Layout Design Considerations for the Mark I Layout

Pakesley Mill and Timber Company LogoThe prototype Key Valley Railway was a simple railway, and the model PM&TCo. is as well. I am a fan of David Barrow’s linear design philosophy for model railroads (Model Railroader June 1995), and feel that it is entirely appropriate for the PM&TCo. design. Why? I believe it produces a ‘sincere’ type of layout where the model trains pass through each scene just once the way trains do in real life. There were two main issues that needed to worked into the PM&TCo design:

  1. How to handle open-top loads, here, logs and lumber.
  2. How to handle small equipment rosters.

Handling Open-Top Loads

The biggest challenge of the PMT&Co. layout design was the fact that the vast majority of the traffic will be open-top lumber and log loads.

There are four main approaches to ensure that, during operating sessions, that the logs move east and the lumber moves west at all times:

  1. Use removable loads on the equipment that can be fiddled on and off at the appropriate places. I do not think that this is a viable option, since the wear and tear on all my detailed and scratch-built rolling stock would be rather high.
  2. A second approach would be to fiddle loaded and empty cars on and off the layout during breaks in the operation.
  3. A third approach would be use John Armstrong’s loads-in-empties-out track layout, but these are difficult to include on a linear layout design without a lot of hidden track, which poses its own problems.
  4. Finally, you could run all the cars back to their required starting positions in between operating sessions. Many people do this with coal loads; Tony Koester’s Allegheny Midland being a typical example. This method works well if the load/empty is only moved once per session.

I’m leaning towards the second option for my final design, although I haven’t worked out the details yet.

Handling Small Rosters

Another important issue is the fact that the prototype Key Valley Railway only had a small number of locomotives. Therefore, anyone standing trackside for a full day would see the same engines traveling back and forth between Pakesley and Lost Channel.

Given that multiple copies of the same engine is not a viable option, the layout design will have to have a way of quickly turning locomotives in staging, so that they can reappear quickly. Bill and Mary Miller’s staging yards (Model Railroad Planning 1995 and Model Railroad Planning 1999) present one workable design: a turntable is placed at the far end of the staging yard.

Another approach is the trackless staging cassettes approach described by Paul Dolkos in Model Railroad Planning 1996. The trackless staging design has the advantage of not requiring lengthy yard ladders or space-consuming turntables and has almost an unlimited capacity for storage.

A third approach uses a full train turntable, also described by Paul Dolkos in Model Railroad Planning 1996. In this approach, the entire staging yard is on a pivot so it can be swung around 180 degrees. The advantage here is that none of the equipment needs to be handled while restaging.

I was originally leaning towards using trackless staging cassettes but have heard of a few problems with their use. So I’m planning on using either the full train turntable or the turntable in staging approaches now.

A Linked Up Lost Channel

As I was preparing the layout room, I came across the bane of the all layout builders: a potential change in jobs and cities. In the end, nothing came of it, but it was a harsh reminder that I’m still in that time in my career where a job change and a move are distinct possibilities.

This made me look at my previous designs for movability. I really didn’t like what I saw: any layout built on my previous three designs would have to be completely scrapped if I moved.

Iain Rice in his book ‘Small, Smart and Practical Track Plans’ discusses the movability issue in quite a lot of detail and suggests building small portable modules that can be linked together to form a full layout. The ultimate extension of this approach is Iain’s “Linked Up Logger” design which consists of three small modules linked together with short, almost disposable, trackage. The modules are designed so that they are completely self-contained and can moved by one or two people. Each module is designed so that it is a vignette with a fully wrapped backdrop and lighting.


From reviewing the aerial photos of Lost Channel (see below), there were three obvious vignette scenes within Lost Channel:

  1. The sawmill and log dump area.
  2. The dock siding.
  3. The yard area.

Lost Channel Vignettes

Note that each of the real areas of interest are separated by lengths of rather uninteresting main line trackage. These can easily be replaced by the simple linking trackage with no real loss of interest.

Module Design

Rice recommends building modules no larger than about 2′ by 4′ for ease of car transportation. I relaxed this restriction a little to minimize the number of joints within the modules. In fact, all three modules have been designed to be one-piece modules with a surface area of about 10-15 square feet. The sawmill module is approximately 3′ by 6′; the dock siding 4′ by 5′ and the yard 2′ by 7′. I’ll use a movable train table with turntable staging at the end of the yard module to move cars on and off the layout and to turn engines. Rice describes this type of staging in the February 2001 Model Railroader.

I also spent some more time examining the aerial photographs in detail and discovered that I probably over estimated the amount of trackage in Lost Channel. For example, I no longer think that there was a separate log dump track; I believe that the mainline was used. The following diagram shows the actual versus modeled trackage:

PMT&Co Mark I Trackplan Schematic

I’ve also flipped the orientation of the plan when compared the previous designs: the operator is now always on the north side of track looking south. This allowed me to fit the sawmill module onto the short wall. The following track plan highlights the position of each of the modules. The designs of the dock and the sawmill modules are pretty well set:

PMT&Co Mark I Trackplan


I used Rice’s lightweight plywood and foam roadbed design. The modules are supported on the walls using a conventional track shelving system (double-slotted for strength). This will allow me to use the area below the layout for shelves, etc. I started with the Dock Siding module since it is the easiest to build from a track point of view (I need practice in handlaying switches!).

Why On3?

I’ve always been a big fan of narrow gauge equipment, so I’ve always been looking for a prototype that fits the narrow gauge mold. While the prototype KVR was standard gauge, there is no reason to think that the Lauder Company couldn’t have built the railway as a narrow gauge carrier from the beginning to save money.

I like this prototype-freelance approach as it permits me flexibility in modeling locomotives, rolling stock, etc. I will try, where possible, to model the KVR buildings and trackage patterns from photographs, and will keep rolling stock and locomotives from the right eras.

Why O scale? I like the size for building rolling stock and buildings. The drawback is, of course, that O scale takes up much more room than, say, HO scale. But the PM&TCo. will be a simple railway with a very low trackage to scenery ratio.

The PM&TCo. has been designed for operation from the beginning. I hope to run all the trains the prototype KVR ran, including the passenger operation via railcar. I will be using a car waybill system to direct car movements, and may someday even recreate the phone system for dispatching the railway.

The Layout at A Glance

Pakesley Mill and Timber Company LogoThe Pakesley Mill & Timber Company (Mark I Version)

Scale: On3 (1:48 3-foot gauge)
Prototype: A narrow gauge interpretation of the prototype Key Valley Railway
Locale: District of Parry Sound, Ontario
Period: July 1925
Size: 9 x 15 feet
Layout Style: Linked Up Vignette Modules based on an Iain Rice concept
Layout Height: 54″
Benchwork: 3/8″ wood open grid on shelving units
Roadbed: Homasote on 3/8″ plywood
Track: Handlaid Code 70
Turnouts: #4 and #6
Minimum Radius: 30″
Maximum Grade: none
Scenery: foam, plaster
Backdrop: 0.060″ styrene
Control: DCC

The PM&TCo Rolling Stock Roster

I am tending towards small locomotives and rolling stock for the PM&TCo. Why? The equipment of the 1900’s to the mid-1920’s was relatively small in comparison to the equipment that would evolve in later in the steam era. This means I can get more model railroad into the same space. My main rule for rolling stock selection is its appropriateness for the 1925 time frame of the layout.

Engine No. 2

The PM&TCo. equivalent of the Key Valley #2 is a U.S Hobbies 13 Ton 2-truck 2-cylinder Shay. This extremely popular model has probably launched a hundred On3 railroads. I’ve had mine since the mid-1980’s. It was been re-motored with the Grandt Line kit that powers the engine from the rear truck. As you can see in the photo below, it is still unpainted, awaiting a time when my airbrushing skills get good enough or I break down and pay someone to paint it for me:

PM&TCo No.2 Shay

I’m planning on using DCC on the PM&TCo., so #2 will get a DCC receiver in the near future. While I’d like to put a Soundtraxx DCC sound unit in, I don’t think there is enough space.

Engine No. 6

Since they came out, I’ve been investigating Bachmann’s On30 2-6-0 as a possible stand-in for the KVR’s 2-6-0 and 2-8-0 engines and think that they would do a fine job. I purchased one of the unlettered engines as soon as they came out separately from the complete train set. I also purchased the two Grandt Line kits for regauging the Bachmann engine to 3′ gauge.

The regauge is complete but there is still a lot of work to do here. I’m planning on fitting the engine with a Soundtraxx DCC controller / sound unit.

Passenger Equipment

The KVR also ran some passenger equipment that I would like to recreate. The prototype KVR had a Ford Model T railcar (or jitney as it was called on the KVR) From the descriptions I have read, the jitney would be very similar to the Rio Grande Southern Inspection Car #1 mentioned in the January/February 1999 Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette article by Mallory Hope Farrell. It could be difficult to recreate the jitney as an operating model, since only non-operating models of this prototype have appeared as kits.

There is also evidence that the KVR had a coach or combine for passenger service at other times, although I have yet to uncover a photograph of this equipment. Therefore, I have a lot more leeway in selection. My current favorite is a freelanced combine in the August/September 1998 issue of Finescale Railroader.

In the meantime, I’ve also purchased one of Bachmann’s On30 coaches and will be converting it to On3.

Gondolas #16 and #17

Gondolas #16 and #17 are pretty much stock 18′ Design-Tech gondola kits. I’ve added lead shot weights below the floor boards to bring the car weight up to about 3 oz. In order to attach the Kadee couplers and the Grandt Line trucks, I’ve drilled and tapped the resin structure for 2-56 Delrin screws. This method works really well and keeps all moving parts maintainable.

PM&TCo No. 17 Gondola

I’ve followed the painting method outlined by Keith Brown, John Parker, and John Busby in the July/August 1982 Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette. It’s time consuming but very effective. Because of the very light colour of the raw resin in the Design-Tech kits, I’ve skipped the grey primer step.

The models still need to be lettered and weathered. I’m still trying to decide on a corporate lettering scheme for the PM&TCo. My first idea was simply to use the numbers from the Simpson West Side Lumber Company decal sets in Sn3 or On3. I like the looks of the stencils used by the WSLCo. My second idea was to make my own decals using a computer-based stencil font. In the end, I simply used C-D-S’s Railroad Roman dry transfers for numbering.

The gondolas will have two main uses on the PM&TCo.:

  1. Block cars: Wood scraps from the sawmill at Lost Channel would be loaded into the gondolas and shipped to the camps along the mainline as fuel for heaters in the camp buildings.
  2. Ballast: The gondolas would also be used to move ballast over the railway.

Tankcar #20

Tankcar #20 is a 18′ Design-Tech flatcar, with an HO scale MDC Old Timer Tankcar and a scratch-built styrene cradle:

PM&TCo No. 20 Tankcar

Tankcar #20 will be used to move water to the camps and donkey engines across the PM&TCo.

Boxcars #3 and # 4

Having enjoyed building the Design-Tech gondolas and flatcars, when Design-Tech released their 20′ boxcar kit, I had to have a couple. They went together very nicely and are well proportioned. Tapping the frames for couplers and trucks was even easier than with the gondolas and flatcar, since I could drill all the way through. Again, I added additional weight to the car; they both weigh about 4 oz:

PM&TCo No. 4 Boxcar

The boxcars will be used to move goods among Pakesley, Lost Channel and the camps.

Caboose #01

One photograph in John Macfie’s book shows a logging train with a cupola-less caboose with a side baggage door and a rounded roof. I searched through my magazine library for something similar, and found a set of plans in the May/June 1986 issue of the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette for Tionesta Valley caboose #111. Number # 111 scales out at 22′ 9″ in length and 7′ 9″ in width, and a cupola which I planned to leave off.

I cut the width down to 7′ to better match my other rolling stock, and substituted Grandt Line doors and windows into the design. The NGSLG plans came with an interior layout, so I designed the construction of the model to have a detailed interior.

#01 represents my first foray in scratchbuilding On3 rolling stock. I used a lot of Evergreen Styrene on this project. Every piece was scribed with wood grain before assembly. Windows was glazed with 0.015″ clear styrene; in hindsight, this was not the best choice since the styrene got marked and scratched from my attempts to mask the windows during painting. However, in the end, the windows just look dirty more than anything else, not necessarily unrealistic.

PM&TCo No. 01 Caboose

#01 received the usual PM&TCo painting method. However, I used Rock Island Maroon as the main exterior colour to set it off from the rest of the rolling stock. Depot Buff was used as the main interior colour. The interior is fully detailed with a stove, bench, lockers, and desk.