Since we have this shiny new forum, I decided to make use of the opportunity it affords by presenting my current project: the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern’s Smyrna Spur.
I’ve been back in the model railroading hobby for about five months now, after twenty years without a working model railroad. Although I’ve still enjoyed trains in the meantime, other hobbies took priority for my free time, budget and space. But that is slowly changing – particularly with regard to available space.
As I started to ease back into the hobby, I found this site and was intrigued by the ideas of the micro-layout. When it comes to a layout design, my limitations are not primarily bound by raw space: I have an partially-finished basement as well as a detached garage/barn. My primary limiting factor is actually money – on my current hobby budget, I can’t afford anything grandiose. My second limitation is that I have a shorter attention span, particularly when it comes to completing projects.
With these two factors in mind, as I’ve started to build my new layout I decided to draw my inspiration from the small layout plans collected here. I want to build something to develop my skills (most of which are lacking… or nonexistant, in places). My key goal is to complete something – even something small – to help keep my interest from stagnating.
As noted above, while many of my technical skills might be lacking, I’m not exactly a beginner, either. I’m building with a plan in mind, and I’ve set goals.
Goals + Wishlist:
1. I want to be able to run a train sometime before the end of 2018. This is my highest priority goal, the one that shall not be compromised. I’d like to have the entire layout in a completed state by the end of 2019, with a high enough degree of polish that I wouldn’t be ashamed to take it to a show or exhibition (or display it on this website).
2. Some degree of realism and operation potential.
3. Needs to be a skills-builder. Before I start dreaming about building a larger layout, I need to have some confidence that I can work my way through a full project.
4. HO Scale. I’m pretty comfortable working with HO scale, and it’s more friendly to my budget than anything else I’ve seen thus far.
As discussed above, I don’t actually have a lot of money to play with. I’m not starting completely from scratch… but almost. I have an estimated $300 annual budget.
With all of the above in mind, I’d like to introduce my project: “Smyrna, Iowa”.
The layout portrays the fictional town of Smyrna, Iowa, which is served by the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern (IC&E) railroad; the date is 2005.
The industries in Smyrna, including the Farmers Co-op, are usually switched by a weekly local, usually powered by a GP40-2, or occasionally a larger SD40-2. The local stops on the mainline siding on the southwest side of town, where cars bound for the various Smyrna industries are detached. After the crew switches the closer industries, they head up the spur a mile through the outskirts of Smyrna to the northeast side of town, where the Smyrna Farmers Co-op is located. In the fall, Smyrna Farmers Co-op dispatches regular shipments of covered hoppers filled with corn and wheat, bound either for an ethanol plant near Mason City, or to Gavilon Grain in Dubuque. The crew of the local exchanges empties for loads before returning to the mainline and continuing on to the next destination.
Due to a Smyrna city ordinance, the local must keep the engine in front of the train – the crew cannot push the empties through the outskirts of town, nor can they push the loads back to the mainline. This requires the railroad to maintain a short runaround track near the Farmers Co-op. Because of the amount of traffic generated, the restrictions caused by the city ordinance, and the short length of the runaround track, the Farmers Co-op has broken ground on a larger new facility near the railroad mainline east of Smyrna; an ethanol plant is also entering the construction stage close by. As a result, 2005 will be the Smyrna Farmers Co-op’s last year at this facility: by the end of next year, the elevator – and the rail line running to it – will be shuttered.
Some general comments about my design:
— Total size of the baseboard is 1′ x 6′ (0.3m x 1.8m), so it’s not a true micro-layout (being more than 4 ft²). The entire layout is going to sit over my 2’x4′ workbench, at an estimated rail height of 50″ (1.27m). The layout will overhang the ends of the workbench by a foot on each side, which is fine.
— One thing which I considered from the start is how to easily move the layout to a different location. Growing up, we had to move quite a lot: my first 4’x8′ layout was one casualty, and I want to make sure my current effort doesn’t end up trashed for exactly this reason. The legs are removable and the entire layout will fit in the back of my car (with the seats down). This should allow me to easily take it places for display, if desired.
— I though about having a continuation of the Co-op, or even a second industry, on the tail track. I decided against this because I want to use this space for scenery – a slight embankment covered with trees, tall unmowed grass, and overgrown bushes, with the goal of blending the line between the layout and the scenic backdrop, contributing to the overall atmosphere of a Midwestern US farm community.
— Although I have a GP40-2 currently in Union Pacific colors that I intend to repaint for the IC&E, I have a strong desire to paint up one or two of the IC&E’s SD40-2s. With this in mind, I made the two ends of the runaround track large enough for a six-axle road unit stand in for my GP40-2, when desired.
— I’m probably going try to create home-built structures using scrap material and printed paper textures.
— Power will be DC. I really want to use DCC and sound (and I really want to use that nifty ProtoCab throttle) but with my current level of funding, I really can’t afford to spend a lot of money on a controller. As a result, I’ve got a cheap DC powerpack bought secondhand from one of my local hobby stores. (My cheap GP40-2, acquired on deep clearance, is also DC – so I don’t have to convert it over yet. Maybe in the future.)
So, that about covers my project. I’m not quite yet to the pictures stage, as I’m finishing off the last of the benchwork – but hopefully I should be able to start laying track in April or May. Comments welcome.
So have you finished the benchwork yet? Getting the trackwork down and confirmed working 100% is really satisfying.
I like how you chose to emphasize scenery over structures. One mistake I made as a beginner was planning an urban layout when I’m not even sure how decent my structure modeling skills are going to be, much less scratchbuilding and kitbashing the unique urban environment that I chose.
Allen – thanks for the comment!
At the moment I have most of the benchwork constructed. I’ve built a kinda-sorta workable valence for the overhead lighting, although I’m not yet fully happy with the result. Every time I look at it, I kinda frown and say “Hmm, I ought to consider re-doing that before I get any further…”
As for tracklaying, it hasn’t started yet at all, since I need to order the track, switches, etc – and my estimates had me coming up a bit short on funds. It looks like I’ll be able to order everything I’ll need in the next week or two, but tracklaying may end up waiting another month or two beyond that… I made the mistake of promising to build my wife a garden arch and garage shelving first.
On the bright side, the skills I learned from building my benchwork are totally getting used! 😛
I do have to admit I’ve been eyeing a slight track-plan alteration. Digging through the Small Layout Scrapbook, I spotted Chris Gilbert’s New Haston plan. I’d previously seen his Haston Nomad, and it was one of the reasons I’d chosen to include scenery on the Smyrna Spur. New Haston seems to be pretty close to my design intents for Smyrna, but it has added spots for switching action.
As for scenery – well, I don’t much care for urban areas, either in real life or in my model railroads! They make me tense and claustrophobic. I wanted an industry for the operation, but I needed the scenery for mental peace-of-mind!
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