Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Raw materials

A model railroad is never designed and built in a vacuum. As I've been slowly gnawing on this idea, I've been relying on a number of resources - websites, mostly - to take my ragged thoughts and ideas and shape them into something realistic and doable. So, without further ado, here are some of my sources of inspiration and guidance as I've started planning my Detroit Terminal Railroad.
  • DTRR History and info
    • RRHX.com - hosted by MichiganRailroads.com, this has been a source of great historical information, including a detailed map of the railroad, information about Davison Yard and photos of the Mound Road engine facilities. This site also has good information about the other railroads in Detroit, including the Grand Trunk Western and Michigan Central (New York Central/Penn Central/Conrail), which were the DTRR's original parent companies.
    • The Grand Trunk Western Historical Society - I ordered a past issue of the GTWHS's newsletter, The Semaphore, that featured a lengthy article written by Byron C. Babbish, "Remembering the Detroit Terminal RR." It chronicles the last days of the DTRR, and details the round-the-clock operations of the railroad in its final days, in addition to some historical information.
    • Eddie's Michigan Railroads - Some good photos of the DTRR's diesel switcher locomotives and a diesel roster.
    • Fallen Flags - More photos of the DTRR's diesel switchers, plus some transfer cabooses.
    • The Conrail Historical Society
  • General Model Railroading info
    • Voodoo and Palmettos - Lance Mindheim's excellent website chronicling his construction of two shelf switching layouts based on the Miami area. The site showcases Lance's highly detailed and realistic modeling, as well as information about operating his (and your) layout realistically.  Most of all, I appreciate Lance's philosophy of model railroad design: scaling back to focus on simple track plans that can be operated realistically and thoroughly detailed to create an all-encompassing theme or mood.
    • Model Railroad Hobbyist - what's not to like about a free online magazine with excellent content and a thriving online community. No further explanation required - check it out!
    • Layout Vision - Byron Henderson's website about designing model railroads for realistic operation.  Byron's Layout Design Bootcamp has shaped my planning of this - currently theoretical - model railroad.
    • The Model Railroad Operations SIG - this website has many excellent articles and links about realistic operations.  One of my favorite links is Tales From The Krug, which details the daily operations of a Burlington Northern engineer - a good read even though it has practically nothing to do with the DTRR.
    • Craig Bisgeier's 1892 Housatonic Railroad - The main draw here, for me, is Craig's 10 Commandments of Yard design. Come hell or high water, I will apply these rules as I design the DTRR.
    • The Diesel Detailer - Ever since I started reading Railroad Model Craftsman and Model Railroader when I was in high school, I've always been fascinated by diesel superdetailing projects. While many of the more involved examples shown on this site probably wouldn't stand up to the kind of hands-on operating that I envision for the DTRR, those pictures are still mighty impressive.
That's probably enough for now, after all, I promised photos in my last post. I promise, those will be coming soon.

Bootcamp Responses

Byron Henderson's Layout Design Bootcamp seems like an excellent way to get started planning a model railroad. Below are some of my thoughts from the Conceptual phase:
  • Visitors will see a switching railroad intertwined with the Motor City's major industries, trains running through scenes that are quintessentially Detroit, warts and all. There will be Big Three auto plants, metal recyclers and steel plants; there will also be abandoned factories, graffiti and blight. Operators will work in two-person teams, engineer and conductor, working the railroad by hand (manually operating couplers and turnouts) just like the real thing. I'd like to build in challenges for operators too, such as mechanical failures, weather conditions, and so on; reflecting the hand-me-down nature of the railroad.
  • Signature elements could include:
    • Ford's Rougemere plant
    • interchange with CSX over Michigan Ave.
    • Dearborn Steel and Kenwal Steel
    • interchange with CSX at the former Pennsy/Union Terminal line (Wayne Nut & Bolt)
    • Woodward Ave. underpass
    • Ford Junction and interchange w/GTW
    • Winston Bros. Iron & Metal/MAC (Conant Ave.)
    • Alpha Resins
    • North Yard and Forest Lawn interchanges with the GTW, CSX & NS
    • the M.C.R.R. Belt line
    • PVS Technologies
    • Chrysler's Jefferson plant
    • PSC Environmental Services
  • Motive power will consist of Conrail's castoffs, possibly consisting of GP8s, GP10s, GP30s, SW7s, SW9s & SW1200s.
Next up - images, rough sketches of track plans, links and other conceptual fodder.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Detroit. The Motor City. Hockeytown. Motown. The name quickly conjures images of industrial growth and decay, urban vitality and blight. At one time, the epicenter of the Arsenal of Democracy and soon after, the poster child for racial unrest and white flight.  The Detroit Terminal Railroad rose and fell with the fortunes of the city it served, like a boat riding on the tide of the ocean. Born out of the industrial revolution that turned Detroit into a boomtown and raised on post-war prosperity, the DTRR grew leaner as Detroit faltered, eventually put out of its misery by Conrail in 1981.

The DTRR was solidly blue collar. Its workers toiled in anonymity, calmly going about the business of keeping Detroit's mighty industries working.  It dealt in auto parts, scrap metal and coal. In the end, it was just another victim of the economic pressures that crushed so many other Motor City institutions.

In my world, however, the DTRR lives on. It survives to the present day thanks to the continued benign neglect of its caretakers and the occasional lucky break. After buying out the Grand Trunk Western's share, Conrail kept the DTRR on its books as a financial straw man, a place to transfer losses and a closet in which to hide its skeletons. The employees became adept at operating in the margins, making the best of the resources on hand and living off Conrail's table scraps. Then, Conrail went under and CSX and Norfolk Southern couldn't find a way to split up its Detroit assets equally.  Instead of the Conrail Detroit Shared Asset Area, they took over joint ownership of the DTRR and used it to operate the old Conrail physical plant.

What follows is a consideration of the design elements, concepts, structures, and details of modeling this proto-freelance model railroad of the Detroit Terminal Railroad after having risen from the ashes once more.