… Get Set…


I spent a rather enjoyable time this afternoon getting set to start benchwork building for this “season”.  The weather has finally improved enough to be able to have the garage open in the afternoons, and as it’s somewhat late in the year already, I decided to take full advantage of the opportunity.

I’m recycling lumber that I’ve used now for 3 years of benchwork building, so measuring, remarking, and recutting is the name of the game.  As you can see from the photo that accompanies this, I’ve marked, cut, drilled, glued, etc… all of this before.  With that experience under my belt now, this should go faster.

My first task this week will be to make a 1′ x 3′ “box” to add to the 1’x12′ that I already have from when we had a couple days of warm in February.  Once I get that done, I’ll re-cut a bunch of smaller pieces that I have and turn them into supports that will reach from the rear board the front of section 1, creating the curved fascia support.

While I was sorting out, marking, and labeling lumber today, I also took a few minutes to determine if I have the materials to build the larger section 2 of this layout.   While the overall goal is to have section 1 to the roughed-in scenery stage in this calendar year, if I can get the benchwork cut and assembled for the next sections while I’m set up for cutting, that makes a lot of sense to go ahead and do.  I’m incredibly happy to be able to say that I have the lumber to be able to build the benchwork for that section.  That means the only necessary lumber purchases this year are likely to be the sub roadbed and some more material for the fascias.

I still have some design choices to make for the overall layout.  It will have to, for the moment, find a home in our garage when not in use.  That means that when we want to bring it inside and operate, it has to fit through here:


The door from the garage into the house that the layout will use.

Sorting out the overall dimensions vertically with backdrop and lighting installed is going to take me some figuring and hands-on time with the materials.

It’s almost time to get back to the table-saw!



Suggestion of a Car: Part 2

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I’ve made some progress on the car introduced in part 1 of this project.

In doing some research on similar cars, I ran across this photo of a similar car at Mid-Continent Railway Museum.


Minneapolis & St Louis 36′ Boxcar with Fox Trucks

I’m not sure what the original prototype for the MDC car I started with is, but it appears close to many double sheathed cars in the early part of the 1900’s.

I was also provided some additional photos and drawings by several modeling friends.



These are all quite helpful in getting that sort of fuzzy idea of a car into better focus.  It is absolutely a “wrong-way door” car, with the door sliding to the left instead of how most cars slide to the right.  The major difference between the car from the video that I am building a suggestion of and the car in the much better photo and drawings are the supports on the exterior of the door.


Continuing with the model, I used a razor blade to remove the cast-on details on both sides of the car.  Most of these scraped off easily, but the cast door slide at the top was a little harder to add.  I did leave the cast-on door as it will provide support for the next door to be glued to.  I also removed the cast-in drop steps.

The roof was then sanded flat with a rasp.  There were quite a few “waves” in casting.  Once that was completed, I decided to leave the ends of the car alone for now.  They already have similar wood siding, and some additional bolt details that I like.  As I’m building a car similar to what is seen in the video, and it may have received some additional end supports between 1920 and 1927 if it even survived, I am OK with that choice.  I did remove the cast-in grab irons and retouch the siding with a dental pick and chisel.  I’ll be adding wire grabs to the car.

Because the car sides were bowed inward, something I’ve seen before with MDC cars, and a problem when cutting and adding the new siding, I assembled the fish-belly 36′ floor and frame from Accurail I had purchased for this project, adding additional weight and glued it into the car next.  This brought the sides back to straight.  I didn’t have to make any modifications to the car or the frame to make the match.  It just snapped into place and I used s small amount of glue to make sure it doesn’t come apart later.


With that assembly done, I set about using Evergreen styrene siding to cut and fit on the car sides, the roof, and then to create new doors, with flat styrene used to create the door tracks.  As you can see from the photo, it’s coming out pretty well.  (I see from the photo I have a little more sanding and fitting to do).

Now that the major changes are done, I’m waiting for a parts order to finish the doors and add grabs and steps.  Then the car will be ready for paint and finishing.

Time to get back to the workbench!


On your mark…

The first “nice” day of Spring was upon us yesterday.  This is the latest I can remember ever getting some decent weather for being outside, but others may disagree.  In my life, it’s the first time I have lived somewhere that there was snow into April.


With an afternoon of decent weather, I headed for the garage to get started on layout projects that have been bottlenecking for a while.  Knowing that there is a lot of benchwork to get built this year, and feeling a real purpose there as the N&W ACP branch is inspiring me to push ahead, I decided that the first project was to get the table saw ready to go.

I have a portable “Blade Runner” table saw that I’ve shown before.  The last couple of years, that saw has been set on a piece of old lumber that was in turn set on my sawhorses and screwed down and then the board was clamped in place.  PHEW.  That was always a good few minutes of work to get the saw set up, and then the sawhorses were occupied, so I couldn’t use them for anything else.

Over a year ago, I was given a small metal table with a pressboard top that I’ve been keeping the saw on when not in use.  I decided to make some modifications to that table and mount the saw to it.  This simple task would allow for the saw to be moved out and set up with some stability, while also giving me access to the sawhorses for the layout building and assembly while I still have access to the saw.

The major modification to the table was the need to make it possible to get sawdust and cut material out from under the saw.  In my experience the saw makes a decent amount of dust underneath it, and having a means to get some of that out to keep the works clear is important.


I moved all the materials off the shelves underneath, some went to the trash, while the right-angle clamps found a new home in a tool-chest drawer.  Then with a 1″ paddle bit in the drill, I made 15 holes in the table top under where the saw sits.  This will let the material fall out, and the least onto the shelf below where I will place a bag for collection.  If that, in practice, proves to be difficult to use, I’ll simply remove that shelf and then can stretch a bag in the opening left.

Using a pair of star-head screws, I then mounted the Blade Runner to the top.  It’s stable enough that I can push a piece of lumber through the saw without worrying about it going anywhere.  I also now have my sawhorses for other use, as well as my bar clamps that were always in use holding the support for the saw in place.


Not a huge project, but a step toward being ready when the weather stabilizes and we get a string of decent temperatures for cutting, re-cutting, and assembling at the very least all of the ACP Branch Phase 1, and possibly Phase 2 and 3.


Time to get back to the workbench!


Touring Phase 1 of the ACP Branch Part 3 – The Town of Auburn

In part 1 I began discussing the structures and inspirational photos for the ACP branch, and continued in part 2, discussing the N&W owned structures that we’ve picked to fill out the look from more photos.  Having worked “up” the plan, sharing now some of the scenes that inspire a vision of what the town of Auburn will look like is then appropriate.

Auburn is a company town, intended for the workers at the large mine here and their families.  It then fits that company town photos would inspire the look of the town.


Company houses.  (From We Heart WV)

The overall look of the similar houses is important.  We had previously decided that each of the 3 locations / towns on this layout as planned would have different models picked for the houses to add to a sense of going somewhere on what is still a relatively small layout.  For Auburn, The houses we picked are from American Model Builders, their kit 798 “Company House”.  There is room for several of these houses as called for in the plan that I shared in part 1.  They will receive a consistent paint scheme, maybe with different window treatments inside.  I also think there is some room to add interior details in some of these that are close enough or located in a spot where a viewer will easily see inside the structure.  To go with the houses, outhouses from Monroe Models were picked to include nearby.


The town isn’t only composed of the houses, though.  We plan a country church to go along, and while the track plan shows a model having been chosen, we’re still looking for the exact right fit.

The track plan has a spur in Auburn that services a warehouse.  I envision that warehouse belonging to the coal company, and being large enough to house mining supplies.  The town would look something like this from track-level:


Tracks through town (From We Heart WV)

There will be some small stores and a post office in town, but the structure we’ve picked to fill in the location of the mine warehouse is from Motrak Models, the “Consolidated Auto Parts” structure.


If there is room next to this structure once the layout goes up, and the warehouse is built, there is another structure from Monroe Models that might be used as an add-on to extend the warehouse and add additional spots for cars.

Other structures in the town are still being hunted for.  The overall feel we’re striving for is seen, though, in this photo from the Norfolk & Western Historical society:

Auburn is a small town in a West Virginia valley, serving a mine, where the mine is the center of life in the town.  Emphasizing the conditions that people lived in, with the structures owned by the company, the roads dirt, and the air thick with smoke from the trains and power plant at the mine, will be interesting to try and achieve on a layout.

Time to get back to the workbench!


“The Train”

I was going through a few boxes recently hunting for some information, and ran across a book that has been with me for, what I would guess, is about 40 some-odd years.  “The Train” was always a favorite of mine as a small rail fan.


The book is about a boy who is playing with his trains, and his younger brother drives the train off the rails and it hits the floor.  After being tucked in bed by his parents, he has a dream about fixing the train, but the train is 1:1 scale and he’s really fixing it as well helping the train crew and passengers.


I was fortunate that my mother was willing to use the large-print typewriter that my parents had purchased for me to use as I grew up to make the words in the book large enough for me to read.  At the time I didn’t have all the tools that I have now.

So much of what we do as modelers revolves around imagination.  This book inspired mine as a youngster, and the dream of building, fixing, and running my models is still as real today as it was back when this book was a nightly bedtime read at our home.

Time to get back to the workbench.


Non-Mallet N&W Motive Power

Most people who know Norfolk & Western steam engines imagine the giant Class A and Class Y mallet locomotives.  Those giants, sometimes double or triple-headded pulling long strings of coal hoppers are a mainstay of later N&W operations, and the incredible power of those locomotives is tempting.


Class Y6 2147 at Crewe, VA in 1947 (Photo from the NWHS Archives)

On a model railroad, having and justifying the use of one or more of those locomotives would require huge curves, massive trains, and lots of space to stretch-out a train.  The ACP Branch doesn’t have huge curves, massive trains, or lots of space to stretch out.

Beyond the giant mallet’s, mention N&W locomotives, and people might come up with the Class J’s, the most famous of which at this moment would be 611 that has been restored to operation.  While not a mallet, this streamliner is much to big and far to late in coming to the N&W for hauling coal in 1927, though in later years the J’s did haul freight.  Still, that kind of service wouldn’t be seen on a little branch like we’re creating.

Fortunately, there are other locomotives that are earlier, and still in my mind “signature” locomotives for the N&W that do fit our plans.


W2 class 2-8-0 is seen here at Roanoke, VA in 1924.  (Photo from the NWHS Archives)


This photo of a W2 from 1934 shows a larger tender.  (Photo from the NWHS Archives)

Built by the N&W Roanoke shops between 1901 and 1905, the W2 class 2-8-0’s are distinctly N&W in appearance with triple window cabs and other details.  These locomotives were successful for what they were built for at the turn of the century, and by the mid to late 1920’s, the W2’s were principal switching and local engines on many N&W lines.  They didn’t really disappear until the N&W bought used 0-8-0’s after World War II.




Imported in the 1970’s by Northwest Short Line, brass models of the W2’s occasionally hit the market.  I was recently fortunate to find one.  The model currently sports a road pilot, but the box includes the switching pilot which will be swapped out when the engine finds a shop to do some work.  It will need re-motoring, a sound install, and paint before it hits the rails in service on the ACP branch.  One other tweak that I am considering is a tender-swap.  The best info I have from photo dates, and my research is ongoing on this point, is that these locomotives may have had as many as 3, and possibly 4, different sized tenders during their service life on the N&W.  The tender that the model has appears to be a post-1933 tender, and as I get closer to putting the engine in service I may hunt for a more time-period appropriate and smaller N&W tender.

At the moment, I only have 1 of the W2 locomotives.  The original article for our track plan calls for one or two locomotives, and  wanting to have up to three trains moving on the branch when operators are available, I may add another of these should one come across my path.  The other option would be a 4-6-0, and there is a strong “family” resemblance to the W2’s in the original class A 4-6-0’s.  No model I know of has ever been produced of those class A’s, and building one would require doing so from scratch.


This is the builder’s photo of M1 number 1000 in 1906/1907.  The obvious resemblance to the W class 2-8-0’s is apparent in this photo.  (Photo from the NWHS Archives)


M1 locomotive in 1925.  (Photo from the NWHS Archives)

Hauling coal is not a one-engine deal, and the N&W did have a slightly larger locomotive that looks like a W2’s big brother.  The 4-8-0 M, M1,and M2 class locomotives began appearing on the N&W in 1906.  These locomotives, similar to the W2’s, wound up serving as local and switching power as the railroad put newer and larger locomotives into service.  That means that by the late 1920’s, it would be more than appropriate for an M1 to find its way onto the ACP Branch.




Several different manufactures have imported models of the M class locomotives through the years.  The one pictured here that we have added to our roster recently is a factory painted model of an M1 imported by Sunset Models.  This particular M1, 1007, falls into the group of locomotives in the 1000-1049 series built by Baldwin in 1907.  A second group, 1050-1099 were built by the N&W Richmond shops in the same year.  This model needs some additional details, Like the number plate on the smoke box and headlight number board filled in, a crew added, and like the W2 model, may also need a different tender along with DCC and sound installed.

These two locomotives will be more than enough power to start operating Phase 1 of our layout, and another locomotive may not be necessary for some time.  That will be dictated by operating scheme, which is a topic for another post.

Time to get back to the workbench!


Touring Part 1 of the ACP Branch: Part 2 – N&W Structures

In Part 1 of this tour, we looked at the scenes of the large mine at Auburn.  There are, however, other scenes and structures that need to be accounted for.

Near the mine on the plan there is indicated a water tank.  This tank will service locomotives coming to Auburn to work the mine, and most likely a locomotive or two passing Auburn for an un-modeled extension.  The N&W had several “standard” sized water tanks, 30,000 and 50,000 gallon tanks were not uncommon along the right of way.

This photo of a N&W train on the Abingdon branch, which happens to have a 4-8-0 “M” class passing in front of it, appears to be the right size for the ACP branch as well.  The color appears to be a ruddy brown/red, and the overall feel with the high rolling mountain in the background shows the kind of feel we are aiming for.  We haven’t picked a model for the tank yet, and it might wind up being scratch built.  The NWHS has lots of drawings and plans available to undertake a project like that.

Sitting in the yard at Auburn the plan calls for a small station (number 14 on the track plan seen in Part 1).  It fits that a small combination station would stand here for miners, visitors, families to use for the daily passenger trains. I envision a morning and evening passenger run taking riders from the 3 stations on the plan to a connection with the rest of the N&W system.

This photo of the station at Prichard, WV shows the feel of what the station at Auburn will look like. It has an almost signature truss on the visible end and the station name is painted in black on the white station.  It appears the station has a metal roof as well.  There is also a train signal in the photo, and we plan to include signals on our layout.

The model we’ve selected to serve as our station at Auburn comes from Monroe Models.  The “Hickson Depot” will be built and detailed to fit this location.

The overall station size is perfect for a back-woods combination station.  The train signal casting seen in the photo will be replaced with proper N&W signals, the station will receive the black and white paint standard to the N&W in our era, and I’ll add that T shaped bracing on the station ends, along with placing the tone name on the siding instead of on a sign.  The roof may also receive metal roofing instead of the shingles seen.

In the original drawing for the Black Creek & Buda, the town we now call Auburn includes a track scale for weighing coal.  The general operating plan for the whole layout, since there are two other mines that will be included in our Phase 2, would seem then to be to haul all the coal from those mines up to Auburn, scale it, and then head back to the yard.  I think our plan will be a little different, as Auburn is the modeled end of the line, but not the actual end of the line.  The sales will be on the layout because determining the weight of the coal being hauled is important, but they’ll be located elsewhere and the operating scheme will be a little different.  The track plan includes the scales as number 13, which I’ve indicated as not included.

Next time, in Part 3, I’ll show you the other structures and feel of the scenes for the company houses and town of Auburn.

Time to get back to the workbench!