The Town Module

The Town module is the second layout dedicated to telling the story of this quiet little branch line. It is set halfway along the 100 mile route and is the branch line’s largest settlement.

The Setting

The town itself has a population of a few thousand and is currently in decline. It once contained a small interurban railway that connected with satellite towns north and south but this railway fell victim to the automobile nearly thirty years previous. Only a small network of industrial track remains to connect local industries with the branch.

Some typical Midwestern towns of the mid 1960s:

Two story buildings.

A few cars.

A few stores.

Some trees.

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Concept and Influences

Not a very original plan. I didn't want anything too clever or fancy. Real mid-west small stations were often just a straight track in and out, a loop, and maybe a spur or two to a local mill or factory. I didn't want to deviate too much from that basic idea. The track plan was designed mostly because I wanted to try my hand at scratch-building the crossovers.

I really like the colors in this photo. It has been a favorite of mine for some time now. Although the picture is set in winter or early spring I'll keep my own model within summer time but have rich but muted colors. I really like the idea of an unsaturated layout where all the colors are flattened but nevertheless create a scene rich in atmosphere.

The Town and The Depot are meant to composed and integrated scenes where every element is balanced to create an overall picture. This approach to planning was influenced by a UK layout called Llanastr. Iain Rice like it so much he designed a track plan based on it. I think it's a great layout, a clever design and very atmospheric. The mood of this layout was a big influence on the mood of The Depot.

I'm a big fan of electric locomotives and so I definitely wanted a 'traction' element to the Town module. I intend to scratch-build at least one of the electric locomotives.

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I have an extensive train book library covering mainly US and UK railways. As such I was able to draw information from a variety of sources for this project. Any missing gaps in information are being filled by the purchase of new books and magazines such as those from the Soo Line and CN&W historical societies.

This isn't all of it. There is actually another shelf or two of books and magazines not shown. I'm not proud of this collection - it's more of an addiction than anything else that has taken up alot of funds to purchase and alot of time to acquire and read. Nevertheless I enjoy looking up odd pieces of information and appreciate the fact that I can turn to my library at anytime. I read about 4 books a month so it's going to take several years before I get to many of the ones that you see here. I buy and sell the Morning Sun volumes on Ebay but the rest I keep.

1. Prairie Depots (Morning Sun) - this has some fine pictures of depots in both rural and town settings, mostly Great Northern. It also has some really nice shots of the right of way taken from the back of a train that show the trackwork set in the countryside of the upper Midwest.

2. Chicago and North Western (Morning Sun) - one of my favorite railroad books with plenty of pictures of cross-country branch-line steam. I've been using this book for color reference while weathering and painting the boxcars on 'The Depot'.

3. Rails to the Rosebud (South Platte Press) - this is the history of a pioneer railroad in South Dakota. It provided much of the backstory for my branchline.

4. Soo Line in Color (Morning Sun) - great color reference and general reference for the Soo Line - an essential book for Soo Line fans.

1. Illinois Terminal - (Morning Sun)- I just finished this book and it has become the main inspiration for the traction part of the layout. It gave up its passenger operations in 1956 but continued servicing its industrial customers while feeding freight back onto the surrounding railroad network. The trackwork will be based on pictures from this book.

2. Sacramento Northern - This was a local railroad and one that I can still go and photograph the remains of. I did a research trip to this railroad six months ago and came across the Western Railroad museum. The museum is built on the old right of way of the Sacramento Northern, is devoted to traction, and was a place that I spent afternoons photographing, not only the rolling stock, but also the infrastructure such as the catenary and trackwork. Some traction track can look different from regular railroad track and the photos from this railroad will be an important reference for the layout.

The story of the interurban has been large taken from these four railways: Hagerstown and Frederick Railway, the Visalia Electric Railroad, the Illinois Terminal Railroad and the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad.

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Trackplan design and printing

Starting with my sketch the plan evolved as the time went on. Forum member Rob Chant produced a diagram that solidified some ideas. I needed to add several concepts such as flowing trackwork - an Iain Rice suggestion. I really like the look of track that flows around with nicely eased curves and curved turnouts. This is not an easy concept to create in the numerous track plan software programs out there. I found the best way to draw nicely eased track was to just get a piece of flexitrack and let bend. I drew the track work on the Depot this way. For the Town module I wanted to use software to create the bends and easements and there really is only one piece of software out there that can do it: Templot.

Rob Chant drew this initial sketch in some track design software.
The overal concept captures:
1. Four tracks in and out of the module, each leading to a removable cassette
2. I may have the front left track be an abandoned stretch, partially left in place to service the industry.
3. The passing loop is the mainline (the Soo Branch), all other tracks are part of the now deceased traction company.
4. The station had passenger platforms for both lines but they are now only used for freight.
5. The backdrop on the left will have brick town buildings.
6. There are two industries but I'm not yet sure what they will be.
7. There is a scenic cut-out well at the front right. I want to retain this feature across this and all other modules.

Rob added some eased curves and produced a really nice plan. I was going to run with the plan as displayed here but then felt that maybe I had been too hasty. 'Have I have ended up with something a little too conventional?' I needed to take another look at that top right corner. The model should reflect a typical and familiar setting as well as typical railroad practice BUT I suddenly thought that I should maybe take advantage of the many techniques listed on Carl Arendt's site to have trains appear or disappear. There is more scope for this with the traction part of the layout. Looking through my traction books I noticed that the track arrangements were more 'quirky': trolley cars would pop out without warning from behind a building or a wall and after trundling along the high street for a bit would disappear at some awkward angle off down some side street.

I purchased some Elmers Foam Board to lay out the trackwork and buildings. These boards are 1/2 inch thick and are perfect for pinning track down. I'm very much still in planning mode and this step is just to help me understand what is possible within a this small space.

The boards are 40" by 20". They will eventually end up being the actual board surfaces that the model will sit upon (and on top of a thin hardboard foundation). I need to cut them down to size to provide a 72" by 18" working surface.

I wanted to do a better representation of traction on the layout. I'm now thinking of replacing one of the industries with a local servicing station (engine shed and repair facilities) for an electric locomotive still working the freight business. This would make an interesting subject and would at last allow me to have electric locomotives on the layout plus a catenary.

My traction/trolley book arrived and is full of inspirational images of buildings from the post-war era. I'm going to try to base my buildings on prototypes found within its pages.

The elements that I wanted to capture on the full-scale plan include:
1. gentle swaying curves on the branch mainline that act as the core of the track plan.
2. removal of straights elsewhere in favor of a variety of curves.
3. an asymmetrical relationship between the mainline and the electric traction tracks whereby the traction curves are sharper, quirkier and seem to dance around the mainline.
4. the adding of a traction depot.
the disappearance of a traction track behind some stores.

So I started with a printout of Rob Chant's drawing. The goal was to use it to help me space out the mainline, roadways, and buildings. I'll get to the buildings next week.

The first line to be drawn was the mainline. This acts as the foundation of the layout. I used Peco flexi-track to help me visualize the plan. All track will eventually be hand-laid.

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