Channeling David Barrow

I finished all of the track and wiring on the new “South End of the Grainbelt” layout. I now have a mechanically functioning layout to operate, and its the largest layout I’ve build to-date.

Tony Koester recently wrote a column in which he praised the clean, presentable look of James McNab’s Iowa Interstate Hills Line (You can see his inspirational work here: James painted the benchwork an earthy green, rather than leave it exposed foam and wood. This makes for a nice, comfortable and visually appealing layout under construction, and also helps make sure you don’t have any tiny bits of exposed foam or plywood once you do add ground cover and ballast. I decided to emulate him, and I’m glad I did!

Once I finished the track and wiring, I cleaned the room and work space, as I try to do at the end of every major work session. I stood back and took stock of the project, and was very pleased with it. Despite being little more than track on plywood, I felt the layout already coming together, and that it was something I’d already be proud to show a fellow modeler. Care to make the entire endeavor of modeling Frederick, OK a presentable showcase has started to pay off.

I realized that I didn’t stumble on this on my own. Rather, as Lance Mindheim so insightfully wrote, this was “Barrow’s Stamp.” I’m reminded of an excellent blog entry on David Barrow’s various layouts (most famously the multiple versions of the Cat Mountain & Santa Fe) that Lance wrote. I urge you all to check it out here:

I was a kid when David Barrow’s minimalist Lubbock industrial district layout was revealed in Model Railroad Planning. He eschewed scenery for un-ballasted track and mock-up buildings on plywood for his new switching layout. It caused an uproar on some model railroad forums, but I’ve always thought it was one of the most realistic layouts I’ve ever seen. Because while he didn’t have the detail, he had flawless scene composition. His layout wasn’t just a model railroad, it was a model of a railroad.

Scene composition is so important. I’d rather have a well-executed scene than detailed models down the last rivet running through an unrealistic scene. David Barrow’s un-sceniced switching layout (and his subsequent layout that’s minimally sceniced) will always look more realistic to me than, say, 80% of layouts out there.

I’m no Barrow, of course, but I’m trying to channel him a bit here. As I start operating my little slice of Frederick, OK and iron out the kinks, I might just hold off on the scenery for the time being.

Track Plan

I realized that I’ve been sharing photos without having posted the track plan for the “South End of the Grainbelt” model railroad! I have some more to share on recent progress, but first, I give you the track plan. Please forgive my hand drawn sketch.

The layout measures 11′ x 10′ 6″ and is 44″ tall. Its composed of three “modules” sitting on top of Ikea IVAR shelving, and should (in theory) be relatively easy to disassemble and move whenever we move again.

I’ve got lots of construction progress to update y’all on, so stay tuned!

Under Construction!

I thought I’d share some recent construction progress on my model of Frederick, OK on the Farmrail/Grainbelt System. I’ve titled the layout “South End of the Grainbelt” which is shamelessly taken from the title of the “Railroad You Can Model” article in 1992 Model Railroader.

I’m not the best a laying flex track, but I can see that on this, my fourth layout, my skills are improving a bit. The stacked cans of green beans are a mock up of where the Farmers Co-op Elevator will go in the future. The white building to the right of it, a left over from a past layout, is standing in for where the Co-op’s fertilizer plant will be.

I needed to have the building in place for the Dunavant cotton compress, so I kit-bashed it from a couple of Pikestuff kits. It will get painted, weathered, and detailed later, but for now, I have the footprint and was able to align the spur track accordingly.

Although I’m still waiting on one turnout to complete the track, I was able to get enough of the layout wired up to run one short train!

A Locomotive at Rest

I recently purchased this slide on eBay recently. It depicts Farmrail (GNBC) 331 “Caddo”, a former Milwaukee GP9 tied down on a spur. I’m not exactly sure of the location or date, but I think its likely Elk City, OK in the mid 90’s.

I like this photo because there’s more to it than a simple roster shot. A modeler can learn a lot here. The buildings in the background, which don’t look rail-served, show that even rural Oklahoma has some very industrial looking structures. The track is fairly light rail, you can see some red mud washed up on the ballast. Its not completely overgrown, but there are some weeds. The switch stand also stands out.

I studied history in college, so conducting research through photographs like this is a part of the hobby I really enjoy.

Frederick, OK – Planning the Layout

The more I examined Frederick, the more it seemed like the perfect prototype. Two elevators, carload traffic of fertilizer, two cotton related industries, and interchange with another short line. All at a “stub terminal” and in a relatively small area.

Of course, I wasn’t the first to arrive at that conclusion. There was a great article by Patrick Flynn in a May 1992 issue of Model Railroader that I picked up that described Grainbelt (Farmrail) operations on the “south end” of the railroad, and had a nice track plan that featured Frederick prominently. He provided some great photos and information about prototype operations in that era that I was too young to see first-hand.

The May 1992 issue of Model Railroader is a great resource for anyone seeking to model the Farmrail/Grainbelt system

Frederick is almost as far south as you can get in this part of Oklahoma before you cross the Red River and hit Texas. The line is a former Frisco branch line, it once crossed the river into Texas, but after a bridge wash out in the late 50’s, the line was truncated at Davidson, OK. After the merger with the Burlington Northern, the BN continued to operate the line. Farmrail formed the Grainbelt subsidiary in 1987 to buy the whole branch from Enid to Frederick, and abandoned the few miles to Davidson.

However, there are were restraints as I designed the layout. It had to be mobile; since I’m military and move a lot, I wanted this project to be a long-term one that would be relatively easy move from place to place. I also needed storage space, so I decided to make the benchwork an Ikea IVAR shelving based design. I designed the benchwork footprint first, before starting on a track plan.

The Benchwork for the layout. I installed a temporary backdrop using masonite. The lighting is LED strips from Lithonia.

I knew I wanted the layout to be visually interesting and feature the towns large grain elevators prominently. Casual switching operations are important to me, and I wanted a run-around track since the past two layouts I’ve built were “Inglenooks” with all trailing point turnouts

Farmrail loading BNSF hoppers at Cassidy Grain in Frederick, OK in 2008. Photo by the Daily Oklahoman

However, making it all compressed into an 11×10.5 L-shaped shelf layout was not without challenges. Let’s take a look at the town of Frederick:

Frederick, OK as seen by Google Maps

The line running north-south in the photo is the Grainbelt (Farmrail) line. The one intersecting it near the bottom is the Wichita, Tillman & Jackson. The bottom half of the line is relatively easy for a small layout. The two cotton warehouses and WT&J interchange make for a relatively manageable small scene. However, the longer sidings with the elevators aren’t as easy to compress without making it look too small to be believable

Mock up of the southern end of Frederick, OK

I decided that being able to spot three hoppers per loading spout at the elevators would be a good compromise, and not look TOO small. There will be one loading spot at the Cassidy Grain elevator, and two unloading spots at the Farmer’s Co-op elevator. Also, in 2005, Farmrail built a spur across from the Farmers Co-op elevator for unloading liquid fertilizer. Although its at the end of the window of time I chose to model, I’ve decided to include it.

Looking south at the Farmers Co-op elevator, standing next to the Cassidy elevator. I will not model the brand new silos at the left of the photo. Check out that foreboding Oklahoma sky!

Other compromises had to be made. Namely, part of the elevator tracks will be on a curve in the corner of the layout “L.” Unaviodable. What bothered me more, though, was the need for Micro Engineering curved diverging #5 turnouts to build essentially the small yard ladders on either end of the layout.

Many modelers I admire urge the use of a minimum of #6 turnouts. It almost seems like a commandment in modern, realistic, prototype modeling. I spent hours drawing and trying to figure it out. I looked at every other town on the Farmrail system to see if it would be a better fit for my benchwork. Hours, hours I tell you, on Google Maps and Railroad Picture Archives. I even considered doing another freelance town that I could bend to my space.

However, at the end of the day, I was looking at countless other compromises on what I wanted to model in order to avoid breaking one rule. Breaking that rule, compromising with the use of #5 turnouts, would provide much more enjoyment in the long run.

I mocked up the layout with painters tape and turnout templates until I had a design that worked. I’ll post a sketch here soon!

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…

Adding a New Layout to the Fold!

I’ve had the time to do some work on the new railroad lately. Here’s a quick preview of my new layout, this time depicting the southern end of the Grainbelt in Frederick, OK, circa 1995-2005.

Lighting and benchwork are complete for the 11×10.5 ft L-shaped layout

The layout was constructed in three “modules” resting on top of Ikea IVAR shelving. Frederick, OK is in southwest Oklahoma at the southern end of the Grainbelt, a subsidiary of Farmrail that’s operated as part of the system. Farmrail formed the Grainbelt subsidiary to purchase the former Frisco branch from Enid to Frederick in 1987.

A pair of Farmrail await the days chores on 5-01-2008 in Frederick, Ok. – Photo by Roger Bee

Stay tuned for more!

A Millenial Finally Gets Serious About His Blog

Welcome to my new website

Thanks for stopping in. As I attempt to streamline my digital footprint, I decided that I needed a better medium for sharing my modeling work. I’ll still be active on my social media platforms, but this will provide a more enduring journal of my modeling endeavors. I will also slowly migrate over any important information from my previous blog on Blogspot. Thanks for stopping in, and I invite you to subscribe!