Road Show



Texas Express 2023 NMRA International Convention

Gateway 2022 NMRA National Convention

As seen on
Trainmasters TV

Black Swamp Junction 2021 NCR NMRA Convention Participant

Lansing Lashup 2018 NCR NMRA Convention Participant

NMRA Kansas City 2018 participant

North Central Express 2016 participant

Highball to Indy 2016 participant

Cleveland 2014 participant

Maumee Express 2014 participant

Grand Rails 2012 participant

The Model Railway Show Episode #37
Episode 37

Dork Forest Podcast
As heard on The Dork Forest podcast #92
Episode 92

Hartford National 2009 participant

Fast Freight '08 participant

Great Lakes Express 2007 participant

Cincinnati Limited 2005 participant

Maple Leaf 2003 participant

Operations Road Show - Old Progress Reports


Updated: 26-JUL-2012

This page is contains the progress reports on the development and construction of the Operations Road Show layout prior to 2009.

Owing to the scope of this project, these reports do not necessarily contain everything which is going on or has been accomplished at a particular time.


December 7, 2008

Scenery work continues. We've become very enamored of the products Silflor makes, as well as some of the Noch and Heki scenery products which don't get much exposure in North America. "Static grass", as described in Peter Ross' article "Model Realistic Tall Grass" in the May 2006 issue of Model Railroader, has provided a solution to a couple of our scenery dilemmas, and we are going through Scenic Express's Supertrees like crazy.

When you have nearly 400 linear feet of layout, you end up using a huge amount of scenery material.


October 7, 2008

As the summer ended, we ramped up the scenery work. More buildings are being built for installation at Burrows, and the scenery which started at Buck Creek has begun to spread westward in the direction of Lafayette. We are addressing other touch-ups and some equipment maintenance.

Several new locomotives are having decoders installed and being detailed and painted to add more "Beautiful Blue" to our 1964-era Wabash fleet and give it a look more representative of the last days of the Wabash. We are also starting to look at different methods to handle signaling at the various crossings with other railroads along the line and, of course, at Lafayette Junction.

Hartford National 2009 participantThings are coming together for the Operations Road Show layout to hold operating sessions at the "Hartford National 2009" NMRA National Convention, to be held July 5-11, 2009 in Hartford, Connecticut. We are still working out details and recruiting help. Our fourth appearance at an NMRA National Convention will be the farthest we have taken the layout, and it will be a bigger undertaking than any trip we have tried before.


September 30, 2008

Our operating session for the "Fast Freight '08" NCR NMRA Regional Convention went off without a hitch. While we had hoped to hold two operating sessions, the sign-up for the Thursday night operating session fell short of the number we needed to run the layout, so we chose to cancel it and focus our effort on the Sunday afternoon session. Six guests came up from Toledo to run on the Wabash, and all appeared to have a good time.

August 7, 2008

We are offering operating sessions in conjunction with Fast Freight '08, the North Central Region NMRA's 2008 Convention, based in Toledo, Ohio. Our sessions will be held in Saline, Michigan on Thursday evening, September 18, and Sunday afternoon, September 21.


July 7, 2008

Work on the layout has slowed as the weather has warmed up. Scenery work continues. It looks as if we'll only get in two operating sessions before Labor Day, one each in July and August.

David Pickell and Fritz have begun work on a "Speed Curve Raceway" to use to automatically adjust the speed curves in our locomotives' decoders so that we can ensure that similar locomotives run well together. We started by using the design and JMRI scripts published by Phil Klein and Kent Williams at, and have begun work to further refine the script.


January 19, 2008

We held one more operating session in October. The layout ran well, and we broke in a new crew in the Fiddle Yard-- Tim Young and David Pickell acquitted themselves well in that often-challenging duty, freeing up Al and Fritz to operate out on the road.

Scenery work continues at Buck Creek and Burrows. Al and John have been making great progress working westbound from Buck Creek. Things have been going much more slowly at Burrows.

Bob located a very nice network cable tester for us to use, and built a pair of inserts to allow us to use it with the RJ12 Loconet cable. The new tester, a Paladin 1579 Cable Check he bought at the Fry's Electronics in Downer's Grove, Illinois, can be used to test cables before they are installed. Using a remote piece, we can also test them after they have been hung underneath the layout. We went through the Loconet cabling beneath the layout and identified two connectors which had at least one pin that would go "open" intermittently, and two cables which were wired incorrectly. We repaired the cables and they test out correctly, now.

We've added more rolling stock that is appropriate for our 1964 era, and begun removing some of the less-detailed equipment and identifying more equipment to remove which we don't feel is really appropriate for our era and locale.

There are not a lot of operating sessions scheduled between now and the end of April, due to operating commitments at other layouts and, again, travel plans.


October 12, 2007

Operating sessions and scenery work resumed during September.

Wabash 479 leads an eastbound passenger train into Buck CreekDuring one of our operating sessions during Great Lakes Express 2007, it was pointed out to us that guests less than about 5 feet tall could not always see one of the four LocoNet Fast Clocks we have located on top of the backdrops at the corners of the layout. Based on that observation, we acquired a large LocoNet Fast Clock and mounted it high on the west wall, where it is visible from nearly anywhere in our 30' by 60' layout room.

During September we held two operating sessions. Due to scheduling conflicts, we plan to hold only one more during October and November, with that session being held primarily for some guests from out of town.

Scenery work has resumed at Buck Creek and Burrows. Plans are in place to add the stretch of Indiana Highway 25 between Burrows and Rockfield. Highway 25 closely parallels much of the Logansport-Lafayette stretch of the Wabash.

Ongoing maintenance continues. During September we discovered our first cracked axle gear on an Atlas GP7. While we've encountered this before on Proto 2000 Geeps and Athearn Genesis F7s, this was the first time we'd seen it on an Atlas diesel.


August 6, 2007

Great Lakes Express 2007 logoWell, Great Lakes Express, the 2007 NMRA National Convention has been over for more than a week now, and we've begun to recover. Overall, we had a great time, and I think that the folks who came out to visit us did, too.

We hosted operating sessions Monday and Tuesday night for OpSIG members. Monday night we had a full house at a dozen participants, and Tuesday night only six. We could tell that things were going well by the amount of good-natured laughter we heard among the visiting crews.

Tuesday morning we bussed twelve people out for a hands-on clinic/training session in timetable and train order operation. Our afternoon session hosted six students.

Wednesday, the Ann Arbor Supertour brought about 40 people to see the layout. The planned afternoon bus tour was canceled.

The ORS layout was the host of the LDSIG layout tour picnic dinner Wednesday afternoon. We had at least 80 people visit, including some of the big names in model railroad operations. The weather held back long enough that nobody got too wet in the picnic tent.

During the LDSIG tour, we received inquiries about taking the ORS layout to give timetable & train order operation clinics at the NMRA National Convention in Hartford, Connecticut in 2009. We'll see how that develops- it's too early to say. We're hoping to take it to Milwaukee in 2010, and going out two years in a row might be a bit much, but we'll consider it. Grand Rapids in 2012 is a possibility, too, but it's still very early in the planning stages for that one...


July 22, 2007

Despite some uncertainty over the last few weeks, we now have enough people signed up for the OpSIG operating sessions on Monday and Tuesday night at the Great Lakes Express 2007 NMRA National Convention to be able to run them. As of Sunday morning, positions are still available- you can sign up at the OpSIG display in the SIGs Room (the Mackinac East ballroom).

Sign-up for the TT&TO clinics on Tuesday, while a little slower than we might have liked has been good, so we will have enough people to be able to hold both sessions. Some positions are still available.



May 22, 2007

We have installed a LocoNet Fast Clock in the crew room so that the off-duty crews can keep better track of when their call times are approaching.

We discovered that a track gauge issue on one of the turnouts in Peru was causing intermittent shorting when cars passed through, and corrected it.

Scenery work has been progressing more slowly than we'd like, but what we have in place is looking good.

Details are now available on the opportunities to come and operate on the Operations Road Show during the Great Lakes Express 2007 NMRA National Convention in Detroit.


February 3, 2007

We've begun engineering work on the signaling at Lafayette Junction. We're still investigating a number of ways of actually controlling it, and are working through exactly what signals are required.

Things are still not finalized for how operating session clinics on the ORS layout will be handled at the NMRA National Convention. We are hoping to manage it like a layout tour, but are waiting to hear back from the Convention Committee.

The freight house in Delphi has been relocated from the west end of town to adjacent to the passenger depot in the middle. This has allowed us to correct a track geometry problem through the old turnout that caused an unnecessarily tight bit of curvature on the mainline.

We've begun stockpiling trees for a foliating frenzy, to begin shortly.


November 3, 2006

Test-running some new passenger equipment has revealed a curve of sub-standard radius through the mainline leg of the turnout connecting the Delphi freight house siding to the mainline. We don't have any kind of estimate as to just how tight the curve gets, but have observed that it is too tight to permit the new passenger equipment we wish to use to pass through it. As a result, we are planning to remove that turnout, re-lay that half of the curve coming into the west end of Delphi to alleviate the tight spot, and relocate the freight house and its associated siding.

Scenery work continues. Al has kitbashed some buildings for Buck Creek and he is refining the ground forms to blend the buildings into place. The bridge John has been installing over the creek bed between Colburn and Delphi is in place, and he has put in the basic ground shapes. The mobile home diorama we bought at the NMRA Convention silent auction last year is being installed on the inside of the curve east of Logansport.

We have painted several packages of Faller corn field and are preparing to install it along the tracks. This material, injection-molded plastic strips of corn stalks, is pricey, but looks, really, really good.


September 7, 2006

We've started experimenting with speed-matching the locomotives using 28-point speed curves in their decoders. In theory, this should allow us to better match locomotives to ensure that they play nicely together when MU'ed. We have come to the conclusion that when using locomotives from four different product lines (Atlas, Athearn Genesis, Proto 2000 and Stewart) that the three-point speed matching we had been using isn't sufficiently robust to provide the performance we desire.

The three-point speed curve method (setting minimum, maximum and midpoint speeds for each individual locomotive) provides a significant improvement, but just doesn't accurately enough address the performance variation we were seeing at different points within the locomotives' speed ranges.

One other thing we have done to address speed matching has been to eliminate the last remaining low-end decoders from the fleet. Mixing locomotives with decoders which support sophisticated motor control features such as Back-EMF (BEMF) or torque compensation with others having not having these features tends to cause more jerking in the consist than we like, even on a layout such as ours which has no grades to speak of. We have adopted the Digitrax DH163-series and the NCE SR-series decoders as our baseline standard.

We are currently going forward with development of a couple of ways to better measuring locomotive speed than the speed trap we currently have. One requires far less space for track, while the other has the potential to completely automate the speed curve setting process.


August 10, 2006

Initial landscaping at Buck Creek
Having removable sky boards makes it
easier to work on scenery.

John has completed installing the new bridge between Colburn and Delphi, with help from David Pickell and Jeff. Al continues to work west from Buck Creek, adding more contours to the scenery and preparing to install a section house.

On the rolling stock front, all of the couplers with the hated plastic knuckle springs have been systematically replaced with couplers with metal coil springs. We were surprised to see how many cars we had hurried into service without changing out these inferior couplers. This was accomplished as part of a general maintenance program that periodically examines the rolling stock fleet to seek out and eliminate defects.

The Digitrax UT2 throttle we had stationed at Danes/Keesport for the France Stone switcher crew to use has been replaced with a tethered UT4 for consistency among our throttles. Now, all crews will be using a UT4, a UT4R or a DT300R.

We will be holding operating sessions for attendees at this year's Wabash Railroad Historical Society annual meeting during the first weekend in October. Registered attendees are invited to come up on Friday night or Sunday afternoon and join us running trains on our modeled piece of the Wabash.

April 9, 2006

John and Al played EPA this week and repainted a number of the skyboards which had become scuffed from packing and shipping to the two conventions we have attended. The sky is much clearer now, except where Jeff has begun experimenting with painting clouds.

On the eighth, Jeff hosted a group of Boy Scouts at the layout to help with their earning their Railroading merit badge. On the ninth, we held an operating session which was well-attended and went extremely well. The way our schedules are working out, it looks like it'll be early June before we can get enough people together for another operating session.


March 29, 2006

March was another quiet month due to obligations elsewhere. We held one operating session and continued scenery work. It looks as if we will be able to fit just one operating session in during April, due to the Easter holiday and our involvement in Rails on Wheels taking its display layout to the train show in Port Huron on April 30.

Fritz has been working on a couple of prototypically-accurate Wabash passenger cars to replace some of the stock Rivarossi cars we have been using, and has been getting some Pennsy and Illinois Central passenger cars ready for the Purdue-Michigan football special we'll be running when the calendar next swings around to Saturday.


February 25, 2006

Over the past month, John has installed the skyboard on the new river crossing module, and we have begun other scenery projects. We're continuing to increase our car storage capacity and improve the sorting of the cars and waybills used in various types of service. This is significant when running the Fiddle Yard during an operating session.

Travel schedules and family obligations have interfered once again with our holding the operating sessions we would have liked to have held, but we're on track to resume sessions in March.

January 9, 2006

We kicked off 2006 with our first operating session on Sunday, January 8. The session ran extremely well and was well-attended.

This session saw the introduction of a number of new freight cars. The new cars reflect several recent releases as well as older cars purchased to correct shortfalls in our fleet. At this point our three significant gaps are ART-style steel reefers (coming from the Amarillo Railroad Museum/Intermountain), carbon black hoppers (coming soon from Railshop, Inc.) and a shortage of food-grade tank cars resulting from reclassifying our tank cars last month.

In addition to our regular operating sessions for this year, we are in discussions with the folks organizing the Southeast Michigan Prototype Operations Weekend this April, and have offered to hold an operating session for attendees at this year's Wabash Railroad Historical Society convention this October.


January 1, 2006

It is with sadness that we must report the passing of former OpSIG coordinator and editor Bill Jewett on January 1, 2006

Bill Jewett dispatching at Toronto
Bill Jewett (rear) dispatching on the Operations
Road Show layout at the 2003 NMRA National
Convention in Toronto

Bill passed away suddenly while on a New Year's Day nature hike at a State Park in North Carolina.

Over the past ten years, Bill's gentle and visionary leadership dramatically revitalized, rebuilt and expanded the OpSIG into the dynamic and actively growing group that it has become.

It was a conversation with Bill at an operating session on a mutual friend's layout in 1998 that led to the development of the Operations Road Show concept. Bill was an enthusiastic supporter of this project, and a champion for us in dealing with the convention committees for the two NMRA National Conventions at which we have held operating sessions.

Bill was a genuinely nice guy who will be missed by all who knew him-- we know that we most certainly will. Our sympathies and prayers go out to Bill's wife Julia and the rest of the Jewett family.


December 29, 2005

We wrapped up 2005 with a few long work sessions and two operating sessions.

Since October, John has completed the track work and wiring on the two new modules he built to accommodate shifting the layout, and has begun the scenery. Al has repaired the three turnout throws that were damaged bringing the layout back from Cincinnati, including a particularly complex arrangement on one of the interchange track turnouts in Delphi. Jeff has replaced the crossover in Peru so that it is reversed from the way we had it previously. Now it is possible to route to and from any of the four departure tracks in the Fiddle Yard to either of the mainline tracks.

In the Fiddle Yard, Al and Fritz sorted out the cars into a larger number of categories as to make it easier to find specific cars when making up trains- we have begun grouping them by road name and region within each type. Jeff and Fritz also worked out a more detailed classification system for the tank cars, so we can more easily avoid the wrong type of tank cars being sent to industries (e.g. a propane tank car being sent for corn sweetener loading).

We repaired the few pieces of rolling stock that were damaged in transit and continued our program of locating and replacing substandard couplers, specifically those couplers that use a thin plastic spring to hold their knuckle closed. These have an unacceptably high failure rate.

Both operating sessions were held in December, and for the most part went well. We experienced some initial difficulty during our first session due to our discovering that we had not adequately documented one part of the wiring arrangement at the Rockfield end of the layout, and also that we had a pair of LocoNet cables installed that we had assembled incorrectly. The incorrect wiring was rearranged, and the faulty cables were identified and removed.

We picked up a LocoBuffer computer interface this summer at the NMRA National Convention. The plan is to use it in conjunction with DecoderPro to catalog and save all of the decoder settings for our locomotive fleet. During our operating sessions in December we used it to log the LocoNet (throttle, booster and fast clock bus) traffic to answer the question we had about how much we loading down the system during an operating session. The answer surprised us: we weren't using even 20 percent of its capacity at our peak usage.

2005 was a very good year for the Operations Road Show.

  • We began scenery work in earnest.
  • We added dispatcher-controlled signals at the east end of East Yard, where the double track through Lafayette begins.
  • We continued to refine our waybills to better reflect the traffic across our modeled portion of the Wabash.
  • We rebuilt the Lafayette Union Terminal trackage to better resemble how it fit in the real world and to provide more interesting operation for the crews assigned to work it.
  • We installed a separate pair of wires to isolate control of the train order signals from shorts on the track bus. We strongly recommend this for any DCC layout that uses accessory decoders to throw turnouts, control signals, or activate other accessories.
  • We held operating sessions for a number of guest crews, hopefully generating enough interest that some of our guests will be willing to return on a more regular basis.


October 19, 2005

All of the modules are back up on their legs. Based on our experience placing the freight car storage boxes on a table behind the Fiddle Yard at Cincinnati, we have built a pair of tables and placed them against the wall behind the Fiddle Yard. This has required moving the layout about 10 inches farther away from the wall on that side of the room. Since this would result in making the already narrow aisle adjacent to Clymers, Burroughs and Rockfield correspondingly The beginnings of a river modulenarrower, we have decided to address this by introducing a 12" jog inward in the new module John has built to represent the crossing of the Wabash River at Logansport. This replaces a six foot long module on that leg of the layout. Since this makes the aisle between Delphi and Rockfield narrower, he has built a 30" extension to put Rockfield farther out past the end of the layout, which opens up what would otherwise be a new pinch point in that aisle. This is reflected on the updated trackplan.

We intend to have the track laid on the new sections and the new pieces wired by the first of December.

As part of the clean-up of the room, we have moved the workbench and tool and materials storage shelf out of the layout room.


September 25, 2005

As with the last time we took the ORS layout out (Toronto, 2003), we are taking advantage of the layout being down to clean up the layout room and make some changes in the basement. Jeff has had electrical outlets installed in the floor, so we should no longer have extension cords running across operator aisles during sessions, and we have made a major effort to install shelving in the room beneath the upper garage, so we can get some of our supplies and unused materials out of the layout room.

We have also taken advantage of the space afforded by the layout being down to upgrade the connectors, and in some cases the wiring, on a number of modules for the Rails on Wheels display layout. The extra elbow room has made this a much more pleasant project than it could have been otherwise.

We have been accumulating scenery materials in order to get back to work once the layout is back up in a few weeks.


September 12, 2005

During the 2005 NMRA National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, we and the ORS layout were taped and interviewed for Rich Einhorn's The Train Show, which airs on RFD-TV.

The Operations Road Show layout appears in Episode 20 of The Train Show, which aired on Wednesday, September 14 at 2:30pm and 10:30pm, Thursday, September 15 at 6:30am, and Monday, September 19 at 7:30am. It is also available on The Train Show's web site (for free!) in streaming video format.


July 24, 2005

Our trip to Cincinnati went extremely well, despite a rather major setback at the outset- the box truck we'd counted on using became unavailable at the last minute, leaving us scrambling to find a 14-foot truck in mid- or southeast Michigan at 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon, when we were planning a 8:00 Saturday loading session. John managed to locate one in Inkster which, while not the most convenient location for our purposes, would do the job.

Saturday's loading started on schedule, with us concentrating on Jeff's SUV and Al's and Bob's pickup trucks until John and Tim arrived with the big box truck. We finished up packing, ate lunch and were on the road by noon. Al pulled one trailer, Jeff the other, John drove the box truck, and Bob carried in his pickup truck anything that didn't fit anywhere else. After a quick stop to correct one of the club trailer's perennial electrical problems, we were on the road and made the trip without incident.

The convention center was a joy to set up in- the loading dock and roomy freight elevator were near the SIGs room, so we didn't have a long way to move the layout. When we arrived, Dale Bitsch (from Missouri) hooked up with our merry group and helped with the unloading and set-up. He was a great help all week. We worked until around 10:30, then turned in. After breakfast and a late-ish start, we spent Sunday setting up, and had things pretty well ready to go by about 5:00. We took advantage of this set-up to experiment with mounting both the main and the backup UR91 radio receivers in project boxes on poles at the corners of the layout. Fritz set a personal record for tearing out turnout points while cleaning the track, leaving three damaged turnouts in his wake, which Brian and Bob repaired. When we left the room for dinner at Montgomery Inn in Newport, the only glitch remaining on the entire layout was excessive hum and interference on the phone system, but we thought it would be tolerable.

Monday morning's session was lightly attended, as people were still arriving at the convention and word of the sessions hadn't gotten around yet. Through the day, the noise on the phone system became increasingly aggravating, and Bob began tracing the wiring and replacing the ribbon cable we'd been using with shielded wire. This entailed a good deal of crawling around beneath the layout, followed by unsoldering the DB9 connectors which connected the phone system together and soldering them to the new cable. While we heard some of the hum go away with each length replaced, we were still getting a lot of popping and squawking. Thankfully, everything else operated flawlessly. Raising the UR91 receivers above the skyboards yielded perfectly error-free operation from the radio throttles. The North Raleigh Model Railroad Club's web site shows their technique for doing the same thing at NTrak meets.

Tuesday came and as the day went on Bob continued working his way around the layout replacing phone wiring. When he reached the final phone, at the Rockfield turn-back, he had eliminated the hum. And at Rockfield he discovered the source of our popping and clicking problems- a couple of pins were shorted on one of the sockets in the phone unit, apparently when the phones were rewired to eliminate the handset plug and socket a few days prior to packing. Once he corrected that, the phone system resumed operating with the clarity and reliability we are accustomed to.

Back in the Fiddle Yard, Al and Fritz discovered the joys of having a narrow table to hold the car boxes. By setting them about 20" higher than they usually sat when we kept them beneath the layout, they were able to avoid a lot of knee and back strain. This made running the Fiddle Yard a LOT more enjoyable.

On Thursday afternoon, Rich Einhorn came by and filmed the layout for The Train Show, his RFD-TV program on model railroading. If things go as planned, the Operations Road Show layout will appear on an installment to be broadcast in October on RFD-TV.

Over the course of the four days the layout was open, our guest crews spanned a good cross-section of the convention's attendees. We entertained people ranging from folks who had never been to any kind of operating session before, to a gentleman who is a trainmaster for an Eastern railroad and who operated with us three times. Ages ranged from teenagers to octogenarians. The feedback we received during the Convention and in email and online fora since then has been overwhelmingly positive, and has convinced us that we accomplished what we set out to do.

Fritz and Bob attended the Digitrax User Forum Thursday night. During the Q&A session following the main presentation, we put forth the idea that we'd find a "half-DS54" device useful- basically a product to accept pushbutton or toggle switch inputs and issue LocoNet messages. This, we would hope, be cost effective for operator panels that don't require feedback and for additional inputs on CTC machines. After the Forum, Bob had the opportunity to show AJ Ireland from Digitrax the decoder-controlled train order signal system he (Bob) had designed and chat a while.

While we had initially planned on offering an operating session Friday morning, only one person signed up for it since it coincided with the opening of the "convention registrants-only" part of the National Train Show downstairs. We canceled the session, and began initial packing and tear-down following the 6:30 session Thursday night. This allowed us to attend the Train Show in the morning and devote the afternoon to tear-down. We worked from 1:00 until 5:00, then went off for dinner, Al and Jeff to the SIGs banquet, and Bob, Tim, John and Fritz to Newport. At the SIGs banquet, Jeff and Al accepted the OPSIG's thanks for our effort in bringing the layout down and hosting the operating sessions.

Saturday morning we began packing the trailers and vehicles around 9:00, and were out of the loading dock and on our way home by about noon. We'll try to post some photos from the Convention in the next week or so.

This was truly a team effort. We once again proved that we work well together. For this expedition, our crew consisted of Brian Everett, Jeff Fryman, Bob Milhaupt, Fritz Milhaupt, Al Robertson, Chuck White, John Young, Tim Young and boomer Dale Bitsch. Great job, guys!


Some statistics:

  • Travel time: 4.5 hours each way
  • Unpack and set-up time: 12 hours
  • Operating time: 36 hours, broken into twelve sessions of three hours each
  • Tear-down and packing time: 7 hours

After the 2003 convention in Toronto, we took our time setting the layout back up, with it ultimately being Halloween before we could resume operation. We hope to have the layout back up by early September this time around in order to be available for an operations event planned in the area later that month. We'll perform some speedy cleaning in the layout room and get right to reassembling the layout in the next few weeks.

In order to keep the level of effort invested in this project within the "hobby" range, we intend to stick to our planned schedule of bringing the layout out to NMRA National Conventions no more frequently than every two years. Our current plan is that we will host operating sessions in the basement for the 2007 Great Lakes Express Convention, with guests being bussed out to Saline for the sessions. After that, we are in the initial stages of discussions to bring the layout to the 2010 Convention in Milwaukee. In the mean time, we plan to resume holding operating sessions in Saline once or twice a month.


July 10, 2005

Our operating sessions at Cincinnati Limited 2005 went extremely well.

We ran for approximately 36 hours over the course of the week. We will post a full report once we've had time to recover from the teardown.


June 26, 2005

After a couple more sessions of ballasting, making some wiring changes to simplify setup at the convention, and wrapping up loose ends from projects we've started, we've begun taking down the layout and packing it for the trip down to Cincinnati.

Al has finished the scenery at the RIP track and engine house at the east end of East Yard-- it looks terrific!

We've "racked' the first dozen modules for the move, and have packed most of the freight cars. We've discovered that we've added so many cars in the last two years that we don't have storage cases for all of them, and will be triaging them as we pack them. Not all of them will make the trip.

We expect to arrive in Cincinnati on Saturday July 2, and spend late afternoon Saturday and all day Sunday setting up the layout and preparing for the operating sessions which will begin on Monday morning in the back of the SIGs room. It's a LOT of work, but we're really looking forward to the opportunity to give a new crop of people the chance to try out timetable and train order operation!


May 29, 2005

The trackwork at the west end of the France Stone complex at Keesport (Danes) is in service and needs only to be ballasted. Work continues on the Lafayette Union Terminal trackage. We ran into a minor snag on this, as Custom Trax has changed the throwbar assembly in the new version of its turnouts, necessitating some reengineering work on our part to make our turnout mechanism design work properly with them.

Al has wrapped up work at Buck Creek, leaving it considerably improved and looking much more three-dimensional. The march of scenery progress continues, and if we can keep it up to the standard that Al has set, we should have truly fantastic scenery. Al has since moved on to the east end of East Yard, and has begun work on raising the ground level around the track and installing an engine house and fueling facility for the yard power.

Lafayette Junction has received the full ballast treatment, and ballasting continues around the layout. Our goal is to complete blending the ballast from the Custom Trax into the scenery before we pack up for Cincinnati. The matter of the ballast profile around the bridge tracks is still the subject of a good deal of discussion, and we have considered a few possible approaches, but so far none jump out to us as being clearly better than the others. It is possible that we may not have a solution in place for this before the Convention.

Since March, we have held four operating sessions for a variety of guests. The operating scheme continues to work well, and our instructional materials seem to be providing the information new crews need in order to come up to speed quickly. The only issue upon which we haven't reached a firm agreement is how to treat misspotted cars that are so far out of position (for example, set out several towns away from where they should be) as to make things difficult for later trains and crews. A certain amount of this is inevitable when your crews are largely unfamiliar with your layout, but the question remains as to when a car should be considered to be so far out of place (through error) that it needs to be manually re spotted between sessions.

During one of the sessions we held on May 15, we experienced an odd glitch where it appeared as if commands sent by the radio throttles on one side of the room were not being relayed reliably to the locomotives. Since we had had flawless operation with our radio outfit for over 150 hours of operation by this time, this was a bit of a surprise, so we connected a backup UR91 receiver elsewhere on the layout in parallel with the one we normally use, which is mounted in the layout fascia. This eliminated the problem.

We have narrowed this down to a few possible causes, the most likely being the unusually large number of people standing in close proximity to the radio receiver unit at the time this occurred. The receiver has functioned properly since that time (both later in that operating session, and during a work session a few days later) when fewer people were crowded around it. Given that we have the receiver mounted in a relatively low location and at a pinch point in the aisle, we may be able to reduce the likelihood of this recurring by moving it to a higher location. The North Raleigh Model Railroad Club recommends mounting the UR91 radio receiver five or more feet above the floor at their NTrak setups. Actually enforcing our rule limiting access within the layout perimeter to those who are actually running trains would likely help, too.

We have continued to refine our crew assignment procedures. During the most recent sessions, we began to use a new form that Jeff has designed for crews to use to sign up for sessions. This allows them to indicate who else they would prefer to work with on their two-man crew, and to indicate what level of experience they have. We expect to use this form at Cincinnati.

We do not plan to hold any more operating sessions before we set up at Cincinnati. Until we pack up the layout, our work will concentrate on improving the basic scenery, resolving any remaining trackwork and/or wiring issues, and building a few more storage chests for our expanding rolling stock fleet.


March 16, 2005

The past two months have yielded slow but steady progress.

The turnouts at the west end of the France Stone complex at Keesport (Danes) are in place and need only to be wired and have their throw mechanisms installed. Several switches in the Lafayette Junction area have been tuned up to reduce the incidence of derailments during interchange runs, and the Lafayette Union Terminal trackage is now in service, though about half of it is still Peco track pinned in place. Al continues to make progress on changing the terrain at Buck Creek.


January 15, 2005

Over the past week, we've held operating sessions for two groups of guests, the 2007 NMRA National Convention Committee and the Midnight Pocatello Yardmasters. Both sessions went extremely well: our guests enjoyed themselves and the layout performed beautifully. Although it's a constant concern that we're throwing an awful lot of rules and information at people at once, both groups picked up on what we were doing very quickly. Jeff has continued to revise the train instructions to further clarify exactly what type of traffic each train should handle.

Travel schedules and family commitments are likely to reduce the amount of work we can perform on the layout the rest of this month.


December 26, 2004

The new turnouts at the west end of Keesport being built The turnouts at the west end of Keesport are progressing nicely as they are hand-laid in place. Al has completed his work on re-grading Buck Creek, has given it its basic ground cover and has reshaped the fascia to match.

Jeff has laid in the permanent connection to the Lafayette Union Terminal trackage and laid down some of the permanent track going west from there. The remainder of the work on the LUT will wait until our track order arrives from Custom Trax. Jeff also has rearranged the workshop space and installed a new workbench. As part of the reorganization of the work space, several bad order cars that have resided on the workbench for several months have been repaired and placed back into service.


December 16, 2004

New foam being installed for land forms in Buck Creek
New foam being installed for
land forms at Buck Creek

Scenery work continues, with Al concentrating on re-contouring the area around Buck Creek so we can begin placing structures. "Earth" moving projects have also begun at the west end of the siding at Keesport, where John has rearranged the roadbed and begun laying in switches to make France Stone's set-out and pick-up tracks double-ended.

Over in Lafayette, the tracks at Lafayette Junction have gotten attention, and now trains can safely operate in all directions through the crossings. This is in preparation for running the NYC and NKP trains that service the interchange sidings at Lafayette Junction. Unlike the Monon local, which handles interchange traffic via trackage rights into East Yard, the NYC and NKP trains will make their pick-ups and set-outs on the connecting tracks at the Junction. We plan to begin running these trains after the first of the year.

Jeff cut in the turnout that will join the East Yard lead to the revised Lafayette Union Terminal trackage (see our earlier discussion of this change, below).

The first four of our Digitrax UT4R radio throttles arrived last week. Our initial testing has proven these to be exactly the throttles we want for our crews. They're simple, comfortable, and easy to use. Once supply catches up with demand, we intend to have eight of these.


November 13, 2004

Scenery work is under way, with ground cover between Logansport and Clymers getting attention.

Bob Milhaupt has made available the slides from the Train Order Signal Construction clinic he presented at the Capital Crossing 2004 North Central Region NMRA Convention in October. Things are slowing down for the rest of the month as we attend operating sessions elsewhere, and as we prepare for Rails on Wheels' annual Model Railroad Flea Market and Sale on the 28th.


October 25, 2004

The operating session we held for the Capital Crossing 2004 North Central Region NMRA Convention on Thursday the 21st was one of our best, ever. Six Convention attendees joined us for about two and a half hours of operation. The layout operated flawlessly, and a good time was had by all.


October 15, 2004

This week's work has mostly revolved around  filling in the spots where there are gaps between the edge of the roadbed and the scenery base, and touching up ballast. This is the last step before beginning scenery in earnest.


October 10, 2004

On the morning of October 22, John Young will be presenting a "hands-on" clinic demonstrating how to construct the geodesic foam scenery we use on the Operations Road Show layout. This will be part of the Capital Crossing 2004 North Central Region NMRA Convention in Lansing, Michigan. Geodesic foam scenery is a lightweight and flexible alternative to traditional hardshell scenery.

Also at Capital Crossing 2004, Bob Milhaupt will be presenting a clinic on how he designed and built our DCC-controlled train order signals . He will discuss the givens and druthers, building the signals themselves in such a way as they would survive the layout being repeatedly dismantled and moved, and how he set up and programmed the controls to send commands to the remotely-located signals over the rails. This clinic will be held on the morning of October 24, and is one of many dealing with signaling which will be presented at the Convention.

Capital Crossing 2004 will be held October 22-24 at the Clarion hotel in Lansing, Michigan and is open to NMRA members as well as non-members.


September 20, 2004

The DCC decoder speed tables worked perfectly during the operating session on the 19th, permitting us to mix and match different brands of locomotives in consists in ways we had not been able to before.

Over the past week, we've begun changing the routing codes on our waybills to more precisely identify where Lafayette-bound cars are to go. Specifically, we've added destination codes to enable the crew at East Yard to separate the cars bound for the northbound Monon local from those intended for the southbound. While the bills have been adjusted, during the operating session on the 19th we found a few other documents we need to adjust to accommodate this change.

Our Digitrax installation continues to function flawlessly.

September 10, 2004

The task of setting up DCC decoder speed tables has been a success in initial tests. We'll see how well it works in practice during our operating session on the 19th.

Major track rearrangement has begun in the Lafayette area of the layout, to more accurately suggest the Lafayette Union Terminal line which comes off of the west end of the real East Yard. In the process, we are moving the Alcoa Aluminum fabrication plant to the new branch, and in its old place putting in Fairfield Manufacturing, an automotive parts supplier. National Home and Rostone are also being relocated to the new branch; their old spur has been removed.

While we're testing this out, we've temporarily connected the new track to the end of one of the Anheuser-Busch spurs. Once we are convinced that we're satisfied with the new configuration, we'll cut in a new switch to the yard lead at the west end of East Yard and connect the Lafayette Union Terminal there, returning the Anheuser-Busch spur to a single-ended track.

Track changes at Lafayette (click image for larger PDF version)

We expect to test this arrangement for three or four months before making it permanent.


August 30, 2004

This summer's work on the layout was considerably more relaxed than last summer's. This year we've worked mainly on fine-tuning our paperwork, rooting out incorrect waybills, and performing maintenance on rolling stock.

In the last several weeks we have begun a major program of correcting some track gauge problems at Lafayette Junction which didn't become evident until we began running Monon transfer movements through the junction early this summer. We have also begun experimenting with using speed tables in our DCC decoders to ensure more consistent performance among the various manufacturers' locomotives we are using. This is an ongoing project which is likely to take a few weeks' experimentation before we see the full benefit of this.

We are eagerly awaiting the release of Digitrax's new UT4R radio throttle, and have ordered several. This throttle will more closely resemble the typical "knob and switch" type of walkaround throttle that is more common on DC-only layouts.

New Monon motive power is being added in September, and some of the bad-ordered Wabash power is receiving attention. Over the winter, we hope to augment our Wabash passenger car fleet with cars that are more prototypically accurate than what we currently have.


May 21, 2004

Work has continued in our efforts to identify and repair any problem spots in the trackwork. The overly-sharp curve that we inexplicably ended up with at the east end of the Clymers siding has been re-laid, and the troublesome turnouts in the France Stone Quarry have been re-gauged.

Much work has been done to eliminate the last of the hand-written car cards and waybills, and to add a better mix of waybills. With about the same vigor, we have continued to upgrade the rolling stock fleet.

Jeff has continued to refine the train instructions to fine-tune the car routing. We have begun to see that we can use the small yard at Logansport as a barometer of how well things are moving. If it's comfortably full, things are probably going as they should be. If it's jammed to overflowing, then trains haven't been conducting their work there correctly. If it's empty, somebody probably picked up some cars that should have stayed there.

Now that we have sufficient Monon motive power, we have begun running the Monon transfer job into East Yard. We still need to paint at least one more caboose for this service, however. Once we have the Monon's Lafayette interchange job smoothly integrated into the operating scheme, we'll add the NYC and NKP trains through Lafayette Junction.

We have borrowed several DT300R throttles from the Rails on Wheels layout in order to compare how operating sessions run using mostly DT300Rs instead of DT100Rs. The results so far have been strongly in the DT300Rs' favor, as they can have their default characteristics set and they will store them in non-volatile memory, which the DT100Rs won't. As a standard, we have settled on disabling the "knob click" sounds to reduce room noise, disabling ballistic tracking (which has in the past caused aggravation among some of the road crews using the throttles in radio mode), and disabling the on-throttle clock display in order to emphasize that the clocks at the corner of the layout are the official standard clocks.

Our pace of two-a-month operating sessions is likely to wane to once per month until Fall.


February 29, 2004

Despite missing half of our work sessions in February due to obligations elsewhere, we have continued to make progress. We have finished wiring the UP3 and UP5 throttle panels for auxiliary power in the Fiddle Yard. This should increase the available power for future expansion on our already reliable LocoNet installation. Other UP3 and UP5 panels on the layout are being wired together to allow us to add auxiliary power with a minimum number of "wall warts."

Scenery work is under way. John is building structures for New Waverly, and we've started to mass-produce trees.

On the rolling stock front, our upgrade program is progressing well- we've gone through and eliminated nearly all of the couplers which have plastic "finger" springs on their knuckles and replaced them with couplers which have metal coil springs. The failure rate of the "finger" springs which came on many pre assembled cars was quite high, but we accepted it early on as a cost of getting the fleet up to size in a hurry. We've also eliminated nearly all of the plastic wheelsets.

Due to a combination of our own requirements and the distance of the layout's "home" from the rest of the layouts in Oakland and Macomb Counties, we were unable to reach an agreement with the planning team for the Southeast Michigan Operations weekend in March, so our layout will sit out this event this year.

We have agreed to host an operating session for attendees of the Capitol Crossing 2004 North Central Region NMRA Convention on Thursday, October 21.


January 11, 2004

We held an intensive work session on Tuesday, December 30. Most of the work involved smoothing out the joints between modules to eliminate humps in the bridge tracks, adjusting "problem" turnouts for better throw and smoother operation through their frogs, installing a few new UP-5 panels back in the fiddle yard, and replacing some bent actuator wires on the train order signals. The more significant changes described in the December 21 report, meaning those that will require changes to the benchwork, still remain to be made.

On the sixth, we test-ran the local and its connecting trains. We discovered a few things that we needed to adjust in the instructions for the individual trains. Jeff has made these changes and issued a new instruction booklet. We'd hoped to run a few trains after the Rails on Wheels business meeting on the eighth, but the meeting ran longer than usual, so we didn't have a chance to fire up the layout.

Operating sessions are scheduled to resume within the next two weeks. It will still be a few sessions down the road before we start inviting guest crews in.

We are currently considering options for having the layout open for two upcoming operations events in Southeast Michigan.


December 21, 2003

We ran a minimal test session on the 16th to work out any bugs in the relationship between train 2BS-1, which sets out cars in preparation for the locals, and the westbound local. We were able to determine both that the layout is now sufficiently operational to resume operating sessions and that, if run correctly, the relationship between these two trains is such that it works.

We will continue to hold test sessions during our Tuesday night work sessions to further test the assumptions we made in setting up our timetable. "Full" operating sessions will resume after the first of the year. Between Christmas and New Year, we plan to make some changes to trackwork, such as replacing the turnout at the east end of the Clymers siding with a curved turnout to eliminate awkward trackwork on both the mainline and the siding, and possibly changing the direction of the crossover in Peru. Double-ending one of the sidings at France Stone in Keesport, to enable both the eastbound and westbound locals to switch it, is on the slate, too.


November 16, 2003

About half the bridge tracks have been reinstalled, the LocoNet wiring is in place, and we've hung the phones. We should be able to finish installing the bridge tracks in the next two weeks or so, though family obligations this month are reducing the time we have available to spend on the layout.


November 2, 2003

Despite a pretty heavy schedule of family obligations, travel and rail events outside of Ann Arbor during October, the entire layout's back up on its feet. At this point, only the skyboards have been installed. We still have to install the bridge tracks, hang the LocoNet wiring and remount the phones and their wiring. Also, before we resume operation, we want to add ground cover to the new 36"-long module we added between Peru and New Waverly. It has already had track laid and it has been wired.

At the same time, work is progressing on correcting errors we found on some of the waybills, and we have added another two dozen freight cars to the fleet.


October 13, 2003

As the schedule of Rails on Wheels "display" layout setups has been coming together for this Fall, it is looking as if we will have less time than we'd hoped to make the improvements we'd planned to make to the basement and get the operations layout back into operating shape. With club commitments to set up the other layout at train shows four times between now and the end of the year, it is looking as if it may be Christmas before we have the operations layout running again.

When we set up at Toronto, we did not have enough legs to put two leg assemblies under each module so that each one could be free-standing, if necessary. This week we plan to construct enough new leg assemblies to correct this.

September 21, 2003

We finished up mounting the legs back on all of the corners and both turnback modules this weekend. Earlier this week, John and Al hung legs on several of the town section modules. As of today, we only have about 14 more modules to set up before we can start tying the whole thing together again.


September 8, 2003

In the October, 2003 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, Jim Providenza's report of the Toronto NMRA Convention makes mention of the operating sessions we held there. The article runs from page 112 to page 114-- we're mentioned about three quarters of the way through, on page 114.

We appreciate having our work recognized-- thanks, Jim!


August 3 through August 31, 2003

We haven't yet un-racked the modules since we returned from Toronto. In addition to wanting to take some time off from the layout (the work was pretty intense during the months leading up to the Convention), we have been looking at improvements we want to make to the layout room while the layout is out of the way.

In the mean time, John has begun work on a new 24" by 30" piece to insert into the layout between the East Yard/CW Tower module and the New Waverly corner module. This will widen the aisle in front of Lafayette Junction, a place that has proven to be a choke point for crews. We've updated the trackplan to show this module in place.

In all likelihood, it will be early to mid October before we resume operating sessions. At this time, we have no confirmed plans to bring the layout out to the public yet, though we are beginning discussions with the Committee that is planning the NMRA National Convention in Cincinnati in 2005. We are looking at how our layout might best participate in the Southeast Michigan Operations Weekend next April, too.

Al Robertson and Jeff Fryman have volunteered to be the coordinators for the Layout Design SIG (LDSIG) events at the 2007 NMRA National Convention in Detroit. Thanks, guys!


July 20 through August 3, 2003

The clinics at Maple Leaf 2003 were an outstanding success, far surpassing our expectations for interest level, participant involvement, and layout and equipment reliability. A brief summary can be found on the index page to the ORS site.

Now that the layout is back in Saline and the modules are unloaded from the trailers, we plan to take it easy for the rest of the summer. We want to take advantage of the layout being set in its racks to do some work on the basement over the coming weeks, including cleaning, maybe some painting, a little electrical work, and perhaps hanging a ceiling. It seems likely that it will be early October before we have the layout set up and operational again.

We are having a hard time believing that after less than six months of operation, things are going well enough that we're already in the "fine-tuning" stage. The basic functionality is working very well. Once we have the layout set up again, our tentative "to-do" list for the coming months includes:

  • Identifying the cause and resolving a possible booster polarity issue we encountered at Toronto.
  • Replacing what appears to be a defective DS-44 stationary decoder controlling the train order signal at Clymers.
  • Looking into installing secondary wiring to isolate the train order signal system from shorts in the track power. A single pair of wires running from either a dedicated booster or off of a power manager output should do the job. At least once during the sessions at Toronto, a short caused by a derailment or by a train running through a switch thrown against it prevented a train order signal in the same power block from changing indication.
  • Reconsidering the track arrangement at Peru to more accurately represent the configuration at CW Tower, and, perhaps, incorporate a bit of the NKP trackage. Also, we would look at changing the ladder leading into the Fiddle Yard, to improve the way we can route trains in and out. It works well and causes no real operating problems as it is right now, but it could be made to be more flexible.
  • Build a few more of the missing mock-up structures and begin work on more detailed replacements for existing mock-ups. Finish installation of the existing road crossings and add more.
  • Build and wire the missing signals where other railroads cross the Wabash.
  • There are still about a dozen leg braces which were missed in the painting blitz leading up to the Convention.
  • We plan to eliminate the single-sided waybills we are still using and replace them with similar bills, but with the return routing on them.
  • We will be looking at ways of tracking sign-up of visiting crews to operate the layout and handle the invitation process, to keep it manageable. While the layout is "home" in Saline, we wish to make it available for guests to join us for operating sessions.

The Agent job we created and implemented for the first time at Toronto worked out very well. Especially once Fritz and Al set up a sorting system to assign a day's waybills to the appropriate trains.

We have updated the Quick Guide to Timetable & Train Order Operation to match Version 1.0 we used at Toronto.


July 13, 2003

We Did It!

The Operations Road Show team at the Maple Leaf 2003 Convention in Toronto

First row, from left: Bob Milhaupt, Brian Everett, John Young
Second row: Tim Young, Fritz Milhaupt, Al Robertson, Jeff Fryman

From Monday, July 14 through Wednesday, July 16, the Operations Road Show team did something never before done at an NMRA National Convention- we provided a large on-site hands-on layout to demonstrate timetable-and-train order (TT&TO) operation to Convention attendees.

As we spent a very long day setting up the layout at the International Plaza Hotel and Convention Center on Sunday, good-sized butterflies were hatching in our stomachs. "What if nobody's interested?" we wondered aloud. Well, our fears were unfounded. Much to our delight and amazement, the 135 operating slots we offered over three days were filled as quickly as we made sign-up available. We were particularly surprised by the interest in the paper flagmen we made up for these operating sessions, and so have made them available on this web site.

Each day, we ran 3 three-hour operating sessions beginning at 9 am, 2 pm and 7 pm. At any given time, we had between three and six trains out on the mainline, Despite the intense traffic on the layout, we experienced only minor mechanical difficulties during these sessions. The sessions, while a lot of work, were a lot of fun, and gave us the opportunity to make the acquaintance of many interesting fellow modelers from all over the world.

To say that we consider this experience a success is an understatement. Despite repeatedly asking ourselves "Are we crazy?" over the four years we put into this project (and usually answering "yes"), we were able to offer an opportunity to learn TT&TO to many attendees who would not have otherwise had a chance. Most importantly, our guest crews, guest operators and guest dispatchers enjoyed their experience.

In addition to showing others our interpretation of TT&TO, we also learned from the guest crews. These lessons will be used to refine our approach to make our techniques easier to understand, to improve the operating experience, and to improve the layout.

Special thanks are due to Bill Jewett of the Operations Special Interest Group, who suggested the ideas that spawned this project and who arranged and sponsored our appearance at Maple Leaf 2003 under the auspices of the OpSIG, and fellow OpSIG member Bruce Wilson, who helped with set-up, tear-down and numerous miscellaneous tasks during the week. We would like to thank the Maple Leaf 2003 Convention Committee for its perseverance and determination in overcoming the several obstacles which faced it over the past several months. They put on an extremely good program!

Thanks are also due to Jack Ozanich and Craig Wilson, who provided inspiration, analysis and critique, car cards and rolling stock.

We would not have been able to take the layout to Toronto without the assistance of other Rails on Wheels members who helped out, but did not make the trip. Specifically these include Dave Bowman, Mark Davis, Doug Fleshman, Dan Gawrych, Skip McDonald, Fred Moehrle, David Pickell, Bob Shannon, Larry Williams, Jeff York, and Kenn Zerby. Thanks also to Brent Lockyer for his support on site. If we left anyone's name out, it is purely unintentional- please let us know. Thanks for your help, guys, we couldn't have done it without you!

Most of all, the four of us who are married wish to thank our spouses, who have put up with our intense involvement with this project over these last four years, for their patience and understanding.

                              - The Operations Road Show Team


July 10, 2003

The packing is entering its final stages.

  • With the assistance of several other Rails on Wheel members this evening, all but two sections (the large turnback's at each end of the layout) are now packed into the trailers. The legs and skyboards have been stacked and packed as well.
  • The fast clocks have returned from LogicRail Technologies and are now working well- having all of them on the same level of firmware seems to eliminate the problems we experienced when we had six clocks running four different revisions of the firmware.
  • After a less-than-impressive test on Tuesday, David Pickell made a few minor tweaks to the design of the phone system he assembled for us, resulting in a vastly improved setup two days later. We will still need to mount the handset brackets to the fascia once we are in Toronto.
  • The locomotives and rolling stock are all packed and ready for transport.
  • Bob Milhaupt has completed painting the module legs and support braces.

Our spirits are very high and we're looking forward to setting up Sunday at the Convention hotel.


June 29, 2003

The final tear-down to begin packing the trailers and the truck has begun.

  • "The Men Who Raised the Sky", John and Al, have completed the skyboards. Bob Milhaupt has begun painting them.
  • Several of the grade crossings have been roughed in. While there are plenty more that we plan to add, there isn't enough time to install all of them.
  • The basic ground cover is completely in place.
  • The few turnout motors we have are all wired up and functioning well.
  • The initial signals on the Wabash trackage at Lafayette Junction are all in place and working.
  • We've completed final touch-up painting on the fascia, and numbered the modules.
  • The turnouts we had identified as throwing backwards of the way we intended have been replaced.
  • Several additional UP-3 and UP-5 panels have been installed to provide more places to "park" throttles and save their batteries. As a result, we've re-routed some of the LocoNet cabling.
  • The removable parts of the LocoNet wiring have been labeled and packed, as have the other DCC components. Two of the fast clocks have been mounted in cases.
  • Many modules have already been "stacked and racked" for transport.


June 15, 2003
  • As of the 21st, John and Al are down to one backdrop section to complete. With the amount of time remaining before we tear down to pack for Toronto, we're debating whether we'll paint them blue before we go, or whether they'll be white for the convention.
  • Al has completed a stand that will make it much easier to mount legs on the modules during set-up and remove them during tear-down.
  • The Wabash-NYC diamond at Lafayette Junction got some needed attention and adjustment. It's much better, now.
  • A couple more storage boxes are ready for use in the Fiddle Yard.
  • The ground cover crew has managed to cover about 50% of the layout. It's a very bright green, reminiscent of an amusement park, but it looks a lot better than bare foam. We plan to tone it down quite a bit some time after the convention.
  • Bob has installed the phone buzzers, and David Pickell has most of the electronics for the phone system ready to install.
  • All but one of the Hankscraft stall motors have been installed in the places where we need to use electrical switch machines. The bushings on the actuating arms on the Rix Rax IIs we used to mount the motors have been splitting, however, so we're gong to replace the arms with 1/16" brass tube, RC model wheel collars and piano wire.
  • Al, John and Brian Everett have built and put in place some simple hardboard building mock-ups in several locations. They'll stand in until we can get around to building more finely-detailed structures.


May 18, 2003
  • Jeff continues replacing older-design turnout mechanisms.
  • After experiencing operating problems due to passenger cars being underweight, weight was added to all of them to bring each one up to a bit over 6 ounces.
  • John and Al continued working on the backdrops. They are completing the last of the curved backdrops.
  • The operating session we held Thursday night went very well and was a learning experience as we completed our 24th fast hour of operation. Watching how the trains actually worked during the last three sessions has been instructional. We've identified areas that can be improved in the timetable and in management of the Fiddle Yard. A couple of line-up sheets are in the works to make easier the jobs of the Yardmaster in East Yard and the Fiddle Yardmaster.
  • Disabling the ballistic tracking on the radio throttles eliminated complaints at Thursday night's operating session.
  • We have put together a quick reference sheet for first-time operators. This introduces them to the procedures we use in our implementation of timetable and train order operation. The current draft is available to be read or downloaded as an Adobe Acrobat file from this web site.


May 11, 2003
  • Jeff continued replacing some of the older-design turnout mechanisms in Lafayette Junction area. A couple will require unusual actuating rods, or motors driven by slide switches connected to the actuating rods.
  • John made storage boxes for the waybills. Eventually we will not have waybills littering every flat surface in the fiddle yard.
  • We laid out the responsibilities of a "freight agent" position to handle billing outbound cars from industries and to issue empty car requests. The idea is that the Agent would be able to better assess the need for cars from being "out in the field" than the Fiddle Yardmaster, who can only guess from his location behind the backdrop.
  • At this point, we have defined the following roles/positions for an operating session:
    • Dispatcher
    • Fiddle Yardmaster
    • Freight Agent
    • Yardmaster, East Yard
    •  Road crews
  • John and Al continued working on the backdrops and installed more basic ground forms.
  • Bob painted the train order signals. The next step will be to make up some decals to add stripes and simulate the red and green lenses.
  • We have begun diagnosing some peculiar behavior we have noticed from the LocoNet-based fast clocks we have located around the layout. The manufacturer has been very prompt and helpful in this process. One immediate cause we identified was a pair of clocks with drastically out-of-date firmware that did not wish to communicate with the more recently purchased clocks.
  • During an operating session, we decided that disabling the ballistic tracking would be a good idea on the radio throttles. Several crews were surprised by trains which accelerated much more rapidly than they expected.


April 27, 2003
  • Jeff went to work replacing some of the older-design turnout mechanisms in Lafayette Junction area.
  • John and Al continued to work on the skyboards, with the curved ends being the major focus.
  • The problems with the turnouts at the west end of East Yard were determined to have been caused mainly by guardrails which were set close enough to the stock rails that flanges wouldn't clear reliably. This was solved by re-installing them.
  • We discussed the design of shipping and assembly racks for the trip to Toronto.
  • We set dates for four more operating sessions before we take down the layout at the end of June to finish painting the legs and pack it to go to Toronto.


April 20, 2003

We cleaned up the layout room and held another two-hour operating session Thursday night, which went very well. We entertained guests from Fort Wayne, as well as from the Ford Model Railroad Club. We're eager to set up a longer (four or five hour) weekend session, since we were just getting into the swing of things when we had to stop.

  • John and Al put up the rest of the assembled skyboards and clipped unsupported plastic between them in places where we didn't have the skyboard frames ready. For the first time, there's no place on the modules where you can see across to the other side from a normal viewing angle.
  • We fine-tuned several turnouts on the mainline.
  • Bob and Fritz Milhaupt began putting together a basic procedures card describing how to operate on the layout under our interpretation of timetable and train order operation. This is intended to make it a lot easier for people who've never run TT&TO to know what to do in common situations. We hope to have it edited and ready to hand out by the next operating session. We will make it available for download from this web site, too.
  • We're experiencing strange indications of network errors with one of the fast clocks. Nothing else on the LocoNet seems to be affected, so we will test it to determine whether we have a bad stretch of cable running to the clock, or just a bad clock.
  • Several of the turnouts at the west end of East Yard have gauge problems which are causing derailments and shorts. We will address this in the coming week.
  • We added more waybills, but still don't have the right mix. We're particularly short on bills for interchange movements with the NYC, Monon and the NKP. We're also short of twin hoppers for France Stone and ART produce reefers.


April 13, 2003

Work this week picked up pace again.

  • John and Al continued work on the backdrops. Painting the skyboards began.
  • Four of the five slow-motion turnout mechanisms were installed. Three of them were re-engineered to overcome throw problems and cracks which developed in the Rix Rax we used to mount them.
  • We cataloged the locomotives we have on hand and determined which ones still need decoders installed.
  • We added a couple dozen freight cars and tuned up a couple of ones which had been running poorly.
  • Jeff continued to refine the printed timetable.
  • We put together "cheat sheets", based on the ones available on the Digitrax web site, explaining how to select locomotives and MU them.
  • We adjusted some of the handlaid turnouts at Lafayette Junction, Clymers and Logansport.
  • We dug out a few dozen more of the cars we've accumulated for the project and prepared them for the layout.


April 5, 2003

On Saturday, April 5, we ran our first operating session! It was a brief one to intended to identify any problems with the layout and get a feel for the timetable and the paperwork we prepared.

One thing we'd overlooked in preparing for this session was creating flagman figures to protect the rear of trains stopped on the mainline. We whipped together some paper flagmen to correct this.

It worked. We ran a session starting at 10:00pm on the fast clock through about 2:30am (at 3:1). We stuck to the scheduled trains (three freights and two passenger trains). We ran about two real hours, since it was the end of a very long day during which we'd worked very hard on the layout.

Everything went quite well. The main issues we'll need to address in the next few weeks are:

  • Correcting minor trackwork defects. Running six-axle passenger cars over the layout for the first time pointed out some things we hadn't noticed with four-axle diesels and shorter freight cars.
  • Completing the ground cover installation.
  • Finishing up the backdrop. John Young has about 1/3 of the backdrops in place. They're looking really good, and will look even better once we paint them.
  • Making more inserts for the car storage boxes.
  • Balancing out the waybills to provide more bills for westbound traffic

In addition to this, we'll be taking notes at upcoming operating sessions to refine the timetable and associated paperwork.


March 23, 2003
  • The entire layout is set up!
  • The DCC equipment is connected!

On Saturday, March 29, the entire layout was set up, the DCC equipment was connected, and by 3:00pm, we were running trains around the layout exactly the way we'd designed it to work!

The closest thing to a glitch was a polarity problem involving one of the power districts we'd set up to minimize the effect of shorts in the yards upon the rest of the layout. This took less than five minutes to diagnose and to correct.

Minor track adjustments still need to be made, as do repairs to a couple of broken turnout mechanisms, but otherwise, the layout is operationally complete. There are still a lot of sky board sections and a bit of scenery base to be completed, but the bulk of the work is behind us now.

Operating sessions begin this coming week!


March 9, 2003
  • The last of the modules have been wired and the wiring rack has been dismantled.
  • The entire layout is now standing. The final module has been wired on the wiring rack.

    The East Yard-East End module was the last one to have wiring and turnout
    throws installed while on the wiring rack.
  • Electrical testing has been completed on 60% of the layout. The results have exceeded our expectations by far-- fewer than a dozen defects have been identified in the two dozen modules we have tested.
  • Temporary netting is being installed beneath the modules that do not have scenery in order to minimize the amount of rolling stock which could hit the floor during testing.
  • The assembled layout fits into the basement as if the basement had been designed to hold it. This is important, because it had been.


February 23, 2003
  • Approximately 40% of the layout is now set up in place on its feet. We were limited by the number of completed leg assemblies we had on hand. Work has shifted to completing the rest of them.
  • Work continues on the train order signals.
  • One third of the East Yard module set has been wired and had its turnout mechanisms installed and tested.
  • Basic ground cover was installed on the Rockfield turnback module.


February 9, 2003
  • All of the major trackwork on the layout has been completed, wrapping up with the three modules which make up the visible part of Peru and East Yard in Lafayette.
  • East Yard has been expanded by six feet to increase its capacity from 24 to 50+ cars.
  • All of the bases and travel-mounting hardware for the train order signals are in place. Fascia plates for the LED repeaters have been installed.
  • Work continues on wiring and turnout throws in the East Yard and Peru areas, including replacing some turnout throws of earlier design.
  • It was decided to postpone track laying and wiring on the river crossing at Logansport until after the convention in Toronto this summer. The multiple-span through truss bridge was determined to be too time-consuming to complete on our current schedule.


January 20, 2003
  • The first two train order signals have been installed. The motion on them is truly a sight to behold.
  • The three modules which make up the visible part of Peru and East Yard in Lafayette are receiving the last of their trackwork.
  • Only one mainline module remains bare- the river crossing at Logansport.
  • Throw mechanisms have been installed in all mainline turnouts.
  • Additional radio throttles, UP5 throttle panels and a UR91 radio throttle base unit have been acquired.


December 15, 2002
  • We've made a conscious decision not to run the layout until we have a few more key projects completed as we feel that we'd realistically spend more time running than making further progress.
  • All of the custom-built components for the train order signal system are now on-site. We still need to pick up a couple more accessory decoders to complete the parts necessary for installation.
  • More turnouts have been fine-tuned.
  • We have begun laying out specifications for carts and stands necessary for set-up and tear-down at remote sites.
  • Framework for the backdrops for all of the straight modules has been completed, as has the framework for two of the corner backdrops.


October 27, 2002
  • After installing the first dozen turnout throw mechanisms, we decided that we were unhappy with the design and re-thought them. John Young and Al Robertson came up with a design that shows promise- it's simpler, more durable, and is less visible above the roadbed. Conversion is under way.
  • More turnouts have been fine-tuned.
  • John has built one of the two missing modules. Track, scenery base and wiring are complete.
  • Work has begun on the East Yard modules, with subroadbed installed on the first of the three modules.
  • Several of the train order signals have been constructed.
  • While the caboose roster has been settled for quite some time, the diesel roster is now being finalized.
  • Data gathering for the waybill cards is well under way.

Old Turnout Throw Design

New Design


September 8, 2002
  • The trackwork and wiring on the Delphi and East Delphi modules are complete.
  • The last two turnback modules have had their track laid, have been wired, and are now receiving scenery base.
  • The last of the planned storage tracks in the Fiddle Yard have been laid.  Wiring is planned for the next week or so.
  • Jeff has laid out the initial timetable. We are planning to start testing how well it works by the beginning of October.


July 21, 2002
  • The trackwork on the Delphi modules is nearing completion. Feeder wiring on the East Delphi straight modules has been completed.
  • The Delphi and East Delphi modules have been reconfigured extensively from what we had originally planned. The new configuration (not yet reflected on the track plan on this site) permits more interchange operation and provides the Monon with more to do in Delphi.
  • Feeder wiring is complete on all but two of the modules completed to date.
  • Bob Milhaupt has demonstrated a reliable mechanism for activating the train order signals.
  • The two turnback modules between Logansport/Colburn and Danes/Buck Creek are the major sections standing in the way of our having the layout sufficiently functional to begin testing operations. The Peru/East Yard sections are still just frames, but the layout is designed so that if necessary,  the layout can be operated without them.


May 12, 2002
  • More turnout actuating mechanisms installed, our technique on these is being refined constantly. This is proving to be just as fussy a task as we'd expected.
  • Design and component selection for the Logansport truss bridge is under way.
  • Track and wiring now complete on 1/3 of the layout, with most of the remaining layout sections needing only turnout mechanisms to be installed.
  • We now have enough locomotives and cabooses to run our operating sessions. Work is ongoing to catalog the freight cars we will use from our collections and to identify any cars we're missing.
  • We have reached the point where we have acquired sufficient radio throttles for our operating needs and are now acquiring back-up components, such as an extra UR91 radio receiving station.


February 10, 2002
  • Wiring continued on the Fiddle Yard/East Yard module.
  • Installation of the PM4s for the Fiddle Yard/East Yard and Lafayette Junction was completed. These power management boards manage polarity through the reverse loop trackage and provide independent circuit breakers for the Fiddle Yard.
  • Work continued on the bridge tracks. 
  • Work began on installing turnout actuating mechanisms.


January 13, 2002
  • Wiring continued on the Fiddle Yard/East Yard module.
  • The last of the track at Lafayette Junction was installed and wiring began.
  • Work continued on the bridge tracks. 


January 1, 2002-January 13, 2002
  • Additional Peco turnouts were ordered to complete the trackwork in the Fiddle Yard, following a design revision.
  • All of the bridge track sections have been bored out to receive wiring harnesses. To date, eight have received their harnesses.
  • John Young constructed and began installation of the second handlaid crossing at Lafayette Junction (the single-track Monon crossing the double-track NYC)


December 29, 2001


The first train to run on the Operations Road Show layout
Engineer John Young proudly runs Extra 622 West out of the
Fiddle yard with the Operations Road Show layout's first freight

On December 29, 2001 at 5:48 pm, Extra 622 West gained the distinction of being the first train to run under its own power around the Operations Road Show layout. This milestone was achieved only after two years of hard work researching, designing, performing extensive engineering and construction on this portable layout.

This run provided a welcome morale boost, and met our self-imposed deadline of the end of 2001 to have trains running on at least part of the layout. For our test operation we used the modules composing the entire Fiddle yard, the large Rockfield turnback loop module, and the West Logansport module. Having met this deadline and conclusively having proven our design sound, we were willing to formally commit to having the layout and operating scheme completed in time for the 2003 NMRA National Convention in Toronto.

As of January 1, 2002, framing is complete on all but one or two modules, track has been laid on all but a handful, and wiring and basic ground cover is being installed at an accelerated pace.


December 28, 2001

Many things were accomplished since March, but unfortunately there was too much to do, so at the end of May we sent the St. Louis Convention committee a message to inform them that we would be unable to attend Gateway 2001 as planned. We refocused our efforts and made substantial progress in the months following the Convention. Our goal was to actually have trains running on at least parts of the layout by New Year's Day 2002. If we met that deadline, we felt that we could reasonably commit to taking the layout to the 2003 NMRA National Convention in Toronto.

  • Wiring harnesses for all of the bridge track pieces were soldered together.
  • All but two of the six-foot straight modules received subroadbed, track and scenery base.
  • Subroadbed and track were installed on the corner modules.
  • Wiring commenced in earnest, using the rotating jig. Each rail has its own dedicated 20 gauge feeder wire running to a terminal block. All feeders in visible areas of the layout are soldered unobtrusively to the underside of the rail.
  • Additional Digitrax radio throttles were purchased and/or created by upgrading tethered throttles.
  • Subroadbed, track, scenery base and wiring were installed on the Fiddle Yard modules.
  • The fleet of motive power and rolling stock expanded considerably.
  • We moved the modules into Jeff Fryman's newly-completed basement, allowing him to actually park his car in his garage!
  • John Young completed and installed the first of two handlaid crossings on the Lafayette Junction portion of the Fiddle Yard modules (the single-track Wabash crossing the double-track NYC).
  • Leg assemblies were painted. By year's end, most were completely painted.
  • Additional Digitrax boosters were acquired. A PM4 Power Management Module was acquired for use on the Fiddle Yard modules. A second one has been ordered.
  • We used our 3,000th Micro Engineering spike while installing a BK Enterprises turnout.
  • The first turnout-throwing mechanism was constructed and installed on the West Logansport/Wilson's module.
  • Subroadbed, track and wiring were installed on the Rockfield turnback module


March 26, 2001
  • The remaining leg assemblies (over 40!) were fabricated assembly-line fashion this week.
  • Wiring continues
  • Subroadbed, track and scenery base were installed on the Clymers and Burrows modules.


March 4, 2001

We have picked up considerable speed since the beginning of February

  • Over the past several weeks, spline, scenery base and track has been installed on the Logansport/Colburn modules, and the module containing Wilson Meats, west of Logansport
  • The new work site (Jeff's new house) has been completed to the point where we can move modules in, allowing us to work at two sites simultaneously, with the new location being considerably nearer most of our volunteers
  • Our module wiring stand, built by Kenn ZerbeKen Zerbe designed and built a rotating table jig to permit us to clamp modules in place and rotate them about their axis to permit easier wiring. It is adjustable for several module lengths.
  • Wiring has begun, with the west end of the Danes module being the first completed and several more in progress
  • Scenery base has been installed on several of the "straight-through" modules
  • Switch throw mechanisms have been designed, tested and are going into production
  • Work continues on the Rockfield turnback and the corners


January, 2001

Progress slowed during the late fall and early winter due to the holidays and a number of situations where "real life" stepped in to deliberately, it seems, block progress. The basement into which we had planned to move the layout by now is still a few weeks from being ready.

In the mean time, progress has been made on the rolling stock front and the development of timetables and operating paperwork.


August 20, 2000

John Young (back) and
Bob Milhaupt (front) lay spline on the
Danes modules.
Progress hasn't been quite as swift as we'd hoped, mainly due to conflicting commitments over the summer, but we have made visible progress:

  • All of the spline on the straight six foot modules is in place
  • The trackwork is in place on the Buck Creek modules
  • The spline is in place and trackwork is beginning on the Danes modules

A big push is planned for Labor Day weekend.


October 15, 2000
  • Seven of the modules have track and the scenery base installed
  • Spline work is underway on the Rockfield turnback section


July 2, 2000
  • Most of the module frames are now completed, as are most of the module legs
  • The spline subroadbed has been installed on the 6-foot straight modules and is being assembled for the turnback curve modules
  • A test module was assembled to illustrate and prove the construction techniques, as shown below


May 28, 2000

The planning committee made its second trip to survey the actual line, spending an extremely long day photographing structures at various points along the line and watching quite a line-up of freights run past.


April 23, 2000

The Custom Trax turnouts for the mainline arrived.


April 16, 2000

Module frame construction continues, with 20 of the 31 needed frames now complete.


April 9, 2000

A couple of us attended the OpSIG's Michigan OpSat (Operations Saturday) in Troy on the 15th-- it was a lot of fun and well worth the time and the driving

More module frames were constructed.


April 2, 2000
  • Al Robertson joined the core planning team.
  • Five module frames constructed for the turnback representing Delphi and Clymers.


March 26, 2000
  • Mainline flex track order arrived from Custom Trax.
  • Peco turnouts arrived for staging yard.


Prior to March 26, 2000
  • Research materials acquired. These include:
    • Employee and public timetables spanning a period from 1959 to 1967
    • Sample train orders and clearance forms from the Wabash
    • Wabash diesel rosters
    • 1964-era and modern track diagrams
    • Photos, including pictures taken during the early 1960s and ones shot over Memorial Day weekend, 1999 between Rich Valley and Lafayette, Indiana
  • Adopted Rails on Wheels Rolling Stock Standards as mandatory for equipment to be used on this layout
  • Key operational elements of the line identified
  • Preliminary trackplan diagrams created, reviewed, revised and approved
  • Estimates of required motive power and caboose fleets prepared
  • Acquisition of motive power and rolling stock begun (We're still looking for as many Overland Wabash streamlined-cupola cabooses as we can get)
  • Digitrax DCC, with radio throttles, selected as the control system  [Rationale]
  • Mock-up modules built to test construction techniques
  • Various spline roadbed techniques investigated
  • Custom Trax handlaid track/roadbed chosen for mainline trackage  [Rationale]
  • BK Enterprises turnout and crossing kits to be used for track unavailable from Custom Trax
  • Peco turnouts chosen for staging yard  [Rationale]
  • Mock-ups constructed for train order board actuating mechanisms
  • Track order placed with Custom Trax
  • Track order placed for Peco turnouts for staging yard and for BK Enterprises components

Product Selection Rationale

Custom Trax Track
Custom Trax is one of the less well-known products in the model railroad world. It is HO track handlaid with wooden ties on ballasted cork roadbed. It is available in flexible lengths and in turnouts. Jeff Fryman's Branchton modules on the Rails on Wheels "display" layout have used this track for many years now. It has proven to be reliable, durable and very pleasing to the eye. It also has the advantage that we don't need to go through and ballast the track afterward.

Custom Trax has a web site at

Digitrax DCC Components
Digitrax DCC products were selected for this project due to our familiarity with them, the availability of Digitrax supplies from a local dealer (Michigan Model Train Center), our existing investment in Digitrax equipment, and the availability of Digitrax's radio throttles. Experience using Digitrax's DT100R radio throttle with the Rails on Wheels modules and during a visit to Bill Darnaby's Maumee Route clearly proved the desirability of combining cordless throttles with DCC control.

We have described our experiences with our DCC installation in Our DCC Installation elsewhere on this site.

Digitrax has a web site at
Peco Track
Peco Electrofrog turnouts were chosen for use in the staging yard in order to simplify the construction and wiring, by eliminating the need to install switch machines. We have used these with great success on the Rails on Wheels staging yard modules.The fact that they do not very closely represent typical North American switches is not a concern to us, as the staging yard will be hidden by a curtain. Being strictly functional, the staging yard will not be scenicked.

Peco has a web site at

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