NY&E: Northern Lights Branch - HO - Allen Byrne

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The Northern Lights branch is a freelanced layout, based in West Virginia in the year of 1905. I have a site [1] dedicated to its progress. I thought I would document its construction history because of the wonderful help by the groups members.


Relevant Historical Background

I grew up with a train nut (father) and his friends. Even though he was into Lionel, he got me started with HO.Number One Given

Although I stayed interested in trains and related matters, it was almost 40 years before I started on this layout. I tried to build a layout soon after college, but after three moves and barely started construction teardowns, I decided I wouldn't build another until it was portable. Number Two Given

Staying interested by reading magazines, the occasional travel, and other activities, I acknowledged my interest in mountains. Number Three Given

I also developed a quirky interest about mountain railroads that involved switchbacks. I could easily have gone into a timber cutting theme, except for an affinity for passenger cars (early wood types with platforms) and coal operations. Druthers

Pre-SIG Construction

Before becoming active in the hobby again (by rejoining NMRA, learning about LDSIG and OPSIG, and the resources on the net), I decided to work on building a layout based on my Givens and Druthers. Somewhere along the way, I learned about modules (or dominoes) and decided to implement my layout as two 2x6 modules. It would have a passenger terminal at one end (bought a Kibri Station kit) and then would traverse a double switchback up 3-4 inches. I built the two modules, using 1x3 boards for the frame and homasote for the subbed. Using a typical cookie-cutter approach, I successfully implemented my switchback. I checked the grades, marked the track and switch locations, and even bought the cork and track.


Then it happened, we moved. However, I had modules, and even though the new house was a tri-level, I had my layout location reserved.

After the dust settles and the boxes unpacked, I check out how the modules would fit. Stop the presses, the 6-foot long modules can not be easily moved into the lower level. Easy solution, I'll make them 2x3 instead. Construction stops after the modification because of life and the fact that I hadn't considered how to support the modules. Long time passes (10 years). Modeling hasn't been totally forgotten. I rework the layout plan, add trackage up the mountain, decide on a U shape, and fix the era to WWI. Then one day I decide how to support the modules and remain modular.Basic construction of the modules and legs. Image:layoutBasicModule.pngImage:layoutModuleCorner1.pngImage:layoutModuleLeg.png

Within months, I have three of the 2x3 modules up on legs, added masonite on the module edges to secure the scenery between modules, and start a subscription to MR and rejoin the NMRA. Now the real fun begins.

Discovery of the OpSIG and LDSIG

I had been content with my layout as a typical exercise in model railroad display. However, the internet is a wonderful place, and forums are a great resource. I found the trains forum. Read messages and learned some new things, including the existence of the OpSIG and LDSIG. Having read the primers and other resources, I was no longer content to have a display layout. I wanted operations, and I went back to my sketches to design in operations. At about this time, the MR article of the 1905 layout intrigued me! I moved my era to 1905, short trains would be much more at home on my layout concept, I could ignore automobiles, and being a historian wannabe, I could research a time when the railroads had a reason to go the small towns and connect with other railways.

Here is my initial attempt at a layout implementing my ideas: Image:room0_s.jpgImage:room1_s.jpg

I think it was on one of the MR forums, where I received a comment that suggested I should try to create a history. This would give me an anchor in time and place. I found some history of some eastern roads and did a draft. I continue to revise it with the following constants:

  • 1. the branchline was originally a logging operation - the reason for the switchbacks.
  • 2. the main industry is now coal with the logging operations moved up the mountain.
  • 3. the main revenue generator is the two resorts at the higher elevations - the reason for passenger cars.
  • 4. the mainline traffic is C&O coal and PRR passenger - this gives me some variety.
  • 5. 1905

Next big step, ask a question about my layout design.

The Yard Design

The biggest mistake I made was trying to design a yard without reading. (Hey, I just need some tracks to sort some cars for the trains that run up and down the mountain.) Well, thanks to some great people on the forums, who took the time to ask questions and suggest things, I was forced to read and decide on what I wanted out of a yard. First, I had to get rid of the - let's just find a place for all the structures - thoughts and concentrate on what I need the yard to do. It probably took longer than needed, but when I decided I needed a some train make-up/ tear-down tracks and an end-of-the-line interchange, the design process went smoother and quicker (Right, Dave?) Of course, my decisions on physical layout constraints didn't make the process easy.

Image:NYELayoutyard1.png Image:NYELayoutyard3.png

At this point I went back to the review the books. And then I realized that I needed an end of the branch interchange.

Image:NYELayoutyard5.png Image:NYELayoutyard7.png Image:NYELayoutyard8.png Image:NYELayoutyard9.png Image:NYELayoutyard11.png

Clean up the the yard tracks by realistically determining the amount of yard work and car density. In my case, there would be some blocking, but no long term storage.


Final version: Image:NYELayoutyard13.png

I have since been building these modules, and am almost at the point of laying track.

Design Finish

I have decided to open up the discussion of finishing this design on the forum. The major change I made from my original plan was to move the large coal mine operation to the front of the layout. This should make the switching easier. The other design change is that the two resorts are on the top leg of the branch instead of on the ends of a "TEE". We will see what the group thinks. I intend to stick with the switchbacks to rise to the 25" height at module M.

Someone was confused looking at the plans, so I thought it might help to think of it as a double-decked layout with an intermediate transition level. So from the yard to the module Z (the mine and switchback) is basically the lower level. The upper level is the resorts at Module Z2-Z1 to Modules L-M-N. The switchback at Modules N-O-P is the middle of the transition.

At our local division meet, I showed the plan to the assembled group for comment on the new layout and posed the town question to them. The suggestion was made to make the former town at Modules R-S be another mine and the mine at Modules P-Q be the town. This would put the town between the two mines and offer a miners local in two directions. This would allow the second mine to be larger and provide the coal drag over the steep grade that I lost when I moved the mine over by modules Zs. Now, I think it is time to revisit the schedule and string diagrams, as well as the layout density calculations.

BTW, I think this latest design provides better separation between operation, people-space and scenery concerns. (re. LDJ 35, Aug 2007 ed.)

To Be Continued

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