CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Area Overview: MOHAWK PAPER & COHOES (MP 8.1-9.1)

MP 8.1 through 9.1

This is the last area that I anticipate modeling on my layout, and again it really could be divided into two sections. The first would be Mohawk Paper, and the second would be the City of Cohoes. Here is one of the only areas of modeling interest where the surrounding buildings are more residences and small related businesses and less of the factories and industries so prominent on the southern areas of the layout.

Mohawk Paper
From what research I have done online, the company was founded in 1881 as the Gilbert Paper Company. However, it went bankrupt in 1930 and was put in receivership. Its name was later changed to Mohawk Papermakers Inc., and a series of purchases in the late sixties and early seventies has culminated in what it is today, Mohawk Fine Papers Inc.  The main plant is located on Route 32 in Cohoes, but a satellite branch facility is located further north in Waterford. As the later doesn’t receive rail traffic (and may never have), I have no plans to model this second facility.

To reach the paper company, the D&H had a passing siding located just north of the plant off of which a spur branched off and dropped down an incline while crossing directly through a road intersection. How cool is that? During earlier periods there was actually another spur which ran north into the plan from the opposite direction but that doesn’t remain anymore except for a short stretch of track actually adjacent to the building itself. For my modeling purposes, the one siding and passing siding where it meets the mainline is sufficient. I definitely won’t model the whole factory, and much of it will end in at the front edge of the benchwork. It is too bad that the cars run into the building on the western side, as that will be mostly hidden from the operators at normal viewing angles.
Unfortunately from a modeling perspective, across the street are lots of houses (some of which are currently for sale and at reduced prices reflecting the train traffic that goes on in their backyards!) and I am not interested in scratchbuilding house after house. So, I likely will settle on a couple of kits and kitbash them over and over to make a dozen or so “different” homes.

City of Cohoes
Here is where my pictures from 1984 and 1986 came in handy. I had no idea, for example, that the area was still being developed at that time. I have shots showing empty areas which currently are home to fast food restaurants and small businesses.

There wasn’t much left in Cohoes on the D&H in 1984. The freight station on the east side of the tracks was abandoned by then, as was the F. B. Peck Coal trestle just south of that. North of the freight station, the Star Woolen Mill still had a spur in place but the switch had been removed sometime in the seventies. Interesting enough, there was a spur heading south off the eastern main line just before the bridge and I haven’t yet figured out what it went to. It might have been part of the tracks that went into the freight station but in 1984 it currently appeared to end at a building north of the freight station. 
The passenger station (shown on right) on the west side of the tracks was boarded up in 1984 but I have a good shot of it and some floor plans that I can use to build a model of it. Currently, it is used as an OTB site. Yuck!

Behind and surrounding the station, Cohoes has some interesting architecture including what is now the Cohoes City Library. It looks like a medieval castle and it is really fascinating to me. I haven't done much research on it yet but I am interested to see what inspired it originally. I am betting at one time it was a church. Considering the amount of work that will be required to scratchbuild it, I am sure that it will prove to be a love/hate sort of project! The stonework and the windows and... well... everything is just so different. It is located directly south of the passenger station on the main line and leaving it off the layout just won't cut it (at least to anyone who knows the area).

Mohawk River Bridge
The mainline between Colonie and Cohoes was still double tracked (though one main line was practically buried in weeds in the summer) in 1984 and it was at Cohoes that the tracks combined into a single main line over the bridge over the Mohawk River. I plan to model the bridge, though likely shortened, as well as the river. Modeling bridges is something I haven’t done before and will likely prove to be a tough challenge. The adjacent highway bridge just east of the railroad bridge, with its many stone arches, is also high on my modeling list. Originally double tracked, one span of the bridge was removed in the sixties and the eastern-most portion was (and is) all that remains today. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Area Overview: KEIS & NORLITE (MP 7.0 – 7.5)

MP 7.0 through 7.5

Moving further north, one comes to a pair of industries that are about as different as you can get. Located on the west side of the tracks, which in case you haven’t been paying attention are one of only a few such industries to be modeled on my layout, this area will allow me to incorporate a bit of varied scenery and structures. I get the chance to see them both everyday on my commute home from work off while riding on Route 7.

Keis Distributors
I don’t quite know when the original building was constructed, but seems to be from a later period of time then many of the brick and stone block warehouses that were in downtown Albany. This distributor was, according to Dominic Bourgeois’ research, a long-time customer of the D&H going back into the 1950s.  As such, I was pretty excited to incorporate this pair of sidings on my layout because it meant that I could actually model newer, better maintained track. I believe the pair or tracks were installed in the late 1970s, and while doing some research at the house of Tony Steele (a former D&H employee), his friend Greg Whittle who was also there overheard us talking and said “I designed that track and they never used it.” When I asked what he meant, he explained that Keis had been interested in getting better rates from the trucking companies that delivered beer to their facility and the presence of a railroad siding, and thus competition to the trucks, resulted in the trucks offering better rates.

So, did Keis ever receive rail deliveries on the new sidings? Were there other rail sidings before the new ones that allowed the D&H to service them somehow? If they did receive rail shipments in the 1980s, were they in refrigerated boxcars or regular ones? As of yet I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. What I do know is that the D&H sometimes used the sidings to store MOW equipment, and I may do so as well. Or, I may take some modelers’ license and switch the industry as if it did receive cars.

Both sidings still remain though the switch off the main line has been pulled. Perhaps the D&H thought that service might return so they left the barely-used tracks in place?

Norlite Lightweight Aggregates
I drive by this place every day on the way home from work and for years I just assumed that it was a gravel quarry. I mean honestly, if you look online and satellite maps it looks like a rock quarry. Big dump trucks come in and go out every day with what looks like loads of stone. So, it was a reasonable assumption to make that it was a gravel operation.

But is isn’t! From their website: “Norlite is a manufactured lightweight, porous ceramic material produced by expanding and vitrifying select shale in a rotary kiln. The process produces a consistent and predictable high quality ceramic aggregate that is structurally strong, physically stable, durable, environmentally inert, light in weight and highly insulative. It is a non-toxic, absorptive aggregate that is dimensionally stable and will not degrade over time.
Norlite offers designers solutions to the challenges of reducing dead loads, lowering thermal conductivity of building products, improving fire ratings, enhancing soils, and treating wastewater, just to name a few.”

I can’t explain it any better than that.

Per a 2013 article in the Troy Record newspaper, Norlite also has another distinction: “The business, which employs about 62 from around the greater Capital District, is the only entity of its kind in the state that has a commercially permitted waste incinerator which other businesses can use to dispose of their liquid waste.”… “Other businesses, ranging from Gillette to IBM, bring their waste to the site. And it is then transformed into fuel, specifically for the 25-foot flames in Norlite’s 180 foot long kilns.”

From a modeling standpoint, this is a huge facility filled with towers and pipes and the like. I doubt I will attempt to model it all, and thankfully I don’t have to. 

The actual railroad spur coming off the mainline is relatively short and curvy and almost perfect for modeling. Per the D&H Yahoo group I was told that the siding was longer but it had been reduced over time as the facility expanded and needed the real estate. Currently, it looks like it could probably hold 2-3 open top hoppers and, unless my research turns up something different, I will model it like that. I don't think they received liquid waste via tank cars so unfortunately this will not result in an additional destination for them.

In late 2011, the switch was removed by CP.

There are other interesting scenes that can be modeled too. Right across the tracks from Norlite and separated by a row of trees is an apartment complex. Between Norlite and Keis is a huge, probably man-made water retention pond. I like ponds, but this one wont have any boats, docks, and swimmers. And, just south of Keis, between it and Route 7, there is even a preserved Erie Canal lock which now looks a bit out of place.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Area Overview: COLONIE LIQUOR (MP 3.8 - 4.0)

MP 3.8 through 4.0

Moving North a bit and skipping some areas of Menands (which I may come back to later), the next area that I want to model I nicknamed “Colonie Liquor” even though there are three interesting industries in the area. This is going to be the first section I actually build and I have already drawn up full size HO scale plans of the area including most of the buildings. 

Though the track schematic I drew up is from MP 2.8 - 3.8, the area I am focusing on is MP 3.8 – 4.8. Thus, the left portion of the diagram likely won’t ever be built. Still, I am planning on devoting a full seven feet of my layout to this section because there are lots of interesting buildings to go here. I may even increase it to eight feet just to give it all some room. 

In 1984, the dual main line had been reduced to a single track with the western one pulled up and a gravel maintenance road left. Just after the Route 378 overpass, several industries cropped up on the eastern section of the line. A single siding broke off the main line and from it two additional spurs curved away into the first two sidings. The parallel track eventually ended at the last industry.

In order from the switch off the mainline and working south (left), they were:

Southworth Tractor and Machinery Co.
Here is an industry that was still receiving boxcars in 1984, though the condition of the track suggested that it wasn’t a high-volume customer. The track (which still exists today in the undergrowth) came off a switch just after the one from the main line and broke sharply into a curve that ended at a concrete loading dock. This is a really neat feature and one that usually seems unrealistic when I see them on layouts. I have no idea what was shipping in or out at the time but until proven otherwise in addition to boxcars I will send in an occasional flat car of tractor loads. On the schematic it is marked as #8, with the loading dock just to the left.

This business may or may not have received rail shipments in 1984 but the track was so old and rusty that I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t. Even if it did, I am not quite sure what it would have received. From my research it looks like a track ran parallel to the three buildings. Agway consisted of three buildings, including a Quonset hut in the middle! All the buildings still exist, but for space concerns may only model portions of the buildings and have the sides that face away from the track end at the end of the layout. I definitely want to model at least a portion of the Quonset hut.

Colonie Liquor
This appears to be two huge buildings with one that featured a loading dock set at a 45-degree angle to the rest of the building. The track actually curved around it, and there was just enough room for a boxcar to fit. I plan to compress this down in size to fit but that loading area will be interesting. And, it will take some careful switching to properly spot a car without overshooting the area and crashing into the bumping post. I plan to model the first building which had the loading dock but not the one that is more south, as that will just take up space and not really contribute anything to operations.

But there’s more…

Just across the tracks is the St. Agnes Cemetery, though there is a wall of trees between it and the railroad. I imagine that the cemetery wanted to isolate itself from the trains and this was a pretty effective method of doing so. For modeling, I plan to plant a row of trees with occasional breaks in which scenes of a cemetery will be visible. 

The south end of the layout will feature the train disappearing behind Colonie Liquor and perhaps running under another highway bridge. I generally hate modeling highways as the cars appear static but here it might not be so bad. 

Just north of Cemetery Avenue, the second abandoned trackbed becomes more mainline track. Apparently, Guilford had only pulled out to that area by 1984 and so the rest of it heading north is just completely overgrown. A pair of ties, crossed over and under the rails, marked the end of the line. I will try and include this detail too, though it may mean modeling a short section of double track which won’t visually match up with the next area. Sort of like an NTrak module that doesn’t fit with the others. We shall see.

My favorite spot to watch trains in Albany is Ganser Smith Park, marked as #1 on the schematic. This little park has a pavilion, baseball diamonds, plenty of parking, and lots of trees. In law school it was a quiet place to park and read my textbooks while seeing the occasional train. I love it there, and it is a shame that it won’t fit on my layout. Perhaps I will find another way to work it in.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Area Overview: NORTH ALBANY (MP 0.5 - 1.5)

MP 0.5 through 1.5

Though this is the first area that a northbound train would encounter on its way out of Kenwood Yard, it will likely be one of the last sections to be built. In fact, it likely will be divided into three different areas. The first is the Central Warehouse/Albany Tomato Co.; the second is the North Albany Yard; and the third is the team tracks and Surpass Chemical area. If I do model this area I will likely chop it up into separate sections as the latter two are the ones I care about most.

Based on the photos from 1984, I was able to accurately determine just what tracks existed at this time. See the diagram I drew up, in which north is to the right. Blue lines are the D&H main line, brown lines are tracks that existed but were badly rusted, red lines were where tracks were in the process of being torn up, and gray lines were areas where the tracks had been removed and only the roadbed remained. The buildings are drawn as they existed then, though I am still in the process of identifying them. Some still exist today, others have been sold to new owners, and some are gone with only vacant lots remaining.

My research started here one blistering hot day in 2010 on July 4th when the temperature was in the mid-90s. As my wife was out of town, I found myself with the day free to go exploring. At the time, I didn't think to bring along an actual map so instead I hand-drew everything I came across on blank pieces of paper. Later, matching that up with a street map allowed me to put it all together. Later, I located a Sanford Insurance map (from 1972) which also proved useful.

As can be seen, even this area of only a half-mile is much too large for one modeling area, which might be between 6-7 feet. If my math is correctly, to accurately represent it would require a space of about 30 real feet. Instead, I plan to chop it up into three sections which running from south (left) to right (north) are as follows: 

Central Warehouse / Albany Tomato Company (section #1)
Geographically, this is the area between Livingston Avenue to North Ferry Street. By 1984 there were no active sidings in this area. The large Central Warehouse (building 1 on the schematic) sat prominently in the area and still stands today. Here, the D&H ducked behind it and disappeared, perfect for a staging yard exit. Just south of it, the NYC/PC tracks ran perpendicular and over the D&H before crossing the Hudson River on the Livingston Avenue swing bridge. There were several warehouses too, including one painted in a rainbow of colors. The Central Warehouse building is a prominent feature (some would argue eyesore) of the Albany skyline and will firmly set my layout in the Albany area.

But, there is one building featured in this section that I have to model. The Albany Tomato Company (buildings 3 and 4 on the schematic) received produce from the west and then repackaged it for local distribution. Big deal, you say. I would have agreed with you until I saw a beautiful picture of it in Len Kilian’s book and was smitten. The slide which was used for the book, which I have since obtained from Mr. Kilian, was taken by Geritt Bruin in 1963 and features the building looking stunning.

North Albany Yard (section #2)
Here was where the yard under deconstruction (or as Guilford liked to refer to it as, "rationalization") scene will be prominent. As noted before, few modelers have ever devoted so much time to modeling a yard that was being removed. This will be a good place to lay the track with separate wooden ties, lots of weeds, pieces of rail lying around, and plenty of dirt and junk. Just thinking about it is a bit depressing! However, because of the various stages of decay present the yard will tell a story of brighter times and busier railroads. The real trick will be to compress it enough that it looks like a small yard but doesn't eat up too much real estate.

Team track and Surpass Chemical (section #3)
These two industries still exist today and receive cars, though the team track was rebuilt around 2013 into an oil distribution facility. When it was still a team track in the late 2000s, then known as Bulk Handlers, I drove around and took pictures. I don’t recall the gantry crane then and I don’t know if it still existed in 1984. The team track (building #27 on schematic) was built by New York in response to their removing the previous one at Madison Avenue as part of the I-787 construction. Team tracks allow for a variety of freight cars so that will be good for my layout. I love tank cars, so the Surpass chemical facility (building #20 on schematic) will also be a great choice for a layout.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Synaposis of the Colonie Main Line

I love maps. In the course of my research I have found D&H and CP track charts, topographical maps, Sanford maps, valuation maps, and Google maps. However, none of them by themselves really show the area that I am interested in modeling. So, I asked a graphic designer friend of mine to produce a map of the area. Until that is finished, though, I will have to cobble something together.

The “Colonie Main” is the portion of the D&H that ran north from Kenwood Yard in Albany (milepost A=0) up to Mechanicville Yard in Mechanicville (milepost A=19). The first five miles featured a lot of industries as well as two more yards, including the prominent Colonie Yard. It has been at various times referred to as part of the “Third Subdivision” and the “Saratoga Division,” though the term “Colonie Main” is also an official designation of at least part of the route. I like the sound of the later, and it instantly identifies where I am building (at least to those people who know where Colonie is) so that is the name of my layout.

In his excellent book Bridge Line Freight 1960-1983, author Dominic Bourgeois’ research indicated that at least 65 customers existed sometime during that window. While many were long gone by 1984, enough remained to form the basis for an interesting layout.

As an aside, this is an excellent book and a wonderful resource for any D&H modeler for the time period listed. Admittedly, I am a bit biased as I played a very minor role in the review of the text covering the Colonie main. However, the well-researched text is very informative and the pictures are just fantastic. The second volume is very good too, though it doesn't cover the area that I am interested in.

Even if I were to somehow acquire a huge basement, modeling 5 miles of switching areas would not only take up a lot of space and money but also a huge amount of time. I plan to scratchbuild the structures to match their prototypes and I know that will not be a quick process. Plus, warehouse after warehouse is bound to get boring after awhile. Finally, I find urban scenery interesting but I may want to put some green grass down. So, I will cherry pick portions of the line that interest me.

As has been mentioned earlier, I plan to build it in sections that Tony Koester has come to refer to as “Layout Design Elements” (“LDE”), which is the “design technique of identifying a
"signature" scenic element of a prototype or prototype scene and building that element in order to
capture the feeling of the prototype." In broader terms, each section of my layout will be based on a portion of the Colonie Main. Some may be scaled from the prototype, and some may be compressed to fit more in a certain space. Certain portions may be modified or cut altogether, though as a whole each segment of my layout will replicate a specific geographical area. And, as my layout grows and more sections are built I can adjust the layout to include them.

So, what to model?

As I sit here right now, I have about eight areas that I am sure will be featured on my layout. They were selected based on a variety of criteria including personal interest to the subject matter, ease of research, diversity of freight cars which serviced them, and associated modeling challenges. Will all get built right away? Doubtful. Will some get dropped before it is all said and done? Possible. Also, I don’t plan to model Kenwood or Mechanicville yards themselves and instead they will be represented by staging yards (perhaps the same one in a wrap-around layout).

One last point. I plan to model the railroad from the east side looking west, so North will always be to the right. This is how I see it when driving on parallel road I-787. All references to the “right” will thus be North.

Here are my favorite portions, or “LDEs,” of the Colonie Main...

North Albany (MP 0.5 - 1.5)
Even though nothing still received cars in the southern area in 1984, I need to pick a “bookend” of sorts to represent the southern portion of the line. The large Central Warehouse sat prominently in the area and still stands today. Here, the D&H ducked behind it and disappeared, perfect for a staging yard exit. Just south of it, the NYC/PC tracks (blue) ran perpendicular to the D&H and crossed over the Hudson River on the Livingston Avenue swing bridge.

There is also still standing the former Albany Tomato Company building, which by 1984 was nothing more than another non-rail served building. There was a milling company and several warehouses too, including one painted in a rainbow of colors. Because this section didn’t receive rail traffic anymore I won’t build it first, but it firmly plants the layout in the Albany area.

As you progressed north, the D&H had their North Albany yard which was being demolished in 1984, as well as several industries that still received occasional rail traffic. I didn't bother to include a satellite photo of this areas as today it is all gone and redeveloped to the point where it is hard to believe that any railyard, even a small five-track one, existed.

The very northernmost portion had a small team track yard, and in the area were also a couple of steel fabricators and a chemical company. The industries will allow for tank cars and some gondolas as well as boxcars. The bigger draw, though, is the yard. I don’t plan to model it as an active yard. Instead, it will be a yard that is in the process of being torn up. Some tracks will be missing, others covered in weeds and rusted, and one or two may feature rail lying around. I don’t want to make it too big because yards take up space (and unusable yards even more space!) but this is something I have never seen on a layout before. The image above is of the northern-most portion with the chemical company (upper) and team track facility (lower).

Menands & North Menands (MP 1.5 - 3.8)
To be honest, I am not sure what I will model here if anything. Breaker Yard fed the Menands Public Market and there were several industries here including a wheel turning company but I haven’t really explored this area much. That is partly due to the fact that no rail sidings exist anymore, though until a couple of years ago a boxcar used for storage was located next to a building.

Colonie (MP 3.8 - 4.0)
I am really excited about this area. On the east side of the tracks were three industries that came off of one switch from the main line and went to a tractor dealer, an Agway, and a beverage distributor. At least two were active in 1984 and perhaps all three were. Freight cars will include boxcars, gondola, and flatcars (loaded with tractors). Plus, directly across the tracks is a large cemetery hidden by a row of trees. That should make for a fun background scene! All the buildings are still standing and I have extensively photographed the area. I plan to build this section first.

Colonie Yard (MP 4.0 through 5.5)
I doubt I will model this. It is too large for a switching layout and just too much track. However, the Colonie Shops were where the D&H's engine maintenance facilities were located. This fact will allow me to credibly run any D&H engine on the roster in 1984. Also, by the mid-1980s the D&H had consolidated the operation base for nearly all of their remaining Alco engines to this area as the crews in Colonie were most familiar with them, so building an engine roster heavy on Alco power is realistic.

Watervliet Wye (MP 6.3 - 7.0)
There was a large sandpaper company located in this area, as well as a scrap metal dealer. And, the Green Island Branch took off from the main on a wye which will be interesting to model. Thankfully, the wye will extend into the isle but likely not for very far as it won’t be an active wye. I will model just enough to capture the prototype but have no plans to represent the branch at all.The red tracks were torn up by 1984 and the blue track was the old Troy and Schenectady Railroad.

Norlite / Keis (MP 7.0 - 7.5)
Here is an exciting pair of industries. The first is the two track Keis beverage distributor that was installed in the 1980s and was unfortunately, per the civil engineer who designed the tracks, “never used.” However, the D&H did use it for MOW equipment storage and I may too. Just north of that is the Norlite Lightweight Aggregates where hopper cars were loaded with vitrified shale. How many switching layouts get to feature water ponds, a huge gravel pit, and heavy forests sandwiched by yards and heavy industries and across from apartment complexes?

Mohawk Paper & Cohoes (MP 8.0 - 9.0)
This was the location of the large Mohawk Paper Company, which may be compressed in size to fit on its own LDE. Boxcars and tank cars arrived here after traveling through a passing siding and then down a hill and over a road crossing. It will be a huge undertaking to build but I like the area. And, it is still one of the only active customers on the line today.

Between Mohawk Paper and Cohoes much of the D&H was still double-tracked in 1986. However, the eastern-most track was so heavily grown over with weeds that in places it isn't visible. This again is another chance to model something that rarely is done. We have all seen weed covered sidings and abandoned track but what about an entire portion of the main line practically buried in plant growth? Operationally, it will make the layout single tracked and a bit more interesting too. I don't know what the track looked like in 1984 as those photos were in the colder weather, but I plan to guess that Guilford wasn't taking special care in 1984 to preserve the appearance of both main lines.

In the city of Cohoes itself, not much railroad infrastructure was left here by 1984. From pictures I have seen, the area wasn’t commercially developed like it is now and there were large empty spaces adjacent to the tracks. But, I will make sure to include the boarded up Cohoes passenger station, the now Public Library which reminds me of a cathedral, and the Star Warehouse.

Just north of Cohoes, the D&H crossed the Mohawk River on a large deck truss bridge. Originally there were two parallel railroad bridges but one was removed in 1968. I plan to model the sole remaining bridge, as well as the picturesque arched road bridge parallel to it.

Leaving Cohoes represents the northern most area of the modeled layout. Beyond that will be another staging yard representing Mechanicville, perhaps the same one that also is for Kenwood. As the rest of the line to Mechanicville is predominantly rural and secluded it may be nice to model one or two scenes from that just so I can have places to take pictures that aren't back-dropped by buildings. 

If all of this sounds ambitious, it is. However, remember that one of my goals in building the layout is the challenge of building and detailing realistic scenes. There won’t be a lot of operating track so I plan to carefully ballast and detail it. The buildings will all be scratchbuilt, including the bridges. Part of my plan is to document everything so that I can word towards my Master Model Railroader (MMR) achievement.

Since the layout will be mounted on shelf brackets around the room, in theory I can build additional areas that won’t fit onto the layout at this time and I can store them on additional shelf brackets. I can pull them down (with help), work on them for a bit, and store them back on the brackets. And, when the time comes to add them I can adjust the temporary bridge sections to match up with the new LDEs.

An ambitious plan is better than no plan at all!