I began my first layout based on the Piedmont Subdivision back in the fall of 2000. When I finalized my original track plan, I was pretty happy with it. The only major change that I made (and one that I had contemplated even as I started construction) was to pierce the backdrop in Gordonsville and add staging tracks. For the most part, things worked out the way that I planned and I started adding scenery. As I was working on the scenery, I started trying to operate the layout. That’s when I ran into issues that I just wasn’t able to resolve. Here’s a list of the major ones:
In 2011 I became the sole owner of my home. The whole basement was now mine to do with as I pleased. I almost immmediately began drawing track plans that took most (or all) of the space. Those plans usually involved moving Louisa and Gordonsville farther apart, adding staging in a way that trains entered the layout at the appropriate points, and often involved the addition of a siding between Louisa and Melton so that I could model the lumberyard in Trevilian. None of them really caught my fancy, however, so my model railroad languished for about 5 years; I was loathe to put effort into something that I planned to tear down. The only real change made was that I removed the staging tracks in order to replace my water heater. I took the opportunity to have the heater moved to a place where it would be out of the way of a redesign.
In early 2016, though, I had a number of important insights about why I wasn’t able to make any progress on a new track plan. The first concerned my home office, which is also in the basement. Most of my plans devoted my office space to the new layout. My first important insight was that I really didn’t want to do that. My office is a relatively pleasant space where I spend a lot of time. Further, a big feature of the room is a set of floor-to-ceiling bookcases (which are stuffed) that were gifts from my Dad. He sized them to fit where they are and there’s nowhere else in the house that they could go.
The second insight was that most of my plans also involved a duckunder to reach my laundry facilities or they potentially blocked access to the circuit breakers for the house. I’m in my 60’s and I don’t want to have to duck under the layout carrying a basket full of laundry. The final insight came after reading the 2016 issue of Model Railroad Planning. I had been trying to include enough staging for all of the trains that I wanted to run in an operating session: locals each way between Richmond and Charlottesville, locals each way between Potomac Yard and Charlottesville, a manifest freight each way, and sections of the George Washington each way between Richmond and Charlottesville and between Washington and Charlottesville. To do that, I had to give up the possibility of continuous running (which I will admit that I enjoy - sometimes it’s fun to just sit back and just watch the trains go by) and staging was taking up a huge amount of the space that I had available. The insight from MRP was that maybe I didn’t need to provide all that staging. Maybe what would work would be a fiddle yard. And, with that, I was on my way.
As with my earlier layout, there were certain things that I wanted in my new layout — my givens and druthers in John Armstrong’s terms. Those included:
The plan above represents what I’ve come up with as of the summer of 2019 (click the image to see a higher res version). It incorporates changes I made as I built and upcoming changes that I plan to make as time allows. The plan allows me to keep my office and access to the laundry facilities and electrical stuff on the left-hand wall of the basement. The fiddle yard beside the stairs allows me to stage two trains in each direction at the same time and trains enter the modeled section of the layout in the correct places. I had to give up the possibility of modeling the Pot Yard locals (but see below) and the Washington sections of the George, but I think I can live with that (and I might eventually find a way to add removable staging that would allow running those trains during an operating session).
In addition, I had resources available this time that I didn’t back in 2000. One of the most important was an aerial photo of the wye in Gordonsville. It was detailed enough that I could work out the scale and the radius of the curves through the wye. In 2000 I guessed 53". Using the photo I found that I was close, but off by a bit. What I came out with this time was 56.25". I was also able to space some of the turnouts a little closer to the prototype and include both of the sidings across the mainline from the freight house, so when I begin to add scenery everything should look right. The orignial version of the plan also included a short siding near Louisa to represent the Purcell lumberyard in Bibb. The idea was that including the lumberyard would go a little way toward making up for losing the vermiculite loader. I did, however, also include the siding that eventually served the vermiculite loader. It was there in 1970 (it served an auto loading ramp in the 1930’s). After beginning construction of the layout I found an aerial photo of the area from 1969. There was some sort of building along the siding that was there as early as the 1950’s. According to Gary Smith, it belonged to a feed company. All that I really know about it is that it was rectangular in shape, was described in one document as metal, and had a ramp. Other than that, I have no real idea what it looked like, but I’ll probably try to represent it on the layout.
I did receive some very thoughtful suggestions from Jerry Simonoff. One was to reorient Louisa so that it was consistent with Gordonsville and Melton. I think I’ve addressed my reasons for not doing so above. He also suggested double ending the fiddleyard tracks and using some of them to represent some of the trackage in Lindsay. I haven’t double ended the staging tracks yet, but I am still considering that, or – now that I’ve actually built the benchwork and seen how much space I have – adding an additional track in each direction. I did, however, add (or plan to when they arrive) a couple of curved turnouts to create a siding between Gordonsville and staging to represent (somewhat poorly) the tracks in Lindsay. My plan is that that siding will function something like staging; cars from the trains from Potomac Yard will be placed there between session to be picked up by the next modeled train and cars for Potomac Yard will be dropped off by a modeled train during a session to be removed after the session.
I’m still open to suggestions and would like to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me at the address below.
|The first thing I did was to mount a backrop made of 1/8" hardboard. I just continued the backdrop straight into the corners on my old railroad and forever had to avoid taking photos from angles that would show the corners in the “sky.” This time I curved the backdrop through the corners. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be and it avoids the “corners in the sky” problem.|
|Most of the layout is going to be anchored to the wall. This bracket — which follows a design from Jeff Wilson’s benchwork book — was fairly simple to build, does a great job of supporting the layout, and leaves more space under the layout. That makes it easier to work under the layout (say, when I need to do wiring) and gives me more room to store back issues of magazines.|
|In this shot, I’ve mounted the first of the L-girders. I needed to get this one up so that I could construct the first free-standing section of benchwork, which will be anchored to this L-girder.|
|Before I started building the layout, I had my 22-year-old heat pump replaced. After the installation, I checked the trackplan against the footprint of the new unit. Everything looked fine, so I started construction. Too bad that I wasn’t thinking in three dimensions, though. When I reached this point it was clear that the ductwork was going to interfere with the backdrop. After studying the problem for a few days, I decided to shift the backdrop and the track toward the front edge of the bechwork. Around the same time, my water heater (which is right next to the inside unit of the heat pump) started leaking and I had to have it replaced. It was only 6 years old. The idea that I might have to replace the new one in another 6 years forced me to decide that the track looping around the water heater should be removable to facilitate access to the heater. That plus the backdrop move cost me the ability to include the Purcell lumberyard as I had originally planned (but see below).|
|In this shot, the backdrop has been painted. I don’t plan to add clouds. I try to avoid adding things to the layout that undermine believability. That includes things that should move, but don’t, such as a figure of a man jogging. He might look good in a still photo, but watching him frozen in midstride undermines the illusion when visiting the layout in person. Clouds move and the same ones would not be hanging overhead day after day after day. So, I left them off.|
|This photo (and the next one, as well) show the layout after all of the L-girders and joists have been assembled.|
|The risers and plywood subroadbed have been installed and the first of the precut cork switch pads have been glued down.|
|The cork roadbed went in quickly.|
|Several tracklaying guides suggested starting with the most complicated track first. For me, that was the west (on the layout) end of Louisa. In this shot, the first couple of switches have been installed. Underneath the layout are the Blue Point switch controllers.|
|In this shot, the curve leading into Melton can be seen. On my previous layout I had problems maintaining my 30" minimum radius as I laid the track through curves. Fast Tracks SweepSticks (the wooden template between the rails) helped solve that problem.|
|The wiring for the track is in. I used 14-guage wire for the bus lines and 22-guage wire for the feeders. I used suitcase connectors for most of the connections, so the wiring went pretty quickly.|
|Finding a place to put my DCC system was a bit of an afterthought on the old layout. This time, I put some thought into the location. It had to be fairly close to an outlet and easily accessible. What I came up with was a shelf below the narrow benchwork near the heatpump. As you can see, I use a Lenz DCC system with LH90 hand controllers. Next up is to install the layout fascia so that I can wire up the ExpressNet plugs.|
|Rather than proceeding with the fascia, I decided to finish the rest of the benchwork. Here’s the first section of benchwork that is situated in new layout space. Gordonsville will be located in the corner by the door.|
|The open grid benchwork in the near foreground will support the turnback curve between Gordonsville and the staging tracks. This is the location of the duckunder to enter the layout area and using open grid benchwork bought me a few extra inches of clearance above the ground. That’s a few extra inches that I don’t have to bend down.|
|I’ve got a coat of primer on the new section of backdrop.|
|Once the primer dried and I fixed a couple of rough spots, I put on a coat of sky blue. I still have a couple of spots begging for some light sanding and touch up paint.|
|Laying out the track plan on the plywood subroadbed for the first part of the layout was fairly easy; there were lots of straight lines and curves with radii that could be drawn by drilling holes in a yardstick. The trackwork in Gordonsville, though, was much more complicated and involved 56.25" radius curves. I first thought of drilling holes in a spare tape measure I have, but discovered that even if that would work, I don’t have space to do it. I finally resorted to printing out my trackplan full size using xTrkCad (which involved 22 pieces of paper that I then had to tape together). I taped the trackplan down to the plywood and used pushpins to mark the track center lines. Then I pulled up the paper and joined up the pin marks with pencil.|
|The subroadbed in Gordonsville is up on risers. Right below the camera’s position is the location of the bridge over Route 15/33. I salvaged the scratchbuilt model of that bridge that I built for my old layout. The trick now is to work out how to fit it in here.|
|I put my cardboard mockup of the Gordonsville freight station in place to make sure that everything fits as planned. The sharp-eyed will note that the track centerlines here don’t quite match the trackplan shown above. As I laid things out full-sized I realized that I needed to change some things. First, I placed the turnout leading into the siding that served the freighthouse in the wrong place. If I had placed it according to the plan, it would have been right in front of the freighthouse. That was an easy fix; I just moved it a few feet to the “east.” I also eliminated one of the sidings across the main from the freighthouse. I had done that on the old layout, too, and it bugged me. So, I added it into the new plan. However, seeing the everything full-sized reminded me of why I’d left it out back in 2000: adding it crowded the scene to the point that it looked cartoonish because that second siding couldn’t be long enough to be reasonable. So, I eliminated it. I now have an extra Atlas Code 83 left-hand turnout on hand.|
|The cork roadbed is now down in Gordonsville. I used HO scale roadbed for the mainline and N scale roadbed for sidings. One issue on the old layout was the depth of the benchwork through Gordonsville. To work the siding for the freighthouse required standing on a step ladder and reaching over an area that was going to have to be populated with models of the Main Street stores. I cut the depth back significantly in the new plan.|
|It took days of fiddling with the risers and stacking bits of plywood to get bridge 1605 into place and level from end to end and front to back.|
|Right after I started connecting feeders in Gordonsville, I remembered that I needed to cut gaps in some of the rails so that I could wire in block occupancy detectors to trigger grade crossing flashers. The first step was to mark where the roads will be.|
|I was looking for something else when I found my cardboard mockup of G cabin. Having found it, though, it had to end up on the layout.|
|Fitting a Blue Point switch controller in place to operate the turnout just off the east end of the bridge was a bit of an adventure.|
|To the left in this photo is the Westvaco pulpwood siding and to the right is the track that forms the Washington Subdivision side of the Gordonsville wye.|
|This is an overall view of the fiddle yard. Richmond staging is to the left, Charlottesville to the right. In the left foreground, the mainline crosses over the water heater.|
|This section of the mainline is designed to be removable to allow easier access should the water heater need to be replaced. I plan to put some kind of sides on it, both the protect against drops to the floor in the case of a derailment and to add some additional rigidity.|
|In this shot, I’ve begun installing the fascia. It’s made of ⅛ hardboard.|
|I painted the fascia a nice dark green colr (Behr’s Eastern Bamboo, to be exact). Now that the worst of the mess construction is done, I’ve set up a computer to run Decoder Pro. I think I need a keyboard tray to get the keyboard and mouse off the floor.|
|An overall shot of the east end of the layout. Louisa is to the right and Melton (the location of the Pyrofax gas plant) is located at the bulge on the left.|
|An overall shot of the west end of the layout. The bridge over Virginia route 15/33 is visible toward the front of the shot on the right and the staging tracks are on the left. In this view, we’re looking toward the duckunder that allows access to the layout area from the rest of the basement.|
|In this shot, we’re looking into the layout area from outside. The Westvaco siding is to the left and staging to the right.|
|I’ve installed the panel connectors for the hand-held throttles, throttle pockets (from MicroMark), and the FlexLink controls for the Blue Point switch machines.|
|I had originally ordered the throttle pockets for my old layout. As a result, I ended up short one throttle pocket. When I went to order it, I noted that they also had cup holders. What’s a layout without cup holders?|
|The next step is to rough in the scenery with foam insulation. In this shot, the first pieces of foam have been cut and placed onto the layout.|
|This was as far as I’d gone with the foam in the summer of 2017.|
The next sections will chronicle my progress on scenicking the layout. I had originally tried laying them out in chronological order, but that started getting messy as I jumped around the layout following my interests and the availability of materials. So, I’ve changed to a geographical order, starting on the east end of the layout.
|As I noted above, I thought that the changes required by my new heat pump would cost me the ability to model the lumberyard in Bibb. There simply wasn’t enough space left to model the siding and the structures. As I worked on the Louisa scene in the summer of 2019, however, I realized that if I used a curved turnout and gave up on the buildings, I could add the siding. There wasn’t, however, a commercial turnout that would fit and my last attempt at constructing a custom turnout did not end well. Enter Jim at Jamestown Trains. As soon as a set of FastTracks switch ties arrives, I’ll be adding a new siding to the layout.|
|The Louisa depot scene was one of the more complete areas on my old layout. The passenger depot was pretty much scratchbuilt, but I used the windows and gable trim from a couple of Gloor Craft Marlinton station kits. Because it was so close to the front edge of the layout, I felt like I needed to detail the interior, so I made my best guesses about the interior layout based on the C&O’s standard plans. A couple of years ago, though, I got the chance to see the interior (thanks to Gary Smith) and discovered that many of my guesses were flat out wrong. In this photo, I’m starting on a new version that reuses as many parts from the old one as possible.|
|Building a new version of the passenger depot was part of a larger plan to complete the scenery in the Louisa depot area. I had already roughed in Fredericksburg Avenue when I discovered a discrepany in my sources about where the turnout leading to the house track was located. Of course, once I found a photo that showed the location, it turned out that I had it in the wrong place. In this photo, I’ve ripped out the old siding and turnout along with the misplaced version of Fredericksburg Avenue.|
|The new turnout and siding are in place, with a little “kink” in the siding as on the prototype.|
|Work on the depot was also progressing. I built all four walls flat and then began joining them into the basic structure.|
|Fredericksburg Avenue (and Church Avenue on the other side of the depot) were paved with .060 styrene sheet. As far as I can tell from photos, Church Avenue was very narrow and didn’t have lane markings in 1970, so I just hit it with Rustoleum gray primer. Fredericksburg Avenue gor a coat of yellow down the center. I then masked the lane markings and sprayed gray primer.|
|Following measurements that I made on site, I laid out the station platform with a piece of foamcore that matched the thickness of my cork roadbed. The curbing around the platform was laid out using 8x8 inch scale lumber, which was then painted concrete gray.|
|I don’t know exactly how the interior was furnished in 1970, but the two gray cabinets are still in there, as is the sink. Any idea why there was a sink in the agent’s office when there was a bathroom just a few steps away?|
|If this wire can work as a power bus for the layout, it should serve as a bus for the power to the lights in the depot, right?|
|The completed depot in place on the layout.|
|Just to the east of the depot was a feedstore. I don’t have room for the whole thing, but the rear was visible in photos of the station, so I had to represent it. My model is about half of the structure.|
|As best as I can tell, the building was gray in 1970.|
|Here’s a shot of the depot area. There’s still some work do do - I need to represent the feed store that stood behind the freight station, for instance - but it’s looking fairly complete.|
|Right at the grade crossing with Frederickburg Avenue is a funeral home. I’ve represented part of the parking lot on the layout. I’m not entirely happy with this area, especially the backdrop.|
|Here’s west end of the Louisa passing siding. It does bother me a little that this scene is visible from the Doctors Road grade crossing, but there’s only so much space in the basement...|
|I was looking for a way to transition from the Doctors Road scene to Louisa. My normal answer is to use a thick stand of trees. The problem in this case was that I need access to the tracks to couple and uncouple cars when switching Louisa. What I settled on was a corn field.|
|The remains of a wooden ramp still stand along the tracks in Louisa, but they’re in rough shape. That makes it hard to tell what the ramp really looked like. I decided that a Blair Line ramp would be a good stand in. To bring it up to the right height, I added a base of ⅛" Masonite.|
|Documents described the feed service building as a metal shed, bit it was fairly large for a shed. I opted to use a Rix building. I had to scratchbuild a base to match the height of the wooden ramp.|
|The two sheds are from my previous layout and represent buildings that show up in all of my photos of the area. They seem to have been moved a few times, but aerial photos show that they were there in 1970. After a major mishap, I had to build new versions of both of them. The mocked up building near the backdrop appears to be a fairly large shed. My photos show that the back wall was plain. It ended up being one of my easier modeling projects.|
|The scene is looking fairly complete. Over the large red shed you can see the roof of what I believe is some kind of commercial garage. I’ll need to add more details, but I think it’s looking OK.|
|This is one of my favorite photos of the new layout.|
|The grade crossing at Doctors Road was just a short walk from my family’s property, so I often walked there to wait for trains. That made it one of my required scenes on the layout. It was the first place that I started scenery on the old layout and it seemed only fitting to start there on this layout. On my previous layout, I had included a portion of Rt. 33 and the whole S-curve from the road to the grade crossing. This time, I started by printing a Google satellite photo of the area and worked out the distances to scale. If I had built the scene to scale, I would have needed nearly 3 feet from the track centerline to Rt. 33. Since I don’t have that kind of space, I chose to model only Doctors Road and leave Rt. 33 out in the aisle. I marked the outline for the road using chart tape (most markers will bleed through paint and other scenery materials).|
|The next step was to cut some 1/2" foam in the shape of the road.|
|In this shot, I’ve begun roughing in the land forms with foam and Sculptamold. If you look closely, you can see that I marked some of the foam with a marker. Go ahead: ask me how I know that marker will bleed through.|
|The dirt around the Doctors Road grade crossing has a yellowish or orangish color that I’ve never seen elsewhere. I scooped up a bit on my last trip to visit the Piedmont (Ok, ok, I drove 3 hours to get there just to get a small container of dirt). Then I had Home Depot match the color in a cheap, flat latex paint. I put down a heavy coat of paint and then sifted dirt over the wet paint. So far, I have a nice desert.|
|I was never really happy with my representation of Doctors Road on the old layout. I had covered the road surface with a mix of sifted dirt and Woodland Scenics gray N scale ballast. It never really looked like a dirt road to me. This time, I spent a lot of time studying photos of dirt roads. This is what I came up with. I usually sift my dirt with an old kitchen strainer. This time, I took that sifted dirt and sifted it again through a cheap pair of pantyhose (only .69 at the local drugstore). I covered the road surface with that fine powder. Then I used what was left in the container (what had gone through the sifter, but not the pantyhose) to edge the travel lanes.|
|Beginning to get rid of the desert look.|
|I still need more vegetation, but it’s beginning to look like the real place.|
|In this shot I’ve added more trees and grass, along with electric utility poles and some yellow flowers (it is spring, after all). There’s still more to add, but the scene is looking fairly complete.|
|I always intended to add the lineside telegraph poles on my old layout, but never got around to it. This time I have and it really makes a difference.|
|Here’s an overall view of the Doctors Road grade crossing scene.|
|This view is from just west of the crossing.|
|Here’s an overall view of the beginning of work in Melton. I’ve roughed in landforms with foam and laid down a first coat of dirt from the actual location. Along the front edge you can see the .060 styrene I’m using for Route 33.|
|One issue that I had to solve was how to deal with the scenery on the far side of the tracks. On the prototype, there’s a relatively flat space, then an embankment. One the other side of the embankment the land drops down and the telegraph line poles go down into that depression. Then the land comes back up and there’s a line of trees (or there were in 1970). I didn’t have room for all of that. My answer was a photo backdrop of trees. In this shot, I’ve blended on end of the backdrop into a stand of 3D trees.|
|This is just a test shot to see how the photo backdrop looks behind the gas plant office. The office building sat a bit higher than the rest of the facility. I’ve roughed in the ground with Woodland Scenics foam.|
|After I have the landforms about right, I laid down a heavy coat of latex paint (I had it matched to the reddish color of dirt from the actual location) and then covered the paint with sifted dirt. Then I soaked the whole mess with scenic cement. Once that I was dry, I added some static grass and Woodland Scenics gravel for the parking lot and driveways. Note the t-pins in the background; I used those to mark the fence line.|
|In this shot, I’ve set the tanks in place to get a sense of where the concrete pad with a lot of the piping would go.|
|Here are more t-pins marking the fence line. I moved things around until they match my photos of the plant as best as I could get them.|
|I knew that trying to install the back part of the fence would be a bear once I had the tanks and piping in place, so I decided to install it first. I'm using a chain link fence kit from Walthers, but I tossed the wire they provided and replaced it with .019 brass wire from Detail Associates.|
|My first attempt to get the fence material on was not so good. This picture pointed out to me how bad it was. I cut it off and tried again.|
|I’ve started installing the piping.|
|This is my best guess as to how the piping went. I’ve got quite a few pictures of the plant from many angles from over many years, all from outside the fence. When I built my first version of the plant, I spent hours going over them and drawings of similar plants in model railroad magazines trying to get the pipes right. It was a frustrating experience. I’d look at one set of photos and it would look like “pipe a” joined up with “pipe b”, but in another set of pictures it would look like “pipe a” joined up with “pipe c”. I did the best I could, but I have a feeling that if a pro came in and looked at my model the comment would be something like, “You know, if they did it that way, it would blow up.”|
|The office building was saved from my previous layout. I had the lights installed, but I never hooked them up. It was really cool to finally see the the plant in the dark.|
|On the prototype there’s about 2 miles between the gas plant in Melton and Gordonsville. Much of that area is wooded, but in several stretches there are homes between the road and the tracks. I had about 6 feet to model that 2 miles, so I opted for a couple of generic houses. These came from Walthers kits. I did replace the porch floors with real wood. I also detailed and lighted the interiors.|
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