The Varnish

I’ve finally finished equipment acquisition to model Farmrail’s former excursion train!

Farmrail used to own two VIA coaches (they’ve since been sold to the Oklahoma Railway Museum) that they once used to provide excursion rides for the local community. The caboose was sometimes used on the train, and was usually powered by a GP10 on each end. The most well-known and scenic of these trips were the Quartz Mountain Flyer trains that once ran between Quartz Mountain and Lone Wolf, OK. My wife and I got to ride back in 2016 and it was a real treat!

Here’s the train dead-heading back to Altus after a Quartz Mountain Flyer excursion in August, 2016.

My GP10s are of course Intermountain, and Walthers did a caboose in Farmrail colors that works well. The coaches are Rapido Continental Line, and will eventually lose their Milwaukee Road paint in favor of Farmrail brown and cream.

Although I’m not sure if Farmrail ever ran any excursions for the good people of Frederick, OK, I’m looking forward to being able to run a small passenger train on the layout. I enjoyed riding this train and its a shame that there are no longer any excursions on Farmrail.

Here’s some video I took from our trip 4 years ago!

And We’re Back!

I’ve neglected to write updates lately because I was having some technical difficulties with the WordPress site, but all seems well again! Here’s some of what has been going on on the layout:

The gas station from Summit Custom Cuts is mostly finished! Although this is definitely a proto-freelance scene, I was really excited to have this on the layout.

I was honored to be a guest on Model Railroading Live: Small Layouts, Big Opportunities this evening! If you missed out on the conversation, check it out here:

I was really honored to be a part of such a great conversation with such renown small layout builders like Tom, John, and Scott. I urge you to check out their inspiring modeling work when you get the chance!

Its Starting to Feel a Bit Like Home…

I’m not from Frederick, OK. I’m from the west side of Oklahoma City. But the rural, western part of my home state is my favorite part of the state, and holds a lot of happy memories for me. So its really nice to see the layout scenery come together and remind me of home.

I still have some work to do on color composition with regards to the dirt and grass, and the spur in the foreground needs a concrete loading dock. But overall, I’m quite pleased with how this part of the layout is turning out.

I used a different color of ballast to help the WT&J “dummy track” stand out. The tall switch stands are from Rapido, and I’m very happy how they look after some painting and weathering.

I made sure to add plenty of real Oklahoma red dirt (that I packed into Mason jars before we moved to the Carolinas) to help accent the dirt and parking areas in this scene.

The water tower is from Tichy Train Group. It was an absolute nightmare to assemble. To be fair, I’m a mediocre model builder at best. I weathered it with a wash of Burnt Umber artist oils and mineral spirits. The Dunavant Cotton warehouse is a simple Pikestuff kit-bash.

Most of the green static grass came from blending different colors and lengths from Silflor, while the wheat field was a combination of Noch and Heki products.

I hope to make a video of other progress soon! On the other side of the layout, ballast and ground cover is near completion, and several roads and grade crossings have been built. I’m working on a fertilizer plant, and am about to start construction on a gas station.

In the meantime, I’m still getting my operating and switching fix a couple times a week on the East Penn layout!

For Amber Waves of Grain…

Hi, all! Sorry for the lack of updates! I’ve been so busy working on the layout, I haven’t taken much time to document my progress. However, here’s a sneak peek at what’s happening on the South End of the Grainbelt:

Two Farmrail locomotives slumber in the hot, early summer sun during the wheat harvest of 1999 in Frederick, OK.

I’ve always wanted a wheat field scene in a layout. Nothing says Oklahoma quite like a golden field of Hard Red Winter Wheat, ripe for harvest. I dedicated a small corner of the layout to a wheat field, and overall, I’m pleased with the results.

I used two different blends of long, golden static grass from Noch and Heiki to achieve the field, and it turned out great. I’m still blending the soils along the edge of the field.

The water tower is a Tichy Train Group kit (most obnoxious model I’ve built to date) that I weathered heavily with artist oils.

I’ll have more updates here soon on other progress on the railroad. In the meantime, thanks for reading!

New Video is Live!

Howdy, all! I finished filming a layout tour of and the first operating session on the “South End of the Grainbelt” and you can see it here:

I’d like to thank Tom Klimoski for his recent blog post about my work, too! He was all too kind.

Tom is a great guy, and his Georgia Northeastern model railroad has been a big source of inspiration, so I’d urge you to spend some time looking through his website if you haven’t already! Tom has really captured the look and feel of his chosen prototype (which is almost the Georgia version of Farmrail! Haha.) and he’s also been very kind in offering modeling tips and advice.

Until next time, y’all!

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!