The model railroading is multifaceted hobby I've pursued for almost sixty years. The railroad serves as a canvas for creative expression that reflects my interest the Great Northern Railway.
The model railroad, called the Empire Division, has been designed to fit available, built at eye level to provide a place to watch big steam power handle mainline consists. The 1/4' scale model railroad has occupied the 27.5' X 23.5' space above the garage since 1987. It’s theme is ‘big time’ mainline railroading both steam and electric set in the Pacific Northwest in the late thirties. The emphasis this time is switching, both passenger and freight, using card waybills. The period modeled is the pinnacle of the steam era when heavyweight equipment was used on all passenger trains, all modern classes of steam locomotives were developed, and GN took pride in its equipment, best illustrated by the glossy green and black of its steam locomotives. The current layout is the third incarnation of this theme.
The Original Pike
The first layout, from 1987 to 1995 was basically a double track loop and with only one town is modeled. All bench work was brought from Seattle where it had been used on an earlier layout. The mainline and holding tracks featured code 148 flex track with Old Pullman switches. Yard and secondary tracks were hand-laid code 125. Some industrial sidings were even laid with code 100 rail. All switches were powered with Tortoise switch machines. Scenery was Hydrocal covered with a mixture of ground foam and dirt imported from the Northwest. Three mainline cabs combined Aristo-craft throttles and PFM sound units. The engine terminal and switching areas had separate local cabs. Started in 1987, it was up and running for the 1989 NMRA convention in Houston. This layout emphasized passenger operations. Since the GN switched most passengers trains at Spokane, Washington, it was chosen as the location for the model railway, although no attempt was made to duplicate GN's actual Spokane trackage. The layout featured a depot with several setout tracks, a freight yard with reefer and stock car servicing facilities, a large engine terminal, and several local switching locations. The original layout had eight hidden holding tracks from which trains were dispatched. Leaving the holding tracks, the mainline followed the line around the outside wall where the scenery would depict the Idaho panhandle. Then it passed a switching area named Fort Wright, entering the depot area and continued to the freight yard, called Hillyard. It then passed a switching area called Cannery Row and passed Nippy Hollow before re-entering the hidden holding tracks. The seeds of this layout's demise were planted in the holding yards design. All turnouts were separately thrown and power could be assigned to several tracks at the same time. As a result of the design, there were several 'snafus' and crumpled crummy platforms.
The Second Design
In 1994 Larry Muir a close friend and fellow O scaler passed away. I was especially fortunate to be able to purchase his 10 car Joe Fisher built heavyweight Empire Builder from his widow. When I put it on the layout, none of my locomotives could pull it up the steep grade from the holding yard. Thus the second version was planned. In 1995, a rebuilding project was begun with a longer mainline and easier grades. The revised track plan had a 60" minimum radius and a maximum grade of 1-1/2%. Never really satisfied with the track plan revisions, this pike never really progressed much beyond the benchwork and basic track phase. In late 2002, after several years of inactivity, I finally scrapped this version.
to see the second design track plan and photos from the first layout.
In 2003 the current version, minus any duckunders was begun. The mainline has a 72” minimum radius, while the hidden branch line track has 36” curve, limiting it to lighter motive power. This version features wider aisles, more industries for switching and a larger and more accessible engine terminal. Right-O-Way switch components have replaced Old Pullman switches, but the Tortoise switch machines, Aristo-Craft throttles and PFM sound remain.
In the last few years I have acquired a taste for GN electrics. Thus the layout’s mainline setting has shifted from Spokane to Wenatchee and Cashmere. Again no attempt is made to duplicate actual trackage although the main yard is curved like the real Appleyard just south of Wenatchee. ‘Fidalgo’ the switching penisular, is representative of the many small Puget sound ports served by the GN. The wooden Howe truss perhaps reminds some of the approach to Anacortes.
Instead of an eight track single holding yard, this layout contains two single ended, four track yards. Each are interlocked to a matrix. A single rotary switch aligns the tortoise switch machines and assigns power to one track only. So far there have been no snafus!
By November 2005, the pike is far enough along to host an open house for the annual Houston Area Fall Layout Tour. Much still needs to be built, but the railroad is far enough along to allow some switching and the introduction of a card order system.
Click here to see
the current trackplan or here to see recent photos