Sunday, March 5, 2017

First Question, How to Model the RCPE?

I've been brooding over this question for weeks, how does one model the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern?

The fact is that this railroad is quite unique, running from the low and fertile prairies of Minnesota through the high plains of South Dakota all the way to the Black Hills.  it's a diverse geography to be sure.  Fertilizer, grain, bentonite clay, cement, corn, ethonal, lumber, and a few local industries makes for an impressive diversity of rolling stock. 

Then there's the scenery!  Most people think of South Dakota as being a flat moonscape, but it's not.  While it might appear flat, South Dakota is actually a series of large, rolling hills.  The Rapid City Pierre and Eastern is built on the old CNW line through South Dakota, taking trains along the banks of the Missouri River, Wall Hill, some of the Badlands, Cheyenne River, and the Black Hills.  Basically, this train is everything from a Midwestern to a mountain railroad in less than 600 miles?

So with the incredible vistas, the sheer variety of industries, and the vast geography of the railroad, how does one effectively model this railroad?  I think I've figured out the answer.

Rather than trying to model everything, a model railroad of this line should model the "feeling" of the line.  Most people use selective compression, but I'd rather not.  In fact, I'd rather have fewer switches, a single mainline, and a more selective region than to try and compress everything at once.  I'd much rather have the big curves and the rolling hills that to make something that obviously looks like a model in some guy's basement.  What I need to do is model the atmosphere, to make a person think they are in South Dakota, watching trains.  Imagine a train running up Wall Hill as a thunderstorm rolls overhead, or switching cars in Rapid City on a 100 degree day.  How about  getting stuck in a late Winter blizzard as a grain train departs from an elevator?  Or maybe the train is rolling along the banks of the Missouri River on a warm spring day?

To model this railroad effectively, I can't just build a 4x8, throw some orange and black engines on it, and call the railroad complete.  No, I need to appeal to all the senses, sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

Okay, now I'm not going to go around licking rocks to get the "taste" and I can't recreate flowing fields of grass in a bedroom for people to touch, but I can get a "feel" of the railroad by recreating the prairie, burning sage or sweet grass for a "smell" o the prairie, recreate the ever-changing skies, and create a realistic looking scene that draws people in.  Lastly, a good sound system for the trains and for the prairies is a must.

Granted, this isn't a plan, it's the mere start of a plan, but it's better than I had a few paragraphs ago.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Oelrichs, South Dakota

This is the first real town North of Dakota Junction.  Located in Fall River County, South Dakota, Oelrichs has a population of 126 and sits right alongside the main line of the Black Hills Sub-Division of the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern.

The only industry in town is a small grain elevator which, amazingly, still seems to be in use.

This town is also where I graduated high-school, which is the town's main employer.  Like most of the small towns in South Dakota, the infrastructure is decrepit, many houses are single-wides surrounded by cars on blocks, and every house has an unkempt yard with cottonwood, oak, or evergreen trees.

Here is the view track side:


The Grain elevator at Oelrichs is small, but apparently being used.  I had always thought this was abandoned, but apparently not!

Judging by the number of cars, this particular elevator can only hold enough grain for a few hoppers, probably about 13.

Another possible explanation is that the siding is simply being used as winter storage for the cars, as is apparent in other small towns.  I just like to think positively.

Dakota Junction

Dakota Junction Rd crossing the small yard West of Chadron, Nebraska
As discussed earlier, Dakota Junction serves three separate railroads, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the Nebraska Northwestern, and the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern.

For the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern, Dakota Junction is an interchange with the Nebraska Northwestern and shares trackage with that railroad on the leg of the wye which leads south to Crawford, Nebraska.  Dakota Junction is the southern-most point of the Black Hills Sub-Division for the RCPE and is the last point of full trackage rights.

Dakota Junction has no inhabitants as it is not a town, just a point on the RCPE.  But being an interchange, Dakota Junction is a very vital piece of the line South of Rapid City.

This photo shows the yard tracks from the East end of Dakota Junction.  A half mile or so West of this point is the wye.  While no trains came that morning, it is apparent there has been recent traffic in the area.  There might be a weekly train, or perhaps a train on an as-needed basis from Rapid City to this point.

Looking to the East from the yard we can see a grain loader on the mainline of the Nebraska Northwestern. Train cars here probably head south to Crawford, Nebraska where they are interchanged with the BNSF. The only thought that causes doubt is that the mainlines at Crawford serve only one purpose, coal hauling.  I have not yet seen a grain train on that mainline between Crawford and Edgemont, South Dakota.

This crossing is about 2 miles South of Oelrichs, South Dakota between Dakota Junction and Oelrichs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

C Vision Productions

C Vision Productions, known for their excellent videos that capture the flavor of different railroads and regions, has released a video dedicated to the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern.  Here's a preview:

In addition to the recent video about the RCPE, C vision has also made videos on the predecessor railroad, the Dakota, Minnesota, and Eastern.

Volume I:

Volume II:

Volume III:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dakota Junction, A Good Starting Point

Dakota Junction is located at the extreme Southwestern end of the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern Railroad.  I'll be doing followup posts on the prototype, but this is looking at the excellent qualities of this area to be modeled.  To start with, it is an interchange yard and a wye for turning trains.  The yard interchanges with the Nebraska, Northwestern Railroad which runs 7.22 miles east into Chadron, Nebraska.  The line headed South goes into Crawford, Nebraska, where the BNSF mainline is at. The RCPE will make runs down into Crawford and head back North to Rapid City, dropping off and picking up cars at the interchange with the NNW.  As for the NNW, the railroad hosts a grain loader in Chadron and has a large yard that is busy repairing cars.  The RCPE may sometimes bring cars down to be repaired, but most of the rail cars seem to be coal gondolas for the BNSF.

But our focus on this post is just on the junction, which we can see via Google Maps:

This small piece of the railroad serves a very vital function, equally important to all three railroads.  For the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern, Dakota Junction is an interchange with the NNW and a continuation to Crawford, Nebraska with it's interchange with the BNSF.

For the Nebraska Northwestern, Dakota Junction is the lifeline for the railroad, with all traffic going through the junction.

And for the BNSF, it receives and gives cars via Dakota Junction and it provides the link for the railroad to an important short line that fixes it's cars, which would have to be shipped hundreds of miles to the nearest repair facility large enough to handle all the coal gondolas that wear out.

So what would this look like as a model?

To accurately model this section of the line as an independent railroad, I'll need access to staging at three points, to look something like this:

The staging yard is where all trains originate as it represents Crawford, Rapid City, and Chadron.  The Rapid City and Crawford lines enter the scene at the wye.  Wiring the wye would be tricky because it is a wye that is integrated into a reverse loop.  Another option would be to separate the Rapid City and Crawford staging so that one or the other terminates in it's own yard.  But for this diagram.  Either way, the staging track will loop around and then re-enter the scene as the Nebraska, Northwestern line on the right side of the yard.  The yard itself, just like the prototype, is three tracks that hold several dozen cars. Between the wye and the yard is a long bridge that is at least 600 feet long that crosses the White River, which is only about 50 feet wide in the spring, reduced to a trickle by fall.

All in all, I think this would make an excellent show layout.

Here's what I envision as a layout:

But what if someone doesn't like wiring for reverse loops?  This layout could still operate without a wye, and operations might be a bit more interesting!

Using a 32" by 80" door for a platform, this small layout captures the operation of Dakota Junction without the use of a wye or reverse loop.

Rapid City Pierre and Eastern trains can come down from the top and either continue directly South to Crawford, or head around the layout only to loop back through the crossing after passing through the interchange yard.

Nebraska Northwestern trains have to come through the interchange yard in order to access either the RCPE line or the shared trackage south to Crawford, Nebraska.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Moving Forward...

The truth is that I've given Montana Railroads a shot, and they simply don't interest me like the RCPE.  Montana is a beautiful state, but 95% of the rail traffic happens on BNSF rails, with Montana Rail Link taking up most of the remaining 5%, and some UP stuff happening in the extreme Northwest and Southwest portions of the state.

The main industries in Montana for railroads is mining/logging, petrol products, wood, and grain products.  But to put things in perspective, all of the Flathead valley only produces about 350 carloads of grain in a year.  Butte and Anaconda has large copper mines, and there's plenty of timber to go around, but right now it seems that the logging industry is contracting down to a few mills, mostly owned by big corporations like Weyerhaeuser. The copper mines are still active, but not producing near the quantity that they once were, and the smelters have closed.  That's great for the environment and state of Montana, I suppose, because then everyone can move on from the old ways.  The trouble is that there is very little need for local rail service in Montana, mostly everything just comes in one side of the state and out the other.

Some modelers love to model the large unit trains, and more power to them, but I prefer the smaller branch lines, of which almost every branch in Montana has closed, or is struggling.  Simply put, besides beautiful scenery and unit trains, there's not too much out here in Montana to model in the present day.  So just like the state, I'm afraid I too must move my interests elsewhere.  Enter the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern story:

The RCP&E is a regional railroad that hauls over 52000 carloads per year, bringing fully loaded cars of grain, cement, asphalt, petrol, ethanol, and other goods from facilities primarily in South Dakota to the Canadian Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, or Union Pacific railroads at points along it's 628 mile route.

Begun in June of 2014, the railroad has become an instant success.  Turns out giving control of day to day operations to local employees is a great way to ensure a smooth running operation.

Starting out in Tracy, MN, the mainline heads west, past Brookings, Huron, Pierre, Ft. Pierre, Wall, and terminating at Rapid City.  The Rapid City line runs from Dakota Junction in NW Nebraska to Colony, Wyoming, with Rapid City being in the middle.  Not entering the Black Hills, but rather skirting around their outer tree-caped hills.

With Beautiful scenery, local interest, and a rock-solid roster of SD40's and GP38's, the RCP&E has basically everything I could want in a railroad, and so that is what I will model.

Finally, after years of searching, I've found the railroad which I would like to model, and I hope that the prototype lasts just as long as my models, if not longer.

So cheers to the Rapid City and Eastern!  I can now move forward!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Who makes an SD40-2?

The EMD SD40-2 and the SD40-3 upgrade makes up the majority of the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern Railroad, so the best place to start then is to figure out just who makes a model of SD40-2.

For those who don't know, here is what an SD40-2 looks like:

These engines are a traditional EMD hood unit with a standard cab.  Like all SD type models, the SD40-2 has 6 axles compared to the standard 4 found in GP units, which look similar but are shorter.  SD40's have the distinguishing feature of a large deck on the front and back of the unit giving it a frame that is nearly 68 foot, 10 inches long.  The SD40-2 has a 3,000 horsepower diesel engine that made the model the most popular road switcher in EMD's catalog with nearly 4,000 being produced in the production run, which lasted from 1972 to 1989, quite an impressive run.

The Rapid City Pierre and Eastern has 60 of these units with the only other type of engine being a trio EMD GP38-3's.

So then, who makes a model of the SD40?  Well here's what I've uncovered:

N scale:

Kato, Intermountain

HO scale:

Athearn, Bachmann, Broadway Limited Imports, Intermountain, Bowser, Kato

O scale:

Midwestern Model Works, Lionel, MTH

G scale:

USA Trains

So it seems that HO scale offers the most choice, naturally, but an SD40-2 can be acquired in all the popular scales.

The next step will then be to decide what scale to model in!  That's the hard part!