Archive | December 2013

Cramming Action Into a Tight Space

Potential Small Layout Industry: H. L. Webster & Sons –


Back in the days of hard work and hard fought reward it was typical for small New England towns to have a local feed store.  These businesses provided the much needed grain, and other such commodities, which made rural small town life possible.  Milk, eggs, poultry, beef; none would be possible without the feed sold by stores like H. L. Webster & Sons (which was previously owned by Wells and Flanders Grain Elevator).  If you are modeling a small town in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine, you really can’t afford to not include a rail served feed store.  With a feed store you get an industry with roughly the same footprint as a residence or freight house which can be serviced with the obligatory 40 foot boxcars so common in Northern New England manifests.  It really is a win-win situation.  Let’s have a look at H. L. Webster & Sons to get a better feel for it.

The building its self is fairly small and so would be right at home on a small layout or a nook on a much larger layout.  In real life H. L. Webster & Sons sat, off of Main Street, along the same siding from which the Enfield freight house was served.  I can’t be sure of how much rail traffic this business received, especially in the post-WWII transition era, however Enfield town records show the H. L. Webster & Sons was still in business well into the mid-1960s (and probably beyond, but I stopped searching once I was sure they made it through my era of interest).  It appears, through tax records, that H. L. Webster & Sons also dabbled in hardware and various odd-jobs for the town, which could justify an increase in rail traffic to and from the store, but again nothing outside of boxcars would be indicated by what I could find.


The building is not currently used as a feed store or hardware store but the east side of the building still advertises its former owner.  This lettering could be added free-hand, but would probably turn out better using dry transfer decals.  The other nice thing about this side of the building is its simplicity which greatly reduces the amount of work required to scratch build the structure.


The south side of the building is interesting from a modeling perspective and would be the primary scene of action.  We see the sliding freight door, which would have been used for unloading bagged feed, grain and boxed hardware.  On the second floor there is a door which would have given access to the roofs of the freight cars delivering goods to the store.  What use this feature would have been, I really don’t know.  It isn’t clear to me that this type of access would be needed for bagged goods, but some boxcars were converted for bulk delivery of grain and perhaps this door was used to get an employee out on top of the load with a shovel… seems safe.  I doubt grain or feed would have been delivered by hopper since there is no evidence that bulk storage was ever available on site.  The mind boggles at the possibilities.  If you know how this second story door, or similar doors, were used in prototype operation please let me know via comment.

I incorporated a feed store into my modified loop, it is a greatly simplified structure only meant to represent this type of business.  My store is also served from the same track as my freight house; although my operations are somewhat more complicated because I used a spur instead of a siding.  I think, given more space once I begin building a more complete representation of the Northern, I will try to add H. L. Webster & Sons in a more accurate manner.  As I stated above, a feed store is almost obligatory for a small Northern New England town, plus they make for a very simple industry and can blend a decent cross section of inbound commodities into a small foot print.  Even if you are limited in terms of space, a business like H. L. Webster & Sons could easily become the focal point for a micro layout.  If you have just the right siding, or spur, on your existing line, or are currently planning your layout, I would recommend trying your hand at a feed business… all of the scale animals on your layout will thank you.

Side note: Enjoy your Christmas and New Year Holidays; I will be focused on my family over the next couple weeks so you won’t hear from me for a little while again.  Use this time to operate your layout, chase trains with your family or friends, or spend some quiet time doing research.  Above all, keep the reason for the season in mind.  If you aren’t a Christian avoid being a scrooge to the people around you who are.  If you are a Christian, take some time to share your testimony with the people around you and be generous to those who need it most.  Thank you for reading my ramblings up to this point.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Cramming Action Into a Tight Space

Small Layout Industry: Autumn’s Bobbins  –


Prior to beginning the modified loop, which is my current layout project, I made a series of smaller module-esque layouts which fit nicely into the limited space I had available at the time.  Fortunately these modules can probably be integrated into a larger layout in the future due to forethought, but for now they just sort of sit around.  One of those modules (actually a fully functional micro-layout) is Grace Falls, a free lanced town I originally located north of Lebanon on my Lebanon & Northern line.  I had planned the layout to have 3-4 “industries” which would require switching and could be served by a GP7 and 4-5 car manifests.  There is a freight house, a feed store, a passenger station (not completed), a team track of sorts, and the Autumn’s Bobbins factory.  What?  Bobbins?  Yes, actually, as it turns out bobbins were once a product commonly made in New Hampshire and probably other heavily forested states.  Today I would like to talk about the Autumn’s Bobbins factory because I think it makes for an interesting industry on a micro to small sized layout.

I went back and forth about whether I wanted this factory to make something more interesting, such as ball bearings, but bobbins ended up being a solid choice.  Bobbins aren’t particularly glamorous as far as products shipped by rail are concerned.  But they once were a fairly common product moved by the B&M and the world certainly needs bobbins to meet its sewing needs.  The factory has two loading dock doors facing the recessed spur, from which it is served, so boxcars in with lumber and out with bobbins is a logical traffic flow.  The building is a Walther’s Corner Stone kit… Paragon Heating, which was an inexpensive way to get a lot of modular building components when it was still available.  I installed the two loading dock doors with a spacing which would allow alignment with either 40ft boxcars or 50ft boxcars so I greatly eased my operating burdens since the majority of B&M traffic was 40 and 50 foot boxcars.  As I mentioned, in order to keep the main entrance at street level, I recessed the spur which is difficult to properly photograph but the shot below should give an idea of what I mean.


Here my South Boulder Modelworks S4 (I discussed this locomotive in an earlier post) spots the Special Run 50ft MI boxcar at the factory.  You can see the steep descending grade of the spur, once the car is in place its floor will be at ground level.

Traffic is somewhat limited, one car in or out at any given time, and I admit that the Caspian Mills facility on my modified loop adds much more to general operations, but the operating scheme for the bobbin factory does at least originate and terminate car loads.  That in and out car traffic means the factory must be switched every operating day in order to keep up.  An added touch is the unique (to me) spur which leaves much of the car at or below street level as seen from the front of the factory.  Finally, Autumn’s Bobbins is nice because, while I built the building using kit components, I changed the name, product, and general identity of the industry which will all but guarantee that my little factory remains unique to my layout.

Eventually, I think Grace Falls will become some area in the northern part of Concord, NH when I get the space and opportunity to begin working on my dream layout… a compressed version of the entire Northern Line from White River Jct. (represented by staging) via the modeled locations of Westboro-West Lebanon, Lebanon, Enfield, Canaan, Grafton, and Andover to Concord (also represented by staging).  I won’t beat myself up about being 100% prototypical but I really want to incorporate some version of all of those places.  Grace Falls and Autumn’s Bobbins could easily fit in with real life Concord, especially within my loose time frame.  Who knows… we shall see when the time comes.  In the mean time I hope my little bobbin factory encourages anyone looking to put a factory type industry into a limited space on a budget.

A Journey Into The Past

My first N scale layout –


“Why is it that photos kids take of things always turn out poorly lit and blurry?”  That’s what I asked myself when I stumbled upon these four photos of my first N scale layout the Lebanon & Northern.  My mind is as fuzzy as the pictures but it seems like it was around 28inX40in or something.  The line was an oval with two spurs, and two tunnels, which served a quarry/crushed stone company in Lyme, NH and a team track in Lebanon, NH.  Of course the whole thing was fanciful as there was never a direct rail line between Lebanon and Lyme as far as I know, but I was young and wanted something “local” to model, I didn’t have a huge budget and two switches were about the limit of my funds.  Since there was no run around track or yard the only way to switch out the spurs was to run all of the way around the layout and come in from the other side, this made switching take forever so I generally just built manifests as they came off the spurs.  I got around the small size of the layout by making Lyme 6 laps north of Lebanon and the line continued south to Claremont from Lebanon, however there was no lap count for that trip.  A simple staging yard within the main tunnel, which was under a large mountain, could have stood in for Claremont but I never went far enough with the layout to improve it beyond what I had.  It had to be torn down due to a move and it was never rebuilt.  The base was rebuilt by my brother into a simple “train board” style layout with no scenery or structures but I believe that is now gone as well.

Motive power was provided by an AA set of Bachmann F9s provided by a Long Hauler train set and, later, a plastic frame Life Like GP38-2.  Manifests were normally made up of boxcars – loaded to and from the team track, open hoppers – empty to Lyme and loaded on the south bound trip, and tanks which brought fuel oil to Lebanon and Lyme from the south.

Overall, it was a good little layout and it solidified my interest in N scale, I had been a staunch HO scaler for years and I still have much of that equipment.  More importantly it taught me that I could make do with limited space and still enjoy myself.  That lesson has been important because I have yet to live in a place which would allow me enough room for a large layout and all of my N scale layouts have been small or micro sized… I still enjoy them just the same.  Hopefully, if you are on the fence about N scale or model railroading in general due to space, this will get you motivated to get a layout put together.  Limited space is no excuse, especially with N scale.

Custom Projects and Kitbashes

South Boulder Modelworks Alco S4 1271 –


So, most of us are well aware of the 3D printing (additive manufacturing) craze that has swept the world in the past few years.  Everything from spoons to firearms can be made through the process which turns plastic or resin into three-dimensional objects by solidifying layer upon layer until the finished product is formed.  One of the major features of the process is that very complex shapes can be formed in their final positions relative to the overall piece.  This actually allows companies working with 3D printing to produce items which are, in many cases, more detailed than what is possible with traditional injection molding (and it costs many thousands of dollars less than injection molding tooling and machines).  One of the most popular market places for 3D printed objects is which, while it has its flaws, has become something of a “go-to” website for buying and selling.

You all know by now that I am a B&M modeler and prefer the 1950s to 1960s era, although I don’t discriminate when it comes to time frame.  For years there was a distinct lack of decent switcher locomotives in N scale and none which was factory decorated for B&M.  In the 1990s Life-Like was kind enough to produce their SW series in B&M Minute Man paint but still nothing existed in the form of an Alco.  Arnold had produced an S2 in the 1990s but stuck with the old stand-by road names which have always been common to N scale.  In 2012 a gentleman on started a thread titled “Printing an ALCO” about his adventures in attempting to design and print an S4 in N scale, that got me interested in the possibilities.

As soon as the S4 became available in his Shapeways store (South Boulder Modelworks), I placed an order for one.  At the time I was not overly familiar with 3D printed objects or the materials used to make them.  The S4 was manufactured using material Shapeways calls Frosted Ultra Detail (FUD) which arrives coated in a drippy support wax which must be cleaned off prior to assembly.  The most common chemical used to strip the wax is called Bestine but, not having any around, I used soap and water which seemed to work well.  I won’t go into all of the details regarding cleaning, assembling, and finishing the model (better information on building 3D printed kits is available elsewhere) but I will say FUD takes well to CA glue and, once stripped, takes paint easily.  This particular kit requires a Life-Like SW chassis and, luckily, I had one sitting around.  The overall effect is very nice and I think the kit turned out well; after all it ended up being a poster child for the kit on Shapeways.  Sadly, or perhaps happily depending on your worldview, Bachmann and Atlas both announced N scale Alco switchers shortly after South Boulder Modelworks got their product line up and running.  The designer turned his talents to other projects including FM switchers, cabooses, and other rolling stock… the Alcos however are still available through his Shapeways store.

As for S4 1271, I used it in daily operations for a while until it took a tumble and broke on a concrete floor.  It is currently in my shops having the rear end of an S2, by the same designer, scabbed on to replace the severely damaged original cab.  I rarely throw anything away if I think it can be salvaged, it’s a hobby after all and I want to put her back into operation.


If you haven’t tried putting together a 3D printed kit yet I would highly recommend it.  Your dollars keep these guys and gals designing new items and help to justify the time and care they put into their products.  You can help grow a young segment of the economy and perhaps find something you need on your layout that the big manufacturers just can’t be bothered to make.

A little break

It’s been a while but I promise I have not given up on this blog… I have been preoccupied elsewhere.  I hope to get back into writing over the next few weeks and post up some new content.  In the meantime thank you for your support!