Susquehanna Ontario
& Western Railroad

Part 2 - The layout extension

The story of the extension

My Susquehanna Ontario & Western Railroad was originally built in a spare bedroom, in my previous house. That allowed me some development limited by the space available (approx. 110 sq. ft.). Early 2002, I moved to another area and had the chance to find a relatively new house that had been built by a model railroader modeling in HO scale. Of course, there was a train room in this house, well dimensioned for an HO layout (approx 600 sq. ft.). A real dream for an N scale modeler !
After the usual chores of a moving, I started re-assembling my original N scale layout, which had to be cut in several parts to be moved, and had it operational again shortly afterwards, just as before. The layout seemed to be lost in such a large room and an extension was in order, so as to fill a good part of the room and implement all the features I had ever dreamed of.

Back to the drawing board or, rather... to the computer for an updated (and extended) track plan of the new Susquehanna Ontario & Western RR.

After a few months of fiddling with the track plan, I came up, in September of 2002, with the "ultimate plan" for my railroad that included everything I dreamed of but could not implement in the earlier version. The layout has now nearly doubled in size and some additional space is still available, just in case...

The construction of the extension was started sometimes in September of 2002 and lasted until April of 2003, for the main part (benchwork, trackwork, DCC wiring) and everything is now operational. The details of the scenery will be worked out in the future.

This is where I stand now and I'm going to show you in this page the various stages of the construction.

The new track plan

(Clicking on the track plan will display an enlarged version [165 kb] in a separate window).

For reference, you may want to have a look at the original track plan published on the original SOW page

The main line (single track with passing sidings) Click to enlarge is still a folded dogbone, but has roughly doubled in length. The two loops are still stacked in the old peninsula, as it was before, and the single track loops twice around the whole layout. The extension has been connected at the lower left of the old layout, instead of the reverse loops that folded the track over itself (the track now folds over itself at the end of the new peninsula). The mainline can be handled either as a point-to-point line (starting and ending in the new yard) or as a continuous loop.

The entire layout is built as a two-level layout, the lower level being mostly hidden from view (except at a few places) and including several hidden yards for added operational capability.

The single-track branch line has also been lenghtened to reach Fayolville at the top end of the new peninsula, as a third level. This branch line will offer a lot of opportunities for switching in the towns of Messina and Fayolville. However, this part of the extension has not been built yet.

Due to to the available space, I was able to include in this extension most of the features I've always dreamed of :

  • A large yard with a total of 10 tracks. This yard is divided in two parts : the arrival/departure tracks (3 tracks) and the classification yard (7 tracks), including a runaround track. The arrival/departure tracks are able to store trains up to 12 ft. long each while the remaining of the yard is able to store a maximum of 150-180 freight cars.
  • A new engine servicing facility, to serve the new yard.
  • A long drill track separated from the main, in order to handle the switching moves in the new yard.
  • A large hidden yard to store entire trains up to 12 ft. long. This hidden yard is located under the Oxton yard.
  • Several passing sidings for full length trains to meet. There are 4 of them on the new peninsula but 2 previous sidings that didn't allow full length trains to meet have been removed on the original layout.
  • A reversing track able to reverse full length trains coming from any direction. Again, this reversing track is located under Oxton yard.
  • A good stretch of track running in the countryside. This will be achieved with the future implementation of the Fayolville branch.
  • More switching capabilities.
  • And, of course, more opportunities for operation on the whole layout.

The extended layout is now fully operational but scenery has not started yet (or so little !). This will be my priority for the months (years !) to come, along with the construction of the branch line.

Building the SOW extension

(Click on the photos to see them full size and click on the full size photo to close it).

1. The benchwork

The first step was to build the benchwork based on the L Girder technique. The L girders were made of 1x2 pine glued and screwed on top of 1x4 pine. The cross members were made of 1x4's.

As this extension is rather large (approx 23 ft. long), the benchwork was build in 3 separate sections for easier handling and also to anticipate a possible future move. The 3 sections were connected together using steel plates.

The photos below show each of the three sections before the final assembly, as well as the fully assembled benchwork, ready to receive the trackage.

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Starting from above and clockwise are the left section of the benchwork which connects to the old layout, the center section of the benchwork and finally the right section of the benchwork which supports the end of the peninsula. Notice the two pieces of L-girders at the top of the left section. These will match the L-girders of the old layout and connect to it using steel plates which are already in place, but barely visible.

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The next two photos show the fully assembled benchwork connected to the old layout. The legs are made of 4cm (1.6 in.) square pine reinforced with 10mm (0.4 in.) plywood gussets and 2 x 4cm (0.8 x 1.6 in.) braces. Each leg is fitted with a leveling screw inserted in a T-nut. You may notice how the new benchwork connects with the old one, in the upper part of the left photo.

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On the right photo, you may see some splines drying, after being shaped on site. These will be used for building the backdrop in the next step

2. The backdrop

The backdrop for the extension is of the free-standing style as it can be viewed from both sites. This complicated a little its construction. It is made of a wooden frame covered on both sides by 1/8 in. MDF. The frame is attached to the benchwork using threaded rods.

Two sections of the backdrop needed special work :

  • For the large curved section, the horizontal members of the frame were made using the "spline" technique (several thin pieces of wood shaped on site and glued together).
  • The left part of the backdrop with two curves back to back required to build a specific frame.

The whole backdrop was assembled on site in order to fit exactly my needs. Where needed, the MDF boards were pre-curved by wetting them and letting them dry on an appropriate cylindrical form (my water heater was used for the smaller radius curves !).

After assembly, the various joints were sealed using joint compound and sanded flat. Both faces were then painted in a two phase process :

  • A primer coat was first applied for sealing the boards, followed by a light sanding
  • Then the sky was painted using a darker shade of blue at the top and a lighter one et the bottom and mixing both colors in between.

The photos below show the backdrop at various stages of construction.

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The photo at left shows the main part of the backdrop during construction. The left part is complete with the board installed on both faces. The center part has only one face covered and reveals the frame made to hold everything, while the right part shows the frame under construction. You nay notice how the threaded rods, which will be used to attach the backdrop to the benchwork, are installed. Also, you may notice how the curved splines viewed earlier are used for the curved part of the backdrop.

At this stage the backdrop is not at the proper height (it will be raised later to match the backdrop on the remainder of the layout). It is temporarily attached to the benchwork using nails on each side.

The next two photos show the special frame that was required for the back to back curves located at the left end of the backdrop. The left photo shows the frame before installation. The right photo shows the frame connected to the rest of the backdrop and partially covered with MDF.

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And here is how the backdrop looked after completion and before painting. On the right photo, the backdrop has been raised to its final height and is attached to the benchwork, as well as the original backdrop.

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Some time later, after filling, sanding and painting, here is how the finished backdrop looked like. On the left photo, you can see an example of the steel plates that are used to join the sections together.

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A few more details will need to be painted on the background but this will be done at the same time this extension is scenicked. For the time being, the backdrop fulfills its purpose and it's now time to lay some track...

3. The lower level

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This extension has two levels of trackage. On the top level is the visible track (and scenery), as shown in the above track plan. At the bottom is a mostly hidden trackage. As the lower level is not clearly visible on the track plan, above, we'll spend some more time on it so that you understand everything about it.

At left is the plan of the extension bottom level trackage, for better understanding. You can get a larger version by clicking on it.

As you can see, the trackwork is divided in several sections :

  • The mainline which runs around the whole peninsula with two sidings (one on each side).
  • A small (4 tracks - only 3 tracks shown) staging yard which allows to store full length trains. We cannot have too many staging yards !
  • A "return track" which is shown in red. This track allows to return full train in any direction. We'll come back right after on the details of this special track.

In blue is shown the location of the backdrop (double-sided).

The "return track" isn't very usual as we more often talk about "return loops", while this track is not a loop but a section of (almost) straight track with some "tricks"... First of all this specific track is used to return complete trains coming from any direction. However, the track can be traveled only in one direction. This is for practical reasons as doing it in both directions, although possible, would not add anything operationally speaking and would make the electronic circuitry more complicated. This means that any train going to be reversed must enter the "return track" at the upper right end, on the plan (at the end of the peninsula), from one or the other entry track, depending on the train direction.

There are four IR detectors on the layout (their locations are shown as green dots on the plan), associated with an electronic PCB (printed circuit board) which operate so that the "return track" polarity is always matched with the adjoining track wether a train is entering or leaving the "return track", from/to any direction. The polarity switching occurs before the train hits the limit between electrical sections, so that there is absolutely no short circuit during this reversal operation.

Below are, on the left, a photo of a couple of IR detectors (the transmitting LED is at the top, while the receiving LED is at the bottom, under the trackbed, thus not visible. The IR beam goes through a hole in the trackbed and ties) and, on the right, the electronic PCB that I conceived to handle the IR signal amplification and switching of polarities.

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As far as the benchwork is concerned, this layer was built with 10 mm (0.4 in) plywood mounted on risers, as subroadbed. Then cork roadbed was glued on the subroadbed. The photos below shows this step at various stages of construction. You may observe that some turnouts have been placed at critical points in order to check the alignments and make sure that everything will be going smoothly, later on.

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Then the track was put in place , spiked to the roadbed/subroadbed. No ballast was necessary as this trackage will not be visible, except for a very short section. At the same time, the wiring and electrical insulation of sections of track was taken care of. More on this, later... Below are a few photos showing the track in place on this lower level.

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4. The upper level

The major part of the upper level is the Oxton Yard and station. I spent a lot of time designing the trackage in this area so as to optimize the freight and passenger traffic. At right is a map showing Oxton facilities. You can get an enlarged version by clicking on it.

As you can see, the trackwork is divided in several sections represented by various colors :

  • The black tracks represent the main line, as well as the station siding and an industrial spur
  • The red tracks are the arrival/departure tracks for the freight yard. These tracks connect directly to the main line and do not interfere with the classification tracks so that a train can enter/leave these tracks without disturbing the classification process.
  • The green tracks are the classification tracks and the drill track, on the right. The drill track is fully separated from the main, so that trains can be switched while trains are running on the main and/or entering/leaving the arrival/departure tracks.
  • The purple tracks are the small engine facility tracks for Oxton yard. The main facility (for heavy repairs) is located in Chenango Yard
  • The orange track is the runaround track used by engines to go from the engine facility to the other end of the yard, and conversely
  • The blue track is the caboose track. Yes ! SOW still uses cabooses on some of its trains !
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The subroadbed on the side opposite to the yard and around the end of the peninsula was installed in the "classical" way : 10 mm plywod on risers. See the first two photos, below. For the yard, I adopted another method as I wanted the Yard to be removable, so as to be able to access the trackage on the lower level. For that, I first installed the supports that you can see in the third photo, below. The yard itself is a single piece of 10 mm plywood (2 pieces, in reality for convenience) which covers the whole yard area The plywood is attached to the supports by means of magnets. The 4th photo shows the yard area finished.

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Next, the cork roadbed was installed. For the yard, I didn't use individual pieces of cork but, instead, used cork in large size so as to cover a large area at a time.

Now is the time to lay some track, again ! The main track was laid using Peco code 80 track while the sidings and yard were laid using code 55 track. The same way, Peco code 80 or 55 turnouts were used, depending where they are located. All turnouts are Electrofrogs and have been modified according to the article Modifying Peco Electrofrog turnouts for smooth operation in the Hint & tips section. This is also true for the lower level which uses only code 80 track and turnouts. I started by laying the main line, so as to be able to run a few trains all around the full layout. All curves on the main line have been superelevated for added realism. The following photos show the track laying in progress at this stage with some lonely track in the yard area... You may also see some of the lower level track that was not visible before.

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At this point, what was left was to put in place the yard trackage.This went slowly and smoothly, especially with the many electrical connections that we'll review a li'll bit later. Below are several photos of this step at various stages of construction. Some unpainted buildings were added in the background, so as to get a better idea of what will be the future town of Oxton. Also some trains or freight cars were added as the yard progressed to get an idea of the future yard. All in all, these pictures give a good idea of how this area will look like, when the scenery is complete.

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And the engine facility to complete everything....
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5. Wiring - Electrical

As the layout is DCC controlled, we need a certain number of devices to make it operate properly. First of all is a number of busses around the layout :
  • The loconet, in order to connect the UP3/UP5 around the layout
  • The track signal which will be used to power all track sections
  • The track signal from another circuit breaker output to power the accessory decoders (for turnouts) so that these remain powered in case of a short-circuit on the layout
  • A 12V AC power for the block detector cards
  • A 24V AC power for the DS54 Boosters (see DS54 Capacitor Discharge Driver for more details)

All these busses run around the extension, right behind what will be the fascia. Also, on the L-girders have been located the turnout control cards (DS54's), as well as the occupancy detectors (Old BD8 from Digitoys which work perfectly for my application - I got more of them than what I'll ever need thanks to people that switched to the Digitrax BDL16 and were giving their old BD8's). The pictures below show typical installations of the buses and electronic cards on the edge of the layout. Note that all connections with the busses are made using Scotchlock connectors.

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Next is the control panel for the yard and surroundings. At right is a photograph of the front of the Oxton yard Control Panel. You can get an enlarged version by clicking on it. This panel is divided in two parts :

  • the upper part with red and yellow tracks which corresponds to the track controlled by DCC. This control can be done either from the Loconet (from a computer or another device) or from the buttons on the Control Panel
  • The lower part with white/gray and green tracks which are specific to the Yard and can be only controlled from buttons on the Control Panel.

Turnout position are indicated by green led's, while track occupancy is also shown (in the DCC section) by yellow (slowing sections) and red (stopping sections) led's, on the panel. All these informations are also available on the LocoNet for use by any other device (a computer, for instance). This functionality can be obtained thanks to some electronics located inside the control panel. There is a pair of DTM16's from CML Electronics Ltd in UK that handle the task.

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I could try to explain how all this works together but this would be one (or more) new pages that I don't feel to write ! However, if any of you have any question regarding this system, please do not hesitate to contact me for more info. I just want to let you know that this is not for the faint of heart as there is a good deal of programming for the DTM16's (that have been replaced by DTM30, since) and also a lot of wiring, as shown in the following photos inside of the Control Panel. But it works :

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The wiring to the upper level is done through connectors, so that the upper level can be completely removed, if necessary. You can see some of these connectors in the above photos.

5. Scenery

As of today, there has not been much scenery done. However, I'll show you where I stand today. The following has been done :

  • A road bridge over the yard which is the east entry to Oxton.
  • The whole pavement and sidewalks through the town of Oxton. This is made from styrene but has not been painted yet.
  • The west exit from Oxton and the road climbing in the hills.
  • Some added buildings, oil storage tanks and sand towers and fuel stands in the engine facility.

Here are a few pictures that show the current state of this extension :

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Come back later to discover the progress in the scenery of this part of the layout.

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SOW - 1st part Walden Leadville & Southwestern RR

Page created by Jean-Louis Simonet
Last update : 10/05/2011
© 2003-2011, Jean-Louis Simonet