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(The Largest Lionel Railroad on my Block)
by Mike Stella
It seems that almost every toy train layout article, in any magazine
or club publication, starts out with the progressive litany of
how one got started in the hobby (Dad bought me a train when I
was only three...), followed by a waning interest (Girls came
along and then there was that 1964 Mustang...), then how they
got back into the hobby (I was cleaning out the old folks attic
when...), finally coming full-circle to how they arrived at their
present state of operating and/or collecting Lionel trains. Let's
skip all that stuff for now; from my first Lionel train set in
1950, through the switch to S gauge, then into HO gauge.
I bought a Lionel #2037 and some track at a California "swap meet"
in 1970 and, shortly thereafter, began a quest that continues
to this day. That single train became ten, then a hundred, past
a thousand, and now has passed ten thousand. But numbers of trains,
and the reason for them, belong to the collecting side of my hobby.
It is the Operating side that I wish to write about today.
I always considered myself an operator
first and a collector second. The photographs I submitted with
this article to share with all of you are of my Operating Lionel
Railroad (The Largest Lionel Railroad on my Block) and not of
my collection. What follows is the how and why of what you might
see in them.
The desire to own a large piece
of "plywood" real estate, to create that "dream railroad", only
continues to grow as one begins buying more and more trains and
accessories that will look great upon it. I started buying trains
in late 1970 and, by the time I ended my duty with the United
States Navy in 1975, I had so many that a private storage facility
was needed to hold them. Apartments are great for a while, but
you can't build a Lionel empire of any size in such a small space.
While looking for a house in southern California, my wife concentrated
on bedrooms, closets, a kitchen, etc. I looked at the garage to
be sure it could be used for a layout and expanded when necessary.
We moved into our house in 1978.
It took about three weeks to transform the two-car garage into
a 16x20 foot layout where one ducked under the table to come up
in the middle of the room surrounded by four loops of 0-72 track,
a small yard, a few small mountains, lots of accessories, and
a control panel that held five ZW transformers, along with dozens
of Lionel buttons, switches and controls of all sorts. The walls
were covered with shelves and, even back then, it was the largest
Lionel layout on my block. It was a nice setup and it was the
kind of layout that most people seemed to build.
The layout consisted of concentric
loops of track with the ability to run five trains at the same
time, a separate trolley line, and a section of track where a
#50 Gang Car could run back and forth. If your eyes had trouble
keeping up with all the action, your ears had a tougher time putting
up with all the noise. After about fifteen minutes of "running"
trains, one was ready for something else. As the collection kept
growing and more boxes started piling up it was time to plan the
"railroad." After all, it was over 40 feet to the fence behind
the garage and who needs a back yard anyway?
My city's building department was
very cooperative when it came to expanding my 20x20 foot garage
into a 20x56 foot "Barn." There was one small problem, however,
of a 25 foot setback requirement for a two story structure.
"How tall can a 'single' story
building be?" I asked.
I was told 18 feet high. So, what
I ended up with was a 20x56 foot "loft" over my garage instead
of a second story. As long as you are not over 6-1/2 feet tall,
you shouldn't hit your head on the rafters. Once construction
was completed, I had an empty room that measured 20x56 feet with
no supporting posts to get in the way and a stairwell that pops
up towards the middle so the entire parameter is free to build
the train table. This is the stuff that Lionel dreams are made
of. But, what kind of layout should I construct?
I gave consideration to duplicating
the 1949 Lionel showroom layout, but my previous experience with
multiple concentric loops of track made me rethink this option.
I wanted a track plan that was interesting, that would rarely
be boring, and that would allow multiple "engineers" to run an
almost unlimited number of trains. Most of all, I wanted a railroad
that would be operated much like a real railroad operates. While
I admire those Lionel operators that can walk into their train
room, flip a switch, have 69 trains take off at the same time
without ever crashing, and never touch any controls, I knew that
wasn't for me. Enter my relationship with Frank Ellison.
I started reading about Frank Ellison and his model railroad in
the mid-1960s when I was building HO gauge layouts. His "Delta
Lines" has to rank among the finest model railroads ever built
and his "operation" of trains has never been equaled. I modeled
my Lionel Lines (The Largest Lionel Railroad on my Block) after
Delta Lines and incorporated many of the same features in my track
plan but, more importantly, I wired my railroad exactly they way
Frank Ellison did. I utilize "Engineer Control" that Frank often
wrote about. While I have always maintained that "I" can only
run one train at a time, Frank would be proud that my railroad
can handle 22 trains being operated independently by 22 Engineers
on a SINGLE TRACK MAIN LINE with ample passing sidings, Division
Yard, and terminal yards. My Lionel railroad (The Largest Lionel
Railroad on my Block) is point-to-point and "operating" is what
it was built to do.
My first Lionel layout taught me how boring a number of concentric
loops of track could be as well as the undesirability of "ducking"
under the table to get inside the control area. The "railroad"
would have no "duckunders" and wide aisles. A point-to-point track
plan was developed that was modeled after the famed Delta Lines.
It includes small, yet functional, yards at each terminal, two
Divisions joined by a large Division Yard where all trains must
stop for a crew change, four smaller towns (two per Division)
where passing tracks, industrial sidings, wayside stations, and
local control towers make for wonderful operating scenarios. An
"Electrified" subdivision is located in the mountains (over the
Summit) where "juice-jacks" rule and "steam" is forbidden to tread.
Locations are provided for every Lionel postwar operating accessory
(the collector in me does occasionally win out) with only one
ZWs have ruled as power to date,
but I intend to supplement power on the main with a couple of
prewar "Zs" as the 25 VAC they provide is needed on multi-motored
locomotives hauling heavy loads. Every town and yard has a dedicated
"local" control panel and at least one ZW. LWs are also used as
they are the only Lionel single transformer that is rated at 20
VAC, matching the ZWs. All transformers have their secondarys
wired in parallel. Today, there are over 2500 watts of power to
the track. Accessories and lights have their own power source,
often DC, to extend bulb life.
Currently, there are about 125 track switches and almost 100 UCS/RCS
remote sections. There are enough dedicated "cabs" and blocks
to allow 18 engineers to operate trains and future plans call
for 4 additional mainline "cabs" to be installed for a total possibility
of 22 simultaneously independently operated trains. There are
NO automatic controls, safety blocks, non-derailing switches,
or similar features to prevent collisions, derailments, or wrecks.
The design of "Engineer Control" provides indicator lamps to warn
of occupied blocks. Many #153 Block signals are utilized to indicate
switch positions. Before 22 trains are, in fact, running, a phone
system must be installed (future project) whereby all engineers
will be in constant radio contact with their respective Dispatcher.
This concludes the physical description
of my Lionel Railroad; I refer to it as a railroad and never a
layout. Now, let's take a voyage of discovery around the "main."
A trip over the entire main line of Lionel Lines (The Largest
Lionel Railroad on my Block) begins when a locomotive leaves the
Roundhouse (yet to be built). It backs up to couple onto a train
that has been assembled on the departure track by a yard goat
shuffling cars from the four classification tracks that are part
of this yard #1. When a clear board is given, our train will depart
the yard area and head out onto the double track main taking a
crossover to get to the correct right hand running track. A gentle
curve leads out of the freight yard and, soon, the trackage from
the passenger terminal joins the main. "Green lights" from the
signal bridge mean we can highball down Happy Valley (so called
because of the RR Tracks that run its entire length) before heading
into a long spiral tunnel that emerges at Fortuna Junction.
We continue through tunnel #2 and arrive at Greg Manor (both Fortuna
Junction and Greg Manor are named for friends that helped construct
much of the benchwork). Greg Manor is a town laid out much like
a town on Delta Lines where a long passing siding, and mainline
crossovers, allow for three trains to pass each other. The eastbound
and westbound mains split apart here for a short distance then
rejoin at Jim's Crossing just around the next curve. Our double
track mainline continues towards Masonville.
Masonville is reached after ducking through tunnel #3 and crossing
the gorge where an old caboose wreck can be seen. There is plenty
of industry located here with most of it between the, again, split
east and west mains. A small yard helps the local switch crew
do the chores. Masonville, named for another worker, is where
the mainline becomes single tracked and also where a branch line
cuts off through the town of WisE.
Leslie Tower (yep, another friend) watches continually over this
area as our single track main crosses, at grade, the dual tracks
of another line, plunges into a deep cut, and disappears around
another bend. We're skirting the Hess Oil Fields and approaching
Danville Junction. The track splits but the mainline is always
on the right leg. That left leg is another branch line that passes
through Danville, burrows into the hillside and comes back to
join the main back over at Fortuna Junction. It creates a continuous
loop that allows a train to forever circle the room, if desired.
Our main line also ducks into the same hillside but emerges to
enter the Division Yard where one track becomes five. Locomotives
are serviced, crews are changed, and this has always been a great
place to take a break.
New locomotive, new crew, and we head out of the Division Yard
rounding the curve past the small locomotive servicing facility
into the shortest tunnel to emerge on the south side of Railroad
Canyon. Entering into a horseshoe tunnel and the end of the canyon,
we get to the opposite side running in the opposite direction.
Rounding another curve, we reach the switch that could take us
back to Masonville (a reverse loop) via EisW (WisE and EisW are
actually the same place located halfway into the reverse loop
branch line and are so named because "E"ast becomes "W"est when
a train passes through EisW and "W"est becomes "E"ast if you pass
through in the opposite direction through WisE). However, we're
not taking that cutoff today.
We hit a stretch of double track main that starts a long, gentle
climb into the foothills. As we approach the hamlet of St. Michael's,
we become aware of a glistening copper wire above our heads as
we enter the "Electrified subdivision." There's time to enjoy
the beauty of this foothill community as our steam locomotive
is cut off and a silent running "juice-jack" couples on to the
front of our train.
In a short time, we are off again crossing several long trestles
before hitting the edge of the mountains. Up, up, up we climb
passing through a snowshed and crossing over our own track as
we gain altitude and, finally, arrive at the summit switch. There's
a long passing siding here at Summit, along with a turning wye
from the days of steam, and a branch line run by the government
that leads to a place known as Space Mountain. The town folk say
that flatcars carrying Rockets or Missiles are moved under the
shadow of night up that branch. Summit tunnel looms ahead and
soon we are heading downgrade seeing the light of day only briefly
as we plow into another tunnel.
When we finally see light again, it is a straight run through
the long valley, past the yard limit of terminal two, and into
the arrival track adjacent to the three-track classification yard.
Our Electric cuts off and takes the run-around track to reach
the electric engine facility via a transfer table. A switcher
appears to unhook our caboose and move it to the caboose track.
It then returns to "break up" our train. It's time to head for
the passenger terminal and see about getting a ticket on the next
train back home.
here for the photo album.