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October 2017

Model Railroader has been the leading model train magazine for the past 75 years.  Each month, we bring you step-by-step modeling projects, fascinating photo tours of model train layouts, unbiased product reviews, new product announcements, tips from the experts and much more!

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Casting plaster walls for a scratchbuilt structure

A few years ago, I’d become annoyed by an old section of my HO scale layout, the Seneca Lake, Ontario, & Western RR (SLOW). It was a poorly conceived and unrealistic logging operation. I removed it and started over, creating a limestone quarry to represent a local industry here in the Finger Lakes region of central New York State.

As I was rebuilding part of my layout to add the quarry, I added a turnout that I wanted to power with a Tortoise by Circuitron switch motor. Because a hidden track ran under the turnout location, I had to place the switch motor on top of my layout benchwork to provide clearance for the track below ❶.


Tracks in the street

Street running, or a section of track that runs along a public street without separation, was high on the list of must-haves when I designed my HO scale Baltimore Harbor District layout. Such a scene would work especially well for my model railroad’s industrial waterfront switching theme. During my layout’s 1944 time period, Baltimore had more than 7 miles of street-running railroad.

Carroll Street is the street-running section of my Baltimore Harbor District. It’s located across the aisle from Highlandtown ❶. (I described building the Pratt Coal Co. in the January 2012 Model Railroader.) Although there is an actual Carroll Street in Baltimore, it never had rails running along it. I simply like the name, as the street’s namesake was one of the founders of the B&O RR.


Model simple utility poles

A little more than a century ago, electricity and telephones seemed almost as wondrous as cloud services and smartphones do today. We now enjoy the convenience of truly mobile communications, but many of us can remember a time when virtually every gadget was connected by wire.

To model that on a railroad, we need lots of utility poles. HO scale modelers are blessed with many commercial pole offerings, but larger scales have only a few metal castings and toy train products to choose from. And as the scale becomes larger, the correct material becomes more important; wood starts to look more like itself than metal or plastic ever will.

My poles are representational of the prototype, but not completely faithful to it. Utility and communications poles are built for their function, and each one is constructed to suit its site. Even in HO scale I found it expedient to build my own. It doesn’t take much longer than preparing and kitbashing a commercial pole.


Layout in a weekend update

Last month, I wrote about the adventure of building a small HO switching layout in a weekend. After starting with just a pile of raw materials on a Friday evening, it was a thrill to set out the first car at an industry on Sunday afternoon.

My brand-new small layout may have been operational after just two-and-a-half days of construction, but it certainly wasn’t finished. I built the layout on a bi-fold door. Half of the door is the layout surface, and the other panel is the backdrop.


Build dispatcher and operator desks

When my layout, the Stockton & Copperopolis RR [See Model Railroad Planning 2011. – Ed.], reached the stage where prototype operations could begin, it became obvious that I had to start thinking about the details. Timetable-and-train-order operation was a given for me on my 1895 railroad. A dispatcher keeps the trains rolling by writing train orders to supplement the timetable. An operator copies these orders, and both positions need some sort of desk at which to work.

I put the operator in the railroad room so he could interact with the train crews, while the dispatcher was in the family room/crew lounge adjacent to the railroad. Now I had to figure out just what these desks would look like.

ABCs of DCC power district

How many times have you read or heard that blocks are not required for Digital Command Control (DCC)? For many small layouts that may be true, but for most medium to large layouts, blocks can make operations smoother and more reliable.

What do I mean by a block? Any electrically isolated section of track on a layout can be considered a block. Electrically isolated blocks are created by cutting through both rails at the beginning and end of the desired block and providing separate power connections to each block.


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