How Did We Get Here?

I thought I’d start of blogging about the new model railroad and its design by discussing how I got to this prototype. Of course, if you click on the link on the top of this site, you can see all my previous layouts and my modeling journey of what I have constructed. But how did we get here?

It all started with a copy of Ian Rice’s amazing book “Small, Smart & Practical Track Plans” sometime in the early 2000’s. I was probably around twelve years old. I poured over that book, dreaming of the railroad I would one day build. Its a wonder that it hasn’t fallen apart (I still have it). I was particularly drawn to his prarie branch line track plan of “Charteris, NE” and his advocacy for the “branch stub terminal” which is a theme popular across the pond with many British model railroaders. The idea of a train appearing from staging, doing its work, and returning the way it came made sense for a space-starved modeler, and I was hooked. I’ve always kept that layout design in the back of my head.

This book is highly recommended

Around that same time, I was surfing the web and found Wes Carr’s “Southwest Shorts” page. While I didn’t grow up next to Farmrail, I quickly became a fan of the little regional just an hour or so drive west of my home thanks to “virtual railfanning” through his photos. Check them out here:

My interest in Farmrail never subsided, despite model railroading taking a back seat in high school and college. I was delighted when I stumbled on a track plan for one stub-end of the Farmrail system on the late Carl Arendt’s micro layout website:

Little did I know when I found that track plan as a teenager, I’d later use a very similar one for my “Clinton Industrial Park” Farmrail layout.

As I left college and started my Army career, I knew I wanted to model Farmrail. First, I tried freelancing a fictional branch to a mythical town called Jackson, OK. It was my first attempt, and it showed. They layout barely functioned, and I grew frustrated with it. Also, modeling a fictional place just didn’t do it for me.

The more I missed home, the more I wanted to re-create an actual slice of Oklahoma. I also wanted to re-create the wide open spaces, and model the grain elevators and covered hoppers.

However, when I built my small layout when we first moved to North Carolina two years ago, I just didn’t have the space or time to really capture a grain branch. So I modeled what Farmrail really seems to do more of anyways these days: switching oilfield related commodities. I used Lance Mindheim’s book “How to Build a Switching Layout” and it became, essentially, my model railroading bible.

You need this book. Seriously. If you don’t have it, go order it!

My slice of the industrial park south of Clinton, OK was my best modeling yet, and switching the car-spot driven industries taking box cars, pressurized differential covered hoppers, and tank cars lent itself well to a small layout. However, I found myself still wanting the grain elevators and pastoral scenery.

I got much better at modeling through my ‘Clinton Industrial Park” layout. Although it was a prototypical slide of my favorite railroad, it just didn’t “capture the feel.”

We moved to our current home last year, and I began planning again. I knew I wanted to model a more rural, more iconically Farmrail scene. But simply spotting long cuts of grain hoppers at elevators doesn’t lend itself to interesting operations on a small layout.

Visually, perfect. But not exactly ripe for a small layout, and feeding a string of hoppers through an elevator doesn’t make for interesting operations. Photo by Steven Bakos, in my collection.

So, the mission: find a prototype location that could provide switching interest and the “iconic” western Oklahoma grain elevators in a manageable space. The first revelation I had, I reached with the help of a social media friend, John Strenski. He’s a fellow Farmrail modeler and railfan, and our discussions gave me a great sounding board. Through our talks, I realized, I needed to back date!

Modeling Farmrail as it is now, most of the interesting carload traffic is related to oil industries around Clinton and Elk City. Much of the railroad is inundated with unit sand trains for fracking, and the farm-related traffic is either grain shuttle trains to large “shuttle loader” elevators or larger cuts of fertilizer cars. I realized, that if I wanted to capture the feel of those photos I fell in love with from the early 2000’s, I needed to backdate to that era. More co-ops and other customers were shipping carloads of fertilizer and feed, LPG, and in southwest Oklahoma, I settled on a rough time frame of 1995-2005.

So, 1995-2005, and, still following Ian Rice’s logic I learned as a middle schooler, I figured the stub end of one of the Farmrail lines would make the most sense.

Enid at the north end is nothing more than an interchange yard with the BNSF. Erick and Weatherford have limited switching potential. Elmer is nothing more than a single siding with an auger for grain loading. But Frederick… Frederick has it all. Two elevators with short loading spots due to crossing streets, a small fertilizer facility, two cotton warehouses, and best of all, an interchange with another short line. It became clear that Frederick was the only choice. Stay tuned…

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