Ralston-Purina Visit

Recently my wife and I made the forty-minute drive to Circleville to take some photos of the former Ralston-Purina plant. Of the industries and buildings I will be including on my model railroad, this is the only one that still (largely) exists from the timeframe I am modeling.

That visit got me thinking, and I broke out my collection of photos, articles and maps to see how things fit together. In this post, I’ll compare photos from today to “back in the day”, provide a little plant history that I’ve scraped together, and go over a bit of rail operations. I’ll also touch on how I intend to model the structure.

Then vs. Now

It’s remarkable how little has changed over the decades. Ben Shahn took the following photo in 1938, as part of his work with the FSA (Farm Security Administration). This is my go-to reference for this building due to its detail and timeframe.

Mr. Shahn took many photos of the Circleville area, and his collection, housed in the Library of Congress, is one reason I chose my particular modeling year. The photos are great references for buildings of course, but also for period environmental details. This particular photo includes bicycle riders, a mix of brick and asphalt street paving, trucks, weedy side tracks, coal hoppers, train order semaphores, etc. Great stuff.

Comparing the previous photo to mine from 2020 shows little change, other than the missing warehouse (where the truck dock is in the 1938 photo), soybean oil tanks, and chimney, and some added sheathing.

Similarly, the southeast side of the plant also show few changes. The first is a photo postcard, circa 1940; the second is my photo from to 2020. Both are both taken from roughly the same spot. The biggest changes are the addition of siding and the subtraction of the boiler’s chimney.

A Brief History of the Mill

Part of the fun of building models of specific buildings or places is the research that goes along with it. The most helpful for this facility were old editions of the Circleville Herald (via Newspapers.com) and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. The Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Library has also been a huge help.

On the 1927 Sanborn fire insurance map, the property was referred to as “H.M. Crites & Co. Flour Mill & Elevator”, was “re-built” in 1918 and had a 100,000-bushel capacity. According to a 1933 Herald article, Mr. Crites acquired the property in 1918 and presumably was responsible for the rebuilding. It’s not clear what exactly what that rebuilding consisted, but it appears that the concrete headhouse and brick/concrete office were added, possibly replacing an older wooden structure.

At some point, the mill was sold to the Dixie Mills Company, whose properties (this and several others) were sold at auction at the courthouse in January of 1925, apparently to Mr. Crites. I suspect that Dixie Mills was controlled by Mr. Crites, and that he bought it from himself at that auction.

In any case, Mr. Crites was back in control of the mill by 1933 because in that year, he sold the property to Ralston-Purina in a transaction involving eight (or ten, depending on the source) additional properties. In reporting on the transaction, The Herald stated that Mr. Crites had “vast agricultural holdings … throughout several central Ohio counties” and “Mr. Crites pointed out [the S. Court st plant] is valued at $350,000” and all nine (or eleven) had a value just under a half-million dollars. The deal was described as “one of the biggest in Pickaway-co’s history“. Quite a sum in 1933.

Ralston-Purina immediately began refitting the property, converting it from a flour mill to a feed mill. They installed two French soybean oil expellers in January, 1935, and four more the following summer. These gave the plant the capacity to process up to one million bushels of beans per year.

Those expellers needed beans, so the company also made a pitch to local farmers to start planting them, as described in a 1934 advertisement in The Herald (left). They also planned to provide seed starting the following year.

The photo accompanying the advertisement nicely illustrates the physical arrangement of the time. The storage bins that are landmarks today did not yet exist.

In 1936, new slip-form concrete “tanks” were constructed, with a capacity of 200,000 bushels. This first set are along the tracks, directly west of the head house. In 1939, an additional twelve tanks were added to the immediate southwest of the first set. These added another 250,000 bushels.

Also in 1939, the company removed an old brick building that sat along Court Street (on the north side of the brick office building) and built a new metal-clad, two-story warehouse to store feed produced in the plant. To the rear (west) of this building, a new three-story metal-clad building to house equipment for manufacturing livestock and poultry feed was added. Some of these improvements are visible in the Ben Shahn photo.

And that brings us up to 1939-date!

Railroad Service

In 1938, the plant was served directly by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Zanesville branch, which ran from Zanesville to Morrow. The branch was often referred to as the C&MV (Cincinnati and Muskingum Valley) after the company that built the line in the 1850s. The plant was also served indirectly by the N&W, via an interchange/transfer track from Huston St.

Pennsylania’s Zanesville branch connected Zanesville and Cincinnati, via Morrow, Ohio. Circleville was one of the heaviest shipping points between Zanesville and Morrow. 1927 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map with 1945 updates. Annotations by Matt Goodman

Purina was a money-maker for the Pennsylvania railroad. It, along with the Eshelman Feed Mill a quarter mile to the east, made Circleville the heaviest shipping point along the entire branch. In later years, the branch was stubbed at the Scioto River when the bridge over the river was determined to be unsafe for the traffic of the day.

From an operations perspective, I’ve found evidence of a surprisingly wide variety of car-types being delivered to the plant.

  • Boxcars for delivering soybeans and other ingredients used in feed products
  • Boxcars for shipping the final product
  • Hopper cars to deliver coal for plant power and steam heat
  • Tank cars to deliver petroleum products for the neighboring filling station/garage.

The area around the Ralston-Purina plant was cramped, from a railroad switching perspective. The mill, a busy US Highway crossing (S. Court Street/U.S. 23), two interlocked Norfolk and Western crossings, and the N&W interchange track were right on top of one another at the east end. The upside was that all of the switching could be done from the west end, which had only one side street crossing (Harrison Street – just out of view in the map above).

It appears that none of the tracks in the Purina area were double-ended, so the crews couldn’t do a traditional run-around move to get the locomotive onto the east end of a train after switching was complete. However, railroaders from the 1980’s have told me that they got around this problem by using a “gravity drop” with the aid of a light descending grade toward the Scioto. The crew would move the locomotive out of the way, then release the brakes on the cars they wanted to remove. The cars would drift west past the locomotive, which could then couple to the east end of the cars. It seems reasonable to assume that the same moves would have been done in 1938-9.

Modeling

I’d always planned on representing the plant on the model railroad, given its visual and economic prominence in this part of Circleville. Initially, it’s inclusion was only going to be cosmetic, but after learning all that I’ve typed above (and finding I had more space on the model railroad than I thought), I am now motivated to include Purina as an active switching point. Those operating plans, however, are in the future.

The plans for modeling the building itself consist of a pretty straight forward kitbash. The base for the model will be Walther’s ADM Grain Elevator kit, which represents a slip-form concrete storage facility. This model has the same relatively compact profile as Purina.

Walther’s Cornerstone model of a slip-form elevator.

Although a good starting point, the kit is too short vertically and horizontally. The prototype structure is relatively compact in the grand scheme of things (great for a model railroad!), but it’s much bigger than a railroad car – refer again to the Ben Shahn photo. My modeling philosophy is to preserve these proportions where possible.

To get there, Christy and I will bash two of the kits together to give it more visual “heft”. This will involve the following:

  • Raise the kit’s head house “shoulders” from 76 to 90 feet and it’s “head” to 100 feet
  • Raise the height of the kit’s storage bins from 63 to about 80 scale feet
  • Add four more storage bins (twelve vs. the model’s eight) to increase the horizontal footprint

That build will be the subject of some future post.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or additions, please share a comment in the section below. If you know others that might be interested in this blog, feel free to share the link.

Middle Switch Complex

This past week I’ve been working on three additional right-hand turnouts that are key to laying another twelve feet of track on the old mainline. As a reminder, the old main is used to service industries in Circleville (the modern mainline was constructed in 1911). In a future post, I’ll reflect on the five turnouts (constructed two months ago) that lead to these three.

Some folks are able to build turnouts on a fixture in an hour or two. I cannot, even though I’ve built at least a dozen. Likely the problem is that I figure out all of the tricks for speedy assembly during a building session, then forget those hard-learned tricks before I build another set!

I cut the rail I needed for the eight turnouts along this stretch (four righthand, four left) last autumn, along with doing the filing needed for the frog and switch points. That left only locating and filing the stock rail bases where the point rail would sit, some bending operations, cleaning the rail, and cutting the PC board ties before I started soldering.

Turnout construction tools

After completing that work and assembling the turnouts, I spent a good deal of time tuning the points to allow smooth operation on both routes. I tried some new ideas on the shaping the points that seemed to work well (my growing collection of files came in handy here) – though the real test will be running trains over them.

Arranging the turnouts on the layout was mostly completed last summer, using Fast Tracks paper templates as stand-ins. I spent several hours experimenting with different arrangements, trying to find the best balance of usability and aesthetics. The tracks competing for turnout space along the old main were:

  • The west end of Esmeralda Canning’s siding
  • The east end of a runaround on the old main
  • A spur to Pickaway Grain and Maizo Mills
  • A spur to Enderlin Coal

A fourth turnout is in the immediate vicinity, but as it was on the runaround track (not the old main), it had no impact on the arrangement.

Referring to the gallery of photos above, I decided against Arrangement 1 primarily because it would require a switchback to get to Enderlin Coal. In reality, there was a switchback in this location that led to Pickaway Grain’s own coal yard. That made a turnout here defensible, but I wanted to avoid the complexity.

Arrangement 2 solved the switchback issue, but cramped Pickaway Grain’s loading area and crowded Enderlin Coal and Esmeralda too closely, which went against my aesthetic interest in creating breathing room between industries. These first two arrangments also made Esmeralda’s siding shorter than I wanted (only 2.5-3 cars) due to it’s west end turnout placement.

To lengthen Esmeralda’s siding, I tried Arrangement 3. This involved moving its turnout to the right, displacing Enderlin’s turnout back to the switchback. This was better for Esmeralda, but… the switchback.

The biggest change with Arrangement 4 was the removal of Enderlin Coal. This is the arrangement I decided on, for a couple of reasons. In my last post about the industries I selected, I mentioned eliminating Enderlin Coal to “mitigate problems elsewhere” – this switch complex was that “elsewhere”. Removing Enderlin and its turnout provided breathing room and simplified this area as well as giving space back to the rest of the layout. See the previous post for more information.

Fast forward back to this past week. After getting the turnouts built and placed on the layout, I tweaked them a bit more to account for track spacing and the already-installed Pickaway Grain/Maizo turnout.

Final Arrangement

In the photo above, the left turnout leads from the old main to the east end of the runaround, the center-left turnout (on the runaround) leads to a short 1-car stub-end spur, the center-right turnout is the west end of Esmeralda Canning’s siding and the rightmost turnout leads to Pickaway Grain and Maizo Mills.

The final photo below is looking railroad west (compass north) to illustrate the nicely-developing industrial area along the old main. Complete with captions!

Circleville’s west-side industrial stretch, progressing nicely

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or additions, please share a comment in the section below. If you know others that might be interested in this blog, feel free to share the link.

Container Corporation Site Arrangement

Container Corporation, ca late forties

Container Corporation’s strawboard mill was the largest industry in the section of Circleville I’m modeling in 1938, and will also be the busiest industry on my model railroad. Since deciding that Circleville would be a focus of the railroad, I’ve gone through many design ideas for the mill’s site, structure, and track layout to best suit my goals.

Plant Siting

One thing that was never in doubt was the location of the plant on my model railroad. In the real world, the mill was located alongside the N&W Railroad and Canal Street at a point where the railroad makes a ninety-degree bend. This curve made a room corner the logical location to model this part of the railroad, which in turn made the same corner the ideal location for this plant.

So the general siting of the plant was easy. Sizing it turned out to be more difficult, with each attempt teaching me something that led to another attempt. In the end, the effort made me happier with the result.

Arrangement 1

When I first designed the layout using CAD, the Container Corporation’s footprint – in fact, all of Circleville – was relatively compact. The plant was tucked close to the room corner, with the remainder of Circleville’s industries extending down the wall to the right (north). As I learned more about the plant, I gradually stretched it’s footprint and moved it further from the corner. However, these changes were limited by the other industries in this stretch – the space available was finite.

After the benchwork was built, dad and I laid out the entire industrial stretch on tracing paper – this is dad’s preferred technique, adapted from his day job. Each industry was sized to fit the space, in proportion to one another.

Following the pencil-and-pen planning, I set about building a mockup of the plant. This raised the question of compression. I ultimately decided to size the whole plant using the coal shed/boiler room as the point of reference. The prototype shed was about 105 feet – or about long enough to house three coal hoppers. I shortened it to two hopper-lengths and applied the resulting 60-65% compression to the rest of the plant buildings.

Even with this compression, the full plant was bigger than I expected. It’s one thing to see a two-dimensional footprint, another to have a physical object as a hard reference. This more-imposing-than-expected building forced the rest of Circleville a bit north.

With the mock-up in place, I also realized that the close-to-the-corner siting would make it difficult to get track into the receiving yard without concessions in curve radius, track length and turnout locations. It would also have scenic impacts as it would leave no room for contextual buildings – specifically straw ricks and a small residential area on the south (left) end of the plant.

Over a couple of months, I started moving the plant to the right to address those concerns, which compressed the rest of the industries like a slinky.

Arrangement 2 and 3

After fussing with the compressed industrial stretch for several months, I decided to do a more comprehensive re-think of the entire Circleville industrial stretch, from Ohio Street (in the left corner) to Hargus Creek (right), in order to loosen things up.

After considering what was important to me – namely, operationally interesting or personally relevant structures – I decided to remove an entire block between Main Street and Hargus Creek on the right end. There were no rail-served industries at that end so there was no downside, other than the loss of a cool canal-era building. The upside was gaining an additional 31″ that the rest of Circleville could “grow” into. All of the industries gained more elbow room; CCA (at the opposite end) got a good chunk of that newfound space.

The additional breathing room more-or-less addressed the left-end track work concerns. There was now reasonable room to get trains in and out of the plant’s receiving yard. Details on that layout will be in a future post.

Plant Revision

During this same timeframe, I decided to revise the plant mock-up. The first mock-up was based on 1920’s dimensions and aerial photo, which I thought would be appropriate for my 1938-39 modeling time frame. Additional research unearthed information and photos showing that assumption was incorrect. The entire left end of the plant changed in 1936-1937.

I’d been itching to revise the mockup anyway, since the original had been constructed hastily to make the layout presentable for a neighborhood open house. This new information was just the trigger to get it started.

While building the new mock-up, I updated the dimensions of all of the buildings including shorter vertical dimensions and a more generous horizontal compression (70 vs. 60%). These changes made the overall proportions more pleasing and provided more room for the shipping trackwork at the right end of the plant. It also extended the left end of the building back toward the corner, though that did not impact the receiving yard’s usability.

There was one final move. For a variety of reasons, I decided to remove one industry (Enderlin Coal) altogether, freeing up more space. Again, everyone got more elbow room, and CCA got two inches of that.

That final move wrapped up CCA’s siting. It’s time to start some track work on on the Old Main.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or additions, please share a comment in the section below. If you know others that might be interested in this blog, feel free to share the link.

Finalized List of Modeled Industries

Almost since the moment I decided to model Circleville, I was certain I would include three specific sites on my railroad; Circleville’s Interlocking Tower (VI Tower, the namesake of this website), Container Corporation’s strawboard mill, and Pickaway Grain’s elevator.

The inspiration for VI Interlocking Tower is twofold. Firstly, dad spent a lot of time hanging around the tower as a kid, getting to know one of the operators very well (Wink Wellington), feeding his interest in the railroad – and indirectly, mine. Secondly, interlocking towers are an iconic railroad structure – known by railroaders for their function, and by the public as a landmark.

Container Corporation was the largest industry in Circleville during the time I am modeling and produced an unusual product, making it an operationally busy and functionally interesting addition to my railroad. In addition, I remember the plant (albeit in a more modern form than my modeled period) and my uncle Gene worked there as a chemical engineer in the fifties. Both make it personally relevant to me.

Pickaway Grain was astride one of the doorways to Circleville (Main Street / Rt 22), making it a landmark to local citizens and travelers. It represents an industry that was (and is) ubiquitous in grain-growing areas – during my modeled time period, smaller elevators were a common sight along every railroad. Pickaway Grain is another personally relevant industry as I remember passing it every time we left Circleville for home.

Those three obviously weren’t the only three rail-served industries in Circleville. Dad suggested three more from his memory for modeling consideration. Esmeralda Canning Company was on Canal Street immediately north of Container Corporation (CCA). Esmeralda was probably still operating during my (early) lifetime but would have been long out of business by the time the building was torn down in 1996. Enderlin Coal (later VanCamp), north of Esmeralda, was once a very busy retail coal yard with an unloading trestle spanning a concrete pit. It’s not clear when it stopped selling coal – I suspect shortly after VanCamp bought the property since that company’s focus was road work. Maizo Mills was on the north side of Main Street, across from Pickaway Grain. It burned down spectacularly in the 1950’s.

Beyond these initial six, I learned about additional sites/industries of the period from a variety of sources (mainly period Sanborn Fire Insurance and N&W Right of Way maps) that I also considered including. They were (from south to north):

  • Purina Feeds on S. Court and W. Huston.
  • Two canal-era houses on Canal street between the CCA and Esmeralda properties.
  • N.T. Weldon Coal and Building Supply at the corner of W. Mound and Canal streets, between Enderlin Coal and Pickaway Grain
  • A bulk oil company owned (I think) by Weldon at the same location as above
  • The Ohio and Erie Canal warehouse (re-used by a host of other industries later) on the site of today’s Pickaway County Health District building.
  • N&W’s Freight House at the corner of North Western Avenue and Water Street
  • Highway Department site north of Ted Lewis Park (at the same location as today’s ODOT facility).
  • Sturm and Dillard sand and gravel’s spur on the west side of the N&W, across from the north end of Forest Cemetery

Ultimately I had to make some choices since I don’t have space for the entire city. After a year or so of planning, building mock-ups to check for fit, research trips to the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Library, advice from friends in the hobby and lobbying by dad – with my list growing, shrinking and changing from month to month – I finally decided on the following list. From north to south this time, the champions are:

  • N&W Freighthouse
  • Maizo Mills
  • Pickaway Grain
  • Esmeralda Canning
  • Container Corporation
  • Purina
  • VI Tower

I chose these based on relevance to my family (i.e., what we remember), interest from a visual, train operations or historical standpoint, recognizability and (very importantly), space available.

I tried very hard to work Enderlin/VanCamp in. It checked the interesting (coal trestle) and relevant boxes and dad lobbied hard for it. In the end, I couldn’t make the track layout work in the space available and removing it freed up enough space to mitigate problems elsewhere. If I can fit it in a different (incorrect) location, it will be back.

The Ohio & Erie Canal warehouse is certainly interesting, but since it wasn’t rail-served, it missed the “operationally relevant” check. I pulled N.T. Weldon because of redundancies with Pickaway Grain (both sold coal and building supplies, and in fact, Weldon was later purchased by Pickaway Grain). It also presented some track layout issues.

I will most likely add Sturm and Dillard to the list in the future, though more design work is required before committing to it. Also possible (though less likely) is the Highway Department. There may also be a few items added east of South Court Street, once I get to planning that area.

Over time I will add new posts about each of these industries, and for those that have enough information, a stand-alone web page.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or additions, please share a comment in the section below. If you know others that might be interested in this blog, feel free to share the link.

Steam – The Ubiquitous Power Source of the Past

In today’s world, electricity is a ubiquitous power source – we use it for everything from running factories to cooking to powering model “steam” locomotives. In the vast majority of cases, that electricity is purchased from a utility. While doing research on the various industries along the N&W in Circleville, it became clear to me that steam was the ubiquitous power source back in the day – and that power was generated at the plant site.

The Circleville industries I model, circa 1939, used steam generated in the plant to power a variety of processes necessary for their business. From north to south, they were:

  • Maizo Mills – Steam used to power an engine that drove the corn cob grinding machinery
  • Pickaway Grain – Steam powered a steam engine that operated the elevator leg machinery
  • Esmeralda Canning Company – Used steam in the cooking process prior to canning, and to power the canning machinery.
  • Container Corporation – The most extensive operation in size with the widest variety of steam uses, “The Strawboard” used steam under pressure in the straw cooking process, to power turbo-generators that supplied the plant’s electrical needs, other turbines that were mechanically connected to pumps and other peripherals, heating the paper drying rollers and finally, to heat the entire mill complex.
  • Norfolk & Western Railroad – The railroad, of course, used steam for transportation services.

What got me thinking about this were three Circleville Herald articles I came across using Newspapers.com. All reported cases in which local plants needed externally generated steam to replace their on-site production due to emergency or maintence situations. In all three cases, that external steam that was provided by the mobile steam generating plants of the N&W (i.e., steam locomotives) .

August, 1942

In August of 1942, Esmeralda Canning Company experienced a boiler failure during the canning rush. A call to an N&W official in Portsmouth (where division headquarters were located) led to a locomotive being dispatched from Columbus. The locomotive’s boiler was then tied into Esmeralda’s system to allow their canning work to resume.

August, 1952

Problems struck Esmeralda again in May, 1952 – another boiler failure shut the plant down. Like in 1942, the plant’s management called the N&W, which again dispatched a steam locomotive from it’s closest terminal (Columbus) to get Esmeralda up and running.

January, 1955

Finally, in January 1955, Container Corporation – a strawboard mill – leased a steam locomotive from the N&W to supply steam for heating the buildings while the mill’s main boiler was down for planned maintenance.

Unlike the two Esmeralda incidents, this was not an emergency so probably did not require a frantic call to the local railroad agent. This particular article lists two interesting details; the steam locomotive was capable of producing 10,000 pounds of steam per hour compared to the mill’s boiler capacity of 90,000 pounds per hour.

It appears that, prior to the 1960’s, steam locomotives could serve the same purpose as flatbed-mounted diesel-generators do in today’s world. They both provide a source of energy compatible for the energy consuming loads of their times – emergency or planned.

The Shifter

Sometime in the past five years, I discovered the following photo in the Norfolk and Western Historical Society’s online archives. I found it using a “Circleville” keyword search, but more precisely, it’s location is Dorney, Ohio, which was a coal and water stop a couple of miles south of Circleville. The photo was taken in 1946 and the subject is #573, a class E2a Pacific type.

E2atDorney
E2a #573 simmers at the Dorney water tower in 1946.  What is it doing here?

When I first saw this photo, I remember wondering what a lightweight (for 1946) passenger locomotive was doing there with no train – and a caboose?  Since the location and locomotive didn’t seem to apply to my interest in the railroad through Circleville, I discounted and forgot about it.

In the autumn of 2017, while doing research on the Container Corporation at the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Library, I came across a photo of the company’s cinder tower – and in the background was a surprise – an E2a working the shipping dock. Surprise or not, this made it obvious that these locomotives were being used in freight service.

E2atContainer
An unknown E2a works Container Corporation’s shipping dock

The photo isn’t dated – I guessed it was taken in the early to mid-1940’s based on surrounding details. In retrospect, the date on the Dorney photo supports that guess. Based on this photo, I guessed that the E was used to power local freights that worked out of Columbus and Portsmouth – similar to how K1 Mountain types were used in the fifties.

This past month, I came across information that has made me discount the local freight idea. The information came in the form of an August 1941 newspaper article about a grade crossing accident (thanks to my subscription to newspapers.com).

DorneyShifter
The Circleville Shifter

 The article stated that the automobile involved was struck by the caboose of an “N&W shifter that was moving freight cars from Dorney to the railroad freight house“.

The word “shifter” supplies some context – they generally don’t travel far. In fact, the references to the freight house (on Circleville’s north end), and Dorney probably define the entire range of the shifter’s work. It seems reasonable to assume that the locomotive that was doing the shifting was stationed in the Circleville area, and the Dorney photo is very likely documenting a locomotive that is waiting for the next batch of freight cars to shift to local customers.

The Dorney and Container Corporation photos are therefore good evidence that E2a’s were assigned to this job. This type of locomotive would seem to be a good fit for this work; fast enough to get over the main line quickly, while small enough to traverse the industrial track of the old main line, with it’s lighter rail and sharper curves.

In light of this information, dad’s stories about seeing M’s and Z’s – both slow freight engines – in town in the 1950’s make more sense. I had previously assumed those locomotives came over the road (slowly) from Portsmouth or Columbus. More likely, they were also assigned to Circleville’s shifting job. Assigning obsolete power to this job apparently didn’t stop with steam – my friend Mark Maynard was doing basically the same work in the late 70’s / early 80’s with GP9s and Alcos.

All of this from a few words in a 77-year-old article about a grade crossing accident!

Five Week Construction Sprint

Everyone knows that there is nothing that focuses you on work that needs to be done like a deadline. My deadline was an upcoming neighborhood home and garden tour on which our house was one of the destinations.

We had agreed to be on this year’s tour more than a year ago. The main feature of our home, the one that prompted the tour organizers to recruit us, was our rooftop solar array – a feature that is not common in Central Ohio and is virtually unknown in my neighborhood.  One component of that system is the inverter, and our inverter is in our basement.  Given that the layout is also in the basement, it would unavoidably also be on display and I decided that this was as good a time as any to “out” myself as the guy in the neighborhood that builds models.  And that meant the work that needed to be done by the deadline was getting the layout in presentable condition.

I had been making steady progress on the layout before and since we committed to the tour – but with little haste and no definition of “done” (i.e., no goal).  Left to my own devices, I would have been happy to have a static train displayed on dead track in front of a building mockup, but my better half would have none of that.  Trains had to run and those trains had to be moved by steam locomotives with their visually interesting running gear.  Inspired by her resolve, around the first of the year I set the following goals for the tour:

  • Trains running on a continuous loop
  • Fascia, a scenic base and skirting installed along the length of Circleville
  • At least one semi-finished scene to give a sense of what the future miniature reality would look like

Between the time I set the goals early in the year and the end of April, I had completed the track work (with some concessions to expedite the work) and most of the needed wiring.  This took longer than expected, partly due to the effort of working out the wiring logic, but largely due to work travel interruptions. With incomplete wiring, no running trains and zero scenery, the deadline was starting to look imposing at the beginning of May.

With the help of my wife, we mapped out what we needed to do to get the remaining work accomplished. One big change was the use of the “we” word – I began recruiting friends and family.  The other change was simply her keeping me on task – she sent me to the basement virtually every evening to get something done.  The nature of the work also started to change, moving toward more finish-type work, which is easier to delegate out to multiple helpers.  Those helpers came in the form of my brother, dad and friends. My dad and brother did the dirty work of figuring out some fascia mounting solutions that I had been actively ignoring.  Most importantly from a teamwork and labor standpoint, my wife became fully engaged in the effort – planning and working on items completely independently of whatever I was doing (this was a big deal since I am not a natural delegator!).

This all led to a remarkable (for a Goodman) work sprint in the month of May and early June in which all goals were met or exceeded. The work is documented in the following video.

Most importantly, trains ran flawlessly for four hours on tour day! One fully scenicked farm scene (with figures) and two partially scenicked areas added visual interest for our visitors and the fascia and skirting added a finished look. During the pre-tour (for other homeowners on the tour and volunteers) the day before the public tour, I even heard a few gasps of surprise when people entered the basement.  Two of the organizers that had seen the basement only three months before were frankly astounded – proof that they were being overly polite during that earlier visit!  Compared to even a month prior, the basement was was engaging, organized and VERY tidy!

The visitors were a wide spectrum of people, of which all showed at least a passing interest in the railroad, and a large percentage were fascinated by it. Everyone loves miniatures – they can trigger your imagination to take you to a different place, time and reality.  I suspect there were at least a couple of visitors that are now potential hobbyists!

Building Spline with Homasote – Time Lapse Videos

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Many years ago, I bought Joe Fugate’s well-done video series about the construction of his Siskiyou layout. The section on Masonite spline roadbed convinced be to try the method. Having built several plywood cookie-cutter layouts over time, I was ready to try something different.

Before starting construction of my current layout, I was further influenced by another modeler who was also a proponent of using spline – but his material of choice was Homasote.  His reasoning was logical and applicable to my way of doing things.

The advantages of spline in my way of thinking is three-fold; it produces natural vertical and horizontal curves, there is little waste of material (a flat sheet of material can be turned into any roadbed shape; straight or curves) and the subroadbed is also the roadbed (if using the solid spline method)  The key selling point of Homasote is the ability to assemble it with screws; important to me since I tend to do a lot of revisions.  Screw assembly means disassembly and reassembly when one’s mind changes…

Over the past two years I’ve laid about 150 feet of this roadbed – about 220 if double tracked sections are included – and I thought it was about time to share the process via some time lapse videos I’ve accumulated over the past year.  It won’t necessarily show specific details, but will give viewers a good sense of what the build process looks like.  All are narrated.

As is obvious by the video titles, these are effectively a video layout blog.  Though they weren’t recorded with that in mind, it turned out to be a useful side effect.  Enjoy the cheap entertainment – and questions welcome.

1/12/17 Edit – Added link to update 13