About the MFR

The Metaline Falls Railroad (MFR) is a proto-freelanced model railroad based on the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad located in northern Idaho and north eastern Washington State. For the very latest on the layout, please visit my YouTube channel and follow along with my Instagram account.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Good Lord This Hobby is Not Cheap!

Earlier this month I decided it was time to start ordering all the track and turnouts I'd need for my new layout. I jumped on my favorite hobby store website and began clicking away!  Many hundreds of dollars later I realized I had filled my shopping cart with less than half the amount of stuff I'd need to complete my railroad.

Good lord this hobby is not cheap!

So, I'm going to have to spread out my purchases over the next few months with hopefully having everything I need to get a good ways into this layout project purchased by the end of December. In the mean time my plan is to get the doors and walls up next month, the ceiling painted, and just have everything generally ready to go for when the winter hits and I am in full model railroading mode.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wordless Wednesday #12

"On a crisp, early autumn day, a trio of Montana Rail Link SD45s power a BNSF freight westbound into Algoma, Idaho, only moments after crossing the bridge over Lake Pend Oreille from Sandpoint, on October 3, 2014." Photo by Mike Dannerman

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Bitter Creek Ground Throws

I wanted to do something a bit different with my new layout. I had used Fast Tracks Bullfrog switch machines on my old layout and although they worked, they never worked great for me. I think that temperature changes in the basement might have contributed to their inconsistent performance. Plus, installation was quite difficult though that might have just been due to my inexperience with the product.

So, with my new layout I was determined not to use those again.  This meant using Micro Engineering turnouts across the entire layout. These turnouts come with sprung switch points which holds them firmly against the rail. This allows the user to operate them with simply the flick of a finger. Simple!

So this solution should hopefully work great, but there is one curved switch on the layout and unfortunately, I couldn't find a sprung switch in the radius I needed. A Walthers #6.5 curved turnout would fit the bill here, but I'd have to find a way to hold the switch points in place when the switch is thrown.

My initial thought was to use the tried-and-true Caboose Industries Ground throw.  These little mechanisms are commonly used, however they are VASTLY over-sized and do not look too great because of it. That said, If I'm only planning to use them on one place on the layout, maybe It won't be so bad?

A search for an alternate solution lead me to a blog post discussing Bitter Creek ground throws. They looked promising so I ordered a couple pairs to check them out for myself.

I haven't installed the turnout to test it's performance, so I can only really comment on the looks and build quality of the ground throw at the moment. Looks wise, It's a bit of a mixed bag. Although the profile is much, much smaller than the Caboose Industries ground throw, it has an overall larger footprint. That said, much of that footprint can likely be hidden with some careful ballasting so that issue is likely remedied. The spring and pivoting mechanism of the machine itself is also not very prototypical, though I'll admit that I'm not so sure the Caboose Industries mechanism looks like much of anything you'd find on a modern railroad these days.

Build quality on the Bitter Creek ground throws appears to be quite good. They are all metal in construction which is nice. They do feel a bit delicate compared to the Caboose Industry throw though and that might have a lot to do with the design of the moving parts, the spring, etc. Once securely mounted, that delicate quality might just go away.  That spring does give it a nice, strong feel when thrown so I've got a good sense that electrical connectivity will not be an issue with these throws. Apparently the original design dates back to the early 70's so it's already had plenty of long-term testing on other layouts by this point. That said, I've played it safe and purchased four total so I have plenty of backups should one fail.

At the end of the day, (and again, this is only my first impressions) I'd say it's a bit of a toss-up between the Bitter Creek and the Caboose Industries ground throws.  Each appear to have their strengths and weaknesses. For me, the Bitter Creek ground throw has the edge on looks so I'll be installing that one on my railroad and I'll be sure to report back in the future on how well it performs.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Movie Mondays #9

I've never really been a fan of club layouts. It's not that there is anything wrong with them, they just aren't for me personally. I've heard plenty of complaints about the politics surrounding a club layout and I just don't have the energy to deal with that kind of thing. Plus I'm way too particular in my modeling standards and I would never be satisfied putting a ton of energy and money into something that looked like it was designed by committee and built by some well-meaning people who's artistic skills may be a bit lacking.

That said, if my local club layout looked like this one... Well, that might be a different story altogether!


Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Needle in a Swap Meet

This past weekend I attended a local model railroad swap meet. My kid was really excited to attend but I warned her that it wasn't going to be a big show with display layouts or anything like that.  That didn't seem to deter her excitement. (I think she was just excited to do something with me.)

The show was as expected. Small and featuring mostly overpriced "blue box" equipment and sketchy looking Proto 2000 locomotives. Nothing I really found interesting unfortunately. One issue I find with modeling such a specific location and era is that my "shopping list" is so particular that finding something I could use at a swap meet is like finding a needle in a... well, swap meet.

I was able to pick up a few vehicles though. I haven't purchased many of those up to this point so it was cool to grab a few.  My kid even helped me pick one out. (I think she made a good choice)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wordless Wednesday #11

The crew waits for over two hours for permission to enter the Union Pacific mainline at Dover Idaho.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Am I even proto-freelancing anymore?

I've finished the final version of my track plan and am very happy with it. (a walkthrough video detailing the plan will be coming shortly) The plan is the result of many, many hours of design and research as well as many additional hours of laying awake in bed thinking about that design and research.  The end result is a plan that incorporates all of my "givens and druthers," takes into consideration cost and time constraints, and very closely aligns with the prototype that I am using as inspiration...

...perhaps too closely?

I've always been drawn to proto-freelance-style model railroading. Creating a model that looks and acts like a real railroad without the constraints of having to match a particular prototype seems perfect for me. I will admit that much of my draw towards the freelancing side of the hobby can be attributed to my lack of knowledge about how real railroads operate. In the past, this knowledge gap could have been attributed to the fact that research was so much more difficult and time intensive. As relevant information has become more and more available online, that excuse holds less and less water.

The very earliest iterations of the Metaline Falls Railroad can be traced back to a small LEGO Trains layout I built on a table in my basement over 11 years ago. The layout was very small and limited in it's operation, but I wanted to give it a real-world location and a bit of "legitimacy".  At this point in time, all I was really looking for was a real-world location that had three key features.
  1. A Bridge
  2. A Tunnel
  3. A Cement Industry so I could include my favorite type of railcar: 2-Bay Covered Hoppers
With these three features in mind, I started my search online. Soon enough the old Metaline Falls Branch of the Milwaukee Road (currently owned and operated by the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad) grabbed my attention and an obsession was born.

One of my custom-built locomotives now relegated to display duty on a shelf at the office.

When I finally decided to jump back into more traditional model railroading, I tore down that LEGO layout, but the inspiration that was Metaline Falls survived. I started to research the area more in-depth and found myself fascinated by the history and industry of the area. Although I was very limited by space constraints, I wanted to do the prototype justice. I decided to model the industries on my little layout around the "industrial theme" of the area. Thus, the cement factory took prominence, The real-world paper mill became a paper recycling facility, and the small-diameter lumber mill became an off-layout representation of a pulpwood mill. I even made an effort to include the Box Canyon Bridge and Dam at as close to full-sized as I could for a layout so small.

At this point I really felt like I was leaning into this whole "proto-freelancing" mentality really well.  I was taking inspiration from the real world while going my own way. It's easy when you are working at such a small scale. So many compromises are forced on you that the decisions about what you can and cannot include are pretty much already made for you. It's easy to be a freelancer when being prototypical is completely out of the question.

All of that changed when I decided to expand the layout to fill a decent sized room. Suddenly I had the room to include a respectable representation of the paper mill. I had the room for the lumber mill, and that tunnel, and a more scale representation of the bridge, and don't forget the interchange yard, or the old Great Northern Depot, or that one lumber yard down the river a bit, and while I'm at it I might as well include a trestle, or two...

Before I knew it I found myself collecting images of the real-world grade crossings from every angle I could find in order to correctly model the angle and rise of the road leading to the tracks. I'd watch vacation videos posted to Youtube by people who visited the area in order to get an idea of the variety of types of trees found along the mountainside. I began studying timetables of trains that pass through the interchange yard and used Google Earth to following those routes to their destinations in order to get an idea of where those trains go and what they haul. I've collected engineering drawings of key bridges. Heck, I even read through the past two years of meetings and minutes of the prototype railroad in order to get an idea of the real-world challenges a railroad in that part of the country faces on a monthly basis.

This is not what a freelancer does... These are the patterns of a madman... A prototype modeler.

How could I call what I'm doing "Proto-Freelancing" anymore when the plan for the model railroad has become such a carefully considered representation of the real thing? There are plenty of small changes I've made for mostly artistic reasons. I consider myself an artist first and foremost and I do think of model railroading as an art form. That said, the only really major departures from the real world I've designed are:
  1. I've included a cement industry that hasn't existed on the prototype in many, many years and added rail service to an industry that in the real world doesn't have any need for it.
  2. I've omitted a few industries and mashed three or so small towns worth of industries into one town for the sake of compression.
  3. I've re-ordered where many of the signature scenes are located because of space constraints.
  4. I secretly hate the paint jobs on the prototypes locomotives (I also find the name of the prototype railroad to be difficult to read if you don't know the proper pronunciation) so I've come up with my own name and color scheme.
That's pretty close to being it. Those first three points are things that EVERY modeler does. Even those rivet-counting freaks! The fourth point is really just an example of how that creative part of my brain won't allow me to accept something I find artistically displeasing.

So I'm not Freelancing, nor am I really prototyping. I'm only sorta proto-freelancing.  Maybe I've got to come up with a new term? Free-Protoyping? or maybe Creative Prototyping? Oh, oh that's it! "CREATIVE PROTOTYPING!"

Serendipitously enough, Lance Mindhiem just released an article while I was coming up with this post where he explores some of these same ideas I've been struggling with.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Old URL going away soon. Update your bookmarks!

Just a bit of housekeeping folks! The old web address for the blog (mftrailroad.com) is going away soon. If you are still linking to this site through the old address, you'll want to update your bookmarks accordingly. The new permanent link for the blog is now mfrailroad.com. Curious why I dropped the "T"? You can read all about it here.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Movie Mondays #8

I've been watching a lot of layout progress videos on YouTube recently. One thing I've noticed is that most of the best railroads are in spaces that have been designed for the layout and finished with appropriate walls, ceilings, lighting and electrical work.  I'm a big believer in the idea that the space a model railroad exists in is nearly as important as the modeling itself. If the floor is cold, the walls are bare and not insulated, the ceiling is exposed and there are sewage pipes, ductwork, and wiring running everywhere it takes away from the overall effect and is frankly, an unpleasant place to spend many hours in running trains or carving scenery.

That's why I really appreciate the video updates of YouTube user BArailsystem. He's been working on his layout room for over an year-and-a-half now and is only just getting to the point where he can really run trains. In that time however, he has created an exceptional space for his model railroad. I've throughly enjoyed his series of layout updates for this absolute monster of a railraod. I've spent the weekend binging on his videos and they are great so make sure you check out his past videos to see just how far the space has come.