Coal mine railroad

Richard has been kind enough to send in this fab narrative of his coal mine railroad:

“This begins a story that covers 35 years. I started designing this railroad in the early 1970s based on my love of train layouts I had as a child and began construction in the latter part of the 1970s.

My childhood involved S Gauge American Flyer trains but this project had to be more than just a circle of track on a 4 foot by 8 foot layout so I chose to build my current train in N Gauge to allow for a more realistic model in essentially a 2.5 x 8 foot space.

The plan was to have block and sector control for almost every 3 feet of track from a control panel with multiple DPDT rocker switches with a center off position. This concept predated many of the advanced control systems of today. This allowed for multiple power supplies to service up to three trains simultaneously.

The railroad concept was to be a logging and coal distribution layout from the forest and stone quarry at one end and coal mines at the other end to a distribution yard location in the middle section.

It would have passenger service provided to move workers to the forest and mine locations as well as a through route to distant cities.

The railroad is an extended helix design that travels from one end of the layout to the other while rising in elevation to service the two industries. The railroad project was photographed throughout the construction phases to highlight the elements added in each phase. A layout sketch is shown in Figure 1 and the actual control panel is shown in Figure 2.

model train control panel

Figure 1 control panel sketch shows turnout controls at the top and bottom and block and sector switches placed throughout the layout. Dotted lines show track in tunnels.

model railroad control panel

Figure 2 shows the actual control panel. The green, blue, orange, purple labeled tracks are stacked above each other in the upper tunnel areas to conserve lateral space.

A number of lighting features and turnout labels on the actual right of way would be added later The first construction project on the railroad was to build two wooden high mountain trestles to span an open valley as one of the central themes.

It was designed and constructed as two balsa wood structures built from scratch resembling high mountain structures of the 1930s and 1940s in the US. I built the two long bridges in Figure 3 by estimating the span based on the railroad plan and sketch I had settled on much earlier.

Figure 3 trestles located in the middle of the layout with no screen or plaster scenery.

trestle bridge with helic to coal mine

Figure 4 shows a shelf on the left side of the layout for the logging and lumber industry. A cavity beneath the railroad contains the wiring for all tracks and features.

The upper shelf in Figure 4 shows the planned location for the stone quarry and logging and lumber cutting industrial site.

A vertical panel is planned for the back side of the entire layout and would be removable to access tracks for maintenance within the mountains in case of derailment.

trestle bridge with helix to coal mine

The upper shelf in Figure 5 shows the planned location for the coal mining operation.

Figure 5 also shows a shelf on the right side of the layout for the coal mining operation.

helix reverse view

Figure 6 shows the back side of the layout with the cover panel removed. Tracks are stacked as part of the extended helix configuration and the block and sector wiring is routed and taped to the vertical risers that support the tracks.

The tracks are stacked at the back side of the layout before installing the back panel.

At this stage of construction, train and turnout operation was checked before adding screening and plaster scenery so corrections to the layout could be made without undue disassembly.

Unfortunately, career obligations, vacations to most of the US National Parks and biking for rails-to-trails recreation limited the time available to continue the railroad construction for at least 30 years until I retired.

After retirement, I was eager to begin working on the model railroad again. The delay, however, caused excessive track corrosion which impacted train operation. Track cleaning was taken on as a major unplanned event and seemed to solve the continuity problem and I moved on to creating my empire.

Nylon screening was chosen to support the plaster and was screwed to free standing support posts and to the existing railroad superstructure as shown in Figure 7, 8 and 9.

helix and wooden trestle bridge

Figure 7 support posts for the screen and plaster

trestle bridge

Figure 8 coal mining region with screen mesh in place.

adding scenery to helix

Figure 9 stone quarry and forest logging and lumber region with screen mesh in place.

About 40 pounds of uncolored plaster was added over several months to give the railroad a mountainous terrain as shown in figures 10, 11 and 12.

adding scenery to trestle bridge

Figure 10 stone quarry and forest logging and lumber region with plaster in place.

adding scenery to trestle bridge

Figure 11 coal mining region with plaster in place.

plaster for model railroad scenery

Figure 12 complete railroad with plaster in place.

Ground color, buildings and selected regions of grass, bushes and trees were added to bring the railroad closer to a final presentation.

adding N scale buildings

Figure 13 shows the completed stone quarry, forest logging and lumber cutting industry. A shipping dock and crane tower were added to facilitate movement of raw and cut lumber. A small rail station and hotel service the workers at this industrial site.

The log saw mill is high on the mountain top along with a green seemingly water tower on Lambs Knoll. Lighting has been added for a night operation.

adding track trestle bridge

The trestle bridges were stained a more reasonable burnt orange as shown by Figure 14.

A coaling tower and coal dump station were added in Figure 15 to the yard location with an unlikely covered bridge to allow heavy trucks to move to either site. Colored posts were added to each turnout location as labels identical to that on the control panel for ease of operation. Rail cars have found their way into the yard at Trestle Junction.

laying track

Figure 15 railyard and coal processing region at trestle junction.

coal mine railroad

Figure 16 shows the coal mining region. It started out with a small coal mining operation and soon flourished into a major coal processing facility accompanied by a general store, hotel and rail station to service the mine workers.

The white tower at the far left in Figure 16 is a hardened but abandoned microwave relay antenna tower at Cross Mountain. Tropo-scatter communication antennas are shown on the right side of Figure 16 for the Hearthstone Mountain facility.

The radar dome was added for color but does not exist in the real environment just like the actual coal mining facility due to the high power transmitting site. Lighting has also been added to the night time operation of the modeled coal mining facility.

adding light to helix

Figure 17 shows the completed cole mine railroad. Track conductivity was again becoming a problem and the cleaning process is now more difficult even with access to the tunnels.

Phase II

The Extended Helix Railroad is being modified to include another 2.5 foot by 4 foot section beyond the coal mining facility but at a lower level to enable trains to change direction without traveling to the top of the mountain and back down, a short coming in the original design.

Secondly, the deterioration of the track conductivity has led to a bold step into the future of model railroading. Research has led to the concept of battery power for train operation.

“N” gauge is quite small and limiting when trying to shoehorn in a battery power system into freight and passenger cars to electrify the engine motor when the battery cannot be integrated in a steam or diesel locomotive. A control chip and speaker must find their way into the tender of the steam locomotive or into the “B” unit of a diesel locomotive.

Both the steam locomotive tender and the “B” unit must be permanently connected together along with the battery powered freight or passenger cars. This means the train must always be configured with at least two or more battery powered cars.

Lithium Ion batteries have been made small enough to package two batteries into a passenger cars for a passenger train but must be configured in four freight cars or four flat cars for a freight train. Four batteries in series are required for a 14.8 Volt at nominally 1.5 A/hour. A controller must radiate the signal that controls the pulse width modulation used by the motor in the locomotive to efficiently control the use of battery power.

Lithium Ion Batteries have been procured for a 3.7 V and 1.8 A/hour rating. Military grade connector pins have been ordered to conveniently connect the cars together and charge the batteries when needed. The next expense is for the control system offered by Ring Engineering.

A follow report will document the expansion of the railroad and operation under battery control.


A huge thanks to Richard – I can’t wait to see his update. Fab stuff.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

Model railway signals

Rob’s been in touch with a fun video of his model railway signals.

Who doesn’t enjoy a cab ride video? And it’s wonderful to see all of Rob’s layout too:

“Hi Al,

I thought your readers might enjoy this video.

The last time I provided a camera ride on my layout there seemed to be a few questions about the function of my signals.

I created this video to explain my thinking and the function of one of my lines.

There are three loops on my layout.

One is my freight line which is signaled for bi-directional running plus there are two express lines in each direction for passenger service.

In this video, we look at one of the express lines in detail.

I made the video as though it was a route learning video like it was done in the 70s and 80s in the UK just for fun.

In the video, it takes you almost all the way around the layout explaining the various signals and what they indicate, and how they work to keep the lines safe.

My regular subscribers seemed to really enjoy this video. Perhaps yours will too.

I remember there was one person who thought I needed a feather or two where there was a point or switch/crossover coming up in the line.

I have since started scratch building some of these and perhaps can share how I did it in a future video.

Here are a couple of pictures of them anyway for now.


feathered signal green light model railway

feathered signal model railway

model railway ballast sidings

model railway signal

model railway signals ballast

model railway red signal tunnel

model railway platform

model railway hgreen signal crane

model railway tunnel signal

model railway signals track ballast

model railway signal green embankment wall

model railway platform people

A big thanks to Rob for this – I know model railway signals are a sticking point for many of us.

And even if you’re not interesting the signals, it’s a very enjoyable cab ride.

And what’s more, there is another element to Rob’s post I am very fond of.

You know I’m always banging on about making a start – and then just to keep going?

Well, that’s exactly what Rob did.

Don’t just take my word for it though – have a look at his very post here.

OO scale model railway

It’s a journey for all of us – just enjoy the ride. But none of it happens unless you take that first step and make a start.

Rob took that step and look at him now. I was very happy to put him in the hall of fame.

And it’s always a pleasure when I see his name pop up in my inbox. He’s put together some fabulous posts.

One that springs to mind is his scratch built crane.

scratch built crane

That’s all for this time. Please do keep ’em coming it’s the quietest I’ve ever known it I think.

And if today is the day you join in on the fun and make that start on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

6×3 N scale – James’s

We starting with Jim today, who has been busy on his 6×3 N scale:

“Hi Alistair,

I’m so grateful for what you do and for all the other modelers who post their pictures and great ideas.

Here’s some of my progress on my n scale model.

Below are some pictures that I don’t think will need describing to your readers—almost all of them will have done similar steps in similar ways.

6x3 N scale mine factory

6x3 N scale town scene

6x3 N scale laying track

6x3 N scale town scene

6x3 N scale bridge

N scale 6x3 church and bridge

I built the hills with crumpled paper and plaster mesh — I like doing it that way.

N scale 6x3 making tunnel

N scale 6x3 making tunnel

My layout is about 74 X 41 inches.

Don’t ask why the measurements are so odd—that’s just the way it turned out!


A big thanks to Jim for sharing his 6×3 N scale – I do love seeing a layout emerge from the chaos.

Now on to Barry with another N scale, but totally different:

“Hi Al,

Thought you might be interested in my modelling skills, I started on my latest layout after my Daughter left us to go and live in Australia.

I already had layout 6×2 in a small room upstairs so I moved into her room which was some 18’ longer and decided to add to it.

So I bought two 6×3 boards and started to build.

The layout of old was called Meadow Falls and is a small end of line station and surrounding countryside.

I decide to join it to the larger layout I was building so that it would run to a small station at the other end of the layout with a small station and turntable, the scale for both being N scale.

Then I when on to my main board which I am still working on but have at present got Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in my Right hand so it is making the job very difficult

The Mill is based on the one in Battlesbridge, Essex but the remainder of the layout is form my imagination and with the help of input from my Daughters, hence the riding stables.

I still have a lot of work to do as the far end at the left has scenery and a stone etc to build. But until I have had and operation on my wrist it will all have to wait a while.

I run mainly Graham Farish and Dapol on a DCC unit by GaugeMaster on the extension , but Meadow Falls is DC. The track and points are all Kato.

Hope you have enjoyed my pics if the want to see more please contact me.

Keep up the good work it really helps us to get so enthusiasm to continue with our work.

Yours Sincerely


A big thanks to Barry.

And what are the chances – two 6×3 N scales coming along at the same time.

They remind me of Geoff’s N scale.

Here’s a pic and link of Geoff’s:

N scale

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming because it’s awfully quiet this end.

In fact, if you have anything to share, now would be a great time. Just mail me.

And if today is the day you hit the fun button and get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.