Back On Track

Really . . . I’m back on track, having reactivated my program of modifying Shinohara code 70 switches to be “DCC friendly”.  Regular readers of this blog will recall that I was suffering from “layout construction fatigue” back in late February.  Well, I’ve been ready to get back at it again for over a month, but have been continually distracted by other things.  To be sure, I’ve been doing mostly railroad related tasks, but meat and potatoes production on the layout, -namely trackwork- has been stagnant.  I spent time evaluating, ordering, and then changing out my DCC system back in March.  And I finally got my plate girder bridge assembled; it’s waiting for abutments and wing walls now.  I finished some miscellaneous support framing for the scenery base that will cover the staging tracks, and that area of the layout is just about ready for the hardboard fascia.  All the wiring is caught up with the installed trackage.  I even put some time in on my waybill creation program, redesigning the waybills and empty car bills to more closely resemble the real thing (thanks to Tony Thompson and his work in this area).  And as you know, I’ve been playing a lot, A Mini-Reunion at Covington.

But I have been distracted from the trackwork for much too long, so I determined that I was going to get something done under that discipline today.  That mission was accomplished.  Now that I’ve broken the ice so to speak, I think I’ll find it easier to get back into the swing of things.  I only have about 30 feet of track left to complete the mainline, but I’m holding off on that as I want to complete the trackage in Whitcomb and Oneida before I continue with the main.  I need eleven code 70 switches to be modified and installed in order to complete those areas, so I really need to get with the program.

It’s good to be back!


The Louisiana Eastern Railroad

In a recent post, A Mini-Reunion at Covington, I had mentioned visiting Matt Hardey’s Louisiana Eastern Railroad layout.  Well, I didn’t get that exactly right.  Matt started his dream with the New Orleans Great Northern Railroad.  The prototype eventually was acquired by the Gulf, Mobile and Northern, which itself later became the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  Matt has come up with several operating schemes for his layout.  By using equipment and such for different eras, he can operate the road as the NOGN, or a later era of the GM&O.  Another variant is a “what if” scenario, running steam powered Louisiana Eastern trains over the GM&O via trackage rights in the Covington, Louisiana area during the early 1950s.  Matt has a collection of LE rolling stock, which is what I was fixated on during my visit.

Most of the readers of my ramblings are from this area and are likely to be familiar with the Louisiana Eastern Railroad.  However a few of you may be scratching your head and thinking “never heard of it”.  The Louisiana Eastern was the vision of Paulsen Spence.  An excellent piece about Mr. Spence and the Louisiana Eastern has been written by noted author and local historian Louis Saillard, and can be found here on Chris Palmieri’s website.  I’ll touch on a few of the highlights of the LE gleaned from Louis’ treatise here.

Born in Baton Rouge, Mr. Spence had made his fortune with his Spence Engineering Company and his considerable number of patents for various steam regulating valves.  Eventually he turned his interest to the sand and gravel business, starting a gravel operation in the late 1940s.  He utilized steam locomotives (that he had recently acquired) to move the cars of gravel from the pit to the interchange with the nearby Illinois Central.  The Comite Southern Railroad was born.  In 1950 Mr. Spence acquired a larger gravel pit operation a short distance away.  Included with that sale was the one mile Gulf & Eastern Railroad.  In late 1950 the Louisiana Eastern Railroad was chartered and that’s where the dream began.

Now, the gravel business was good for Mr. Spence, with well over 200 cars of commodity eventually emerging from the pits each week.  But he had a larger vision.  Mr. Spence had been purchasing recently retired steamers from various roads beginning in the mid 1940s and throughout the 1950s, and he eventually had about three dozen of the breed on the property.  The reason for these purchases?  Mr. Spence had conceived the idea of creating a railroad that would run from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Pearl River, Louisiana near the Mississippi border, a distance of nearly 100 miles.  In Baton Rouge, he would have access to the Illinois Central, the Kansas City Southern and the Missouri Pacific.  Near Pearl River he would interchange with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio and the Southern Railway.  With these connections he could effectively create a bypass around the rail traffic congestion in New Orleans.  The steamers were the power for that railroad.  Buying these locomotives at bargain basement prices just made good business sense to Mr. Spence.

Grand plans to be sure, but things came to an abrupt halt in late 1961 when Mr. Spence died suddenly from a heart attack while on a business trip to New York.  The dream was dead.  Everything was sold off and most of the steamers were soon scrapped.  I believe four of the locomotives survived and can be found in various parts of the country.  One of the most interesting locomotives was one of several 4-4-0 types that Mr. Spence had acquired.  Locomotive No. 98 was purchased new by the Mississippi Central Railroad in 1909 and eventually sold to Mr. Spence in 1946.  She still survives and is in operation on the Wilmington & Western Railroad, where she still carries her number of 98.  There are a number of YouTube videos showing her in service; see her during the Wilmington & Western’s Springtime Steam Spectacular in 2014.

A few other links for information about the Louisiana Eastern can be found at the HawkinsRails website, and on Wikipedia.  But if you want the very interesting and detailed story, be sure to read Louis’ piece linked to above.


A Mini-Reunion at Covington

This week has been one of several social gatherings for me.  It began last Wednesday when Wayne Robichaux, “Tomcat” Kelly and I drove over to Covington, Louisiana to spend the day touring several layouts.  The three of us are former operators of the late Lou Schultz’s Alleghany Subdivision of the C&O Railroad.  Our hosts were also members of that same operating group, so this was not only to be a series of layout tours, but also a “mini-reunion” of sorts.

We motored over to Covington during a steady rainfall, but that didn’t dampen our spirits.  We arrived at the first layout, the Southern Railway’s “Rathole”, under construction by Walter Rieger.  Also there were our other hosts, Matt Hardey, Mike Walsdorf and Sam Urrate, and the layout tour commenced.  Walter has essentially completed the first third of his layout, and is now hard at work doing benchwork and laying track on the remainder.  The bulk of the layout is a two level mushroom design, with a third level for staging.  The focus will be on hot and heavy freights running on a fully CTC controlled mainline.  One must see the completed section of this layout to appreciate Walter’s attention to detail, and the completeness and authenticity of the design.  I’ll be following it’s construction over the next several years.

We broke for lunch after touring Walter’s layout, heading over to Bud’s Broiler for one of their famous burgers grilled over a real charcoal pit.  I was especially pleased with this selection of eatery, as I grew up a few blocks from the original Bud’s Broiler on City Park Avenue in New Orleans.  I was a regular patron of the establishment back in the 60s (and which is still in operation).

After lunch we headed over to Matt’s rendition of the Louisiana Eastern Railroad.  Matt had recently completed grafting a beautiful section of a layout that he had acquired onto the peninsula of his layout.  And he has done a masterful job of integrating it into his original layout.  Had he not told me what he’d done, I would have thought it had always been there.  Matt really enjoys building very detailed structures with interiors, and I enjoyed studying them, continually finding more and more to see.

And last we visited Mike’s L&N Railroad.  Mike has an attic layout, and that thing has one of the longest runs I believe I’ve ever seen on an HO layout.  The layout goes around the four walls of the room, and into a long U-shaped peninsula in the center.  But get this . . . it has three levels!  The room is over 50′ in length, and while I don’t recall its width, it is wide enough that Mike has four foot (and greater) aisles through most of the layout.  He says it takes about an hour for a train to traverse the entire line!  He is relatively close to completion on the trackwork, and scenery already has a good start.  The layout will feature both CTC and some APB signaling, and should be quite interesting to operate.

I believe all three of these layouts will have good operations when the time comes, and that can’t be too soon.  I really miss the operations we had at Lou’s, and I’m hoping I’ll be invited over to run on these pikes someday.  The tours were excellent and I’m glad we made the trip to see them.

Late that afternoon we departed Covington and then made a stop in Hammond just to see if anything was running on the CN line there.  Our timing was impeccable.  We arrived just in time to see a southbound freight roaring by, headed by a couple of KCS units . . . an unusual sighting.  And a few minutes later, the southbound local came charging though town hot on the tail of the first train.

Upon arriving back in Denham Springs (about 8:30 pm), Tomcat decided to call it a day.  Wayne and I headed over to the Lagniappe Restaurant near my home for a late supper.  A great day, indeed!

But that wasn’t the end of the week.  Today, Friday, Syd Dann dropped by my house for a visit.  I gave him an update tour of the Louisiana Central, and he then went to his vehicle and labored to carry a large grip into the train room.  Inside was his latest acquisition, an O scale 2-6-6-6 Allegheny!  Man, that was one massive locomotive (even as a model).  After our show-and-tell, we headed up Highway 16 to Watson’s Pizza Place, where I ordered one of their famous Watson Supreme pizzas.  I really love that pizza!  Naturally, my eyes were larger than my stomach, so I’ll be chowing down on the balance of my Supreme for lunch tomorrow.  No problem, there.biggrinAnd the week still has another day left.  In the morning I’ll be attending the weekly ROMEO breakfast with some railroad friends at the Warehouse Restaurant over in Baton Rouge.  I know I’ll have gained five pounds this week by the time I finish it.

But what a delightful week it has been.


Lenz DCC Equipment For Sale – SOLD

I’ve decided to sell some of my Lenz equipment.  I’m offering a command station/booster, a computer interface, and several throttles.  All items are like new, clean, no scratches or dents, and are complete, and have the latest version 3.6 software.  My layout is not operational yet; equipment has only been used for testing during construction.  Manuals are included.  If you’d like to take a look at what I’m offering, head over to my For Sale page on the main website.

In my last post I had indicated my need to take a bit of a breather from layout construction.  I think that was a good decision as my spirits are taking a lift with this time off.  To be sure, my enthusiasm for the hobby hasn’t waned a bit, as most every day I find myself focused on something hobby related.  One of the things I’ve been mulling for some time is a slightly different approach to the method I’ll be using to control the layout.  I’m going to take something of a hybrid approach to this, hence my decision to sell off some of my Lenz equipment that won’t be needed in my new scheme of things.

I spent a little time last night visiting the MidSouth Model Railroad Club over in Baton Rouge, and I enjoyed seeing their relatively complete layout in action.  Getting around an operational layout helps to get the juices flowing again.  I spec I’ll be back out in the train room pretty soon for some construction.


A Visit to the Grande Pacific

This post is a bit tardy relative to the event, however I had started preparing the earlier post Photographic Proof of Progress! last Tuesday and wanted to complete and publish it before starting anything else.  Okay, on to this story:

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to visit Art Houston’s Grande Pacific Railroad.  Wayne Robichaux called Monday evening and informed me that Art was hosting an open house and an informal operating session, and would I be interested?.  Well I had never been to the Grande Pacific, and I decided it was high time that I got myself over to Art’s place, so I accepted.  Wayne picked me up at 7:35 on a rainy Wednesday morning, and then after picking up Jim Lofland, we headed south to Houma, Louisiana, the home of the Grande Pacific.

The two hour drive was uneventful and we arrived just as the layout was cranking up.  Art was busy greeting everyone as they arrived, so I set about checking out his layout.  A bit later after things were running smoothly, Art gave me a schematic diagram of the railroad so that I could get a feel for the route.  As it happened, an empty coal train was departing for it’s run to the mine near the other end of the line, so I decided I’d hitch a ride and see where the train led me.  The Grande Pacific is a multi-level layout with three levels in most places and a fourth level down at the staging yards.  Because of this, the length of run is deceptively long, and I spent a good deal of time with that train.  Once it arrived at the mine, it had to pull the loads, then spot the empties in their place.  Once the new train was made up, the journey back to the origination point began.

It was while that train was on it’s return voyage that a group of fellows from the North Shore area (of Lake Pontchartrain) arrived.  These were all folks that formerly operated on the late Lou Schultz’s C&O layout, and naturally I knew all of them quite well.  By mid afternoon it became practically a mini-reunion with no less than 12 former C&O operators in attendance at Art’s open house.  What a splendid turn of events!

Art himself was quite the gracious host.  Those that wanted to operate did so, and those that wanted to “railfan” and kibitz with each other did that also.  Art was fine with all of it.  He came over to me several times during the day for extended conversation about various things on the layout, and even some discussion about certain model railroad industries.  All was interesting.  And did I mention the refreshments?  I don’t think anyone left Art’s house hungry.

The Grande Pacific is an interesting layout, and is built for heavy operations.  There is something there for just about anybody’s operating interest.  Art has quite a bit of information about his layout on his Facebook page.

Thanks Art for an entertaining day!


The Tall Timber and Santa Fe

Last Saturday I managed to drag myself out of bed early enough to make breakfast over at the Warehouse Restaurant in Baton Rouge.  An informal group of railroad enthusiasts and modelers usually gather there on Saturday mornings to socialize and enjoy a good breakfast together.  Jim Lofland was there and after the meal, he invited a few of us to drop by his home for an impromptu operating session on his Tall Timber and Santa Fe Railway.  Wayne Robichaux and I accepted, along with Gary McMills, and shortly after we were getting a tour of all the latest things to happen on the railroad.  Gary had other obligations and couldn’t stay for the session, so just Jim, Wayne and I started the trains rolling.

Jim’s layout has been in existence pushing 40 years now.  Even though the construction is very “old school”, it still looks good and operates very well.  Jim keeps everything in fine tune and trains run smoothly.  The layout recently received a make-over with hundreds of new trees installed.  Jim loves to build structures and as a result, industries on the layout frequently change as newer buildings replace the old.  I hadn’t been to Jim’s in several years, so there was an awful lot of new stuff to check out and study.  The short session went well and I’m happy that Jim invited us over for a visit.

I’ve hunkered down beneath my layout these past few weeks and have been busy installing Tortoise switch machines.  The weekend before, Ron Findley and I had gone over to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for the NRHS Mississippi Great Southern Chapter’s annual banquet, and as usual it was excellent.  The advertised guest speaker had cancelled at the last minute due to illness, however David Price and Dan Watson put together a splendid presentation about their exploits back in the 60s ferreting out and visiting quite a few shortlines (many of them steam powered) in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.  They ended the show with me clamoring for more.  After the banquet while heading toward home, we managed to catch a couple freight trains passing the depots at Hattiesburg and Slidell.  A really nice day!

This Saturday Ron and I will head over to Hammond for the NRHS Southeast Louisiana Chapter’s banquet, and we’ll probably hang around the depot over there for a bit afterward.  The traffic has increased on the CN line and it’s not uncommon to see BNSF and UP power on the trains.

And I’ll be installing more Tortoises the day after.


Sunset Over the C&O

Yesterday many friends and I attended what was to be the final operating session on the late Lou Schultz’s Chesapeake and Ohio, Alleghany Subdivision layout.  We had a nice attendance, and the session went pretty well I think, with just about all the trains on the schedule having been run.  I felt comfortable being there running my favorite train, #147 on the Greenbrier Subdivision branch, but at the same time I felt an emptiness, with Lou and our other friends Bill Williams and Shawn Levy, not being present at the session.  A special “funeral” train was run near the end, essentially a World War II troop and military equipment train, with a nice open-end observation car on the rear.

This was the third and final session that we’ve had on Lou’s layout since he passed away.  Lou’s wife, Dee, has been so gracious to allow us these last few opportunities to get together and celebrate the friendship and camaraderie that we shared in Lou’s attic.

Repeating (and paraphrasing) the ending  of our first session …back home, Wayne Robichaux and I analyzed the session and stopped to partake of a meal at the Lagniappe Restaurant in Denham Springs.  What a way to spend and end the day . . . a fine day indeed!


Trains Roll on the Attighany Sub

Back in April I mentioned the possibility of continued operations on the late Lou Schultz’s Chesapeake and Ohio layout (Maybe the Sun Hasn’t Set).  Well possibility became reality this past Saturday as many of the former operating group assembled once again in Covington.  Yes, trains once again rolled on the Attighany Sub (an unofficial term often used for the layout).

We ran what was termed a “test” session.  We had a reduced crew of 16 and ran a four hour session.  The local organizers had pre-staged the layout and cleaned the track.  The fast clock was plugged in at 12:01 p.m., and trains started moving.

As was expected, there were a few glitches, some operational, some electrical/mechanical.  But considering that the layout had been dormant for over a year and that no one there had ever staged the layout before, things ran surprisingly well.

It was great seeing old friends again.  I think I speak for most everyone in saying that we want to continue doing this.  But there was also a sadness in not having Lou, Bill and Shawn present.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to Lou’s wife, Dee, and the family for their kindness and the opportunity to keep Lou’s dream alive.

On the way back home, Wayne Robichaux and I analyzed the session and stopped to partake of a meal at the Lagniappe Restaurant in Denham Springs.  What a way to spend and end the day . . . a fine day indeed!


A Visit to the Narrow Gauge

This past weekend Wayne Robichaux and I paid a visit to a friend, Bob McNeese, to pick up some Homasote left-overs that he had from his nearly finished layout.  While there, Bob gave us a tour of his pike and I must say, it is something to behold.

It’s in Sn3 scale and is generally based on the former Rio Grande’s narrow gauge operation in the New Mexico/Colorado area.  The layout has a couple small yards, and silver mines abound.  The structures are superb, the layout’s level of detail is quite high and the scenery is spectacular.  There was simply no way to take it all in with just one visit and I’ve already told Bob that I need to visit again to continue my observation.

The proponents of S scale often tout the fact that it is the “ideal” scale, and I have to agree.  I love the size with respect to actually being able to see the finest details, yet still small enough to get a decent sized layout in a modest space.  If I didn’t have 50 years worth of HO collected and was just getting started, I’d have to give S scale some serious consideration.

On the Louisiana Central, a modest amount of work has been accomplished since my last post.  The framing around the lift-up access hatch is done and the drawer slides are installed.  I need a couple more hours to complete the framing required on the hatch section itself to connect it to the drawer slides.

I’ve completed the short run of sub-roadbed needed to tie the Texas and Pacific trackage from staging, into the main sub-roadbed at Monterey.  I’ve extended the T&P track from staging onto the visible portion of the layout, just shy of the yard.

And I’ve advanced the track into Maynard a bit.  I’ve been preparing the two switches that will be required there, and should have those installed shortly.  Further progression of the mainline will be a bit down the road.  I want to start work on the Spencer Lumber Company’s trackage into the woods and the reload point before putting in the LC trackage.  This is because the LC track will be in the foreground and I prefer working from the wall out toward the aisle.  Hence, the logging line needs to be first up.

Stay tuned…


Maybe the Sun Hasn’t Set

Maybe the sun hasn’t set over Lou Schultz’s Chesapeake and Ohio layout just yet.  Lou’s family has indicated a desire to see the layout live on and has extended  an invitation for Lou’s operating group to conduct further operating sessions.  Matt Hardey has taken the bull by the horns, along with several others and the “exploratory committee” sat down together this past Saturday at DiMartino’s Restaurant in Covington for a fine meal and to do some planning for the session.  Present were Matt, Mike Walsdorf, Sam Urrate, Johnny Miranda, Wayne Robichaux and yours truly.

The late Bill Williams, known as the Gestapo among the crew, was the Chief Clerk for Lou.  He spent considerable time before each session staging cars and setting up the waybills.  Unfortunately, no one else has a full grasp for all that Bill did, so the main topic during the meal was how operations could be simplified and pre-staging eliminated (or at least substantially reduced).  Several ideas were presented that were deemed worthy of a trial.  The “shake-down” session has been tentatively scheduled for mid May.  I, for one, will be tickled to be back up in the attic again.  Even though Lou, Bill and Shawn won’t be there in person, I’m sure their spirit will be.

And speaking of that, several of the guys had been to Lou’s house earlier in the week to check things out on the layout.  Lou’s wife, Dee, was out puttering around in the back yard.  The fellows were down at the far end of the attic when they heard someone trudging up the stairs (wooden stairs lead up to the attic).  One of the group shouted out that they were down at the end by Alderson, but no one came forth.  Puzzled, one of the guys went to the stairs.  No one was there.  He went down and found Dee, who said she had been in the yard the entire time.  Soooo….who was there (sound of squeaking door in background)?

Maybe I’ll be busy that Saturday……


Train Day at the Library

This upcoming Saturday, January 18th, will see the second annual Train Day at the Library event over in Baton Rouge.  The main features of the event are the numerous railroading slide presentations.  There will be a number of other displays hosted by a couple local model railroad clubs, the Southeast Louisiana chapter of the NRHS, a few individuals and of course, the Operation Lifesaver display presented by a couple of the railroads in the area.  The event will be at the Jones Creek branch of the library, located at 6222 Jones Creek Road in Baton Rouge.  The show opens at 10:00 am and runs until about 4:00 pm.  Hope to see a few of y’all there!

A bit more progress has ensued on the layout.  I have the infrared LEDs installed and wired up at Monterey (these are the light sources for the optical detectors recently installed).  The final track bus run for the second booster district has been installed and connected, leaving only the third (and final) booster district to wire.  I even got a start on the trackwork at the east end of the Willis yard and hope to continue that next weekend.

As most of you folks reading this know, Lou Schultz is still struggling with his foot issue, along with low oxygen levels.  I miss going over to his place for the operating sessions, and seeing him and the other guys in the group.  Please keep Lou in your prayers for his recovery.

And finally, there is a fellow up in Canada that is building a nice layout which he calls the Port Rowan.  It’s a model of a Canadian National branch line set in the 1050s.  Trevor Marshall is his name and he regularly posts updates with photos, along with other trivia to his blog.  I admire his modeling skills and find his blog entertaining, so I thought I’d pass along the link:  Port Rowan in S Scale .  Give it a look.


Operations to Resume on the C&O

Operations will resume on Lou Schultz’s C&O Railroad next month after a long embargo.  As you may recall, back in (about) February Lou had some health issues to deal with and that led to a temporary suspension of operating and work sessions on his layout.  Lou’s doing better now and for several weeks work crews have been feverishly working on the layout in an attempt to correct some bugs and other problems.  The next operating session is scheduled for June 22nd, and I’m looking forward to seeing the crew again.

This session will be in 1951 which means we’ll have a mix of steam and diesels running.  I really love seeing those Alleghenies running down the mainline, but have to confess that I’d much rather operate a lash-up of diesels because they simply operate better on Lou’s layout.

Photo of C&O Railway 2-6-6-6 Allegheny Locomotive

When the time moves up to 1955 in sessions later this summer, I’ll be bringing my trusty (Atlas/Kato) ALCO RSD-5 to the sessions.  She is equipped with a Tsunami decoder and she runs and sounds great!

I’ve been busy each weekend working on the Louisiana Central.  The sub-roadbed (tabletop) is complete along the entire north wall of the room (that’s the wall on the right side of the track plan).  The Illinois Central sub-roadbed leading into the staging area on the east wall (bottom wall in the plan) is almost complete…just one more “section” to go on to the end to finish that.  While doing that, I’ll probably go ahead and extend that sub-roadbed to the far side of Monterey as this will become the Texas and Pacific hidden staging track at that point (again, check the plan so what I’m saying becomes clear).

The sub-roadbed (and tabletop where applicable) is starting to get “easier” as I learn and find better ways to get the construction done.  I’m lagging on the trackwork itself because of my focus on the supporting structure, but that’s okay because trains won’t roll until ALL of it is done.

As usual, comments are welcome.