Layout Construction · Model Building · Narrow Gauge

The Crowsnest Tramway Co.

Off topic, I suppose, but I thought I’d share a few photos of one of my favorite layout themes: Roy C. Link’s Crowsnest Tramway Co., the 1:32 version. It was on display at the 2015 Narrow Gauge Convention in Augusta, ME. I had seen the odd B&W photo in publications but never dreamed I’d get to see it in person. What a surprise when I walked into the convention display room!


If you are familiar with the Narrow Gauge & Industrial Railway Modeling Review magazine then Roy Link needs no introduction. He’s as famous in the UK as Bob Brown and the Gazette are over here.

Roy is a master model builder. The Crowsnest Tramway is an ongoing theme. A new diorama pops up from time to time in whatever scale Roy chooses. There have been versions in O14.5 (On2 over here) and 16mm (a popular large modeling scale in the UK) in addition to the one pictured here in 1:32.

[A collection of photos gathered from the web.]

See the Crowsnest in action at this link: Crowsnest Tramway

I love everything about it. The scenery connotes an airy, sparse landscape up in the hills. The backdrop is beautifully done. Trackwork is typical industrial narrow gauge. As far as I know most everything is scratch built. The detail is enchanting. Notice the chickens next to the scale house.

Roy sold the diorama to another notable UK modeler, the late Mike South, who brought it with him to Calgary, Canada. After Mike’s passing, it passed into obscurity until located by Canadian Craig Parry. Craig restored the diorama and built the wonderful display cabinet you see above. He has been bringing it to various conventions in North America.

As I recall, this Crowsnest Tramway diorama represents the end of the line where lead ore is weighed and then tipped into road vehicles.

The D&NE is a modest achievable layout intended to be built to a high standard. And then you see workmanship like this and just ponder…

Layout Construction

Raise High the Benchwork, Carpenters

I built the D&NE benchwork high for several reasons. First, it makes for nice viewing with track elevation at 50″ and higher. Second, it’s easy to shove double stack storage containers on rollers under the layout. Third, I wanted to roll myself under the layout — in a low-rider office chair — so work down under isn’t such a chore.

That’s me in my low rider chair connecting DCC bus wires.

I recently adjusted a few joists for the new pop out. Easily done from the comfort of my roller chair. Stringing DCC bus cables and tying in the feeders – easy! Installing switch motors. Well, that’s still a pain but made easier from the chair.

My good friend, the late John Peterson, had a roller chair at the duck-under entrance to his layout. I didn’t really appreciate it until I was a little older myself. My knees thank-you, John.

Layout Construction

Progress on the Layout

September has been a busy month to say the least. Finished up a software contract I’ve been working on since December and then had my gall bladder removed. Fully recovered from that and over the last few days have been able to get back to my much neglected layout.

Picked up a sheet of tempered masonite at Lowes and had it ripped into 8″ strips for fascia. Installed the first 20′ or so around St.George up past the French river. Putting this edge on the benchwork really starts to pull the scene together. I thickened up the benchwork around the creamery area as it was looking tough to get space for a good structure there. Also planning to build a large corrugated shed much like the one in Peterborough between the creamery and the coal drop. Decided to terminate Railroad Ave. just past the crossing as a truck park for the freight house. The scene will drop past there so the coal trestle can be modeled more convincingly.

Coal trestle site. That’s the Monson Jct.  freight house from my 2′ days filling in for the creamery. A large corrugated shed will be located in between.

Helicopter view of the area. The freight house will likely be the first structure I tackle.

Removing the pop out gives good access to the crossover and station scene. Note how the freight house base projects over the pop out.


Adding to the benchwork for the creamery site has made the public delivery track back near the station a lot more difficult to reach during operation but I decided to deal with that. Maybe a two step kitchen ladder will suffice.

It’s nice to be back on the layout itself. I have a few workbench projects going but the layout is what drives everything. Can’t wait to get some switching going in St. George.


Layout Construction

Shorty Builds a Pop Out

In Access I had come to the realization that the immediate front of St. George needed a pop out section for access to the deep areas of the yard. The crossover and station area needed much better access than was possible with solid benchwork. So I went about constructing a small section of removeable benchwork to provide that access with only a little nusisance. In any case, the pop out won’t be removed all that often.

First, I determined the exact location of the pop out and repositioned the joists on either side to be exactly perpendicular to the L-girders. (Have I mentioned that I love L-girder benchwork?) The space between the joists was set at 32″. The joist between those two was cut back to the L-girder.

Next, I added bottom slides by attaching 1x3s to the bottom of the joists. Some bumper stops and cleat supports were attached to the L-girder to help position and support the insert.

The insert (32″ by 15″) was constructed from the same 1×3 lumber as the joists. It slides right in and is nicely supported on 3 sides.

The joists have been repositioned and the guides and bumpers constructed.

Pop out partially inserted.

Pop out firmly in place.

The pop out is 32″ by 15″

The front industrial siding will cross the pop out requiring two track joints. It’ll snake around to serve a creamery, a run down storage shed for bagged animal feed and a coal trestle. I’m going for a busy lower village setting with a gaggle of buildings lining the tracks. We’ll have to see how it turns out. Maybe a few more building mockups will help.

Layout Construction · Track Plan


When planning St. George, I went a little overboard on the depth. It’s just over 4′. I needed this much depth — could have used more — to get the scene I was after. In the original plan it was even worse. The industrial siding now at the front of the scene was in the back! Totally unreachable!  I addressed that in Changes to St. George. But still, the scene is just as deep and I need to get back there to build and scenic things. So I left the front benchwork incomplete so I could build the crossover. But the station platform was a pain to reach.

This consumed much deep navel contemplation over many months. The front couldn’t be filled in until the back area was completed. But then what? Finally, the idea came to make a section of the front scene removable! By pulling out the removable section I’ll be able to reach all the important stuff at the back of the scene.



First step was to cut the existing plywood surface to clear the way. After taping the rail, I grabbed the circular saw and cut right along the freight house track and removed the wedge of plywood. Next, a piece of pink foam board was cut to size to fill in the entire scene. The front industrial track will be on this foam along with a decent sized creamery, a run down shed for storing bagged animal feed and a coal trestle. The freight house is sited at the back and faces the existing siding. To get things right, the plan was drawn full size on the foam board.


The benchwork was modified to provide support for the foam board but give generous access when removed. Every other joist was cut back to the L-girder to be replaced by partial joists attached to the foam board that slide in between the plywood and the L-girder.

Homasote roadbed from Cascade Rail Supply will be glued down with Liquid Nails for foam. It’ll snake around a bit as these sidings often do to give the scene a little extra interest. Like the freight house siding, this siding will be code 83 (55#) rail on ties mostly buried in ground. The turnout on the freight house spur is already complete.

Next on the agenda is to build the frame for the removeable section. It’ll need to be keyed in some way for good alignment. It’ll need a plug and socket for the feeders. And I think I’ll round the front edge of the fascia a little for a more pleasing viewing experience.

So there you have it. Procastination pays off as usual. If I hadn’t made that section removable I would have really regretted it down the road. Though Micro-Mark does have this crazy contraption for hovering over your layout…


Layout Construction

Salad Days


A little ground cover at St. George. Station platform has timber sides filled with plaster. Finish will be cinders. The station mockup is not long for this world. The tracks end at macadam Depot St. crossing. Still lots to do! Can’t wait for static grass!

There is so much to do on the Dominion & New England. I’ve been working a lot these days and time has been a little hard to find. Still I make some progress even if it’s only 20 minutes after a late dinner. Finished with benchwork on the opposite wall and set the roadbed for the turn back curve but this area will likely lay fallow for some time as I focus on St. George proper.

It’s that golden time with the layout in its salad days. Lucky for me, this will be the case for years to come as the D&NE grows organically around the room. Everything is going on at once — trackwork, wiring, scenery, model building  — and the room looks it! Once St. George has enough trackage to operate, progress will likely slow as attention shifts to building rolling stock and switching out St. George!

I tend to get lost in too many projects at once. I’m in a bit of a rush to get some portion of the layout presentable with a little operating equipment on the track. Remembering that adage, finish what you start, I’m setting some priorities for the next few months. Here is what I’m focusing on right now:

  1. Initial scenery. I want to get some shape and color going on the north end of St. George to see how things will look. It’s also nice to have some area a little finished so visitors can get an idea of where you’re headed. Have a nice start on that. Needed to get some ground cover at the rear area behind the station so I can add the front siding. Reaching back there is going to be tough once that siding is in.
  2. Get the 44 tonner on the track! I went off on a tangent with the idea of converting to a micromotor/crossbox drive but since have come to my senses. So it’s back to finishing the P48 conversion with the original can motor/worm drive. I’ll wire the motors in series to slow things down and join the pickup leads from both trucks so it has full eight wheel pickup. Might as well get the sound decoder and speaker installed while I’m at it. The only thing needed on the body is to fashion MU connectors for the end platforms so it can run in tandem with the 70 tonner. The body needs a good cleaning, an etching bath in white vinegar and gray etch primer. For paint, I’m leaning toward a dark blue color with a cream hood top and red dividing stripe. (Shades of the L&N?) Lettering will be sparse until I get artwork done for custom decals. Oh, and glass in the windows.
  3. Scratch build the St. George station in styrene. Based largely on the B&M Peterborough, NH depot, this building will be a little worn but not down and out. Styrene is a great material to work with for structures of this type if care is taken to knock down the sheen. Siding will be New England clapboards laid up board by board in 0.015″ styrene. The windows and doors are mostly Tichy but many with extensive modification. Color scheme for D&NE railroad structures is deep yellow, dark green windows, doors and wainscoting with white trim boards.
  4. With the 44 tonner in operation I’ll need to get the DCC buses strung and connect the drops.
  5. Final touch ups on the trackwork with oil washes and pan pastels.
  6. Finally, add roadbed and trackwork for the front siding and attach the first bit of fascia.

With this work done, the layout will have a small area in something closer to a finished state and I can run some trains. Then it will be on to the French River crossings.


Achievable layout · Layout Construction · Track Plan · Trackwork

Just Around the Corner

With a few days off over the holidays, track bed has pushed forward around the corner from St. George. Laying out the last two turnouts at the south end of St. George requires that the 52″ radius curve at the end of the room be precisely set. That entailed construction of the first section of benchwork on the opposite wall up to the outside entry door and then a hanging section spanning the end of the room connecting the two sides. The new benchwork is a traditional four legged L-Girder table 10′-6″ long and varies from 3′ down to 2′ in width. I didn’t trust wall supports here as the framing for this wall is hung on the concrete foundation with power nails. It was never intended to support much more than the drywall. The hanging section at the end of the room is lighter 1″ x 3″ L-Girders mounted to the outer 1″ x 4″ L-Girders of the opposite walls. No legs.

New benchwork looking from site of covered bridge. .


Trammel in operation on connecting benchwork. St. George is to the right.

A joist was strung across the room at the approximate radius center from the end wall and a trammel erected. With the trammel, laying out the curve and plywood roadbed was easy. My trammel is a piece of lath with holes drilled at various inch intervals.

I didn’t intend to get into all this benchwork right now but that curve controls everything and needed to be set. You could argue that I should have started with it. The curve dominates the track plan on the opposite side of the room. I’m still working out the details but the main line will “S” curve to parallel with the wall and stop squarely at the end of benchwork. The basement entryway will need a removable span and I’m favoring a covered bridge — there were so many on these Northern New England short lines.

A long spur will be constructed back towards the inside of the curve. For what I’ve yet to determine. A quarry or a lumber and coal business? A hilly, scruffy area or a village setting? Hmmm. (Although I have a general idea of how the layout will evolve, I enjoy letting it grow organically around the room.)




The quarry I have in mind (based somewhat on Trap Rock Quarry on the W&OD) would have a loader track, a couple of storage tracks and handle six or eight cars easily. That would require an additional dozen or so gondolas and hoppers on the roster. Maybe too much.


The lumber yard is winning out. I’m leaning toward a village setting named Nottingham. A second shorter spur would fit nicely on the backside of the “S”. Could site a creamery there. Another milk car every day. Shades of the nearby Montpelier & Wells River.

Well, that’s all a ways off. This area will serve as poor man’s staging area for a while. Lots still to do in St. George.

So, after straightening up the room, I’ll be back on the trackwork in St. George and build the river crossings. But I want to lay the roadbed on the curve and mark out guide lines for the ties before I dismantle the trammel. Unfortunately, I ran out of Homasote roadbed and need to order another batch from Cascade Rail Supply.

Layout Construction · Scenery · Structures · Track Plan · Trackwork

The Vision Thing


Looking south from the tail tracks at St. George. Track is abandoned after the road crossing.

I’ve spent the afternoon spiking in the tail tracks at St. George (4 spikes per tie), adding joint bars and detailing the turnouts. Still have quite a ways to go but it felt like time to take a look at the scene and try to visualize the end product.

The top photo looks straight down St. George as you would see it entering the layout room. The road (maybe “Railroad Ave.” rather than Main St.) is marked out with art board but will be constructed with light weight spackle as Mike Confalone demonstates in his videos. Track is abandoned at the crossing so the few inches on the near side will be quite decrepit and weed grown.

The caboose is spotted in front of the station as it would be after the local arrives and the locomotive runs around the train. The inbounds are parked on track 2 and the outbound train will be assembled on track 1 as switching progresses. If this was a mixed, the combine would be spotted there.

A box car is spotted at the freight house and in the distance a milk car is at the creamery (you have to use your imagination). Construction of that front siding will begin after tracks 1 and 2 are completely detailed all the way to the French River bridges. I’ve decided to replace the feed mill in the plan with a creamery as it generates traffic every day. Midway will be a simple feed storage shed and then the coal trestle.

Looking north.

The northward view shows the public delivery track to the left (west) of the station and you can barely see a black hopper to the right of the freight house at the location of the future coal trestle .

The blank wall to the left will have a series of building flats mostly up to eye level. There was a five story basket factory right behind the station in Peterborough at one time and I may do the same — well,  maybe only three stories.

I composed this scene with specific things in mind. I wanted a classic shortline terminal look, a slightly curvy track plan, no lines parallel to the walls or layout edge, and a somewhat busy center funneling to the river crossing. I’ve mentioned Paul Larson’s Mineral Point (MR Dec’59) as an inspiration. The 3 parallel tracks crowded between buildings come from Morrisville, Vt on the St.J&LC. And, of course, the overall look is based largely on Peterborough, NH, the end of one of the B&M mogul branches.

I know these grab shots look pretty ratty. I did at least move most of the tools and junk off the layout. Sometimes I need to stand around and do the vision thing to see in my mind’s eye just how it will all come out.

Layout Construction · Proto48 · Research · Trackwork

How’d That Turnout?

Overview of the frieght house siding at St. George. Turnouts are nearly complete. Siding is code 83 and drops a little below the main tracks to the right. Sad looking freight house mockup helps set the scene. Detail work on the outside braced CN boxcar is languishing as effort is focused on trackwork.

Rail is going down slowly but surely in St. George starting with the freight house siding and the two turnouts that feed it. I’ve been researching trackwork both in photographs of the period (circa 1953) and in situ on the ex B&M mogul branches here in New Hampshire. My turnouts are a close approximation of those I’ve seen in photos of Peterborough, NH. Although much primitive trackwork exists, turnouts on the Hillsboro branch have been modernized over the last 60-70 years and haven’t been as helpful as I had hoped. I’m still looking for one out Bennington way that is more primitive. A hike is planned out of S. Bennington to the Elmwood Jct. site and beyond to end of track with the hope of bagging an older turnout. My Springer Spaniel Rosie will help suss that out, I’m sure. She has the nose for it.

A photo on page 64 of Model Railroad Planning 2000 is the best photo I have for a turnout of the period. It shows few tie plates, few rail braces, less of everything compared to a modern turnout. I also like the funky guard rails the B&M had at that time — at least out there. I’ve seen them in other photos. The D&NE turnouts are derived from this style.

St. George freight house switch nearly complete. Need rail braces outside the guard rails. They’re on order.

All the turnouts on the D&NE are being built in code 100 (75#) rail. This turnout, the frieght house switch, is nominally #6 but is actually an equilateral of sorts. Both legs are in easements facing opposite directions. The frog needed to be built on the workbench. It has Tichy NBW details.

Tie plates are from Right-O-Way and Grandt Line along with homemade ones in 0.020″ styrene. Rail braces, gauge plates and code 100 insulated joint bars are from Right-O-Way. Code 83 joint bars came from Foothill Model Works.

Beautiful guard rail castings are available too but I like to make my own in the style of the old B&M ones I mentioned. They are made from code 83 rail so that track cleaning won’t scuff off the weathering.

The points are tied together with circuit board ties and pins. I drill a pair of #68 holes in the circuit board ties exactly 0.562″ apart (or as close as I can get!) and then drop the pin through the saddle that is cast on the point. These are soldered to the circuit board cladding from the backside. As my points are wired hot, the copper cladding is cleaned off of the center of the ties, both sides.

The beautiful gauge plate is a brass casting from Right-O-Way. It’s insulated with a styrene spacer. Strictly speaking, in non-signaled territory like this with no track circuits, there is really no need for an insulated gauge plate but why not! As you can see, the slide plates are styrene with Right-O-Way rail braces.

The freight house siding is spiked with tiny stainless steel spikes from Proto:87 Stores. I’m using them primarily on foreground code 83 rail. You need a high power Optivisor for this work! For the code 100 rail, I’m using the small spikes from Fast Tracks. The goal is four spikes per tie but I fudge on background track and track that is behind a structure or buried in grass. The public delivery track was laid in code 100 rail with spikes every fourth tie as it is in the background and will be buried in dirt.

And no tie plates. The prototype didn’t have them, except at turnouts. This saves a lot of fuss.

[One thing I’ve noticed about proto-48 is that it seems a little easier to get the trackwork just right! Why is that? The flanges are so small yet the trucks track beautifully. What does the prototype know that we don’t?]


The point end of the freight house turnout.

A #6 turnout under construction.

The points for the #6 turnout on track 2 under construction. The stock rails are soldered to #6 brass flat head screws to firm them up as they are adjacent to the French River bridge.

Overview of the turnout ladder. Yeah… I’m a messy worker!

I can’t wait to paint and weather this trackwork! Some of the rail was sprayed with ruddy brown primer years ago. I’ll be sure to spray all of the rail ahead of time from now on. The plan is to touch up the rails and details with acrylic paint in rust and umber colors then apply Pan Pastels in various rusty, cruddy shades — all with a brush. Oily black highlights around the point workings along with oil drippings down the center of the track will help complete the picture. The ballast is a little plain and needs cinders and other variations mixed in. All good fun!

Layout Construction · Model Building · Research

Ideas for the French River Bridges

As track laying progresses, I’ve run into the French River. The railway crosses the French River over a pair of low bridge spans smack in the middle of St.George yard. Oddly, this was also the case in Peterborough on the B&M where the yard tracks crossed the Nubanusit River. Unfortunately, I have no low angle photo of the actual spans. If you have a copy of Model Railroad Planning 2000, pages 58-59 show these spans from above in a beautiful Phillip R. Hastings photo. Note that one of the bridges carries a turnout and so will mine – the switch to the public delivery track.

The railway crosses the French River on a pair of low, 3 span bridges.

Here’s are some shots of those old granite piers today.

Center piers at Peterborough, NH

Note the sharpened block pointing upstream.

I was out in Lyndeboro, NH on the B&M’s Hillsboro branch recently and found the bridge spanning the entrance to Pike quarry. The bridge is one lane wide, a span of maybe 12′-15′ and consists of six timbers, maybe 12″ by 12″. This would make the perfect bridge design for St.George as the spans are in the same range (14′). The granite abutments are also good inspiration for how this type of structure was constructed. Piers and abutments made from individual granite blocks cast in Durhams Water Putty will do the job.

Bridge at entrance to Pike Quarry, Lyndeborough, NH.

Simple, rugged construction.

Looks good to me! Let’s get started!