwhile to devote time, space, and money to have a larger footprint of the layout to build a model of the stream which isn't even visible from the railroad?
In the areas around the enginehouse and the rock salt unloader, I would make the benchwork a bit wider to build models of these structures as they are important to capturing the essence of the day.
Presentation of the Railroad
As can be seen in the final design, the goal is to focus on the right of way and eliminate some of the excess scenery. Part of the challenge in constructing curved benchwork is the difficulty of trying to line up curved edges to straight walls. Building material is generally straight so building curves can also be a challenge for those unfamiliar with woodworking. For this reason, the idea would be to build a shelf from plywood (preferably a finished cabinet grade plywood) and attach a deep fascia which is constructed from all straight rectangular pieces. On top of this shelf, the curved railroad base can be cut from foam insulation. A flexible edging material, like Masonite, can be used to clean up the foam edge. The top of the shelf and the sides of the foam can be painted a dark color - like black, dark green, or dark brown. The wall can be painted a sky blue color. These contrasting colors will help the railroad pop and let the viewer create the rest of the scenery in their imagination. If at all possible, I would add lighting over the railroad to help highlight the models and particular areas of interest.
Construction of the Railroad
Even though the layout looks simple, building a top notch model would actually be a bit of a challenge. While trains could be up and running fairly quickly, most of the construction time would generally center on building accurate models of the engine and the covered hoppers run on the line. The 44 tonner could feature all the details like the small custom built snow plows and flags as well as a completed cab interior. As for the rolling stock, it might not be a bad idea to actually overweight the freight cars a bit to put some strain on the engine and keep the operators honest to only pulling two cars at a time. In addition to the railroad equipment, building highly detailed trackage and scenery would also be high on the list. With the availability of sound, this would add a great dimension to the overall railroad. If you are up to the challenge, this would make a great subject to build the equipment and track to a finescale Proto48 O scale standard. The buildings should also receive a lot of attention with full interiors and maybe evening lighting. It wouldn't surprise me if detailing the railroad could go on for years and provide plenty of model building enjoyment.
Operating the Railroad
The design of the railroad is completely focused on capturing a day in life of the Claremont Concord crew when they have to pull cars up the hill. Even though there are only three turnouts, the exact same operations of the real railroad can be duplicated. The yard track and rock salt siding can each hold 4 to 5 freight cars. On any given operating session the idea would be to switch the 8-10 cars on the railroad. Part of the challenge will be switching the cars into the correct order to go up the hill as well as pulling the right empties out. Remember, the little locomotive can only handle two loaded cars at a time and at most three empties. This means that even switching around the sidings, not all four cars can be moved at once. Take a few minutes looking at the track plan to see how long it would take to just switch out four cars from the rock salt unloader. You'll find with the limits of the pulling power of the locomotive, it would be a complex challenge and take a fair amount of time.
Resource Use on the Railroad
One key way to determine if the railroad has met the design goals from a minimalist perspective is to see how the railroad would use the four most valuable resources for model railroaders - time, space, money and skills. For this railroad, the goal is to capture the essence of a day spent with the train crew. Here is how these resources would be used to accomplish this goal for the Claremont Concord railroad design:
Time would be spent:
- Building locomotives and rolling stock
- Detailing track and the right of way
- Operating the railroad
When this railroad is constructed, the builder will find themselves spending most of their time working on detailed modeling - in particular of the rolling stock and covered hoppers to be run on the railroad. There would also be the two structures to build along with a little bit of scenery along the right of way. I would suspect that the benchwork could be constructed in just a weekend or two with another few weekends set aside to tack down some track. At this point, the railroad could be made operational very quickly so more time could also be spent operating the railroad as opposed to just building. If fine modeling was the focus, a slow and deliberate process could then be taken to model a few feet of the right of way at a time - never taking the railroad out of commission for any long period of time.
The Space would be used for:
- Railroad right of way
- Enginehouse, yard, and salt unloader
- Grade up the hill
Since our goal was to capture the day with the crew, and it revolved around delivering covered hoppers of rock salt up the hill, the use of space is just right. As previously discussed, the HO plan would have used the space to more accurately model the track arrangement but it would have missed the key element of the run up the hill. With an around the walls design, there is lots of room for people to move freely in the center of the room so a small crew could be gathered to operate.
Money would be spent on:
- Locomotives and Rolling Stock
- Control System
- Room Environment
Since this layout is fairly simple, there would probably be savings over the HO plan. With the elimination of the other industries and the Flying Yankee sitting in the yard, there is a savings to the purchase of additional rolling stock as well as the additional buildings. I would expect only needing maybe a fleet of 15 or so covered hoppers and the one engine. In the HO version, you'd also need gondolas and tank cars. With the interchange track, there would be the temptation to purchase a few Guilford locomotives driving the costs even higher. So even though the O scale equipment may be double the cost of the HO equipment, there would be more than double the HO equipment to operate the other plan.
Same holds true for track. The HO plan has 12 turnouts while the O scale layout has three. If you opted for commercial track, 12 commercial HO turnouts would roughly cost $300 today. Only one company currently makes commercial O scale turnouts and while they cost $80 each, the O scale layout offers a 20% savings.
Part of what separates what is perceived as a good model railroad from the rest is usually the room environment of where the railroad is set. I have visited many a home layout were the modeling was great but the room was completely unfinished. The insulation was hanging down from the ceiling, the room was dimly lit, and concrete walls provided a stark backdrop for the railroad. Part of the money used towards the layout should be spent upgrading the room a bit. This includes finishing the walls and painting them at minimum a sky blue. You might want to add lighting around the edge of the layout specifically to focus on the layout as well as add enough room lighting so visitors can see comfortably. Finally, the benchwork should be finished with a clean fascia and painted a dark color to make it disappear visually when looking at the finished part of the layout. These are real costs to constructing a layout and they need to be factored into whether or not the hobby budget would allow this design to be constructed.
The Skills required to build the railroad are:
- Locomotives and Rolling Stock Construction
- Track Building
- Interest in switching freight cars
With the intent of the design to capture a day with the crew, there is an assumption, that the models would probably be brought to a high level of detail - although you could certainly adapt what the final level of detail means to you. I'm assuming that the interest might be to pursue something close to fine scale standards which would require spending a lot of time building, detailing, and potentially scratchbuilding pieces of rolling stock, track, and structures. This isn't for everyone and as discussed previously, you should pick a design that focuses on what you want to spend your time doing. However, if this is your thing, this plan, despite its simplicity, will have lots of projects to keep you busy!