Thursday, October 27, 2016

Locomotives of the Mission Mountain Railroad

While I'm revising the trackplan, I thought it would be great to look at some of the locomotives that are used on the Mission Mountain Railroad.

First up is the prime motive power on the line, WAMX #1501.  #1501 is an EMD SW1500 switcher engine.

Pictures can be seen here (not my photos, credit goes to and original authors)

Besides #1501, the line also has WAMX #1214, an SW1200 that was once Northern Pacific #128.  Photos can be found here (not my photos, credit goes to and original authors)

Then there is WAMX #3517 and WAMX #3807, both are GP38-2 units.  Being road units, these engines will often work other railroads owned by Watco Companies.

Besides those, there are a variety of Santa Fe, Burlington Northern, Milwaukee Road and CNW units that work on and off, mostly GP units.

However, initial efforts will focus on #1501 since that is the railroad's prime mover.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Look at the Track Plan

Track plans are tentative and flexible, but they provide an opportunity to see what a train layout will look like before building.

So behold, the not-so-permanent track plan for the Glacier Rail Park:

Glacier Rail Park Design, HO scale
This idea is meant to have a switching layout that can be loaded into my chrysler 300 for transportation.  The trunk measures 42 inches wide by 44 inches deep with about a 14 inch height.  Thus, if all buildings are packed away in boxes, the modules could be stacked without much trouble.  I plan to use 20 inch by 40 inch modules, five of them, and one 10 inch by 40 inch module to represent the park.  This allows for expansion in the future.

In red is the CHS facility, a new, small elevator with a three track yard.  In green represents the structures for the team track, which includes a pit for hopper cars to unload into and a cement platform for box cars.  The blue represents a trans-loading facility from boxcars to truck traffic.  All this, of course, is subject to change and is merely the first draft.


What Scale to Use?

Now that I have a plan in mind as to where to start, I now must pick a scale to model the space in.  The two main scales worth consideration, given that this will be an indoor, traveling layout, is N scale and HO scale.  S scale or O scale could be done, but both are simply too large to fit a decent layout inside of a sedan.

Equipment-wise, there is no shortage of choice for either N or HO scale.  In HO scale, Athearn and Broadway Limited have made SW1500's and Micro Trains does the same for N scale.  Detail is excellent for these models when looking at photos.  Really, it all comes down to the size:

At 1300 feet long, the industrial park is compact. To model the park accurately in N scale, the display would have to be 8 foot, 2 inches in length and around 2 feet wide for clearances.  In HO scale, the dimensions would be 15 feet in length and about 3.5 feet in width.

N scale has a huge size advantage. Being able to accurately model the entire park in a reasonable amount of space is a big plus worth considering.  But HO scale has more detail (important for train shows) and there is more variety and "choice".  Plus, the models can have more realism.  And thus comes the great question every modeler must consider when choosing a scale to model in, "Do I pick a larger scale for realistic details, or a smaller scale for prototypical distances?"

In my case, I would place more value on the details, running reliability, and the ability for people to see the models.  I did a small N scale layout a couple years ago for a train show.  It was a nice layout that the kids loved (it was at their level, and no I had no problems with little hands breaking things, kids tend to be well behaved, or more so than some adults!).  But let's be honest, people want to see details, and most people just can't see that much detail in N scale.

That means, unfortunately, that I need to do some compressing of the scene.  If someone can fit a 15x3.5 foot layout in a sedan, kudos to them.  I'm not that talented though, so time to see what I can do.

My trunk measures 42" between the fenders and is 14 inches high.  Front to back, I've got a full 44" to work with.  I could fit 20x40 inch modules inside the car no problem, as many as 4 in the trunk if the buildings are removable.  In addition, another two could fit in the back seat, so I have a total of six 20x40 inch modules to work with for a layout.  That's not quite the 15 feet, but it does give me a 40 inch by 120 inch (10 feet) or something similar, so plenty of space to reasonably model the Glacier Rail Park in HO scale.

Oh yes, and for a comparison, here is N scale:

1x4 micro layout that was never completed, Kato NW2.

And HO scale:

Harry Brunk's HOn3 Colorado and Southern Layout, Cheyenne Depot Museum, WY
 As you can see, N scale detail is good, actually quite amazing given the size.  To read the fine print on some of the equipment, I have to use a magnifying glass.  For photography, N scale works.  But those HO scale models are big enough for the eyes to see!  Harry Brunk's Amazing layout is a fine example.

So it's settled then (and truth be told I've been thinking about this for several days now) HO scale will be the chosen scale to use for this layout.  Additionally, I can operate this equipment with several local clubs and other layouts, no use being a social outsider.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

A few maps of the Glacier Rail Park (Update #1.a)

To give readers a sense of what is happening for the construction of the Glacier Rail Park, I thought I would show a few maps of the properties (Satellite imagery by Google Maps):

First, let's look at the lay of the land:

Here we can see the central portion of the town of Kalispell, Montana. The main East-West road is Hwy 2, which runs along the Southern border with Glacier National Park to the East and through Idaho/Northern Washington to the West.  The main North-South road is US Route 93 which runs along the West side of Flathead Lake to the South of Kalispell and to the Canada-US border via Eureka, Montana.

The area highlighted in red/pink is the old gravel facility, which will become the new Glacier Rail Park.  The yellow represents track that will be maintained whereas the blue lines represent track that is existing, but will be removed as downtown gets a much-needed renovation.

Next, let's see the proposed land for the Rail Park:

Here we see the gravel facility as seen by Satellites.  The railroad track runs diagonally on the right side of the image, the Flathead River runs to the left.  There is an existing facility to the North and a housing sub-division to the South.  This creates a very precise location for the Glacier Rail Park.

The red/pink highlighted area shows what the City of Kalispell plans to develop into the Rail Park.  Overall, the area seems to average about 700 feet North to South (although that varies quite a bit), but East-West, the park seems to be 1300-1500 feet.  Great for a modeler, but that might be tight for the prototype.  Oh well, I'm sure they can handle it!

Lastly, let's look at a quick sketch of what the buildings/track might look like:

As you can see, this facility is small, but might just serve the city of Kalispell quite well going into the future.  This lot will have to handle at least 1000 car loads per year if CHS and about 4-5 other businesses take up residence inside the park, not to mention the cars on the team track.

That's all for now!

The MMR Construction Update #1

I am now in the process of planning a small train layout based on the Mission Mountain Railroad, headquartered in Columbia Falls, Montana.  This little short line started operation in 2004 to transport freight cars along two short branch lines that the BNSF Railroad wanted to abandon. One branch line, now owned by the MMR, runs from Stryker to Eureka.  The other, currently leased from the BNSF, runs into the heart of Kalispell from the interchange at Columbia Falls.

By far the two biggest industries on the line are CHS Inc, which handles 90% of all the grain produced in the Flathead Valley, and Plum Creek Timber.  According to the railroad's website, there is a total of 12 customers being serviced at 15 locations along both branches.

Overall, this rail line offers something for everyone.  There is the industrial district in the planning which will move all industries served by rail to the north of downtown Kalispell, but if you like running along the streets, the railroad still serves two or three industries, including CHS (400 car loads of grain per year) in the heart of Kalispell.  For the Class I fans, the MMR interchanges with the mighty BNSF at Stryker and Columbia Falls, offering mainline running between the two branches. If you'd rather model the rural areas, the Stryker-Eureka line sees regular traffic and the route follows the scenic and quaint Tabacco creek.

The question then becomes, where should a modeler start?  Eventually I'd like to model the entire line, both branches, and use the BNSF main line as a sort of staging yard.  However, for now I must decide what area to model first, and I think modeling the future "Glacier Rail Park" is the best place to start for several reasons:

  1. The area is compact, roughly 1,300 feet long and about 700 foot wide.
  2. There will be a minimum of 3 industries, or as many as 10 in a few years.
  3. Since the area is in the planning stage, there is much leeway as to what industries could be served.
  4. The entire park will be serviced by one engine, WAMX (MMR) #1501, and SW1500.
  5. On days when WAMX #1501 won't be switching the district, there is #3807, a GP-38-2, or an ex-UP GP38-2 to take the SW's place.
  6. Modern era rolling stock will be seen right next to equipment that has been in service since the late 60's.
  7. The industries will vary, thus creating a mix of rolling stock, plus the addition of a team track.
Knowing this, we can infer a couple of things about the track layout of the 40 acre lot:

  1. There will be a long team track, likely bedded into gravel with one or two pits for gravel/grain, etc.
  2. CHS will have a new elevator that will have 48 car capacity, being that 48 is the magic number to reduce the cost of bulk rail shipments.
  3. CHS will therefore need one dedicated track for loading grain and another for car storage, as well as a runaround track.
  4. An independent runaround track will be a must for the other industries.
  5. Other industries are up for interpretation but it will be safe to assume at least one dedicated track will be required.
Based on those points, here is a diagram I came up with:

Since this is the end of the line, the Independent runaround track will be located outside of the park and on the branch line itself.  This way the track can double as car storage during the slow months and won't take up space inside the park.  This diagram is simple, using a total of 5 turnouts, to serve a team track, CHS Inc. and a small number of other businesses.  The team track will easily need 50 feet of clearance on each side of the track for trucks to turn around.  The team track and the track serving other businesses will be buried in gravel for trucks to easily roll over the rails.

Anyway, that's the tentative track plan!