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  • The Pacific Coast Extension. Stage ONE: Dream It.

    2012 - 05.15

    “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. It’s YOUR empire. Build it the way YOU want.”

    That’s sage advice… about the hobby of model railroading, given to me by a good friend who also runs trains. Soon there’s going to be a brand new model railroad in my life. It’ll be my second serious attempt–Version 2.0–and I’m ultra-excited about this fact. This is the first in what is sure to be a long, ongoing series of posts, describing the joys and tribulations of this new railway. We’re going to delve deeply into the minutia of the microcosm known as Model Railroading.

    Oh heeeeeeells yeah. Put on your engineer’s hat and blow the whistle because here we go, people!:

    Model Railroader magazine has a series of DVDs about the hobby entitled “Dream it. Plan it. Build it.” I’d go one further to say there’s a 4th stage, being “Run it.” But right now we’re definitely in the “dream it” stage. All those other stages are still just a distant airhorn, far off on the horizon.

    A little historical background: my great, great grandfather was a conductor, and my great grandfather was an engineer, both working for the (now long-gone) Milwaukee Road, or the Milwaukee, St. Paul, & Pacific as it would have been known. Both of them worked on the Milwaukee’s pacific coast extension, which connected Chicago to Seattle. I intend to model the western-most end of that trackage. Number one because of the family history aspect, but also equally because the trains that ran over it were super cool looking, and third: the terrain itself is mountainous with lots of bridges and pine trees–picturesque! It’s got all the ingredients.

    I learned a lot from my previous model railroad, and I definitely want to apply those lessons:
    1. Have a loop. (aka continuous running) Some people hate it, others love it. I’m in the latter camp, and love being able to just chill out and watch the trains roll by.
    2. Have a computer there. Or in other words, have some other reason to spend time hanging out in this room. You’ll be there more often, you’ll look at the railroad, and be reminded of what you want to do on it next. Having other reasons to hang out near your railroad forces you into working on it more.
    3. Use wide curves. My last RR had a harrowingly-tight 14 inch radius. That was the single worst aspect of the pike. Originally I had intended to run only steam-powered lumber trains. Then Walthers came out with the Hiawatha passenger cars and suddenly I had the chance to run my favorite trains. Prior to that, they had only existed in brass ($$$$)–which pretty much meant to me that they didn’t exist. Goes to show how new products can change what your operating interests are. Wide curves will support all matter of engines and rolling stock.
    4. Build it out of wood. Some people will laugh at this, but my last layout was made chiefly of styrofoam insulation and foamcore board. Those are great materials for mocking things up, which was the idea… then I got lazy and just never upgraded to wood. Probably because my radius was so tight that I had to have the track in just the perfect placement to stop derailments from happening, therefore I was leery of ripping up something that was just barely working. Even when you glue it and support it well with shims and filler material, foamcore is inherently unstable, and the tracks never quite stay in one place. Never again, foamcore, never again. All track, I don’t care how inconvenient, will have wood under it this time. Lesson learned!
    5. Don’t just loop: Get wireless DCC. I never did on my last layout. It was small, sure. But I think not having it made me spend less time doing realistic train operating–assembling trains and moving them from A to B–as opposed to just looping all night. Having a wired DC throttle means you’re stuck in one place, physically, AND you can only run one train at a time. With a wireless DCC throttle, you can have multiple trains doing different things, and you can walk around to monitor tricky maneuvers up close.

    Okay, so those five lessons right there, those are great guidelines! And we still have RULE #1: “It’s YOUR empire. Build it the way YOU want.”

    The first question I asked myself about this new railroad is, “what year should it be set in?” I started doing a lot of research and I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I don’t think militant (or even rigid) historical accurancy is for me–at least not in the aspect of “set in the year____”

    New goal: Be historically accurate to the point where things look like thed did in the photos. But don’t be so historically accurate that you can’t run the trains you want to run, or have fun.

    What do I mean by that?? Tune in Next Time to find out! This is JB, signing out on the Model Railroading tag for now…

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