Operator of the Month

 Operator of the Month: Mike Donovan

By Mike Donovan

Photos By: Ryan Selvius


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     Operator of the Month? Me? With a layout that doesn’t even run a train yet? Well, I can qualify for operator of the future. I designed my “Black Ties and Tales Railroad (BTTRR)” for lots of operation and multiple operators but the layout is under construction. The BTTRR will loosely model Los Angeles along the river from Union Station to the Santa Fe roundhouse. It will be city railroading, however the mainline consists of a long loop for continuous operation of freight or passenger trains. The Mainline is an “around the wall” style with the center opening for the operators, who stand “in” the Los Angeles River. There are four additional operating sections:
-Union Station will provide for arrival/departure of passenger trains with the Mainline, makeup of the passenger consist, and coach service tracks. An RPO track will route mail cars to Terminal Annex giving the operator another task.
-The Freight Yard will be for arrival/departure of freights from the mainline and for their makeup/breakup. The operator can also sort and exchange cars with the Warehouse District.
-The Warehouse District will service warehouse and factory buildings by drop-off and pickup of freight cars on siding tracks. Loaded and empty cars will be routed to/from the Freight Yard. Operating accessories will be used in the district to make life interesting.
-The Engine Service Yard is going to provide for maintenance of steam locomotives. It will include a turntable, roundhouse, accessories to service locos, an “in” track to receive locos and two “ready” tracks for locos returning to us.

     The BTTRR layout bench work is constructed of 1×4 pine framing and 2×2 legs. The 1x4s are located not more than 16” spacing so that the structure is strong enough to support trains (but not me as I learned accidentally). The top surface consists of 4×8 sheets of styrofoam insulation with the plastic coating peeled off. The sheets are cut to shape, fastened to the 1x4s with white glue, and painted with water based paint. Also, styrofoam is used for the elevated levels of Union Station and other gentle slopes on the layout and thin slices of foam are used to raise the mainline roadbed for a more realistic appearance. The foam is shaped easily however a good vacuum cleaner is essential. Bus wires for track power are routed through holes in the 1x4s and feeders soldered on to connect with the track. All the track is laid in place temporarily so that I can see how everything looks (of course I made several changes from the track plans I drew so carefully). A mockup of Union Station is made from styrofoam scraps and used to tweak the location of passenger tracks. The turntable is in place in the Engine Service Yard (it was left from my previous layout). Tracks are located around the turntable rim and in the roundhouse. Two bridges made from Erector set pieces and scratch parts allow for entry into the layout. The future construction calls for connecting and wiring all the track, and building some control panels for the operators, then adding buildings, roads, vehicles, people, trackside details, etc., etc.

    At last the trains will be running and I can be operator of the month for real. When? Not for quite some time. With careful planning, the BTTRR will never be complete, I’ll just have to start modifying it.