Thoughts and Discourses
By Kelly Russell
Track and Turnouts
Height of Railroad
Couplers and Uncouplers
A Case Study
Small Layout Design
Disclaimer: Information, thoughts, and ramblings presented here are simply my opinion and should be taken with a grain of sal
has opinions and these are mine.
Track and Turnouts
First is the question of size of track
Code is measured in thousands of an inch. We utilize Code 100 on all the modules.
I used code 100
on my switching layout.
There are those (nitpickers) that think the rail
is too big.
There are several
code 83 (prototype) and code 70 (?).
These represent different "weight" tracks and
are intended to represent load limits, etc.
Mainline tracks would be heaver than branchlines or
OK Having s
aid all that
I dont think there are too many people that can tell the difference in 17
hundredths of an inch
expecially when the track is painted and ballasted.
I recommend code 100
the most common and lesser expensive.
The new serie
switches that Walther's is selling
are code 83 and are pretty nice
a bit expensive.
Atlas makes code 100 flex track and has for years and is what we use on the modules as the
You can even get black or brown ties.
To avoid confusion between electrical switches and track switches, it is common to refer to track
switchs as "Turnouts". There are several options on how do you plan to actuate the turnout?
hand throw with no
mechanical or electric motors
I would say PECO
Hand throw using Caboose Industries "Sprung" ground throws
ATLAS or PECO
as the spring in the throw holds the point rail to the stock rail.
They even have these with DPDT
SPDT contacts for lights.
hand throw with operating levers
really cool looking
at about $10 each
depending on quantity.
Electric swtich motors:
s a special twin coil that mounts directly to the bottom side of the turnout
my favorite as
there is no linkage to deal with
just attach and it works
about $8 each
just about everyone else has chosen the Tortoise Slow motion Switch machine from Cir
about $15 each. Loy's Toys has these listed at:
If you decide on the Peco switch machines, obv
iously, you must choose the Peco turnouts.
decide on ANY of the other throw options, then you can use any turnout including hand laying your
Successful operation of ANY turnout depends on the time spent in making sure that it is in gau
smooth operation through the frog and the point rail must fit snugly against the stock rail.
turnouts are about the same
if you spend the time.
Even the Atlas switches will work with
attention to this detail.
Even the most expensive
turnout will need some attention here.
The Peco turnout has one feature
the reason we use on the modules
the internal spring.
spring hold the point rail to the stock rail.
Peter Bryant uses these on his layout and all but the
withes are hand thrown without the Caboose ground throws.
with no additional cost for the switch machine.
He uses Tortise machines on the
as does Ed.
The Slow Motion is pretty cool and work
s well but at $15 each
Height of Railroad
Standard HO scale modules are 48 inches in length(side to side)
and 30 inches deep(front to back).
NWX modules are set somewhere near 40 inches.
Height has been debated dozens
of times on ALL the discussion groups that I read and participate
Here is my opinion.
I think it is silly to build a layout where the operator is destined to stand on a
stool to operate it.
That being said
arguments in favor
of tall layout
s focus around the "eye
The trains look more realistic at eye level...
But whose "Eye level"
Ed is about
4 inches taller that I am
and your wife is several inches shorter than I.
There is no way
height can see the track work in Midnight yard.
Another advantage of the higer layout is the ease in working underneath.
OK lay on the floor, or sit on
Ed has a very nice padded one that is really a bit short to work on the layout when sitti
My switching layout is set at about 40 inches
I will operate from a bar stool.
A compromise between
eye level and operator level.
I am getting to the age (yes younger that you and Ed) where I want to sit
down a lot.
Maybe it is just laz
y, but I think train time should be time to relax not time to stand on a
I would have built it a bit lower, but I had an unused TV entertainment cabinet that became
the base for the layout.
Peter Bryan's layout has special platforms built for
the operators to stand on.
have built his layout 6
10 inches lower.
NOW he does have 2 levels,
and there must be separation
between them, so the platforms might still be necessary.
Don Bozman's King Street (Seattle) Yard is lo
at such a level that you sit on a standard secretary
chair to switch cars
on the lower level.
Part of the reason
for that is the close quarters, but it is a
I think, and this is my opinion,
photos for eye level can be taken fr
om a short chair and operators can
operate either standing
or sitting comfortably next to the layout
not standing on a stool or platform.
Couplers and Uncouplers
Kaydee couplers are the standard on all your cars,
Body mounted on
freight cars for reliability.
Passenger cars will probably be truck mounted, as they are longer cars.
McHenry makes a one piece plastic knuckle uncoupler
a but some folks do not think they work as
well as the Kaydee when using the magnetic uncoupler
s discussed below.
They are a bit easier to
install, a bit cheaper
and I think would be fine in a completely manual envrioment (like Peter Bryans).
1) Bamboo Skewers
like Peter and Don Bozman
cheap, hard for some.
Kaydee makes a special pick tool
good, easy, minor cost, easier to use.
Kaydee Electro Magnetic(like Gil Freitag) I am also using this
coupler heights do
not have to be so exacting as the magnets ha
ve more power.
you still get the delayed action but
require a momentary contact push button for operation.
Positively, they only operate when activated.
Negatively, because of the power of the magnet, sometimes metal wheels and axles are attracted.
between the track
mount between the tracks
good, easy to use
just put slack
in the coupler and it will open, also has delay capability to then
push the car back onto a siding and
leave it there, cost is getting higher. Negatively,
they are always "on"
sometimes uncoupling with
slow train movement.
on the Negative side of options 3 and 4 the mangets require some hiding.
tracks and don't disappear really well.
Careful planning of scenery could result in h
iding them in
Depends on how critical the look of the black magnets detract from your vision of
Kaydee undertrack uncoupler magnet
as 4 above, just a but more powerful and a
bit more expensive.
are completely hidden under the track.
Ed uses these in Midnight yard
makes for a clean look.
we have seen several discussions on cheaper smaller magnets that are easier to
But with smaller and sometimes more powerful magn
ets, the operator must be more precise in
positioning the car on top of the magnet to work.
Kaydee upcoupler magnets are the best solution in a completely
Electro magnets are more reliable and much more expensive
but require a push button.
c) Undertrack are best when wanting to hide them.
With the notes that I have written to you in the past
couple of weeks, I should write
For easy operator locating
the uncouplers, use some sort of mark
er like a tie painted yellow
or white, a signpost, a tie left next to the tracks
or even a yard worker standing by the track.
them easier to spot
especially when using the under track versions.
To improve reliability
must match and be set pretty exacting and lubrication
Part of the purpose for the roadbed is sound insulation and a smooth track mounting surface.
What is done with home layouts is to "cookie cut" from pl
ywood to which a cork or other roadbed is
Woodland Scenic's has also introduced Styrofoam risers which work torgether for grades and elevated
track sections. We have also seen the use of insulation Styrofoam were grades are carved.
these methods require some additional attention to the roadbed surface to insure smooth
There are several types of roadbed:
cheap, easy to use, most popular
fairly expensive hard to get, but very good
it is basical
ly homosote that has been
sliced to form a subroad bed surface
Peter has used this technique with cork on top.
Bill Wright is using some sort of VinylBed
it is like
I don't know the cost, but he had
to order it.
Cork is the tr
Lay the cork first using Liquid Nails for projects, with a couple of nails
to hold it until the adhesive sets.
Then take a sanding block and sand the top smooth
this will insure
that there are no surprises transferred to the rails.
Do I have any favorite car purchase locations?
No, most have been accumulated from trips around
the country, GATS shows and other various shows and sales.
Probably the least expensive option
would be the San Jac show
in the Spri
There are usually several folks reducing or liquidating their
collections at that show.
Just as you did with
your N Scale collection
no one place any better than
Most hobby shops have a bunch of cars.
I had this discussion with Aa
ron the other day about the difficulty of any hobby shop to carry all the
cars that all their shoppers would want to purchase.
Each modeler is unique to the car(s) that they
want to run on their layouts.
Era, geography and railroad modeled define whic
cars he/she will
The more specific you get
like eastbound on the
third Thursday in March of 1963 on the
Texas Pacific Railroad
the harder it will be to find specific cars.
If one is more reasonable
80's on the Santa Fe in the
West, it will be easier to make just about any "modern" car work.
Then there are the collectors. Some collect tank cars, grain cars or beer cars.... lots of collecting
of us just buy cars we like when we see them...
Chapter 7 M&SL
A Case Study
This case study may parovide some basis for how to go about designing a railroad for operations.
It exists as a branch line fed daily by a train from "Peoria"(hidden staging). That first train of the day is
classified upon receipt in the yard
that train becomes the mid day freight. While that train is enroute
the Midnight yard operator will prepare the morning wayfreight from cars remaining in his yard
"overnight". There is usually an afternoon wayfreig
ht train depending on the cars in the yard and in
storage. I use Hanley falls for storage when Midnight gets too full. The yardmaster can dispatch an
extra train to take cars to storage or retrieve car from storage, or sometimes, he will ask the wayfr
engineer to collect an additional car or 2 on his return trip, if he is light. The last train of the day is to
remove cars headed off the system to Peoria. So the day's work really does reflect actual operation
of the 10 or 12 business sites se
rved by the railroad. Each session is different, we know not what
cars Ed has staged in Peoria for the next session. We have even discussed actually interchanging
cars with a buddy in California as they roll in and out of Peoria.
yard serves as the classification point for the railroad. The design has inbound and outbound
tracks with crossovers from one side to the other. There is also an engine facility there. We try not to
run trains length greater than 4 cars as it makes i
t easier to switch Sometimes later. I have only seen
one other layout with as many round
abouts with long running, but there were not near enough places
to insert towns for switching.
There is one mistake in the design
the hidden st
aging yard. Ed and I went and visited several home
layouts during the November open houses here, and discovered that most layouts have some sort of
line storage capability. We went back and found the only place we could fit such a yard was
ometimes Later. But the grade around the curve went really steep, we have re
worked it a
couple of times to smooth the climb and still have troubles
most of the time we have to double
trip. If we had designed this into the railroad at t
he beginning, we would have added a loop to
reduce the grade. But with the supports already in place we were lucky to find a clear path. we have
made the operations work this way, but I think I might have located the Peoria lead switch to tie in with
he up slope to the Midnight yard or from under Hillside somehow, but that would be if it were
designed in at the start
using that 20/20 hindsight.
Sometimes later can be a bugger to switch depending on the mix of cars to be delivered. As you
ad, operations call for picking up the car from the location where a car in your train is destined.
So there is always a pickup. That pickup has a destination identified on the car card. There are a few
cars that have their next location there in Somet
imes, which makes it VERY interesting. Some of the
cars are destined to the mill or furniture plant in Ledgeville. The operator has the option to switch
them on his return or take them all the way back to Midnight yard and let the next guy deal with th
on the next outbound train.
Operating rules are established to make the railroad work like the prototype railroads. One rule on the
M&SL is that a car can not be dropped off at a location where a car was already delivered earlier
that session. Ed will adjust the next location on the cars between sessions. In the event that a
second car is dispatched from the yard, it will be returned to be stored for the next session. If the
yardmaster is good, he will remember his morning
outbound and mid
day outbounds and not send a
car for the road switcher to have to mess with. But sometimes he forgets and the extra car is in the
way. Just part of a day's work. The blocking of cars on outbound trains is also the responsibility of the
yardmaster. He can make switching a nightmare or fairly easy depending on how the outbound train
Additional information on design, construction, operating rules and photos can be found on the M&SL
Small Layout Design
My philosophy is that a layout is nothing more than several switching layouts connected by mainline
with a yard at one or both ends. This is consistent with the prototype rail
road operations. They have
their mainline operation
trains go from point "A" to point "B". But the meat and potatoes of the
operation is the local switch sub that takes the cars to and from the serving yards. In most cases, this
is what we model as we
don't all have room to model long trains going long distances. We
concentrate on small trains switching several locations and customers.
I have a switching layout at my house
just 2 foot by 6 foot. It is simply a single town or switching
that may one day become a part of a larger layout. Russell Junction is a result of my
participation in a Small Layout Designs Yahoo discussion group. There are dozens of ideas for small
layouts that can be manipulated into towns along a mainline shared
I also have a website: http://home.earthlink.net/~russell_junction/
I am not nearly as far along as I want to be, but that is usually the case. A couple of new buildings
have been built and a couple more are identified. As for operation, a
train comes in from the right
front track with one car, dice are rolled and cars destinations are assigned, cars are switched, and the
train is set to depart either out the front track to the left or back the way it came.