The Houcksville & Fowblesburg Electric Railway

Built by Martin K. Van Horn


Part One

Martin is building an On30 traction layout and in this article he'll show us how he did it.


Design and Construction


Bachmann’s first On30 endeavor was the streetcar, made in the early 90's for Department 56 porcelain Christmas Village. When they became available generally, I was already back in On30 for my steam-diesel railroading, so I bought a pair. I also had been buying Corgi 1:50 P.C.C. cars and two of my models were painted for the only narrow gauge P.C.C.’s in the U.S., those of Los Angeles. I had a project to convert this pair to operating models with Black Beetle power trucks. This was accomplished last year, and I was hot to have them in operation. I had a small On30 display layout with two complete ovals I purchased from Garry Cerrone. I decided to electrify the upper oval with overhead trolley wire, and this was accomplished in time to display the mini-layout and operating cars at Steve Fisher’s September 10, 2005 Open House and Meet. G.W. Bill Henderson publicized this on his Yahoo! Group, and On30 Traction was off to the races!

I decided to build a model traction layout in On30 in the spare bedroom I use as an office, an L-shape 8' along one wall and 11' 6" along another. The layout would consist of three parts, a city line at each end, either of which could stand alone and operate independently, and a hill-climbing interurban line to connect them. I already had two 4' x 18" sections on top of a home-made bookshelf for the town of Houcksville, and in Carl Arendt’s Micro Layout website I found a perfect layout to adapt:

One thing I learned from the display layout was that I could get away with 6-3/4" radius curves. The standard 35' radius streetcar curve in O scale is 8-3/4" radius, but there are exceptions to every rule, and one was Philadelphia Rapid Transit’s loop at the foot of Market St. That went curb-to-curb with 25' radius. Heck , I was using 27' radius! I have also noted that generally speaking, On30 has the mass of S standard gauge, so I should be able to enlarge the HO plan 150% to 18" x 6' for On30. But I had 18" x 8'. So I flipped the carbarn loop section mirror image:

Then I was able to put a sharp street corner turn in the left section and a diagonal street across the added 2' of layout length to connect to the flipped right section:

Note the connection to the future interurban line off the loop at the right.

I started construction on the left-hand section as I had a pair of turnouts salvaged from old HO traction layouts through the years. When sceniced, the Electric Park Loop will be paved with grass up to the railheads, covering the HO ties. The steeple cab loco is a Boulder Valley Models center cab conversion for the Bachmann GE 44-tonner, and the cars are International Hobbies-Chivers Finelines 14-footers, which like the 6-3/4" radius loop just fine.

Here the paving of streets on the Electric Park section is about complete, just a little bit more behind the Bachmann streetcar after the curve across the section joint is completed. AMI Instant Roadbed was used for the street paving. It can be pressed down on the track to impart an impression of the rails, then cut along those lines and trimmed to fit. It is self adhesive on both sides, so after installation is given a coat of DullKote to seal the upper adhesive and take the shine off. Otherwise, if one leans on the roadway, it’s more likely to come away with them than stay attached to the layout baseboard!

The curve across the joints has been built and under the paving and for an inch on the other side of the joint, it is soldered to brass ties. (This will be an overhead trolley operation, both rails are grounded.) After all was solidly in place, the rails were cut at the joint with my Dremel tool. The two sections will remain portable and can travel to meets, train shows, etc. The wood ties are cut from ice cream stick wood! One stick yields 6 PECO-size ties: 5'6" long. Three pieces this long are cut from each stick, then split down the middle with a wide chisel blade Xacto knife. This gives a nice irregularity to the ties, and, of course the sticks are “weathered” by dragging a razor saw blade over the surface to bring out the grain before they are cut! The ties are very hard wood and are drilled no. 61 for spike holes using an old HO fibre tie as a jig.The boxcab loco in the photos is yet another Boulder Valley Models conversion of the GE 44-tonner, but with plain, non-radiator ends supplied by friend Dallas Mallerich. The roofwalk is unpainted as the loco was just changed from one with 2 trolley poles to a single, swing around pole in the center when it dawned on the genius of the pike that it would boink the end of any high car it was pushing!

The street paving has been completed except for driveways to the Co-op and the freight station. From this point, a complex of 3 or 4 turnouts have to be built, depending on whether or not a 3-way switch counts as 1 or 2. These are under construction on the workbench, one having been completed as of July 31, 2006. They will be installed on the section here at the end of track shown when all are completed, and the story of construction will then continue.

Rolling Stock

While the converted Corgi P.C.C. cars will operate on this layout, they are not seriously considered for regular operation. The Bachmann single-truckers are more appropriate to the small size of the layout, and will be bashed into work cars, freight cars and combines as well as some in their original form. Other 4-wheel O scale traction car kits on hand will be made operable with Bachmann power trucks.

Above: This otherwise stock Bachmann has been modified for interurban service with Boulder Valley Models Tin Chicken spoked pilots supplied by friend Dallas.

Above: Though the pilot construction is lighter, this hill-climbing Tarentum, Brackenridge & Butler St. Ry. Car is one prototype of a single-truck car with a spoked pilot.


Coming Soon - Part Two!

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This page updated Aug 4, 2006
Webpage © Larry Rickert
Title and contents © Martin K. Van Horn