Building a realistic model railroad isn’t only about laying track, building cars, locomotives, or even necessarily about physically building anything. It involves many hours of research and a good deal of time invested in finding and verifying information that helps build all those things I just listed so that they fit together in a cohesive, visually appropriate manner.
I’ve recently been spending quite a lot of time doing research. I find the learning part of this whole hobby to be one of the things I enjoy most. The main topic of my research has been the Norfolk & Western freight and coal fleet in 1927. I have a copy of a 1926 ORER that I’m working from, and haven’t yet located any 1927 issues, but I can get close with the 1926 date to a picture of what N&W equipment I should be building.
Part of the work has been to translate the ORER data into a spreadsheet that will allow me to add additional pieces of data that I need to model the equipment listed. It’s handy to have the dimensional data on the cars, the roster number blocks, the ARA car types, and a general description from the ORER, but the work then lies in translating that data into N&W car classes which are not listed in the ORER, and from there into either drawings or photos or both through online and published resources. Once that is done, identifying a viable model to build if there is one, will be the next step.
I’ve made a dent in the translation of the data, but it is still an ongoing process. I would imagine that I should have a fairly good idea of what I want or need to build for the N&W within the next couple of weeks. There are a couple of interesting things that I’ve already noted, just in the initial phase of this research:
- The vast majority of the equipment owned and operated by the N&W in 1926/1927 was still 36′ or shorter in length. The number of 36′ steel frame wooden boxcars that the line owned was more than double the single class of all steel automobile boxcars that they had built.
- There is only one class of steel sided boxcar on the roster of the N&W in 1926, and those are ARA class XA automobile boxcars. Everything else is either single sheathed or double sheathed wood still.
The ORER also provides a list of connections to other railroads. That list is invaluable in routing traffic on a layout, and in picking equipment to build as well. Finding equipment from connecting railroads will be important in the overall scope of the layout as traffic isn’t just generated on the layout but comes from outside. I’ve been slowly making a list of cars in my “stash” to build, putting them in order of what I want to build first, starting to source parts and decals, and generally putting in place an overall roster plan that should allow me to build, at my current pace, a viable freight and coal fleet within the next couple of years, with many years of building cars ahead.
Why is this important? I find that I am drawn to the freight cars and could easily have one of everything out there. I know about myself that working from lists is important and that the lists need to be as complete as possible. I also know that I can spend my resources, that includes time and financial, in places I consider to be worth while if I have some picture of what I’m focusing on and hunting for. It makes finding that gem in a bin at a train show, or heading for a hobby shop or swap meet, or searching for something on eBay easier.
As I finish this part of the project, and continue to do research, I’m finding other threads to follow that are leading me to some really interesting ideas and focusing my efforts as well. More to come!