Posts Tagged ‘city’


Rich Erwin freshens up the Southside Industrial District and addresses some nagging scenery issues


So, after a house move and some space prep, the time had come to clean things up a bit. I wanted to fix a couple of dings as a result of the move, enhance and correct some benchwork, and  tackle a couple of nagging issues with the scenery (paved areas).

First the benchwork. I reassembled the layout on its base legs. Since the new space isn’t finished yet, I had a pretty good inkling that I would be moving the layout a fair amount while things got sorted out. I turned the layout over, being carful to damage as little of the scenery as possible. Then I added 1/4″ center post casters I picked up from a big box home construction store. Flipped the layout back over and we were ready to go. The locking casters made a big improvement and maybe my best move yet.


The District in its new space with rolling casters and an upgraded backdrop


Next up was the backdrop. For whatever reason, the current backdrop had about 1/2″ gap down the center. I don’t know if I originally measured wrong or what, but it had been like that for 3 or 4 years. Now was the time to fix it. I got a new 8′ section of 1/4″ Masonite and cut it to fit. It was long enough for a single piece to span the length of the back of the layout. I attached 1×3″ bracing to the back with Gorilla glue and painted the smooth side the same sky blue as the side boards. I attached it with clamps and drilled holes to match the existing holes in the frame. One quarter inch bolts with washers and wing nuts secured the backdrop to the benchwork frame.

On the backdrop I use photos of real scenes to fill the space between buildings. I still had the original backdrop and reference photos, so I peeled the photos off the backdrop and re-affixed them to the new backdrop. Another step done.


Painting the backdrop



The sidewalks at the back of the layout needed attention, so that was my first modeling chore. It was pretty straightforward. I use .060″ styrene cut to fit for the raised sidewalks. and I scribed in expansion marks every 1 inch. I then added curbstones with a width of 1cm, rounded the corners at the intersections, and beveled for crosswalks and driveways. I follow that up with spray painting the sidewalkes with textured sandstone. I carved in some cracks and applied a dark wash for weathering (and to bring out the detail) which completes the work before I glue it in place.

On to the pavement issues. The paved areas consist of several materials. Most was either painted styrene or cardstock. At one point I used thin black card which was essentially black poster board without a sealed surface. This was mostly used in the Du Pont area. In an Georgia garage with no climate control, this thin and unsealed stock had warped in a few places, especially around the track rail. Also, on the west (left) side, there was no pavement under the track or up even with the railheads.


Pavement redo with styrene at Du Pont


First on the list was the cardstock at Du Pont. I pulled the paper layer off, being careful to preserve the shape as a template for the new material. The bottom layer, even with the top of the ties, remained. I used a .030″ styrene stock and traced the piece of card on the styrene and cut to fit. I sprayed a base coat of black primer and then highlighted areas with gray to represent traffic patterns. I added some arrows and street markings with oil pastels and traffic templates (made for UK roads). Of the three sections, I replaced the two closest to the front of the layout and left the back section intact, as it is mostly hidden and in the best shape.


Finished Du Pont section complete with road markings. Note the weathering indicating traffic patterns.


The paving on the west section was next. I did some research and wanted to try some differing techniques to see which provided better results. Three sections to process (plus between the rails), so for each I would try a different material. On the back section by Sylvan Foods, I used black foam core with the paper backing removed after soaking in water. The pieces were cut to fit and sanded. The resulting texture was a nice rough one, simulating a paved surface.


Plaster used to fill in the space between spurs on the west end of the Southside Industrial District. Wax paper and painters’ tape protect the track work.


For the area between the tracks of National Transfer and Storage and Sylvan Foods, I took a page from the old-school plaster playbook. I needed 1/10 of an inch, plus the height of the ties, for code 100 track, so I applied in layers, let dry, sand, repeat. Finally I painted a coat of black/gray acryllic mix and added some chalk for weathering. This took a couple of weeks not necessarily would I call it messy, but I did feel that doing each layer was burdensome – having to repeat the cycle of wait and sand, wait and sand.


Weights assure a good bond for the foam core paving onto the benchwork top


Finally back to foam core for the base under the National Transfer and Storage. I made it a little larger and shaped and sanded to fit the existing access road.


The completed scene includes pavement made out of five different materials: card stock, foam core, styrene, craft foam, and plaster


So now these nagging little projects are done, I can get on to the next thing. We often forget that track is scenery, too, and with just this little bit of effort, the layout feels more complete, and has a more finished appearance. On to detailing the city!

Morden Station

Morden Station

The year has started off well with some good progress on my London Underground scene. I’m calling it Morden Diorama and using it as a proving ground for the upcoming exhibition layout based on the London Underground. More on the layout later in the year as progress develops.

I’ve chosen to model the London tube station “Morden”, which is at the end of the Northern Line. I purchased a cardstock kit of Morden station from Kingsway Models in UK – a firm that specializes in cardstock models and London Transport. The kits are OO scale which is 1/76 ratio, but uses the same track gauge as HO.

Working on Morden Station Diorama January 2016

Working on Morden Station Diorama January 2016

The kit comes with the pieces pre-printed on cardstock. I spent most of 2015 assembling the building – lots of cutting and gluing. Most of the model is finished, however I’ve got some details to add to get it to a higher level of completion.

I placed the building on a foundation of 0.06 styrene atop a standard sheet of black foam core purchased from a big box store. Using Google Maps, I determined the placement of sidewalks, medians, and pavement of the surrounding area. Again, I modeled all of these with 0.06 styrene. Some were painted with grey primer, while others were covered with texture sheets including a herringbone pattern for one of the walks.

Applying road markings to Morden Diorama

Applying road markings to Morden Diorama

Next came the road markings. I deliberated long about the method to use to create them. The straight lines would be simple enough to mask off, but other markings, especially text on the road, would be more complicated. I knew free hand would not yield clean and crisp results, and cutting a template from printed text would be just as difficult. I settled on some vinyl sheets of road markings from the UK manufacturer Scale Model Scenery. They were the perfect solution.

After watching my wife apply various media to black foam core, I settled on oil pastels. You can color over the template like crayons and then rub them in with your finger to fill in all the nooks and crannies. I works surprisingly well. With the ability to zoom in on Street View of Google maps to get correct placement, you can get a pretty convincing final effect.

Street View from Google Maps outside Morden Station in London

Street View from Google Maps outside Morden Station in London

That’s how far I have made it to date. Still to do are the hardware – railings, guardrails, lights; figures; and vehicles and some minor details. Then as a stage 2, I plan to model two levels below ground somewhat like the urban sculptor Alan Wolfson. Though not prototypical, I’ll model the station platforms and passenger cars (carriages) under ground.

So far, doing the research and modeling has been a fun project and should give me some good experience for the upcoming London Underground exhibition layout. Check back for progress updates.



2015 Progress 1

Southside Industrial District in shadowbox relief.

When 2015 started, I had three major goals to achieve for my HO industrial switching layout.

  • Create a shadow box (or proscenium) arch valence for the front of the layout benchwork
  • Convert an old Athearn diesel switcher to battery powered radio control
  • Build a cardstock model of the UK Underground station at Morden

I am pleased to say I made major progress on two, while considering the proscenium arch completed. Scroll down through the blog to see construction articles. More on the London Underground coming in 2016!

The proscenium arch

Southside Arch

Full frontal industrial switching

Battery powered radio control switcher

2015 Progress 2

Southside Industrial SW1500 #703 works the Dupont plant on the edge of the District

Radio control installed and working, but still some work to do on the shell – hand rails and weathering.

Morden Underground Station (OO Scale)

2015 Progress 3

Morden Station on the Northern Line of the UK Underground

While the bulk of Morden station is complete, I’d say the entire diorama is maybe 40% complete. I still have detailing to do like street markings, figures and general clutter. I’m also going add a couple of levels below grade to show some underground passenger service.

Rather ambitious, but I hope to get it done with a little help from my friends.

Beatles test with Morden Station

Zebra crossing dress rehersal.

Spring has spring down south and I’m able to get into the garage to work these days.

Working on the Railroad: My current workbench with the Southside Industrial District in the background.

Working on the Railroad: My current workbench with the Southside Industrial District in the background.

Here is what I have going on:

  1. Building a shadow box for the layout. The plywood for the front valance is actually acting as the workbench in the photo above.
  2. Re-powering an Athearn SW1500 with a Stanton drive. If I can get this in, I would like to eventually add battery power and radio control. You can see the original shell and Stanton drive on the test track
  3. An OO cardstock kit of a London Underground station for an upcoming diorama.

The warm weather definitely has the creative juices flowing.


The Timesaver

I can almost here the groans as I type out this article. “Oh, no! Not another Timesaver!”

An SW1500 switcher picks up a boxcar for setting out at the Ames tool company on Rich Erwin's HO Southside Industrial District loosely based on John Allen's Timesaver.

An SW1500 switcher picks up a boxcar for setting out at the Ames tool company on Rich Erwin’s HO Southside Industrial District loosely based on John Allen’s Timesaver.

In 1972, John Allen published an article about a devilish little track plan that has had enthralled model railroaders ever since.

A lot has already been written in the model railroad press about John Allen’s switching puzzle he dubbed the “Timesaver.” John developed the “layout” as game to be played after operating sessions on his famous Gorre & Daphetid railroad. The Timesaver has a specific track configuration, shown in figure 1 with the prescribed car capacity of the sidings marked with the numbers in the boxes.

Figure 1. John Allen's Timesaver

Figure 1. John Allen’s original Timesaver track plan

The object of the game is to switch five freight cars to their destinations on the layout as quickly as possible.

The original game differs in standard model railroad switching problems in the following ways:

  • Time is counted as opposed to moves
  • Power is always on at a constant speed – you can only change direction of the locomotive
  • Uncoupling is allowed only over devices placed at designated locations

For any given round, the starting and ending positions of cars on the track are the same. Subsequent contestants would try their hand at the throttle and times would be compared to determine a winner.

I did not so much create my version of the John’s Timesaver, but rather used his track plan as the basis for my industrial switching layout. The mythology and its execution on the Southside Industrial District are all mine.

The Timesaver in Layout Design

Some would cringe at the idea of basing a layout on the Timesaver. The claim is that the track configuration is in no way prototypical. Fair enough, a real railroad would never intentionally design a switching section to be difficult on purpose. But there are real world examples. Check out Also, the argument goes, is that John Allen invented a game, with no intention of it ever becoming part of a larger layout. Just say no to the timesaver!

Even Mode Railroader’s own Steve Otte states: “But no real railroad would build trackage that cramped and complicated! If you follow the Timesaver plan, you’ll probably get frustrated and bored with operations before too long.” ( , Thursday, September 15, 2011 10:45 AM)

Others welcome the challenge, and even consider the Timesaver a valid Layout Design Element. Charlie Comstock gives a good treatment of the issue on his website at He’s got some good points such as the track plan should be isolated from the mainline.

The always-interesting small layouts website started by Carl Arendt has a lot of good information on the Timesaver and actual layouts that people have built. The website is a fun place to just poke around from small layout information in general.

Google “Timesaver” and you’ll find opinion on the design falls basically into two camps. One claims the configuration is a game, totally unprototypical, and has no place as a design element when planning a layout. Others incorporate the track plan into their layout, or base their layout on the Timesaver entirely.

A prototype switchback somewhere in Winnipeg

A prototype switchback somewhere in Winnipeg

I fall somewhere in the middle. Given my space constraints and that I enjoy switching and even puzzles, the Timesaver was a natural fit. By adding a few operating ground rules to the original “game”, I’m able to operating in a more conventional manner and my layout works for me.

Timesaver on the Southside

In planning my layout, I took the Timesaver concept and modified it for my use. I wanted to use the constraints inherent to the Timesaver, but applied to an industrial switching module. I would operate as a standard switching puzzle and count the number of moves required to make a determined number of pickups and setouts.

The Southside Industrial District as seen from the air, without buildings

The Southside Industrial District as seen from the air, without buildings

I used the same basic track configuration, but did not adhere strictly to the spur storage capacities. I also set the railroad in a modern industrial urban setting with appropriate scenery.

Southside Industrial District based on Timesaver

Timesaver-based track arrangement for the Southside Industrial District

In researching and planning my layout I decided the pros outweighed the cons. It looked like I could enjoy the challenge and gaminess, while still give me the chance to do scale modeling. It looked like the Timesaver would fit the bill.

What appealed to me was

  • challenge of switching puzzle
  • confined parameters (= small layout)
  • lends itself to industrial setting
  • ability to expand operational variety
  • can be modularized
  • expand the layout physically beyond the edges

If you’ll notice, the trackplan for my layout is not strictly a Timesaver. I’ve made the following modifications to what would be considered the “classical” Timesaver specification:

Structural Changes:

  • Mainline through-way
  • Mainline can be used as additional spurs for 7 instead of 5
  • Left- and Right-hand switches instead of Y’s
  • Slightly different track configuration
  • No strict adherence to spur capacity

Operational Changes:

  • Time not counted
  • Moves counted in “competition” mode
  • Throttle not set to constant speed {no constant-speed throttle}
  • Starting position determined by either conductor’s choice or wheel reports
  • May include “pickups”
  • Uncoupling may occur any place
  • Stage not reset after a session unless running in “competition” mode
  • SID contains setting, scenery, and details
  • Expandable for off-line staging, other modules, or continuous run

But no matter, I did not set out to build John Allen’s Timesaver. I set out to build my model railroad. It happens to share a similarity and some of the same concepts as John’s famous switching puzzle.

Southside Industrial District places the Timesaver in an industrial setting

Southside Industrial District places the Timesaver in an industrial setting


I operate the Southside Industrial District according to what many model railroaders would consider standard practice.

I’ve found I can have 8-10 cars in service on the track at one time. More than that leaves no empty space for shuffling cars.

Setouts as well as pickups are included and use the RIP track for “online staging.” Setouts start on the RIP track in the bottom left of the track diagram. The final destination for pickups is also the RIP track. Throttle is variable speed as determined by the engineer. Uncoupling can be anywhere. I use Kadee magnetic couplers and a wooden skewer as an uncoupling device.

A typical session starts with setouts placed on the RIP track. The cars can either be chosen by random by the conductor, or from a randomly generated wheel report. Pickups are determined by the conductor before the session begins. A full discussion on operating details will be addressed in another article. Cars are switched to their destination location per standard operating procedures. This can be a 1 or 2 man job. A single operator controls the throttle, switch points, coupling and uncoupling, as well as dictating moves. In a 2-man move, the Engineer runs the train while the Conductor does everything else.

A typical op session will have 3-4 cars already set “out” at various spurs. Three or four more cars are placed on the RIP track to spot.

Time is tracked to the nearest minute per session. I’m more interested in broad time ranges such as a 3-in / 3-out configuration takes 20 minutes; 4-in/4-out takes 40 minutes, etc.

Switching continues until all the setouts are swapped for the pickups already spotted.

If the competitive juices are flowing, the layout can be operated in “game” {competition} mode where moves are counted and the board is reset to the same configuration after each session. Typically there will be no pickups pre-spotted when operating like this. Complexity can be achieved by varying the number of cars to start on the RIP track. Beginners can try their hand with a single freight car, while brass hats may want to try five or even six. Including pickups adds another level of complexity.

An Example

Let’s look at a small example.

We’ll start with 3 cars (box car, tanker, covered hopper) on the RIP track and 1 car already set out for optional pickup. At the start of the session, the conductor decides to pickup the gondola (and place it on the RIP track to end the session).  See figure 3 for a photo of the starting configuration.

Three cars and their ultimate destinations to start a switching session on the Southside Industrial

Figure 3. Three cars and their ultimate destinations to start a switching session on the Southside Industrial

First is to place the boxcar in the warehouse. If we are counting moves, that takes at least 3, depending on the starting position of the loco. Likewise, getting the tanker to DuPont track #4 requires a runaround of 11 moves.

Moving the tanker requires 11 moves

Moving the tanker requires 11 moves

Next, we go back and pickup the gondola and temporarily park it on one of the runaround tracks. Then a straightforward series of moves to pickup the covered hopper and drop it off at the food processing plant.

switch 03 and 04

Finally, we go back, pick up the gondola and place on the RIP track to finish the session and grab a cold one at our favorite watering hole in the District.

Everyone in the place to finish the day's work.

Everyone in the place to finish the day’s work.

As you can see, the layout is very flexible in terms of operation. Beginners and yeomen crews can learn operating procedures by just using a few cars. Standard model railroad operating practices can be used with a minimum of paperwork. The layout can be a module and connected to a larger system. Finally, operators or even crews can compete head to head and earn bragging rights over the entire Southside.

Small consists of 4 cars or less don’t require any paperwork. Look for a future article on using Jim Hediger’s method of wheel reports as a car forwarding system. Car cards and waybills could also be easily used on the layout.

By taking the best elements of the Timesaver that fit my circumstances, I’ve been able to incorporate one of the classic track plans into my scale model railroad, along with the flexibility to run my layout in either a game type puzzle mode, or along the lines of more traditional operating procedures.

In contrast to its name, the “Timesaver” has given me hours of fun on my layout, with more to come. And that’s a good thing.


If you’re considering building a layout or even just a switching game based on the Timesaver, you’ll want to do some research first. Here are some resources you might find helpful.  – a great little site dedicated to switching puzzles with good information on the Timesaver – Carl Arendt’s web site dedicated to small and micro layouts with  a page dedicated to the Timesaver (

The British railway modeling site RMWeb engages in a spirited discussion on the Timesaver –  – All about John’s Gorre and Daphetid railroad, including the Timesaver and a for-purchase DVD (I’m not associated with this site).  – Jeff Witt’s Gorre and Daphetid fan site  – Charlie Comstock’s (of Bear Creek and South Jackson fame) version with a few design notes on incorporating the Timesaver into your layout.  – Wikipedia even has something to say on the subject

THE “TIMESAVER” SWITCHING YARD AS A MODULAR LAYOUT” Model Railroading, Winter 1982 (Trainlife

Byron Henderson of Layout Vision discusses incorporating switchbacks in track design ( and even as it applies specifically to the Timesaver in a session at the NMRA 2013 convention in Atlanta. Notes from the session are downloadable . All good and valid points.

Kalmach’s downloadable PDF book –

The early sunrise casts long shadows down the alleys and between buildings from a bygone era. It is going to be another hot summer day on the Southside Industrial District.

 “The District”, as it is known, has seen better days, but somehow it has managed to survive into the 21st Century. Born in the hey day of railroading, The District was one of the first industrial parks in the country – a collection of industries sharing the costs and benefits of common rail service along a crowded right of way.

 Some of the original buildings remain despite the encroachment of the more modern and spacious facilities from its southern boundary. The track work has stayed unchanged going on 70 years and accounts for the close clearances and seemingly unnecessary switchbacks. No one would design trackage like that today and the younger engineers dread an assignment to switch The District for any length of time.

 CSX serves the District, but the privately owned co-op keeps a couple of small engines for dedicated switching and a small stable of freight cars. It is not uncommon to see smaller 40 and 50 foot cars mixed in with modern center beams, bulk heads, and well cars. Customers special order the smaller cars by way of habit, giving the place a feeling from the days of coal burning steam engines.

 The District is anchored by a couple of industries that have learned to adapt and survive hard economic times. National Transfer and Storage is a 5th generation warehouse facility that will store just about anything for a price and actually serves as somewhat of a transloading facility for other businesses in the district.

 Silvan Food Co. has gone through many incarnations but has remained a food processing plant since the beginning. In the mold of Con Agra, you’ll recognize the brands like Lipton, Knorr, and Dove chocolate that are transformed from car loads of flour, corn syrup, and sugar into finished products bound for the super market. Silvan Foods is still one of two companies that periodically receives coal loads, the other being the DuPont complex.

 It seems Ames has been making shovels and rakes for ages, but their production has been down the last few years. Recent sell offs have resulted in a smaller footprint, but they still have a modest factory and even use NTS across the parking lot for storing raw materials when a big order comes in.

 The 600-pound gorilla in the region is the DuPont Washington Works polymers and plastics plant. Technically they are not part of the District, but since their arrival in the late 60’s they have continued to expand until the lines between what lies inside and what lies outside the District have blurred. The constant flow of chemicals and polymer products makes the DuPont plant the largest customer in the District in terms of area, traffic and revenue.

 A collection of smaller companies like Industrial Plumbing Supply discontinued rail traffic over a decade ago, but still manage to do a brisk walk-in business, primarily among their neighbors within the District. The shops on Commerce Street cater to mainly the daily train crews that frequent the area. Like its own eco system, the Southside Industrial District has thrived when the members cooperate through good times and bad.

 Whether you’re in the market for dried food goods, garden tools, or the newest space age plastic, The Southside Industrial District has a variety of industries that make what you need. Stop by the Third Street Deli for lunch and you just might catch some street running or a refurbished SW1500 shoving a hotbox down to the RIP track. It doesn’t get much better than that on a hot summer day in the District.

Dupont area footprint ready for scenery

Dupont area footprint ready for scenery

 Base scenery work has been completed on the Dupont footprint using a variety of media. The immediate foreground uses pre-mixed joint compound to build up a base for the materials processing building. The compound was applied in layers up to rail height.

The area ended up being too dark and blended in with the building sitting atop it. No color was added to the top layer and it came out white. I gave a couple of washes of india ink to tone it down and bring out the detail.

Paved area made of layers of joint compound for the materials building.

Paved area made of layers of joint compound for the materials building.

Between the rails I wanted to simulate a black top area that trucks would use getting to and from the warehouse towards the back of the layout. I stacked two layers of 1/4″ card stock used for matting artwork. The first layer comes even with the top of the HO ties. The second is cut to fit and is just under the railhead. A layer of black poster board from Walmart tops the concoction. No painting is needed. Between the rails, I lay one layer of mat board is overlayed with a layer of .004 inch styrene cut to fit. This gives more clearance than the pavement on the outer rails and allows for more room for couplers and stock rolling over the area.

I like the styrene because it is a bit more robust and can be shaved and sanded for flange clearance. The styrene is affixed over the mat board using CA.The surface of the black top invariably gets scratched and bumped in the process of completing the scene. No problem. I patch using Sharpies and acrylic paints. The colors don’t exactly match, but that’s the look we want. Same thing happens on the prototype. Patches happen at different times and end up being different colors because of materials and fading.

More areas added

More areas added

The edges of the parking lot are blended down to base plywood level using Sculptamold. An access road from the Third Street was also built up using Sculptamold. I painted the Sculptamold using earth colored acrylics and used standard scenery techniques to top with ground foam and gravel as appropriate. A little ground foam in down the center of the road implies a low traffic area. Dirt and ground foam were added to blend into the previous scenery and track ballasted with a sand / dirt mix from my driveway.

Aerial view of the finished footprint of the Dupont complex.

Aerial view of the finished footprint of the Dupont complex.

Next come the buildings.