Home | History of the S&U | Track Plan | Animation
Photo Galleries: Phase I | Phase II | Phase III

The N Scale S&U was born in 1970 and it did not have a name at the time. I had toyed with calling it Liberty Lines. I liked the logo of the Jersey Central, probably because I saw it on steam locomotives near my house as a child and I thought that would be a nice basis for the Liberty Lines logo. I knew nothing about how to make decals nor how to get some made back then, so nothing came of it.

The layout was "L" Shaped, using modified Linn Wescott L Girder design. I faced the L girders inward instead of outward. This did two things: 1) It provided a smooth fascia and 2) it gave the cross member attachments more strength and rigidity. The long leg of the "L" shape was two feet by eight feet and is incorporated in the present S&U layout. The short leg was two feet by three or four feet and was bolted to the fascia of the long leg of the "L." For those of you who are impressed by the present S&U, be advised that the original layout had many faults and glaringly showed many of the skills that I was lacking at the time.

I was strongly influenced by the Wizard of Monterey, John Allen. To build a mountain layout with a city like Port was what I had hoped to accomplish on my little L shaped layout. I envisioned a whole city in the six to eight square feet of the short end of the "L". It never came into being. The minimum radius was 7.5 inches and one grade was a whopping 15%. Nothing would climb it and the only way to occasionally keep trains from derailing at the bottom of the hill was to reverse the engine while the train was going down hill. The present layout has a maximum grade of 4.8% in the mountainous sections and minimum radius of 18 inches on the older sections. I would prefer that the maximum mainline grades be no more than 3.5%, but some of my steep grades cropped up unintentionally. The newest section of the S&U, which I call Phase III, has no intentional mainline grades and a minimum radius of 15 inches.

In 1972, Phase I of the current S&U was started in our new home. Part of the L girder benchwork was incorporated into the benchwork. The eight foot part of the "L" was utilized in the new 35 foot benchwork. The track plan was a dogbone with a minimum radius of 20 inches. A branchline of 8.5% originally built for a logging railroad eventually became part of the mainline. I had to reduce the grade after all the scenery was in place to a workable 4.8% at its steepest portion. Descending this grade is problematic to some trains. The lead car on some long trains tends to derail because of insufficient transition between the grade and level track.

During this time I was not sure what railroad I was modeling. In fact, when a friend, Dick Hale, asked if I would like to exchange railroad passes, I had to admit I didn't have a pass since I didn't even have a name for the railroad yet. I was building scenery, but was very undecided about what area I wanted to model. This is how the layout became the Sceniced and Undecided.

The need for a yard became obvious, so Anachron Yard was developed. It evolved just as the S&U itself has evolved, growing way beyond its original simple plan to now include an operating rotary car dumper. Eventually a hidden yard, Hyde Yard, was incorporated. Its purpose was to give the appearance of seven trains running on the layout despite the two cab centralized control panel. The double-ended Hyde Yard utilized a pair of diode matrices and some fiber optic cables to enable me to send staged consists out in sequence to the layout. I usually ran two trains at once. Hyde Yard gave the illusion that I was running seven trains on the layout at once instead of only two. I utilized manual block control switches to keep any pair from rear ending one another. This led to David K. Smith designing and building a dedicated computer (Dr. Jeckle) and 'turnout-less' yard throat mechanics for the yard. Hyde Yard could now dispatch each succeeding train automatically upon the arrival of a train at one end of the yard.

It was during this time that I finally decided I would model the Burlington Northern and its antecedents. I had always wanted mountain scenery with lots of green trees, but I didn't care for the color schemes of the railroads that ran through the eastern mountains. I liked the red and silver of the Santa Fe, but I didn't want desert scenery. When I saw a photo of two bright green BN locos running through lush, green scenery, I had found my railroad. I decided I would model from the Great Lakes to Seattle. I then found that much of what I had already built, such as the strip mine and the operating bridge crane, could fit that area of the country. Even my little Swiss style village I had named Sceniced looked very much like a little town called Scenic that once existed along the Great Northern line through the Cascade Mountains of Washington!

One evening during an operating sessions with some of my physics students, I realized that Hyde Yard overpowered the mainline. It took up more than 20% of the mainline. The mainline had to be expanded. Thus Phase II was born. Phase I was 4 feet by 35 feet when the benchwork for Phase II was being built. This new section is 4 feet by 26 feet with about 4.5 feet of aisle space separating the two legs of the layout.

Phase II originally was to be level track with a steel mill complex sharing the space with a 180 degree roundhouse. Two trips to western Canada changed all of that. The Canadian mountains, rivers and lakes and the brightly colored locos and cars of CP Rail and CN inspired me to rebuild Phase II into its present form which usually represents British Columbia and Alberta. During other times it represents Washington, Idaho and Montana thus allowing me to run BN and UP. Actually BN and CP Rail parallel each other in the Pacific Northwest, because of the great rivalry between their antecedents, Great Northern and Canadian Pacific.

I was stumped as to how to achieve what I wanted. Don McFall Jr., an avid student of John Armstrong, came to my rescue. He designed the track plan, including grades and suggested scenery. I implemented his plan, but had difficulty with grades on Big Hill coming out correctly. I wasted three weeks of building and unbuilding before I discovered the problem. I had assumed that the deck of the layout, which I had built to be level, was really level. I discovered that there was a 1.5% grade on the benchwork that I was using as the height reference. Because Big Hill was built and unbuilt so many times, the gradient was not consistent. This coupled with a reduction of the radius of the curve at the top of Big Hill to accommodate a brass pin connected through truss bridge makes it difficult to run trains much longer than 25 cars without derailing at the apex of the curve. Unfortunately I did not know what bridges would be used to cross canyons and rivers when Don designed the track plan. He warned me that that lack of information could cause problems. Later, as part of Phase II, I designed the double-ended yard at Field and have done only minor modification to a lead track.

Phase III is a work in progress. It was started several years ago and was to have been completed by 2003, but I had not begun in earnest until 2005. This time the benchwork is much closer to being level throughout its whole length of about 60 feet. There are no grades except to some industry sidings. The lack of grades allows the use of 15 inch minimum radius.

There are five distinct areas that I am modeling in Phase III. The first is an integrated paper and pulp mill, followed by prairie skyscrapers, otherwise known as grain elevators. Then comes an integrated steel mill, Freytag Steel. The blast furnace, ore pit, Bessemer Converter, open hearth furnace, electric melt furnace and power plant are in various stages of completion. Detail and internal visible portions of the buildings still need to be completed. I plan to animate the blast furnace skip hoist, ore bridge crane, and Huletts. The petroleum and sulfur refinery and the Ford assembly plant are almost completed, and the same is true for the open pit mine with operating overburden wheel excavator.

óRick Spano
February 26, 2006

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