The Helix Continued…

I hope everyone is having a great Holiday Season. While I have been busy with family and work, I have had a chance to continue on the helix. Just not as much as I had hoped. I guess that’s the way it goes.

I did get the second ring of the helix installed. Tracks in and wired and successfully tested. Which leads to some thoughts on the way helixes are monitored.

This has been and continues to be one of the great divides on using a helix. Many will tell you that they would never use one for a couple of reasons. First, they are a tremendous real estate suck. Yes, yes they are. I have devoted about 30 square feet to mine. That’s a lot of space, especially if you are working in tight quarters. Fortunately I have the space.

The second is, you can’t see what’s going on and have no idea if the train is even moving.

My solution to that one.

One could just leave the helix open so that you could see what’s happening. My sense of aesthetic won’t allow me to have this great big monster hanging out in the open. I don’t know, maybe we should chalk it up to OCD.

My plan is the following. First the progress.

Second loop of helix in.

You can see above that both tracks end in the same place. Not something that happens when laying track with two different diameters. They were cut off together because this is the end of the first detection block. There will be a three over three signal at the entrance to the helix top and bottom. The upper signal head will show occupancy for the first section as the train navigates up or down. The lower the second section. The operator will have the visual cue of the signals so that they know there is movement.

If this isn’t enough, I have a two camera monitor that the operator can watch.

Monitor and cameras for the helix.

You can choose between the two cameras or have a split screen of both. The cameras will be placed (I hope) so that one can see the entire helix as well as the upper and lower return loops. Will see how that works out. I had picked this up at Lowes years ago on clearance. When I got it home and played with it I really liked it. Went back to get another but they were gone. The newer security systems are way too expensive (my opinion) for what I need. Mainly because they all have DVR’s built in. Don’t need a replay of the train in the helix.

Any ways, my solution to the problem.

I did get the third ring assembled and set into place.

Third loop set in place.

One thing that struck me was, with only two loops, it didn’t strike me as a helix. With the third in place it now “looks” like a helix.

Still have several family functions to attend through new years, so there won’t be much work done downstairs. After the 1st though I should be back at it.

Till then, Happy New Year…


Movin’ on up…

Got the helix started and we are movin’ on up to the second deck.

As I had left it last, I had all the curved roadbed pieces cut for the helix. As I was getting ready to assemble the first loop I realized that even if I got it put together I had no way to mount it. So back out to the garage to cut the vertical supports.

Originally I was going to have six sets of vertical supports. They would mate up with the with the joint in the roadbed pieces. I had a rather intricate plan for the vertical supports that would have been a lot more involved and labor intensive. Also I would have had to figure out how to a measure .667 inch rise between supports. I did the math and the fraction of an inch isn’t any better. So, I decided to have eight sets of supports, which meant that it would be a half an inch rise per support. A lot easier to figure out.

I than had to refigure the placement of the supports. Which presented the next hitch. One of the supports landed right in the middle of the reverse loop under the helix. Again, out to the garage to cut a piece to lift the support over the track.

The supports.

Vertical supports added for the helix.
Alternate view of the vertical supports in place.
Of course there is always a special case.

And then I was off and running. First I measured and cut off half of a curved section for my overlap. With that done it was a matter of gluing and screwing the pieces together till I had a complete circle.

Start of the first loop of the helix.
The staggered joint.
First loop complete.

Before I moved the finished ring to the layout I started the next loop so that the overlap would match up.

Also made the first section of the next loop so that the joint would match up.

Ah yes, moving the loop to the layout. I had assembled the loop at the end of the peninsula. The plan was to slip it into place on the Brandon side. Wouldn’t go. So around the layout and up and over the New Brighton street scene. Got it partially into place and then back around the layout and into the helix center where I wrestled it into place.

The next task was to join it to the other sub roadbed. My plan was not to use any cork roadbed to increase clearance. This meant an offset joint. While trying to figure out how to cut a piece 5mm thick for the offset, it occurred to me to just use a piece of cork sheet.

The loop in place with the joint plate connected.

Next I measured and mounted half of the loop, with the other half pulled high (you can see it in the picture above). This was so I could mount the first section of track where it was under the overlapping piece of the loop. I am using code 100 track in the helix. The reason is simple, I have a bunch of it sitting around from what I figure is about 25 years ago. Plus if I need more it’s cheaper than code 83. This meant a had to use transition pieces. They are from Walthers (   

Added the track to the area under the end of the loop while still accessible.

After that, permanently mounted the rest of the loop.

setting the rest of the loop in place.
The loop from the other side.

Next up was to add the track, wired in feeder wires and then the first train.

Successful run up the first part of the helix.

Now it’s back to the next loop. Keep you updated…




Workbench Wednesday #5…

Welcome to workbench Wednesday #5. These are things I was working on as I was waiting for glue or paint to dry on the grain complex. They are filler buildings to run along the backdrop in Jackson.

As I had mentioned in the original plan there are feeder barns and stock pens in this area. I built the grain complex for the end of the siding, but tried various small industries to fill in the rest. Problem with that was then there would be cars set that would have to moved to switch the complex.

I decided to go a different route. Instead of a lineside industry, I added several small businesses and a coupe of apartment buildings. All modelled from the back. The apartment buildings are Walthers ( Parkview Terrace Apartments (PN. 933-3177). They are perfect because they are made as a backdrop building. Liked the colors that they were shown in but not the raw plastic. So I painted them to match the box art.

Since I wanted to light them and the fact that they were open on the side that would go against the backdrop I sealed the backs.

Backside of the apartments, light block added to the left one.
Apartments from the front, one with and one without the rear backing.

For the businesses I used what I had on hand. Again they are from Walthers. They were a group of buildings I had picked for a main street scene. Wasn’t going to happen. They are simple kits that Walthers had made for them from Kibri. Only a couple of different styles with different architectural detail and color. Since I only needed the backs, I measured what depth I would need and cut off the fronts. And again added styrene to the open side so that I could light them without light leaks.

The row of shops from the rear. Cut down for the backdrop.
What was the front of the shops, now cut down with styrene covering the opening.

At some point in time I got bored and assembled them without thought of painting them. The plastic color is not natural, so I will be painting them (unfortunately brush painting) before installation. In addition all buildings will have something in the windows (curtains, blinds, etc.) so that they look occupied. I plan on blocking some windows so that when lit not every window is aglow.

This is what the scene will look like when done.

Background buildings in place.
Looking from the other direction.

It should be a rather convincing backdrop for the town. The apartments and shops will fill space without really registering in your mind that they are there. Of course they will need a lot of weathering as they are right along the tracks. That, and some trees and a fence, plus ground cover and the appropriate details and it will be a great scene.

That’s it for now. In full helix mode (update to follow very soon) so no more of this kind of work for awhile.

Will post on the helix soon, till then…

Workbench Wednesday #4…

In this edition of workbench Wednesday I will continue on with the grain complex.

Having finished basic construction it was off to the spray both. Not a easy task as my booth is two feet wide by two feet deep and the complex is just under 30″ assembled. The walls are all flat white. My first pass through with the roof was a dull silver, however they really stood out. I didn’t think any amount of weathering was going to change that. So I repainted them a light grey.

In the pictures the walls and the roofs look a lot closer in color than they really are.

complex painted, awaiting weathering.
Alternate view.

Side note: after painting and before weathering I added the shingle roof to the office.

I started to weather the building using Pan Pastels ( I have two sets, one is weathering earth tones (rust, browns, white) and the other has black and grey tones. Really like the thought of them and all the demos I have seen make it look easy. However, it requires a lighter hand than I seem to be able to master. So I went back to my weathering chalks. I’m use to them and can control them better. I did use the pastels when doing the rust color and I think it turned out well. Baby steps I suppose.

Anyways, this is how the complex stands now.

Sorry about the angle, complex weathered.
Main building with dust collectors and grain loading pipes weathered.

I also did the grain bin. I used a technique that I had used on a sheet metal sided grain elevator to highlight the banding on the bin. Not one hundred percent sure I like the look. I’ll let it sit a bit and decide if I still like it before permanently installing it.

Grain bin finished and weathered.

And this is the complex sitting in it’s new home.

The complex set in place.
Looking south down the mainline at the complex.

I still have the large transfer pipe to weather and I have to add the window “glass”, but for now it is basically done.

Since I have the helix now to work on, I’ll walk away from it now before deciding if it needs a little more and what fine details to add.

I will get you an update on the helix soon. Till then…


Finally, The Helix…

I have finally taken the first steps towards starting the helix. It is long overdue. This past weekend I had a large block of time.  And since it was still warm enough in the garage without heating it I picked up the plywood and started cutting.

As I had mentioned before (it’s been awhile, May 2015) I have a aluminum pattern that I had made for the curves. Using the pattern I trace out the curve section on the plywood (I can get 16 curved sections on a 4 x 8 piece of plywood). I then rough cut out the pieces. Then again using the metal pattern screwed to the rough cut pieces I run them threw the router using a pattern bit. I had detailed this along with pictures in the May 2015 post if you want a better idea of how it works.

I need 12 curved sections per loop. Six would complete one loop if I were using 3/4″ plywood. However than you would have to join the pieces together without creating a clearance problem. My solution was to use 3/8″ plywood and laminate the pieces together offsetting the joints to crate a 3/4″ thick ring that would have nothing below to cause clearance issues.

The stack ready to go.

All loop pieces ready to go. Also 4 sections for the entrance and exit from the helix.

As noted there are also four pieces (bottom of stack) that I cut with straight sections leading into and out of the helix.

My plan is to assemble them away from the layout one loop at a time. I will glue, clamp and screw them together.  Then I will add that loop to the layout, lay and wire the track. I will then run a test train through it before going on to the next loop. After the first loop works I will repeat the process.

The thought of trying to mark the locations for screws and the center line of the track kind of boggled my mind. A little thought and my next great idea. Back out to the garage and in no time I made a couple of marking gauges.

They ride along the edge of the roadbed and have holes in them for a pencil to mark screw and track locations. One is for the inside of the curve and the other for the outside.

Tried one out and this is what it looks like.

I should have the first loop completed and installed this week. Will keep you updated. I will also have an update on the grain complex for you on Wednesday.

Till then, Happy Modelling…

Workbench Wednesday #3…

Welcome back to Workbench Wednesday #3. Got the order from Walthers ( and should have enough to complete the project. So let’s jump right in.

Finished the long front wall of the main building first and then the upper wall and cupola.

Nearing completion.
Upper walls in place. Now just the roof.

Before adding the roof I wanted to complete all pieces of the overall structure. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to the roof as all subassemblies except the office had steel roofing. If you have ever done Evergreen steel roofing you know that all the individual raised seems of the roof have to be glued in piece by piece.

Next up was the office. Basically kitted this one. Laid out and cut the walls and a center support. Cut out doors and windows and then assembled.

Office walls cut out and ready for assembly.
Corner bracing added. Decided to add a center piece for support.
Office assembled.

Did add the roof to the office right away as it would be shingled.

Office complete, not planned, but ended up with some nice sags in the roof. Will look it’s age once painted and weathered.

As noted above for some reason I ended up with some sags in the roof. Was going to redo it but it occurred to me that it would add character and give an impression of age. So I left it as is and I hope that after the shingles are added it will still be noticeable. Also visible is the internal braces in the corners. I was trying to keep everything square. This is common for all structures.

After the office I built the transition building. The tall narrow structure with the sloped roof. For some reason I never stopped and took a picture of it’s construction.

Then it was on to the last piece. For lack of a better term, the warehouse. The assembly procedure was pretty much the same as the previous pieces.

The warehouse section glued together.
Top view of the warehouse building showing the bracing used to keep it square and from bowing. Typical of all structures.

So with everything assembled (except for the roofs) this is what it’s going to look like when done.

Overall structure basic assembly complete. All sections except the office will have steel roofing. The office will have a shingled roof.
Alternate view of the overall structure. The grain bin is from Rix products.

The Rix grain bin is their tall bin with three extra sections added. The bin is hard to see in the original image of the structure. I went with one this high based on a image of a different complex.

And then it was time for the steel roofing. It took me a couple of nights of work to get them all done, but I did it. After I had the roof on the main section I also built and fitted the dust collectors to the side of the building. This also included the loading pipes and small roof sections added for protection from the elements.

Loading shelter roofs, steel roofing, loading pipes and dust collectors in place.

This is what it looks like with all the roofs in place.

Overall structure with the main detail pieces in place.
Alternate view of the structure.

The long pipe between the Transition building and the grain bin was again based on an image of a different complex. Also added L girder bracing to the bin based on what I have seen out in the field. I am amazed that no one has ever included this in their kits, as all bins that I have seen have it. I have to image that it adds additional bracing to the lower part of the bin because of the added pressure of weight in this area.

Well that’s it for this week. From here its off to the spray booth.

Till next time, Happy Railroading…




Workbench Wednesday 2 …

For this edition of Workbench Wednesday I’m going to walk you through the start of a project to fill the part of the backdrop behind the town of Jackson. Why, do you ask, am I so fixated on Jackson. Well, the answer to that is it’s right behind me when sitting at the workbench and every time I turn to look at the layout, there it is. Just screaming – complete me.

I have been having a problem trying to find the right industry/industries to fill this space. In the original plan from the Model Railroader magazine this space had stock pens and feeder barns. These were used to feed, water and rest cattle  per government regulations. Though I could have recreated it, Jackson is to close to the New Brighton stockyards to warrant them.

So, I’ve got a hole to fill. See below:

The space I need to fill. Backside of tracks along the backdrop where the lumber sheds and grain silos are .

I have been floating a lot of different buildings that I had on hand trying to find the right thing for the space. But nothing seemed to work. Started looking online at images of mid sized Midwestern towns and one of the things that jumped out was that many of them had multiple grain complexes. I didn’t want to just throw another basic grain elevator into the scene, so I googled images of grain elevator complexes and found one I liked.

The inspiration.

I loved the looks of this one, but I was definitely going to have to scratch build it. After looking at the image for awhile I noticed that the central portion looked like any kit grain elevator turned sideways and stretched out.  Thought about buying a couple of kits to reproduce this portion of the building but figured that would be too expensive. Probably spent as much on supplies, but had a whole lot more fun.

I used known dimensions (door height is normally 81″ for example) and using measurement from a kit grain elevator on hand, I worked out the general proportions of the building. It would not be full depth as it had to fit between the track and the backdrop. I then drew up a template for the end wall of the main section.

Basic sketch up for the main building.

Drawn to full depth, the second line on the right is where it would be cut off for the backdrop. I decided that the main elevator section and the office would be clapboard siding and the other two sections would be vertical board siding. Off to the LHS and picked up what they had and got started. The end walls were approximately 12′ high, unfortunately the plastic sheets were only 8″ high, so splicing was involved.


First pieces cut and glued together for the end wall.
First pieces cut and glued for the end wall. Windows in place to check fit.

I then cut the other end, with these two pieces cut I was able to start assembling the main building. It should be noted that the structure in the photograph is street side. After looking at images of other buildings like this I came up with what I thought was a plausible track side configuration. The long side walls have a couple of track side dock doors as well as piping for loading the rail cars.

Main building nearing completion. I used a lot of bracing for the walls.

As noted the side walls were rather flimsy, so I braced them or rather over braced them rather well. A this point I had used up all the clapboard siding that I had on hand. I added the upper back wall using plain styrene as it would not be seen.

Work continues on the main building.

The building in the picture has two structures on the roof of this section, I decided to add only one.

And for now this is where I will have to leave you. I ran out of siding and was unable to go any further. I have already placed an order with Walthers (  and should have it pretty quick.

Till next Wednesday, hope all is well and Happy Railroading…


Railfanning My Daughters Wedding…

As I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago my daughter was married. The wedding took place in Red Wing, MN., a  river town (Mississippi) south of the cities. It was at the St. James Hotel, and as anyone who has been there knows it is on the river. But between the hotel and the river is the former Soo, now CP mainline between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago.

Our “room” wasn’t actually in the hotel, but in an old foundry building behind the hotel that is now part of the property. The reason I have room in parenthesis is because it was the top floor of the former foundry and larger than any of the apartments my wife and I had when first married. It was also only 150′ of the mainline. Yup, paced it off out of curiosity. Downside is that the depot was right there and next to the depot a grade crossing. You get the full effect of the diesels horns at that range.

The other downside is that I found that not a lot of trains went through during the day, rather most came through town from early evening, over night and into late morning. Found that one out when one came through town at about 4:00 AM and sounded like it was in the bedroom with us.

Not much variety either. AMTRAK came through each morning at about 8:45 on their eastbound run to Chicago. And stopped again in the evening westbound around 9:00 pm. Most of the freights were unit grain trains (not unusual as it is harvest time), a few mixed freights and an occasional unit oil train. Most of the action during the day was the switchers taking care of on the three large grain complexes in town.

One of the interesting things to watch for was how CP had set up the power in the trains. Quite a few had all of the diesels on the head end. But there were a lot with distributed power. Whether it was most on the head end and one on the tail or two up front with a couple of mid train helpers.

I didn’t shoot pictures of everything that came through (my wife started laughing at the situation, as I would hear a train approaching and grab my camera) but I did get a mix. Below are some of the shots.

Mixed road names on a southbound freight.
Shot with all for units.
Amtrak stopping in town.
Amtrak cars at the Red Wing depot.
The ADM elevator switcher.
GE 45 ton switcher
CP pickup line side.

The last couple of pictures are of the huge ADM elevator complex just south of the hotel. It straddles the mainline and would be one of those great builds to hide a hole that goes into the backdrop.

The ADM elevator complex straddles the main line.
Close up of the elevator complex over the mainline.

As you can see the larger structure on the right, which is the silo complex and the smaller unloading shed on the left are connected by the grain transfer pipes. As I said this setup would be great at hiding a hole. The silos, if placed towards the front of the layout, would limit what you could see of the hole through the backdrop. If I was modeling a more modern era I would probably take out the electrical plant that I have hiding the hole to the staging yard and replace it with a complex like this one.

So that’s it. The wedding was perfect, and the fact that I got in a little railfanning was an added bonus. Next time will be back to the layout.

Till then, take care, be well and happy modeling…

Workbench Wednesday…

For this first edition of Workbench Wednesday (formally know as “on the workbench”) I will present a couple of of the farm scene kits.

First up is a kit by Monroe Models ( It is their kit #2211, Bob’s Barn. Very simply, loved this kit. The fit was first rate and everything scaled out right. I initially chose this kit because of the footprint size. The width and height were pretty standard when compared to other kits on the market. It was the depth that caught my eye. It was about a third shorter than the others. Which was perfect as the scene isn’t that deep and I would’ve had to shorten it.

All of the trim (corners of the building, window trim, fascia boards, etc. we’re the proper width and gives the building the proper proportion. The white metal castings are pretty flash free and required little cleanup. The instructions are clear and the order of construction seemed reasonable. I did vary as they have you do painting before assembly and I prefer to do it after the walls are together.

When glueing the walls together I added additional bracing on the inside. This was done to combat warping that can result when painting the wood walls. After the walls and roof assembly were glued together, I painted it barn red. Then the trim work was added and painted. When that had dried the peal and stick shingles were added.

Just a side note, I wish / hope that in the future Monroe Models will sell the shingles separately. It would make doing this on scratch built structures faster and easier.

Below is a shot of all the structures together.

The farm scene buildings sans farmhouse

I left the hayloft doors and the side door (out of view) open to add a little interior detail.

The next kit is from Laser Art Structures by Branchline Trains ( 

It is their kit number #651 Outbuildings farm set. There are 5 buildings. A small barn, equipment shed, smokehouse, chicken coop and outhouse. This kit is out of stock everywhere, with no known restock date. Walked into my LHS and he has the entire line in stock including this one that I had been searching everywhere online for. I guess it pays to support the locals before looking elsewhere.

I was a little disappointed with the kit initially. After thinking about it, that was mainly because I had done the other first. The wood for the walls is thicker and the laser detail not as fine. Because of the thicker walls the corner trim is wider. It scales out at about a foot wide. A little wide for corner trim. Also, the window trim is about as wide, definitely too wide for window trim. And the lengths were a bit short. Found myself adding to get things covered.

The kit has black, lightweight construction paper to use as tarpaper roofing. Luckily I had enough shingles leftover from the other to use on most of these buildings. The small barn got the tarpaper roof, which to me didn’t matter as I don’t plan on using it in the scene. Otherwise, the rest got the shingles which ties all the buildings together.

The last is Walther’s Concrete Silo (

It is their kit #3332. Nothing new here, it is their usual high quality and goes together easily.

One thing I still need to find is a proper farmhouse. It’s not that there aren’t any out there, just not what I’m looking for. I’m trying to recreate my grandparents farm on my moms side. The farm my father grew up on was a huge affair and wouldn’t fit the scene. My mothers was much smaller and fits the scene right. To this end I need a smaller house than I’m finding.

All in all, I’m happy with what I have.

Till next time…



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