About Those Distractions

In the last post Spencer Sawmill Trackage Complete I mentioned how I kept getting distracted from my trackwork mission in Oneida.  It started when the folks at ESU announced a summer sale for their LokProgrammer.  For the benefit of those not familiar with this device, it is a LokSound decoder programmer that uses a computer interface.  While DecoderPro will program LokSound decoders nicely, this programmer has one interesting benefit that DecoderPro can’t match.  You can download new sound projects from ESU, then load them into your LokSound decoder.  I’m new to LokSound, but I’m quite impressed with their offerings at this time.  Several months ago I purchased my first LokSound decoder and it came loaded with the sounds for an ALCO 244 prime mover.  Then a few weeks ago, ESU upgraded the decoder file for this prime mover to include their new Drive Hold, and several other operating features.  No problem . . . just download the new file, and write it to the decoder.  It is now the latest and greatest.  Lured by this prospect, I decided to take advantage of the sale.  My first task was to upgrade my (still new) decoder.  It went well, and I’m tickled with the result.  Then I found out that I could actually modify the sounds in the LokSound decoder that came in my Rivarossi Heisler (it’s the top-of-line version 4 decoder).  Wow!  I spent several days playing with that and I’m thrilled with what I was able to do.

I also became distracted with my waybill generation program.  Back in the early 90s I cobbled up a DOS based waybill generation program using QuickBasic.  It worked quite well on my small bedroom sized layout of the time.  Then later I decided to write an enhanced Windows version using Visual Basic 6.  I’ve played with that program off and on (mostly off) for years now, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with it.  The program is about 85% complete, but lately I’ve been thinking that it’s high time to get busy and finish the thing up so that it’s ready for use when the layout becomes operational.  Trouble is, I haven’t done much with it for at least 5 or 6 years, and find that I’m spending a good deal of time trying to figure out everything I’ve already done!  To complicate matters, I recently started reading the detailed writings of Tony Thompson on the style of waybills that he and friends were developing and using (I originally saw an article he did in Model Railroad Hobbyist, then later visited his blog where his entire ongoing treatise of the subject is available).  They’ve come up with some interesting “model railroading” waybills that bear a nice resemblance to actual waybills.  They’re greatly simplified to be sure, but they capture the essence of the real thing, and I love them!  Indeed, they have prompted me to completely redesign the appearance of my waybills, and to expand on the concept.  Creating the forms was easy, but then I realized that I needed to add quite a few fields to my database to fill in all the new blanks on these new forms.  And then the code to make it all happen.  I’m not finished with this conversion by a long shot, but I’ve made good progress with it, and think the finished product will be well worth the effort.  The downside to all this was, of course, adding another delay to the program completion.

And that led to yet another distraction.  The new waybills will be printed on 3″ x 5″ slips of paper (I’ve found a source for this paper size and my HP printer can handle it).  Problem is, the larger than “normal” waybill size requires a larger than normal box on the layout fascia to hold them.  I could of course make them myself, but I’ve taken a fancy to the nice boxes that are offered by Bill Brillinger up in Canada.  I contacted Bill and he says he can make up any size that I need.  Excellent.  But after some email exchanges, I realized that I needed to do more homework as to exactly what I’ll be needing (sizes, number of slots, etc.) so that Bill can work up a quote for me.  It was then that I realized that I was doing everything that I wasn’t supposed to be doing (at this time) and I pulled in on the reins.

I got back on the trackwork at Oneida, and I stayed there until the job was completed.  The only trackwork left to do (on the peninsula) is a bit of mainline on the backside of the peninsula that brings the trains from Oneida into Monterey.  I’ll be starting on that soon.

Now, where did I put that programmer?  And I really need to get back to Bill on those boxes…


1st Train Rolls on L.C.R.R. Main

This past weekend saw the first train traverse the mainline between Willis Junction and the outskirts of Maynard.  Prior to this the only completed trackage was that between Bude (staging) and the LC-IC crossing at Willis.

ALCO locomotive no. 5582 grabbed a couple boxcars and made several trips out and back to test the newly laid track.  Track Foreman Smylie McDermott declared, “It’s good enuf”.

Crews will now install a couple spurs in Maynard to serve two new customers, immediately creating revenue for the line.

Statistical note:  The distance between Willis Junction and Maynard is about 3/4 of a (scale) mile, a bit less than a third of the total (visible) mainline to be constructed.


Control and Operation

Fellow modeler Bill Williams and I have discussed these topics, but I’ve not said much about them with others.  So I thought I would share some of my plans and ideas with the rest of you folks.

The Louisiana Central will be a somewhat laid-back type of operation.  There won’t be a parade of fast-running passenger trains or long freights running up and down the mainline such as Lou Schultz has on his C&O layout.  Rather, our operation will be closer to what you see on the Greenbrier subdivision at Lou’s.  There will be more trains than on the Greenbrier, but the atmosphere will be similar.

In overall length, the LCRR will be about the same as the Greenbrier branch, but there will only be half as many towns (five towns actually modeled), and there will be the Spencer logging operation, which will be much more involved than the Mower operation at Cass on Lou’s pike.

The railroad is designed for a rather small crew, two to -maybe- five folks at best.

I’ll be using a Lenz DCC system for train control and all track switches will be powered by Tortoise switch motors.  The Tortoises will be controlled via toggles located on the fascia (nope, I’m not interested in controlling them with my throttle).

The line will be dark territory; the only signals will be near the Little River bridge.  Here the Spencer Lumber Company has trackage rights on the Louisiana Central for just enough distance to get across the river.  The signals will be tied to the mainline switches at either side of the river where the Spencer line joins and leaves the LC main.

Primary operating authority will be by timetable and train orders.  Actually, we’ll be using a “simplified” version of this, with a minimal amount of paperwork.

I plan to generate traffic with a home-brew software program that I’ve been working on over the years.  The program is based on industries needing cars to move product and will generate waybills for each car at the start of each session.  Each waybill will contain only the information pertinent to the car’s movement for that particular session, so it should be easy using them.

My general philosophy is to keep things relatively simple.  I’m not adverse to computers connected to railroad functions and operations, but don’t feel compelled to use the computer for everything possible.

There is so much more to all this than what I’ve put forth here.  If anyone is interested in more detail than what I’ve written or wants to discuss other aspects, just post a comment and I’ll be glad to expand on it.


An Historic Event

An Historic Event occurred this day on the Louisiana Central Railroad when the first trains rolled across the line.

The first train to traverse the rails was powered by engine number 5582, an ALCO RSD-5  recently purchased from the C&O Railroad.  She hauled a short train of assorted box cars over the line.  She was later followed by the railroad’s number 83, an ancient 4-4-0,  hauling the road’s ex-commuter day coach.  The car was packed with the “brass”, many railroad employees and a few railfans that managed to finagle a ride.  All went well during the festivities with nary an incident.  You can witness the event via these photos.

Full disclosure:  well, they rolled through the staging area for the railroad which is as far as the line has gotten at this point.  However, this staging area represents the line between Willis and Bude, Mississippi, and that’s a long way!  But the important thing is that trains rolled under their own power.


The Spencer Logging Operation

One of the featured industries on the layout will be the logging operation of the Spencer Lumber Company.  Spencer’s mill will be located at the town of Oneida (on one of the layout’s peninsulas), and will be patterned somewhat loosely on the real-life mill of the former Crowell Long Leaf Lumber Company.  The Crowell facility still lives as a museum here in Louisiana and I wrote a little piece about it in the blog post The Southern Forest Heritage Museum back in June of 2011.

The Crowell property has all the pieces in place for one to photograph and study, and while I can’t model the facility literally due to space constraints, it will at least allow me to include the vital infrastructure necessary for a lumber mill.  Once you understand the work-flow and the function of the various buildings, planning a “correct” model should be much easier.

However, the other part of the operation – the actual harvesting of the timber – had me scratching my head.  I have a nice run from the mill up to the logging area, which even includes a double switchback, and I have a loading area at the top.  But the space is so limited, especially in depth, that I just didn’t have any idea how I was going to model any sort of reasonable logging activity.  A few weeks ago I spied a copy of Kalmbach’s book, The Model Railroader’s Guide to Logging Railroads, so I purchased it.  In general it is a nice book, with a good description of all the various facets of the logging industry.  Admittedly if falls far short of being the definitive volume that one needs to pull off such a modeling endeavor; that would take many volumes to accomplish.  However there was one short section in the book that provided me with my salvation.  In short, it was the “reload” operation.  This was a situation where trucks were used to haul the logs out of the woods, and to a reloading point where the logs were transferred from the trucks to the railhead.  This became very common in the later years of railroad logging operations (which I will be modeling in 1964) as trucks and equipment were better able to penetrate into the forest.  In fact, this method often became more economical than re-laying track to all the various cutting sites.  This idea will be perfect for my line.  All I need do is add some kind of loader at the high end (a McGiffert or a Barnhart) and I’ll be in business.

While the logging operation won’t be the biggest traffic generator on the layout, I think it will be the most interesting, and I look forward to actually building it.


The Era

The Louisiana Central will usually be running in the year 1964.  I say usually because the software that I’m developing for car routing will have the flexibility to “run” in any year that you choose.

The year 1964 was selected for a number of reasons.  I was a teenager back then, and I had been interested in trains long enough that I was beginning to pay closer attention to the railroad infrastructure, and I liked what I saw.  I could find a spot near trackside in a “railroady” area and spend hours there.  Even without the benefit of a bunch of trains running by, I could be perfectly content just studying the infrastructure around me.  While finding spots like this has become much more difficult, when I do come across one of these places, I’m still perfectly content.

1964 saw almost all railroads fully dieselized with large fleets of EMDs, ALCOs, Baldwins, etc., and these first generation diesels had lots of character.  I especially liked the ALCO and Baldwin brands because of the way they sounded and the way they were built.  It doesn’t take a trained eye to recognize that the techniques used to build them were an outgrowth of building a steam locomotive.  In fact, in many ways it handicapped their efforts to build a competitive product.  But to study an early ALCO…that was the way to build a diesel like a steam locomotive…literally!

In 1964, the freight cars still tended to be smaller, seldom more than 50′ in length.  And much of the railroad infrastructure was still intact, even if some of it was no longer used.  Turntables and roundhouses, towers, track speeders and sheds, and steam cranes were commonplace.  Depots, offices, shops and sheds were built of either brick or wood…metal buildings were not a common site (except for the original corrugated metal ones).  And there were so many buildings, facilities and details!  There seemed to be a lot more activity around rail facilities, not surprising since the railroads were much larger employers than they are nowadays.  I loved being around all of this.  I even loved the smell of it all; diesel exhaust fumes, brake odors, kerosene (from caboose heaters)…even the smell of creosote is pleasant to me.  In short, 1964 to me is just like being in the late steam era, sans the steam locomotives.

Initially I will be running with diesel power because, for me, it is much easier to get a large fleet of diesels running smoothly than a fleet of steamers (or at least the fleet of steamers that I have).

Eventually, the Louisiana Central will roster some steam locomotives.  I already have a steam fleet (roster) of about 9 or 10 locomotives, but even though they all run, none are truly operational in that they have been in storage for many years, and must be cleaned and lubed and have decoders installed.  A few are already painted for the Louisiana Central, but most have to be stripped and repainted.  And the older brass engines will probably have to be re-motored to bring them into the modern age.  Since I’ve been bitten by the sound bug, the decoder installations also include the mods required to install speakers.  Going back to the previous paragraph, this is why I chose to run diesels initially.

When the steam does finally appear, I may keep the year at 1964 as it wouldn’t be too unlikely that a little shortline would be still running steam then.  But I also can easily backdate the operation to 1958 or so if I feel it is important to do so.  I’ve even considered the possibility of changing eras periodically much as my friend Lou Schultz does on his C&O railroad.  In backdating, a few freight cars would have to be pulled, and I’d remove any vehicles from the roads that were too new and add a few older ones.  Billboards would have to change and maybe a few industry signs.  But as I build and detail the layout, I’ll keep anything that dates the layout “portable” to facilitate this change.

I doubt that I’ll ever move the railroad era forward though.  I just enjoy the older scene so much more than the present one.  There is plenty of modern stuff to get excited about, but not enough to tempt me to update the layout.


Planning the Louisiana Central Right-of-Way

The Louisiana Central is a fictional railroad, but I will be attempting to model a railroad that “could have been”.  The route was established quite a few years ago after I dismantled a smaller bedroom layout.  Using Louisiana and Mississippi road maps, I tentatively sketched out a route, while simultaneously working on the rationale for the railroad.  My friend, Wayne Robichaux and I headed out one Saturday morning, maps in hand, and drove to the bank of the Mississippi River up above the town of St. Francisville, Louisiana.  We located some relatively straight high ground near the river and determined that this would be a great place to locate the western end of the line.  I decided that I would create an interchange with the Texas and Pacific Railway at this location.  The T&P would arrive here via a car ferry operation.  Of course, the T&P never had a ferry in this location, but the Missouri Pacific system did have other ferry operations both upstream and downstream from where we were, so it didn’t seem too far fetched that we could have one here also.

With this point established and appropriate notes entered on the map, we headed generally northeast.  While the towns featured along the Louisiana Central are fictional places, most are located very close to actual towns along the proposed right-of-way.  For example, the town of Monterey is a bit north of St. Francisville, Whitcomb is above Woodville, Mississippi and Willis is just north of Gloster, Miss.  Two intermediate towns, Oneida and Maynard, aren’t stand-ins for real places, but they are located along highways following the railroad route.  The only actual place on the Louisiana Central is Bude, Miss.  However this won’t be modeled on the Louisiana Central; it instead will be represented by hidden staging track.

We will interchange at Willis with the Illinois Central (an expansion of the line that actually served Gloster), and at Bude with the Mississippi Central (an actual railroad in Bude during the modeled era).

Returning to our travel, after leaving Monterey, we just headed to each place, in order, as best we could.  Along the way, we made short detours at minor roads as were available so as to get close to the Louisiana Central “track”.  It all worked out rather nicely, with few adjustments having to be made to the original sketched out right-of-way on the road maps.

We’ve since repeated this trip a couple times, checking out the terrain, scenery and structures along the way, and I’ve taken quite a few photos.  No doubt, another trip or two will be in order as the scenery stage for the model railroad comes into play.

One of the reasons for the initial selection of this route was because of the terrain.  The west end of the line is in the heart of the Tunica Hills.  Most folks don’t equate Louisiana with hilly terrain, but this area is not only hilly, in places it is downright treacherous!  There are several narrow two lane roads running through this area, and where possible they tend to run along ridge lines.  During the summer with all the heavy, lush growth, it is difficult to see much past the edge of the road.  But in the late winter when the growth has died back somewhat, it isn’t uncommon to observe the ground steeply plummeting down at the edge of the road for a hundred or so feet.  Near this location is the Louisiana State Prison (Angola).  It is generally considered escape proof as it is bound on one side by the Mississippi River, and surrounded on the other sides by the Tunica Hills.  On the rare escape attempt, the convict doesn’t usually get very far due to the extremely harsh terrain he has to traverse.

As the rail line moves to the northeast and into the State of Mississippi, the hills get much larger, though generally more gentle in their nature.  This is gorgeous country, and seeing a train working its way through this landscape just thrills me.  The forests also turn into predominantly Southern Pine, and that is precisely the reason the Spencer Lumber Company will exist.  This region was a huge timber producer in its day, and had a number of companies working these forests.  One of the biggest was the Crosby operation, and Spencer will be in direct competition with this giant.  The Spencer mill will be located in Oneida (named after Mr. Spencer’s oldest daughter, and whose very existence is due to Spencer).

I hope this little treatise has helped explain the rail line a bit better.  There is much more that can be written, and I may share other tidbits with y’all from time to time.  Feel free to comment or ask any questions, or even to offer suggestions for the line.


Marcel’s Pulpwood

One of the key features that will be incorporated into the Louisiana Central is a pair of ‘loads in-empties out’ scenarios.  On the Willis end there will be a plywood plant that will generate a significant amount of wood chips.  Behind the plywood plant will be a pulpwood dealer (Marcel’s) where loading of pulpwood onto railcars will take place.  Most of these chip and pulpwood loads will travel down to Monterey, where they will be consumed by a kraft paper products plant.

Marcel’s will generate 8-10 cars of pulpwood per day.  I will need this many loaded cars, along with an equal number of unloaded cars for this operation.  I have a nice fleet of Atlas pulpwood cars (known as woodracks on the Louisiana Central) that need loads built (the cast plastic loads are just terrible looking IMHO).  Earlier this year, while at Lou Schultz’s C&O Railroad, I was admiring the loads on his woodracks.  These were built up by Bill Williams using Azalea bush clippings, a slow and tedious process I’m sure, but one that produces an outstanding looking load.

Last weekend I was raking up a zillion River Birch branches that had fallen during a recent storm.  I noticed that the reddish-grey color of the tiny twigs wasn’t that far off from the color of the pine trees in this region, and from which my pulpwood will be harvested.  I clipped a few “logs” using a Chopper and was pleased with the resulting pulpwood it produced.  I spent a couple hours gathering small branches for this future project.  Actually, I have estimated that a woodrack will likely hold 1200-1400 logs, so if I’m going to fill 8-10 cars, plus a couple big piles on the ground, I’d probably be wise to start building these loads very soon.  It should make a nice leisurely project that can be done in evening spurts, utilizing a TV tray  while watching the tube.

If you’d care to chime in on any of the ramblings I present here, please feel free to do so.  I’m hoping this new blog will generate some conversation.

Regards, Jack