Two mains areas of operational interest to be represented on the layout are the McKeesport Connecting Railroad operating on what used to be National Tube's property, now occupied by Camp-Hill Industries; and the yard complex of Riverton/Demmler. Both require significant amounts of selective compression while trying to maintain the operational aspects as well as their atmosphere. The ground work of preparing accurate plans is made relatively easy in this day and age, with the help of Google Maps and online railfan photo databases.
Here then is the complete schematic (click on the image to download a larger version). Dashed lines indicate trackage that is out of service.
Now to downscale the prototype to fit the available space on the layout...
14 meters of backdrop went up along three walls all the way to Riverton tonight. Not the most pleasant task in the world, but it was high time to do it. 17mm thick wooden supports were attached to the walls using plugs and screws, then the backdrop was stapled to it. 17mm are enough to protrude a little beyond the shelf rails that the benchwork is hung from. I couldn't think of a useful way to attach the backdrops to the rails themselves so the additional drilling was necessary. Some more pieces of wood went behind the joints where two sheets meet.
Manhandling those huge sheets of 3mm MDF brings with it a very high risk of breaking stuff, so the less built-up areas that are in the way the better. The joints still need to be filled and sanded and then I will need to start thinking about some light blue color or something to actually turn the backdrop into a backdrop. I've recently seen some very nice examples of using photo prints as a backdrop (mostly with just clouds on them) so that would also be a possibility, though I think "for now" some light-blue paint will suffice...
Now that this has been taken care of tracklaying and even some basic scenery can continue/begin. The picture shows the coved corner just east of Braddock. There is still enough room left to use the manhole. The lone switch to the right is the switchback in the Braddock Industrial Track leading to the two warehouses located down that way.
I also finally glued the joints in the valance together using splice plates in preparation of filling in the gaps. Then a coat of white paint will be applied inside and out for a nice finish and to make them less visually apparent.
I felt like tracklaying recently so started on the industrial trackage at McKeesport. About 2m of track and the first two switches are in, using the code 70 track with dark roadbed. Starting to look good I think...
A bit of testing of the newly laid track over the past days uncovered problems with derailing equipment on #1 track. Closer inspection with the trusty NMRA track gauge revealed that a piece of the last section of track was ever so slightly out of gauge - about 1/10th of a millimeter narrow. This was enough to make the outside wheels climb the rail until the flange rode on top and started to derail. Definitely not good. The fact this was the very first piece of track with any kind of a problem in over 75 meters of track is a testament to the quality of workmanship that goes into Customtrax.
Anyway, the piece had to come out so here's how this works:
|The NMRA gauge - don't leave home without it!||The rails of the offending piece have already been cut with a Dremel. A serrated-edge knife is used to cut through the white glue.||The piece of track is freed and has been removed. Some subroadbed foam has come out along with it but that is not a problem.|
|The new piece is cut to approximate length, then test-fitted on one end. Making small adjustments with the Dremel (and measuring frequently!), rails are trimmed to proper length.||After trimming is finished, rail joiners are slipped on. Next, spikes on first tie will be pulled out to make room for the rail joiners to slide on completely.||Track is bent gently along the curve until rail ends match up, then rail joiners are slid back halfway to complete the joint. Finally, some white glue is squirted on the outside to glue the track in place. Use weights and/or screws as required to hold track segment in place until glue is dry (24h).|
In addition to this repair I also started on the backdrop - finally! The first 4 meters counting from Braddock went up. It being just white medium-density fiberboard at this point there isn't a whole lot of visual difference to the white wall, but it's definitely nice to hide the shelf rails on the wall. Due to a snafu when sourcing the MDF months ago I need to get 5 more 2-meter panels cut at the lumberyard next week before I can continue. Ah well, it's not like I'm exactly short of jobs to do...
Today is the great day - the remaining gap in #1 track has been closed and thus the mainline is complete. After the customary measuring, forming, cutting, fitting, trimming, and retrimming the last piece fell into place as seen to the left. On the right you can see how the Sinns interlocking looks now, looking in the westerly direction. The switch at the far right is the Steelmet connection leading to the plant area behind the paint can and power drill.
I wasn't sure exactly when I had started on the main so just went back and looked it up - first entry in this blog on tracklaying was on 10-Feb-2008. That's an amazing three years and three weeks, though obviously a lot of other tasks were done in the meantime as well (like wiring).
As an estimate, between 25 and 30% of all visible trackage remains to be installed. This is mainly the McKeesport industrial trackage and small yard, and Riverton and Demmler yards. Smaller parts include the Steelmet trackage and the Braddock Industrial Track. On top of that is the Union RR trackage into the Edgar Thompson plant, the layout and size of which is as yet undecided. There is a sizeable chunk of real estate set aside for that between Braddock and Demmler.
First, good alignment is imperative - especially in curves where you don't really want kinks to develop. One easy way to prevent that is to drill through the roadbed, subroadbed, and into the benchwork and push a screw through to hold the track in place temporarily. The screw must not be overtightened so as to distort the foam roadbed. The screw will be removed after the glue has dried thoroughly and the hole will be patched over with ballast. Screws are placed on the inside or outside of the curve as required. Sighting along the track from all angles helps find the correct alignment.
Second, instead of spreading glue under the track I find it easier to just lay a bead of white glue down both sides of the roadbed. You can see the fresh glue on the top track and on the bottom is what it looks like after it dries. The basic scenery layer and some ballast will conceal it later. Maintaining track alignment while glueing is easy this way as you don't have to actually touch the track anymore after it is located correctly. There might be dips and bumps in the track which are discovered later during test runs. It is then very easy to slice through the glue beads with a knife and either fill in or undercut the foam subroadbed as required to fix the location.
Third, I tend to cut ties away under the rail joiners to make it easier to trim the track ends to the precise dimensions required. I save the cut ties, pull the spikes, and later slip them underneath the rail joiners into the gap and glue them down as seen on the lower track. While cutting the rails themselves is best done with a cutoff wheel in a Dremel tool, the roadbed foam of the Customtrax is easier to cut through with a boxcutter. Again, some patch ballast will restore the roadbed once the time comes to care about such details.
Picking up the train of thought on the backdrop down the center of the peninsula, the photo on the right shows the angle of view that would not be possible anymore after such a backdrop is installed. This is the McKeesport interlocking, located on bridges across the Youghiogheny River, as seen while standing next to the Riverton yard throat.
Notwithstanding the tight curves I quite like the scene and think this would be a nice angle to enjoy seeing trains snaking through the location. I suppose a low retaining wall or a couple of building flats from the Riverton side would probably be good enough to provide visual separation without blocking everything off entirely. There is about 5 inches of depth available for doing so. Available space increases moving to the right (timetable east, compass south) towards downtown McKeesport where tall buildings can take over that role. A suitable way to terminate the Youghiogheny River visually on the right hand side of the picture needs to be found but I think that will be less of a problem as there is a lot of space available to construct a retaining wall, wooded ridge, or road bridge.
All trackage on the McKeesport bridge proper is in - thank goodness! - and #2 track is connected at Sinns, glued down and drying. About 5 feet left on #1 track and the mainline will be complete. Despite the tedious process on the bridge I am quite happy with the way the area is looking right now. As it basically is a triple reverse curve at just above minimum radius I had my doubts but I think given a suitable industrial environment trains will look good snaking their way through the interlocking at a slow speed.
And yet again, as I move around the layout looking at McKeesport from different angles, I have second thoughts on walling everything off with a full-height backdrop. It seems by doing so I will severely restrict viewing angles to basically full-on side views. One aspect of railfanning Pittsbugh are the numerous possibilities of looking down onto and alongside the railroads from spots such as bridges, and of course also the every-present hills on both sides of the Monongahela River. This subject requires some more thought, but it seems clear already that this place requires a different approach to the question of backdrops as e.g. a Midwest grain-country layout or something based along the lines of David Barrow's Texas Dominos...
On the copper front I also put in the last servo decoder that's required for the mainline switches and took delivery of an armful of 12 and 20 inch servo lead extensions to wire all the servos up. I find it much easier to purchase these ready-made off Ebay rather than spend hours soldering my own at a minimal savings. So there'll be more wiring once the tracklaying gang has completed their job. Stay tuned...