Friday, July 7, 2023

Building Monk Subdivision – Mark 2

The first Monk Subdivision didn’t get far has it got entangled in issues such as hidden trackage and steep grades. I took a few days last month to strip down the incomplete layout to the benchwork. Better to start from a clean slate. However, lessons learned from this previous iteration were quite precious to get moving fast with the second one. My soldering skills are better, my grasp of spline roadbed building too. Also, I’m more comfortable with laying tracks.


Settling down with a much simpler track plan also help to speed up the construction, which is quite a great factor for motivation. Add to that Quebec was plagued with a heatwave during the last few days, it was just a good reason to spend my evening in the cool temperature of my basement rather than suffering the debilitating 32 degrees Celsius of my modelling room/office.


As always, working with spline roadbed is so natural to create free flowing track on a scenic layout. I love that technique, which is relaxing to build. It goes beyond simplistic geometry and provides much more subtlety. No wonder many large layouts use it.


With that said, it’s also a good occasion to test ideas in real time. Moving mockups and structures around to see where they belong, which is always, to a certain extent, a tricky business on paper. At this point, it has become quite clear the station building must be located on the aisle side to provide a more engaging contact with the railroad. As for the sidings, they look better against the backdrop because, in a sense, they are a backdrop when trains parked there are passed by express freight and passenger trains.


On the other hand, I’m no longer sure the water tank looks good in the foreground. I’ll have to find a better location for so it can’t obscure the nice view of a train leaving the big scenic curve. This is the kind of thing that only manifest themselves when working with physical models.

The same can be said of the grade. Until now, I had reservations about it. And now I feel it is a must… the train must climb the hill to reach the station. Visually, it doesn’t look right if everything is flat. For sure, we are talking about a 1.4% grade and nothing really serious… Just to add that little visual impact but not to the expense of reliability.

So far, I'm excited by the project and have found a good way to build in in meaningful steps, which is crucial to ensure success.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Thinking outside the Room - Part 4

For some, building a layout is something relatively straight forward, and for most of us, it’s just a long and windy road toward a goal.  For Monk Subdivision, the adventure started more than two years ago when I started to explore the idea of modelling a single mainline in rural Quebec. An early post had all the key ingredients boiled down to a cohesive recipe: a small town with a team track and almost nothing elsewhere.

While this approach seemed simple, I got lost more than once and at some point, fell victim of the “I want it all” curse. The small village became a large division point, then other branchlines started to grow here and there in hopes of creating “interest”. Later on, I explored the possibilities of staging yards, which devolved into a madness of hidden trackage that became a liability for trains. Fortunately, I was able to see the light and to rationalize the layout back to its roots: modelling a generic Canadian mainline in Southern Quebec. Operations would be simply watching trains meeting at a small siding and running the local switcher working the team track. Nothing less, nothing more.

Simple tracks mean less issues. As Joe Fugate likes to say, you can’t have quality if you seek quantity. Less turnouts, less problems… less problems, more fun. Yes, it’s simplistic, but with model railroading, you can’t escape reality and physics.

As for staging, I’ve come to a hybrid solution that ensures I can meet all my goals without compromising too much. The issue was about having two returning/staging loops depicting both end of the line and reducing the grade between the lower deck and the upper deck. My solution consists of creating two identical staging yard and shifting them about 1 foot apart so the aren’t overlapping. This provides two benefits: 1) all tracks are directly accessible from the top and 2) the vertical separation doesn’t need to be more than 4 inches.

Another issue was how to build the layout… what about the phasing? Build the staging then build the layout? That would require me to postpone the project until I could add a room in the basement to house it. Not fun if you ask me. Another option, as suggested by Chris Mears is simply to build the roadbed in the layout room, create a temporary loop and run trains. Elevation can be modified later by altering the risers supporting the spline roadbed. It has the advantage of providing a working layout and a lot of time to work out wiring, signalling and controls while the staging room is being built. Once done, it’s all about drilling a hole in the wall and rerouting both ends of the layout to their respective staging loop. Risers will be adjusted accordingly to get the correct grade.

That said, I’ve already committed to build during the last few days. Old roadbeds, tracks and wiring have been removed and the new spline roadbed is being built. The previous iteration was a failure as a layout, but I learned a lot about splines, soldering and wiring. All that knowledge is making the rebuilding a breeze. 

Splines are such a fantastic way to build roadbed

Well, after a lot (too much) of careful thoughts, I've come to the realization I really wanted a two level set of returning loops/staging yards. The layout goal has always been about railfanning trains and it's the best arrangement to get a lot of traffic and manage it easily with current technology.

The difference this time is that I reduced the number of tracks on each loop and offset them so they aren't hiding each other. It's much more practical for access and maintenance. Also, vertical separation can be reduced dramatically to 4", which creates gentle grades in the layout room.

First train on the layout!

Speaking of the layout room, the grade out of Joffre staging (the lower loop) is about 1.6% then it's reduced at 0.4% between the turnout/signals and the team track. This gentle grade reduces the drag that could affect longer trains or less powerful locomotives. Lesson learned from the previous staging.

As for the scenicked layout itself, things are now much simpler. A small station, with a passing track and a team track acts as our point of contact with the human realm. Sidings are on the backdrop side so cars and trains on them never obscure the action on the mainline. They are part of the background. Another advantage is having the depot in the foreground, which enables me to have more details, trucks, cars, and actions taking place and setting the scene.