Anyway, one of the reasons posting has been non-existent for over a month is my preoccupation with planning and construction work on the latest version of the West Central Minnesota Railroad. Whether it is trying to learn how to use AnyRail, reading John Armstrong's Track Planning for Realistic Operation, or actually putting up walls, I've been able to occupy my spare time with little left for blogging or railfanning.
Having staked out a little less space than I had for my last layout (about 16' by 19', versus 11' by 42' in Wadena), I sensed the need for two levels. That brought about the question of how to get trains from the lower level to the upper level, and vice-versa. There were two basic ideas-a "nolix", or building a grade into the track as it travels around the room, and a helix, which wraps a bunch of track into a spiral to allow trains to climb between levels while keeping the grade manageable. The debate between the two has consumed many electrons, and each has its place, but I decided on the helix. Here's why: I wanted to have areas with no grade for switching on each level. After building two vertical curves on my last layout, I didn't relish the idea of multiple vertical curves this time, not to mention that the level areas would eat up footage that was needed to keep grades manageable with the "nolix" concept. Ergo, the only option left to me was a helix.
There was one other reason I wanted to build a helix-I think they are cool, and I wanted to see if I could build one. As a matter of fact, I got so excited about it that I broke my own first commandment of layout building-finish the room before starting on the layout. Sure enough, I have a huge pile of ceiling tile waiting to be installed, and here I am twiddling around with a helix.
As of yesterday, here's a shot that gives an idea of my progress:
Currently I have almost two and a half full turns done, including track laid. These things eat up a lot of track. In fact, there will be more than 60 feet of track in the four full turns I am planning to raise the track 16". The grade works out to almost exactly 2%, but the trains will pull harder than that due to the additional drag of curves.
When it's all done, there will be threaded rod supports all around the helix, to allow for precise adjustment of grade and make sure it's sturdy. Those are planned to be the final items installed.
Today I got so excited that I made up a 6 car train, including two bay covered hoppers and 89' auto racks, and ran it up and down the track I had installed a couple of times. The 30" radius seems adequate, but the cars have to have good couplers and the trucks need to be installed correctly (one fairly tight and one loose). I have already found a couple of cars that needed a trip to the RIP track for adjustment, but got the whole thing running nicely after 15 minutes or so. The Athearn RTR GP38 had no problem with this length of train, so it looks like the grade will be manageable.
So to answer the title of the post, a helix is what's in my basement as of now. More to come. Next time I may have a more polished track plan to share.