The Jackson Branch (2016-2017)
The Jackson Branch was my first foray back into model railroading after a long absence during college (and most of high school). It was built on two hollow core doors supported by track shelving, arranged in an L shape (based on Lance Mindheim’s famous East Rail layout).
I had an elaborate story behind my little fictional branch. Supposedly, it was a small remnant of the Katy’s Northwest District, which meandered hundreds of miles from Wichita Falls, TX through western Oklahoma. This small segment of the line north of Elk City had been saved as far north as my fictional town of Jackson, and Farmrail now operated it once or twice a week using their Elk City switch crew. The layout had a large grain elevator, team track, and a small factory.
Unfortunately, living in an apartment with few tools or any sort of wood-working experience, the benchwork was pretty shoddy, which prevented true enjoyment of the layout. The track work, my first experience with flex track, also suffered.
I also learned quickly that my favorite industry, the ubiquitous grain elevator, was not a friend of the small layout, particularly on the southern Plains in the modern era. While older elevators shipped smaller cars, and elevators in the upper midwest are more apt to ship smaller shipments of more specialized grains, the elevators in Oklahoma ship massive quantities of winter wheat. Even small railroads like Farmrail are hard to fit in a small spare room in 1:87 scale.
I was quickly frustrated with the shoddy construction, but learned a lot from the project. I’d say the layout was only ever about 60% completed. A deployment to South Korea was soon the nail in the coffin for the layout.
The Deep Fork Spur (2016-2017)
When I came home from my first tour in South Korea, I decided to tear down my first layout and try something new. This time, I decided to model another Oklahoma short line, the Arkansas-Oklahoma RR. Atlas has produced several models of their locomotives in HO scale, and I added them to my collection.
I wanted to wrap my benchwork around the room, and make it modular. It was inspired by David Barrow’s South Plains District in Model Railroader in 1996. Apartment living (at the time) doesn’t lend itself to having tools and woodworking. Thankfully, my good friends John and Bradley helped me build the modules in John’s garage.
Rather than model an actual piece of the A-OK, I created my own “proto-freelance” segment of it, and I put a lot of thought and research into how I created my little fictional slice of Oklahoma.
In my fictional world, part of the old Katy line in NE Oklahoma City had survived as a short line (in reality, some of it still serves as a UP spur and the tracks for the Oklahoma Railway Museum) and had eventually become a part of the A-OK. The old Katy line crosses the Deep Fork River northeast of the city, so the name “Deep Fork Spur” was developed.
The layout featured the “end of the line” of the industrial spur, and industries included a lumberyard, LPG dealer, warehouse, plastics plant, and feed mill. I tried to base all of the industries on real rail-served industries I had seen around the Oklahoma City metro area.
I learned a lot of new skills on this layout. The operating scheme was better planned, I learned to apply static grass, and the track work vastly improved over the previous layout.
The Deep Fork Spur provided hours of enjoyment, particularly at a very stressful time in my career. I had planned to take it with me when we moved, but I was dissatisfied with some of my work on the construction. When it came time for my second deployment to South Korea, and with everything going into storage as my wife moved to Oklahoma for a job, I gave the layout sections to members of my model railroad club in Texas.
Farmrail – The Clinton Industrial Park (2018-2019)
After a move to North Carolina, we got settled in a home we rented. I decided to build a small, simple layout for several reasons:
- I was unsure how long we would be living in that home
- I wanted to complete a layout for the first time
- I wanted to focus on improving my modeling skills and do the basics well
I wanted to get back to modeling Farmrail, but grain elevators don’t exactly lend themselves to small layouts. Thankfully, these days, Farmrail does more business in the oil industry than in agriculture, and some suppliers are really interesting carload industries.
I decided to base the layout on a small portion of a modest-sized industrial park on the south side of Clinton, OK. There’s a number of interesting industries there, and customers receive box cars, tank cars, pressurized differential covered hoppers, and two-bay covered hoppers.
The layout was built on free-standing benchwork with a foam insulation sub-roadbed and a 3 ft staging cassette. For a backdrop, I simply painted the wall a sky blue. I mounted a simple LED light to the ceiling for lighting.
Track was Peco Streamline Code 83, laid directly on the foam sub-roadbed, weathered with Rustoleum camo brown spray paint, and ballasted with Arizona Rock & Mineral ballast.
The layout track plan was and “Inglenook” style plan, essentially a copy of the Palmetto Spur project layout in Lance Mindheim’s excellent “How to Build a Small Switching Layout.” I am of the firm belief that every model railroader needs this book in their library.
Despite its simplicity, the layout could easily support a 30-40 min operating session. Usually, operating the layout took about 20 min. The shortest spur was for chemical trans-loading from tank cars. There was a team track for unloading frack sand hoppers, and a drilling fluids dealer that took both box cars and pressurized differential covered hoppers. Off-spot cars were often stored on the main spur or on the team track.
I got much better at ballasting, weathering, and structure building through this simple layout. I even forayed into a bit of kit-bashing, which was a big step for me, because I hate building structures and feel like its probably the part of the hobby that my skills are weakest in.
There are some great video clips of the layout operating on the YouTube video that I made:
Ultimately, we decided to buy a home here in North Carolina, and we moved in the summer of 2019. Although it would have been easy to take this layout along, I felt that I had learned what I set out to, and I was pleased that I actually finished the layout. I decided to dismantle it and clear a path for new projects!