Following the completion of Pitcairn Yard and the first full operating session held for the 2017 Greensburg RPM meet in March, we have held monthly operating sessions. We like to have some progress to show each month which has taken the form of laying sidings for several industries. See below for photos of each spur thus far.
This is no April Fool's joke, but we met the deadline on installing an industry for April. Rolling Rock brewery was once a thriving industry of Latrobe (it still is but under different ownership). We chose to model it using one of the buildings from the Walthers Paper Mill kit and two sidings. The outdoor siding is used for unloading raw materials such as grain to make the beer. The indoor track is used to ship finished beer out in insulated boxcars. There will also be several truck loading docks for materials the plant would receive or ship in too small a quantity or too short a distance to use rail. These truck docks are highly visible, making it a great place to detail an open door and the flashing green and red lights on the dock.
In order to achieve as much grade separation between the mainline and Stone & Co. as possible, a very steep drop is made off the main to reach the industry. We doubled up the cork roadbed to effect a smooth and gradual vertical curve. Despite the severe vertical curves, we have had no runaway cars so far.
The progress for June's operating session was made on the North Side. There was a severe vertical kink in the mainline as it entered the Ft. Wayne bridge's west end. As a first step to try to resolve the issue, we removed the screws that set the elevation of the riser in the far right of this photo. This fixed the problem! The plywood set itself where there was no resistance, and we sank the screws in new holes. The plywood in the bottom right corner of this photo was also cut and screwed in place to emphasize the elevated mainline compared to ground level. Footage for the Pittsburgh Mainlines videotape/DVD was shot from the roof of R.R. Donnelly, a printing company located here, so we'll probably model that business, even though not served by rail. Additional track was added on the north side of the main. A run around was installed to allow westbound intermodals to work the stub-ended Island Avenue intermodal terminal. Off of this run around are two sidings.
For July, the AVR interchange at Island Avenue Yard was installed between the intermodal yard and the mainline. The plywood rises up into the yard, so the cork was sanded out to nothing to compensate for the hill and allow the yard tracks to sit flat on the plywood. We have used this technique with cork roadbed to transition to plywood on many of our sidings.
Much of the information on rail-served industries came from these track diagrams of the Conrail Pittsburgh Division that Charlie has collected. Conrail published yearly ZTS maps showing exact track layout, car spots, and owners of industrial sidings. We even did some tax map & deed research, which was fun and interesting.
This photo shows the main line continuing past Island Avenue Yard and dropping down into the "trench" through West Park, which is a very popular spot for railfans. The prototype disappears from sight beneath a signal bridge and a road bridge for North Avenue. These will be modeled to disguise the hole in the wall leading to the staging yard.
After connecting the mainline, we had to lay track for Pitcairn Yard to allow for operations to commence. The prototype Pitcairn Yard was used as a general freight classification yard into the Penn Central era. An interesting feature of Pitcairn Yard for many decades is that it also served as an autorack unloading yard where new cars were driven off trains to go to local dealerships. Since the mid 1990s, the yard has served as Conrail, and later Norfolk Southern's, Pittsburgh Intermodal Terminal. Although the prototype yard was practically dormant during the early Conrail years that we model, it serves as a freight yard out of which local turns originate on our layout. Our Pitcairn Yard includes two double-ended arrival and departure tracks, five stub-ended classification tracks, a run around, a caboose track, a RIP (Repair In Place) track, two autorack unloading tracks, and an engine terminal.
Operationally, mainline mixed freight trains stop to work the yard as they pass through the layout. For right now, the PML has four mainline mixed freights. Usually two to three of these run in a session. The road crew ties their train down on the arrival and departure tracks, splitting their usually-lengthy train to fit, then runs their road power to the engine terminal for servicing. The yard crew then works the mainline train, removing cars bound for online industries and interchanges and adding cars bound for staging in the same direction as the train's destination. Once the yard crew is done putting the train back together, the road crew doubles up their train and heads for points east or west.
The yard crew is also responsible for putting together locals on an as-needed basis as cars for local industries accumulate in the yard. All locals operate as turns. They pick up power from the engine terminal, pick up their train, work the industries off one main on their way out, work the industries off the opposite main on their way back, and tie down in the yard.
Pitcairn has turned out to be a major hub of operational activity on our layout. See the photos below for a tour of the yard, working east from the western approach to the yard.
Pitcairn Yard had many required tracks, so careful planning was required in AutoCAD before a single spike was driven. About a month was spent drawing and revising the yard design until we were happy with the result. In this view, blue trackage belongs to Conrail. The yard ladder is seen at top middle and the engine terminal to the right.
This concludes your tour of Pitcairn Yard. Once everything was said and done, the yard envelops most of the "new room". The yard fills a much-needed role for prototype operation.
We have gotten behind on posting progress pictures. Here is a look back to last summer.
And we will leave you with that until our next update. May you run on good signals!
~ Andy & Charlie
Thanks to everyone who stopped by to help us mark the occasion. We might just make this an annual event!
Constructing the backdrop for the railroad has been a real learning experience. I didn't really have a reference to guide me, so I hope my trials and tribulations will be helpful to others. I have heard of modelers using styrene, sheet metal, drywall and Masonite for backdrops. Masonite seemed like the logical choice - strong, readily available and within our skill set. When we started the layout, we decided to install vertical 2 x 4's on 4-foot centers against the wall. These provided a strong support system for the back of the bench work and gave the Masonite something to attach to.
We realized early on that horizontal members were needed as well to provide support for the Masonite. We had already placed a horizontal 2 x 4 at the top of the wall so the "L" channel around the perimeter of the suspended ceiling would have something to attach to. We also added a horizontal member at the bottom of the backdrop and one midway between the top and the bottom. We cut these horizontal boards as carefully as possible so they were a press fit in between the vertical members. We used the molasses-colored Gorilla Glue at the joints, which expands as it dries if you have pre-wet the mating joints. This eliminated the need for screws or other hardware which could get in the way of attaching the Masonite.
We initially attached the Masonite to the wood framing using countersunk flat head drywall screws into the Masonite and filled the holes with drywall compound. I handled joints exactly as one would tape and finish drywall joints - place the abutting sheet of Masonite as close as possible to the previous sheet, then tape and "mud" the joint. The problem is Masonite does not have tapered edges like drywall, so it was a lot of work to disguise the joint and feather out the mud. Our basement has heat and A/C, but despite that over time a small crack would appear directly over the joint. I went back and tried to add another thin layer of mud, but this was a short lasting remedy. Furthermore, it was not feasible once we had painted the backdrop, since we blended light blue at the bottom into medium blue at the top. Good luck trying to match that color variation!
During a visit to Stephen Priest's layout in Kansas City several years ago, Stephen shared his technique of leaving a gap (about 1/4" to 3/8") between the abutting sheets of Masonite and filling this with Bondo auto body filler. He said it stuck like crazy and if you made your joint a floating joint (easier said than done), you would have no problems with expansion and contraction.
Another local modeler suggested we try Durham's Water Putty for filling our joints and screw holes. I tried it but did not like it at all. It does not seem to hold its dimensions after it dries - a small hairline crack always seemed to develop around the edge no matter how many times you sanded it. It is also tougher than nails to sand. My vote goes to Bondo.
We continued to affix the Masonite with drywall screws to the support members behind and at the joints. Unfortunately, this created a lot of screw holes to fill. I also learned that the screw creates a localized "dimple" in the Masonite, so it creates the need to fill a depressed spot 3-4 inches round. This was a very time-consuming task when trying to sand the Bondo.
On this very long 8-foot piece of backdrop, we realized that we would have to glue it all at once, as we could not pull it away from the wall once any part of it was attached. We took a 10-foot 1 x 4 and screwed it to the Masonite directly over the center horizontal support frame; also two short pieces on the middle vertical member. We had about a dozen small screw holes to fill afterwards, but no countersinking or filling depressed screw heads. Notice that we also painted the top two feet of the backdrop before mounting so we would not have to try to edge our painting against the drop ceiling.
In the original room, we used a documented technique of painting the backdrop with two shades of blue, working down from the top with the darker shade and up from the bottom with the lighter shade and blending the colors in the middle. I wasn't overjoyed with the results (you could see where you started and stopped each section), but it looked okay. Good luck trying to touch up the backdrop if you damaged it or goofed while painting a cloud. This was one reason I could never get enthusiastic about painting clouds.
I fully intended to paint the backdrop in the new room using the same technique...until our gallon of the darker shade of blue ran out. The original color was discontinued and even though we had the formula, the mixing color palate had also changed. Two attempts to scan and color match the old shade were disasters and the thinner consistency of the new paint did not blend well with the thicker consistency of the old paint we still had for the lighter color. After painting the backdrop in the new room twice with very poor results, I made the decision to paint ALL of the backdrop (new room and old) a single, uniform color. I don't regret that call for a minute.
An experiment we tried that worked out very well was the use of cardboard concrete forms ("sonotubes") to transition from the original layout room to the new room. We wanted to create as tight a curve as possible around the opening in the 10-inch concrete block foundation wall. It did not seem at all feasible to bend Masonite to a 6 or 7-inch radius, and I was reluctant to try styrene or other material as it would have different material properties from the Masonite and I felt we would always have a visible crack due to expansion and contraction.
I initially bought a 12-inch diameter cardboard tube at Home Depot, which we cut in half lengthwise. It was about 1/8" thick, the same as the Masonite, so I just glued the edge onto a vertical 2" x 4" at each end, intending to put the Masonite up against it. I tried to fill the gap with drywall compound, but it kept cracking. The cardboard was not very rigid and every time it got bumped, the joint cracked. In addition, we were trying to make a 12-inch diameter tube stretch to 12-3/4", which it did not want to do.
I finally went to a concrete contractor supply business and bought a 14-inch diameter tube, which was much heavier and a full 1/4" thick. We built out our framing another 1-1/2" and that was a better fit. Using a router, we then cut a groove in each of the framing members, 1/8" deep (half the thickness of the cardboard tube). We applied Gorilla Glue in the grooves and stretched the cardboard tube just a bit to fit into the grooves. After the glue dried, we had a continuous joint that was strong and ready to mate with the Masonite. As with the joints between sheets of Masonite, we left a 3/8" gap which we filled with Bondo.
The cardboard tubes are spiral wound and the seams show if not addressed. I used several thin applications of drywall compound to minimize their visibility. After painting, they are barely noticeable.
We spent the first few months of the year working on wiring the main line (Charlie) and working on the backdrop (Andy) so that all completed bench work was operable. Truth be told, we were pretty excited to get some trains running now that we could run from Latrobe to Swissvale by way of staging. The Train Nerd's Blog tells the story of our first two operating sessions in January and April.