Looking west at the W&LE crossing Broadway Avenue in Newburgh. Image from the Cleveland Memory Project of the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University.
When I talk to model railroaders about using the prototype to guide a layout design, nods of approval are typical, as is the question, “How does it all fit?” With patience and creativity, a good portion of a well-defined prototype can fit into an available space. Let’s walk through some thought processes to fit the Newburgh rails of the Wheeling and Lake Erie into my new hobby space that is 16 feet long by almost 10 feet wide.
I’ve been advocating modeling a mile for a few years. My last layout focused on placing a few blocks in the Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood of Newburgh into an 11 x 11 foot room for an HO scale model railroad. As I am familiar with the area from my previous layout project, I am drawn to an adjoining mile of W&LE rails through Newburgh as inspiration for the next HO scale layout. I like to gather as much prototype detail as I can before moving forward on a design. I am fortunate the Rails and Trails website has a variety of resources to use, especially a 1963 track diagram book that can be viewed on line. A DjVu reader is needed to view these files and a link to the free software can be found at the bottom of that web page.
The rails though Newburgh can be narrowed down to a few pages of information and details on pages six through eleven of the track diagram book. Here’s part of one page, which is used here courtesy of the Rails and Trails site.
That stretch of railroad is just a portion that tweaks my interest. I print out and review a mile or so to determine the level of operating and scenic interest. Along this segment of the W&LE the infrastructure hosts a small yard and interchanges with two railroads. The railroad also serves a variety of small and medium sized industries as it snakes through the backyards and alleyways of an urban setting. If I like what I see, then I begin doodling, but I keep it simple with line schematics so I can understand the railroad a little better. These simple line drawings help me understand where there are points to break the railroad into smaller segments. This W&LE track diagram book also includes an industry index keying businesses to specific tracks. I add that detail to the schematics.
West is to the left in each drawing and I included a little overlap. I originally made one long drawing but it seemed that these were three distinct areas of this Newburgh line. Milepost 6.0 is at the east end of the East 93rd Street yard while the Broadway Avenue grade crossing is very close to milepost 3.5. These 2.5 miles of railroad were pretty busy back in the heyday. The track diagrams are from 1963, but I suspect little had changed in a few decades. Industry names often change and some smaller businesses may have closed up, so this remains a good starting point to use in designing a model railroad.
From these schematics, I take the next step and create a very rough drawing to see what elements can fit into a space and if the design can capture the feel of the prototype. Again, this is a very rough sketch so I can see how rail portions can fit into the space and consider people movements in the aisles. I may make several of these as I roll along in the planning process. Click on this image for a larger look at the rough drawing.
This sketch is not to scale but it acts as a guide for the next step, which is a rough scale drawing. I use simple tools to draw arcs, tangents and track switches. A variety of discs cut from cereal box cardboard are on hand for curves. A small plastic drafting triangle takes care of most of the tangents, while a scrap piece of sheet styrene has had angles cut into the sides for a variety of track switches. An hour or two of time can produce a scale drawing that ensures the fit of most track elements. Click on this image for a larger look at my initial scale drawing for the W&LE through Newburgh.
I was surprised that most of the Newburgh track fit on this first draft. There are points to iron out in a future version, such as increase capacity on the PRR interchange, but creating this drawing helps me understand the potential of this space. Not every track fits, nor do the track lengths correspond well with the prototype, but the feel of the line is there on paper to review. I did add the black backdrop line and a couple of tags after scanning the artwork.
EDIT: In my haste to post this, I forgot to note some basics on this scale drawing. The minimum mainline radius is 24 inches. All track switches to access industrial spurs are #5, or as noted. Crossovers and track switches at the ends of passing sidings are #6. The room dimensions are 9 feet, 10 inches wide, by 16 feet long. This was drawn at three-quarters of an inch equals one foot. Each small square on the graph paper is four inches square. My apologies for the missing details. EDIT COMPLETE
To recap, here are the basics I follow when designing a model railroad from a prototype.
- Use prototype maps whenever possible
- Create basic line schematics
- Determine distinct areas of operational interest and value
- Create rough drawings to plot the mainline and locate specific areas
- Create rough scale drawings to ensure the fit into the available space
- Take time between steps to review and reflect.
I encourage you to leave a comment. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear here. I look forward to hearing from you.