An Ambitious Number of Windows


Above is the trackplan for my previous, un-achieved layout, the Manhattan Terminal Railroad. I was corresponding with Chris Mears over our mutual interest in densely packed little bits of industrial railroad somehow I committed to posting the plan, so here it is.

The plan is on a 1 foot grid, the scale is still 1:48, the main entrance is through the drop leaf at the top. The overall concept, as suggested by the title, was an offline(accessible only by carfloat) terminal operation on the island of Manhattan, somewhere on the west side in the 30th-40th street range. (40th was the PRR, the Erie, B&O and several others were also there. I cherry picked the bits I liked to produce a proto-freelanced line that would fit my space. The ruling curve around the end was a flange squealing 38″ so fit was tight and the location provided the excuse for the intense switching I desired.

In no particular order, here are some things I like about the plan:

  • The carfloat based fiddle yard: instead of hidden cassettes, I imagined waterline model carfloats with felt lined bottoms manually pushed over the resin “water”.
  • Water covered drop leaf. I generally wish to avoid this sort of entrance blocking compromise but a surface merely for sliding floats across would be quick to raise and replace.
  • Plausibly scaled carfloat and pier warehouse. The proposed carfloats would be over 250 scale feet long which approaches prototype dimensions and would hold about 15 40 foot O scale cars. You can see why sliding is indicated!
  • Multiple routes through the trackage. The float bridge can be switched from both a front and back lead. One could conceivable have two switchers going at once.
  • Working a landmark, the expressway in. Most of the prototypes had to cross under that expressway to get from shore to the trackage that earned the money.

What killed it? Other than life distractions that may have provided an excuse, the scope of the structures required matched against the prospect of an eventual move. The backdrop would need to be 40+ feet of multi-story masonry buildings with the exception of the merely tall single store pier warehouse. I shudder to think how many windows that would require in the days before 3D printing was a thing. I am sure others could get it done but it eventually became obvious to even me that I was not that guy, at least not then.

As a contrast, Comstock Road is mobile, not just movable and will have, depending on whim, no more than 5 major structures. It offers much less scope for switching operations but, other than rolling stock, it is operational now. It took me (this is where a blog is handy to avoid rosy recollections) Roughly two calendar years to go from trackplan to operable with no scenery or structures yet in sight but momentum has been preserved.

Layout on a Sheet of Paper

I dropped a PDF file of the Comstock Road Templot plan at a local print shop yesterday only to discover that the large format printer was down. With some trepidation, I left the job in their hands (It is easier to ensure “no scaling” when you are there to remind them) and returned to pick up my printout today. The job cost me $25 CDN and I don’t have much concept of whether that is a lot or not but I do have a very good idea of how much time is saved by not having to cut and paste some 40 or so 8.5×11 sheets of paper together so I am calling it a deal.

I answered a co-worker’s enquiry about the contents of the tube by unfurling the drawing on the office floor. Many of my colleagues being of the engineering persuasion, this drew a crowd while I enthused about the project. Hopefully I did not alarm anyone with my excitement.

Here is a view of the finished product rolled out on the baseboards over top of assorted building materials. Comstock Road will probably never look this pristine again but I can call this a view from the traverser. I checked things with digital calipers and as far as I can tell the whole thing is bang on. Which is close enough.printout

It’s All a (Tem)Plot

Inspired by the improved plan for Comstock Road, I have been diligently relearning the ins and outs of Templot in order to validate the new plan. I have reached the point where I prefer to redo something that isn’t quite right rather than rationalize leaving it be. If only I did this often enough to retain my current skill level. Oh well.

It doesn’t look as grand as the AnyRail version but this is what I intend to build. Of particular note is the fact that one leg of the diamond has a transition curve going through it. It was not too hard to do given the excellent instructional video made by Martin, Templot’s creator but being able to follow along tells me I have figured out where most of the knobs are.


In the past, I have printed out my templates on a stack of 8.5×11 sheets with the household printer. This time I am going to see if a local print shop can do it as one big sheet.

The Alternative Plan

I wanted to take a look at the other plan finalist and contrast the two.

Here, again, is the plan I intend to implement: comstock12.1

And here is the leading alternative which I think of as the no hidden track version:comstock6

I like the alternative almost as much and suffer periodic wobbling of intent.  (Until I start cutting roadbed, I could go the other way if I wanted).

Things I like about the alternative:

  • No hidden track
  • Nice long multi-spot siding.
  • Main alignment is not parallel to the baseboard edge.
  • No problematic fiddle yard entrance to disguise

Things I don’t like:

  • Short leads at either end of an implausibly short runaround.
  • Reaching over to uncouple on left end.
  • Half the turnouts are sitting on baseboard joints with less freedom to move them off.
  • No way to fiddle equipment on and off the layout off-stage, at least without some sort of additional extension which the current layout site discourages.

Things I like about the intended plan:

  • Traverser both provides a bit of staging and it replaces two turnouts.
  • Off-stage end of run around track makes the runaround effectively infinite in length and less toy-like.
  • Headroom for switching sidings is less constrained.
  • A bit of special but plausible track-work.
  • One more spot with one less turnout. 🙂

Things I don’t like:

  • The inevitable need for some sort of disbelief involved in disguising the fiddle yard entrance.
  • Most of the traverser automation needs to be bulletproof before operating entirely from the front is possible.  I can do it but the critical path is not the best place for the experimental project.

A Trackplan: Comstock Road

Here is the current and ideally final iteration of my intended small switching layout.

Comstock Road 12.1

The olive green rectangles are buildings or at least flats thereof.  The black vertical rectangle is a road bridge and the gray at upper left is a two(maybe three) track traverser.

Some notes on various elements.

  • The traverser provides offstage storage as well as the other end of the runaround and access to the upper left siding.
  • I have not firmly established what the industry locations will be.  Doing that would give some points of reference to refer to instead of this “upper left” hand waving.
  • The layout name is chosen for a road that runs near the remainder of CN’s GECO spur in Scarborough, ON.  This is definitely an “inspired by” rather than “based on” homage to that and other industrial service in Scarborough.
  • The GECO spur included a diamond where two sidings crossed.  That is my excuse for a bit of special trackage.  Never having actually build one will make that an interesting challenge.
  • 1970’s creeks in industrial Scarborough were more likely to be concrete lined ditches than pleasant fishing spots but I will aim for a beleaguered but unbeaten stream.
  • The choice of left side for the traverser was because that is the side the door to the room is on so visitors will be start with a view into the traverser.  Concealing that sort of entry is always a challenge.  Expect extensive mocking up to determine final sight or lack of sight lines.
  • I intend to operate from the front with the traverser movement and indexing automated using a micro controller such as an Arduino and a CNC style stepper motor and lead screw.

I have been settled on this version for a month or two.  Although I might tweak things a bit, this is the plan of record.  Now I just have to build it.

Criteria for a New Layout

It has been a couple of years since I scrapped the previous layout and I have begun construction of a new one.  I have a track plan and wood working is in progress.

Any layout plan should be judged by how well it fulfills the intent of the designer.  Here is a list of what I am aiming for and why using John Armstrong’s Givens and Druthers framework.


  • Proto:48 (1:48 finescale) – I already have equipment and track materials sufficient to implement the layout.  I prefer working in a larger scale due to advancing farsightedness.
  • Portable – I tend to build slowly and I anticipate needing to move the layout either due to a house move or renovations within the next 4 or 5 years.
  • Achievable – I have started many layout projects and not completed many as my interests change.  (Note the name chosen for this blog).  A modest plan that gets “done” is what I am going for.
  • Switching – I like shuffling cars around most of all.  Some might call this a preference but this is the main goal of the project.
  • 12’x2′ – I have more space but this is the maximum that I can reasonably hope will fit in an arbitrary new location.  This puts the layout in small shelf layout territory for O scale which is fine by me.
  • Reasonable Sourcing – I have abandoned projects in the past due to it all hinging on one small supplier on another continent.  Even locally available but specialty materials can cause indeterminate delays which can lead to a loss of momentum.


  • CN in the early 1970’s.  = I grew up within earshot of the CN Toronto-Montreal mainline and yet have never modeled CN as prototype.
  • Modern Technology – Although the layout will be small and likely only have on locomotive running at a time, DCC enabled sound will add much to the operating experience.  I also want to incorporate some interesting uses of microcontrollers, LED’s and servos.
  • Exhibitable – I want to construct something that could be taken to and displayed at a train show.  This goes beyond mere portability to include finished appearance such as backdrop, fascia and lighting.  It also would need to fit in the back of the wagon or  similar sized vehicle.