PM&TCo in Free-MOn30?

Pakesley Mill and Timber Company Logo

While surfing around the blog entries on the Model Railroad Hobbyist website, I came across a link to the Upper Canada and Algonquin Railway group, who are building an On30 modular layout based on the Free-Mo standard. Unlike other modular systems like Ntrak, Free-Mo sets some basic requirements, particularly around the module height and the module-to-module interface, and then lets the module designer a great deal of latitude on all other aspects. Prototype modelers have taken to the standard very quickly as it allows them to reproduce real track patterns very accurately. It also allows a lot more creativity removing the “slot-car” look of other older module systems.

I’ve always liked the Free-Mo concept especially now that I don’t have room for a full layout. I could build a couple of modules and participate when I’m around and store the modules away when I’m in the Netherlands. In addition, with Bachmann’s recent releases of On30 locomotives including Shays, Climaxes, 2-6-0’s, 2-8-0’s and 4-4-0’s, there are a lot of possibilities to mimic the Key Valley’s locomotive roster in On30.

Mark I PM&TCo Abandoned

The Steamer Dock on the PM&TCo
The Steamer Dock on the PM&TCo
The Mark I version of the PM&TCo. has been abandoned. It was a good starting layout but I found it difficult to progress on the layout over the last four years with our living arrangements in Texas. I hope to restart work on it when we get a place with a more appropriate space for a layout.

Operations Guide for the PM&TCo

Pakesley Mill and Timber Company LogoI’m keenly interested in recreating prototypical operations on my Pakesley Mill & Timber Company. As such, I have been developing a comprehensive primer introducing operations appropriate for a 1920’s era short line railroad like the Key Valley Railway, on which I have based the PM&TCo. There has been much written recently about realistic operations. However, very little of this information has been compiled into a single document for model railroads of this era. From my research, the following operational characteristics would apply to the prototype Key

  • All freight trains would be run as extras.
  • Some level of passenger service would be appropriate (one or two return runs per day), with train times typically coordinated with the arrival of a CPR passenger train at Pakesley and with the steamship at Lost Channel.
  • Only a small number of trains would be active at any one moment (typically the maximum would be two to three).
  • Communications with the dispatcher would be via a telephone system strung alongside the mainline.
  • Dispatching would be done via verbal/written train orders using manual block stations.
  • Train crews would line their own turnouts.
  • Train crews would makeup their own consists.

These same characteristics would apply to many narrow gauge and short line railroads from the late 1800’s to the 1940’s. My goal is to use these characteristics as guideline to develop an operations scheme for the PM&TCo that is close to the prototype in feel but still enjoyable to operate. I must stress that the choices I have made are not the only way of doing things, and others may prefer a different car forwarding or dispatching scheme. However, I am trying to strike a number of balances, the most important being the alance in work across the various operating positions.

The operating schemes I’ve developed place specific requirements on layout design. They are:

  • The layout design should permit an operator to follow his or her train around the layout in a straightforward manner. This encourages a linear design methodology.
  • The use of walkaround throttles is almost mandatory.
  • The use of Digital Command Control (DCC) is encouraged to eliminate the need for throwing unprototypical block switches.
  • Turnout controls are located on the layout fascia right in front of the desired turnout.
  • A telephone system to communicate between the dispatcher and the train crew is preferred.

None of these assumptions are very restrictive to today’s layout designers and most members of the Layout Design Special Interest Group (LDSIG) would say they are all necessary on a state-of-the-art layout design.

My basic plan is to have two-person train crews plus a combined dispatcher/freight agent role. The dispatcher will be responsible for determining what trains will be run and what switching activities each train will perform. This will hopefully keep the dispatcher busy, since the number of meets and passes on such a small railroad will be few.

I’ve broken the primer down into several sections for readability; however, most sections are highly interrelated and it would do the interested reader well to look at all sections at least once.

  • Roles (the operating roles on the PM&TCo)
  • Systems (the physical systems that are in place to support operations)
  • Operation Cycle (the steps in performing one shift of operations)
  • The Dispatcher (the activities of the dispatcher)
  • The Train Crew (the activities of the train crew)

Download the Primer for Narrow Gauge and Shortline Operations. Please be aware that several sections remain incomplete.

The PMT&Co in MRP 2003

Front Cover of Model Railroading Planning 2003I received my author’s copy of Model Railroad Planning 2003 today. I’m really pleased at the way the article turned out. Thanks to Tony Koester and Andy Sperandeo, the editors of Model Railroad Planning, for the opportunity to publish the PM&TCo story.

The most challenging aspect of preparing the article was the photography: working under fluorescent lights required the use of  filters to remove the color shifts caused by the lights.

Yard Module: Benchwork

On the PM&TCo, the yard module will contain the only runaround track on the layout and will be connected to staging at its west end and the dock module on its east end. As much as I would have liked to have included the wye, I was forced to move the wye into staging. The yard module will also contain a small spur for car storage.

Here are two photos early in construction. I’m using the same methods as before: 3/8″ plywood grid benchwork on Lee Valley shelving units:

Yard Module Installed

Yard Module Installed

The paper sitting on the benchwork is a full size printout from 3rd PlanIt of the trackwork on the yard module. I used it as a guide to cut the roadbed out.

Dock Module: Lighting

I also followed Iain Rice’s suggestions on lighting. I tried a three-light halogen setup but found the coverage was poor. I then started looking for compact fluorescents. The local Home Depot equivalent had a nice set of 16″ long fluorescents which could be connected end to end. The cost was a little expensive: $35 Cdn per pair (about $20 US; the exchange rate is just killing us these days). I bought a total of four fixtures and set them up in a V formation about 2″ back from the front edge of the upper fascia.

The results were very impressive; nice even light and everything was well illuminated.

Here’s a photo of module with the lights on:

The Dock Module Completed

And one more of the dock area:

The Dock

Dock Module: Fascia

I decided on using sheet styrene for the fascia since I had a fair bit left over from the backdrop. I started with the lower fascia. It was a simple matter of installing the fascia cut roughly to the right shape, installing it on the module, marking the final profile of the fascia, de-installing, making the final cuts and reinstalling. OK it was a bit of a fiddle, but worked out just fine in the end. I used #5 brass screws from Lee Valley with #6 cup washers to hold the fascia on. The cup washers are highly recommended; they spread the force of the screw over a wider area and help keep the styrene from tearing. I also created 3″ wide wings at both ends of the module as per Iain Rice’s suggestions. They help frame the module.

Here’s a photo before the paint went on:

Fascia Installed

After installing the lower fascia, I turned to the top fascia. I first cut a 3/8″ piece of plywood to the same footprint as the module. This piece sits on standards above the module proper. I then cut a 4″ wide piece of styrene for the top fascia. Again, these were installed with screws and cup washers.

The fascias then got several coats of dark brown semi-gloss latex paint. The brown colour was based on my flat earth colour but darkened considerably by the addition of black to the tint:

Turnout Controls

Dock Module: Structures

There are two main structures on the dock module:

  1. the dock itself along with the combined passenger/freight “station” for traffic between the PM&TCo. and the steamship “Kawigamog”
  2. the water tower for refilling PM&TCo. engines

The dock was the most important to be designed at this point because of its interaction with the scenery. So I started by designing mockups of the dock and station. I used cardboard for most of it and placed scale figures, rolling stock, etc. into the scene to get a feeling of scale. I left things for several weeks until I was happy with the design.

The dock went together pretty quickly. I had some stripwood lying around, so the dock is all stripwood. After laying out the dock, I filled in some more scenery details around the dock, in particular, the rock walls coming up from the water.

At the time, I had no photographs of what the Key Valley station at Lost Channel looked like, so the design of the dock station was based on photographs of the station at North Portage on the Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway circa 1930. Essentially it was a one and a half storey building with a hip roof. I built the dock station was built using sheet and strip styrene. I used several Grandt Line windows and doors; the six pane windows are cut down from a Grandt Line 12 pane window. I followed Boone Morrison’s suggestion for laying out hip roofs using a compass. It worked very well.

Below is a photograph of the station under construction along with a photograph of the H&LoB Rwy station. I took a few liberties (siding rather than tarpaper; changes in windows) but I feel I’ve captured the look and feel of the prototype. The side roof is pretty funky but prototypical. The colour in real-life is not as garish as the digital photo would have you believe. The roof still needs to be tarpapered and the windows, doors and trim painted white.

Station in Progress

The Dock Module: Water

I was struggling a little with how I was going to scenic the banks beside the water, when my field trip to the Lost Channel area paid off in spades. It was clear that the Key Valley Railway had to build their roadbed in the dock area with loose rock and talus. So I purchased Woodland Scenics brown talus and proceeded to build up the banks that way. I mixed some ground foam in with the talus to show some weeds poking through.

I put the talus down before poring the water bottom so that the water would appear to be flowing around the talus at the water line.

As per Dave Frary’s scenery book, I poured a flat bottom lake with Polyfilla and then used paints and acrylic gloss medium to make the small inlet of water beside the dock. It worked OK; I didn’t make the Polyfilla thin enough nor did I soak the existing plaster in the water area enough, so the Polyfilla did not flow very well. I had to sand it several times and repour it once to get a relatively smooth surface.

I also managed to get bubbles in the upper coats of the gloss medium by rushing things. Another couple of carefully applied coats fixed this.

There is still a lot of detailed scenery to go, but I wanted to make sure that the structures on the module were designed and installed before going too far. Here’s a picture with the basic scenery in place:

Dock and Lake Completed

Dock Module: Foreground Scenery

With the backdrop painted, I started in on the foreground scenery. I started by building up the hills. I followed Paul Scoles’ method of using scraps of foam and masking tape to lay out the hills:

Scenery Forms

More Scenery Forms

I then covered these supports with Woodland Scenics plastic cloth. Nice stuff to work with. After laying out all the hardshell, I then went back and gave everything a coat of the earth colour latex paint and a sprinkling of Woodland Scenics earth and green tone ground cover foam.

This is where I discovered my biggest mistake so far on the module. Compared to the colours of the ground foam, the trees on the backdrop were far too blue in colour and everything just looked wrong.

I quickly learned a good rule passed on by Rob Spangler that you should always match the colours on the backdrop and the foreground scenery. For most of us who do not want to dye our own ground foam, this means selecting a colour palette for the backdrop based on the foam colours. I took samples of the ground foam with me and returned to the craft store. There I was able to find several different greens that better matched the foam colours. These new greens were much more olive and yellow in colour. I then added a new layer of trees onto the backdrop (made a lot more difficult since the hills were now in place. The scene came together much better with these new olive-coloured trees.

Here’s a picture of the module after the change in backdrop colours and after finishing the shoulders of ballast:

Basic Ground Cover and Ballast Installed

This time I followed the advice of Boone Morrison and Linda Sand and used rubbing alcohol to wet the ballast before gluing it down with matte medium. This method works extremely well and I will use it from now on for ballast.

As you can see in the photograph, I’ve just started to go back and add the texture layer to the scenery.