CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

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!

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