Sunday, December 8, 2013

Crisis of Scale

The first post on this blog noted the transition of my modelling interests from heavy mainline coal hauling action to short industrial spurs and switching.  I'd previously been fairly dedicated to acquiring equipment to support the former and luckily my era interests (mid-70s to early 80s) haven't changed so some of it is reusable for the latter.

However, my recent internet wanderings have led me down the path of potentially switching to O scale (specifically P:48) for this Frisco Hill Track endeavor.  Why you ask?

A few of the more interesting blogs that I follow (Lance Mindhiem, Mike Cougill, Trevor Marshall, et. al.) have posted in the past about what drives anyone in this hobby.  Most build a model railroad to have something "come alive" for them and that something varies for everyone.  Often it is childhood memories or the thrill is derived from having 12-15 people execute T&TO operations across a long mainline.  I've found that what I seem to most enjoy is the close-up simulation of the switching.  Almost as if I could be the conductor or engineer without having to get up at 2am and work in the freezing cold.

In thinking about how to recreate that for my own enjoyment, there are a few aspects of the larger scale that are appealing to me:
  • The overall mass of the objects conveys a greater sense of realism
  • Greater detail
  • Sound -- specifically the opportunity for larger speakers to generate more bass
  • Potential for battery power -- Imagine being freed from feeders!
  • Working handbrakes -- Think accessory decoder and small actuator to engage brakes on each car.
  • Room for batteries and speakers aren't a problem if combined with powered trucks.
    • Kato recently brought them out on the GE P42
    • NWSL also has the Magic Carpet
None of these things require the larger scale, but most are made easier by it.  One thing I remain perplexed about regarding O-scale is the scaling  Seems most rolling stock produced today follows 1/4" (except for wheelsets, but Protocraft has the solution there), though I'm unsure if the concessions made by the manufacturer to simultaneously release a 2-rail and 3-rail model affects this aspect.

Well, that's all from the armchair (keyboard?) modeling department this evening.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Boots On The Ground

I had an opportunity to visit Kansas City this past weekend and spent some time exploring the Hill Track in person with some model railroad friends.  I'm still working on getting through the pictures and will post the more interesting ones here soon.

The most notable detail learned from the trip was the elevation changes that the line experienced.  While some of that information can be gleaned from topographic maps, nothing beats the in-person experience and GPS readings (thanks Keith & Mark!).

At just over a mile in total length and with a total elevation change of 100 ft, the average grade works out to be 2.2%, which is towards the steeper end of the spectrum for railroad grades.  Of course, this is a small industrial spur but the laws of physics still apply.   Most spurs from the main track were level, so that adds to the visual interest of the scenes.

The one thing I regretted not doing while there -- I only thought of it while on the plane back home -- was to measure the two remaining switches on the line.  I'd like to use that as a key input to the planning.  "Standard" model railroad switches are often too small compared to what scaled-down versions of the prototype would be for similar use cases.  I plan to rectify that and use switches in the #8 to #10 range plus curves as broad as I can justify to avoid a crammed look.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Return With a Plan

The blog has been quiet for a while as other (homefront) projects have taken over.  Despite that, I was able to chip away a few minutes here and there to work on a (HO scale) track plan starting at the south end and working north:
For reference, this recreates the following portion from the 1972 track diagram with the exception of spot #335 on the far left:
I've implemented it as three "modules" for easy transport in the future.  They are non-standard and non-equal in length and width to ensure that all of the breaks between sections avoid turnouts.

The grid shown on the plan uses 12" squares which means that the left half is 30" wide.  However, I expect to build this as a standalone peninsula without backdrops.  With it accessible from all sides, I don't think the width will be a problem.

This is the first (public) draft -- following nine or so tweaks and rewrites -- and while writing about it now, I noticed that the left-most "module" is more compressed in real distance compared to the other two.  This ends up shortchanging the spots along Terrace St at the top (#340, #342, and #348).

PS> I will have to confess that while reading blogs I follow and reminiscing about a previous operating experience and an O-scale switching layout, I was tempted to switch scales.  I'd have to go P:48 if I did and I found myself quickly stuck trying to determine availability of period (1970s) freight cars.  Do the P:48 modelers accept the slightly oversize equipment as long as the gaudy wheelsets are changed out?  Anyway, that was a dangerous diversion and I'd better stick to what I know: HO scale.  Though I will dabble with some of the P:87 aspects to enhance track detail.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Hill Track in 1972

Thanks to some fellow modelers over at (and someone 40 years ago), I was able to recently obtain the official railroad industry spot guide from 1972.  This -- short of engineering drawings -- is probably the single best resource for trying to recreate this industrial spur.   While I haven't yet picked an exact modeling date for the Fairgrounds Branch, it will likely be in this same decade, as the 1970s have always been my primary modeling interest.

The Industries (links to previous posts detailing industries):
Spot CodeIndustry Name
305Garfield Team Track
306Paper Supply Company
308Runaround Track
311C. E. Schutte Lumber Company
315Carthage Marble Corporation
319W. C. Tingle Company
326Pacific Mutual Door Company
327Battenfeld Grease & Oil Company (It is spelled wrong on the RR map)
335Safeway Bakery
336Motor Parts Distributors Incorporated
340Sherwood Chemical Company
340AUnion Carbide
340BAmerican Mineral Spirits Company
341Southwestern Bell Telephone Company
342Turner Uni-Drive Company
345U. S. Engineering
348Swenson Construction Company
353Styro Fabricators Incorporated
354Fred Wolferman Incorporated

The Map (click link for a 'zoomable' view):

The List (click link for a 'zoomable' view):

The Surprises / Questions / Answers?:
Having this map and list raises a few questions from my previous research.
  1. Spot #336 is shown as "Motor Parts Distributors Incorporated", meaning Columbia Bedding that I had previously thought to be there had closed and moved out prior to 1972.
  2. #353 is "Stryo Fabricators" which corrects an earlier typo from my first source of information from -- explains why I couldn't find anything on "Ftyro Fabricators"
  3. The relative lack of run-around tracks on the line is somewhat surprising -- It implies that switch crews probably did most of their line-up work in nearby 19th St. yard.  To the modeler though, that means my switch jobs either need to start that way, or I need to provide for that work to take place.
  4. The amount of active trackage inside Schutte Lumber is amazing.  Most lumberyards I've seen have a single spur on the edge of the property, this one apparently delineates between the various product groups to the different sheds.
  5. All of my previous research for #327 ("Battenf[i]eld Grease") showed the industry on the west side of Roanoke Rd and served by the MKT RR.  The adjoining Frisco maps don't have the trackage and switchback between Southwest Boulevard and Roanoke Rd shown, and I've since traced that spur's origination to be with track connected to what was the Katy's Rosedale Yard.
    1. Local "boots-on-the-ground" research indicates that Battenfeld Grease was served by both railroads.  The Frisco seemed to handle only inbound raw commodities from an unloading terminal on the east side of Roanoke Rd, while the MKT owned the spur in the alley west of Roanoke Rd.  The buildings on the west side of the were warehouses and docks, so most shipping likely took place there (or receiving of other non-liquid commodities)
  6. The difference between spots #340, #340A and #340B aren't clearly identified on the map.  There's a #340-1 spot up on Terrace St (two parallel tracks near top-right of map) ... perhaps this was 'A' and 'B' also (different sides of the street).  The map identifies many tank spots, all of which are gone now.
  7. Now that I have what I need to start drawing a trackplan -- construction will begin at the south end with the two warehouses and the switchback up to Terrace St.
  8. Spot #342 has now been identified as Turner Uni-Drive Company.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Several modelers have been promoting the use of additional props to enhance the realism and slow the pace of operating sessions.  I've seen suggestions like locked switch stands, brake wheels, and operating fences in writings by Lance Mindheim, Mike Cougill, and Trevor Marshall.  I definitely agree with this approach and have always been searching for ways to replicate more of the "on the ground" work so that switch jobs aren't just wham bam done

Adding an oversize switch stand outside of the layout area and connecting it either via linkage or motor to operate the model turnout -- as Trevor did here -- is one of those that I had to archive here for future reference.

It appears that the switch stands that Trevor uses are available from Sunset Valley.  They're nearly the cost of a commercial HO turnout, but for a small switching layout like I'm envisioning for the Fairgrounds branch it might make sense.    

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Industry Listings

Sometimes the internet will surprise you.  On what started out as a search to find information for my last detailed industry post on Columbia Bedding, I discovered a listing of industries for the Kansas City area published by the CGW.

The source is a website dedicated to the Chicago Great Western.  From that source I trimmed and saved both the full Kansas City Listing and the subset of that mentioning service by the SLSF.  Now, not all of the industries on this list will apply to the Fairgrounds Branch, but it is still a worthy reference.

Several of the industries that I've profiled on this blog are listed in there, but unfortunately, the information does not help narrow down any dates.  I'm guessing that the CGW industry listing presented there is an all-time compilation from many sources or a transcription of a single publication, just without the date.

Another source for industry information is the OPSIG Industry Database.  There is some era appropriateness information included with this data source.  A cross reference of it to the CGW source mentioned above pegs Battenfield Oil & Grease and Columbia Bedding in 1965.  The source quoted there is "CGW", so it is likely that the OPSIG database includes all of the records from this same CGW source.

Speaking of the OPSIG, I highly recommend becoming a member.  I'm an online-only member myself and for $7.00/year, it's a great deal!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Colulmbia Bedding

This post remains in the archive to document the Fairgrounds Branch industry research journey.  I've since learned that Columbia Bedding was an active business on Roanoke Road since at least 1949 but closed in 1962  In the span of time since the company has been out-of-business, the property ownership has changed hands and the buildings they once occupied have been rearranged.  In my modeled era of the 1970s, Motor Parts Distributors occupied these buildings.

Columbia Bedding had its spot in Fairgrounds branch history confirmed by this Sanborn Map source.  One oddity is that these businesses were assigned addresses on Roanoke Rd despite them being east of the Frisco right-of-way.  Columbia Bedding was apparently a precursor to today's more-well-known Simmons Bedding Company, though I'm only gleaning that from the snippet that Google shows in search results.  The link referenced doesn't retrieve any content, possibly because a login of some kind is needed.  To quote the Google: "......2003 Changed name from Columbia Bedding, April 29, 2003 LLC to ..."

Friday, July 19, 2013

The "Why" of Railroad Modeling

One of the great aspects of this hobby is that each individual can choose where on the various spectrum they want to be.  You can be an extremely serious modeler of equipment and simply like to watch trains run "in circles", or a savvy student of operations bent on recreating the feel of the prototype to the fullest with un-weathered equipment spotted at cardboard boxes vaguely resembling buildings.  OK, those are extreme examples and presumably the serious operator would get around to weathing the cars and building actual structures.

Personally, I fall more towards the railroad modeling end of the overall spectrum and seek to recreate the operations of the prototype.  There are an infinite number of ways to achieve that, ranging from basement-sized empires recreating a many miles of territory down to smaller layouts focusing on just a few industries.

The smaller has become very appealing lately.  The trend began for me with the design and construction of the Beer Line (that was published in Nov 2011 Model Railroader).  Even though the Beer Line soon grew to three times the size shown in the magazine and became a representation of the entire six-mile branch line, it still feels small in the scope that it sets out to capture.

I hope to achieve the same with this Frisco spur.  At less than two miles in overall length and with just a handful of industries, it feels achievable.  I'm probably still a ways off from building (space acquisition), but the research has been just as much fun -- figuring out "how it used to be".

Along the way I keep coming across more and more great ideas that follow this same theme.  The most recent I discovered was a series of feature-length articles by Mike Cougill of OST Publications.   I recently read Vol. 5 about switching operations and it's message about studying the prototype, understanding the  "why" behind its operations and using that as an input to model railroad design is a much more elegant presentation of my own thoughts.  Go read it.  When I get to more building, I'll also probably get a copy of the book on detailed track construction.

Also top-notch is Lance Mindhiem's Blog.  His thoughts and writings have been a big influence on and reinforce the way I think about building something that I can "finish" and derive maximum enjoyment from.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mid-July Update

Research continues as I find time, though that's always harder in the summertime.  Nevertheless, with the help of fellow modelers and historians from the wesbite, I've been able to get some more information on Battenfeld Grease and the line's history.  I updated the original post to reflect the new findings, plus created a Google Map to provide some spatial relation for the items discussed in these posts.

I'll continue researching the histories of the various industries in an attempt to frame a modeling period for the line.  I've traditionally been interested in recreating the mid-to-late-1970s and much of the equipment I already own dates to that era.  Industrial branch lines like these were in fast decline following the Staggers Act of 1980 that, through deregulation of railroads, allowed for making the case for abandonment easier.  Also, many cities experienced a decline in the urban industrial fabric as companies either consolidated, moved to the suburbs or went out of business altogether.

That being said however, there are some plausible opportunities for stretching the modeling window a bit to include some industries that may have not survived into a particular era.  I'm cautioning myself in this arena though, since modeling "too far out of the box" doesn't appeal to me -- forcing rail service upon something that's no longer economically feasible destroys the plausibility.

So I might consider modeling a decade in general, though, if I were to span the year 1980, I'd have to choose between orange-and-white (Frisco) and green-and-white (Burlington Northern).   Or even a green patch over orange-and-white?  Hmm...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fairgrounds Branch Early History

Some interesting history regarding the Farigrounds Branch came to my attention while researching industries. It was originally constructed  in 1873 by the Kansas City, Memphis & Mobile RR, which was later purchased by the KC & Southern RY and finally by then the KC, Osceola & Southern RY.  South of 31st. St. the road started but never finished the Westport Tunnel. The KCM&M also graded the line from Mill St. to Dodson, this line was later built as the KC Public Service Co., today's Trolley Track Trail. John Blair's KC&S intended to use the line as their entrance into KC but the cost of completing the tunnel & the heavy grade was too much so the KC&S built north from Dodson to Coburg instead. After the KCO&S was purchased by Frisco & as industry around Rosedale developed Frisco used the 29th St. Line to reach Coleman Highlands, but instead of completing the tunnel they built around it.

The tunnel was later converted to an entrance for an underground office park.  In earlier research, I'd noticed topo maps had shown this area to be largely undeveloped with little mining symbols on it.  The development of that underground office park and reuse of the abandoned tunnel connects a few dots on this area, how it became the way it was, and why railroad tracks were built that way in the first place.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


I found this great post over at Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine on James McNabb's fencing project that is worth sharing and saving: Don't Fence Me In.  The results are great and the price is right.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rail Waybill Data

In a follow up to my musing in the Carthage Marble post about researching commodity flows, I came across a modern-day data set called the Public Use Waybill Sample provided by the STB.  The data files themselves are large and in record format that can be deciphered using this guide.  I'll play around with one to see what it might provide.   Microsoft Excel should prove handy for splitting the data file into usable fields.

Parsing this data with the MSExcel Text Import Wizard is quite error prone, but it worked for a quick test.  The file is longer than my outdated version of Excel can handle (>65535 rows).  For the previously posed question about cut stone products, there is an Standard Commodity Code (STCC) series for it (328**), but in what I managed to open of the 2011 sample, there was only a single 32819 Clay Stone Products shipped in a trailer on a single unit flat car.

The STB website only has the previous 11 years (starting with 2011) of data accessible.  I've seen references to this data existing as far back as 1986, and for $80 USD, the 1988 to 1992 data is available on CD-ROM.   I also found a good reference for AAR car types.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fairgrounds Branch

Finally got connected up with the website (spam filter stole my activation email), and already found more detail on the line, including that it was actually named the Fairgrounds Branch.

Quoting from a post on the website, there's a ton of detail:

The Fairgrounds Branch (also known as (aka) "the Hill") was an interesting industrial switching area near West 31st Street and Southwest Boulevard, close to the state line border of Kansas and Missouri. In the Frisco's Kansas City Terminal Industry Schematics it is known as part of the 29th Street Industrial Area, Zone 3.

The branch is located between the Frisco's Rosedale and 19th Street Yards. It starts at 29th Street Interlocking, under the I-35 overpass behind Ponak's Mexican Restaurant, curves southwest across Southwest Boulevard, passes and serves Schutte Lumber, starts uphill climbing across 31st Street, turns generally southeast and parallels Roanoke Road.

Climbing out of the Turkey Creek valley (prone to flooding) the line climbs in vertical elevation 80 feet in just under 1 mile. Close to the end of the line, after crossing West 34th Street, it stub ends near Karnes Boulevard. From here there is a switchback uphill to serve additional industries to the northwest that again climbs and runs on either side of Terrace Street.

In addition to the really neat area area around Schutte Lumber (with several switch backs and tracks inside lumber sheds) industries along the line included the Garfield Team Track, Paper Supply Company, Carthage Marble, W. C. Tingle, Pacific Mutual Door Company, Battenfield Grease & Oil Company, Safeway Bakeries, Motor Parts Distributors, Sherwood Chemical Company, Union Carbide, American Mineral Sprits, Southwestern Bell Telephone, U. S. Engineering, Swenson Construction Company, Ftyro Fabricators and Fred Wolferman Groceries.  <edit> Additionally, I've found Columbia Bedding, Fairfax Bread Co., Western Electric, Sherwood & Co, Inc., plus Concrete Building Units Co. on a Sanborn Map updated through 1950. </edit>

Branching off the Fairgrounds Branch in the 29th Street Industrial Area is Zone 4 (aka "the Alley"). This spur takes off to the northeast on the south side of Southwest Boulevard. This line ran in an alley (hence the name) behind the buildings that fronted Southwest Boulevard, across from the Kansas City Terminal (KCT) Railway roundhouse.

Industries served on this line included the American Dish Service Company, Rite-Made Paper Converters, Hubbard's Imperial, Combs & Company, Bartlett Container Corporation, C. S. Tull Transfer, City Wide Brick & Supply Company, Koch Supplies, Roll Easy Door Company, K & K Sheet Metal, Gate City Petroleum (tank farm), Dairy & Creamery Equipment Company, Gresham Company, Anchor Roofing and Siding company, Foreign Car Auto Salvage, Webb Belting & Supply Company, Aero Plastics, American Steel Company (with overhead transverse crane), Texaco, Inc., Corbin Equipment Company, Hill Building Materials Company, A.P. Green Fire Brick Company, Skelly Oil Company, Roberts Furniture Company, Jianas Brothers Candy Company, R. L. Faubion Steel and Tank Company, Flint Ink Company and Funkhouser Machinery Company (including an end loading ramp).

Today only a short spur remains from the 29th Street Interlocking to serve Schutte Lumber. Many of the buildings, signs of track in streets and some of the original businesses listed above remain. This would be a great area to model in a relatively small space as it featured a great number of industries in a relatively small space, most types of freight cars served the different customers and would need only a switcher or two for power.
 That last sentence of the original post sums up what I'm aiming for.  Now I have some company names to continue research on and narrow down an era when most of them might've still been receiving rail service.

<<edit>> Corrected W.C. Triangle to W.C. Tingle, a flooring supply company.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Though I've not actually started construction, I've come across a number of really good resources for ideas on other blogs and sites I've been following.

One of the more active ones is Greg Amer's Industrial Lead; I've been enjoying the posts about creating high-quality handlaid track.  Very good and detailed information even if I don't make the leap all the way to Proto87.

Also, Charles Hostetler's CNW in Milwaukee is another of my favorites, firstly because his modeling efforts are on Milwaukee, so I can relate to the locations, and secondly, he does deep and thorough research.  The series about the prototype waybills is interesting to follow -- A late model railroader friend of mine had created software to replicate those waybills and some of the car routing associated with them.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tour the Line

Thanks to Google Maps and Street View, I can see a good portion of the line from 550 miles away.

Overview map showing relationship of all locations
1) Genesse St looking south towards Rosedale Yard remnants
2) Genesse St looking north at where the spur diverged (to the right behind red Mexican restaurant)
3) Southwest Blvd looking mostly south at a former warehouse
4) Southwest Blvd looking mostly south at Schutte Lumber Company
5) Schutte Lumber Company from 31st Street
6) Pacific Mutual Door Company from 31st Street
7) ROW South from 31st Street, the spur to PMD was up at a higher elevation
8) Looking northeast from Roanoke Rd, one can see that the ROW was at a higher elevation
9 & 10) Next road access is from 34th Street; looking back north and south
11) The hilly nature of the area looking east from that same 34th Street spot; we'll be up there shortly
12) The ROW briefly appears again between warehouses as viewed again from Roanoke Rd looking east
13) The line ends between two warehouses as viewed from Karnes Blvd.
14) At the tree line in the distance is where a switch back went north along Terrace St.
15) Terrace St had tracks along both sides of the road (looking north now)
16) Top of the hill on 34th Street where it intersects Terrace St.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spur Identification

With a little web sleuthing, I'm pretty sure I've narrowed the spur line down to the Zone 3 of the Frisco RR's Kansas City Terminal.  I signed up on the and hope that I can get final confirmation of the line's history there.  Additionally, I discovered at least one Sanborn Map of the area from the Kansas City Public Library Missouri Valley Collection -- though due to copyright restrictions, I can't post it here.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Welcome to the online documentation of my railroad modeling efforts.

First, a little background.  I've been active with model trains for nearly 20 years, ranging from assisting my both my father and brother with design and construction of their respective layouts and operating on several fine model railroads across the country.

I owe most of my experience in the hobby to the people in Rail Group in Chicago, IL, a group of serious model railroaders who've fully explored the finer points of operation.

Astute readers will recognize me as the designer and author of a track plan for the Milwaukee Road's Beer Line published in the November 2011 Model Railroader magazine.

My target for what to model used to be practically etched in stone...Clinchfield Railroad in 1972.  A fair portion of the equipment for such a recreation is in storage but the space to do it justice as been elusive.

After having produced the Beer Line design, I've taken quite an interest in smaller switching layouts.  Two prototypes have since caught my interest: 1) Green Bay, WI and 2) Kansas City, MO.   Of course, there are (or were as the case may be) industrial switching prototypes all over the place, but these two have been accessible to me since family lives near each and provides a good reason to visit.

My current focus is on an industrial spur line of the Frisco RR in Kansas City, MO -- hence the name for the blog.  Here's the present day Google Map of the area.  Visible on the map is the intersection of Southwest Boulevard and Liberty St where the spur crossed the road, served a lumber yard and continued southeast curving around the bluffs to server several smaller industries.

More posts on the history of the line as I learn it.