Trains are running at last

It has been a long time coming but trains are finally running on my DME layout.  The lower deck and all the wiring has now been completed.  Many thanks to David L. for soldering all the droppers while I banged my head under the layout attaching the droppers to the barrier strips and then to the bus.  All the PSX circuit breakers are installed and wired too.

The first train did the circuit on the lower deck yesterday, Sunday 27th March. My test locomotive was actually a Wisconsin Central loco (#6001) but this failed on the momentous first circuit and was replaced by another Wisconsin Central loco (a Kato SD40).  This loco did the circuit without any problems at all.

As most of my DME locos are currently being sound-chipped elsewhere, I managed to dig out one of my Proto 2000 DME GP9 locomotives (#1471) for the photographic shoot that takes a rake of test freight cars around the layout.  Take it away the City of Watertown….

This first photo shows the train leaving the (hidden) storage sidings and entering the layout over a hinged drop-down flap across the doorway.  The track is only temporarily laid down here as there will be a turnout on this flap to direct trains to the DME main line and the BN main line.  This train will enter the DME main line at Ivanhoe, SD.

DSC03546_webThe next photo shows the train in Ivanhoe, SD.  There is a siding and a spur here to service the local grain industry.  Last year I said that I was going to have a branch line joining Ivanhoe with a moveable cassette from the aisle-way.  I decided not to go ahead with that and put Ivanhoe back to where it was on my original plan. The track in the middle towards the rear of the photo that goes diagonally from left to right (just in front of the Tortoise motors) is the BN track that will connect to a turnout on the flap shown in the previous photo.  You can see four tracks on the far left and these are (hidden) staging for BN trains.  The town of Wabasso will be on this section of the upper deck.

DSC03547_webWe leave Ivanhoe and go around a 180 degree bend and come to Rosa Park.  Rosa Park is a busy industrial area to the west of the main town of Marshall (MN).

In the next photo the DME train is on the DME main line.  Immediately to the right are sidings for some industries that include Red Owl food distribution, Sealed Air plastic packaging, and a lumber dealer.  Immediately to the left will be a large grain facility.  The tracks on the blue mat will be (hidden) staging for the BN.  The DME and BN lines cross on a diamond just in front of the water tower.  In my previous (ancient) post I said that I would hide the diamond and use some form of lighting indicator to let operators know where the BN train was sitting as it waited to cross the diamond.  I am now keeping the diamond open to view.

DSC03548_webThe train leaves Rosa Park on a 180 degree peninsula and then enters the main town of Marshall (MN).  On the curved section around the peninsula the inside track is the DME main line and the outside (aisle side) track is the BN main. Inside the peninsula is the small operating well where the dispatcher will sit.

The next photo shows the DME train in Marshall heading east (sorry, my east is to the left on this layout!).  The track next to the train on the left is the BN main line.  To the far right is more (hidden) staging representing the (former CNW) branch line northwest to Ghent.  The town of Ronald (after my father) will sit above these storage sidings.  The storage sidings here on the lower deck I have surmised as being a truncated branch line now operated by the Twin Cities & Western (TC&W). The TC&W has trackage rights over the DME from Marshall to Evan (MN) from where it heads north to Redwood Falls and onto Redwood to meet sister railroad, the Minnesota Prairie Line.  I understand that this Redwood Falls-Redwood rail link is not prototypical (or even possible) but I am relenting for operational interest.

DSC03551_webThe train does another 180 degree turn to continue through Marshall and the main DME yard.  DME trains are made up here and there is a small engine terminal and RIP track.

The next photo shows the bulk of the DME yard. We see the DME train on the DME main line.  The track on the right is for DME/BN interchange and it also allows DME/BN trains access to each other’s lines.  The next two tracks on the right are the BN main and BN loop line where the station will be.  I plan on running an Amtrak train and the odd “excursion train” on the BN main.  On the left are sidings for the DME yard and industries such as Schwann Foods.  You can see the plywood for the second deck in this photo as well and, ironically, there are no hidden storage tracks underneath it. This part of the second deck will support the town of Evan and the junction for DME and TC&W trains.

DSC03554_webThe DME train will continue straight ahead before curving to the left (right as we view the above photo) to start the climb to the second deck and the line to Evan (MN) and onto Sleepy Eye (MN).

You can see where the DME line is to go in the next photo where the Woodland Scenics foam incline starts. There are four (hidden) storage sidings under the upper deck baseboard here as well, albeit access is good from the garage doors.  Above will be the terminating storage sidings for the DME at Sleepy Eye and these will be hidden behind a narrow scenic barrier.  In front, as shown by the TC&W loco on the upper deck, will be the line from Evan to Redwood Falls.  The tracks on the lower deck in the open are the MSC/ADM industry sidings and spur tracks in Marshall.  The first two tracks on the left are the BN main and passing siding.

DSC03558_webAs the DME line is point-to-point (and the upper deck is still under construction) I am, for now, rerouting DME trains along the BN main line for a continuous circuit.

The next photo sees our train having backed up to get access to the turnouts that allows it to move onto the BN main line.  The BN main line is continuous run.

DSC03561_webThe next two photos shows our DME train on the BN main; the first photo showing the train passing the MSC/ADM complex on the left at Marshall. The second photo brings us almost full circle with the storage sidings on the left.  A scenic backdrop will separate the BN main line from the storage sidings here.

DSC03564_web DSC03566_webLastly, we see in the final photo below the freight wagons back in their storage siding and the loco is about to reverse back into loco storage (middle set of stub-ended spurs on the left).  You can also see the raised narrow strip of plywood (with a stacked set of foam risers) in the background which will take the DME line to the upper deck at the full eight inches in height.  [To explain – the first foam incline brings the DME track up to four inches above the lower deck.  To prevent additional drag on the incline on the ninety degree turn, I have maintained a four inch run around the curve. On the straight I will place the next four inch foam incline (8 foot in length) that will take the track to the full eight inches, crossing the doorway on a flap that lifts up this time].  The section where the DME goes from lower to upper deck (about 21 feet or roughly seven metres) is not part of the scenic layout and is ostensibly hidden.

DSC03568_webIt is a good feeling to finally get some trains moving around the continuous run of the lower deck. The last twelve months have not been easy as my dad was diagnosed last April with terminal cancer.  Amazingly (and thankfully), he is still with us.  Despite being in palliative care, he is still mentally alert and maintains his positive frame of mind at all times.  More recently, I have my own health problem which hopefully will be sorted mid-April with some specialist surgery.  All the more reason to get the trains moving on the layout!


X marks the spot

Hot on the heals of my blog post describing the town of Rosa Park, I thought I should explain how the diamond crossing is going to work since it is a rather important operational feature on the model railroad.

As stated previously, the diamond is necessary to bring the BN/BNSF track from an outside curve on the visible part of the layout into staging which is on the inside of the layout. The BN/BNSF tracks essentially loop around the lower deck but travel only through Marshall on the layout itself. Although the focus of the layout is the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern (DME), I wanted an interchange with the BN/BNSF and I also wanted to just run a train in a continuous loop at times while working in the garage. But I also wanted the DME line towards the rear so I could place industries along the backscene and to enable it to leave Marshall on an incline (hidden) behind the garage doors to get to the (to be constructed) upper deck. After all, the upper deck is essentially the DME line from Marshall to Evan that I am actually modelling.

Here is an earlier generic plan of the layout, albeit some changes have since been made and I will mention one of those changes now. You can see the position of the town of Rosa Park and how the DME and BN/BNSF lines cross as they approach the peninsula. You can also see the BN/BNSF staging area behind Rosa Park and how it loops around behind Ivanhoe to cross over the doorway from where it can make a continuous loop. In this plan DME staging is to the left of the doorway but this has now changed to BN/BNSF stub-ended staging and the new DME staging is along the back of the garage doors. The new DME staging area can hold four staging tracks and the incline from Marshall to the upper deck, even if the diagram suggests insufficient space!

Positioning planPhoto 1 shows the diamond crossing and the BN/BNSF track moving from the outside to the inside of the baseboard where it joins the staging yard on the blue mat. This is an older photo and doesn’t show the final track positions in staging. The position of the water tower is still to be determined but it will have a critical role to play as I will explain shortly.

Photo 1:

Rosa_Park_staging_diamond_1The diamond crossing is not considered part of the railroad. What do I mean by that?

The crossing is a necessary part of the model railroad in order to move BN/BNSF trains from one position on the layout (the visible part) to another part of the layout where trains are stored in staging, or can complete a continuous run. As such, the BN/BNSF trains are considered to be moving through Marshall or they are somewhere else. There are two explanations for this: the first is that we consider offstage storage of trains to be representative of other parts of the railroad (e.g. an extension of the Marshall subdivision and other connecting parts throughout the United States) when we think of the prototype. However, we also need to consider that we are also operating a model railroad and we need to work out how best to channel trains from one place to another for model railroad storage purposes. So long as the model railroad storage purpose is not visible to us, we can maintain the illusion that our trains are moving through Marshall and going to another place – Wilmar, the Twin Cities, Sioux City, Kansas City, Spokane, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, etc. I therefore have no problem moving my trains offstage in whatever manner best suits to maximise the operation of the trains on the visible part of the layout. This is not revolutionary by any means: some layouts have offstage storage where trains are built up by pulling freight cars and locos off shelves or from drawers.

In Photo 2 we see a mock up of the backscene boards used to separate the visible layout at Rosa Park and the hidden staging. Note the short board hiding the diamond from Larraway Lumber. It does look a tad messy but I am hopeful that with the right buildings and backscene the gap won’t be as obvious. But yes, one will indeed see a “mousehole” when looking from either side of this part of the layout (i.e. trains entering from the curve around the peninsula or when DME trains drive through Rosa Park to Marshall). For now, I will call it a transition zone and leave it that! The transition zone does not exist on the railroad, much the same as a helix does not exist on a real railroad. I will need to find a name for it though because the dispatcher must tell BN/BNSF crews when they can cross the diamond, while crews need to tell the dispatcher they are positioned short of the diamond and ready to come out onto the layout. And this is especially important for safe working.

Photo 2:

Diamond_crossing_2 The envisaged safe working procedure is actually pretty simple. Please note that I am about to explain the safe working procedure for the model railroad. DME trains do NOT have to seek permission from the dispatcher to travel through the transition zone between Rosa Park and Marshall. The default on the DME is that the transition zone does not exist. However, all BN/BNSF trains MUST stop on approach to the diamond from staging (i.e. from the right). The dispatcher can only allow a BN/BNSF train onto the layout by crossing the diamond when no DME trains are coming through. Once a BN/BNSF crew have the OK to proceed, their train crosses the diamond and enters the visible part of the layout on the outside curve of the peninsula which takes the train to Marshall. Once the train enters the visible part of the layout, the train is now “on the prototype” and will operate accordingly.

In Photo 3 we see a coal train crossing the diamond only after the dispatcher gave permission for this train to be at this point on the layout. This is naturally the case for the train coming from both directions. For trains coming from the east (the left) that will leave Marshall to go around the outer curve on the peninsula, and enter staging by crossing the diamond (from the left), the crew will get permission from the dispatcher when the train first arrives in Marshall. These trains actually originate from one of the four stub-ended sidings behind Rosa Park and continue behind Ivanhoe to cross the doorway and enter the BN/BNSF main just before the MSC/ADM industrial complex. Staging and operation around the doorway is actually handled by a yardmaster rather than the dispatcher but both yardmaster and dispatcher are in communication with each other.

Photo 3:


Note that ALL DME trains take precedence. If a DME train will be in the way the dispatcher will hold the BN/BNSF train in staging or at Marshall until the passage is clear. Holding a BN/BNSF train in Marshall might be for any number of prototypical reasons, but holding for “the diamond crossing to be clear” won’t be one of them.

In photo 4 we see the same coal train crossing the diamond. Let’s pretend it is actually moving from right to left as though it has come onto the layout from staging. But how did the crew and the dispatcher know where the train was prior to getting permission to move onto the layout? The diamond in this transition zone will be hidden, as are the storage sidings themselves (remember that the upper deck will be over the top of the storage sidings eventually).

There are two options. The first is the use of a small wireless camera and screen but I am still to be convinced that this is the best approach. The second option is a little more creative and potentially offers the right type of information using a sensor and a LED.

And this is where the water tower comes into the picture. I envisage having a small light on the top of the water tower (I think Model Power or Korber might have even have sold water towers with blinking lights on top) which is activated by a sensor (an IRDOT most likely) when the BN/BNSF train is about 6-8 inches from the diamond. When the light is activated by the sensor the train must stop until given the OK to proceed by the dispatcher to cross the diamond and enter the layout (and thus now on the railroad). I need to give this spot a name (most likely a town). The crew can alert the dispatcher by saying that the train is at Split Rock (for example) and the dispatcher can say to hold at Split Rock or to proceed from Split Rock.

Photo 4:

Diamond_crossing_3The water tower now becomes an important signal for crews to know where their train is and when to stop their train prior to crossing the diamond and entering the visible part of the layout.

This is just speculation at this stage of layout construction. However, considering different operational options and making the distinction between prototype and model railroad is already making a difference to how I think about potential track changes and operation strategy. The proof of the pudding is yet to come. But at least we can start imagining the taste and what it might look like while it is still being cooked up.

Rosa Park on the DME

The town of Rosa Park is located between Ivanhoe and Marshall in southwest Minnesota. Rosa Park is a major beneficiary of the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern (DME) rail line from Brookings (SD) to Marshall (MN) and beyond. The DME line from Brookings to Evan (MN) (rejoining the DME main line just west of Sleepy Eye) is called the Evan subdivision, or more colloquially known as the DME Deviation. The DME has been a key driver of economic development at Rosa Park and demonstrates how important rail can be to a town’s economic base.  Being located close to Marshall and the BN/BNSF interchange also helps. Rosa Park has a number of significant industries that rely on the DME and support a local population of almost 3000 people. Workers also come from neighbouring Ivanhoe and Marshall.

The schematic for Rosa Park and the BN/BNSF hidden staging gives readers a good idea of the track configuration and industries served by the DME line. The red line shows the separation between the visible part of the layout (Rosa Park) and the hidden staging tracks for the BN/BNSF behind it.

Rosa_Park_and_staging_amendedPhoto 1 shows Rosa Park and the BN/BNSF staging area behind it. The photo looks down on Rosa Park from the east (left hand side). The yard length is about 5m (approx 15 feet). The slightly obscured blue DME loco behind the water tower is on the DME main line.

Photo 1:

Rosa_Park_updatedIn my original plan for Rosa Park, the grain elevator was going to be situated at the front edge of the baseboard with only a single spur. The actual elevator structure and grain silos were to be “imagined” in the aisle space. Where the grain elevator is now located was to have been a Central Soya complex. I quite like the Central Soya covered hoppers and tank cars and I have several of them. However, having two large soy processing complexes (the other being the Minnesota Soy Processing Co-op at Marshall) was too much. Interestingly, Central Soya started in Indiana in 1934 and expanded into other Midwestern states. Central Soya was purchased in 2002 by Bunge Limited after having been part of the Cereol Group for a number of years.

When I decided to replace Central Soya with the grain business at the back of Rosa Park, I did have a concern that the modelled grain elevator would protrude slightly into the edge of the upper deck.  I will work my around that issue when the upper deck gets constructed, but I have a couple of suitable options to overcome that. You can see in Photo 2 below that the grain silos are slightly higher than the unpainted and temporary backboard. And yes, the water tower is in a different position in this photo!

Photo 2:

Rosa_Park_staging_2The current yard layout and industries at Rosa Park are now settled and the trackwork has been altered accordingly. The main industry is a large grain elevator and associated fertiliser distribution business – Saatkamp Grain and Feed.  Because of a limited track lead, a pair of turnouts in the yard allows grain trains to be broken up and fed through the loading facility in two lots. The grain elevator has its own switcher and I am still to decide whether to use a SW1500 or NW2 for that role as I have both as options.

Another change to the original plan was the addition of an extra 11 cm to the front of the baseboard at Rosa Park (this is visible in the photos as a lighter shade of plywood). This enabled an additional spur plus room for industry structures along the front of the layout. Being at the front, I wanted industries that were not very tall so they didn’t interfere with reaching into the yard during switching operations. I fictionalised that the former iconic Minnesota supermarket chain, Red Owl (which was taken over in 1988 by Super Valu), re-established itself as an independent entity in the early 1990s and had a major distribution warehouse at Rosa Park. Such an industry allows for a variety of incoming freight cars. The other industry at the front of the layout is Sealed Air, a company that makes packaging material like bubble-wrap.

Photo 3 shows Rosa Park with all the industry sidings. The staging tracks are on the blue mat. Originally, I had seven tracks in staging but the gap between tracks was too tight so I lifted the track and put down the six tracks you see in the photo.They look a bit wobbly and that’s because they have not been fixed into place yet. These tracks will be straightened and Tortoise motors installed onto the turnouts. The turnouts on Rosa Park will be thrown using manual ground throws.

Photo 3:

Rosa_Park_and_BN_stagingFrom the opposite angle, Photo 4 shows the configuration of the DME tracks. From left to right: Red Owl and Sealed Air industry tracks; siding; passing loop, DME main line; and the three grain elevator tracks for Saatkamp Grain and Feed.

Photo 4:

Rosa_Park_midPhoto 5 shows the west (right) end of the Rosa Park yard and the curved track of the DME main that rounds the bend into Ivanhoe. The two forked tracks are the ends of the grain spurs. To the right of the DME main line is a short curved lead track. Originally this was to be a spur for a propane gas facility and I am still considering this option. The two tracks leaving the blue mat are the main and loop siding on the BN/BNSF staging that will curve around behind Ivanhoe and remain hidden until it crosses over the doorway (see previous blog post).

Photo 5:

Rosa_Park_west_endPhoto 6 shows the east (left) end of Rosa Park. The spur on the far left with the red box car is Larraway Lumber and Building Products. Midway along on the left are two sidings for Sealed Air;  the one with the covered hopper is for discharging plastic pellets and the spur off to the left with the brown box car is for incoming and outgoing products. The BNSF coal train is on the run through line in staging.

Photo 6:

Rosa_Park_east_endAt this eastern end of Rosa Park, I have made some more room at Larraway Lumber to allow for a larger complex than originally planned (Photo 7). I was keen to ensure that the unloading of wrapped lumber from centre-beam freight cars could be done from both sides as on the prototype. Accessing both sides of the centre-beam freight car is necessary to prevent the car from falling over if only unloaded from one side! To save space, one side of the unloading area is “imagined” in the aisle. Larraway is a real business in Minnesota, although not rail served, and is in keeping with my desire to include things I saw on my previous trips to DME territory.

Photo 7 also shows how the BNSF line (outer curve) crosses the DME main (inner curve) to enter staging on the right from the actual visible part of the layout. The end of the visible portion of the layout is where the cross-member and vertical post are. Larraway Lumber will help conceal the diamond which is not part of the visible layout.

Photo 7:

Larraway_Lumber_positionThe diamond is necessary to bring the BN/BNSF Marshall subdivision line into staging as on the layout (lower deck) it is on the aisle side of the baseboard. The hidden staging behind Rosa Park has six tracks. One of the tracks is a run-through track and a second is a loop siding. There are four stub ended sidings. The backscene behind Rosa Park will be removable to allow access to these hidden staging tracks. I plan to experiment with track detectors and a couple of small cameras linked to two screens at either end. The hidden staging will sit below the upper deck and will be enclosed, other than for the ends of the stub-ended spurs near the dispatcher’s well.  I will describe how the tracks from hidden staging behind Rosa Park connect to the rest of the layout in another blog post.

One feature I have experimented with in this section of hidden staging is the use of a (blue) camping mat on the surface of the plywood instead of cork (Photo 8). I purchased the camping mat cheaply from a two-dollar shop (albeit paying slightly more than two dollars).  I am interested to find out whether it lowers train noise compared to cork.

Photo 8:

BN_BNSF_staging_matRosa Park is a key location on the layout with plenty of operational potential and industry activity. While the town is fictional, its economic base and characteristics are in keeping with the prototype. As an example of using the rail system for regional development, I consider Rosa Park to be a big success.

Ivanhoe, Minnesota

My model railroad of the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern (DME) has three towns on the lower deck. The first town out of staging and heading in an easterly direction (to the left) is Ivanhoe, Minnesota.

The relative position of the towns on the lower deck can be seen from the plan. You can refer to my previous blog post if you need further explanation about the plan.

Positioning plan

The town of Ivanhoe in southwest Minnesota has a population of 560 (2013) which represents a decline of 17.5% since 2000. Ivanhoe is largely a service town supporting the surrounding agricultural community.  Ivanhoe has the mandatory midwest grain business and water tower. Ivanhoe is 29 kilometres (18 miles) to the west of the bigger town of Marshall (pop. 14,000, 2013) on Highway 19. Ivanhoe was served by a former CNW branchline from Tyler to Astoria (see map in previous blog post). Today, Ivanhoe remains a relatively small town typical of the area.

However, in my fictional history there is a busy rail line going through Ivanhoe on a west-east route from Brookings (SD) to Marshall (MN). In addition, with the fictional town of Rosa Park midway between Ivanhoe and Marshall, and with the extensive economic activity based in Rosa Park, Ivanhoe would have had a much bigger population than in reality. But for the purposes of the layout, Ivanhoe has a single spur serving a grain business on the fictional Brookings to Marshall line of the DME. I hope to add the water tower as well as I have a kit for that type of structure.

The layout diagram for Ivanhoe on my model railroad appears below.


The track crossing the doorway and continuing into Ivanhoe is the fictional DME line from Brookings. Brookings and subsequent towns up to Ivanhoe are represented by storage sidings in hidden staging. Remember that on my layout, west is on the right hand side and east is on the left hand side. To go east, is to go to your left!

On my layout Ivanhoe has a grain facility on a single spur. I am tossing up whether to have it represent a grain facility for bird seed as per the prototype Peterson Grain & Brokerage complex at Meriden near Waseca on the real DME. If so, I would name it Piersen Grain in memory of Joe Pierson from the CNW Historical Society who provided me with valuable CNW prototype information over many years before he passed away last year.

As the photos indicate below, trains leave the storage sidings (staging) and cross the doorway on a lift-out section. The tracks on the lift out section fork – the DME line goes to Ivanhoe and the BN/BNSF line goes to hidden staging behind Rosa Park.

The first photo shows the storage sidings (four diagonal tracks and one diagonal run through track), three straight sections on the right (two of which will cross over the doorway to join tracks on the other side), and a single line on the left which is the BN/BNSF line entering staging (actually, it has to cross over the doorway and veer to the right behind Ivanhoe to join seven hidden staging tracks on the other side of the layout behind Rosa Park). Where the spur ends on the left is where hidden storage begins. Up to there, the diagonal tracks will therefore be hidden behind a scenic backdrop.

Photo 1:


The second photo shows how the above set of tracks align on the edge of the layout by the doorway. Only three tracks cross over the doorway – the two on the left (red and green pins) and the single track on the right (blue pin). The stub ended tracks in between are used to store locomotives and are part of this side of staging.

Photo 2:


Photo 3 shows the (illustrative) lift-out section that brings both DME trains (from staging) and BN/BNSF trains from the lower level loop across the doorway. The track veering off to the left is for BN/BNSF trains to link up with hidden staging which, as I said, is behind Rosa Park. The track with the DME loco is where the DME trains enter the layout at Ivanhoe.

Photo 3:Liftout_temp

Photo 4 shows Ivanhoe with a main line, a spur on the right, and the line from Astoria and Hendricks on the left. The track on the right with the BN loco is how the BN/BNSF trains get around to BN/BNSF hidden staging. There are four tracks to the right of this line and these are DME staging for trains heading west (to the right). These four tracks are shown in Photo 5. The red and green pins (Photo 5) at the edge match the tracks from the other side of the doorway shown in photo 2.

Photos 4 and 5:


Photo 6 illustrates where the scenic backdrop will sit (illustrative) and its relationship to the BN/BNSF line and DME hidden staging. Above and behind the scenic backdrop will be the upper level, stepped back from the front as you can see.

Photo 6:

Ivanhoe_curved backdrop

To enhance operations at Ivanhoe I have fictionalised that the former south-north CNW line from Ivanhoe to Astoria remained operational, serving an ethanol plant and grain facilities at Hendricks (between Ivanhoe and Astoria) and grain facilities and farm supplies at Astoria as well (all fictional). This fiction is necessary to give the necessary economics for the line to remain in existence. I use a removable cassette to represent this branchline. The original (prototype) Ivanhoe grain facilities on the former CNW branchline are also represented as being off-stage on the removable cassette. At this stage I plan to run DME trains but the option is also available to have this section run by a shortline operator, of a type like the Nebraska Northeastern.

After leaving Ivanhoe, the track makes the customary model railroad turn back on a 30 inch radius curve leading into the fictional town of Rosa Park. I have always said that if I made a US-themed model railroad layout that I would have a town named Rosa Park named after Rosa Parks. Rosa Park is a major source of traffic on the layout.

The town of Rosa Park will be showcased in the next blog post.

Situating the prototype DME and the layout

As I stated in the previous blog post, I want to begin to describe the individual locations on my Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern (DME) prototype inspired layout as currently constructed. I had intended to start off with a description of staging and the town of Ivanhoe, South Dakota. However, some friends asked me to provide a broader geographical perspective before going into the individual components that make up the lower deck of the layout (and the only deck at this stage). And they also asked me to explain how I am modelling the former Chicago & North Western (CNW) line from Evan to Marshall in Minnesota when the lower deck does not represent this line!

The map below shows the rail lines and key towns that relate to my layout, both real and fictional.

Geographic plan001The map shows the section of the former CNW west-east rail line from Rapid City (SD) to Winona (MN) that was taken over by the DME in 1986. In addition, relevant former CNW branch lines that were closed and abandoned before the DME came into existence are shown as well. These lines are:

  •  Tyler to Astoria through Ivanhoe
  • Marshall to Taunton and beyond through Ghent and Minneota
  • Marshall to Evan and onto Redwood Junction
  • Redwood Falls to Redwood Junction through Evan

These four lines all existed at one time or another. For example, the line from Marshall to Evan closed in 1977 if my information is correct. In real life, there were also other ex-CNW branch lines in the map area but I have omitted them as they do not necessarily impact on the layout.

My fictional history includes a line from Brookings (SD) to Marshall (MN) via Ivanhoe. Thus, Ivanhoe has two lines going through town which is probably a tad excessive for the size and nature of the town. I simply claim modeller’s license. The line continues through Marshall to Evan along the former CNW route. I call this the “DME deviation” which is of course totally fictional and based on the imaginative rationalisation that new agricultural industries emerged to sustain the economics of the line up to and beyond the birth of the DME.

The model railroad therefore seeks to represent the line from Ivanhoe (SD) eastward through Marshall and along the former CNW line to Evan, rejoining the DME “main line” at Redwood Junction which is offstage. Marshall allows me to have an interchange with the Burlington Northern/BNSF Sioux City line, as well as featuring the Minnesota Soy Processors Co-op (MSC) industrial complex in Marshall. I have actually combined Minnesota Soy Processors Co-op (MSC) with ADM to allow rolling stock from both companies to be used. In reality, ADM took a 30% stake in MSC in 1997 and took full control in a takeover approved by federal authorities in 2002. In addition, I like running BN/BNSF coal trains which I can do on the layout as coal moves from the Powder River Basin to eastern destinations.

However, the lower deck only has the real towns of Ivanhoe and Marshall, as well as a fictional town in between called Rosa Park. In addition, I have included an “offstage” branch line connection from Ivanhoe north-west to Hendricks and Astoria, which is represented on the layout with a planned lift-out or drop-down section that can hold one train. I have also included an offstage connection from Marshall for the DME (on the curve) to Ghent and Minneota (four track hidden staging). The lower deck therefore features only three visible towns, all of which culminate in the main yard at Marshall for the DME and the MSC/ADM industrial complex for the BN/BNSF. An outline of the position of the towns on the layout (lower deck) is included below.

Positioning planAs described in the previous blog post, the area behind the red line (closest to the walls) will be the position of the upper deck. Much of this area is taken up by hidden staging on the lower deck as indicated above. The position of the DME and BN tracks is indicated and you will see where they cross just to the left of Rosa Park. This area is not representative of the prototype and is located in a “staging box” to avoid seeing the anomaly. All hidden staging will have detectors and I am planning on also experimenting with those small rear view cameras and monitors added to cars to improve rear vision.

Where the DME and BN lines run parallel to each other through Marshall, the BN is on the inside. The DME line curves away from the BN line and towards the garage doors (behind the red line in the diagram) to link up with DME staging. This hidden single line connection behind the MSC/ADM complex enables a continuous circuit. This is temporary until the upper deck gets built. Note also that the BN line is a continuous run, visible when it comes out of BN staging into the curve around the peninsula into Marshall, and covering off all three sides of the town of Marshall before returning to BN staging across the doorway and into a single track between the visible Ivanhoe and hidden DME staging. The next blog post will make this positioning clearer.

The planned top deck will see trains run east from Marshall to Evan. On my layout I had to make the compromise that trains running east actually go to one’s left as you stand in front of a particular point on the layout. Moving between the two decks will occur between the garage doors and the MSC/ADM complex using Woodland Scenics foam risers with a grade of 4%. As this section is hidden, but still accessible via the garage doors, the steep grade won’t be a visual problem. And as I will be using double-headed diesel locomotives hauling 10-12 freight cars, the grade shouldn’t be a problem for the trains. At this stage, only the real town names of Marshall, Wabasso, and Evan will be used, with one or possibly two fictional towns (Ronald and Galbraith) as composite towns. I am still debating whether to include Redwood Falls as a branch line terminus or not. But as the second deck is something for the future, I won’t go into any detail yet.

Hopefully, by studying the map you can get a better understanding of how the layout is situated geographically within southwest Minnesota and southeast South Dakota. The layout drawing gives you a positional representation of the features on the lower deck.

The next blog post will look at staging and the town of Ivanhoe.

Progress on the layout

Since the last post on DME Down Under (which was a considerable time ago), significant progress has been made on the layout. In the next few blog posts I will bring you up to date with all the developments. Let’s begin with a more formal looking picture of the layout instead of the sketches. Layout space outlineThe dimensions of the central and outer walls are clearly marked in both imperial and metric measurements. Here in Australia, we have used the metric system since 1974 but I still use imperial measurements every now and then. You can see that the layout follows the outer walls of the double-garage. There is a central wall in the middle which is very useful as it enabled me to use it for two separate yards/towns linked by the peninsula. The peninsula is a double track band, roughly 7 foot across (2.13 metres), with the inside being open to house the dispatcher.

The hatched sections are the baseboards which are, for the most part, three feet wide (0.9 metres). This gives an aisle width of three feet as well. The only pinch point is the 2.5 foot (0.76 metres) gap from the outer edge of the peninsula to the baseboard along the front of the garage.

You can also see a red line within the hatched area. The red line represents a separation of the layout between the front edges (aisle sides) and the rear (wall sides). Between the red line and the inner (aisle) edge is the “visible” model railroad, representing the stretch of line between Brookings (South Dakota) and Marshall (Minnesota) which is fictitious but all explained in an earlier blog post. In actual fact, the model railroad on the lower deck represents the section of this fictitious east-west trackage from Ivanhoe (South Dakota) to Marshall. In real life, Ivanhoe is 23 miles (38 kilometres) west of Marshall.

For the most part, these areas behind the red line (i.e. closest to the walls) are either not considered part of the railroad or have hidden tracks. For example, between the red line and the garage doors is a hidden single track that joins the yard on the far left wall (which is the town of Marshall, Minnesota) and staging on the far right wall. As you follow the red line to the right you can see that it goes half way along the bottom right hand baseboard and then cuts in at ninety degrees towards the aisle. Here, the top half of this baseboard is all staging and considered to be “offstage”. The separation of model railroad from staging tracks will become clearer in future blog posts as I explain each section one at a time.

While the second deck is still some way off in the future, it will be eight inches (200mm) above the lower deck baseboard from the outer walls to the red line. In practice, it means that the upper deck will cover staging and where there is no track anyway. For example, the long wall on the far left of the garage has almost no track between the wall and the red line. But eight inches above this space will eventually be the town of Evan (Minnesota).

I will conclude this post with just one further explanation as my planned double-deck layout is a little bit unusual. The double-deck will actually be stepped with the lower deck model railroad running along the front edges (between the aisles and the red lines). The second deck will NOT be directly over the visible part of the layout but stepped back behind the red line and against the outer walls. So you can also read that the red line on the plan above is a good indication of the position of the upper deck – red line to walls.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The next installment will start with staging to Ivanhoe (bottom right hand baseboard to top right hand baseboard) bridged by a lift out section across the doorway. Until next time…     .


The process for designing a model railroad layout seems pretty straightforward. The idea is to work out a design that meets your particular needs and aspirations within the context of available layout space, your skills, time, and money. I also want to affirm that you will need to consider competing priorities for time (the needs of your work, family and friends) and for money (it is a hobby after all).

In nearly all model railway/model railroad magazines there are descriptions and photos of layouts. Most of these descriptions will at least have a paragraph or two on how the owner decided what the layout design requirements were and how the final track plan came into being. I have hinted previously about some of the features of the prototype that I liked and wanted to incorporate in a model railroad design. In the US, reference is often made to layout planner John Armstrong’s “givens” and “druthers”. Givens are what you have to have for the layout (space, your chosen scale, type of control system, etc.) and druthers are what you’d like to (realistically) have for the model railroad (e.g. rural industries, interchange, number of stations, yards more important than scenery, etc.).

Whatever the terminology and processes used for decision-making, it is very likely that modellers begin their quest for their “perfect” layout design with a series of doodles which progress to sketches and then to a scaled-out plan. In my case, it was no different.

While the previous blog posts may have given the impression that my thought process about prototype and location was relatively straightforward, it wasn’t. Considerable time and research was required to give me sufficient understanding for what I wanted within the parameters of the layout’s physical location. Doodles and sketches became part of that process; testing new ideas or discarding others. As such, my sketches therefore reflect the fact that I was combining my knowledge about the prototype and aspirations for the model railroad at different points in time over the past few years. In addition, I looked at hundreds of layout plans from my collection of model railroad magazines (and the very handy Model Railroader track plan database) and also some prototype yard drawings. I will go into detail about this research in another blog post.

I made literally hundreds of sketches, many with just a few alterations and different operating options. Except for early sketches, the general configuration of a double-deck around-the-room design remained constant. Some of my earliest sketches included a helix in the central peninsula area but I gave up on that idea pretty quickly.That being the case, I had to use a grade to move between decks. I couldn’t get sufficient length to have a big gap between decks, one on top of the other. I compromised with a deck separation of 8″ (203mm) with a stepped-out deck design (i.e. the lower deck is in front of, and not under, the upper deck). I have operated on layouts in Australia with that design and it never bothered me that the two decks were arranged this way.

Nearly all my sketches just show the main lines (DME and BN) without detail for the yards in each town. I keep the layout plan for each town separate and then I mock up the design on the baseboard with track to better visualise how things look in reality. I make adjustments at this stage.

I will just show a few examples of some layout design sketches I made to illustrate the point that playing around with track designs is both necessary and exceedingly helpful to get to a “final” plan. I haven’t included any of the “back-of-the-envelope” type sketches but they were important in developing different ideas. Please note that the first sketch shows the garage doors at the top of the page while the other sketches have the garage doors at the bottom of the pages. You can refer to the previous blog post with the diagram there showing the dimensions of the garage and the position of the side door.




The last sketch here made it to a scaled diagram, albeit the diagram above is more scaled sketch than detailed plan. You will note that turnouts and the individual town yard plans are not included in these sketches. As I mentioned, I like to get the general design for the main lines on paper first, working out the town yards individually, before putting the two elements together with the track unfixed on the baseboard.  Suffice to say, the final sketch above has been modified several times on paper and on the layout itself. When I get some time, I will redraw the plan as close to what the layout now looks like and put it up on the blog.

I should also admit that between the time I drew that last sketch illustrated above (a few months ago) and when I finally got around to putting track down on the baseboard to see how it all looked, I did experience a crisis of confidence where I thought it all didn’t work! I spent another month or so looking at other design options, including alternative DME routes (e.g. starting the line from Brookings, South Dakota, and heading east to Marshall, Minnesota). In the end, I finalised the positioning of the towns and continued with the plan for a double-deck layout going around the walls of the garage with a central peninsula. Most of the changes with this configuration have been in the detail and relate to improving the layout’s operational potential without too many worrying compromises. Two significant alterations to the paper designs shown here related to changes in the placement of the grades between lower and upper decks, and the positioning of my staging yard, all worth a future blog post in itself.

Let me conclude this post by saying that the “final” design on paper continued to have several iterations after I put track down (unfixed) on the baseboard. I really needed this physical 3D perspective to make sense of everything. I looked at different positions of turnouts, sidings and spurs, but the main line pretty much remained the same. Other people may have been able to achieve the same result with greater precision on paper or by using model railroad layout design computer software like AnyRail or 3rd PlanIt. For me, the iterative process worked best because I find it difficult to visualise things straight from a detailed diagram – I need to see the real thing! Whatever method you prefer, in the end you will eventually succeed in the transition from paper (or computer screen) to baseboard from where further adjustments can be made.